Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Victoria University Press author on Man Booker Longlist

Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries has made the prestigious Man Booker Longlist for 2013. 

Catton, 27, is the youngest writer on a list that includes well-established writers such as Colm Toibin, Jim Crace and Jhumpa Lahiri.
Speaking from her home in Auckland, Catton said 'I'm absolutely over the moon. I feel really proud to be flying the New Zealand flag, metaphorically speaking, and I hope that this nomination will help to bring more international attention to New Zealand literature and culture. I'm looking forward to reading all the other nominated titles in the coming weeks.’

The Luminaries is set in Hokitika in the gold-rush years of the 1860s. Wide in scope with a large cast of characters, the novel stretches over 848 pages and is an astonishing feat of storytelling.

Fergus Barrowman, publisher at Victoria University Press said, 'I've been carrying around The Luminaries like a big, golden secret for months. Readers are going to love the book. I'm so happy for Ellie that she's received this international recognition so early in the book's public life.'

The list announced last night includes thirteen novels.

Chair of judges Robert Macfarlane said: ‘After we the put the list together we tried to see what links them together, and all that linked them was how varied they are, in form, in tone, in length. I think they are all very contemporary – even the historical books look forward, and they are interested in disasters, whether financial or natural, and globalisation.’

The shortlist will be announced 10 September.

Two VUP books finalists in NZ Post Book Awards

Two Victoria University Press authors, Kate Camp and Gigi Fenster, are finalists in the NZ Post Book Awards announced today.

Kate Camp

Kate Camp is a finalist in the Poetry section for her collection Snow White's Coffin, which was written while she was in Berlin last year on the Creative NZ Berlin Writer’s Residency. Ms Camp said, 'It's really exciting. I worked on this book so intensively and it still feels new to me. It's amazing for it to get this recognition.'

Ms Camp’s fourth book of poetry, The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls, won the Poetry category at the 2011 NZ Post Book Awards.

Gigi Fenster

Gigi Fenster is a finalist in the Fiction section for her first novel, The Intentions Book. Ms Fenster said, 'As a first time writer, it's incredible to be selected for the Fiction category. It's an honour to be named amongst the wonderful writers who have been recognised by this award in the past.'

Victoria University Press Publisher, Fergus Barrowman, said, ‘I am delighted by the recognition given to these two great books. For VUP these finalist nominations for Kate Camp and Gigi Fenster plus the two Best First Book awards for Helen Heath and Lawrence Patchett are welcome recognition of the high calibre books and writers we’ve been publishing. In the past 17 months we’ve published six fiction titles, all of which were first books, and 14 poetry collections, four of which were first books. It’s been a stellar year.'

Two Victoria University Press writers were announced as winners of the NZSA Best First Book awards last week. Helen Heath won NZSA Jessie Mackay First Best Book of Poetry awards for Graft and Lawrence Patchett won the NZSA Hubert Church Best First Book of Fiction for his short story collection, I Got His Blood On Me.

The winners of all categories of the NZ Post Book Awards will be announced at a ceremony in Auckland on Wednesday 28 August.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Wanted, a Beautiful Barmaid

On Monday night we launched Susan Upton's history, Wanted, a Beautiful Barmaid at the Thistle Inn, Wellington's oldest pub. Historian Charlotte Macdonald launched the book, and has kindly provided her speech below.

"Like all of you here tonight, I am delighted to see Susan Upton’s research project on women in the hotel industry now complete – and here before us in handsome book form, between two covers, as Wanted, a Beautiful Barmaid. Sue, warmest congratulations on all your work to reach this stage. And also to Victoria University Press for recognising such an excellent project and bringing it to us in published form.

As I started to read this book however, I have to say I began to get worried.

Sue had completed an MA thesis which I had supervised some years ago – a good thesis. Part of what an MA thesis is supposed to demonstrate is a high level of research skill, systematic modes of thinking, and especially a knowledge of how to go about doing research in sources found in archives, manuscripts in places such as the Alexander Turnbull Library. But here in the Introduction, on p.17, Sue was telling us that in writing this book ‘Going to a party was often more productive than a day at National Archives’.

I was shocked!

But only for a minute.

There is in fact, a great depth of research behind the history that this book tells. Research that uncovers experiences ranging across nearly 150 years and across the gamut of human experience from the tragic to the hilarious, triumphant to the dismal. What Sue was, of course, pointing to in making this comment was just how close to the heart is the subject of drinking – where we drink, how we drink, who we drink with. And who serves those drinks. Everybody, it seems, had a grandmother or an aunt who was a barmaid. Everybody has a story, and a view, about the good and the bad of New Zealand bars.

The part of that general history that most people know is that of the long era in which New Zealanders lived under the restriction of 6 o’clock closing and its ugly spectacle, ‘the swill’. What began in 1917 as a wartime efficiency measure lasted through until the light dawned in 1967, when 10 o’clock closing opened the door on the more civilised possibility of bars with seats and tables, on leisurely rather than frenetic socialising.

That story, in turn, is part of a wider view of New Zealand that depicts the nation’s history as once a battleground between puritan wowsers and hard drinking men ‘from the bush’, a battle that got stuck in the attrition of public bars with their culture of ‘vertical drinking’, hotels as no more than denizens of male bacchanalian excess.

The story told in Wanted, a Beautiful Barmaid gives us a part of the history that is much less well known; and in doing so very considerably enriches that all too often caricatured picture we have of our drinking history.

What Sue sets out in this fine book is the story of many hundreds – perhaps thousands – of women who worked in pubs and hotels as barmaids, as publicans, as managers, and most numerously - as family (wives, daughters, sisters) –  whose work came under that wonderfully encompassing and understated job title: ‘family assisting’.

At the heart of the book is the story of attempts to limit women’s employment in bars and hotels – a campaign that began as early as 1869 when barmaids on the goldfields were prohibited from dancing with their patrons. And which took on particular force with the campaign to prohibit barmaids from working at all in any bars. That idea was first mooted in 1874, but took on momentum in the 1880s and finally succeeded in 1910, though there was a residual provision for those already in work to stay there through the Register of Barmaids drawn up in 1911-13. The anti-barmaid campaign had its parallel in efforts to prohibit women from holding licenses as publicans unless they were widows or married women solely supporting their families. The power of the interests lined up against women in bars was considerable, and long-lasting. And sometimes surprising. Even when legal restrictions against women working as barmaids were lifted, in 1961, there remained efforts to keep them out. Instead of worker solidarity, the hotel-workers’ union, with the support of FOL leader F P Walsh, was determined to keep the women out, fearful that barmaids would undercut the wages of barmen.

The labyrinthine reach of New Zealand’s licensing system, especially in that period from the 1880s to the 1950s, was not just an attempt to limit drinking by making it unattractive and restricted in place and time, but also contains a labour and social history of workers and their workplaces. Most pointedly, it includes these attempts to push women out of what was a comparatively lucrative occupation.

For all those efforts of legal restriction, however, perhaps it will come as little surprise to learn that what actually went on was often somewhat different from what legislators had intended. The realities of earning a living, of serving local communities, of meeting demands from thirsty patrons, often meant the doors were open, the women were behind the bars and the glasses were full – despite what the letter of the law might have said.

Throughout the book the feel of people, of lives of energy, of hard work, of ingenuity and opportunism, are all very apparent.

Here are just a few of those we meet on the pages: -

Elizabeth Donnelly on p.67. Her miner husband was killed in a landfall on his claim at the Dunstan in 1879. She had 11 children and a 12th on the way. With the money she  invested well, she was able, 6 years later, to become the owner of Black’s Hotel at Ophir and had built the Railway Hotel at Lauder.

Or the barmaids in Nelson in 1908 who took exception to local brewers who had been persuaded by local temperance supporters to stop employing barmaids in their hotels. In retaliation, the barmaids dissuaded the locals from drinking their beer (p.113).

In 1896, at the height of temperance campaigning, Wellington publicans Emily Clark and Mary Moynihan stood outside polling booths canvassing support for the Licensed Victuallers’ Association – against the efforts of women seeking support for the WCTU. Their presence, it was said, was ‘very subduing’. (p.106)

Or there is Rebecca Tabor, publican at the Prince of Wales in Masterton, who was held in such warm esteem by her customers, they made her an honorary male and vice president of their rugby club (p.101).

In this respect there are people you meet on these pages that you definitely feel you don’t want to mess with. Mrs Murphy, the proprietor at Palmerston North’s Princess Hotel from 1939-64, took a very dim view of women drinking in her pub in the evenings (p.138). She simply refused to serve them and sent them packing: ‘Don’t come back’ she told them, ‘and they didn’t’. Or there is the diminutive ‘Ma Blainey’ at Dunedin’s Tattersall’s Hotel, dressed demurely in black but running her establishment in such a manner that intimidated her customers and kept them in check (pp.128-9).

For her ingenuity and entrepreneurship rather than forcefulness, I have to say I have a soft spot for Mary Ann, the (briefly) hard done by barmaid in Central Otago at the height of the goldrush. Mary Ann’s future husband failed to show up at the church in Cromwell where their wedding was to take place. Instead of quailing, Mary Ann hotfooted it to the pub where she raffled her wedding cake. She then took up position behind the bar and proceeded to serve customers while in her bridal robe and orange blossoms. The sight of Mary Ann at the Junction Hotel in Bendigo Gully was such a novelty that she caused a riot as miners crowded into the pub. They drank it dry in 2 hours. Fortunately more supplies were obtained from down the valley and pandemonium went on for most of the week! (p.45)

Reading across this history – of escalating restriction – as the squeeze gradually made it harder and harder for women as publicans and as barmaids to keep working – it is easy to be struck by the extremity (perhaps even ludicrousness) to which efforts to keep women out of bars extended. And to be struck by the glaring contradiction running through the arguments set down to exclude women from bars – on the one hand bars were seen as places which were inimical to female respectability, hence the sooner women were removed from them the better it would be for their own sakes. On the other hand, the argument made that excluding barmaids, ‘decoy birds of the liquor traffic’ (p.109), would remove temptation proffered to men luring them to hotels to drink via the siren call of the temptress behind the counter.

Yet what the book illustrates is how multi-sided has been the ‘drink industry’ (and ‘drinking culture’) in New Zealand’s history. For many people it has provided a place of work, a livelihood, pubs at times have been centres of community activity. The place of widows in this story is one of the prominent and very interesting themes to emerge. What is evident also is the great reliance, in this industry, on the unpaid and often unrecognised work done by family members – wives, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers in making sure businesses ran and in keeping people’s economic heads above water (and sometimes even to make a tidy profit).

The book offers an important addition to how we understand ‘the demon drink’ within New Zealand’s gender history. Too often we have presented a black and white picture of women as wowsers up against drinking men. And with that sometimes comes a rather saccharine or genteel image of the women’s vote in New Zealand as a triumph of the white ribbon of the temperance movement rather than the hard headed and skilful public campaign run by Kate Sheppard around the various political interests involved in the New Zealand Alliance, in the mixed affiliations of Seddon and Ballance’s Liberals and their cross-bench opponents, and the mixed reputations and political followings of people in the trade, including their political representatives – none more aptly named than the Dunedin MP Henry Fish.

Wanted, a Beautiful Barmaid adds another dimension to the story of men, women and alcohol. It reminds us, first of all, that many men, including those in the liquor industry and unions, acted to exclude women from bars as workers. And second, that many women did not share temperance beliefs – indeed, they were involved in hotel industry as owners, licensees, managers and barmaids.

It is good to see here in Sue’s book, that fact that is often lost, that there is no evidence to show that the women’s vote (exercised from 1893) increased the vote for prohibition. That campaign was strong but drew support, and opposition, from male and female electors.

On this score, there are moments of indignation in reading this book. One of the sharpest for me was in the campaign call by Tommy Taylor (in cahoots with ‘good cold tea Isitt’  Methodist Rev Leonard Isitt p.89), one of the most energetic prohibition voices in Christchurch in 1890s and early 20thC when he challenged his audience with call: ‘Isn’t your vote as good as the vote of two barmaids!’ (p.96) Casting aspersions on the respectability of barmaids is a recurrent chorus through these pages – occasionally, just occasionally they get a chance to answer back in public (I’d like to hear their private remarks – possibly unprintable).

The story Sue Upton’s book tells of attempts to push women out of bars can be read as anachronistic, as a failed history, as simply an account of the quirks and idiosyncrasies of history, what we were once – long ago. But I think it is more than this (and such a view does a disservice to History). The question of how to regulate alcohol, and the perception of the need to regulate alcohol – or not – remains a vexed one. Alcohol use, and abuse, is still with us. And one of its disturbing aspects is its part in the ugly side of gender relations (particularly domestic violence) in our society. Effective forms of control, ways of minimising harmful use, remain challenges in the very different circumstances of the market and moral economies of the early 21stC. I am not so much suggesting that there is a neat lesson to be learned from history (it doesn’t work like that), but I think it can be useful to reflect on how issues and questions have been perceived and addressed in the past. History forms part of the evidence available to draw on in knowing ourselves in the present, and thinking about how we act in the time that is ours, the time in which we have the possibility of acting.

I want to conclude with a salute, a toast – first to two women from The Thistle Inn who appear in the book: Ellen Keeney, who held the temporary license for the Thistle in the first decade of the 20thC when married women were generally legally excluded from being licensees but who took over responsibility while her husband was being treated in the Asylum. And the unnamed barmaid who lost her job at the Thistle in 1965 because she was employed to serve drinks in the public bar without consent of the union. Second part of my toast is to Susan Upton, author, historian, for bringing us a rich and measured history, one with a great touch for the human story at the same time as giving us the larger canvas on which those stories unfolded. Perhaps the perfect result of research in the archives and at parties. Congratulations.

And do read the book!"

Charlotte Macdonald

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Two Best First Book Awards for VUP Authors

We're very excited to announce that two of our writers, Helen Heath and Lawrence Patchett, have been awarded Best First Book Awards at this year's New Zealand Post Book Awards.

Helen Heath has won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book for Poetry award for her collection of poetry, Graft.

Poet, Helen Heath (photo by Kate McPherson)

Lawrence Patchett has won the NZSA Hubert Church Best First Book for Fiction award for his book of short stories, I Got His Blood on Me.

Fiction writer, Lawrence Patchett (photo by Robert Cross)

Publisher Fergus Barrowman says, ‘We’re delighted that two of our first books have done so well, and congratulate both our writers on winning these prestigious awards.’

Poet Helen Heath, whose poetry collection features a number of poems about scientists and was also the first book of poetry to ever be shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Society of New Zealand Science Book Prize, says 'Considering the strenth of many of the first poetry books this year, I'm immensely humbled by the judge's decision to pick Graft for this award.'

Fiction writer Lawrence Patchett, whose collection tells stories of time-travel, frontier conflict and early Pakeha and Maori relationships, says, ‘It’s a great boost for me and encouragement to keep writing, I’m really thrilled about it.’

Both writers are graduates of the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, with Lawrence Patchett holding both a Masters and Doctorate from the Institute. Helen Heath holds a Masters and is currently enrolled in a PhD.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Rattle, a division of Victoria University Press

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) professor Neil Quigley and VUP Publisher Fergus Barrowman in VicBooks. 
(Robert Cross, VUW Image Services)

Victoria University has today issued a press release announcing the recent acquisition of iconic New Zealand music recording label Rattle, much to the pleasure of Press publisher Fergus Barrowman, whose enthusiasm for music has so far had expression through a seven-weekly 20-minute slot of Radio New Zealand nights, discussing recent jazz releases with Bryan Crump. 

Rattle has released the music of a wide and diverse collection of the country’s most talented performers and composers including Michael Houston, John Psathas, Mike Nock, Norman Meehan, Richard Nunns, Hirini Melbourne, Whirimako Black and the New Zealand String Quartet. Rattle will sit alongside Victoria University Press, creating a unique art-music label that is ideally placed to take advantage of the emerging convergence of print and music publishing.

Victoria University Press (VUP) Publisher Fergus Barrowman says the acquisition of Rattle plays on the strengths of both entities as well as offering new digital opportunities.“It’s a very exciting partnership. As publishing continues to move towards increased online activity, adding recorded music to our cap marks a natural progression in our development.”

Sound Engineer Steve Garden, who has been the driving force behind Rattle during the past twenty years, will continue in his role recording, mixing and editing ground-breaking New Zealand music. “Steve’s expertise, connections and of course his reputation as one of New Zealand’s most trusted and respected recording collaborators, are invaluable and we are really excited about the future with Rattle becoming part of the University’s publishing activities,” says Barrowman.

Victoria University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Neil Quigley says the Rattle label will be strengthened by becoming part of Victoria University. “Ultimately, bringing Rattle into Victoria University and aligning it with VUP will bring benefits to New Zealand artists and our country’s creative industries, by providing a stronger resource to capture and publish the endeavours of our top musicians,” says Professor Quigley.

Rattle artists are enthusiastic about the new ownership of their recording label. Professor John Psathas, one of New Zealand’s most internationally acclaimed composers, who is based at Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music, says Rattle has sustained and nurtured the work of many of New Zealand's most unique composers and performers. “Underlying Rattle's motivation from the start has been an esteem of our musical artists and their work. This value, placed on the music itself above all else, is the guiding principle and the driving force behind the intense energy of Rattle. It is pleasing to see Victoria University lending its support in this way, to ensure these values are upheld into the future.”

Michael Houston: “Rattle is a quality item—smart and serious."

Richard Nunns: “Since the early ‘90s, Rattle has been at the forefront in the recording and promotion of a wide range of New Zealand music—it is a national treasure. Rattle has the highest standard both in recording and promotion and its unique characteristics fit well within the ethos of Victoria University"

On campus this week there are three free lunchtime jazz concerts in the Hub by leading members of Te Koki New Zealand School of Music:

Wednesday 17 July, 12.15pm–1pm: Reuben Bradley and band
Thursday 18 July, 12.15pm–1pm: Dave Lisik and band
Friday 19 July, 12.15pm–1pm: Rodger Fox and band

And VicBooks have a special instore-only offer on Rattle CDs.

Fergus has a bit more to say in the Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire

Rattle artists Norman Meehan and Hannah Griffin perform 'The Hawk' by Bill Manhire

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley - The Launch

The launch for Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley was held last Friday at Philosophy House. The Grand Hall was packed out to celebrate the publication of this classic kiwi comic mystery erotic horror adventure novel, and to take a peek inside Philosophy House. It's a fabulous old building which was originally built by the Salvation Army before the School of Philosophy took it over in the late 70s.

Danyl made a wonderful speech about the book, and also spoke to Kim Hill on Saturday.

Here are a few pics from the launch, taken by Alicia Haigh.

Danyl McLauchlan makes his speech

The audience is entertained

Fergus Barrowman, and three characters from the novel - Steve, Danyl and Campbell

Danyl and Maggie

Monday, 8 July 2013

Posting The Odour of Sanctity to one of its saints

On Saturday night we launched Amy Brown's new epic poem, The Odour of Sanctity, at the Adam Art Gallery. Here Amy talks about sending a copy to Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum, a character in the poem.

There are six ‘candidates for sainthood’ in The Odour of Sanctity, one of which is based on a living, soon to be visiting New Zealand, person.

When I decided to make U.S. musician Jeff Mangum (of Neutral Milk Hotel) a saint, I didn’t really consider that he’d find out. I thought about it, but for several years I didn’t believe it was a possibility. (While writing The Odour I did a lot of thinking and little believing – faith still confounds me.)

If I were faithful, I might think the recent reformation of Neutral Milk Hotel were fateful. When the band announced four shows in New Zealand at the end of the year, I took it as a sign; an invitation to post Jeff Mangum a copy of the book in which a fictionalised version of him is made a candidate for sainthood.

Those who want to contact Jeff are encouraged to do so via Orange Twin Records. When I clicked on the link to email Orange Twin an Outlook page popped up addressed to Laura Carter. “Dear Laura,” I started. The last time I had typed her name was for The Odour. The opening tercet goes:
            Laura, it isn’t safe outside—
            don’t leave me tonight.
            Please stay here on our sofa.
An innocuous reference, so far, but one she hadn’t permitted. Who, she is entitled to wonder, is this person on the other side of the world imagining me and my ex-boyfriend sitting on a sofa together?

I didn’t mention in my email to Laura that her name was the first word of the poem. Instead, I asked if she would mind passing on to Jeff a book I had written, which includes a fictionalised version of himself and his band. Laura replied the next day. Sure, she said; she’d give it to him. I could post it to the studio in Athens, Georgia.

The same Athens, Georgia, where I had imagined Jeff buying a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank (“The only one I wanted to rouse was Anne Frank.// I found her diary in an Athens secondhand store . . .”), to which much of NMH’s last album, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, is a tribute. If he can use Anne Frank’s story in his songs, I once thought, I am allowed to use his in the poem. I often forgot while writing that he was still alive somewhere, and Anne Frank was not.

I wrapped the book in brown paper (as if it were a gift or something illicit) and accompanied it with an apology/thank you note. Each of the sentences wanted to start with “I hope”.

(I hope the poem isn’t offensive or harmful to its main living subject. I hope the poem is good enough. I hope you see that the public version of you I started with has turned into my own imagined version, which I understand is different from the real private version.)

The card is written with a fountain pen—globs of blue ink indicating nerves. What a nerve! No, he wouldn’t say that; he isn’t the heroine of an Enid Blyton novel. But he might think the equivalent. I have done enough speculating about what Jeff Mangum would think or say in certain situations. Now I will just send the parcel. I complete the green security form and sign to confirm that the item isn’t dangerous.

The parcel should arrive in Athens, Georgia, in ten days. I don’t know when Laura Carter will see Jeff Mangum next. I do know that Laura’s band Elf Power is scheduled to tour with Neutral Milk Hotel in October. The last time the bands toured together was at least fifteen years ago—the period imagined in The Odour.  It was on the cusp of NMH’s global popularity, before Jeff found the attention from fanatics too much and retreated. That is how the myth goes anyway.

Fifteen years on, the myth is probably out of date. I hope, if the parcel doesn’t go missing, if Laura Carter passes it on, and if the brown paper is unwrapped, that Jeff sees my version of him as a (believable, likable) character rather than as himself. A character that includes my own stories (the time I woke to find a headless kitten and a murderous cat on my bed; a conversation with my boyfriend about the way aeroplane wings work; a friend’s anecdote about taking her pet rats for bike rides). A character who enters a sonnet-writing competition with Christina Rossetti. A character whose music raises a sufferer of takotsubo cardiomyopathy from the dead. A character who, inside the mythical Jeff Mangum, is an amalgam of many selves, friends and influences.