Friday, 29 November 2013

Titles forthcoming (rat not so)

Ratty continues to be elusive, however he has been seen treading his way over the great stone slabs of riverbed in the Waitakere ranges. With his green periscope he has noted the industrious preparation of three new ebooks in the 10k series and knows that before the southern summer is over he’ll have to dry himself off, put on his scarf, and promote them. In the meanwhile, I’ll tell you that the first to be formatted will be The Desert Road, a short novella by Lynn Davidson who lives on the Kapiti Coast.

Her story is set in Turangi in the heart of NZ’s only desert, where ‘three volcanic mountains claim ground and sky’ and the three daughters of a charismatic Italian tunneller are confronted with behaviours and consequences as uncompromising as the landscape.
Lynn has published four collections of poetry, most recently in 2012 Common Land, poetry and essays published by Victoria University Press. Her poems and stories have been widely published and her novel Ghost Net came out in 2003 with Otago University Press.
Lynn has taught creative writing for many years and is currently mid-way through a PhD in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Massey University.
More about Lynn and the other tho 10k-ers over the summer  . . .

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

"spare, gorgeous memoir"

'Melissa Green is often called a “poet’s poet,” but this is a memoir that will haunt every reader — even those who have never read any poetry.' (Surely there aren't many of those in the world?)

So reads a new five-star review for Melissa Green's The Linen Way in San Francisco Book Review.

I heard this week that Martin Edmond, author of the essay Winged Sandals was awarded the (New Zealand) 2013 Prime Minister's Literary Award for non-fiction. The awards are made 'in recognition of outstanding contribution to New Zealand literature'. Congratulations, Martin!

Three new 10k ebooks are in production: three stories by Carolyn McCurdie; a short novella by Lynn Davidson, and an essay by H.T.R. Williams. I'll be introducing these three, if you don't know them already, over the next few weeks.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Lily and Melissa mostly.

I was recently asked whether Ratty and Lily are still an item, given Lily's low profile on this blog, so I'm including a photo of them taken last night at The Golden Spoon where they celebrated the second anniversary of their meeting. Lily admits she's been preoccupied the last year or two, raising their four litters of ratadilloes, and as soon as a batch is weaned, she tends to take off for las pampas of Patagonia to visit her ageing aunts and uncles in their subterranean tunnels, and to distribute dried kiwifruit morsels and milk biscuits (vanilla, banana and chocolate flavoured, milk powder in biscuit form) to her innumerable nephews and nieces.

Readers might forgiven for wondering whether Rosa Mira books itself is still an item, so quiet has it been. I'm pleased to say that we're still here, albeit slowed by recent ponderings and peregrinations. I'm currently preparing three new 10k editions for publication before year's end (again, three short stories; a short novella and an essay — more about those soon), and a memoir for early 2014.

It was wonderful to read Tim Jones's interview today with Melissa Green, author of the The Linen Way, about the books, women and men that/who have influenced her as a writer. A precocious reader, she leaped into Shakespeare while still a child: "I remember all one summer being put to bed when it was still light and reading and reading to the sound of crickets and peepers, and I felt as though I were in the enchanted world of Titania, Oberon, Peaseblossom, Moth and Puck as the stars blinked open and the moon came up. Reading and rereading those two small but infinite volumes became my secret life, and the secret language of my secret life." Read more…

 Tim, who is a generous encourager and show-caser of his fellow writers, also features Melissa's keen/ing poem 'Leda, Later' as his Tuesday Poem this week.

Go and catch some loveliness before the day's out.

Monday, 9 September 2013

'another excellent ebook'

We've been a bit unbloggerly lately. However, a burst of enthusiasm for the medium (the coloured pencils, the rat) was kindled by firm praise for The Linen Way appearing on Library Thing: … a very moving personal memoir by a poet whose work drew the praise and admiration of such great poets as Derek Walcott and Joseph Brodsky …

… another excellent ebook from New Zealand's Rosa Mira Books, whose adventurous publishing programme includes writers from the US and Argentina as well as New Zealand. 

The reviewer is author and poet Tim Jones who often makes generous salon-space for fellow writers on his site, Books in the Trees, including, recently, poet Saradha Koirala and (on SF Legend Award finalist, Helen Lowe.

Also of interest this week has been discussion with Ryan Christiansen of Knuckledown Press, a 'small Midwestern literary press' on a similar scale and with similar aspirations to Rosa Mira Books. We're looking for ways to draw more readers. Doing this kind of thing, for example. Do go and check out their enticing list of ebooks.

If only Ratty would get on with his job.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Rat quandary

Angst — if not existential, then circumstantial — afflicts even a rat. When not foraging or bustling about on mundane tasks in the rats' nest (and there's never a shortage), he worries and wonders how best to spend his minutes, hours, days and money; where his energy is most aptly applied; how to respond to the suffering of fellow rats and the degradation of rat habitats everywhere; whether he's better off conjuring fresh rat histories or preparing others' for presentation— or trying harder to do both; then of course, he wonders if these are still pertinent questions when he's asked them so many times before and somehow trundled on, making this choice and/or that, doing (and failing to do) this or/and that; finding that life goes on unfolding whichever way he handles it. He reckons life is a quiet cacophony  of paradoxes that occasionally strike a gloriously harmonious chord.

Thus far, today, the page is blank and Ratty's not even sure what colour he is.

He recommends (remembering his job description) that others in this fix pop over to Rosa Mira Books and choose one to read.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Melissa Green interviewed on Run to the Roundhouse, Nellie.

A marvellous interview with Melissa Green has appeared online: the author of The Linen Way in delving, illuminating discussion with Susan T. Landry on Run to the Roundhouse, Nellie. On the long, tender process of (self-)healing, Melissa speaks of (and her readers celebrate) 'the power that has accrued to my soul through years of work, of therapy and writing, to bring myself up from the burning coals of despair— back to the light of earth.' Please read the whole for your edification and pleasure.

Image by Claire Beynon: detail from 'Shadow and Shimmer', 2013, oil on paper.

Run to the Roundhouse, Nellie is a wonderful resource: 'an online journal about memoir'. With Susan  managing editor, and Melissa Shook contributing editor, it includes examples of memoir and recommended reading, interviews with memoirists and discussion on the art of writing memoir.

Thank you, Susan and Melissa, for sharing this rich conversation.
An online journal about memo
he power that has accrued to my soul through years of work, of therapy and writing, to bring myself up from the burning coals of despair—back to the light of earth. - See more at:
the power that has accrued to my soul through years of work, of therapy and writing, to bring myself up from the burning coals of despair—back to the light of earth. - See more at:
the power that has accrued to my soul through years of work, of therapy and writing, to bring myself up from the burning coals of despair—back to the light of earth. - See more at:
the power that has accrued to my soul through years of work, of therapy and writing, to bring myself up from the burning coals of despair—back to the light of earth. - See more at:
the power that has accrued to my soul through years of work, of therapy and writing, to bring myself up from the burning coals of despair—back to the light of earth. - See more at:
the power that has accrued to my soul through years of work, of therapy and writing, to bring myself up from the burning coals of despair—back to the light of earth. - See more at:
the power that has accrued to my soul through years of work, of therapy and writing, to bring myself up from the burning coals of despair—back to the light of earth. - See more at:

Friday, 2 August 2013

Formidable! (Fr)

The Linen Way has its first review. Well, rave, actually. By a writer well qualified to rave. Carolyn McCurdie is an author and poet of quiet power. She's just quietly won the NZ Poetry Society's 2013 International Competition with her poem 'Making up the Spare Beds for the Brothers Grimm'. Ratty, managing to read her review as a personal victory, had himself (slightly under-)baked into a mocha cake.

Take it away, Carolyn:
"Here I am, standing on the tallest roof-top, bellowing into the largest megaphone I can find, to rave about The Linen Way by Melissa Green. What adjectives will do the job? I'll try: luminescent, brave, beautiful. I've never read such a powerful testament to poetry. It's as essential here as oxygen, as love.

For her, it was life and death. Suffering from mental illness, living in a cruel, unloving family, Melissa made her first suicide attempt aged eight. Books, words, poetry kept her alive, gave her meaning and passion before the next sucking surge of nothing. There is courage here beyond my understanding.

This is also a testament to gift. Melissa Green's own gift of language declares itself on every line, but she also stands witness to the tenderness, faithfulness of great poets and therapists who reached out to her, pulling her back to life and to her true writing self again and again. She was mentored by Derek Walcott, who gave her tough-love guidance, and his relentless belief in her. The Russian poet Joseph Brodsky sat for hours with his arms around her when she was at her lowest points. I will never read the poetry of these men in the same way again. They gave her the persevering, unconditional love that was so lacking in her early life, making this a soaring song of hope from someone who began with none.

When I finished reading this, I felt I had been given a gift, as if Melissa Green had pressed some small thing into the palm of my hand for my fingers to curl around in recognition. I've read it twice, and each time I've felt a little changed by it. I'll read it again. It will change me further.


Thursday, 1 August 2013

Exuberant words

Yesterday Melissa and I spoke for the first time, via Skype. What a pleasure that was. We stared happily at one another and in the course of the conversation I was reminded of a marvellous review of The Squanicook Eclogues, by 'Anna Livia Plurabelle', presented here on Amazon: "In The Squanicook Eclogues Green presents four unique poems of such grace, craft and awareness that her particular space and time are swiftly elevated to the universal." In The Linen Way, Melissa describes the extraordinary process by which she wrote these poems described by Derek Walcott as 'one fuckin' great elegy'.

That to whet your appetite. We have the first appraisal of The Linen Way in the wings and it's a cracker. I'll post it in a day or two.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Floral thanks

I keep thinking of things I meant to tell you about The Linen Way, like the fact that it has links to audios of Melissa reading pertinent poems, and embedded audios in the PDF and ePub versions, as well as the link to a precious video of Melissa reading her work in 1987: a gorgeous young woman who was also fragile and terribly ill.

There are many people to be thanked for the fact of The Linen Way coming into existence, not least of whom is Melissa. As most of you know,  she is a treasure: sensitive, funny, wise, and a pleasure to work with. She discusses the writing of her memoir here.

Claire Beynon introduced me and Melissa, and was the go-between until we were both certain we wanted to take on this publishing venture. Claire visited Melissa earlier this year and while waiting for her taxi to the airport, redeemed the minutes by capturing half a dozen audio clips of Melissa reading her poems, such as this one here. I have goosebumps listening to Melissa's voice conjuringher poems. Claire's is the striking cover image for The Linen Way (a detail from a painting — oil on paper — titled 'Shadow and Shimmer' 2013), and the typographic design. She also helped me considerably in sharpening up the blurb.  Phew, friends. 


My mother Elizabeth Todd proofread an earlyish version (I know proofreading is intended for the last version but we had several lasts in this case), gave helpful feedback, and marvelled at the lucid insight into mental illness that Melissa's story gave her.

Caroline Jackson became Caroline Pope ( an autumn wedding) in the course of page-designing The Linen Way. She's always extraordinarily cheerful and competent no matter what oddities and final, final, really final requests I keep dropping in her lap.

 Melissa's very dear friend and colleague Ann Kjellberg of Little Star Journal contacted the prestigious Parnassus Review, as a result of which editor Ben Downing published an extract of The Linen Way in both and hard-copy and online magazines.

A handful of Melissa's friends and fans expressed their delight and anticipation on learning of the (long-)imminent publication of The Linen Way.

Poet Zireaux wrote fine and heartfelt lines about Melissa's work and intends writing more soon.

There are others who have supported and encouraged us along the way. To all of you, named and unnamed, many thanks.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The Linen Way — published!

The author:
Read about Melissa here.

 The memoir:

Cover image and design by Claire Beynon.

 The content:

Passionate about poetry and seeking guidance to write her own, Melissa Green embarked on a Masters program at Boston University in 1981 and immediately caught the attention of her teacher, Derek Walcott, and his friend the Russian Joseph Brodsky. Giants of American poetry and Nobel prize winners, they recognized in her a literary peer with an innate and dazzling talent.
In a parallel reality, Melissa was living a knife-edge existence, her life an unpredictable and embattled odyssey between poetry and despair, a pendulum-swing between fervent, luminous writing and sudden, ferocious bouts of suicidal illness. In a black shipwreck of a house, she hid away for years, caring for her demanding and difficult grandmother.
That she survives is our blessing; that she has retrieved poetry from the abyss is a timeless boon. As poet Zireaux writes: … having travelled to the outer reaches of human experience …  with a fine-tuned lyre and Odyssean strength of purpose, Melissa Green reports her discoveries back home, in the language they demand.
In The Linen Way, Melissa walks the reader along the thin, perilous path between poetry’s affirmation of life and the unwelcome ghosts of hope apparently lost; a linen way, perhaps, but wrought also of fire and sulfur and the ironmonger’s hammer.

The rat:

It seems to have swelled Ratty’s head to be modelling the prototype Linen Way t-shirt, never mind the skew-whiff appliqué, or the fact that Lily-the-Pink has mislaid her sewing glasses (several pairs, up and down the country, along with earrings and necklaces) and doesn't necessarily notice loose threads or wonky seams. The newest ratadillo, Kawhia, is full of admiration and has made it her life's ambition to meet Melissa.
The Linen Way is available for 11 USD, in pdf, epub and Kindle-friendly formats, here.

Friday, 19 July 2013


Smug. Because of his new t-shirt. To be revealed with The Linen Way (at last! yes, I know) on Tuesday 23rd July.

Monday, 15 July 2013

RMB in transit (again)

This is the state of play. However, Ratty is jumping out at every rest stop to chew cheese and keep a few balls in the air: files of The Linen Way are still flitting internationally as the audios are embedded, the poems made to assume and retain their original postures, fonts restored and t's crossed.

More from the roadside in a day or so.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Winged Sandals: published!

The writer:
Martin Edmond

The ebook:

The content:

Having tried it before, he swore he wouldn’t again: Martin Edmond was a reluctant taxi driver on the streets of Sydney — three times taking up a trade like Charon’s, ferrying souls to keep himself in writing time. In this essay he explores the history and challenges of the profession, carrying the good, the bad and the delinquent through the underbelly of Sydney. He describes his ambivalence, coping with tedium, with idiotic or unsavoury behaviour and with his own early disinclination to work as a servant; how he made an accommodation with himself, finding a parallel in writing — and ultimately transforming his practice, allowing him to serve his clients with a kind of grace:
“Thus it makes perfect sense to treat them as honoured guests; and to do all that is in your power to bring them safely, happily, perhaps even changed, to their destination.”

Edmond is the sort of writer that makes you feel smarter, more creative and more civilised simply for having read him. Landfall Review Online

Winged Sandals is available for US3 dollars here. Anyone buying a copy of Winged Sandals in the next two weeks will be offered another 10k ebook free, by follow-up email.

The rat:

Monday, 8 July 2013

Entrancing audio

Ratty has heaps to do, but a wonderful thing happened, to stop him in his tracks. He's even let his tea grow cold. Dorothee has produced an audio book of her novel The Glass Harmonica: a sensualist's tale in her own marvellous, firm but musical voice.  Listening, I'm back in the common kitchen at our artists' residency in Can Serrat, Catalonia, where I heard her read from the work-in-progress eight years ago. It's a terrific production that does justice to her fine novel.

It's available on Audible, Amazon and iTunes. Go to Dorothee's website to choose your format. On Amazon you can listen to a sample and, if you join Audible, gain a free copy of the audiobook.

You can listen here to Dorothee talking on New Zealand's National Radio about The Glass Harmonica. 

(Martin Edmond's Winged Sandals? It'll be available tomorrow.)

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Q and A with poet Melissa Green

What a privilege it's been to work with poet extraordinaire Melissa Green towards the publishing of her memoir, The Linen Way, an account of her friendships with Nobel prize-winning poets Derek Walcott and Joseph Brodsky, both of whom treated her from her student days as the colleague-in-poetry that she was. Not incidentally, the memoir also outlines her lifelong wrestle with mental illness, an odyssey made on a knife-edge between Thanatos and the Muse, between suicide and poetry.

 Melissa, can you recall what prompted you to begin writing The Linen Way?
In 1995, after I finished my first memoir, Color Is the Suffering of Light, people asked me when I planned to write the next installment, and at the time, I was convinced I’d never write anything smacking of memoir again.

It was a gesture that began it.

In 2010, Derek Walcott read at Lesley College near Harvard from his new book, White Egrets. Rather than stand at the podium, he sat ensconced in an elegant armchair center-stage and read in an old man’s rill, a startling trickle of sand where I’d always heard his deep rich basso. In my mind’s eye, Derek was still 53 as he had been when we first met, and though I knew in my head that 30 years had passed and he was in his 80s, I felt terribly moved when I saw how he had aged.

After the reading, Rosanna Warren, George Kalogeris and I went back to the Green
Room and I gave Derek a reprint of the book we’d worked on together, The Squanicook Eclogues. This time it was dedicated to him, as it should have been the first time. He beamed magnificently as he took the book, turned it from side to side, and when he read what I’d written inside, he slapped his hand down hard on the table with joy—exactly as he had when he’d read the manuscript for the first time in 1982—and said in the strong familiar voice of the Derek I remembered, “The Squanicook Eclogues*! The best thing I ever did!”

Joseph [Brodsky] wrote that the "Squanicook Eclogues" were wonderful, that Virgil himself would be proud of them. And he read some of the early Héloïse [mentioned next] and thought those poems were even better than the Squanicook.

[Ed: *honored with prizes from the Poetry Society of America and the Academy of American Poets.]
Will you tell us about your most challenging writing project?
The lyrical novel called Très Riches Hours de la Belle Héloïse is the book I’ve spent the most time on and lavished with the deepest love. I gave it a chance to appear in every guise, let it graze in the pastures as it wished, and did not hurry it. It was a very difficult project, presenting me with enormous puzzles I had to invent ways to solve, and taught me a galaxy’s worth about our wonderful English language.

It came to me in 1984 in a stifling attic room on my brother’s farm where I had been struggling for weeks in a very deep spell of despair. It was conquering my speech, my appetite, my movement; it had robbed me of reading, writing, sleep and any self-care. I was too tired to weep, the sorrow was too weighty, and I believed that if the tears began to fall, they would never stop.

One night in the humid silence, I suddenly heard a voice quite firmly and clearly say, “Héloïse and Abélard.” I sat bolt upright, confused and a bit alarmed. Who? Hero and Leander? Tristan and Isolde? No. I’d heard correctly. But what about them? I felt alert, awake for the first time in months. What was their story? I knew nothing about them. I racked my brain until dawn without success, feeling a kind of current course through my defeated self, and as soon as it was decently light, I did what I hadn’t been able to do for months: I washed. Dressed. Made tea and toast. Got in the car and drove to the public library and spent that Saturday sitting on the floor in the stacks reading their beautiful and broken love story. I was completely overwhelmed as my numb fingers combed through the card catalog. The voice in the attic had been forceful and emphatic. Yes, I had been given work. And knew two things: it was an enormous project. And that I wouldn’t be able to write it until I was a much older woman.

I was able to finish Très Riches Hours de la Belle Héloïse during a spell of hypomania, the same summer I wrote The Linen Way, right before I spent two months in the hospital. But it took me 27 years, actually. Like shape-shifting Proteus, the book would not stay still. It metamorphosed from poetry, to prose, to drama, to opera, back to poetry. I couldn’t find its organic form.  Héloïse had not appeared much in English literature other than in Alexander Pope’s poem. Whenever I felt like abandoning the project, I found I couldn’t. It sometimes seemed as if she had been waiting nine hundred years for her story to be told. Nine hundred years for me.

What writing pots do you currently have simmering or being filled or even sitting, lidded, on a cold stove?
I’ve just finished The Marsh Poems, much of which was written when I was a member of ‘Tuesday Poem’ and which appeared on my blog, melissagreenpoems.

Italo Calvino wrote a short lyrical essay about Paolo Uccello’s large, crowded and most famous painting, The Battle of San Romano. Vasari and his peers had written that Uccello, which means ‘little bird’, loved birds so much that his courtyard, house and studio were full of them, that they even perched and sang from the top edge of whatever canvas he was working on, yet none appear in any of his paintings. Calvino stood before The Battle of San Romano, and using it as a scrim between himself and the painter, asked him a single question: ‘Where are all the birds, Uccello?’  I can imagine writing an entire book of lyrical essays or perhaps prose-poems on paintings I love in much the same way.

Who are the writers you wouldn't want to live without?
There are writers I go to for the strength and power of the lines, their language. There are writers I go to because they evoke feeling, and their own feelings on the page give me enormous comfort. Theirs are also the books I would grab and run out with if the house were on fire:

G. Sebald’s novels
The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso
Six Memos for the Millennium by Italo Calvino
Paul Celan, Miklós Radnotí, Czesław Miłosz, Osip Mandlestam, Hart Crane, James Wright, Thomas Hardy, Patrick Kavanagh, Emily Dickinson, Marina Tsvetaeva
Deep Song by Federico Garcia Lorca
Waterland by Graham Swift
Godric by Frederick Buechner

And bedside piles?
Barbarians in the Garden by Zbigniew Herbert
The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch
The Jewel House: Elizabethan London & the Scientific Revolution
by Deborah Harkness
The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants
by Anna Pavord
Furore & Mystery by Rene Char
The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
Rodin and Other Writings and Letters on Cézanne by Rainier Maria Rilke
Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth 
Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan

(Gosh, my reading list has just grown longer and richer.) Many thanks, Melissa, for all you've shared so generously with Rosa Mira Books of your work, humour, patience, wit and sublime poetry.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Q & A with author Martin Edmond

Martin Edmond is a New Zealand author, poet and playwright based in Sydney. His formidable list of publications includes Luca Antara: Passages in Search of Australia (Addenda, 2006), described by Nobel prize winner J M Coetzee as 'a book lover's book, a graceful and mesmerising blend of history, autobiography, travel, and romance, and Dark Night: Walking With McCahon, published by Auckland University Press in 2011 and shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for non-fiction in the 2013 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

His essay, Winged Sandals, on the art and history of taxi driving (which he does to keep himself in writing time) will be published here very soon. 

Oh, I probably should add that the links in Martin's answers below have been added by RMB without consulting him. 

Martin, would you say a little about writing Winged Sandals — the time, place, and any anecdotes associated with the process?

I began writing this a while ago but I’m not exactly sure when. I recall wanting to get clear in my mind certain aspects of the job and my changing attitudes to it over time. There was also an impulse to find out more about the history of the business, both here in New South Wales and in the wider world. It proved quite difficult to research, it has always been an obscure pursuit; much of what survives is anecdotal.

I was also thinking about the way taxi driving has been romanticised, how cabbies appear as stock characters in films, novels and so forth. There was a book published around that time which featured a Sydney cabbie as the hero and, while he was a convincing character, the description of his daily routine was absurd. So there was also a desire to testify, in a small way, to the reality of driving for a living.

Beyond that is the plain fact that it was from the beginning a job I wrote about; in the essay I mention the book of rides I assembled in the early 1980s which was never published and is now lost. That habit of writing up nights in the life revived when I began the weblog dérives which, though I’m no longer adding to it, is still out there on the web.

Every cab driver feels the urge to debrief, maybe because weird things happen all the time and usually you’re the only witness.
I wrote the essay in my flat in Summer Hill, where I still live, at the desk I’m sitting at now; which was sold to me by the man whose father was a Green Cab driver, the one who said that driving ruined his life.

Peter, the son, was a local secondhand dealer for a few years, he was always coming up with obscure pieces of art that he thought might be worth something and I would often go into his shop and tell him what I thought of his latest acquisition. He was proud to have sold a desk to a real writer and I’ve always found it a happy place to work.  

Where or on whose work are you drawing for encouragement or inspiration?

Many years ago, in Wellington, I drove municipal buses for a living and, in one of the issues of Spleen magazine, published a series of interviews with three other bus drivers; this was at a time when the Tramways Union was still an active force in the Capital and there would be hilarious, mock-furious, vociferous stop-work meetings in the Trades Hall.

At the time I encountered the Chicago writer Louis ‘Studs’ Terkel and took inspiration from his endeavours to document the lives of ordinary working folk. He was an oral historian and a radio broadcaster and his 1974 book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do is a standout.

Primo Levi has also written in an illuminating way about the work that people do; he was an industrial chemist by profession, working mostly with the chemistry of paint, and there’s a book called ThePeriodic Table which explores his occupation. And another, of essays, which I think were originally published in newspapers, called Other People’s Trades.

I wasn’t necessarily thinking about Studs Terkel or Primo Levi when I wrote this but that urge towards the documentary has always been in my work. Along with a sense that it is always possible to discover the miraculous within the ordinary.

What are your current challenges?

Earning a living remains a challenge for me. I own nothing more valuable than a fifteen-year-old Toyota and have always lived a day to day, hand to mouth existence. I don’t complain, there are advantages to living that way; a certain edge or alertness is one and a (relative) freedom another. I’m not tied to anything inanimate (apart from my books) and my real obligations, as they should be, are towards the people in my life. And to whatever audience I can gather for my writing.

The challenge then becomes balancing the requirements that work imposes with the need to continue writing. I become restless and unhappy when I’m prevented from writing for any length of time, it is an occupation that is sustaining in a way that is mysterious—some sort of feedback loop between mind and page, or mind and screen, that seems somehow exponential. I want to sustain that as long as I have the faculties to do so.

Current delights?

I like swimming. It’s my version of a meditation. I have these new, red and black, very swish Italian goggles that make me feel in the water like an Olympian. I like spending time with my sons, who are both teenagers now and a source of perplexity and delight in about equal measure. I’ve been teaching a course this year in what the powers that be are pleased to call Creative Non-fiction and have found it stimulating. I’m surprised at how much I know about the writing process and also at how much of it can be communicated to those who want to learn. I’m loving reading All the Days and Nights, the collected short fiction of William Maxwell.

In a couple of weeks I’m going to Wagga Wagga for a few days and I’m looking forward to that. Australia is inexhaustible, by any measure it is a strange place with a peculiar, mostly unsung history; one of my pleasures is travelling to out of the way places and seeing what happens. I usually write up these trips, sometimes just by rehearsing the names on old maps. Wagga is a word that turns up in one of the lists of arcana that French poet Arthur Rimbaud used to compile. I don’t expect to find him there by I might come across an Illumination.

What's up ahead for your work in 2013-14?

I’m planning a book about the convict artist Joseph Lycett, who was active in Australia during the later years of the Governorship of Lachlan Macquarie; that is, between 1814 and 1821. Two hundred years ago now. This is a fascinating period, during which a template for the kind of society we still could become was laid down. And then blasted by the rancour and greed of the elites and those who serve them.

Lycett is an enigmatic figure; a considerable artist who was also a forger (of banknotes); a man who lived so secretively that most of what is known about him comes from court records; a silent witness whose album of water colours of Aboriginal life is considered, at the library in Canberra where it’s held, to be as significant and as valuable as the originals they have of Cook’s Journals. It’s a going to be difficult to write about someone so obscure, but I like to venture into the unknown.

After that, I want to research and write a book about four New Zealanders, expatriates, scholars, who had in their careers a significant impact on European thought in the twentieth century. It’ll be a chronological account of their four overlapping lives, covering a hundred years or so. These are fellows born in places like Eltham, Taranaki and Carterton in the Wairarapa who had a decisive influence upon the resolution of some the great issues of their time. It’s a big project that will require some travel, so I hope I can find the support somewhere to enable me to do that.

Thanks, Martin. Here's to courage and surefootedness for the year ahead, then.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Up to tricks

I'm going to have to be quick: the trackpad sensor and therefore the cursor at RMB homebase are suddenly very ticklish. They allow a few minutes of sensible communication then out of the blue, documents and applications are flying open, sentences are and words being spliced and sndwiched a, tempers frayed and snapping  see — what I mean?
However, at the risk of repeating myself, good things are about to be served. The Linen Way is almost ready for formatting. It's fabulous to have both embedded and linked readings by Melissa in the ebook, and a video fragment of her reading at Radcliffe College in 1987. Goodness, what a beautiful young woman she was, no matter how dangerously ill. Early July, yu lovely,  hoeringv radre aargh, reage  eagerly hovering readers.

And as soon as I have this cursor under a modicum of control, or yikes, a new laptop, I'll post the Q&A with Martin Edmond that's ready and waiting, his 10k essay being likewise almost ready for formatting. No links, no spit or polish; I'm hitting Publish.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Splendid cover image revealed

Steady progress: The Linen Way, Melissa Green's memoir of poetry and despair, Nobel prize-winning poets and her own emergence as a writer of note, is having last amendments made and audio files added so that readers will be able to hear Melissa read her poems.

And its time we let you see the splendid cover image — a teaser here, but click on the circle to see it entire, if small as yet: the painting (detail from 'Shadow and Shimmer', oil on paper, 2013) and graphic design by Claire Beynon, friend of Melissa who also recently recorded and brought back from Boston the audios mentioned above.

To overcome a certain squeamishness that sets in at this stage of production, when ten times I think the job's done and ten times we find tiny glitches yet to be fixed, I'm determined to call it a dance, where we're all doing our improvised steps and everyone remains cheerful: Melissa ('Oh, joy!!'); Doug Lilly preparing website pages; Caroline Pope styling pages and fixing every little thing Melissa or I ask for . . .
As for other news, I reiterate: Winged Sandals is also in the production chute (Martin Edmond's pensive tales from the streets of Sydney— a cabbie's perspective); we'll have a Q & A with Martin soon; and editing to our Kiwi-French cookbook Fait Maison proceeds at walking pace. In its pages I keep finding perfectly delicious recipes for the seven eggs a day two of us are currently struggling to deal with here in the not-so-wilds of Hawkes Bay.

 I have no idea what Ratty's up to here — not much, by the look of it— but if a caption occurs to anyone, I'll stick it under him.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Vegetables, Self-Improvement and Good News.

While Ratty and Lily the Pink do their best to deal with the day's harvest (he a persimmon, she a pear) and the ratadilloes enjoy the soporific effects of lettuce (instructed as they were to eat it up before the frost does), I embark on Day Three of an online course called Work Less, Earn More and Make a Difference. Don't you hate titles with that 'you can have whatever you want this instant' promise? Nonetheless, two Kiwi women have put this course together and I like their infectious enthusiasm. Following their workbook seems like a good way to pin myself down, find new, workable ideas and, potentially, meet other women with small online businesses. I'll let you know how it goes.
Lily perches on a huge Italian pumpkin, a marina di chioggia, often used in the making of gnocchi.

In other news, you may have see that Sue Wootton (The Happiest Music on Earth) won second-equal placing in the Hippocrates Open International Prize for Poetry and Medicine with her poem 'Wild'. Some feat, with 1000 entries received from 29 countries.

The Linen Way is being styled up. An essay by Martin Edmond on the defeats, diversions, and even the delights, of cab driving is being tweaked to make the third in the 10k series. And editing has begun to Fait Maison (subtitle yet to be determined), a cookbook by New Zealander Rachel Panckhurst who lives in Montpellier, presenting recipes and anecdotes in a deliciously French-flavoured international culinary pastiche.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

How rats balance

Ratty's moved south by a couple of hundred miles, to the country, where mellow fruitfulness is the order of the day. Apples and feijoas carpet the earth beneath the trees; rampant tomatoes and strangely shaped gourds gad about the vege garden and huge oranges thud as they land. We've seen chestnuts, avocadoes and persimmons lurking in the orchard.

With all the moving about, many projects to be embraced, correspondences to be kept up, fruits and vegetables to be saved from the sudden decay of late autumn (not to mention ebooks to be promulgated, which Ratty seems to forget is his raison d'être) the rodent has been seeking poise and calm. I'll give him 15 minutes with his Om Shantis, then I'm calling him off the fence and giving him a job (said the Little Red Hen).

Meanwhile (a favourite blog adverb, I notice) The Siren is out there doing its sultry thing and reports back have been more then favourable. We love hearing from readers.

Amigas received an agreeable notice from Tim Jones writing in the New Zealand Herald.

And lovely designer Caroline Jackson became Caroline Pope a couple of weeks ago (congratulations, Caroline) which means she's almost back from her honeymoon and ready to make the final pre-formatting adjustments to The Linen Way. Which — exciting news — is to be excerpted this month in the prestigious New York poetry review, Parnassus. That's the hard copy version; they've promised to hold off on the digital one until we're ready to publish the full work.

To close: in case any of you didn't see this glorious selection making the rounds of FB recently, here's inspiration for the use of expired pumpkin vines and rustling delphinium stalks: Old People Wearing Vegetation.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Siren, launched

I asked Aaron what he might be doing today as his novella, The Siren, takes flight. He suggested that with his story set in the East Coast heat and written in the cool of Dunedin, it might be best celebrated in the Otago Museum Butterfly House, as below (add your own Papilionoidea), with the trail of thought: "the release of butterflies … a long run or bike ride, too … while considering the launched fiction sailing through cyberspace…"

Photo by Lara Liesbeth
 It's been a privilege to make such close reading of Aaron's words and intentions, to see a rich, engaging mind at work, and to publish this exciting new writing.

Here it is: The Siren, live.

Cover design by Caroline Jackson

You can buy The Siren here for 3 USD.

Aaron's brand new website is live, too — tailored by Doug Lilly of Arts Net, who also administers the Rosa Mira Books site. Visit Aaron Blaker here.

What's next? I ask Aaron. He writes, "I have several stories competing for attention at the moment, all set in Dunedin, all likely to be longer pieces. They are in varying stages of completion. I am at the stage in my writing where I want to experiment with rhythm and composition. This next batch of stories will reflect that experimentation, I think. At some point, the plan will include publishing material that I am happy with, but the focus as of now is on the writing and editing."

Amen to all that. And cheers, Aaron!

May The Siren gleam like polished stones; flourish like a well-cloched-staked-manured-and-watered tomato; take flight and fly true to its most receptive readers.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The next 10k and feijoa ice-creams

I was afraid Ratty had scarpered. His relevance has been under question. Anyway, it seems he and Lily-the-Pink have been cooking up a second litter of ratadilloes. These two are only three days old but already they've discovered the joys of feijoa ice-cream, which is a good job since the fragrant fruit are littering the park and garden edges of suburban Auckland where they're spending these first, formative hours of their lives. Sorry about the sunglasses; they don't do much for our PR rat, but his eyes were looking peculiarly raisinesque so covering them seemed kinder.

Of far greater pertinence just now is the fact that The Siren is entering its final stages of preparation for publishing. Author Aaron Blaker spoke with Emily Duncan on Arts Hub, Otago Access Radio in Dunedin last week. He spoke about his wander through Spain in the footsteps of Laurie Lee, his writing, his experience of Rosa Mira Books and more. He also read a fine and moving short story, 'Spiral Staircase, Tiger Tea'.  You can listen in here. (Go to 4th April 2013, minutes 23 to 56.)

Tim Jones of Books in Trees has written an enticing piece about The Glass Harmonica in his first 'Book Watch' column for the New Zealand Herald.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Another photogenic Rosa Mira author

I don't think you've met Aaron yet — Aaron Blaker, author of the forthcoming 10k ebook, The Siren. Here he is: green-fingered and stocking-footed in a photo that someone close to him suggested could gain him a wide-ish readership. I'm sure you'll agree. This and his writing, of course. A sample of which follows.

Photo taken by Lara Liesbeth and squashed by Blogger.
Here he makes a tasty meal out of a few stock questions from the Rosa Mira question file:

RMB: Aaron, would you say a little about writing this short novella — the time, place, and any anecdotes associated with it?

AHB: The physical setting and the lives of the characters in The Siren are loosely based on my experiences living in a small township on the East Coast of the North Island, a few years ago. The outlandish beauty of the place was quite unsettling, as was the isolation and the socio-economic reality. The fictional events of The Siren arose from my combined sense of discomfort and euphoria.

 RMB: Are there writers whose work or way-of-being you draw on for encouragement or inspiration?

AHB: The English writer Laurie Lee once inspired me, with his autobiographical As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, to walk through Spain. At the time I was just swept up in the romance of sleeping outdoors, getting heatstroke and drinking red wine that cost ten pesetas. Reading it again recently, I recognised more clearly his allusions to that disjunction between raw (including corporeal) beauty and human unkindness, and the lunacy that might result. That aside, Lee’s poetic prose has always made me want to experience life deeply and write about it in colour. Lately, Annie Proulx and Jeffrey Eugenides have been lighting my fire. Their stories are alive, ­like a Van Gogh painting. All motion and pluralism and resisting conclusions. This suggests to me a writer’s, a person’s, obligation to be alive, and aware of the sensual data in constant flow. Difficult for a writer to harness it of course, but those two manage to. I love that.

RMB: What are your current challenges?

AHB: Not being swept away in the tidal wave of my daughter’s obsession with painting and role-play. Finding a wee bit more time to write. (Not unique.) 

RMB: Current delight?

AHB: Rehabilitating my knee to the point of being able to play association football again. Learning how to build rammed-earth tyre-houses, Mike Reynolds style. Getting kind comments on the Goethe-Institut site. The pre-publication process for The Siren.

RMB: What's up ahead for your work in 2013?

AHB: More fiction. Tending toward longer pieces. My wife wants me to write a novel. Possibly. Will depend, as always, on having the consistent blocks of time to squeeze things out and set them down. I might have to give up role-playing…

Aaron comes from the East Coast of the North Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, but currently lives and writes in Dunedin. His fiction has been published in Takahē and Best New Zealand Fiction and online by the Goethe-Institut New Zealand.
Talking of pears, there's some peachy news this week: our first 10k author Sue Wootton (The Happiest Music on Earth) has just been (very) short-listed for the 5000-pound international Hippocrates Prize for a poem that touches on some aspect of medicine. Her poem is caled 'Wild' — congratulations, Sue!

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Smoke signals (pink for 'still here')

As you possibly know, the Rosa Mira Books HQ is temporarily in the Much Warmer North, where those from the cool south can't help swimming daily in tepid water and are also in a quiet delirium of delight at finding a paradisical natural rock garden across the road, where shelly deposits alongside the track seem to indicate that once the tangata whenua (people of the land) sat under its broad and kindly trees to eat their kai moana (food from the sea).
Taken from the top of the largest rock in the garden at the base of which we're staying. In the paradoxical way of modern life, a marine reserve (around the island) and an oil refinery hold hands.
Between dunkings and explorations, final and semi-final polishing goes on to The Linen Way, and some exciting interest has been shown in Melissa's remarkable memoir. Aaron has finished his proofreading of The Siren and I've promised to finish mine tomorrow so that the next 10k publication can go to Caroline the designer.

I've been in communication with Knuckledown Press, a 'small Midwestern literary press' seeking to do pretty much what Rosa Mira Books does, so we're looking at ways to share resources and information, possibly with a common blog. I'll tell you more soon.

Must go and scrub the potatoes.