Monday, 24 November 2014

Launch speeches for How Does It Hurt?

We launched Stephanie de Montalk's How Does It Hurt? at Unity Books on Tuesday last week. Damien Wilkins delivered a fantastic launch speech which he's kindly allowed us to post here. Stephanie's own speech is also posted below.

Damien Wilkins launches How Does It Hurt? (photo by Matthew Bialostocki)



It’s a privilege to say a few words about Steph’s incredible book. Incredible not just for what’s in it, of course, but also for the circumstances of Steph’s life which made, and continue to make, writing of any kind a form of heroism—though she wouldn’t like that word.

The fact that writing under such a hostile and capricious force—and I’m not talking about the Faculty of Graduate Research at Victoria University—writing not just about pain but in pain, through pain, that this has earned Steph a doctorate and now resulted in this sustained piece of prose—a work already recognised by health professionals as ground-breaking and riveting and beautiful—well, it inspires awe. So probably all I need to do to communicate the effect of this book is to sort of stand very still right here, looking stunned.

But launch speeches come with words so let me try. I came in at the very end of the PhD process with Steph, following Bill Manhire’s retirement and, working alongside Kathryn Walls, all I really did was express wonder and pleasure at the potency of the text and especially the shape the narrative had taken—it’s probably important to say that how she tells this story is key. The book’s title puts How first—How Does it Hurt? And that question quickly becomes How Do I Speak? (How do I tell people I meet about this thing that’s happened, that’s happening to me, in ways that are accurate to the experience, and then How Do I Write? What words in what order to communicate to readers who are often strangers the significance of chronic pain not just in one life but in the unwritten lives of other sufferers?

Because that’s the powerful, broader remit: this is not a narrow confession, though it’s full of candour; indeed I’ve always thought that Steph as a poet is among the least confessional we have; or perhaps her confessions are so well-hidden they slide by in the dark hood of her unusually formal diction. Steph certainly steps forward in this book but again she wants to make some larger points: about nursing, which she feels has moved in the wrong direction, about the relationship between different kinds of knowledge—her quest for release from pain takes her in many directions, from Touch Healing to surgery; from Eastern philosophy to poetry to the contemplation of the pine tree in her backyard. The tree is a bit of a star in the narrative. The book is political, fierce, open, buzzing with ideas about how the body treats the mind and vice versa.

It’s an unflinching account, terrifying and bleak in its tracing of nerve pain’s unpredictable torture methods. Steph at one point characterizes her pain as a gremlin fiddling knobs—yet even that image quickly feels too homely as we catch the idea that this pain is not only secretive in that mostly you can’t tell the person has it but also that it—the pain itself—has secrets from the sufferer, secrets about its intensity that are only disclosed in viciously random ways. An hour of ‘not too bad’, followed by a day, a month, a year of ‘hideous’. We might ask the sufferer, ‘How are you?’ but that can only set off an unthinkable, inexpressible set of recursive notions, ‘You mean this minute?’ It’s actually what Steph said to Wallace Chapman when he asked this question on Radio New Zealand the other week. We may want something definitive, brief and promising: ‘A bit better, thanks.’ But, as this book points out, that’s our conventional need to be consoled and move on and it discounts the sufferer’s cyclic ongoing involvement with torment.  

Still, I think it’s more than my own clutching at straws to find in this book, dare I say it, fun or at least a savouring of ironies and absurdities. I love the scene in the hairdressers when Steph is reading Schopenhauer and she covers the title of the chapter with her hand when the stylist comes over. The title of the chapter is ‘On Suicide’.

I’m also going to take my pleasure where I can find it and if the defeating of a narrative pattern—its lack of a progress—is one of chronic pain’s most cruel manoeuvres, this book is itself a triumph of patterning. Here’s the opening sentence of a section about half way through the book: ‘Word was out that the surgeon in Sydney was about to become the Southern Hemisphere’s first pudendal neuralgia and entrapment specialist.’

I think it’s a measure of how deeply engaged we’ve become in the story of Steph’s pain that this sentence is not only intelligible but exciting, as exciting as say hearing in a 19th Century novel that someone has set the date for their wedding. Oh good, we think, Sydney finally has a pudendal neuralgia and entrapment specialist!

How Does It Hurt does two things at the same time: it practices an extraordinary embrace, making us come closer and closer, while at the same time reminding us of the arm’s length of suffering. As good readers trained in empathy we feel the pull of the writer’s terrible plight—yes, we silently agree, I hear you—but we also experience the necessarily harsh corrective of Steph’s exclusivity—since it is, according to this powerfully argued text, only the fellow-sufferer who can connect finally. Everyone else is just a literary tourist.

I must admit during the time I was a supervisor of the PhD, I struggled with this exclusion and prodded at Steph more than once. Didn’t she think the capacity of her account to move people—and it has this capacity—show that she was communicating something? Maybe not the interior world, the cave, as she calls it, or the cliff, of her pain, but at least its affective power? Wasn’t that a tiny victory in the battle for expression, for a language that did more than just hint at what it’s like to be inside her skin? But Steph is unwavering. No, no, you haven’t understood. You can’t. To be honest, I still haven’t come to terms with this no. Since it goes against all my carefully built-up instincts of hope, as well as my writerly tools: the grounding faith in the potency of description, analysis, suggestion: the idea that story in all its forms is revelatory.

At one point Steph quotes Alphonse Daudet: ‘Pain is always new to the sufferer but loses its originality for those around him. Everyone will get used to it except me.’ Yes, I think, I am used to the Steph who when we meet has to be lying down. Even though I knew her before she was supine, I realise I’ve made an adjustment that she hasn’t made, that she is working against constantly. Daudet is depressingly right. Yet I also want to adapt that observation and say, having read this book, I think it’s harder to lose a sense of the originality of other people’s experience. Books like this one remind us we should never get used to anything.  


Stephanie de Montalk (photo by Matthew Bialostocki)

This is an excerpt from Stephanie's launch speech:



Three primary concerns underpin my memoir and study of chronic pain.

The first is a notion posed by a Canadian academic and long-term sufferer by the name of Lous Heshusius. How, Heshusius asks, can such pain be put on paper? She says: “Love would be easier. Or joy, or pleasure. Things people desire. Then you can evoke that which cannot be said. The reader will gladly fill in the meanings left unsaid by the words. Trying to speak of chronic pain, on the other hand, the unsaid meanings are not easily imagined. For who wants to know what constant pain is like? How to tell of this dark, dark place?”

The second consideration is that of the distinction between chronic pain and acute, or temporary, pain. By definition, this separation seems obvious. But it's one that I have found to be woefully under recognized. Unlike acute pain, which is ubiquitous, familiar – shareable to some extent – and, importantly, relievable and finite, chronic pain is relegated, in the words of writer, Alice Sebold, to 'the Wild West of medicine'. The mechanisms of transmission that sustain this renegade pain long after an injury or illness has apparent been resolved, or for which a cause or treatment cannot be conclusively identified, are far from understood. As a result, much chronic pain cannot be adequately relieved, and sufferers, unable to articulate and share their condition, frequently dismissed as complainers and malingerers, tend to retreat, their physical suffering heightened by emotional isolation and distress.

The third concern expands on the sense of exile I've just mentioned: a state in which I found myself after the onset of my own pain, and one that led to this memoir. I was first alerted to the idea of raising the profile of chronic pain, and easing the aloneness of sufferers, in 2005, the year I was writer in residence at Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML). It happened like this: My colleague, Damien Wilkins, came to my room one morning, held out a small hard-backed publication by the 19th century French Writer, Alphonse Daudet titled In the Land of Pain, and said 'This book has your name on it.' I read Daudet's brief but powerful account of more than a decade of the pain of his tertiary syphilis, and I felt strangely consoled. I also felt empowered by his honesty – by his graphic descriptions, penetrating observations and absence of stoic pretense. Moreover, I felt validated by Damien's unexpected acknowledgement of my own hidden condition. That morning, a door opened in pain's wall, and although it would be another five years before I embarked on the dissertation from which my memoir is adapted, that day remained a watershed pin my thinking about the need to confront what is increasingly termed 'chronic and intractable non-cancer pain'.

A statistical aside: As we live longer – and as previously fatal conditions and injuries become treatable – the incidence of chronic pain silently raises. Today, it is described as reaching epidemic proportions. In the United States, there are one hundred million sufferers – one third of the country's population – of whom ten million are significantly disabled by pain. In New Zealand, one in six are said to suffer varying levels of on-going pain: that is, 700,000, of which as many as 70,000 may be seriously and lastingly incapacitated.

To recap then: How Does It Hurt? aims to give informed weight to the phrase 'chronic pain'; it hopes to fill in some of the meanings that the words 'constant pain' leave unsaid, to lessen the misapprehension of bystanders and to ease the exile of sufferers – for it's difficult to come to terms with a life-changing pain that no one talks about or understands.


How Does It Hurt? can be purchased on our online bookstore here or in all good bookshops in NZ. $40, h/b.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

5 Questions for Airini Beautrais

Tonight we launch Dear Neil Roberts at The Guest Room, Southern Cross Bar in Wellington at 6pm, come on down if you are reading this prior to this evening.

Airini Beautrais's third collection of poetry is about Neil Roberts, who died age 22 years old in November 1982 at the Police Computer Centre in Whanganui when the explosives he was carrying exploded. Beautrais's book explores the event, and her own personal history of activism and pacificism.



What was the germ for a collection about Neil Roberts? Have you been thinking about this for a while?
It was during a difficult and uncertain time for my family a few years ago, when we decided to chuck in our Wellingtonian suburban life and move to Whanganui. One of our pie-in-the-sky ideas was to start a business running tours of the town and hinterland. I was thinking about sites of interest in Whanganui and I realised that a lot of the local history is very dark. Wairere House where the police computer was housed is opposite Pakaitore/Moutoa Gardens, which is home to a range of controversial monuments, and also the centre of protests during the 1990s. The hill behind it, Queen's Park, was a redoubt during the New Zealand Wars, and is also studded with cannons and other memorials to wars both local and international. Dark History tours luckily never eventuated (I suspect we would have gone broke) but the idea morphed into writing a long poem about the computer centre bombing. It was initially going to be a ten page pamphlet which could be handed out at a Punk's Picnic, but it got bigger and bigger, as long poems have a tendency to do. I wrote most of the book in 2012 which was 30 years since the bombing, and also the year I turned 30. That tied in with the tradition of re-examining historical events on round-number anniversaries. But it was also very much about thinking, where am I at and where do I stand on things?

The opening poem states ‘Neil, you were six weeks dead/when I was born’ – but NR has cast his shadow or at least made an impression on your life. What was it like to walk back through this history and think about turning it into poems? What is the sense of this piece of history in Whanganui today?
I first found out about Neil Roberts when I was 15 or 16. Later on I met people in the anarchist movement who'd known Neil, or who'd attended the anniversary picnics held every year during the remainder of the 1980s and early 1990s. So the story was always there with me in some form. I ended up feeling that telling this story was an important thing for me to do – because it made me uncomfortable and I wanted to address the reasons why, and because I also felt it was interwoven with my own story. There is a poem in Dear Neil Roberts called 'The thing is, Neil, you are all of us.' It was the first part I wrote, and I was thinking of the anarchist community in regard to that title. Although not all of us would have done what Neil did, I believe we have all experienced a similar state of mind at some stage – a longing for change coupled with the feeling of walking in the shadow of monstrous obstacles.

Walking through this history was, again, a process of exploring the darkness of the past. I wrote a lot of the book while heavily pregnant. My son was 15 days overdue and I'd had a feeling this might happen. So to combat the feelings of late-pregnancy desperation I made a timetable for those last few weeks, of things I could do with my older child to keep busy. A lot of that activity, such as sailing on the steamboat, climbing Durie Hill Tower, visiting Green Bikes, and attending an Anzac day service, made it into the book. I saw a lot of threads connecting various stories of nationalism and anti-nationalism, memory and erasure.

In regard to the sense of this piece of history, it isn't often talked about but when it is mentioned people do remember it. By coincidence Ann Shelton, who held the Tylee Cottage residency in Whanganui in 2012, was working on an art project about Neil at the same time I was writing my book. Her exhibition in 2013 was beautifully put-together and very well-received.

In some ways I read this book as eulogy to those people who listened to the voices that told them to ‘go out the window’ as one of the poems says. It’s also a eulogy for those whose ideas about the world placed them so outside of the predominant ideas of their time – you also mention Bakunin and Emma Goldman. Do you see it like this?
Perhaps it is a lament for the loss of young people – Neil, and the unnamed boy who went "out the window". I was thinking about people for whom the world-as-it-is is a very difficult place to accept, and exist within. The poem 'Out the window' quotes this boy who said "This is hell. We are living in hell." That resonated with me because I have sat on that window-ledge myself, albeit without "voices" – and I am open about that within the book. 

There is also a sense of lament in there for the many lives lost during the World Wars. In relation to the ANZAC commemorations, I think it is so important to remember history,  but what I find really difficult is the myth-making and the rhetoric. We often hear 'sacrifice', 'glory', 'honour' and 'for our freedom' but not so often 'tremendous waste of life' and 'what for?' The ANZACs who lost their lives did so in defence of the state. Neil lost his in a protest against it. This brings to light two very different versions of the value of the state and nationalism.

Bakunin and Emma Goldman were both writing in turbulent times – Bakunin was a contemporary of Karl Marx, Goldman was actively publishing around the time of WWI and the Russian revolution. Both of them had interesting predictions about the likely future of state socialism which actually did eventuate. Their writings, along with those of other thinkers such as Errico Malatesta, are still widely read. So I think their ideas live on and aren't in need of eulogising as such.

Was it tricky to navigate between research and imagining NR as a person, and indeed a character in a book?
I made a decision not to delve too deeply into Neil's personal history. I was more interested in how the event has been represented. The consensus from those who knew him has been that he was a friendly, intelligent, sane and happy individual. This goes against what people might imagine in relation to 'suicide bomber.'

I found that while writing the book, Neil became a big presence in my life. I had a lot of nightmares about the actual event, but I also found that the research drew me back to my own roots. I was raised as a Quaker and they have a very strong tradition of pacifism. Part of Neil's last graffiti message was 'Anarchy: Peace Thinking'. During the writing I did a lot of thinking about peace, and I see that as being one of the overarching themes of the book.

Certainly, one of the very interesting ideas that the poems interrogate is how a person is represented by the history books. What were your feelings about adding to the historical narrative on NR?
Poetry is an interesting medium for approaching history. It doesn't have the expository qualities that a traditional prose history has. I feel the job of the poet is to come in afterwards, or from a different angle, and find ways of communicating the things that other media might be less able to. There is a lot of opportunity for direct communication in a poem, but also a lot of stuff 'between the lines'. Poets are often trying to evoke responses on different levels.

I also felt that I had been trying to preserve a division between poetry and politics, and the time had come for me to let go of that. The thought kept going through my head, "If we don't tell stories, they may never be told." Neil's story has been told in various ways, but every new version adds something different. I think that if a story asks you to tell it, you should.

Dear Neil Roberts is on sale now – through our online bookstore or in great bookshops.
$25, p/b.

Prendergast: Legal Villain?


Last week we held the launch of Prendergast: Legal Villain? at the Supreme Court in Wellington. Here is an excerpt from author Grant Morris's launch speech.

Grant Morris, Fergus Barrowman and Sir John McGrath


James Prendergast was arguably New Zealand's dominant legal professional during the period 1865 to 1899. He first served 10 years as Attorney-General and then 24 years as Chief Justice. This was a formative period in New Zealand's history during which the settler state was consolidated. Prendergast played a key role in this process. One of my specialty areas is the history of the New Zealand legal profession. In choosing to write a legal biography I was very aware that the few existing biographies in this area were all of ‘progressive’ lawyers and judges, especially in relation to Maori issues.  Prendergast is considered the 'villain' of New Zealand’s legal history. This is primarily due to the Wi Parata decision of 1877, in which Prendergast and William Richmond ruled that the Treaty was ‘a simply nullity’. The Wi Parata decision also undermined the presence of native title in our legal system.    

The biography is a comprehensive treatment of Prendergast’s personal and professional life. It tells of his privileged up-bringing and legal training in London, his adventures in gold-rush Victoria, his rapid rise to power in 1860s Dunedin and Wellington and his long reign at the top of the New Zealand legal profession. Prendergast’s roles as Attorney-General and Chief Justice are analysed in detail. In particular, the book looks at his contribution to New Zealand’s case law and statute law.  It also has a strong focus on his pivotal role during the New Zealand Wars and the invasion of Parihaka. 

The study of Prendergast’s life provides a window into the development of several important locations including London, Victoria, Dunedin and, in particular, Wellington – including this courtroom in which Prendergast presided for most of his judicial career. It also sheds light on other influential figures such as William Richmond, George E Barton, Robert Stout and Governor Arthur Gordon. Personal papers provided me with insights into Prendergast’s family life including the important influence of his father, Michael Prendergast QC and his wife, Mary, and also the tragic lives of his two older brothers.

One of the most exciting events in Prendergast's life was his time on the Victorian goldfields in the mid-1850s. Prendergast was an unfortunate gold-miner, he lasted only a few months on the fields, nearly died of dysentery, and had to be rescued by his older brother. He decided to stay in Victoria and become an administrator, but feuded with his Protestant Irish superiors and after a few years gave up and headed back to London. The trip seemed a complete failure but the lessons he learned formed the basis of his later success in New Zealand. 

I am hopeful that this biography will inspire more of its kind. There are many major figures in our legal history lacking a comprehensive biography, for example, William Martin, Michael Myers, Richard Wild, Joshua Williams, William Richmond, Alfred Hanlon and Frederick Whitaker. In fact, only Prendergast, John Salmond, Ethel Benjamin, the Chapman Family and Robert Stout enjoy full-length, scholarly, biographies. New Zealand’s legal profession has a rich history and it is time to explore this history in more depth.

Prendergast’s current infamy, combined with his long and eventful career, made him a fascinating and challenging choice to study. I also wanted to explore the historiographical debate around looking at history in its own context versus judging history by the standards of the present. My argument is that the former approach is more useful in understanding history.

“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. In writing the biography of Prendergast I wanted to avoid creating an ‘apology’. In particular, I wanted to approach the subject with an open mind and let the historical evidence determine my conclusions. That said, I have taught enough jurisprudence to acknowledge the difficulty in making objective judgments, especially in such an area as biography.  I also wanted to challenge some of the revisionist New Zealand history written since the 1970s. This is the historiography that I grew up with and which helped inspire me to become an historian. But I have always been uncomfortable with its tendency to provide superficial treatment of key conservative colonial figures.

Prendergast is the most infamous judge in New Zealand’s history exclusively due to his legal actions relating to Maori. Without the contextual understanding provided in this book, Prendergast becomes a ‘cardboard cut-out’ villain. This is an inadequate approach to history.  In 2004, Giselle Byrnes summarised this approach in relation to Waitangi Tribunal historiography:

"…the European historical characters who appear in these narratives are typecast largely as one-dimensional individuals….this includes the inversion of colonist personas, where they are transformed from heroes to villains; the vague and rather thin descriptions of Crown officials; the negation of difference within the European settler community, and the assumption that all settlers thought and therefore acted in the same manner; the polarisation of Maori and European world views and habits of thought as mutually exclusive; and finally,  the passing of moral judgments and the creation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters."

Both Giselle Byrnes and I previously worked in the Treaty sector and understand the statutory focus of the Waitangi Tribunal but the criticism is nevertheless an important one. In his book on the Wi Parata case, my colleague, David Williams notes that Prendergast’s ‘simple nullity’ statement “will be mentioned many more times yet during the course of future debates. It is too convenient a stick with which to beat the judges of the past for its constant repetition to cease suddenly as a result of the publication of one book.” There are now two books for critics to contend with.

Prendergast's name is only mentioned today in order to condemn him. He is judged by half a quote from a decision he made in partnership with another judge. The biography is not an apology for Prendergast but rather an attempt to place him in the context of his time and explore the other aspects of his career beyond the Wi Parata decision (though the book does have a whole chapter on Wi Parata). By today's standards, Prendergast showed a clear disregard for traditional Maori society.  His actions negatively affected Maori. That does not change the fact that Prendergast was an influential leader of the legal profession and one of New Zealand's founding fathers. He was not one of New Zealand's most brilliant judges, but he was capable and highly respected by his colonial peers, including by three men who have given their names to the streets that surround this building - Stout, Whitmore and Ballance. History, and especially biography, should not be about simply labelling a figure 'good' or 'bad' but rather attempting to understand the complexities of human nature. Hence the question mark in the title of the book. I’m not sure you will necessarily come to like Prendergast after reading it but you will definitely learn more about him.

There is no more apt nor fitting tribute to Prendergast than that of his old associate and rival, Robert Stout. Prendergast and Stout’s careers had intersected and overlapped since those early days in gold-rush Dunedin. On Prendergast’s death, Stout accurately predicted his legacy. At times, Stout had disagreed with the actions and decisions of Prendergast, so the ambiguity of his eulogy is fitting:

"I believe he will not be forgotten by our law students and our future race.  He is enshrined in the history of our judiciary and his name will be recalled as our students study our case law and our legal history."

Thank you so much for coming to this launch tonight. It means a lot to have you all here. This may sound like a typical academic, but I can’t think of a better way in which to spend my 40th birthday.

Prendergast: Legal Villain? is available now from our online bookstore and all good bookstores. 
$40, p/b.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

How Does It Hurt?

Tonight we launch How Does It Hurt? by Stephanie de Montalk at Unity Books in Wellington. If you're reading this before 6pm on Tuesday 18 November, come on down!

Here's a bit about the book:



  
A decade of chronic pain has been the creative catalyst for writer Stephanie de Montalk’s latest book, a memoir called How Does It Hurt?

De Montalk has suffered from intractable pelvic pain as the result of nerve damage following a fall in 2003. Her condition is obscure and at the time of her accident treatment was only available in the USA and France. In 2004 de Montalk travelled to France for surgery even though relief was not guaranteed. Over the past decade her pain has worsened.

Despite the constant pain she was in, she wrote a novel and two books of poetry during this period. She says the idea of writing a memoir first came to her in 2008, but she shied away from writing about pain at first.

“Society demands stoicism, and in this respect I found that while it was acceptable to talk about acute or temporary pain, to mention constant pain evokes disinterest and suggestions of exaggeration. It also is difficult to write about pain plainly, because of its resistance to verbal expression.”

She says that the nineteenth century French writer Alphonse Daudet’s account of his own pain consoled and influenced her.

“Through Daudet, I found it became acceptable to write about severe and continuing pain.”

In the end she found herself using a ‘hybrid’ form of writing, encompassing personal essay, memoir, poetry and critical analysis, to describe her experience with pain.

“I put my study into a personal narrative because I didn’t want it to feel imagined or removed. I’d been bolstered by the frank presence and emotional closeness of some of the pain memoirists I’d read. These were writers who could say with unassailable conviction, ‘this is how pain is for me; this is the truth of the matter.’ I wanted to write something as immediate, that a reader on the cliff face of pain could cling to, or a bystander would feel drawn to.”

De Montalk has had a varied career as a nurse, documentary filmmaker and writer. How Does It Hurt? is her seventh book and was written for her PhD in Creative Writing programme through the International Institute of Modern Letters.

“I made an early decision to interweave the critical and creative components of the PhD, instead of presenting them separately. I wanted to take myself and my readers on a journey of discovery. The support I received from my supervisors, the staff and students at the IIML went beyond my expectations.”


How Does It Hurt? by Stephanie de Montalk is available for purchase in our online bookstore or in good bookstores nationwide. Hardback, $40.






Tuesday, 11 November 2014

3 Questions for Grant Morris

Tomorrow night we launch Grant Morris's biography of James Prendergast at the Supreme Court. Prendergast: Legal Villain is the first biography of this major figure in New Zealand's legal history and will be of interest to readers of NZ history as well as legal professionals.


Tell us a bit about Prendergast and why you decided to research and write a biography of him?

Prendergast was arguably New Zealand's dominant legal professional during the period 1865 to 1899. He first served 10 years as Attorney-General and then 24 years as Chief Justice. This was a formative period in New Zealand's history during which the settler state was consolidated and strengthened.  Prendergast played a key role in this process. I specialise in the history of the New Zealand legal profession. I wanted to write a legal biography and was very aware that the few existing legal biographies were all of lawyers and judges considered 'ahead of their time', especially on issues relating to Maori. Due to his 'Treaty is a simply nullity' decision in 1877, Prendergast is considered the 'villain' of our legal history. This fact, combined with his long and eventful career, made him a fascinating and challenging choice to study. I also wanted to explore the historiographical debate around looking at history in its own context versus judging history by the standards of the present.  The latter approach has been prevalent in Waitangi Tribunal history. My argument is that the former approach is more useful in understanding history.

How do you regard the way in which the historical record has remembered him? Are you seeking to amend this by writing the biography?
 

Prendergast is without doubt the biggest legal villain in NZ historiography and, along with figures such as John Bryce and Frederick Whitaker, Prendergast's name is only mentioned today in order to condemn him. He is judged by half a quote from a decision he made in partnership with another judge. I was not interested in writing an apology for Prendergast but rather in placing him in the context of his time and exploring the other aspects of his career beyond the Wi Parata decision. By today's standards, Prendergast showed a clear disregard for traditional Maori society. His actions negatively affected Maori. That does not change the fact that Prendergast was an influential leader of the legal profession and one of New Zealand's founding fathers. He was not one of New Zealand's most brilliant judges, but he was capable and highly respected by his colonial peers. History, and especially biography, should not be about simply labelling a figure 'good' or 'bad' but rather attempting to understand the complexities of human nature.  

Can you tell us one your favourite events from Prendergast's life?

One of the most exciting events in Prendergast's life was his time on the Victorian goldfields in the mid-1850s. Prendergast was an unfortunate gold-miner, he lasted only a few months on the fields, nearly died of dysentery, and had to be rescued by his older brother. He decided to stay in Victoria and become an administrator, but feuded with his Protestant Irish superiors and after a few years gave up and headed back to London. The trip seemed a complete failure but the lessons he learned formed the basis of his later success in New Zealand. 

Prendergast: Legal Villain? by Grant Morris
p/b, $40
Available for purchase now through our online bookstore
and at all good bookshops.

Grant Morris, author of Prendergast: Legal Villain?

Monday, 10 November 2014

November Newsletter

To subscribe to our monthly newsletter sign up on our homepage 


New this month

We have six new titles out in November.

(memoir, $40)

A decade of chronic pain has been the creative catalyst for writer Stephanie de Montalk’s latest book, a memoir called How Does It Hurt?
De Montalk has suffered from intractable pelvic pain as the result of nerve damage following a fall in 2003. She says the idea of writing a memoir first came to her in 2008, but she shied away from writing about pain at first.

“Society demands stoicism, and in this respect I found that while it was acceptable to talk about acute or temporary pain, to mention constant pain evokes disinterest and suggestions of exaggeration. It also is difficult to write about pain plainly, because of its resistance to verbal expression.”

We launch How Does It Hurt? at Unity Books on Tuesday 18 November, 6pm.

An early review of How Does It Hurt? in Metro by David Galler says, "the book, peppered with literary references, extraordinary quotes and insights and de Montalk's own excellent poetry, is a deeply personal, moving, beautifully written account of a life lived with a constant companion: chronic pelvic pain."


Dear Neil Roberts by Airini Beautrais
(poetry, $25)

Airini Beautrais has written a collection of poetry about a dark piece of Whanganui history, the bombing of the Police Computer Centre by Neil Roberts in 1982. It is also a personal story.
Airini grew up in Whanganui and moved back with her family in 2012. It was then, thirty years after the event, that she began to work on a long poem about the centre bombing. Through her work as an activist and anarchist, Airini says that she met people who had known Mr Roberts and felt that the story was an important one for her to tell.

“Neil’s story made me feel uncomfortable and I wanted to address the reasons why. I also felt it was interwoven with my own story. I wanted to examine my own thinking of the story, and figure out where I stood in relation to what happened.”

Dear Neil Roberts will be launched first in Airini's home town of Whanganui on Friday 14 November, 5.30pm at Whanganui Regional Museum, Davis Theatre entrance, Watt Street.

In Wellington it will be launched on Thursday 20 November, 6pm–7.30pm at The Guest Room, Southern Cross Garden Bar (cash bar).


Prendergast: Legal Villain? by Grant Morris
(biography, $40)

James Prendergast was arguably New Zealand's dominant legal professional during the period 1865 to 1899. He first served 10 years as Attorney-General and then 24 years as Chief Justice.

Grant Morris author of this first biography of Prendergast says he is also without doubt the biggest legal villain in New Zealand historiography.

"Along with figures such as John Bryce and Frederick Whitaker, Prendergast's name is only mentioned today in order to condemn him. This fact, combined with his long and eventful career, made him a fascinating and challenging choice to study."

Grant says he wanted to explore the historiographical debate around looking at history in its own context versus judging history by the standards of the present. 

"The latter approach has been prevalent in Waitangi Tribunal history. My argument is that the former approach is more useful in understanding history. History, and especially biography, should not be about simply labelling a figure 'good' or 'bad' but rather attempting to understand the complexities of human nature."

Prendergast: Legal Villain? will be launched by The Honourable Justice John McGrath at Supreme Court on Wednesday 12 November, 5.30pm–7pm. Copies of the book will be available for purchase courtesy of Vic Books.


The Critic's Part: Wystan Curnow Art Writings 1971–2013 edited by Christina Barton and Robert Leonard with Thomasin Sleigh (art history, $80)

Wystan Curnow is New Zealand's longest-serving and, arguably, most important art critic. This edited collection brings together a selection of his art writings from 1971 to 2013 to provide the first comprehensive overview of his practice.

Two examples of Wystan's distinctive commentary:

"All cultures have their amateurs, their snobs. And, ever since the affluent bourgeoisie decided that the products of high culture were 'consumer durables' the spectacle of people laying claims to more cultural competence than they possessed has become more commonplace."
– from 'High Culture in a Small Province, 1973'

'In my role as manager I'd helped Billy [Apple] hold off, silence, or deflect the kind of language that had, on the previous visit, ambushed the work, only to intervene on my own behalf. If the media had questioned the integrity of the artist and his work, so too, in a special sense, did my texts. In disposing of as much of the opposition as possible, wasn't I engaging in a kind of pre-emptive, positively disposed criticism?'
–from 'Working with Billy Apple, 1985'

The Critic's Part is published by the Adam Art Gallery Te Pataka Toi, Victoria University of Wellington, and the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, in association with Victoria University Press.

The book will be launched at the City Gallery Wellington, Civic Square on this Sunday 9 November at 3pm. Wystan will be in conversation with co-editor Thomasin Sleigh, refreshments will follow.

Auckland Art Gallery will also host a launch on Tuesday 18 November, 6pm–8pm.


After Z Hour by Elizabeth Knox
(new edition, novel, $30)

Elizabeth Knox's After Z Hour was her first published novel back in 1987 and VUP have reissued it to coincide with the WWI centenary. Told in multiple voices by a group of people stranded in an old house on Takaka Hill in a storm, the novel has the hallmarks of vivacity and other-worldliness that have won Knox a large readership over her long writing career.

Read an interview with Elizabeth Knox by Anna Smaill about After Z Hour on the NZ Book Council site.


An Unreal House Filled with Real Storms by Elizabeth Knox
(essay, $10)

Elizabeth Knox delivered this essay for the inaugural Margaret Mahy Memorial Lecture at the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival in August this year. The response to the lecture was electrifying and we had many requests for publication resulting in this slim volume which discusses despair, speculative fiction, and the imagination.








Arts Laureate Geoff Cochrane



Congratulations to Geoff Cochrane who was named a recipient of a New Zealand Arts Award Laureate Award at the Arts Foundation ceremony in Auckland on Monday evening this week. Geoff's most recent book is Astonished Dice. On receiving the award Geoff took a few deep breaths and then said, "But what could be sweeter than being able to call oneself a laureate?"

Geoff's new collection of poems, Wonky Optics, will be released in early 2015.


Giveaways

To win one of November's titles email us with your choice here.

Congratulations to Laurice Gilbert who won a copy of Fleur Adcock's The Land Ballot in last month's giveaway.

Events in November

Book launch
The Critic's Part
by Wystan Curnow
Wellington
on Sunday 9 November, 3pm
at City Gallery Wellington, Civic Square
Auckland
on Tuesday 18 November, 6pm–8pm
Auckland Art Gallery

Book launch
Prendergast: Legal Villain?
by Grant Morris
on Wednesday 12 November,
5.30–7pm
at Supreme Court
to attend this launch you must RSVP by 5 November

Book launch
How Does It Hurt?
by Stephanie de Montalk
on Tuesday 18 November, 6pm–7.30pm
at Unity Books
Willis St, Wellington.

Book launch
Dear Neil Roberts
by Airini Beatrais
Whanganui 
on Friday 14 November,5.30pm
Whanganui Regional Museum, Davis Theatre entrance, Watt Street
Wellington
Thursday 20 November, 6pm–7.30pm
The Guest Room, Southern Cross Bar
39 Abel Smith St. Cash bar.

Event
Lit Crawl
on Saturday 15 November from 6pm
programme details here

Workshop 
Taking an axe to the ‘frozen sea’
A workshop on risk in writing with Pip Adam
27 November, 11 & 12 December 2014
More info contact