Below is an excerpt from the novel All This by Chance by Vincent O’Sullivan, which is shortlisted for this year’s Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

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About the writer:

Vincent O’Sullivan is the author of two previous novels — Let the River Stand, which won the 1994 Montana NZ Book Award for fiction, and Believers to the Bright Coast, which was shortlisted for the 2001 Tasmania Pacific Region Prize — and many plays and collections of short stories and poems. His most recent collection of short fiction is The Families. His work has been much awarded and he was made a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2000 Queen’s birthday honours. Vincent O’Sullivan was the New Zealand poet laureate 2013–2015. He lives in Dunedin.

About the book:

Esther’s grandparents first meet at a church dance in London in 1947. Stephen, a shy young Kiwi, has left to practise pharmacy on the other side of the world. Eva has grown up English, with no memory of the Jewish family who sent their little girl to safety. When the couple emigrate, the peace they seek in New Zealand cannot overcome the past they have left behind.

Following the lives of Eva, her daughter Lisa and her granddaughter Esther, All This by Chance is a moving multigenerational family saga about the legacy of the Holocaust and the burden of secrets never shared, by one of New Zealand’s finest writers.

‘In part All This By Chance tells us much about how different generations of young New Zealanders have interpreted the big world called Overseas. Stephen in the 1940s, Lisa in the 1960s and a granddaughter in the 2000s react to Europe in very different ways.

More essential, though, is what the novel says about the hold that the past has over us, how the past shapes us whether we like it or not, and how lethal it can be to pretend uncomfortable parts of the past never happened. This novel is about time, remembrance and the persistence of family traits, even when they have been ignored.

And it is at least possible that the title “All This By Chance” is ironical. Various characters in the novel hold firm religious beliefs, which do not see blind chance as shaping us, while others have an agnostic looseness that does not speculate on such matters. O’Sullivan’s prose is densely detailed, picking up fine nuances in the culture of each age and generation. It is as outstanding a novel as has been produced in this country in the last 10 years.’

(From a review by Nicolas Reid on Stuff.co.nz, March 2018)

 


(Victoria University Press)

 

Through the night there is rain that makes her think again of back home, its soft beating against the window in her room, the runnels of water on the pane when she draws back the curtain and the street light level with her wobbles behind the moving glass. In the morning the rain is light, almost a kind of veiling Englishness. Then later the sky clears, the heat is sudden, the streets steam: it is summer again of the kind that tourists travel for.
……..Esther checks her maps, the notes she carries in her folder, and in twenty minutes she has crossed Rynek and the smaller square that leads from it with banks of flowers outside shops, restaurants as everywhere, groups of young people here for a youth conference assembling under flags. She takes a narrow alley and is away from the tourist centre. She follows a broad road and crosses tramlines, finds other names she checks on her maps, is struck by the occasional ornate and grimed old commercial buildings, among the drab post-war office blocks, much as they might be in any city. Soon she stands before a high tiled building in quiet curving Włodkowica Street. She recognises it from the photograph in her guidebook. She passes through a short vaulted archway and finds herself in a large courtyard, the windows of several storeys rising on three sides, and facing her on the fourth, the façade of the synagogue, the tall flat white columns against painted stone, classical Greek detail flowering at their tops. She feels a quick stab of disappointment. There is nothing obviously religious, Jewish, about the building she looks at. It is like a concert hall, what she has waited to see.
……..The White Stork, that oddest of names for a synagogue, a long time back the name of a drinking house that stood there first, so there is no surprise in that. A pub, a place to stay, nothing to do with them, until the families of whom her own must have been one were rich enough to buy the land, to build in a style that showed their wealth, their education, their being like anyone else apart from this, apart from their wanting their God to have a place which no one would doubt belonged to them. To decorate it with fine galleries, with the white-and-gold patterns and designs and elegance that made it worthy of Him, and themselves worthy of it. This was the nineteenth century, this was Germany, the people she came from were part of what sustained the fineness of both. This was not a place where peasants, where mutterers in Yiddish or local dialects came to declare descent, but an educated people were proud to be seen. She had heard as much for years from David and now saw why his version was another world. But the building is a shell of what it may have been, expanses of raw distempered walls as she enters its big spaces, the derelict rooms, where workmen seem in the process of attempting to bring them back from its general sense of neglect, loss, decay. The rough concrete tubs, the tangle of pipes, as she walks down to the female baths. Back on ground level she makes out the dim high gallery where the women would have sat, the glaring emptiness of the windows whose patterned glass they would have faced. But the stairs she might take up to it are closed off with wooden barriers. The dull reality that this is what the past must first journey through, before it is retrieved. And her accepting too as she reads a summary account of where she stands, the further scouring disappointment that her family, those at least that she knows the names for, would not have attended services here in any case but have gone to the larger Reformed synagogue streets away, so grand and handsome, so certain and established, destroyed the night of the other Jewish fires across the country they once were part of. Yet to say so much as ‘was’ is surely to say it in the present: the past is here or not at all.
……..‘They were significant people.’ How she remembered her father saying that. And the quick snap of her irritation as a teenager, her demanding why he had to drag his bourgeois snobbery even into this, as if it mattered a damn whether a great-uncle as he claimed was a famous scholar? She had shouted what difference would it make if he couldn’t read a word or was fucking Einstein? When they came to get him? When he died wherever it was they decided he would die? The hurt in David’s eyes as he took in what she said, and the words she chose to say it, and his own shame, the shame finally of everything. But telling her only, ‘You disappoint me, Esther.’ And the worst then she could think of to hurl to him, that he must disappoint them, did he ever think of that?
……..She walks out again into the open air, to the walls rising on three sides of her, the lift of the synagogue across from where she stands. It no longer bothers her, the confusion of one imagined building in mind, the reality of another in front of her. Her accepting, she thinks, that is what must define me. The mess of it all is what I am. To be here now, in the square of the courtyard that struck her as so like the bottom of a well, rising several storeys to that other square of now sharp blue sky. Where they had been instructed to assemble, those who in absurd optimism, in incomprehension, still remained in the city to be rounded up. They most certainly were here for that. To stand for further instructions and watch the faces of the those they had known for a lifetime, their standing against the ones who mattered to them most, the comforted, the comforting, as they waited. For orders. How that word mines beneath all others, hollows the pit where everything in its implacable force descends. She looks at the overlap of one cobblestone against another, the window ledges exactly as they must have seen them, the rise of the flat pillars against the painted wall. They, the family, their hands holding, touching, comforting, she supposes. Or perhaps not. She had read how the older ones at times like this, the devout, the ones with certainty of more than fear, already would be moving their lips, speaking the words louder even than that, and the guards amused at their presumption, the joke that prayer might slow so much as a child’s shuffle on the march that would soon begin to the rail lines and the station. Once the timetables were set in stone. Esther’s own lips move as she says the names. Chaim. Lisabet. Sarah. Hannah. Ephraim. Sol. She closes her eyes, leans her head back against the wall. Like saying a line of poetry. A prayer. She says them over again. There is nothing more she can do. The closest she will be with them.

 

 

 

 

© Vincent O’Sullivan, 2018, published in All This by Chance, Victoria University Press.

'One of writing’s greatest magics is to allow us – to use Kiri Piahana-Wong’s phrase – to slide outside the trap of time.' - David Taylor

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Below is an excerpt from the memoir Memory Pieces by Maurice Gee, which is shortlisted for this year’s Royal Society Te Apārangi Award for General Non Fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

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About the writer:

Maurice Gee is New Zealand’s leading living writer. He was born in 1931, grew up in Henderson, and now lives in Nelson. His landmark novel Plumb (1978) was recently voted by writers and critics the best prize-winning New Zealand book of the last 50 years.

About the book:

Memory Pieces is an intimate and evocative memoir in three parts.

‘Double Unit’ tells the story of Maurice Gee’s parents – Lyndahl Chapple Gee, a talented writer who for reasons that become clear never went on with a writing career, and Len Gee, a boxer, builder, and man’s man.

‘Blind Road’ is Gee’s story up to the age of eighteen, when his apprenticeship as a writer began.

‘Running on the Stairs’ tells the story of Margaretha Garden, beginning in 1940, the year of her birth, when she travelled with her mother Greta from Nazi-sympathising Sweden to New Zealand, through to her meeting Maurice Gee when they were working together in the Alexander Turnbull Library in 1967.

“Maurice’s story…captures time and place brilliantly. It made me think– as I frequently do – that we need to get our family stories told before those who can provide much-needed facts and anecdotes are unable to do so….There’s a great deal in this book to reflect on, and in which to find similarities of upbringing, belief and experience. I found it a fascinating read – it’s sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes drily humorous and often extremely touching.”

(From a review by Sue Esterman for The Reader, October 2018)

 


 

(Victoria University Press)

 

TEN

 

The other person at Peacehaven was Uncle Dick. He was Mum’s younger brother and the second youngest of the Chapple children. His real name, Maurice, was never used, so unlike my brother Aynsley I never had to be Junior. All the same I knew I was named after him and that we were meant to take an interest in each other. He was a quiet man, not often seen, and although usually friendly had an uncertain temper. He chased us with a leather belt for some piece of mischief and we hid behind Grandma’s long skirts while she spread her arms and kept him away. During the Depression he had worked on the Chapple property – food from the garden, milk from the cow – or had laboured on relief. His younger brother Aynsley left for America and Dick was left alone with his parents. He was a balding red-haired man who smoked a pipe. He always seemed to be in the distance, up the paddock or at the bottom of the garden, turning away, or else was resting or reading in the shed where he slept.
……..The bond that was supposed to exist between us became real only once. I must have been seven or eight. Uncle Dick took me to a rugby match. Saturday afternoon: we walked along Millbrook Road and over the creek to Sunnyvale Station, where we caught the train to Kingsland, the station beside Eden Park. It was a big match, Auckland playing Taranaki, and I was excited. I’d only seen rugby (footy, we called it) played at school, where it was mainly the big kids barging and the little kids getting scragged. We found a seat on the terraces and watched two high school teams play a curtain-raiser. Uncle Dick was happy and easy, smoking his pipe. ‘Good boy,’ he said expertly when someone on the field ran with the ball. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but enjoyed the sudden roaring of the crowd and the hollowing into silence as it died away.
……..The teams for the big match trotted out of the cave under the grandstand – it was breathtaking the way they appeared, big men in hooped jerseys, light-footed on the grass, spreading out and taking positions that must mean something. I don’t know who won. I remember only one moment, in the second half, when the forwards heaved at each other in a scrum and the ball came out to the Auckland halfback, who passed, long and hard, to his first five-eighth, and suddenly, from nowhere, someone else appeared, the blond-haired Auckland winger, Jack Dunn, taking the ball before it reached his team-mate and running with no one to touch him, running into a huge space; almost, it seemed to me, running into the sky. I still find it lovely. Jack Dunn ran fifty yards before he was tackled. Then we had to leave to catch our train.
……..It was getting dark by the time we reached Sunnyvale Station. We walked along Millbrook Road to Peacehaven, Dick smoking another pipe. He stopped me under a row of pine trees black against the sky. ‘Listen,’ he said. I heard the trees breathing. ‘Pine trees are never quiet,’ he said.
……..Mum and Dad were waiting at Peacehaven. I told them about Jack Dunn, and how we’d seen a curtain-raiser between King’s College and – I stopped. The name on the scoreboard had puzzled me all afternoon – ‘And,’ I said, ‘Scared Heart.’ They laughed and I didn’t mind. I was filled with the excitement and pleasure of the afternoon, and Jack Dunn running into a space he had made out of nothing. Uncle Dick had given me ‘footy’ and I’ve loved the game ever since.
……..Dick stayed on at Peacehaven until, in 1940, he married a woman called Christine Jones. My mother tried to conceal her disappointment that a favourite brother had married a girl she found – I heard her say it – coarse. ‘Common’ must also have been in her mind. Christine seemed all right to me – friendly, cheerful, except when we found her and Dick, in their courting days, lying on a blanket in the orchard. They were getting ready to ‘do it’, my older brother said, but even this near-encounter with the physical side of love failed to persuade me that ‘it’ was something grown-ups really did.
……..Dick and Christine had a child, then Dick was conscripted and went to the war. A second child was born when he came back. Several years later the marriage broke down. Christine set up house with her newly widowed brother-in-law, Phil Reanney, and Dick, in my mother’s words, ‘went bush’. I met him only once again, in the early 1980s. He was living in a tiny flat in Te Kūiti, where he worked as a council handyman. I had written to him, thanking him for his kindness to me when I was a boy and reminding him of our afternoon at the rugby match. He wrote back inviting me to call. He had some books he wanted to give me. They might be valuable, he said. I did not recognise him when my bus pulled in beside the Te Kūiti railway station; then the shrunken old man with the walking stick and pipe and grey beard turned into Uncle Dick. We did not have much to say to each other as he took me to his flat just down the street. He sat me at the kitchen table and brought out the books. I’d hoped they might be rare and that I could sell them for him, but they were a two-volume Cassell’s History of English Literature and a couple of similar things. In size and condition they reminded me of my old Chums Annual. I thanked Dick and said I’d be happy to take them away, and he was pleased.
……..‘We’d better get some tea,’ he said. We went along Te Kūiti’s main street to a milkbar, where he bought two meat pies from the warmer. Back at the flat we drank a bottle of beer and ate the pies with tomato sauce. He had a television set and we watched for a while, then talked about Peacehaven and his brothers and sisters and my parents. He smoked his pipe and coughed a lot and spat into an old baked beans tin he kept beside him on a chair. My visit pleased him but I saw he was a loner and that he didn’t want too much of it. At nine o’clock he said it was time for bed, and he dragged an old mattress from the washhouse and laid it on the floor by the table. He gave me a sheet and two blankets, and I slept there with lumps of kapok pressing in my back. In the morning a breakfast of Weetbix. We tied the books in a winebox, he came with me to the bus, we shook hands and he stood with his stick raised as I went away. Maurice Chapple, the uncle I was named after. My visit made both of us happy. I never saw him again and he died in 1989.

 

 

 

© Maurice Gee, 2018, published in Memory Pieces, Victoria University Press.

'I started to feel very guilty, as though I’d perpetrated a crime, a rort' - Stephanie Johnson

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Below is an excerpt from the novel This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman, which won this year’s Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

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About the writer:

Fiona Kidman has published over 30 books, including novels, poetry, non-fiction and a play. She has worked as a librarian, radio producer and critic, and as a scriptwriter for radio, television and film. The New Zealand Listener wrote: ‘In her craft and her storytelling and in her compassionate gutsy tough expression of female experience, she is the best we have.’

She has been the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships; in more recent years The Captive Wife was runner-up for the Deutz Medal for Fiction and was joint-winner of the Readers’ Choice Award in the 2006 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and her short story collection The Trouble with Fire was shortlisted for both the NZ Post Book Awards and the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award.

She was created a Dame (DNZM) in 1998 in recognition of her contribution to literature, and more recently a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour. ‘We cannot talk about writing in New Zealand without acknowledging her,’ wrote New Zealand Books. ‘Kidman’s accessible prose and the way she shows (mainly) women grappling to escape from restricting social pressures has guaranteed her a permanent place in our fiction.’

About the book:

Albert Black, known as the ‘jukebox killer’, was only twenty when he was convicted of murdering another young man in a fight at a milk bar in Auckland on 26 July 1955. His crime fuelled growing moral panic about teenagers, and he was to hang less than five months later, the second-to-last person to be executed in New Zealand.

But what really happened? Was this a love crime, was it a sign of juvenile delinquency? Or was this dark episode in our recent history more about our society’s reaction to outsiders?

Black’s final words, as the hangman covered his head, were, ‘I wish you all a merry Christmas, gentlemen, and a prosperous New Year.’ This is his story.

‘Kidman delivers rich characterisation, not just from the viewpoint of Paddy Black, but of many others associated with his short life and sudden end. . . . This Mortal Boy doesn’t just take us into the courtroom, or recreate the main events that led to two deaths, but goes much broader and deeper. Kidman gives us a textured, holistic view on a life that was more than a symbol, or an entry in a history book. . . . While we’re taken through varying times and perspectives, Kidman keeps everything flowing beautifully. It never feels ‘jumpy’ or disjointed, instead it’s a story that builds in depth and texture. A harrowing and haunting tale that is full of humanity. . . . This is an exquisitely written novel from a master storyteller; an important and fascinating read.’

(From a review for Kiwi Crime blog by Craig Sisterson, July 2018)

 


 

(Penguin Random House)

 

Chapter 7

1955. The lawyer for the prosecution is a sleek, fair man named Gerald Timms. He isn’t tall, but he has a way of balancing forward on the arched balls of his feet and pushing his head up and down so that he appears to occupy the space of a much larger man. Beneath his gown he is dressed in a charcoal-grey suit with a snow-white handkerchief in his breast pocket. It is October, just two years since Albert Black came to live in New Zealand, almost to the day.
……..A girl stands in the witness box. She is wearing a black suit and a black beret slanted over dark and lustrous hair tumbling past her shoulders. She glances briefly at the man in the dock; their eyes lock for an instant, then she drops hers, straightening herself.
……..‘Miss Zilich,’ Timms began. ‘Will you please tell us your name, address and occupation.’
……..‘My name is Rita Zilich,’she begins. ‘I’m sixteen years old. I live with my parents in Anglesea Street, Ponsonby. I’m a shorthand typist. I passed my exams with top marks in School Certificate, you know. At my school, that is.’ She turns to a youth seated in the gallery and gives a little wave. He’s dressed in tight black trousers and a red windbreaker that is unzipped all the way down the front, showing a white tee-shirt. He waggles one finger at her.
……..‘Miss Zilich,’ the judge says sharply.
……..‘Oh sorry,’ she murmurs, and composes her face into the semblance of great attention.
……..‘Yes, thank you, Miss Zilich,’ Timms says. ‘That’s very good. If you could just tell us about what happened on the night of Monday, July twenty-fifth of this year, it would be a help. You knew the accused?’
……..‘Oh yes, you couldn’t help but notice him. He’s pretty goodlooking, if you go in for those kind of looks.’ In spite of herself, she throws a cool appraising glance in the direction of Albert.
……..Timms breathes deeply and makes a steeple with his fingers. ‘Very good. I’d like you to tell the court in your own words what happened. How long you knew him, whether you knew the deceased, what occurred on the night in question.’
……..‘I’ve written it all down in shorthand.’
……..‘Just tell the story, Miss Zilich, never mind the notes.’
……..Rita flicks her mane of hair back from where it has encroached across her shoulder, and launches into her account, the witness box becoming her stage. ‘I knew the accused for about three months before the twenty-fifth of July. I knew him as Paddy, that was the only name I’d heard. I knew the other guy too, Alan Jacques, only of course that’s not what we called him. He was Johnny McBride. But I’d only known him about, oh, maybe two weeks. I wasn’t keeping company with either of them. Actually, I’d been to the pictures on the night in question. I’d been to see Calamity Jane, you know the one where Doris Day sings “My Secret Love”, it’s an amazing picture. And I’m crazy about the song.’
……..‘Yes, of course. We appreciate your good taste, Miss Zilich. But you went to Ye Olde Barn cafe after you’d been to the pictures?’
……..‘Yes, this was about seven thirty, I suppose. I didn’t mean to, it was just that I was walking past, planning to go home, and there was a crowd there. Somebody called out, I don’t know whether it was Paddy or Johnny, but I think it was one of them, and said come on over. So I went over, and Paddy said come on up to the house, we’re having a party tonight. I knew where he meant, it was at 105 Wellesley Street. I’d been to a party there before. Well, I thought, why not? I hadn’t arranged to meet Paddy or anything like that, but it sounded like a bit of fun. Actually, Paddy’s girlfriend was in the cafe, now I come to think of it. Bessie Marsh, that is, so obviously I didn’t mean to meet Paddy. I shouldn’t think she’s his girlfriend now, not now he’s gone and stabbed Johnny. He wouldn’t be mine, I can tell you that.’
……..‘So you went on to the party instead of going home?’
……..‘Well. Not exactly.’
……..‘Why not exactly?’
……..‘I’d told my parents I’d be home. Well, they’re not so keen on me going to parties. So I went home, and when they’d gone to bed I hopped out the window and went back to town. This was about quarter past ten.’
……..‘So what happened at the party?’
……..‘Well, Johnny and Paddy were both there, and Bessie, and one of my girlfriends called Stella, and a whole bunch of others, I guess about ten altogether at that stage, mostly guys, you know. Someone was playing a guitar, everything seemed normal. A normal party, that is. You know?’
……..‘We’re happy that you’re enlightening us, Miss Zilich. Please go on.’
……..‘Well, Paddy was sober. And Johnny was sober, is about what I’d say. Then Bessie said she had to go home because she had exams or something early the next day. She’s a student of some kind, I think. She’d gone off to the library after I first saw her. I think Paddy went and collected her later on while I was off seeing my parents.’ ……..‘Misleading them?’
……..‘Um, yes.’
……..‘Never mind.’ Timms appears annoyed with himself.
……..‘Myself, I don’t have to be at work until nine, I’m a secretary at the Council, they have very regular hours. I mean, I wouldn’t start at eight unless I had to, but with my qualifications I can pick and choose. I got eighty-five per cent for typing, you know.’
……..‘Indeed.’ Timms was tapping his fingers on a folder, his eyes willing her to get to the point.
……..‘Well then, I think Paddy must have walked Bessie home, or to a taxi, I don’t really know, but he was gone a while, and when he came back he asked me to sleep with him that night. At first I said no, but then he asked me again, and I said I’d think about it. I was just putting him off, of course, trying to be polite.’
……..‘But he thought you meant it?’
……..Rita hesitates, pushing a strand of hair away from her face as it escapes from under the beret. ‘I didn’t want to give offence. I said it in a nice way.’
……..‘And you say the defendant was sober?’
……..‘I’d say so. Well, I didn’t know what he was like when he was drunk.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Fiona Kidman, 2018, published in This Mortal Boy, Penguin Random House.

'Many of our best stories profit from a meeting of New Zealand and overseas influences' - Owen Marshall

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Below is an excerpt from the novel The New Ships by Kate Duignan, which is shortlisted for this year’s Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

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About the writer:

Kate Duignan’s first novel, Breakwater (2001), was published by Victoria University Press. She has published in Landfall and Sport, and has been anthologised in The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories (2009) and The Auckland University Press Anthology of New Zealand Literature (2012). Kate received the Louis Johnson New Writer’s Bursary in 2002, and held the Robert Burns Fellowship at Otago University in 2004.  Kate lives in the Aro Valley, Wellington, with her partner and children.

About the book:

Peter Collie is adrift in the wake of his wife’s death. His attempts to understand the turn his life has taken lead him back to the past, to dismaying events on an Amsterdam houseboat in the seventies, returning to New Zealand and meeting Moira, an amateur painter who carried secrets of her own, and to a trip to Europe years later with his family. An unexpected revelation forces Peter to navigate anew his roles as a husband, father and son.

Set in Wellington after the fall of the Twin Towers, and traversing London, Europe, the Indian subcontinent, The New Ships is a mesmerising book of blood-ties that stretch across borders. A novel of acute moral choices, it is a rich and compelling meditation on what it means to act, or to fail to act.

‘What Duignan has crafted in The New Ships is a saga.  Dense with admirably intelligent references.  Thoroughgoing in it’s trek through the hinterlands of grief.  Imaginative and wide. Thick with junctions and intersections.  You keenly feel the weight of generations, the sense that this story is only a sliver or snapshot of a much larger ancestry that spills over the borders of these humble islands into the wider world.’
 (From a review by James Robins in New Zealand Books)

 

 

(Victoria University Press)

 

Excerpt from Chapter One

 

Afterwards, I slept badly. The wind got up, and the branches of the unpruned ngaio scraped against the glass sliders. In the middle of the night, I went down to the study and found the golden book, a foot high and heavy as a box of files. I spread it open on the desk. Daphnis and Chloe. It was supposed to be a gift. In the end I kept it, and brought it back to New Zealand with me. The book is easily the most valuable object in the house, although a burglar would be unlikely to notice it.
……..The text is in French. In 1971 I learnt whole phrases by heart to recite to Geneviève. I can’t work out the sentences anymore. Chagall’s lithographs tell the story: the boats beaching on the shore, lovers washing in the shrine of the nymphs, an altar, spring wine and bird-snaring. Towards the end, a double plate awash in red: a feast is laid out for all the citizens of Mytilene, where the girl is at last recognised by her high-born father, who had exposed her on a hillside as an infant. The final plate shows the wedding night, bride and groom on one side of the door, the villagers pressed against it, lamps swung high. It’s a story of comic innocence, about a boy who didn’t know how to make love to a girl. The prints are housed in a museum just outside of Mytilene, on Lesbos. It would be something to see those prints, it really would. It would be worth going to Rob’s for that alone. Moira would love it.
……..But Moira’s dead.
……..And now this waitress, serving tables where Chagall painted. This girl who looks like Geneviève, who must, ipso facto, look like Abigail.
……..Abigail was my daughter, born when I was twenty and Geneviève a year older. She was born on the Amstel river on a houseboat called the Lychorida, a former coal barge owned by a secondhand bookseller. Rob, Clare, Geneviève and I had spent an entire Amsterdam autumn sanding, hammering and caulking, and in December, we moved in.
……..Abigail arrived in the middle of a storm. The boat pulled on the mooring ropes and rocked on the currents. It was difficult, as births can be, but nothing went wrong and she was perfectly formed.
……..She died at six weeks old, at Geneviève’s father’s home near Lyon. I was in Amsterdam at the time. The cause of death, according to the doctor’s certificate, was acute septicaemia following on from pneumonia. The certificate has a date and a municipal seal, and is signed with an elaborate flourish by one Docteur Gabriel Barreau. It’s a flimsy, xeroxed copy, but it looks official enough. For seventeen years I had no reason to question its veracity. The last time I saw Geneviève in Lyon she told me things that sent me back to stare fixedly at that certificate time and time again. It has now been eleven years since that meeting, and for all of those years I have found myself paralysed, neither able to seek out answers nor to put the questions from my mind.

*

When I step out of the lift, the new receptionist gives me the kind of startled half-smile that suggests she knows I belong here in spite of my jeans and Nikes, that she recognises my face but hasn’t got a clue what my name is.
……..‘Afternoon,’ I say.
……..When I fish in my pocket I realise I’ve left my swipe card in the car. I mime a little hand show and gesture to the glass doors.
……..‘Could you let me through, Rebecca?’
……..She looks sceptical. It’s six weeks now since the towers came down. High security everywhere.
………
‘Peter Collie,’ I say firmly. ‘I’m going through to see Richard.’
……..There’s a subtle eye-flick to the list beside the phone, an apologetic smile, and she reaches for the button under her desk. The lock on the glass door makes a soft pop, and I’m through.
……..To be fair to the receptionist, she hasn’t seen me here often. There have been weeks and months of absence, half-days, quarter-days at best, coming in late at night for a scrambling two hours after Moira fell asleep, or sitting on the couch beside her with the laptop warm against my thighs, Pride and Prejudice running on the TV while I fire off the emails needed to keep it all at bay for another twenty-four hours, another week. Keep it in a holding pattern, a hundred balls in the air, flights waiting to touch down, a flock of irritations, nothing that I could attend to or bother with, nothing that mattered. Now nine months since the oncologist showed us where the cells had metastasized to Moira’s femur, sternum, skull and liver, four months since we called a halt to treatments, one month after her funeral, I am, it seems, ready to get back to it.

 

Richard, the firm’s managing partner, is in his office. I go right through and stand beside the window. The harbour is a pattern of erasures and smudges.
……..‘Peter.’ Richard’s voice and eyes brim with the apparent pleasure of seeing me. ‘I didn’t know you were in the building.’
……..‘Just briefly,’ I say. ‘Dropping in.’
……..He tilts his head on one side and considers for a moment.
……..‘I’ve been in Queenstown all week,’ he says. ‘Got back last night.’
……..‘How did it go?’
……..‘Gus made me try white water rafting. An afternoon of pure terror.’
……..We’re laughing. How well he creates ease, easiness.
……..‘And you, Peter. You’re looking well.’
……..He keeps his eyes steady on me, his gaze doctor-like, wise, concerned, diagnostic. I’m almot ten years older than him, but I feel fathered: there’s no other word for how it feels to have the full beam of Richard’s attention swung round onto me.
……..‘I’ve lost track. You’ve been with your parents in Wanganui?’
……..‘No,’ I say. ‘Aaron flies out tonight. I’ll head up after that.’
……..He closes the door, and leads me to the two red wing- chairs at the coffee table by the glass. A Hotere hangs on the wall opposite, a treasure of the firm’s which has migrated around the walls over the years, from reception, to boardroom, to hallway. It’s startling all over again to see it here in Richard’s office and I wonder just how he managed to comandeer it for himself, the fat black cross, the white text which I’ve mentally fiddled with through many a long partnership meeting: LE PAPE EST MORT. Le pape, pope, papa. Mort, mortal, moribund, from the Latin, mortalis, one destined to die, brotos in the Greek. Below, a text in Mäori: E hinga atu ana he tetekura e ara mai ana he tetekura.
……..
Kura, which might mean school? I can’t begin to unravel it. The painting brings back the taste of peppermints, the smell of coffee served at partnership meetings, the jangling silver bracelets of our secretary Natasha typing up the minutes, and gazing out at the blue, or silver, or white-whipped plane of the harbour when the discussions got bogged down.
……..‘How’s the house going?’
……..Richard hesitates, gauging whether I really want the switch in conversation.
……..‘Bit by bit,’ he says. ‘We’ve found a blacksmith in Otaki. Can you believe it? He’s working with us on designs for the gates. We’re deciding whether to go for a plain look, or a William Morris-y kind of thing, more the late Victorian style. Excuse the technical detail.’ He gives a mock grimace. ‘I become very boring when you get me started on all this.’
……..Richard and his partner have been renovating their Mount Victoria villa for the past five years. They have both the perfectionism and the substantial income necessary for the task.
……..‘It’s much fiddlier to do the Morris, of course.’ His brow frets up, the variables of the decision clearly weighty upon him. ‘I would prefer it, if he can pull it off.’
……..‘And is he, do you think? Up to it?’
……..‘Oh, look, the man’s highly skilled. He has his own forge.’
……..‘Do they deliver by horse and cart too?’
……..Richard laughs gently. Out on the water the rain is gathering, soft funnels of grey passing over the island and Oriental Bay.
……..‘You know, I’ve never been to such a large funeral,’ Richard says now. He stood in the back row, along with a handful of other colleagues. Throngs of people showed up. Moira’s choir, who sang ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’ and ‘Abide with Me’. Her Tuesday lunch girls. Aaron’s friends from school days. People I didn’t expect. Aaron’s fifth-form music teacher, a tall Indian man, his hair starting to silver now. I spotted him in the back row standing beside his sister Sangeeta, a childhood friend of Moira’s. Sangeeta raised her fingers in a tiny salutation as I walked back down the aisle, my left arm taking the weight of the casket. When ‘Amazing Grace’ struck up, the church boomed with sound. I once was lost but now am found.
……..‘Yes,’ I say. ‘It took us by surprise.’
……..‘That mother-in-law of yours,’ he says. ‘Quite a woman. You know what they say in Ireland? She’d eat you without salt.’
……..Claudia gave a eulogy that, as throughout Moira’s life, put herself in rather more important a light than her daughter. She wore flowing blacks and a wide-brimmed black straw hat. I alternated between bitterness and relief at the way she took over as mourner-in-chief. She got her High Anglican service, with the Order for the Burial of the Dead, and I gave up on my idea to have the choir sing something from Mozart’s Requiem, which Moira loved. I did put my foot down about her coffin outfit, smuggling her favourite floral dress into the funeral home after a set of devious conversations with the funeral director. Her mother wanted her in a tailored suit, and although I wondered what kind of stupid man would get between mother and daughter on the matter of clothes, I couldn’t lose this one last battle. Moira and Claudia, when at their worst, would get locked into a kind of mutual stubbornness that onlookers could only shake their heads at. Moira was my wife though, and I was almost always on her side. And she did hate suits.
……..I’d seen Claudia at the tail-end of that long day, sitting in her armchair, the tide of visitors gone out, her youngest daughter fixing a cup of tea in the kitchen. Her face, without an audience, fell slack and grey, cheeks falling inward, her eyes sunk back into the expression of someone who is composed almost entirely of pain. She is seventy-eight. She’ll never recover.
……..‘She’s a softy, really,’ I say. ‘I’m not sure how she’s going to get through.’
……..Richard shakes his head. ‘Such a terrible time,’ he says. ‘For all of you.’
……..Over all these months and weeks I’ve never worked out how to respond to platitudes. But Richard says these ordinary things with such sincerity.
……..He leans forward. ‘How can we help?’
……..Now, from nowhere, I wish I could weep.
……..‘I’ve been cut a lot of slack already.’ My hands are waving in the air, a gesture I hope might distract him from my face, which I sense I’m not controlling well.
……..‘You’ve had a few weeks at home?’
……..‘Tidying,’ I shrug. ‘Sorting.’
……..Richard presses his lips together and puts his fingers into a steeple under his chin. ‘You’ve needed it, Peter,’ he says. ‘It’s not unreasonable. Although.’
……..Although.
……..A fizz erupts in my chest, and shoots down to my fingers. Both euphoria and the desire for weeping are cleaned out in a second. I’m a rabbit in a field, snapped to attention.
……..Richard runs his tongue along his teeth, under his lip.
……..‘I might mention. You’ve always brought in major clients.’ The steeple pulls apart. His palms come down flat on the glass table. ‘Look, we understand what you’ve been going through. But when you’re back on your feet, say, in the next month or two, it would be a good time to concentrate on’—his head gives a little weave, to and fro, to and fro—‘client maintenance. Keeping those big names happy.’
……..I lick my lips.
……..‘The bean counters are at it, then?’
……..It comes out rather more defensive than I intend.
……..‘When do they ever stop?’ He says it for laughs, but he looks pained, serious. ‘You’ve been through the most awful . . . well. But it’s been the best part of a year since we’ve had you at full capacity. That’s the difficulty. To be plain.’
……..On the wall, the painting seems to flicker. Tetekura, tetekura. I want to try the word aloud. Maybe it’s a transliteration? Tetekura, petticoat, petticoat, billygoat. What does it mean to Richard, to keep company with this painting all day? It’s possible he cherishes it as I do, that he has held conversations with it and that the work is a friend occupying part of his brain, history, heart. It’s equally possible that it’s a piece of morbid cultural real estate hanging on his wall.
……..Richard follows my gaze and cranes around in his chair.
……..‘What does it mean?’ I ask. ‘I’ve always wondered.’
……..‘Oh. When one chief falls, another rises to take his place.’
……..I consider this.
……..‘The king is dead,’ I say after a while. ‘Long live the king.’
……..‘Yes.’ Richard seems surprised. ‘I suppose so.’ The mottled beginning of a blush rises on his neck. ‘When are you back from your parents’?’
……..The answer I am supposed to give is Monday. Monday conveys what Richard needs to hear: resurrection, focus, loyalty.
……..My mother’s anxiety, my father’s heart.
……..‘Tuesday.’
……..I’d like to take a week. I’d like to spend long quiet days with my parents, and then come home via the Wairarapa, spend a night or two at our bach on the exposed, windblown tip of the coast at Castlepoint.
……..But Tuesday is a compromise. I’ll show my face here at the office, demonstrate focus. And I’ll make it a daytrip up to the bach on Wednesday. I want to show a real estate agent through, get the ball rolling on selling the place.
……..Richard nods.
……..‘You’re an asset, Peter. I’m on your side.’
……..Adrenaline again, chest to arm.
……..E hinga atu ana he tetekura e ara mai ana he tetekura. 

 

 

 

.
© Kate Duignan, 2018, published in The New Ships, Victoria University Press.

 

'Character to some extent is much a construction of the reader as it is of the writer.' - Lloyd Jones

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Below is an excerpt from the poetry collection Are Friends Electric? by Helen Heath, which won this year’s Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

*                     *                    *

About the poet:

Helen Heath’s first book, Graft, was published in 2012 and won the NZSA Jessie Mackay Best First Book for Poetry Award in 2013. It was also the first book of fiction or poetry to be shortlisted for the Royal Society of NZ Science Book Prize. She holds a PhD in creative writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington.

About the book:

Are Friends Electric? offers a vivid and moving vision of a past, present and future mediated by technology. The first part of Helen Heath’s bold new collection is comprised largely of found poems which emerge from conversations about sex bots, people who feel an intimate love for bridges, fences and buildings, a meditation on Theo Jansen’s beautifully strange animal sculptures, and the lives of birds in cities.

A series of speculative poems further explores questions of how we incorporate technology into our lives and bodies. In these poems on grief, Heath asks how technology can keep us close with those we have lost. How might our experiences of grieving and remembering be altered?

‘As in her debut collection Graft, which was the first non-non-fiction work to be shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book prize, Heath has shown how lightly and easily poetry can wear serious research….Heath’s collection casts an electric brightness over what it means to be human’

(From a Cordite review by Amy Brown, June 2018)

 


 

 

(Victoria University Press)

 

In Pripyat, the ghost city

circa 2014

 

Players travel around the exclusion zone, their avatars’
radiation steadily increasing, avoiding sickness by drinking
virtual vodka. Our guide says eagles eat Lenin in the pines,
cats sit atop deserted books.

The glass must be cleared by 2065 but for now we stalk over
broken scavengers, through dilapidated threats. Our tour
sneaks into the zone to bungee for a dare. We drink from the
city and swim in the Bison.

A guard is working on a video documentary about London
hallways. He also plans a radiation ghost of Gavin, whom
mushrooms hang from. A hospital stands near the broken
avatars.

Around the zone macabre potato gas steadily increases.
Avoid the tourist crunch with a Soviet-era virtual stroller.
Don’t roam for Babushka Rosalia; she crawled back under
the barbed exclusion like a wilderness. Her biggest wire now
is her tableaux of moose masks and broken children deserted
into wolves.

 

 

This poem takes as its starting point George Johnson’s article ‘The Nuclear Tourist’, National Geographic, October 2014. Selected text was randomised and reworked. ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/10/nuclear-tourism/johnson-text

 

 

© Helen Heath, 2018, published in Are Friends Electric?, Victoria University Press.

'There’s a kind of heaven that comes from hearing another writer interpret the mysteries of process' - Tracey Slaughter

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Below is an excerpt from the poetry collection The Facts by Therese Lloyd, which is shortlisted for this year’s Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

                                         *                     *                    *

About the poet:

Therese Lloyd’s poems have appeared in publications including Sport, Landfall, Hue & Cry, Jacket2, Metro, Turbine, and the AUP series New Zealand Poets in Performance. In 2007, having received a Schaeffer Fellowship, she spent a year attending the acclaimed Iowa Writer’s Workshop. In 2017, she completed a PhD at the International Institute of Modern Letters, in which she examined the role of ekphrasis in Canadian poet Anne Carson’s work. In 2018 Therese was Writer in Residence at the University of Waikato.

 

About the book:

This superb second book by the author of the acclaimed 2013 collection Other Animals traces the course of a failing marriage, while illuminating the ways in which art and poetry are essential to life. Deeply felt and lyrically arresting, The Facts offers poems that move with honesty and formal intelligence through matters of creativity and love.

The Facts is a searing meditation on loss and art, lodged in the mid-point between beginning and end. Time is stretched, distorted and folded: what was there and then what was not. It is a marriage, an affair, a hesitation, pohutakawa flowers, and a surface “eclipsed by shadow days of nosleep”. It leaves a burn mark….Lloyd writes her own poems with the same intensity as late-afternoon sun. The Facts is raw and “Fierce in its interrogation of the living” that explores the intersection between art and life.’

(From a review for Metro magazine by Toyah Webb, June 2018)

 


 

(Victoria University Press)

 

 

A Day, January

 

Yesterday.

That’s when it was, so let’s look at that.

In the muted sun on the sharp-shelled beach

all the broken pieces

yet nothing pierced the skin of my feet

the sharpness cancelled out

to a homogeneous rubble.

I walked home from the karakia

I walked a long way, the furthest I’ve been able to

since my spine decided to twist itself in the wrong direction.

Backs take the strain of the invisible things

the harder they are to see, the heavier they are to carry.

 

I walked towards the dot of my house

carrying that image

of eleven young men

trying to lift a tree trunk

out of the wet sand

of a beach that couldn’t care less.

That severed trunk wasn’t defiant, or obtuse.

It had no intention to kill when it stranded itself

unclenched from the ground by a storm. And the thing

that made it impossible for those men to move it,

the water, lapping, pulsing up around them as they heaved breathless

had already begun, a slow disposal, a gradual return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Therese Lloyd, 2018, published in The Facts, Victoria University Press.

'I started to feel very guilty, as though I’d perpetrated a crime, a rort' - Stephanie Johnson

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Below is an excerpt from the novel The Cage by Lloyd Jones, which is shortlisted for this year’s Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. 

           *                    *                    *

About the writer:

Lloyd Jones is one of New Zealand’s most internationally successful contemporary writers. He has published essays and children’s books but his best known work is the phenomenally successful novel Mister Pip, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and Montana Medal for Fiction in 2007 and the Kiriyama Writers’ Prize in 2008, and was later adapted as a motion picture. Among his other most decorated works are The Book of Fame, winner of numerous literary awards, Biografi, a New York Times Notable Book, Here at the End of the World We Learn to DancePaint Your Wife and Hand Me Down World.

About the book:

‘In The Cage, two half-starved, filthy men wearing scraps of salvaged clothing are cast adrift in a place they don’t know, without any identification. At first, they are known as The Strangers, then later as the Doctor and Mole, but we assume they’re migrants or refugees. They are taken into a small country hotel, where the sign reads “All welcome”, and given a room and food. They can’t or won’t say what has made them into strangers. Instead, they build a contraption, “a conundrum”, out of wire by way of explanation. This is then replicated, on a much larger scale, by the hotel owner and his mate. This becomes the cage of the book’s title and the strangers walk into it …

‘The tone is cool, detached and clinically observational. He wrote it in a rage, in indignation, and he wanted it to read “almost in the language of a report, because that would make it much more believable, and you can sort of suspend judgment … It’s the sort of language Kafka was expert at. You think about The Metamorphosis and the very first sentence: ‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.’ You want to say, ‘Bullshit’, don’t you? But because it’s written in language that’s just like a report, you believe it.”’

(From an interview with Lloyd Jones – Michele Hewitson, New Zealand Listener, 22 March 2018)

 



 (Penguin Random House)

 

Chapter 12

The Indian summer continues, thank goodness. A last hooray when the sun gives its all before fading into memory.
……..The upstairs windows have been left open. The strangers gaze up at their source of shade. The cage offers no protection, and they enter each dusk with new bands of sunburn.
……..Lately I’ve noticed them rubbing dirt on their skin. This is Doctor’s initiative. I’ve heard him say that they must forget it is dirt. In any event, they are only rubbing onto their skins what they themselves will eventually become. Their immune systems, Doctor believes, are all the stronger for their life outdoors, and after all, dirt has been man’s companion far longer than has soap.
……..Humidity is the worst. Their reeking clothes turn into cardboard.They sit on the log, listless in the heavy air. The trick, it would appear, is not to move.
……..Visitors have come to see the strangers. Why are they just sitting there?
……..The strangers close their eyes and lower their heads. It is the only way they know to remove themselves.
……..A few fat raindrops splatter on the dirt. The breeze is from the west. Two or three drops fall onto my windowsill.
……..It is hard to pick up the strangers’ conversation when rain is falling. Their words are dragged under, especially those of Mole who is softly spoken.
……..Whenever it rains the strangers pace. They do it, I imagine, to alleviate feelings of helplessness. Rain is falling and they can do nothing to prevent it. But they are not human gutters. Nor do they wish to be cooperative like grass or submissive like mud, and so they pace.
……..They pace until one or the other can no longer be bothered, or is exhausted, Doctor it usually is, long after the rain has matted his hair.
……..Uncle Warwick cheerfully reminds us that the strangers are used to inclement weather. In addition, they have shown themselves to be remarkably adaptable. Doctor, whose table manners no one could possibly question, has shown himself also quite capable of shitting in public.
……..They have their coping strategies. That’s the main point I wish to make to the Trustees. We would turn into sodden paper out there. But some sort of defiant attitude keeps the weather from overwhelming them.
..
I remember my parents planting a banana tree at one end of what we called ‘the farmhouse’, a grey cross-eyed timber dwelling saddled with all the gloom of those who had suffered its leaking roof and draughty windows. Planting a banana tree seemed such a wild thing to do. As though we were in theBahamas instead of these bare hills broken by erosion and sheep shit. We didn’t know this country. We were plot gardeners, suburban in outlook and experience. Still, we thought the soil would bend to our will, and so Dad put the banana tree at the north end of the house. Its leaves were glossy and hopeful. We laughed at Dad’s enthusiasm. He didn’t care what anyone thought. He was planting a banana tree. He seemed to think conviction alone would make it work.
……..I think of that banana tree whenever I listen to the Trustees speak brightly of the day when there will be no cage, or need for one. The catastrophe will be known. Thanks to the strangers coming to their senses and making an effort to cooperate.
……..But, for now, the strangers resist our questions.
……..If they were still homeless and wandering we might know what to make of them. We would feel we knew that story. But the strangers look a bit like us—this makes their silence all the more disturbing. Some of the Trustees are beginning to wonder if they actually mean us harm. Why else would they remain silent? For what other reason are they so unyielding?
……..In their first days of captivity they rushed back and forth across the cage in a panic. Bashing themselves against the mesh. The younger one scraped his nose. When he wiped it, the blood spread across his face, and we all thought, briefly and inescapably, thank God he’s inside the cage. The blood and the wild eyes and that crazy mane of hair.
……..In his charge across the cage, Doctor went more slowly, like an old-fashioned cab, holding up his hands to appeal their circumstances. It became irritating to hear the same thing yelled up at our windows.
……..Then night removed them from view and we didn’t have to think about them until the next day.
..
There has been more rain. Doctor could just as easily step around the puddles. Instead he splashes through them. Back and forth he goes—water flying up around his ankles—and, with more and more disregard like the same point of an argument returned to over and over again.
..
Rain. A light drizzle. The birds clutching their roosts fall silent.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
© Lloyd Jones, 2018, published in The Cage, Penguin Random House.

'I felt energised by the freedom of 'making things up’' - Maxine Alterio

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