Shedding belongings

Saturday, 9th October, 2010

Haberdashery stash.3

When I look around my house I see a lot of “stuff”. Some of it belongs to me, some to my partner, some to our two kids. We seem to attract it like powerful magnets.

We have a generously sized house and we find it hard to say no. Many items have been given to us by friends, some are on long term loan from friends overseas. Some of the stuff we inherited from family members that have died. Most of it has a story behind it, the story gets me every time – how can you get rid of a narrative? Isn't history important?

For example, I have shelves and shelves of books. They've been collected over my 36 years of reading, 20 of those years have been in the book trade. Some I bought new, some were books I edited or promoted, some I found second hand like treasure, some belonged to my parents or grandparents, some were given to me by friends - “You have to read this!”. Obviously there is usually a narrative within the pages too.

My father likes to give me books, he also hoards books but by passing them onto me they are not quite gone, just in an extended library. So he never really has to let them go completely. Some of the books he gives me I love. Some I'll probably never read but how can I get rid of them? They're precious things, also precious to someone who is precious to me. At the same time they are a heavy weight .

I also have boxes in my basement that have some of my deceased Great Aunt's belongings, not expensive or important things but crazy vintage packaging and little everyday but personal items. I can't bring myself to get rid of them, they are social history, her history. I have an outfit she wore to my parents' wedding. I wont ever wear it, it doesn't even fit me but there it is in the photo and on the hanger, like a time machine in bright teal.

She herself used to hoard things, she came of age during the depression. Nothing got thrown out, it was either mended or used until it disintergrated. All sorts of things might come in handy, little bits of string, glass jars, old Christmas cards, you name it.

Of course if I lost all my stuff in a house fire it wouldn't be the end of the world, they are only things. The first things I would save from a fire would be my partner and children, naturally. So why do I hang on to stuff? The object isn't the memory is it?

When a person passes away all you have left of them are their belongings. I have an evening purse that belonged to my mother, inside is a tissue with her lipstick blotted onto it, in the shape of her lips. It's the closest I'll ever get to being kissed by her again. Yet it isn't her, all it does is assist in generating memories. The clothes I kept of hers used to smell of her, now 20 years on they've lost her scent, they're just a husk.

We fear losing things, we fear not having enough. Objects become more than objects, they become magical links to people, memories, safety, love. Yet these objects can also weigh us down and hold us back from the future. How can we let go of physical objects without letting go of the magic? Should we let go of these things? What's the harm in holding on? What do you think?



(Inspired by the lovely Bindu)

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Weekend Web reading

Thursday, 7th October, 2010
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Tuesday Poem: Reading Topographic Maps by Helen Heath

Monday, 4th October, 2010


Ash washed down to this gully.

A sense of trespass persists

like sneaking into an old lady’s

backyard. The trickle

of the creek makes me want to pee.

The hills are angry parents and

we are a pair of ticks,

with our teeth in the skin of the land.


My father tells the legend of Ridgeside,

the long gone family house on the hill.

Even the tennis court is bush now,

the lawn roller hiding under weeds.

We are more than grubby wild kids.

A lost house is proof of the status

we should’ve had. Our edge defined

by a strike-slip fault –

old hard greywacke bedrock pushed up

to the crest of Belmont Hill.


This was just published last week in the scrummy new Jack Move magazine (click "close" to enter the site).

To see more Tuesday Poems visit the hub.

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Weekend web reading

Wednesday, 29th September, 2010



I'm trying out a new weekly slot - a round-up of interesting bits I've read online during the week. If you enjoy it let me know and I'll make it regular.


Gratuitous self promotion:

Jack Move magazine


Books, quakes and other shake-ups:

Reading Room by Jolisa Gracewood at Busytown / Public Address


Technology, our bodies, reading:

Surface Residue by Daniel Felstead at The Literary Platform


Grain-fed news:

Hinemoana Baker writes from Iowa


Surrendering to art instead of interpretation:

Surrender: an experiment in looking by Courtney Johnston at Best of 3


Ellie said - The harbour at Mana was a converted mudflat:

Denotation and Connotation: enjoy! by Emma Darwin at This Itch of Writing


Why the revolution will not be tweeted:

Small Change by Malcolm Gladwell at The New Yorker


Why the revolution *will* be tweeted:

What Malcolm Gladwell doesn't understand about social networks by Angus Johnston at The Huffington Post


The revolution tweeted - Pay what you like for 30 days of yoga classes and every cent gets donated to HIV/AIDS projects in South Africa:

Putting it all on the line by Marianne Elliot / Zenpeacekeeper


Ebooks and Accessibility:

E-Texts for All (Even Lucy) by Char Booth at Library Journal


Is poetry memoir?:

Poet forced to pulp book after row with her family by David McKittrick at The Independent 


Writing Working Mothers - a Laptop = Room of Ones own:

A working mother's guide to writing a novel by Mary McNamara at The Los Angeles Times


The Long and the Short of It:

Fergus Barrowman talks about the new short story writing competition on Access Radio


On the stash:

Books in Homes by Giovanni Tiso at Bat, Bean, Beam - A weblog on memory and technology 


Lovely booky eye-candy:

Bookshelf P0rn 


Robot pole dancers:

Tech know how - Hacking the everyday by Mark Ward BBC news 


Beautiful community journalism:

Hit-and-run victim was quiet and dependable, co-workers say by Andrew Meacham at St. Petersburg Times


Do boys need gross-out books and video games bribes to get them reading?

How to raise boys who read by Thomas Spence at The Wall Street Journal 


What do we mean exactly when we say "book"?

What are books good for? by William Germano at The Chronicle 


So what did you think? Your kind of thing? Best article? Want to see more next week?

Leave me a comment...


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Tuesday Poem: Snow by Sarah Broom

Monday, 27th September, 2010

Sarah Broom Tigers at Awhitu



It was as the snow started falling again

that she blurted it out, so they were all

just standing there gazing up, knee-deep

in snow, the little one thigh-deep,

when they heard it, the news that slipped

out like a necklace from a sleeve,

ot meant for the kids, not meant for here,

for the snowwoman with her pink hat

and old carrot nose, for the creaking

pines, the cracked plastic sled, the neat

rabbit tracks that shied all over the white

field. So they stood there, the little one

lost in any case in this too white world,

his too cold hands stiff in his wet wool

gloves, his feet stuck somewhere

miles down below. And once it was out

she wished she could call it back in,

like a dog you could whistle to,

but it wouldn’t, you couldn’t,

so they stood there in the snow,

and the big one asked, of course,

‘what’s that?’ and his dad just looked

straight back at her, his clove-brown eyes

soft with fear, the hound’s sour breath

hot on the nape of his neck.


Sarah Broom's first poetry collection, Tigers at Awhitu, was published by Carcanet Press and Auckland University Press in 2010. She was born in Dunedin in 1972 and now lives in Auckland with her husband and three children. In 2006 she published Contemporary British and Irish Poetry: An Introduction (Palgrave Macmillan). She has an MA in English from the University of Leeds and a DPhil from Oxford University. She lectured for a year at Somerville College, Oxford, before returning home to New Zealand with her husband in 2000. She has since held a post-doctoral fellowship at Massey University (Albany) and a lectureship in English at the University of Otago, Dunedin. Her poetry has been published widely in journals, including Landfall and Poetry New Zealand and, in the UK, Orbis, Metre, Acumen and the Oxford Magazine.


‘This sophisticated, intelligent collection is full of bittersweet, piercingly true contradictions. It’s poetry that leaves me both "unmoored" and "eased". I read it with the painful tingling of a numb limb feeling warm blood run through it again. This is what it is to be alive, to love, to dread.’ — Emma Neale


There are a couple of very unusual things about Tigers at Awhitu. Broom is in the rare position of having her first solo collection of poems published by English publisher Carcanet at the same time as it is being released in New Zealand. New Zealand poets are hardly ever selected for publication by overseas publishers and this is even more unusual for a first book. Furthermore, both publishers accepted the book on the basis of only a half a manuscript. Not only that but the second half of her book was written after she was diagnosed with cancer and given weeks to live. Most importantly though, Broom can really write. You can listen to a podcast of her interviewed by Helen Lowe here.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the Tuesday Poem hub.

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Quick Ten with Bill Manhire

Tuesday, 21st September, 2010

The third installment in the Quick Ten Interview series.

Bill Mnahire

Bill Manhire

Arguably New Zealand's best loved poet. Bill answers questions about musicality, collaboration, lightning strikes and the muse.

Bill Manhire hardly requires any introduction but you can read his NZ Book Council profile here. Manhire’s published books include a Collected Poems (2001) and Lifted (2006), and many anthologies. His most recent book is The Victims of Lightning (2010) from Victoria University Press. He was the inaugural Te Mata Estate New Zealand Poet Laureate in 1996–97, received an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate award in 2005, and in 2007 received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. He directs the creative writing programme (IIML) at Victoria University of Wellington.

You can follow the IIML on Twitter.

Today - Thursday September 23rd, Wellingtonians can listen to Manhire's lyrics set to Jazz music by Norman Meehan at Te Papa.

There are affiliate links in this interview. I’ve found The Book Depository to be the cheapest and quickest place to find books and recommend them without hesitation. Free delivery anywhere in the world is an amazing thing.



HH: What does working with other disciplines like jazz music bring to your creative process?

BM: It makes me less predictable to myself, I guess. It shuffles my head around. There’s also the odd satisfaction of seeing my poems translated by an expert, but for once I have a reasonably good grasp of the target language.


HH: What comes first for you - words or music (or should I say the musicality of the poem)?

BM: I think I almost always start in musical territory – with a cadence, or a musical phrase – and then add more phrases, until there’s something there that has meaning, that manages to be more than noise. Then I try to follow the meaning and the music at the same time. I have to admit that I would always sacrifice meaning for a fine musical effect.

If I could get away with it, I would probably call every one of my poems “Song”. For me, the music you hear in your head off the page is more amazing than anything that happens in performance – the rhythms of the lines play against the rhythms of the sentences, and that’s something you simply can't get in prose.


HH: What do you enjoy most about collaborating with other artists? 

BM: Well, I guess – in an entirely pleasurable way – I get pushed out of my comfort zone. See above. Suddenly other possibilities turn up in the world, and I can follow them or adjust them or somehow use them for my own purposes. I guess there needs to be some temperamental affinity in the first place, but often collaboration feels like the wrong word. Illustration isn’t right, either. With Ralph Hotere, for example, I’ve sometimes put things in front of him – even things I’ve done specifically for him, like the PINE sequence – and watched in astonishment as he made something far more remarkable than what he started with.

Sometimes there's more equivalence, if that’s the word – as with the Plunket birthday piece I wrote with Eve de Castro a couple of years ago. We were writing for the NZSO and children’s choir, and we agreed to use some found text (from Plunket books) and to include work associated with small children (a round, a lullaby) plus the names of Plunket nurses – and then to end where we'd begun, with a child being born. That’s the big effect of babies entering the world: they make life circular again.


HH: How do you get writing done - what is your creative process?

BM: I don’t know any longer! I used to need several days of empty-headedness, an expanse of time in which to rid my head of all the trash that’s usually there, so that other stuff could find its way in. But I haven’t had space in my life for those empty days for a long time. I'm surprised to find I like commissions; or arbitrary challenges – again because they push me into territory where I surprise myself.

In the end for me it's all magical/alchemical. You toss a bunch of sounds and meanings into the pot, and see what happens. Sometimes it's just a question of bringing together words and phrases that have never coincided before: e.g. "nest of weapons" / "lyrical foliage". Much of the time the result will be inert; occasionally you get some sort of precious metal that looks nice but has no apparent use; and very, very rarely you get some weird substance that you feel you could build a whole new city from.


HH: What advice would you give budding writers about craft and revision? How much time do you spend on it?

BM: Well, there’s nothing abstract about it – you pick up craft by actively writing, and by reading. It’s not a matter of being able to define dactyls or Petrarchan sonnets.

As for revision, it really is the biggest thing. You want any poem you write to seem effortless and inevitable – even in its roughnesses. But poems tend not to come fully formed. The best ones make you feel they do, mainly because of all the invisible revising work that's gone on somewhere off-stage. It's like The Wizard of Oz – big effects throughout the land, but the poet is just a little figure behind the curtain.


HH: The anxiety of influence - your poem "On Originality" muses on this - who were your poetry idols when you were younger?

BM: I loved early Robert Creeley, and Spanish poets in translation – the poems in The Elaboration are essentially Creeley crossed with Lorca. But mostly I tended to like poets who produced work that looked tidy and symmetrical on the page – yet inside the apparent tidiness all sorts of imaginative and emotional leaps were taking place. R.A. K Mason would be the local example - all those manic, teenage contortions. And I was full of my own teenage contortions when I first read him.

Plus big chunks of Donne and Herbert; Browning. But also Carl Sandburg, Philip Larkin, Emily Dickinson. I eventually developed weirder and wiser pleasures, too: John Crowe Ransom, the clunkier bits of Wordsworth and Hardy. I came across a great phrase in a Wordsworth poem the other day: “beyond participation”. The poem is “The Affliction of Margaret”, and I suppose it describes what bereavement feels like. "Beyond participation" points to the dead, who can no longer participate in life, and so it might indicate Margaret's son, dead seven years. But she uses the phrase of herself. It's how she feels. Amazing.

I also read a lot of the generation of American poets who began writing in the late 50s and 60s. I gave a talk about this once – it’s reprinted in Doubtful Sounds, and is also posted at the NZEPC.


HH: In an interview with Mark Broatch - Sunday Star Times it says “The Victims of Lightning takes its title from poet Randall Jarrell's line that good poets get struck by lightning five or six times in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms; a dozen or more and the poet is great. Manhire says every poet is capable of writing work beyond themselves. "I suppose what I'm saying to [students] is that you can construct the atmospheric conditions for lightning to strike."

Can you clarify? You don’t mean that poets need to wait for the muse do you? How do you make it easier for lightning to strike?

BM: One of the things I'm thinking of is workshop exercises. You can use various kinds of constraint to generate accidents that you can then consciously turn into something that is entirely yours – yet you would never have found your way to it without the initial trigger.

So you play with chance, but you also take responsibility. I like the story Charles Simic tells about Octavio Paz going to visit André Breton after the second world war:

He was admitted and told to wait because the poet was engaged. Indeed, from the living room where he was seated, he could see Breton writing furiously in his study. After a while he came out, and they greeted each other and set out to have lunch in a nearby restaurant.

“What were you working on, maitre?” Paz inquired as they were strolling to their destination.

“I was doing some automatic writing,” Breton replied.

“But,” Paz exclaimed in astonishment, “I saw you erase repeatedly!”

[Ah, said Breton] – “It wasn’t automatic enough.”

Constraint: producing accident, and then volition – you always have to be able to seize the moment, and yet be willing to erase repeatedly. Maybe I’ve just started answering question 5 . . .


HH: Can you tell us a bit about “Buddhist Rain”?

BM: Well it started with Norman Meehan setting some of my poems, and me feeling interested in what he’d done and then suggesting to him that I try writing texts specifically for him to put to music – with him having as much freedom to rework or abandon words as he wanted. In the end the wildest thing he did was to add an extra “la” to the “la la la la la la la” chorus of “Across the Water”. It was a very good "la", though! The project has become bigger than the CD that’s about to be issued by Rattle I'd say there are another dozen songs waiting in the wings.

At one point I sent Norman a list of possible titles, and asked if he and Hannah Griffin would like to choose the ones that interested them, and I would try to write the lyrics. So that’s where several of the texts published in The Victims of Lightning – “Pacific Raft”, “Buddhist Rain”, “Making Baby Float” – came from. There were also some that Norman liked but I never quite got round to, for example “The Third Piano”.


HH: I'm curious about the PhD programme, is it working out how you imagined? What did you imagine? What does the multi-disciplinary approach bring to the projects?

BM: Actually, we're not doing anything especially original. Most creative writing PhD programmes in Australia and the UK offer something similar to our mix of creative and "scholarly" elements. Some of the mixing of creative and critical, the complementarities, are wonderfully interesting and provocative. You can see the sort of projects that are underway on the IIML's website Some brilliant work is happening. 

I suspect the process is hard for some people: you get articulate in one language (the novel you're writing, say), and then you have to abandon it and try to speak convincingly in another language altogether. We hope that some of the writers may be able to produce hybrid projects, where you can't separate the creative and critical components.

There are bound to be some bumpy moments, some of them of the university's making. I don’t think rule-making academics understand that excellence takes many different forms. A lot of PhD regulations and protocols seem to be based on an anxious Social Sciences need to mimic the evidence-based objectivity principles that inform the hard sciences. So there's constant talk of theory and methodology, and lots of noise about Literature Reviews. These academic requirements may not be terribly helpful when you're embarking on a novel or just emptying your head so that unexpected words and thoughts can slide in. I still think E.M. Forster got it right: “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?”  Or here’s Margaret Atwood in a recent interview – "Q: What can we expect next from you? A – I never know. It's unknown to me."



HH: What are you reading at the moment?

BM: I've been reading a couple of newish – to me – American poets:

Mary Ruefle and Ben Lerner. They both do well what many of their contemporaries do by rote. Also, the English poet Alice Oswald, the Irish poet John McAuliffe, the Shetland poet Jen Hadfield.



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Tuesday Poem: On Originality by Bill Manhire

Monday, 20th September, 2010

Victims of Lightning



Poets, I want to follow them all,

out of the forest into the city

or out of the city into the forest.


The first one I throttle.

I remove his dagger

and tape it to my ankle in a shop doorway.

Then I step into the street

picking my nails.


I have a drink with a man

who loves young women.

Each line is a fresh corpse.


There is a girl with whom we make friends.

As he bends over her body

to remove the clothing

I slip the blade between his ribs.


Humming a melody, I take his gun.

I knot his scarf carelessly at my neck, and


I trail the next one into the country.

On the bank of a river I drill

a clean hole in his forehead.


Moved by poetry

I put his wallet in a plain envelope

and mail it to the widow.


I pocket his gun.

This is progress.

For instance, it is nearly dawn.


Now I slide a gun into the gun

and go out looking.


It is a difficult world.

Each word is another bruise.


This is my nest of weapons.

This is my lyrical foliage.



You can listen to this poem care of the Electronic Poetry Centre. You can also see a stylish text animation at the Arts Foundation.

Bill Manhire hardly requires any introduction but you can read his NZ Book Council profile here. Manhire’s published books include a Collected Poems (2001) and Lifted (2006), and many anthologies. His most recent book is The Victims of Lightning (2010) from Victoria University Press. He was the inaugural Te Mata Estate New Zealand Poet Laureate in 1996–97, received an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate award in 2005, and in 2007 received the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry. He directs the creative writing programme at Victoria University of Wellington.

This Thursday September 23rd, Wellingtonians can listen to Manhire's lyrics set to Jazz music by Norman Meehan at Te Papa. Also this week Bill answers questions about musicality, collaboration, lightning strikes and the muse in my Quick Ten Interview series. We also discuss this poem and the anxiety of influence.

You can find more Tuesday Poems at the Hub

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Tuesday Poem: Engines are the heart of trains by Lynn Jenner

Monday, 6th September, 2010

Engines are the heart of trains. Engines just keep on and on, because we need them. They may have been bought and sold, but in their own minds they are still public servants, or perhaps citizens of the former Eastern Block; distinguished by ugly colours and low expectations.

They soldier on as people do. But then, like people, sometimes they just stop. On the last working day before Christmas I was on a peak time service to Paraparaumu when it stopped in the middle of a paddock. Someone got it going again, and I never heard what happened after that.



This poem comes from Lynn Jenner's first book of poetry, Dear Sweet Harry, which is a sequence about "memory and history and what survives, what escapes and what fails to make its escape from history’s maelstrom – and how those remnants shape subsequent generations." From the notoriously grumpy Hugh Roberts who reviewed Dear Sweet Harry in the Listener (July 31-August 6 2010 Vol 224 No 3664) and who also said:

Teasing, funny, mysterious, impressionistic, utterly impossible to classify or to characterise by quotation or analogy – it is simply exhilarating to read, and I can’t wait to see what Jenner does next.

Lynn Jenner completed an MA at Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters in 2008. Her collection Dear Sweet Harry won the Adam Foundation Prize for an outstanding folio in that year and was published by Auckland University Press in June. Poems from Dear Sweet Harry appear in Best New Zealand Poems 2008 and 2009. Lynn's poems have also appeared in JAAM, Takahe, Turbine and 4th Floor. This year Lynn started her Phd in creative writing at the IIML. Lynn says:


The topic description for my PhD project is "missing person behaviour". This is a summary of my search parameters. I have used the word "behaviour" to indicate that I am interested in actions. This includes actions of those who are missing and actions stimulated by someone being missing.

My plan is to write a mixed genre work made up of poetry and prose, using voices of historical and contemporary people explaining their world to tell stories. The behaviour of different genres, for example poetry and prose poetry, placed side by side, is a tension I would like to explore by writing, as well as in theory, during the PhD.

It's hard to take a piece out of the whole meta-narrative but this piece is the last fragment in the book and the line that really strikes me is: "but in their own minds they are still public servants, or perhaps citizens of the former Eastern Block" - stoic and plodding on. I also commute on the train-line Lynn describes in the final stanza and yes, they break down all the time!

For more Tuesday Poems visit the hub.

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Tuesday Poem: Aroundabout by Helen Lehndorf

Monday, 30th August, 2010

Swings and Roundabouts


Me and you with our babies:


We walk around the streets

steal fruit and visit your childhood,

hide the spoils in the prams.

Lemons from the school-yard and

crab-apples from your old house.

They aren't even sour.


We drive up to the windmills,

they chop through the air,

make a sound like a

heartbeat in utero. There, are

the Manawatu plains, as flat

as you say you feel afterwards.


I give you a pretty black dress

to wear to parties and a bunch

of coriander wrapped in a

supermarket bag. One last

cup of tea. You drink it standing up.

We wave you south. No looking back.



Helen Lehndorf is a writer and writing teacher living in Palmerston North. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies, including Kaupapa (eds Hinemoana Baker and Maria McMillan) and Swings and Roundabouts (ed Emma Neale), where this poem first appeared. She has had work produced on Radio New Zealand National and feature writing published in the Dominion Post. Helen and I have been making art journals together for a couple of years, you can see some scans of the project here.

There is something about that moment in the second stanza, when the blades of the turbines chop through the air. I can hear the whomp-whomp of it, and the connection with a heart beat in utero is genius. I like the way in the poem grows up; child-like and mischievous stealing fruit - to a black party dress and no looking back. In the middle those ominous cutting blades, it's dark but not without hope. Lovely.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the Tuesday Poem Blog.

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Quick Ten with Emily Perkins

Wednesday, 25th August, 2010

The second installment in the Quick Ten Interview series.



Emily Perkins

Photo credit Rebecca Swan / Doublescoop


A rare being - internationally successful, award winning writer and presenter of The Good Word - Emily Perkins answers questions about what happens when acting and writing converge, Books vs Paintings and acting in the movie of the Novel About My Wife.

You can follow Emily on Twitter.

There are affiliate links in this interview. I’ve found The Book Depository to be the cheapest and quickest place to find books and recommend them without hesitation. Free delivery anywhere in the world is an amazing thing.

The first question is from Ashleigh Young who has a curly one for you:

So many people loved "Not her real name" and some writers tried to emulate it. Then you went off and did a completely different thing. Do you think you'll ever write a collection of short stories again? Also, have you ever met Patrick Evans and if so, were things civil between you?

EP: Ha – I haven’t met him. I’m sure he’s a personable guy. He’s been photographed wearing Mickey Mouse ears, which is always a good sign. Looking forward to reading his book.

For sure I’ll keep writing short stories and hopefully publish another collection. One of the books I’ve been working on is a sort of story-novel hybrid. My dream is to sustain the precision and intensity of stories through a longer work.


HH: I'm really interested in how having a background in more than one creative discipline effects your work as a writer. Also, having a husband who is a visual artist must have some impact surely? What happens when acting, painting and writing converge?

EP: Hm, I think the main influence from drama is probably in the imaginative act, the focus you bring to visualizing a scene or an interior moment. I say visualizing but really you’re trying to engage all the senses. Similar to acting but in writing you’re on your own and you can redraft.

I’ve learned a lot from artists over the years about just getting on with it – the importance of routine, daily application to the work.

At the moment I’m doing a little collaboration that involves me drawing, which is hilarious and insanely good fun. Awesome to try something new and have the freedom of engaging a different part of the brain and not caring if it looks completely amateur. Maybe that’s the thing with different disciplines: one might be your life’s work but it’s enriching and liberating to be a rank amateur in others. A few years ago I thought Am Dram would be a good form of make-your-own fun but now wonder if I’d have the guts. I might skip straight to the waitressing..


HH: You mentioned in an interview a couple of years ago that:

“I'm really interested in how we construct ourselves, the building up of identity and how much we live as a known quantity and how much we're mysteries to ourselves and how much we invent ourselves and live in other people.”

How different is creating a character for stage or screen to creating a character in a novel?

EP: So far, in my writing, it happens differently every time. In one of my current projects the characters emerged clearly after the initial draft, which was very much about sensory experience. I’ve fitted the characters to the story world rather than the other way round. In the other project, there are two female characters and one man who are leading it. They’ve been clearly defined from the start.

It’s a very long time since I played a character on stage. Of course someone else has given you the words. The last thing I did was probably one of my better efforts because I was really lost about acting and on the verge of giving up, so didn’t try too hard, and the play was a Mamet so the language was all you really needed.


HH: You're probably sick of talking about distance, location and exile as themes in your work by now. Do you think these themes will keep coming up in your work or are you done and dusted?

EP: Well, to return to these two projects, which both have a strong sense of place – one isn’t about those things at all and one has a character who is quite defined by being out of her home country.


HH: In my last interview Elizabeth Knox said she'd like to answer more really writerly questions about story and syntax, rhetoric and imagery. What do you wish people would ask you? Would you like to tell us about your rhetoric and imagery?

EP: I’d like to read Elizabeth’s answers. I wish there were more of these discussions, the kind of symposium where writers can talk to each other and a readerly audience about technique, craft, art, theory, etc, without it being an academic context or the festival event focus on the story/plot of a single book or the author biography. You know, those events are very much about what happens, not how it happens.

Um, so to take the opportunity briefly – the rhetoric seems to develop over the early stages of a draft and that style is intimately connected to the characters and mood. The organising principle. There's that funny thing with writing where each book has its own flavour but perhaps there is some recognizable author voice behind them all. Being on the inside of the writing is like being inside your own self, where you experience yourself as sort of pH neutral and you forget that it might come across as very positively one thing or another, on the outside.


HH: What writing projects have you been working on since Novel about my Wife?

EP: These two novels, for the most part. Some other smaller stuff.


HH: How would you describe your creative process? Do you sit down and slog it out everyday? How does it get squeezed in with teaching, parenthood and The Good Word?

EP: I write five days a week, though not always on the project that needs the most attention. My process could broadly be described as alternating between moss-like accumulation in a fairly relaxed manner, and intense slightly nauseous focus. The children are all in school now. Prep for teaching and The Good Word tends to happen at night, I can’t really write fiction after getting the kids to bed. And we do end up sometimes working on the weekends but that’s much more family time.


HH: Suspend disbelief for a moment... You're asked to play Ann in a movie version of Novel About my Wife – would you take the job?

EP: Oh no. I would be so wrong for the part it’s unimaginable!


HH: Is it Books vs. Paintings in your house when it comes to what takes up space?

EP: It’s Books vs. Everything and the books are winning. I suppose e-readers will change this and maybe one of the unexpected silver linings will be more wall-space for paintings. But right now I love ‘real’ books in shelves and am not ready to give them up.


HH: Who are you reading at the moment?

EP: I’m a bit frustrated with my reading at the moment. For work I have an Albanian novel, Ornela Vorspi’s The Country Where No One Ever Dies, and some writing on anarchism (The Coming Insurrection – speaking of rhetoric, that is written/translated in the most exhilarating style). For fun, dipping in and out of Clarice Lispector’s Cronicas (a Fergus Barrowman tip) and the David Lipsky/David Foster Wallace interviews. But I can’t read certain books I’ve been looking forward to – the Robin Black short stories, the new Maile Meloy, other stuff – because I’ve got a feeling they’ll somehow fuck me up at this stage of writing.

So it is very slow passing through fantasy novels I read as a kid: Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea.


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