Friday, 21 December 2012

Merry Xmas & closing hours

The Press will be closed between the 21st of December and the 7th of January. Please note that orders to the online store after the 20th of December will be processed when the press re-opens.
We wish you all a peaceful holiday season and all the best for 2013.

Congratulations to competition winner Pip Adam, who has won 6 VUP titles of her choice! Pip's review for The Invisible Rider was chosen by Random Number Generator but there are many wonderful reviews on the blog post below and on the main website. Thanks to everyone who joined in, we had a great time reading them all. You can read some reviews on the main site for:

Tune in to National Radio tomorrow to hear Kate De Goldi rave about 3 of these titles. 

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Xmas Competition and February titles

We'd like to thank our loyal readers with a Christmas give-away. This year we thought we'd let you choose, you can win any six titles published by VUP in 2012. All you need to do is tell us your favourite VUP book of 2012 and what you liked about it.

Post your reviews as a comment below or on the website like this one for Kerrin P. Sharpe's book (see "Reviews" tab) and we will pick a winner on December 19th. Good luck and happy reviewing!*

Now that our last title for 2012 has been launched with great success we are gearing up for 2013. It's going to be a year packed with delicious books! Here is  sneak peek at a few forthcoming titles:

Aorewa McLeod's autobiographical novel delivers vivid and hilarious snapshots of late 20th Century lesbian life: witty, tender, frank.

Ben Cauchi’s photographs seem to arrive from another time and place, yet are thoroughly of the present. His use of the mid-nineteenth-century wet collodion photographic process is a means to question and undermine the certainties that we continue to invest in the photographic image.

We have some much anticipated new poetry out in February from John Newton and Elizabeth Nannestad. Also coming: We Will Work With You: Wellington Media Collective 1978-1998 tells the story of a group of young Kiwi designers and political activists committed to broadly defined left-wing principles and politics.

Have a look on our website for the full list of forthcoming titles (more titles will be added as details are confirmed).

*reviews sent in may be quoted on our website in future.

Monday, 10 December 2012

For all the tea in China

Is it still a book launch when the editor of the book hasn't yet arrived? This is what we quietly worried on Thursday night as Chris Elder was delayed by the Auckland tornado on his way back from Beijing. Of course he made it, a little late and ready for a glass of bubbly and a spring roll!
New Zealand's China Experience was given a loving send-off into the world. To celebrate we're sharing one of the excellent full colour illustrations from the beautifully produced book. This one you'll recognise as a Sarah Laing classic (thanks Sarah!).

Highlights from the book include:
  • An 1823 report pointing to the importance of the Chinese market.
  • The lives of Chinese goldminers seen by the missionary Alexander Don and the contemporary writer Alison Wong, and in the film Illustrious Energy.
  • First-hand reports of the bombing of Shanghai by Robin Hyde, and Mao Zedong in the Yunan caves by James Bertram.
  • The Chinese contractor in Dunedin who changed his name to MacPherson in order to bid successfully for Council contracts.
  • The New Zealand sheep flown 2,500 miles inland from Shanghai and rafted down the Yellow River to establish a breeding flock.
  • The New Zealand Honorary Consul in Tianjin who caused a diplomatic incident when required to remove his trousers at a Japanese checkpoint.
  • The ship’s captain who took greenstone from Milford Sound for the China market, losing an eye and fracturing both arms in the blasting operation.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Tractors not teapots

Stephen Levine with the RT Hon John Key

The Prime Minister expressed his relief  that the cover featured a tractor, not a teapot as he launched Kicking the Tyres: The New Zealand General Election and Electoral Referendum of 2011.

The book tells the story of the 2011 election campaign and of the National Party's success in winning more votes and seats than any other party.  Edited by Professor Stephen Levine and Dr Jon Johansson, Kicking the Tyres features chapters from representatives of all the parliamentary parties, and includes a section dealing with the 2011 electoral system referendum. It is accompanied by a DVD featuring materials such as election photographs; leaders' debates; political party and electoral commission TV ads.

The Prime Minister lingered to pose for photographs, and even signed a copy of the book for Stephen Levine’s mother in Florida.

The launch was held at Victoria University’s annual New Zealand Political Studies Association conference, which brings together political scientists and graduate students from around New Zealand and overseas to look at topics including New Zealand politics, electoral systems, international relations and public policy.
Attendees included contributors Steven Joyce, Grant Robertson, Metiria Turei, Mojo Mathers, Jane Clifton, Colin James, Nigel Roberts, Therese Arseneau, Claire Robinson, Sandra Grey, Stephen Church and Corin Higgs.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Fretful Sleepers in Frankfurt - a report from John Sinclair

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sails,
There gloom the dark, broad seas …

- Tennyson, Ulysses

For the record, let me be numbered amongst the admirers of the New Zealand pavilion at the 2012 Frankfurt Buchmesse – an arrangement of outsized book-shapes, three to four metres tall, within which were concealed caves hung about with clumps of New Zealand books on wires like strands of kelp, with wool-covered forms scattered about for visitors to sit and read or listen to a soundtrack of bush noises, muffled recitations of poetry and musical kiwiana; and all of this set beneath a ceiling of twinkling stars on an “island” surrounded by a glassy paddling-pool ocean. This was an island nation I was happy to call home, although for me the stronger visual impression was of a migratory waka, with books as sails, bearing passengers across unfamiliar seas to some mysterious landfall, as the deep moaned round with many voices.

So what if, on the first day of the Fair, some dozen or so guests stumbled into the dimly-lit room and straight into the water, prompting the management to instruct the stewards to whisper a multi-lingual warning to all entering the venue? I would have thought it was only proper that, in their efforts to engage with the book-culture of our corner of the Pacific, some people would end up with wet feet.

Guest of honour status at the Buchmesse grants the nation so favoured the right to stage a writers and readers festival alongside the world’s largest publishing trade fair. Under the moniker “While you were sleeping”, New Zealand fronted a creditable line-up of living treasures and enfants terribles, foodies and crime writers, children’s writers and digital media entrepreneurs, with cameo appearances by Ministers of the Crown, singers, carvers, kapa haka groups, actors, broadcasters (have I left anyone out?), all fueled by bottomless barrels of lamb and Marlborough chardonnay.

That said, the main business of Frankfurt takes place elsewhere, in a maze of halls connected by travelators and a free mini-bus service, through ritual tete-a-tetes over iPads between smartly dressed publishers and distributors and agents. (I was told that most of these discussions are continuations of others begun at the Leipzig and Bologna book fairs, that they will be resumed in London and Rome and Beijing, and that 90 percent of them will come to nothing.) Though the subject of all these interchanges is books, and they are conducted in book-lined stalls displaying all the latest titles, this is not really a place for the writers of books (think of farmers in dungarees witnessing their lovingly-produced wares being sliced and diced at the Chicago Futures Exchange), nor indeed for their readers (the books are not for sale, although some publishers will sell their stock on the last day of the fair, in order to lighten their luggage on the journey home).

Life for the New Zealanders at the Buchmesse revolved around the pavilion (affectionately known as “the pav”), a number of other performance venues around the city, Hall Eight (where the NZ publishers had their stands), and the “Green Room”, the nerve-centre of the Kiwi effort, where presenters lowered their heart-rates prior to their curtain calls, and from which I emerged one morning to find the ground floor cafeteria packed and the unmistakable voice of Arnold “Terminator” Schwarzenegger, regaling the locals with, I assume, tidbits from his newly-published memoir, Total Recall (reputedly anything but). I can report that he has that strong German accent even when he is speaking German.

Our guest of honour status brings up that unsettling question: what exactly is New Zealand literature? I never heard the question posed as such in Frankfurt, but it didn’t need to be. Many if not all of our readings and panel discussions (including the one into which I slipped as a late ring-in) strained in some fashion to answer it.

From within the narrowest brief of the Green Room team the answer is clear. New Zealand literature is intellectual property, a “weightless” export that does not evoke angst about fossil fuel consumption, and that generates a stream of bankable returns to individuals and entities residing in New Zealand, at least for tax purposes if not for much more. And they have a valid point. What writer would not, on the basis of export earnings, want to be counted as classmates with the NZ wine export industry?

Yet, for those who don’t view the possession of a NZ passport as proof of New Zealand-ness the question remains. Iceland, our immediate predecessor as guest of honour, has its own language, which most of its writers use. This can be said too of almost all of the GoHs in the last decade – including China, Turkey, Russia, Catalonia and Lithuania. And Brazil, to whom the torch has passed for 2013, has 80% of the world’s Portugese speakers, so it effectively has a language of its own too. Guests of honour have traditionally had a kind of hermetic quality to their culture, a quiddity brought about or accentuated by geographical or linguistic or political isolation.

This is not to say that New Zealand’s indigenous language didn’t feature prominently at Frankfurt, in waiata and mihimihi, and in those imported words that increasingly nugget the seams of contemporary NZ english. But ours is still an offshoot of English literature (as Wikipedia defines us), into which te ao Maori and te reo Maori are increasingly infused, giving us our own “hybrid vigour”. We are English without being quite English. We are clearly not American (a point everyone seemed to grasp, and which makes the Canadians envious). Nor are we Australian (a point that we like to labour, although surely we no longer need to do so), so we don’t have to put up with the assumption that all of our writing is, deep down, about a spiritual terra nullius, or the true meaning of mate-ship or of aboriginality. We have a colonial past, and it lives on in ways that alternately charm and embarrass us; and yet, unlike the literature of India or the West Indies, we don’t suffer the colonial language as a necessary evil forced upon us by linguistic fragmentation. By and large, we are affectionate towards the mother tongue, and have fun using it.

One thing that was obvious to the burgers of Frankfurt about New Zealand, I believe, is that, unlike the City of Oakland, there is a there here. Though what that there consists of seems willfully elusive and as yet unsettled. (The best fun I had in Frankfurt was at a performance called “Carnival of Souls”, in which a 1960s American B-grade horror movie was screened, with its original soundtrack supplanted by live lip-synching actors and musicians and sound-technicians. So very Kiwi!) Perhaps this is an attribute of our relative youth, that, in a young country, to paraphrase TS Eliot, the past can still be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. Perhaps this frees NZ writers to wander as rogue stars in the constellation of English literature, to play with language and form and culture, and yet to be “rooted” cosmopolitans when we want to be.

Thomas Merton wrote somewhere that art is one of the few endeavours in which we can simultaneously lose ourselves and find ourselves. Such paradoxical ways of talking can seem a cop-out, but there is for me something uniquely New Zealand – seen in our poetry and our prose, our children’s stories, and (convince me, someone) even in our writing about food – in reaching at the end for some kind of quirky irresolution. How better to get the world thinking about New Zealand-ness than to entice them with sounds and scents and imagery but to deny them any real sense of landfall?

Let us hope that the Buch-waka, dismantled though it now will be, sails on, paddles smiting the sounding furrows, charting a course between those dark waters and that endless starry night.

(As a final note, apropos of modern journalistic practice, I should point out that Thomas Merton had a New Zealand connection; his father was Owen Merton, a notable Cantabrian landscape artist. And he had a quirky ending too – initial rumours were that he was electrocuted in a Bangkok hotel room while using a hair-dryer for some purpose clearly unrelated to hair, since, as the photographs show, he was monkishly bald. The truth, more prosaic, was that it was a faulty electric fan that delivered the fatal blow.)

John Sinclair is the author of The Phoenix Song, the Listener Book Club book for December. If you are in Auckland be sure to come along to Shanghai Lil's, 311 Parnell Rd, November 13th, from 6pm where Tim Wilson will launch The Phoenix Song.  The Wellington launch was excellent but we're sure Auckland will step up to the challenge and be a great night out!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Covered with mould

I wrote a speech for the launch of Magnificent Moon last week. But once in front of a microphone, I choked and read only a few lines from it. As ever, saying something on paper is easier than saying it aloud. So here’s the whole of it.

I wanted to see how long I could go without writing a goddamn book. I wanted to be a floater, a hack, loitering around outside the books, creating a nuisance.

Which doesn’t make sense, because for a long time I wanted to have a book. When I was about six or seven, I established a library in my bedroom in which all of the books were written by me. At one point I began sending these “books” – pages printed off the PFS (Personal Filing System) computer program, stapled together, and often illustrated – to actual publishers. I found their addresses on the insides of library books, or I asked the nice lady at the bookshop to write them down for me, which she did, only a bit hesitantly, and I kept them on file and would besiege publishers with pages of faded-ink Courier font. (Amazingly, the poor publishers would often reply – with bemusement, but they would reply. “Dear Ashleigh, Thank you sending us your story ‘Pete and Roger go to the beach’. Unfortunately it is not what we are looking for at this time.”) 

Maybe I peaked too early with these multitudes of books, because in the last few years, I became reluctant to write a real one. There’s a great feeling of possibility when you haven’t written a book yet. No mistakes have been made, no one has fallen over in public. It’s as if you have a terrible crush on the book you will write and you haven’t had a decent enough conversation with it to find out that it’s not extraordinary. In order to prolong the fantasy, I kept the unwritten book at a distance and, instead, I just wrote things. I liked the seaweed approach to publishing my work – having it straggling about on the tide for people to brush up against then never see again. 

Consequently, many of the poems in Moon were not written with a book in mind at all; they were just written. And in some ways, the book feels very old. There are poems that are about ten years old in there, which is about 120 in poem years. Amazingly, I still quite like them – but I recognise a younger, more timid voice. The more recent poems I like less, perhaps because I see myself start to cloud over in them – I’m not as sure what my voice is. That’s why I started to write more poems in other people’s voices, or telling other people’s stories, or writing “afternoons” with interesting people, people I wanted to know better or even to be. 

I was worried about how my parents would react to the poems that they appear in, but they seem OK so far. And, the other day my dad wrote to me to say that he liked the poem “EBD” – which is the name of a four-seater Cessna he used to fly. “On one occasion I remember we were in terrible turbulence for over an hour and everyone on board was sick,” he wrote. “Weeks later, when the plane was in for maintenance, Roger (who was working at Te Kuiti airport in those days) found that all the vomit had seeped through the floor and was still there, covered with mould.” 

I suddenly realised that I’d made a serious ommision in that poem: the vomit. Ah, the vomit! There is always another layer – of something, maybe not always of vomit – underneath the story, festering away. Which is why I’m now very excited about future projects. My six-year-old self is feeling very gleeful right now as well, because she finally got a book.

Ashleigh Young's debut book of poetry Magnificent Moon was launched last week by Harry Ricketts who had this to say about it >>

© Marta Starosta

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Three Days in a Wishing Well

Here 's a little taster from our latest book of poetry - Three Days In A Wishing Well by Kerrin P. Sharpe. If you're going to be stuck anywhere for three days this is the book to read!

like rain the thunder

inside the tall gothic church
a man kisses the pieta
max is at the organ
composing a creation hymn
called apple and snow
all night the wind
wraps itself around the city
like a bell that does
not ring in danger but prayer
and genya's voice
falls from a clock
as she calls her children
kazia, stefan, hendrich, janek
her hand closes around
a winter apple
and somebody probably kazia
puts the kettle on
then all four children
gather their shadows
and become birds

New books & recent events

Bill Manhire read to a packed house at Te Papa yesterday from his hot-off-the-press new Selected Poems.  Perhaps the most entertaining part was hearing about an abandoned novel set in parallel universe with Queen Elizabeth getting poetry lessons by post from a certain P Larkin. The reading finished on a stunning reading of 'Hotel Emergencies' that left the audience blinking: "The fire alarm sound: is given as a howling sound do not use the lifts ...."

VUP were thrilled to be part of The Press Christchurch Writers' Festival. You can read write ups of some sessions on the Christchurch City Libraries blog. The weekend ended wonderfully with mulled wine at the launch of Kerrin P. Sharpe's debut book of poetry - Three Days In A Wishing Well, glowing in the GeoDome.

Lawrence Patchett was welcomed back to his home town of Lincoln with a run-away-success second launch of I Got His Blood On Me.

Kirsten McDougall's launch of The Invisible Rider was a warm family affair. We watched the sun go down and listened to beautiful words while the kids had their own little party down the end of the hall "I'm a dinosaur with wings!".

Friday, 31 August 2012

Samoa's Journey 1962-2012: Aspects of History

Ua sau le va'a na tiu, 'ae tali le va'a na tau, o lo'o mamaulago i le va'a na faoafolau.
One boat returns from the catch; the other is tied to the shore; the third is resting in the boat shelter.
The proverb above, chosen for the celebration of independent Samoa’s 50th anniversary, is about the people of Samoa at home and abroad. The boat returning from fishing refers to those who have travelled to other countries; the anchored boat refers to the chiefs, orators and young people; the third boat is likened to the old people staying at home. All play their part in maintaining Samoa as a proud independent nation.In 1962, Samoa became an independent state, after over half a century of colonisation. The nation has achieved much since then: Samoan sportspeople, artists and performers are well known and respected throughout the region, and it has its own university, hospitals, independent media outlets and a unique parliamentary system that incorporates significant elements of Samoan culture and tradition while retaining the principles of democracy. Samoans are now spread throughout the world, and most retain strong links to their culture and families back in Samoa.

Telepathy & Magic Fiction

‘Then make your mind clear. Push everything out of it. Not a single thought left. Your mind is a pool of water, very clear, absolutely still. Now Rachel is going to drop some pebbles in. Concentrate on that with all your mind. And forget me, forget my voice. Rachel, this isn’t hypnotism. I’m not making him deaf, he is making himself. He can’t hear me now. His mind is a pool of water.’

From Chapter Three, Under the Mountain, Maurice Gee – where Mr Jones teaches Rachel and Theo how to ‘speak’ using telepathy.

As an eight-year-old I was absolutely convinced that given enough effort I could learn telepathy. I sat my sister down and got her to follow Mr Jones’s instructions, as copied above. Unlike Rachel and Theo in Under the Mountain my sister and I were not twins and hence not endowed with special twin-powers. But hell, I was so excited by the concept and enlivened by their adventures that anything felt possible. This novel was for me both inspiration and instruction.

Yesterday, I time-travelled back to my eight-year-old self as I started to read Under the Mountain to my son. I remembered the story clearly as I read, my adult and child selves both present as the story unfolded. I was excited to be back there and, as a critical adult reading now, impressed at Gee’s formal construction of story and his respectful treatment of the child reader.

It was timely for me to have this experience. The night before I’d read Canada by Richard Ford (great lineage and the reviews had been excellent) and just before that, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (this year’s Orange prize-winner). Both of these books had left me disappointed. The Ford novel has some brilliant, wise sentences, strong characters and the story itself is a good one, but I felt that the telling of it was drawn-out and at times, repetitive. The Song of Achilles reminded me a little of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History in that it is a page-turner, but there seems to be little happening beneath the surface or between the lines. Given that both these books came with sterling critical acclaim – and hey, it’s Richard Ford! – I began to wonder if something was wrong with me. Was I succumbing to some viral attack of apathy and complacency in my reading?

I’d had a similar feeling a week ago when I took delivery of a copy of my first book. This should have been something, and expecting it so I was puzzled that instead of exhilaration I felt mild deflation. I held the thing in my hand, my writing finally made into an object, and all I could think was – Is that it?

The book seemed strange to me. My photo on the back and the name on the spine was mine, but after three or so years of the writing being alive in my head and subject to change, it now felt apart from me, as if it almost had nothing to do with me anymore.

So to come to Under the Mountain again – to remember what it is to be eight and excited by the possibilities of fiction – was something I very much needed as a reader and writer. 

I don’t believe that reading as a child is that different from reading as an adult. When I read as a child I wanted adventure, magic, and a happy ending. The happy ending was especially important for me. I don’t think I was a particularly happy child and so books had to be safe, not upset the order of the world too much. As I grew up I looked for other things – new ways to think about life, philosophical investigations such as – if there is no God, then what? Moral dilemmas. And sex. And then it became more about the way a story is told – the voice, the rhythms and sounds of language and people speaking. I don’t care for certainties now nor a happy ending but I still want to be transported as I was when I first read Under the Mountain. I still want to become Rachel Matheson for a few hours, speak telepathically to my sister.

Reading and writing, although associated, are very different activities. For me the motivations for doing both are very similar. I believe that I write because I want to create for myself and eventually for others, the excitement that I have experienced as a reader. I’m not saying I can do that, yet or maybe ever. But I want to try and try and try because it seems to me that to be transported is something we humans all desire on both a physical and spiritual level. It’s why we (well, some of us) take drugs and drink, or run for miles, or dance. We want for a few moments to feel something beyond the concrete weight of reality.

Perhaps it is that I refuse to grow up fully. I make stuff up, because to admit to the world as it is seems a Herculean and ultimately depressing task. And perhaps this goes partly towards explaining my feelings when I first held my book. Writing it was child’s play – truly, the best parts of writing for me are absolutely fun and thrilling. This does not mean that play is easy (watch any child play and you will see the effort made), but that it is satisfying when you finally work out how to make a story whole. I’ve heard it said that writing fiction is problem-solving. Maths for those who never got numbers.

When I held my book I felt like I was finally being pushed into an adult world. I’m hugely grateful for the opportunity to be published and very pleased that my work has been. But where the exhilaration lies for me is in the creating. It’s for someone else to be entertained or not by the final product. Now that it’s in a book it’s not mine anymore. I’ve got new problems to solve.

Kirsten McDougall is the author of The Invisible Rider, which will be launched this weekend, Saturday 4pm at Thistle Hall, 293 Cuba St, Wellington. All welcome.