Friday, 23 December 2011


Ratty and Lily the Pink apologise for going rather abruptly offline. They've flown in the pink ironing board to Tristan de Cunha, the world's most isolated inhabited archipelago, at the southern limit for icebergs. Lily's newfound wealth was giving her the jitters so they've got away from it all for a simple, pondering, loving Christmas.

I wish you one too, dear readers. Thank you for visiting, reading, supporting, or simply tip-toeing through, this year. We mean to be back with verve, news, ebooks, and full colour early in the new year.

May peace be ours.


Sunday, 11 December 2011

Great Aunty Dillo's jewels

Thanks to a fine handful of recent ebooks purchasers, Lily the Pink has come hurtling home from Argentina. Ratty has been clutching the flowers since dawn. Not all of Lily's inherited jewellery would fit in the lunchbox.

She brought with her a couple of gourds and bombillas, too, so she and Ratty can drink maté together.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The cover's off the cover

Ratty's excited. The manuscript as ready for formatting. The cover stands revealed.

Favourable words have been written:
          "In Road Markings Michael Jackson illumines ‘the dimly lit world of New Zealand’s collective imagination’ with acuity, grace and wisdom; his book is road trip as historical meditation, interrogating the memory theatre of consciousness for an ethical way of living in the world. It is exact, resonant and moving; beautifully wrought. I loved its interweaving of the themes of home and homelessness, self and other (they are not distinct), its narration of the impossibility of locating our origins along with our compelling need to identify our beginnings."

                                  by Martin Edmond, author most recently of Dark Night: Walking with McCahon, which is available here.

I hadn't seen it until now on a white background. I'm thrilled. Did I say, the image is by Michael's daughter Heidi Jackson, the lower reflecting design by my daughter Alex Huber, and the typography by Alex's friend Caroline Jackson (unrelated to Michael), who also did the page design.

So now I'm waiting for Michael to return from his travels and cast an eye over the whole, which will then go to Jason Darwin of meBooks, who will format it into ePub and Kindle-friendly versions. I can't wait to let you read it, in five weeks when Rosa Mira Books turns one year old.

Meanwhile, Ratty is a little wistful. Lily the Pink has flown Aerolineas Argentinas (in my birthday lunchbox) to inspect the small cache of jewelry she has inherited from a hugely aged and now deceased great-great-great aunt armadillo. She promises to return as soon as she can.

Monday, 5 December 2011

What's up?

The rat looks as if he's gone all whimsical and forgotten what he's about, while Lily's quickly gained a head for heights.

Never mind. I don't want people turning up here to feel brow-beaten by the Sales Department. Rather they should come to enjoy the pics or monologues, and maybe once in a while go browsing (it'll only take a minute this year — longer by the end of 2012)  for a good ebook.

Actually, I'd be glad to have comments from visitors about the price of RMB ebooks. Riduculously cheap? Too dear? About right?

Any day now I'll be able to show you the cover for Michael Jackson's Road Markings: An Anthropologist in the Antipodes. I hope to launch it on Rosa Mira's birthday, the 11th of January. The blurb begins: 'Internationally-acclaimed anthropologist and poet Michael Jackson hires a car and travels the length of his natal New Zealand, reflecting on the idea of origins. Visiting old haunts and old friends, he ponders the hold our histories have over us, and the enduring power of our first experiences in life.'

He writes: 'I sat down on the tideline and slipped the rucksack from my shoulders.  I felt the sun on my face, heard the slipshod sound of the sea and the distracted cry of a nesting dotterel.  My mind drifted. I was thinking of the gap between the inspiration I drew from places like Waikawau Bay and the satisfaction I had found in America, Europe and West Africa. With every return home, the expatriate is reborn.  It is not simply because you are returned to the landscapes of your early life; it is because the quotidian, momentarily bathed in a new light, appears exotic.  And so you marvel that this place you could not live in because of its emptiness and insularity still has the power to remind you of who you really are.'

I'm feeling excited about next year's publishing: an intriguing line-up so far. I'm finding the production process simpler and a little different each time.

Hmm, someone forgot to colour in the hot air balloon. Imagine it's lime green with gold spots.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Rat cleared for landing . . .

. . . thanks to another ebook sale.

Over drinks in the hangar after their flight, Ratty admires Lily without her green balaclava.  His gaze travels from her spectacularly utile fingernails to the picture in his mind's eye and back again.

Lily explains that if she seems a little nervous now and then, it's probably because she's the first Pink Fairy Armadillo to voluntarily travel more than a mile or two from the Argentinean grassland tunnels that are her home.

I'm relieved to know that the rat above is not this unfortunate rat.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Good books and bold mammals

 Two new reviews came in yesterday on The Book Depository. Bookie Monster praises The Glass Harmonica: 'Kocks keeps an expert writerly hand on the drama . . .  intensifying it and moderating it perfectly' in a 'wonderful tale … reminiscent of Louis de Bernières'.

 And Rachel has some fine words for Slightly Peculiar Love Stories here.

Hooray and hooray!

 As you can see, the rat had a little trouble assembling his ironing board biplane, but a promise is a promise, and here he is aloft, with Lily the Pink.

Lily's wearing a green balaclava back to front. So far from her sandy, grassland tunnel, she fears over-stimulation of the senses, but love for Ratty will tempt her to take a peep as they come in to land . . .

Monday, 21 November 2011

Here she is . . . Lily the Pink

Lily is a fairy armadillo from the grasslands of Central Argentina.

She watches in wonder as Ratty checks his kitset biplane — assembled by candlelight — for loose bolts.

Until now, Lily has known little beyond the thornbushes, cacti and sandy tunnels of las pampas.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Rat on ice

I'm a happy rat.

To make your own ice rink, pop a bowl of soup in the freezer overnight. Take it out next morning and pull on your skates.

 Rosa Mira eBooks are half price for another three days. Following the next purchase, I'll introduce you to my girlfriend.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Rat ahoy

Thanks to a couple of keen e-readers this morning, the rat has fled his crumby, deflating Swiss ball and taken to the waves.

Originally, he hoped to be a pin-up for Draw, Don't Drown (the  comma is my own), a draw-a-postcard initiative to raise funds for those affected by the Thai floods (the site well worth a visit for the many heartfelt and intricate offerings). Alas, Ratty found that his dimensions were all wrong, so he's making his debut voyage here, instead.

How rats eat spaghettti

The rat's hanging in there on the Swiss ball, daring to imagine his next adventure. Rosa Mira ebooks are half price for another 6 days only . . .

Meanwhile, Sally Rae of the Otago Daily Times rang me yesterday and reported our conversation about Rosa Mira Books entirely accurately. The photographer did a nice job, too — with gentle lighting thanks to a sudden darkening of the sky.

Photo: Otago Daily Times online

Meanwhile, the pages of Road Markings: An Anthropologist in the Antipodes are being designed in Wakayama, and the cover in Edinburgh, with final amendments coming from author Michael Jackson in Cambridge, Massachussets.

Woohoo, even as I write, Ratty's reprieve has come. Stand by for his next exploit.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Keeping it rolling

This is harder than it looks. I've always wanted to try one of these Swiss balls but I was finally spurred on to it by the new super-stretch Coral underpants.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Where's the towel?

Another sale? Okay, I'm out. It was getting cold anyway.


Aaah, that's more like it. Thank you, dear buyer.

I'm going to stay here now until the sound of another ebook soaring off to meet its (e)reader drags me from this heavenly tureen.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The rat ascends

Rat in his birthday suit suspended above Earth by an inflatable onion.

Monday, 7 November 2011


That's what's needed. Someone has to start selling ebooks around here. Someone with verve, tenacity, a smooth tongue and a tricycle. Rats have no shame, no reputation to lose. Those went out with the Pied Piper and the original sinking ship. My only goal is to weasel my way into your pockets affections.

So, first things first. I've bound and gagged the publisher. I popped a straw in the corner of her mouth with a nice cup of lapsang souchong nearby. And I discounted the books — slash, slash. They're down to half price, for a fortnight only. Think of the pleasure to be gained for $5.50 from the lyrically erotic shenanigans of darling Chjara Vallée in The Glass Harmonica; imagine 20 perfectly curiously amorous couplings (and near-couplings and would-be couplings) for only $5 in Slightly Peculiar Love Stories.

I know, I'm just a rat but by all accounts these writers chew it up.

Look, you don't even have to buy an ebook. You might just feel sorry for the outfit called RMB with its high flying ideals, or for the kids in India still waiting for RMB to break even so they can benefit from a cut of the profits and learn to read . . .

Just go through the pay procedure, take an ebook or leave it — call it a donation if you want to.

Tell you what, every time I wake up and find a book sold or a donation made, I'll change my outfit, antic and vehicle. Watch me.

I am the rat.

Pssst . . . pass it on.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Rat

  The rat wants to join the Rosa Mira Books sales department. He wants to be the Sales Department.

What do you reckon? Would you buy from a rat?

The suit would have to go for starters.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Dorothee Kocks: spurning the timid life tomorrow

Dorothee: I've decided to live up to my website's name, Beware The Timid Life.  I'm giving the talk advertised below in a feminist sex shop, restoring some of the great stories left on the cutting-room floor. For The Glass Harmonica, I did much more research than could ever belong in the novel, and I'm telling about the background of the time: the general expectation even in Puritanical times that women were naturally as lusty as men, the surprising number of bawdy houses; the connection being feeling frisky and feeling free. I'm aiming to add a supplement to the novel with these stories, the 'XXXtras edition' as it were. People can sign up here on my website.

 Meanwhile, Midwest Book Review had this to say about Dorothee's novel: To live for love and joy seems so alien to many. The Glass Harmonica: A Sensualist's Tale is a novel following Chjara Valle, a driven young woman who through her life of a servant as she goes from Corsica to Paris to America. A riveting and unique read with plenty of twists and turns as a woman with a love for music dares to go against the law for it. The Glass Harmonica is a read very much worth considering for historical fiction collections, highly recommended.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Slightly Peculiar Love Stories Perused

Did you know you can read these stories on your PC or laptop? (That's how the rat occupies them, by crawling inside his old computer that's always humming and warm.) It was pointed out to me that some people think you need a special reading device to read digital books. Not so. The simplest way to read Rosa Mira's books on a computer is to download the PDF version. It will open on your desktop with a double click. I'm quite proud of the PDF.  The pages have been elegantly designed by Christine Buess and given some last-minute attention by Caroline Jackson.

Although Tim Jones is the author of a Slightly Peculiar Love Storie(s) he has reviewed the whole in a completely unbiased fashion and you can read the review here. (Thanks, Tim!) I'm looking forward to the launch of Tim's book of poems Men Briefly Explained tomorrow night in Dunedin,  but he'll also be coming to a NZ city near (some of) you. He's travelling from south to north.

I've almost finished proof-reading Michael Jackson's Road Markings: An Anthropologist in the Antipodes. His thoughts about the multiple strands of time, place, event and person that feed into and out of our lives have been occupying mine. I'd love to publish the ebook by the time Rosa Mira Books turns one in January. Let me see if I can dig out a quote for you . . .  

  No life is sufficient unto itself. A person is singular only in the sense in which astronomers use the term: a relative point in space and time where invisible forces become fleetingly visible. Our lives belong to others as well as to ourselves. Just as the stars at night are set in imperceptible galaxies, so our lives flicker and fail in the dark streams of history, fate, and genealogy. One might say that we are each given three lives. First is our conscious incarnation, occupying most of the space between our birth and death. Second is our existence in the hearts and minds of others ­– a life that precedes the moment of our birth and extends beyond our death for as long as we are remembered. Finally there is our afterlife as a barely remembered name, a persona, an element in myth. And this existence begins with the death of the last person who knew us in life.     (New paragraph; this is refusing to separate out.) I've been thinking about how to carry on with this labour of love called Rosa Mira Books which is not even starting to pay its way. Not by a long chalk. Except that carry on I shall, day by day, job by job, taking from Peter to pay Paul, finding ways to play and feel happy  about it, and not give myself a hard time if it doesn't conform to some impossible model of perfection.  (New paragraph.) I'm glad the rat turned up. I think he'll be a help.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

He liked it!

…  a provocative novel by an elegant writer who has blazed her own path.

In these days of bite-sized time-bytes into which our days are nibbled, it's a treat to come upon well crafted essay-style blog postings, or book reviews that take time to savour and digest and to analyse the themes of a novel (in this case) within a wider social context. Anyway Dorothee and I were delighted to receive this thoughtful, flavoursome review of The Glass Harmonica: a sensualist's tale by Jim Cullen for the History News Network:
"Dorothee Kocks has had an intriguing career. A graduate of the University of Chicago, she went on to pursue a doctorate in American Civilization in the decidedly different climate of Brown (where our paths crossed almost a quarter-century ago). She got a tenure-track job at the University of Utah, proceeding to publish a richly suggestive piece of scholarship, Dream a Little: Land and Social Justice in in Modern America (California, 2000). Then she ditched her teaching post, took up the accordion, and began traveling widely, supporting herself with odd jobs. Last year, she made a foray into fiction by publishing her first novel, The Glass Harmonica, as an e-book with a New Zealand-based publisher. It has just been published in a print edition.

"Kocks's unusual vocational trajectory is worth tracing here, because The Glass Harmonica is an unusual book. A work of historical fiction that bridges the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it also sprawls across Europe and North America. Napoleon Bonaparte makes a cameo appearance, but its core is a love story between a commoner Corsican musician, Chjara Valle, and an entrepreneurial American purveyor of erotica, Henry Garland. The two lovers encounter any number of obstacles -- principally in the form of spiteful people on either side of the Atlantic -- but nevertheless manage to build a life together,  one animated by the mysteriously alluring (and thus to many threatening) glass harmonica, a musical instrument which enjoyed a vogue in the age of its inventor, Benjamin Franklin.

"Such a summary makes the book seem simpler than it is. For one thing, The Glass Harmonica is rich with historical texture. Brimming with research, it vividly recreates any number of subcultures, ranging from continental drawing-room entertainments to the feverish intensity of revivial meetings. As one might expect of a writer who has spent much of her life, and much of her work, exploring the concept of place, Kocks also evokes varied geographies -- urban Paris and Philadelphia, rural upstate New York, coastal New England;  et. al. An afterword limns her sources and provides set of footnotes worth studying for their own sake.

"Kocks also boldly trespasses over contemporary convention in realistic fiction, eschewing the spare, lean quality of modern prose in favor of lush, omniscient narration. 'On the morning Chjara Valle quickened in her mother's womb, the sun reached its red fingers over the Mediterranean Sea,' the novel opens." See the rest …

Last night I dreamed that a rat ran up my leg – friendly though. This one is holding a placard on the end of his pole, that says, Occupy The Glass Harmonica!

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Glass Harmonica in paperback

When I think back over 2010, the year in which I dealt, too often anxiously, with the complexity and challenges of setting up Rosa Mira Books, I recall the relief it always was to sink into the reading, editing and proofing of The Glass Harmonica — appreciating always Dorothee's lyrical voice; her consummately professional approach to her writing and research; the boldness, freshness and sheer joie de vivre of her narrative.

It's a pleasure to be able to offer the paperback version of The Glass Harmonica: A sensualist's tale, with access to sales via Rosa Mira Books, or directly here.

Dorothee's created a terrific website, with a blog as provocative as its title: Beware the Timid Life. On this page there's a sparky Q & A with Dorothee and further down the video of a recent TV interview (do check it out; she's a broadcaster's delight). Then keep browsing the site for its many tasty morsels.

Photo of Dorothee by Claudia O'Grady

Congratulations, Dorothee, on creating such an attractive, intriguing and inspiring home for your readers and fans.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Birdsong, banned books, chocolate and feet.

I'm back, energised by Australian sun, birdsong and good company, and perched much more happily on the edge of my chair than I have been in the last few days, with a pinched nerve I'd like to put down to sedentary hours on trains and planes, rather than to encroaching decrepitude. The wisteria is budding forth, and the cherry, and it's hard to keep up with the spring vege greens.

I note that potential buyers of Rosa Mira's ebooks are acting conservatively as the Euro hovers on the brink of the Zone — but I would (naturally) urge them to act now in their own best emotional and intellectual interests. The Glass Harmonica and Slightly Peculiar Love Stories promise to transport their readers into zones eternally vivid and fertile.

In a few days — I'll remind you again then, and point you to her new blog — Dorothee Kocks's The Glass Harmonica: A sensualist's tale will be available in paperback. Details will appear on the website. It makes a handsome volume.

Talking of Banned Books Week, did you see Dorothee's riveting article? On books such as Henry sells clandestinely in her novel, he "hawking risqué literature from the back of his carriage, including what would become the most banned book in U.S. history, Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure".

And I suppose you heard the two radio interviews aired while I was away, in which I spoke about Rosa Mira Books. The first with Ruth Todd (no relation) of Plains FM Women on Air, the second with Lyn Freeman on Radio NZ's Arts on Sunday.

I have a copy of the paperback version of The Glass Harmonica which I'd like to send to someone who could give their review of it wide exposure, besides what's offered here. That and a Whitaker's slab of their choice (alas, the latter an NZ-only offer).

Feet waiting for the Lapstone train.

Friday, 9 September 2011

'dangerous and beautiful'

Here's a new review of Dorothee Kocks's The Glass Harmonica, a sensualist's tale . . .  

Since spring is in the air, I'd like to offer a free copy of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories to the next two buyers of The Glass Harmonica.

And now I'm going to the beach.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Packing a few things

I talked about Rosa Mira Books last week with Ruth Todd of Women on Air. Here's the podcast.

Did I say? I'm away for a couple of weeks, but know of a handy doorstep where I can stay in touch now and then.

I plan to proofread the next Rosa Mira ebook, a rich anthropological and autobiographical journey (a road trip) through New Zealand, by Michael Jackson, NZ poet and anthropologist living in the US. (Alas, that NZ Book Council link isn't exactly up to date but you'll get the gist.) And to do some of my own work on Amigas, the collaborative novel Elena Bossi and I have been writing for the last two or three years. We have some new ideas for working it into shape.

Keep well, read eagerly, write and create joyously, play ludically, and enjoy your people. I will.

With the eye of imagination, a pen. Or a double pastry roller.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Odds and ends

What's happening this week? Well, spring is, in this neck of the woods. It's doing gorgeously.

Blogger has changed its layout so I'm groping my way through it this morning.

Rosa Mira Books is giving away a copy each of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories and Dorothee Kocks's The Glass Harmonica: A Sensualist's Tale. Head to the Facebook page, find the giveaway posting, and in the comment box, write what device you'd use to read your copy. You'll go in the draw tomorrow morning.

Writer Carolyn McCurdie has read Slightly Peculiar Love Stories and says: "This is a collection of astonishing variety, by authors from NZ and around the world. Several are translations. The heart of the reader, therefore, the mind, the hairs on the back of the neck, are guaranteed to be touched at least once, or over and over by something in here. For me, it was 'The Ache' by Elena Bossi (translated from the Spanish), and 'Four Stories' by Tania Hershman, in particular, that demanded I go back and savour."

Also today on the Facebook page we seem to have got into a game of giving someone an age, and you have to answer a few simple questions from that (far off, in my case — 12) time. So far, SPLS authors Sarge Lacuesta, Coral Atkinson, and Tim Jones have also divulged dark, writerly secrets.

On Saturday I talked with Ruth Todd on Women on Air in Christchurch, about Rosa Mira Books. As soon as the podcast is available, I'll put the link here. 

Following up on my last posting, about digital contracts, I signed mine with RHNZ, but stipulated (and they agreed) that it be for two years only. Flexibility is the thing, when so much is changing so fast.

Later this week, I'm off to the Sydney vicinity for a fortnight, but now and then I'll trundle my laptop over to the neighbour's doorstep where (they've agreed!) we can access their WiFi. 

If it's cold on the step, I'll just have to take it a few steps further, to the pub.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Testing the e-climate

Publishers are baffled. No one knows what books are going to look like in 20 years. No one knows what kind of dance the ebook market will be doing a year from now. It's hard for traditional publishers to to figure out what royalty share to offer their authors on digital copies.

One major player, publisher of my books, has recently renegged on the 50 percent author rate in our contract (signed before digital books were more more than a twinkle in Amazon's eye) and has come up with something closer to what they consider 'the market norm' of 20 percent. For various reasons I'm arguing, not signing. Here's an extract from my letter:

…  for an author to be contracted ad infinitum for 20 percent of the digital book price received makes little sense in this changeable climate.

As a digital publisher I'm paying 20 percent to our authors until certain fixed publishing costs are met, after which 60 percent. Each contract is renewable after two years.

I go on to request that the span of the contract be shortened from infinity to two years; or that the percentage payable to the author be increased, or that it be increased after a certain number of sales — after all, there will be no reprint, no ongoing production costs once the book has been digitally formatted.

I suggest that, alternatively, I take back my digital rights, format and sell my own ebooks, and offer the publisher perhaps 20 percent of income from sales . . .

My letter concludes: I don't envy you the task of working through these digital knots, but this is the publishing challenge of the time and vigorous discussion is surely called for now when author autonomy is increasing exponentially.

And that's the rub. Not all authors will be content to sit about catching the drips from the sales of their titles when they now have unprecedented access to their readership, and as long as publishers expect them to behave like compliant children, taking their small portion without fuss.

Of course, I run the risk that the publisher won't budge and I'll be left with no ebook and no 'digital' income from it.

I'll let you know what happens.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Yoohoo, a new review!

I love coming upon a new website-and-blog to which I want to subscribe at once. Cassie Hart first came to my notice when she and Anna Caro put together Tales for Canterbury: Survival, Hope, Future, a short story collection from which the profits go to The NZ Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. The collection (still, I''m ashamed to admit, in my to-be-read-file) features some of the same talented writers as in our own Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, which Cassie has reviewed on her site, Just One More Page. (Actually, more than 'just one more page'; there's a generous offering of books reviewed; I like the sound of Compost, but then the compost bin has always been my favourite garden playground.)

Yes, dear readers, she liked it.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Spring at 46 degrees south

Anyone for afternoon tea? You'll think I'm always taking tea or drawing. That's not entirely true. But I've found that drawing (with a nice cup of tea) keeps my 'play' battery charged, and makes every challenging thing look more possible, interesting, and even fun.

(The silly thing is, at this high tea last week, we were all too preoccupied with giving speeches, or with not rustling and crunching while others did, that the whole gorgeous edifice remained more-or-less decorative. I did make the bubbles go down, silently. And the rose-vanilla tea.)

Anyway, as we all wait for the next book to appear on the ebookshelf (as soon as Author and Publisher have signed our contract this week, I'll let you know what it is — although there's a heap of minor editing, proof-reading, design elements yet to be applied before you see the book itself — anyone looking for small skill-swapping-type work?) . . . where was I? . . . while we wait, I thought I'd like to exploit one or two more gadgets on this blogspot and make a blog and website roll, starting with you Rosa Mira followers. Some of your blogs or websites I know well, but I'd be glad for any of you to let me know your URL, and I'll start putting some in place.

Meanwhile, two beautiful ebooks . . . well, languish is, I feel, putting it a little harshly, but heck, anyone who has the means to read them, should be diving into The Glass Harmonica (it's spring in the southern hemisphere; this is a book to get your juices rising apace) or delving into the eccentric wonders of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories.

Not to make anyone feel guilty. The world is full of wonderful reading matter. It's a matter of finding it. But Rosa Mira Books is not a bad place to start.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Once upon a mountain

Sophie (now Bond), my daughter, visited, and drew the house

You don't always know when a seed is being sown, how or when it will sprout, or what it will grow into. Sometimes you have in inkling, though. (Or do I mean a pre-seedling?) In 2005 I left home alone for the first time in a very long time. I made my way to Can Serrat, a writers' and artists' residency at the foot of Mont Serrat an hour's bus ride from Barcelona. There I met Dorothee Kocks, author of The Glass Harmonica.

I wrote about this, and today the story appears on the Can Serrat blog.

Every year Can Serrat offers a full stipend for a month to two writers and two visual artists. For a modest fee, and sometimes for a part stipend, writers and artists are welcome to stay and work at the casa beneath the mountain I came to love.

As I wrote in Digging for Spain: A Writer's Journey:

I have fallen in love with Montserrat. Returning on the bus from the city, my heart goes ba-doom when it floats into sight, always subtly altered since the last viewing. I’m not the first to feel this way. Goethe said, ‘Nowhere but in his own Montserrat will a man find happiness and peace.’ (I wonder if it ever crossed his mind that a woman might in hers.) The other day clouds massed and towered into the blue in the astonishing way I’d only ever seen in Paris ten days earlier. By the time I was on the bus to the city they’d been crushed to a dense slate on which Montserrat’s bulbous crenellations were painted in smoky pink. So, to crown my day as with flowers, I walk up through the almond orchard, over the desiccated herbs, under the pines, until I have a clear view of the mountain and if I can find a good thing to sit on — that isn’t prickly or puffy with dust or en route to the ant colony — I go down and adore.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Slightly Peculiar Love Stories Digested

In case you didn't see it on Beattie's Book Blog, here's a copy of the thoughtful review by author and poet Maggie Rainey-Smith. If you want to find out more about the writers of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, you can start here.

        This collection has been 'gathered and edited' by Penelope Todd, founder of Rosa Mira exceptional eBooks.  In the foreword, she says that in selecting for this collection she wanted to be 'touched, jolted, teased, stretched and heartened and allowed to feel the weight, breadth and diversity of love.'
        I agreed to review these stories, fascinated by the title, and too, I had a new I pad and I had not yet read an eBook, and a short story collection seemed like a very good starting point. It took me a wee while to become comfortable with the screen, the page turning and returning (as you do with short stories), but very soon I relaxed into the idea of being able to enlarge the fonts, fast forward and back to re-read stories, and forgot about the medium, and began to enjoy the stories.
        What strikes me most about this collection are not just the diversity and the peculiarity of the stories, but a common link of lingering images, rather more than perhaps particular story-lines. These are after all, peculiar and indeed there is a range of peculiarity. There are writers that I know well, such as Craig Cliff, Coral Atkinson, Tina Makereti, Sue Wootton, Linda Niccol, Claire Beynon and not so well-known international names, whose stories are here in translation. What I found in reading to review, is that this collection is not for skim-reading and the stories reward with re-reading and a sinking in, not expecting the expected, letting go just a little.
           I found similarities of themes and ideas too. Craig Cliff wrote a strange erotic Italian fable Statues about a Florentine named Lalo who becomes obsessed with a sculpture of Adonis in the piazza. It works because he maintains so well the style and tone required for this sort of tale 'the folly of Alfonso Dondolio’s dotage was a sculpture'.  I think Cliff is having a lot of fun with this story. Similarly, but perhaps more seriously, Tina Makereti renders a highly sensual  well-known Maori legend, the story of Hine and Tane and anchors it exquisitely, bordering on erotic as Tane creates his woman from the earth.
           Coral Atkinson is terrific at the evocation of historical detail in her writing. Chips of stars  is about the passion of a pre-war romance, the delights of choosing an engagement ring “see the way the stone dances in the light” the excitement of 'wait till the girls at work see it', contrasted with the soldier’s return.   He brings home stockings to his girl that in his hunger for the sensual, he has already unwrapped 'they fell like syrup on the roughness of his hands' but his passion is not well matched.  This story contrasts rather nicely with Maxine Alterio’s Improvement Projects about a counsellor visiting an older woman and having her assumptions about the aged and sexual appropriateness, upturned.   
          There is an interesting pairing of themes with the stories of Sue Wootton and Lyndal Adleigh (not her real name) where the protagonists have strange obsessions, one who collects the business cards of men “her purse is bursting with them, and the other who finds solace in the company of a telephone (like a cat purring) working her way through from A to Z, hoping no-one ever answers, but someone very relevant to her life, finally does.  
          Alex Epstein creates four vignettes, the shortest of which, ‘the Name of the Moon’, really appealed to me.   It’s no more than two sentences but sums up rather well the end of a relationship.
           Salman Masalha’s All Clear  (translated from Hebrew) complete with coupling turtles, the Intifada and the lover’s body as a metaphor for the land, war and politics is an eerie, odd and compelling story about love in a war zone with gas masks completing the climax.
           The story that made me laugh out loud (actually the only one) was Tim Jones’s  Said Sheree, a rather acute satire of two poet same-sex lovers – one is a tier one poet the other a 'tier two  poet for funding purposes' ( and the whole awards and grants backdrop had me grinning with recognition and enjoyment ).  It’s a wry little piece that anyone in Wellington will recognise rather well I think. Miranda, the second-tier poet has a reading in the Hutt Valley at the Angus Inn.  'It was a wet night in the Hutt Valley and some of the locals stayed away.' A morality tale for the upwardly mobile writer perhaps, rather than a sensual fable, but oh, it hits the mark.
           In reviewing a collection of short stories, it is not possible to pay full tribute to all the contributors, but I imagine there is something in this collection for everyone. Brian Walpert’s, Earth-One, Earth-Two superhero story about Martin the taxi driver who thinks he is The Flash, a DC Comics character is quirky and in the end, tragic. Elena Bossi in The Ache writes of lost desire and rather beautifully describes a husband out of love thus... 'He only wishes that his lips would lose their lush appearance and settle rather into the smile of a man who has realised all his plans.'
           Linda Niccol tackles the poignancy of a lost love where the person still exists but not as you remember them. There is a train journey with the aged couple and the husband briefly recalling when he first met his wife.   This story has a cinematic quality. I found the opening paragraph confusing and felt the mention of a train journey at the start was unwarranted as it reveals itself quite adequately later on. I enjoyed it much more on a second reading.
           Claire Beynon’s piece on the trapeze is very much an image, rather than story and an image that lingers. She is a writer, photographer and artist and this piece reflects all of that in its simplicity, thoughtfulness and brevity.
           Janis Freegard’s story Mill, I had already read, and envied when she won the Katherine Mansfield short story award in 2001, and if I recall correctly, she wrote this piece in one sitting over one morning which I think is sometimes how the very best short stories seem to happen – as if they arrive fully formed – good to see the story within a collection. 
          There are twenty writers contributing to this collection and so a review cannot do justice to all of the stories, but suffice to say that they all engage, intrigue, and entertain in quite different ways and take risks, like Space Oddity’ by Angelo R. Laciest a story that I needed to read twice, or experimental perhaps, like Less than half a day by Christos Chrissopoulos...a story that I found a bit more challenging to engage with, but that may well reflect my preference for the traditional form.  He uses Net-vibe with postings over a period of two or more months including numbered 'views' and comments by the two key characters, the same way a story might be written I guess through blog postings, Skype comments or indeed perhaps messages on Facebook.    
          I haven’t spoken of every story and all twenty writers, but can say with confidence that all the stories are interesting, engaging and yes, ‘slightly peculiar’ and possibly the stories in translation appear more so.   What exactly did I lose? By Lawrence K. I. Pun, is a Chinese story translated, that needed a rereading and still left me guessing a little.  I think it was meant to.
          This collection works really well as an eBook, to dip in and out of, between train stations, to and from work or last thing at night, just a story here and there before you sleep, fodder for your dreams, or just enough to startle, tease, surprise and as the editor says, to ‘stretch’ at times as well.  

                  The End                        

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

100 were turned away!

Dorothee Kocks, author of The Glass Harmonica: a Sensualist's Tale has been working hard and having a ball. Last month she read at 'an intimate soirée' at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, which features in the novel. Alongside the reading was a glass harmonica recital of classical and folk pieces, by Alisa Nakashian-Holsberg, one of only a dozen performers in the world today.

Dorothee writes: RiverRun Books, a community force for good in Portsmouth, hosted a signing event the next day during a summer festival. Lots of people came through to see the instrument that once was banned.

And what were they signing? you may ask (an ebook?). In fact, the events previewed the paperback release of the novel, which is officially slated for October but it will be available online soon with links from Rosa Mira Books.

Now, what the girls have been waiting for, an almost full-length glimpse of Dorothee's gorgeous outfit (believe me, her novel is every bit as gorgeous):

 These photos were by Andrew Edgar Photography of Portsmouth.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

More love

Go and boil the jug and warm the teapot. While you wait, open the ANTHROPOLOGIST, make the tea, pour yourself a cuppa, and sit down for 13 minutes and 18 seconds to watch stunningly edited and moving excerpts from a series of longer interviews by photographic film-maker Andrew Zuckerman, of well-known people talking frankly on the subject of LOVE.

The full production is called 'Wisdom'. I think you'll find you want to watch that, too. (Post script: Actually, it turns out this is a trailer for the book which comes with a DVD.)

From there you can check out (as I'm about to) the rest of the Anthropologist site ('supporting the work of inspiring individuals'), including the short film clips Claire recommended (many thanks, Claire!) on the work and ethos of pyrographer Etsuko Ichikawa.

And of course, if you need more love after all this, you know where to find it.

Thursday, 4 August 2011


I've been a bit slowed up since the Slightly Peculiar Love Stories were released. Am having to avoid much keyboard time; find alternative ways to work; appraise.

However, I was blessed with a visit one evening this week by three determined angels: three friends with deep enthusiasm for Rosa Mira Books. We sat around the table and the teapot, and they asked me to outline the Rosa Mira story, from the night I woke (really, I was woken, very gently) and had the idea slid into my keeping, until now: two ebooks released, two in process, and others hovering — possiblebooks.

A remarkable story, they said. And in my best moments, I agree. It still surprises me that no one else in NZ is doing just this: taking original and exceptional work directly to digital publication. The potential remains vast. However, as with any new business, taking off takes a while.

We talked about potential revenue for the fledgeling business; about alternatives and ways forward. (In fact the way forward is simply to take the next step. I remind myself that this method has always held good, and that resources arrive when needed and seldom before. This may not be a model taught in business school, but the school of life imparts its own wisdom.)

And we talked about that old puzzle: marketing. Making the lovely products known. A large proportion of Rosa Mira's resources has been spent on help with media — hard copy and social media. Also, our writers and supporters have shared generously via their own networks.  It's still not easy to see just what makes the greatest difference. Anyway, from our meeting this week, we each went away with a name or two of people we'll contact, who might like to discuss Rosa Mira Books with me on their turf, whether by radio, rag, or blog. And I still have a burgeoning list of websites to follow up for review: on entrepreneurial know-how; improving digital platforms; marketing your ebooks … information is liberally shared on the internet.

Someone whose blog I always find helpful is Dan Blank's. His mission is to help authors and publishers 'create compelling online content'. He reminds me that the magic lies in the passion one has for the work: in my case for seeing rich, zesty, exceptional work find its readers. And that passion, over time, will bring in the necessary ingredients, prove the pudding (in the eating), and bring new pudding eaters to the table.

Then what can be said to three friends who gave up their evening to bring their bracing, practical encouragement to me and to Rosa Mira Books?

(She googles blessings for an apt one…)

"May the frost never afflict your spuds.
May the leaves of your cabbage always be free from worms.
May the crows never pick your haystack.
If you inherit a donkey, may she be in foal.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Woo-hoo, a review

Without further ado: the first review of Slightly Peculiar Short Stories has appeared on Beattie's Book Blog.  It's a substantial, thoughtful  review by poet, novelist, and short story writer Maggie Rainey-Smith, who was trying out her new iPad. I'm grateful, too, to writer and new media savant Helen Heath for liasing between RMB, MR-S and BBB.

When The Glass Harmonica: A Sensualist's Tale was released early this year, it seemed much harder to attract reviewers for the ebook than it is now — perhaps due in part to the small numbers of ereaders about. Only six months later, I'm hearing of readers and writers who newly own a machine, or who speak of the inevitability of sooner or later obtaining one. While we've had some excellent feedback and potent reader summaries of The Glass Harmonica (check them out here), barring one, the full review has remained elusive. A copy each of The Glass Harmonica and Slightly Peculiar Love Stories (RMB's entire stock!)  are ready to fly into the hands of a reader willing to give full voice to their reading experience of TGH.

"As it plumbs the erotic life of the nineteenth century, this debut novel is filled with moments of startling insight and deep wisdom. Like the luminous music her heroine calls forth from the glass harmonica, Dorothee Kocks’s language vibrates with surprise and enchantment."
                         Teresa Jordan, author of Riding the White Horse Home and

If you're the one, please leave a message here or on Facebook, or email me via Rosa Mira Books.

Sun's shining, snow's melting, and dog's ready for an outing.

Warm wishes to my readers.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Now that you're here …

… in case you're hunting around for weekend reading, two of our writers have posted on the release of Slightly Peculiar Short Stories. Tania Hershman of the UK has four truly peculiar and tasty short shorts in the collection, while Wellingtonian Tim Jones's 'Said Sheree' (now there's clumsy construction, made clumsier yet by this intrusion) is a sly and funny one with especial appeal to writers. Tania has a celebratory piece on her blog, and Tim gives a hurrah on his here.

Meanwhile, writer and social media maven (yes, I had to look it up: ˈmāvən — a connoisseur or expert, origin 1960s Yiddish)  Helen Heath interviews me on her site about the why and wherefore of Rosa Mira Books, and SPLS.

Smudgy crab-apple without a messsage.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Love is in the air

Cover by Sophie Bond, spit and polish by Caroline Jackson.

In spite of  obstacles large and small these last few weeks, Slightly Peculiar Love Stories are airborne.

I hope you'll find a way to read them.

They'll do your heart good.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Gathering up

I'd like to write a big thank-you list of everyone who's been involved in any way with the production of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, but I'm a bit anxious about it. What if I leave someone out? And it's likely to be someone so close I take their indispensable self for granted. Maybe I can do it without actually mentioning names.

First (or second — first there was the book idea and title that dropped together into my head one day, but who do I thank for that?) there are the 20 writers and those who introduced us. What a smart, professional, and conscientious lot they are — besides being seriously, subtly, or wildly talented. During the production phase, prizes have been won; books have been published and praised; residencies have been awarded and attended; the writing has gone on.

There's Creative NZ, curious and confident enough to supply funding for this production — I've thoroughly enjoyed sharing that with my cheerful, expert gang of page and cover designers, social media mavens, file formatters and tweakers, and web designers. Not all of them are plural. All of their names can be found in SPLS.

There was a little borrowed house in a warm bay where I swam throughout April and got the MS ship-shape. There have been FB friends who liked and cheered as needed; and Twitters who advised and encouraged; and the hundreds every week who have visited this blog. There have been my family and friends (there are worlds in these words). And the man who has witnessed some chaotic and some truly pathetic moments, but has never failed to offer what he could, from a cuppa or neck massage, to a full sit-down strategy session.

There are those who have offered ongoing help and encouragement, out of interest and benevolence.

There is this computer, which so graciously and mysteriously recovered its health and manners after its tragic breakdown and subsequent trip to Auckland this month.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, all.

Best of all there is an ebook about to be released — at 5.30 tonight, NZ time — Slightly Peculiar Love Stories at Rosa Mira Books. It's full of rich and diverse tales — the savvy, the sad, the sharp, the tender, the triumphant, the fearful, the wistful, the dark, the light, the cruel and the kind. Stories of love. All slightly peculiar. But then, so is love itself.

Woops! Meet Tania …

I thought I'd included all of our accomplished writers of Slightly Peculiar Short Stories, but Tania Hershman of the UK slipped under the radar. (Sorry, Tania!) In fact it's a treat to have four of Tania's stories in this collection; four complex, piquant mouthfuls that keep you savouring them for a while.

Here's Tania last Saturday, talking about short stories at the first short story festival in Bristol, ShortstoryVille.

Tania's first book, The White Road and Other Stories, (Salt Modern Fiction, 2008), was commended in the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers. Tania is Grand Prize Winner of the 2009 Binnacle Ultra-Short Contest, and European winner of the 2008 Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's Short Story competition.  

She's currently writer-in-residence in Bristol University's Science Faculty and has just been awarded an Arts Council England grant to work on a collection of biology-inspired short fiction. She blogs about writing at TaniaWrites.

Yes, we're still on track to release Slightly Peculiar Short Stories at 5.30 NZ standard time, today.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Alright then!

Tomorrow. Slightly Peculiar Love Stories will be released at 5.30 p.m. New Zealand time. Due to the peculiar run-up to this event, I've not made elaborate plans for the day, or even the hour, but intend to send out a newsletter and press release, and to keep commentary flowing on Facebook and Twitter. I hope you'll join us and chip in over the hour or two following the release, and share postings with friends and fellow readers.

I was about to post a teacup here (but, still peculiarly, Blogger tells me this service is currently unavailable), with the suggestion that those who are close to a bottle, teapot or tap, will fill their glass, teacup, mug, or nightcap at the appointed hour (or shortly after, when they wake up) and raise it with a hearty cheer for Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, its talented and charming writers, and its myriad already-beloved readers.

5.30 NZ Standard Time is also (and please correct me if you think I'm wrong):
6.30 a.m. in the UK (sorry about the early wake-up, Tania)
1 p.m. in Kong Kong and Manila
2.30 a.m. in Argentina (sorry, Elena!)
11.30 p.m. in Utah (sorry, Brenda Sue!)
8 a.m. in Israel and Athens

Oh, look, now I'm allowed to post the tea/rum/hot choc/champagne cup.

Friday, 15 July 2011

How bizarre, how bizarre

I'm back on my laptop (I'm going to think up a suitable name for him/her, too — one that signals a sensitive but resilient nature, and a certain tolerance for water — any ideas?). Despite a quote (from Auckland because Dunedin is overloaded with ailing Macs) for fixing $4000 worth of 'liquid' damage to my $1600 model, my lap companion evidently decided it would rather come home and behave nicely than be scrapped.

I have to say that its malaise closely resembled my own at the time — the whirring fan that, like my head, was all noise and no traction; the X on the battery symbol; the 'something wrong' with the hard drive. I have to say that it gave me time to recuperate and consider my working habits (work when I'm working, play when I'm playing and quit the fretting); the need for creative time; the need to do a comprehensive back-up now; and time to consider Rosa Mira Books' chief objective: to become deft (and a little quicker) in the production of exceptional ebooks — which means looking for ways to travel more like an arrow than an articulated truck. Figuring out what's essential and what's not.  I have to say I'm grateful. And will be taking neither the laptop's vigour nor my own for granted.

Thanks and hugs go out to all — writers, followers, friends and family, who have been so supportive in spite of it all, and without whom this project would be a) impossible and b) pointless.

This week I came upon some helpful tips for digital dummies like me:

1. If you use iBooks, or other reading app, on your iPad/Pod/Phone, do notice if there are updates (red dots) available for it on the app icon of your iPad/Pod/Phone, and download them. Makes all the difference to the layout, as it turns out in the case of Slighty Peculiar Love Stories

2. SLPS writer, Salman, sent me this nifty feature:  as he says, 'If you use Firefox, you can add this and read epub directly.' It's not refined in its features, but is a very quick way to open an epub document.

3. Less a helpful tip than a celebration of beautiful web design, and a chance to have your own: check out Sue Wootton's web page (and drool, poets). She writes, 'I recommend Doug Lilly. He's started to specialise in arts/writing/creative people's sites, at very reasonable rates.'

Okay, there's no reason now not to release Slightly Peculiar Love Stories in the middle of next week. I have a day in mind and will confirm it with details here, there, and everywhere as soon as I get the okay from my techie.

Shall we have a nice cup of tea in the meantime?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Penelope, Prudence, Persephone?

No, I'm going to change my name to Patience. And I'm going to invite all the authors of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories to take on the same as a middle name.

Broken computer time has been doubled while (as it turns out) an insurance claim has to be made instead of a quick replacement. Meanwhile I nip onto the chaps' laptops when they're otherwise occupied (washing dishes, hauling firewood) for a quick catch-up and crucial emailing. I'm also going to name my current affliction 'ePublisher's Shoulder' and admit that it has been grateful for the rest. I've had an instructive week or two and it's not over yet.

Anyway, authors have received their copies; a couple of last-minute errors will be fixed; our website manager is poised to launch; a lovely handful of reviewers are ready to unleash their impressions on the reading world … please don't despair (I speak to myself, too).

This afternoon I was quizzed on Otago Access Radio by the effervescent crime writer and radio host Vanda Symon about Rosa Mira Books. Apparently I sounded very animated about both RMB and the impending launch. And so I am. (One of the abovementioned chaps then proceeded to discuss his vivid new children's novel, Wings, and the plight of bees.)

If anyone has any riveting and pertinent thing they'd like to post on this blog while we wait, please let me know.

Meanwhile, for your entertainment (and using a photo already, strangely, on this blog's file), here is a photo of a small portion each of the publisher and one Slightly Peculiar author. This is the kind of thing that goes on when people shut themselves away in off-season Atlantic seaside towns to co-write novels.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Last but not least (she's been busy)

P says: Okay, J's off carting wood-chips so I've jumped on his laptop to introduce you to Susannah Poole. I first read her story embedded in a longer work which impressed me with its freshness and lightness of touch. I was delighted to meet up again with Susannah via this thoughtful, upbeat story of student politics marrying . . . love?

Susannah says: I wrote my Slightly Peculiar Love Story before I was pregnant with the baby who is now (thankfully) asleep. The story is set in a world I used to live in, in what feels like a totally different lifetime. The nineties. Sometimes I wish I could go in a time machine back to this 'era' and be a fly on the wall. I suspect watching it would bring up a variety of emotions: embarrassment, sympathy, amusement. The closest I could get to a time machine was to write while listening to music that my friends and I played in our flats and through our walkman headphones during that time. At the moment the music I listen to is the music I play to my baby: a Mozart piece that seems to calm her into sleep and a Canadian children's singer named Raffi who my sister and I loved when we were kids. 

Well, Susannah tells me she's photophobic — no, make that photo phobic — so I'll add an illustration from the RMBlog photo album instead … leaping from the '90s to the 1800s, and trotting out the Valentine's Day card we had made for The Glass Harmonica which celebrates, among other things, love's electricity.
Click here to animate these two