Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Peace, good will to all people …

And suddenly it was the end of the year. Many things hadn't happened although quite a few had. A hush had fallen over Rosa Mira Books. A new way of operating had been thought up and was on the point of being discussed here. A new website was being configured, new books considered ... and then Christmas arrived. The rest will have to wait. Hooray for 2015.

Thank you to all Rosa Mira's exceptional authors, readers and enthusiasts. We wouldn't exist without you.

Grateful for all that has come to pass, letting go for now of all that hasn't, let's go and enjoy our loved ones and holidays. Lie back and read heaps. Make some moments more sacred than others. Tread lightly, with bare feet. Treat ourselves kindly and let the fun shine in.

See you in the new year.


Thursday, 30 October 2014

The state of play

Yes, Rosa Mira Books is still here. It's had a big think about its raison d'être and it savoir faire. It's creating ways to broaden its scope, lengthen its bookshelf, serve its writers and readers, and make its ends meet and overlap.

Rosa Mira Books will say more soon.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Published: the now famous The (e)Book of Hat.

 Today's newsletter:

New dance steps: Rosa Mira Books is linking arms with Makaro Press to bring you the digital version of The Book of Hat, named runner-up this week in the Ashton Wylie Book Awards.

"This is the real The Fault In our Stars" — Auckland Libraries

At 17, Harriet Rowland — known as Hat — learned she had osteosarcoma, a rare form of cancer that began in her knee. At the time she was a student at Queen Margaret College in Wellington, New Zealand.

Going through treatment was often a lonely time, as friends — while supportive — didn’t always understand Hat’s new life. This was until she fell in love with the character Hazel Grace from John Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars, a girl who talks honestly and openly about living with cancer. Like her, Hat found life changed in ways that were both good and bad: falling in love and hospital stays among them. And she was surprised by how much happiness there was still to find.

Throughout her journey, Hat kept a blog called My Experience of Walking the Dog, and this book is a collection of those posts edited with the author. Why the blog title? Her parents say cancer is like a dog — fine if it stays in its own yard. Hat’s dog got out. This is her unexpected story.

Rosa Mira Books is delighted to join with
Mākaro Press in presenting the ebook version of Harriet’s story which, just this week won second place in the Ashton Wylie Book Awards (sandwiched between NZ’s famed Lloyd Geering and Joy Cowley). 

From its sell-out launch in February this year,  The Book of Hat hardcopy went on to become a surprise hit in NZ. With $1 from each sale going to CanTeen, the blue book with a hat made of stars on the cover was bought by students and grandparents alike, and made its way into CanTeen gift packs, hospices, adult book groups, school libraries and classrooms. A surprising burst of internet sales saw it fly off as far as Moscow, Prague and Wisconsin. —Mākaro press release

Along with heartache, an irrepressible joie de vivre and love spill from the pages Harriet wrote and her circle of influence goes on on widening. She would have turned 21 today.

The Book of Hat, the ebook, can be purchased here.

“Her writing is funny and truthful and wise, exactly like the Harriet we got to meet when she visited the set last year.” Peter Jackson, filmmaker

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A treasure of a book

Here's a thoughtful, appreciative review of Fields of Gold published this week in the June 2014 online magazine for the New Zealand Transactional Analysis Association.

Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life. Charles M. Schulz

Once in a while, if you are lucky, you cross paths with a book that is a treasure; one that you know you will keep – to dip into time and again – because it moves you or expresses something for you, of life, which has been difficult to put into words of your own. For me, Fields of Gold is such a book.

It is not possible to generalize the experience of what it means to be a sister or to have a sister, let alone what is means to be facing a terminal illness, because the experiences are so profoundly personal and so varied. This book, however, gently entwines the individual and combined experiences of sisters Annie McGregor and Pam Morrison through the last year of Annie’s life using a journal – ‘a shared container’ – as a means of holding something precious to them both about what it means for one sister to face letting go of life and the other sister to face letting go of her as a loved, life-long friend and companion.

You know full well, as I do, the value of a sister’s affections: there is nothing like it in this world. Charlotte Bronte

It is tempting to use clichés when we speak of death and dying.  So often we are at a loss as to what to say to express ourselves, restricted by our sense of inadequacy and fear of saying or doing the wrong thing. Sometimes, however, when it is too hard to find the right words for ourselves around grief, we recognize them elsewhere, the effect being a release of emotions held in a place of vulnerability, thus permission-giving and healing; a ‘yes, I know about that’ kind-of-experience. This book models permission to live life fully to the very end in such a way as to give expression to an array of emotions and experiences from joy, exuberance and hilarity to tenderness, bewilderment, and sorrow, which add a richness to the tapestry of threads that hold Annie and Pam together through the daunting prospect of the most final of separations.

You mess with my sister, you’re messing with me! Loretta Livingstone  

While Fields of Gold is written from the personal perspectives of the writers, the writing style is inclusive of the reader through its honesty and recognition that all life experiences, from the moment of our birth to our death, impact on us as relational beings and affect how we feel about ourselves and others. One of the lovely aspects of this book is that it candidly models that it is not only ok to be real to self and to other, but that by being real we grow so much more fully into ourselves and stand with one another with a genuine experience of authenticity and vulnerability that refines and enhances shared moments of genuine recognition and consequently, intimacy.

If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone? Jodi Picoult 

Pam and Annie stand together through the progression of Annie’s cancer with an honesty between them that is heart-warming and real, enhanced by a shared love of music, all things creative, a joy that comes from being with those who love them best and a generosity that is inclusive, right to the end, making room for others to be a part of the journey armed with whatever offerings they might bring be they practical, spiritual, emotional or otherwise. It is a gift to write with such candor, one to the other, and reflects the underlying strength of their sister-to-sister relationship.

My sister and I are so close that we finish each other’s sentences and often wonder whose memories belong to whom. Shannon Celebi

I imagine that Fields of Gold will appeal to a wide range of readers. Having worked in a hospice for two years myself, I know the benefit of books as a resource when people lose their way in the complexities of grief, again because they can be permission-giving, putting words to experiences when words can be lost. This book is also a lovely reflection of the relationship between sisters and a wonderful recognition of the emotional and psychological strength that can lie between two women who have known one another throughout a shared lifetime.

I would like more sisters, that the taking out of one might not leave such a stillness. Emily Dickinson

Pam expresses a hope at the end of the book “that others in relationship will be encouraged, when spoken words are not enough, to find a beautiful book, pick up a pencil, and take turns to write.” I have encouraged our youngest daughter, whose partner recently underwent major transplant surgery, to do just that. She was immediately engaged by the idea and has asked to read the book.

I am sure she will not be disappointed.

  Sue McMenamin

A fanciful stalk from a field of gold and the possible reappearance of Ratty.

Friday, 13 June 2014

A very important Hat and two leaves.

We're back. I was going to include The Rat with the pic but he scarpered, so, just the two leaves picked up from an Auckland pavement after the recent storm.

And this note to say that I'm very pleased to be working with Mary McCallum of Mākaro Press to produce an ebook version of The Book of Hat.

That's all for now. Have to go and visit the (gran') babies. More soon.

Monday, 28 April 2014

What's going on here

Ratty's still scudding about in the north, occasionally settling to some worthwhile project, more often looking as if he's doing nothing at all. Hardly ever out promoting RMB ebooks which, nevertheless, remain as potent and exceptional as they ever were.

Those of us still applying ourselves to our self-appointed tasks have been talking about publishing collaborations (digital here, beautifully produced hard copy over there — you'll hear more about it soon); I've been reading a couple of exciting manuscripts and weighing them up against my time, interest and resources (I need a team of reindeer to replicate what the rat's supposed to be doing; an ensemble of editing elves).

Some of Rosa Mira's authors have been performing wonders.  Of those featured in Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, Coral Atkinson is in the throes of launching her novel Passing Through, set 'in the port of Lyttelton, in a community still recovering from World War 1'. Coral draws richly credible historical characters and atmospheres; I've read this and it lingers warmly with me.

Sue Wootton has a new book of ten poems, a collector's item called out of shape: have a look. "Handset letterpress in a soft palette of blue, green, brown and red on Magnani Velata Avorio wove mould-made Italian paper." Sounds edible, doesn't it, and I know the work will match the medium.

(I know there are others putting excellent work out into the world but if I haven't written it down, it isn't retained, so I hope any RMB authors will jog my memory and send info about your latest creations.)

Friday, 4 April 2014

Who's afraid to read about death?

I was talking publishing the other day (a conversation that could go on until the cows some home, go out and come home again) with Mary McCallum who's just published through Mākaro Press the extraordinary journal of Harriet Rowland, who records her last two years, living with osteosarcoma, in The Book of Hat. We touched on the difficulty of 'selling' books in which the author is facing her own death (as Annie also was in co-authoring Fields of Gold). We acknowledged the deep-rooted anxiety that to read about death and think about it is tantamount to inviting our own. All of us and especially those facing their mortality through illness are more inclined to seek stories of healing and second chances.

However, it seems that when we lay aside this natural but primitive fear, the contemplation of death and difficulty can deepen and intensify our experience of life — that's the curiously joyous truth radiating from these two books. One initially reluctant reader of Fields of Gold, told co-author Pam Morrison that through her engagement with the story she was extraordinarily and entirely released from her own (very present and pertinent) fear of death.

That's powerful writing, and it's what comes from writers who have courageously entered the darkness and found there inextinguishable light.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Compelling reading in Fields of Gold

Readers are finding the co-written journal Fields of Gold (Celebrating Life in the Face of Cancer: a tale of two sisters) potent, heart-aching, inspiring. You can hear surviving author Pam Morrison speaking powerfully in a radio interview here: you have to choose 'Write On with Vanda Symon' from the category list then Pam's name will be near the top of the list that comes up (and mine is under hers, speaking the previous week about Rosa Mira Books).

 Reviewing the book, author Mike Crowl of Dunedin wrote: This book, which started out as a journal in which the two sisters wrote collectively, was never intended to be published. Fortunately it has been. All books that help people to understand that their journey through something painful, such as the cancer that affected one of the sisters, is both unique and universal, are of value. 
Annie is a lively and outgoing personality, seen through her own words and those of Pam. The latter is quieter, perhaps more reflective, and even more vulnerable. It is the delineation of her increasing sense of powerlessness and separation that makes the book’s latter half so compelling.

In a completely different vein, last year I almost published a cookbook-with-stories-and-photos called Fait Maison: Recipes from a Kiwi in France. I didn't go through with the process, but had found the recipes attractive, wholesome and easy to make — described as 'simple, delicious, quotidien or day-to-day recipes for homemade food, with a French and Mediterranean influence,' and commend author Rachel Panckhurst for seeing this through and publishing the ebook here.  

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Fields of Gold, published

Did you know? Fields of Gold: Celebrating Life in the Face of Cancer — a tale of two sisters, was published in the weekend. It's out there. Available here. It's Pam Morrison and Annie McGregor telling their story in journal entries, and forging a path, actually, for others (for all of us) who are likely to lose someone we love and who will need to find a way to utter those things too subtle, painful and precious to be spoken. The reach of this book is profound.

P.S. Pass it on.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

What they wrote

Here are a couple of extracts from the journal (sisters) Pam and Annie wrote the year Annie was dying. We're launching the journal on Sunday: Fields of Gold.

ANNIE                                                       Sunday 20 April 2003
Last night the kids were here. There was music playing, the sounds of whistling and chopping, cooking noises, recipes being changed. I was in front of the fire under the mohair rug. And I tell you what: I was in heaven, or pretty close to it, about five kilometres away. Sometimes I wonder: why didn’t I come to this place earlier? Then I remember – oh, that’s right!

Graham says he’s noticed some frailty in me. And there is, at times. In the mornings sometimes, the tears come – just pop out. This morning they came. I wet Graham’s pillow. But they weren’t hot tears. They were cool by the time they hit the pillow. And I think, it’s only ten days since I had the treatment. I was told I would feel terrible. But I haven’t been trampled by an elephant; I’ve been trampled by a sheepdog.

PAM                                                  Sunday 18 January 2004
Life has been far from straightforward. At times I feel like I’m in a paper boat, bobbing on a current, which takes me anywhere it pleases. At other times it’s felt like I’m under an ever-changing sky. I look up and find there’s been a dramatic shift. And I’ve had absolutely nothing to do with it.

I’ve been wrestling with the question of how to give expression to my own needs and feelings when I’m with Annie. A week ago I was feeling dismantled and, consequently, distant from her and me. Lots of crying.

Now, three days on, I think there is no place for any of this while Annie is alive. I was almost appalled that I would take any measure of sorrow into my interaction with her.

And now, as I write that, the pendulum has swung again. How could sorrow not be present? And so the sky changes. My boat sails on.


Friday, 21 February 2014

'seizing a pencil was a desperate act'

RMB: Pam, late last year you presented in Glasgow at a conference on ‘“Attentive Writing”: Healthcare, Authorship, and Authority’. Thank you for letting me turn a little of your presentation into a dialogue between the two of us (Penelope/RMB and Pam Morrison). I’m sorry if I’ve left you sounding even more lyrical than you are in actual conversation (but you wrote these lovely words). In it you were drawing on your own story, which we’re soon to publish as Fields of Gold: co-writing with your sister Annie McGregor the year-long journey towards her death.

PM: It’s the story of how we together found a way to navigate life’s most certain and possibly most cruel reality: You will lose the people that you love. Though the story is ultimately about death, primarily it is about life. Terminal illness is cruel, but it also potentially invites in grace, gratitude and courage. And love.

RMB: You’re from Dunedin New Zealand where you’re a counsellor in private practice and a lecturer in social services and counselling. 

PM: Yes, and in both of these roles I encourage reflective writing as a useful, sometimes vital, therapeutic tool. 

RMB: I know you as a uniquely lyrical creative writer and song-writer.  So perhaps in a sense it was natural for you to turn to writing when you learned that your beloved sister was dying?

PM: I wrote my first entry on 12 March 2003, three days after receiving news of Annie’s diagnosis of secondary liver cancer. Seizing a pencil was a desperate act to make some scrawls on paper about a reality that felt too big, too crazy, too unthinkable to absorb. Annie lived in a different city, and the journal came with me when I visited her one week later. Within three days, we had decided this would be a shared repository. It became our own illuminated manuscript. 

RMB: Has the decision to publish been a hard one?

PM: A long one! It hasn’t been an easy decision. But I have come to see that this is both a unique story and a universal one. The details are mine and Annie’s; the themes may well have resonance for many. For illness, loss and grief always take place in the context of relationship.

What we offer in Fields of Gold is an insiders’ view. We were not researchers. We were sisters who were set reeling by an unforeseen event. The journaling, which came about almost by accident, was our instinctive response to the shocking intrusion of cancer into our lives.

The journals have lived for a decade on my bookshelf at home. The content was typed up and shared with friends and family while Annie was still alive. It was then shared with an ever-widening circle of people.

Now with Annie’s express blessing before she died, the journals come alive again, marking the tenth anniversary of her death on 10 March 2003.

RMB: Thank you, Pam. Dear readers, Fields of Gold will be published on 2 March. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

Publishing in the south

Like Ratty below, we've been heading south over the last week, pulling onto the roadside as needed to attend to Rosa Mira business. Yesterday we reached Dunedin. It's good to have the new 10k books out in the world and if you've missed them by any chance, they're summed up here: yes, here.

The first reader review is in for Albatross. Dusty Sandison from New Brunswick writes: "Three thoughtful stories that share the pained thread of grief, regret, remorse — and hope. The writer delves into relationships with friends, strangers, family and self that are touching, even heartbreaking, and make you look inward and examine your own journey in life."

Ratty drives south. I used to have a VW this colour — hand painted with roof paint. I miss it. Let me know if you have a Beetle for sale.
This month, I have my head down preparing Rosa Mira's next exceptional publication, Fields of Gold, subtitled: Celebrating Life in the Face of Cancer, A story of two sisters. It's the journal, written over the course of a year, of two remarkable women, one of whom is dying. Pam Morrison wrote for both herself and sister Annie McGregor, recording their shock, love, bafflement, humour, deep respect, grief  — the rich life that flowed between them. I'll be saying more about it in the coming weeks, and introducing you to Pam who lives here in Dunedin.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Stripping back to the essence: Q&A with Lynn Davidson

Lynn Davidson has published four collections of poetry, most recently Common Land in 2012 by VUP. Her novel, Ghost Net, was published by Otago University Press; her short stories have been published widely and adapted for radio. I haven't met Lynn but it was a pleasure to work with such an astute writer, whose choice of language I found more potent with each reading of her short novella, The Desert Road.