Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas holiday hours and closure

Victoria University Press will be closed from Friday 19 December at 3pm and will reopen on Monday 5 January at 9am. Final orders will need to be received by this Wednesday 17 December. Any orders received after Wednesday will be processed when we return in January.

Happy reading everyone! And thanks for supporting VUP.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Four questions for Dylan Horrocks

Dylan Horrocks's much anticipated Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is out now. If you're in Wellington he is at Unity Books on this Friday 12 December, 12pm – 12.45pm for an instore reading and signing session. Come along!

Dylan Horrocks photographed by Grant Maiden

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen considers the importance of story and fantasy in our lives – our ability to dream and do crazy stuff in our dreams is what keeps us going – but your protagonist Sam is suffering because he's forgotten how to dream. Was this the germ for starting Sam – the value of dreaming?

When I started thinking about the Magic Pen, I was going through a rough patch in my relationship with fiction and fantasy. I had spent a few years writing monthly comics for a big American publisher, and the relentless routine of churning out scripts non-stop – often telling stories that were a long way from preferred style or content – took its toll. Over time, it's like I lost contact with my own imagination. I was spending so much time in imaginary worlds that had been made up by other people, many of which were (to be frank) pretty horrible places, that simple pleasure of entering a fictional reality stopped being fun and became a chore.

Imaginary worlds had always been a big thing for me. Immersion, exploration, indulgent daydreaming. That's been the wellspring for a lot of my writing, and also for my relaxation and play. I felt like Lucy Pevensie, standing before a locked wardrobe, with no way into Narnia.

So in the end, I did the only thing I could think of: I started dreaming up a story that would allow me to explore the mess I was in. I put Sam Zabel into a similar situation, because Sam's often been my go-to guy for making sense of dilemmas and problems in my own life. He's a different personality in many ways, but he's a useful experimental subject. By watching how he responds to certain conditions and seeing what happens next, I can learn all kinds of things about the questions I'm wrestling with myself. Ultimately, I hoped Sam could lead me back to the wardrobe, and help me unlock the door.

The story also deals with the ways in which females are portrayed in many comics as sex symbols, and it throws up a number of interesting questions about a comic as a place where artists (of both sexes) might play out their fantasies and what responsibilities might go along with that, if any. Are these ideas you've thought a lot about over your years in both the 'industry' and as an independent maker?

When I was writing superhero comics – which often revolved around horrible crimes and the search for justice – I began to wonder about the nature of the fantasies that drove the stories I was telling. Every imaginary scenario carries assumptions about how that world and people within it work. Motivations, social structures, gender relations, the causes of violence, the meaning of justice and the nature of power. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether the comics we were making contributed to myths and distortions that permeate our shared conversations about the problems we face. I remember watching Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine on television one night, and when he interviewed a producer on the reality show Cops – challenging him about the way the show repeatedly depicts African American men as violent criminals, and white people as victims, protectors and avengers – I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. It was the way the producer passionately defended his liberal credentials, even as he insisted his show's racial politics were an unavoidable consequence of the need to present "exciting television." I felt uncomfortably close to that producer.

One of my lowest moments was when an issue of Batgirl that I had written arrived from the printers with a recruiting ad for the US Army on the back cover. This was around the time the US Army was dropping white phosphorous bombs on civilians in Fallujah. I worried that the fantasies we were indulging and promoting in that comic were also being played out in the coverage of the war.

So yeah, I was thinking about it a lot. Fantasy no longer seemed harmless. And it wasn't just a matter of avoiding obvious genre stories and committing to 'serious, naturalistic' fiction; the whole enterprise of art - of storytelling - seemed inherently dishonest. Because it's all make-believe, whether we recognise it as such or not, and distortion and delusion creeps in to every story we tell. I thought a lot about Picasso describing art as "a lie that tells the truth." What if it's actually a lie that tells a lie?

At the same time, though, I had spent a lifetime obsessed with the power and potential of fantasy to enlighten, liberate and transform. A friend described what I was going through as a "crisis of faith", which sounded about right. Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is partly my attempt to find a way through that crisis and out the other side.

You use two epigraphs which contradict each other, and I found myself agreeing with both of them. The first is Yeats: 'In dreams begins responsibility' and the second is Nina Hartley: 'Desire has no morality.' It doesn't seem to me that this book draws any firm lines anywhere, except for being very opposed to the sexual violence of characters like Akio. I'm interested to know if you have settled somewhere in between Yeats and Hartley – or is this a line that needs to be constantly renegotiated?

I'm so glad you agree with both epigraphs! I used them both because I wanted to set up a discussion – maybe even a debate or argument – right from the very beginning. Because I went into this not knowing how to answer the questions I was wrestling with. And yeah, I agreed with both, too, and I wanted the book to keep the debate going, rather than allowing myself to adopt easy (ultimately dishonest) answers. So every time a character takes a stand or expresses a firm position, something else will undermine or contradict them. I wanted the book to simultaneously question and indulge the pleasures of fantasy (and eroticism), and in places even the drawings and words are working directly in opposition. I don't want to say too much about my own opinions at this point, because I'm more interested in readers entering into an open-minded conversation with the book, themselves and each other. But I will say I still think both epigraphs say something important, wise and true. 

How long has Sam Zabel taken you?

Oh God. 10 years, all up. Although most of it was drawn in the last 12 months. And I wrote and drew plenty of other things in that time too (some of which are in Incomplete Works). Hopefully the next book will be a whole lot faster!

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is out now. You can buy it here on our online bookstore or in great bookshops around the country. p/b $35

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

December newsletter – new releases and forthcoming titles in 2015


Dylan Horrock's long awaited graphic novel is released this month. Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is the thoughtful, erotic and funny story of cartoonist Sam Zabel as he struggles with creative block.

Dylan has been working on Sam Zabel for over ten years now and he said that his love of imaginary worlds as well as his struggles writing monthly comics for big publishers found a life in the work.

"Imaginary worlds had always been a big thing for me. Immersion, exploration, indulgent daydreaming. When I started thinking about story, I was going through a rough patch in my relationship with fiction and fantasy. I was spending so much time in imaginary worlds that had been made up by other people, many of which were (to be frank) pretty horrible places, that simple pleasure of entering a fictional reality stopped being fun and became a chore. So in the end, I did the only thing I could think of: I started dreaming up a story that would allow me to explore the mess I was in."

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen is available for purchase now at all good bookstores or through our online bookstore. $35, p/b.

Dylan will be reading and signing copies at an in-store session at Unity Books on Friday 12 December, 12pm–12.45pm. All welcome.

Creamy Psychology surveys photographer Yvonne Todd's work, from her earliest work in the late 1990s to her most recent Gilbert Melrose project (reprinting photographs of small town life taken in the 1950s by her second cousin) and her series Ethical Minorities (Vegans). The book features new essays by Todd, Misha Kavka (on Todd and soap operas), Megan Dunn (Todd and anorexia), Robert Leonard (Todd and cults), Claire Regnault (Todd and costume) and Anthony Byrt (Gilbert Melrose).

Creamy Psychology is released the same week as a major exhibition of Todd's work opens at City Gallery, Wellington. Todd will be in conversation with curators this weekend. More information here.

Creamy Psychology can be purchased at all good bookstores and through our online bookstore. $60, h/b.


A preview of two new novels and two new poetry collections due out in early 2015.

New Hokkaido
by James McNaughton,
novel, p/b, $30. February 2015.

It is 1987, forty-five years after Japan conquered New Zealand, and the brutal shackles of the occupation have loosened a little: English can be spoken by natives in the home, and twenty-year-old Business English teacher Chris Ipswitch has a job at the Wellington Language Academy. But even Chris and his famous older brother – the Night Train, a retired Pan-Asian sumo champion – cannot stay out of the conflict between the Imperial Japanese Army and the Free New Zealand movement. When Chris takes it upon himself to investigate a terrible crime, he is drawn into the heart of the struggle for freedom, guided along the way by the mysterious Hitomi Kurosawa and the ghost of Kiwi rock ’n’ roll legend and martyr Johnny Lennon.

New Hokkaido is a fascinating counter-factual history and an adventure that thrills and disquiets at every turn.

Wonky Optics
by Geoff Cochrane
poetry, $25, p/b. February 2015.

Wonky Optics is Geoff Cochrane’s fifteenth collection of poems. He is also the author of two novels, and Astonished Dice: Collected Short Stories (2014). Geoff received an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate Award in 2014.

‘The Cochrane tone is one of the great pleasures in our literature – and somehow sweeter for appearing not to be part of that literature.’ – Damien Wilkins

‘Over the years, Cochrane’s work has been a joy to me, a solace, a proof that art can be made in New Zealand which shows us ourselves in new ways.’ – Pip Adam

Half Dark
by Harry Ricketts
poetry, $25, p/b. February 2015.

In his new collection, Harry Ricketts addresses the people and places that fill a life and the gaps they leave behind. These are poems of friendship, romance, youth, and moments that still glow or ache decades after. Half Dark is tender, funny, sad, and deftly crafted from the splinters and spaces of the past.

In the Neighbourhood of Fame
by Bridget van der Zijpp
novel, $30, p/b. April 2015.

Rock musician Jed Jordan’s former fame means the events in his life have become public property. Years after ‘Captain of the Rules’ made him world famous in New Zealand, Jed is living quietly in an Auckland suburb with his family, growing peppers and recording in his home studio, when some disturbing new attention threatens to tear his world apart.

Also profoundly affected are three women whose lives are closely caught up in Jed’s – his wife; a childhood friend who has returned from Australia for her father’s funeral; and the fifteen-year-old Jed chats to in the local dog park. Vivid and engaging, In the Neighbourhood of Fame shines a light on modern relationship struggles within and between families, and on the unpredictable power of celebrity and social media.




I’m going to read Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-made World by Mark Miodownik. This won the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books and it looks weirdly enthralling. It’s an exploration of all the materials that shape the modern world. Also, The Great Animal Orchestra by Bernie Krause, which talks about soundscapes in nature (e.g.  glaciers, storms, whales, gorillas). Others clamouring for attention: Colm Toibin, Marilynne Robinson, Anna Jackson, Yiyun Li…but then I also have this strange urge to reread some old favourites, like Vivian Gornick and Diana Athill. Holidays are all about the comfort-reading.

I have a pile of books that have built up steadily over the last few months, the MA deadline was looming! But happily now I can get stuck into – in no particular order – Richard Ford's new Bascombe book Let me Be Frank With You, Colm Toibin's Nora Webster, William Gibson's The Peripheral, the new Ann Leckie Ancillary Sword, Sebastian Faulks' PG Wodehouse tribute book  Jeeves and the Wedding Bells and topping it off with Lila by Marilynne Robinson and Mal Peet's The Murdstone Trilogy.


My reward for finishing reading and commenting on the 2014 MA in creative writing folios (a million words!) is going to be The Murdstone Trilogy, Mal Peet’s send-up of the literary world. I read Hermione Lee’s fabulous biography of Penelope Fitzgerald this year; I’ve been reading/rereading her novels and luckily for me have three or four to go. And there’s the stack of unread new fiction: Ali Smith, Peter Stamm, Jenny Erpenbeck, Patrick Modiano...I’m not afraid of running out.


Lila is waiting for me to finish my rereading of Anna Karenina. She'll have to be patient because AK does go on, in the nicest possible way.


I plan to read Lila by Marilynne Robinson, as she was my favourite character in Gilead and I really want to find out her back story. I also want to read Stephanie de Montalk’s How Does It Hurt?, after the rave reviews everyone in the office has been giving it! Having devoured the first book in the series, my kids will probably be making me read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to them (despite my appalling Scottish accent when reading Hagrid’s lines). And for light relief I’ll be dipping into What If?, by xkcd creator Randall Munroe.


Subscribers to our monthly newsletter are offered a chance to win copies of new releases each month. You can subscribe to our newsletter from our homepage.

Congratulations to Marie Buchler who won a copy of Prendergast: Legal Villain in last month's giveaway.


Our office closes on Friday 19 January and reopens on Monday 5 January.

Happy holidays and thanks for reading!