Thursday, November 2, 2017

Janet Frame, the Witch-Novelist

Apparently Janet Frame has been included in a novelty comic/volume entitled:
The book was previewed for Lithub and for Electric Literature. Three pages are devoted to each author. Unfortunately the Janet Frame section isn't included in either of the excerpts. It looks pretty entertaining. Would have made a great Halloween gift!
Thanks to Google Books I was able to find a snippet of the Janet Frame fantasy-witch:
It's quite charming as a tribute I think. I know that Janet would have been a bit annoyed to have been called a hermit, and of hospitals no less, when she left all that behind... but of course her grateful readers continue to associate her with the experiences of her youth that she had written so brilliantly about, and as a wise old witch she would definitely have enjoyed the eel story.

There is an illustration of Janet Frame that is also beguiling on the one hand and wrong on the other - it shows her as fat, with red hair. That never happened! Now in real life Janet was a fire-engine-red-haired slim young woman who boasted as a matter of pride that she didn't have a double chin, while in her later years she was a white-haired stout old crone. So the red hair did not co-exist with the double chin and the abdomen swollen with cancer. But again, despite the simplistic stereotypes of Frame that the artist was fed, the illustration is intriguing, and has a familiar mischief about it. And the eel is for real. Spooky.
Detail of illustration of Janet Frame as a Witch, by Katy Horan
This isn't the first time Janet Frame has been identified as a witch.
In the New York Times Book Review, August 8, 1965, in a review of Janet Frame's novel The Adaptable Man, Wilfrid Sheed said this:
"The New Zealand authoress Janet Frame is a "witch-novelist" who stirs her plots under a full moon and has various magic powers, including a number-one witch's curse. Her prose style is a series of charms and incantations, passwords repeated in a baleful voice, which hex up the whole landscape, turning the vegetables into people and the people back into vegetables, or worse: into rock..."
This of course derives from the prologue to the The Adaptable Man, the first sentence of which reads:
"A contemporary ingredient in the cauldron world of the witch-novelist is a pilot’s thumb."
The poem 'Daniel' that Janet Frame wrote about her great-nephew Daniel also suggests that Frame was very familiar with the ways of witches:

Another Frame poem, 'Cat of Habit' contains the lines:
Feed and sleep and feed
and half-heartedly catch
moths and mice and mostly watch
hourlong for the passing witch
for many, unseen, pass
through the rooms of the house and outside,
under the trees and in the grass.
Photo: 'The Cat of Habit' by Janet Frame (first published in The Goose Bath, 2006) was reprinted in A Treasury of New Zealand Poems for Children edited by Paula Green, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Random House NZ 2015). This wonderful volume is to be reissued later this month by Penguin New Zealand (2017)

Otago campus sculpture pays tribute to Janet Frame

Should you visit the Otago University campus, look out for a stunning sculpture by Paul Dibble. Called Pathways, the assemblage incorporates five standing figures plus an accompanying ground level St Andrew's Cross inset into paving stones. All the pieces are loaded with local symbolisms, including this tribute to former student Janet Frame, referencing her first novel Owls Do Cry:

Frame studied English, French, Philosophy and Psychology at Otago in the 1940s but never completed an academic degree although she did successfully complete her teaching qualification at the adjacent Teachers' College. Janet Frame was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Otago in 1978, in recognition of her outstanding literary achievements to that date.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Janet Frame Fiction Prize 2017 to Catherine Chidgey

Announcement of the Janet Frame Literary Trust Award 2017
Thursday 20 July 2017
Catherine Chidgey
Photo: Helen Mayall
Waikato novelist Catherine Chidgey has been named as the recipient of a Janet Frame Literary Trust Award worth $5,000. Catherine Chidgey is the author of four highly acclaimed novels including  her latest book The Wish Child which picked up the Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize at the 2017 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. The Wish Child has been a bestseller in New Zealand and has just been published in the UK by Chatto & Windus, with US publication to follow in 2018.
In accepting the Janet Frame Fiction Prize 2017, Catherine Chidgey said: “Janet Frame was my first literary hero and still is my number one. Her books have always been very close to my heart, and so important to my development as a writer.  The timing of the award could not be better, given the recent international release of my novel The Wish Child.”

Chatto & Windus Cover 2017
Catherine Chidgey was born in Auckland and has lived in Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Germany. Her next novel The Beat of the Pendulum is due to be published in November this year and she is already working on another one.
Janet Frame’s niece and executor Pamela Gordon said “Catherine Chidgey has won almost every award and fellowship going in New Zealand, so much so that it might seem too much to offer her another prize, but Janet Frame herself was a great example of the fact that an established writer can never have too much encouragement. The Wish Child is an extraordinary book and Catherine deserves the accolades she has received in her career. We also wish her well for the writing she is currently undertaking.”

Janet Frame in 2003
Photo: Reg Graham

Janet Frame founded the Janet Frame Literary Trust in 1999 and bequeathed her royalty income to an endowment fund. Since Janet Frame’s death in 2004 the trust has awarded $115,000 in grants and donations to benefit New Zealand authors.

More information on the Janet Frame Literary Trust Awards:

More information on Catherine Chidgey:
VUP Cover 2016

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Walk-on parts for Janet Frame in 2 films at the NZIFF 2017

Something for Frame fans to diary: Two New Zealand films screening at the NZ International Film Festival this year reference Janet Frame.

Bill Direen

Bill Direen: A Memory of Others by director Simon Ogston premieres at the Auckland Festival on August 4 and 5. In the film poet/indie musician/author Bill Direen visits Janet Frame's childhood home in Oamaru and reads beautifully from a passage of her writing.

A Memory of Others will screen in Wellington on August 12 and 13, in Christchurch on August 19 and 20 and in Dunedin on August 26 and 27.

The other film is the one about Janet's fascinating and talented friend Sheila Natusch nee Traill. No Ordinary Sheila also plays in all four main centres during August 2017. See the link for dates.

Sheila Natusch


Reprint of 1985 Janet Frame Interview in NZWW

"I wish you would all believe me."

In this week's NZ Woman's Weekly (July 24, 2017) there is a 2-page reprint of a 1985 interview with Janet Frame written by Tony Reid.
In the interview Frame strenuously challenges the myths about her supposed life of extreme poverty, isolation and friendlessness.
"I do enjoy happiness," she says.  "I'm a great lover of fun and laughter. I wish you would all believe me. Please do!"

"A likeable, humorous lady with a great appetite for life."

"I am a human being." ~ Janet Frame

How sad that Janet Frame felt she had to prove she was human. She certainly was, and still is by some, treated as though she didn't have human rights or dignity. I guess she became depersonalised in that way because people used to do that to other people if they knew they had been psychiatric patients. Frame explored this theme in her brilliant science fiction novel Intensive Care, in which humans are classified as human or animal. She was writing from a position of experience of being treated as if her own agency was not worth respecting.

It's an interesting and revealing interview combined with a review of Janet Frame's autobiography and it's timely to see it again given that there are still those who make a career of Not Believing Janet Frame. These self-appointed *experts* want to silence Frame yet again. One of the methods of suppression of her humanity seems to be now to write real person fiction about a fake *Janet Frame*. To perform a literary lobotomy.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

New Janet Frame Audio Book

Coming soon: an audio book of Janet Frame's 13th and last published novel In the Memorial Room.

 Bolinda will release the audio book on the 28th of July 2017 as 4 discs and as an MP3. The narrator is Humphrey Bower and the text is unabridged, taking 4 hours and 38 minutes to read.

ISBN: 9781489399687  Genres: Fiction; Literary Fiction

In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame was described by The Australian as "A curtain call by one of the world's greatest authors", by the New York Times as "a short, funny and often beautifully written novel", and by Radio New Zealand as "Genuinely laugh out loud funny". The Sunday Star-Times reviewer said: "It is a formidable work. It is also amusing and satirical, poetic and provocative - a real joy to read."

 'a beautifully crafted artistic and philosophical creation that explores the nature of communication and exposes Frame's love of language ...' ~ Library Journal

Click here for a further selection of quotes from reviews.

In the Memorial Room is a brilliant black
comedy, by the celebrated author of An Angel at My Table.

'marvelous experimental fiction ... Brilliant.' ~ Kirkus (starred review)

US edition of the book published by Counterpoint Press
Australasian edition of the book published by Text Publishing

Also available as an ebook.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Yet Another Novel About Janet Frame

It has a pretty cover. There is a little Janet on the beach, with no face, washed over by wave upon wave upon wave.

No face. Interesting, isn't it, that the graphic designer has gone right to the heart of the matter of the erasure of the real person being exploited by this 'real person fiction'.

There is probably a thesis in it, in the no-face tiny not-really-Janet.

The novel is Kirkkaus by a Finnish novelist, and anything I can tell you about it comes via the assistance of Google Translate. It is apparently a fictional autobiography written in the first person as its main character Janet Frame, and it follows Frame's early life until the age of forty (Janet Frame's own 3-volume autobiography finishes at the exact same age: 40).

Why would you write a fake autobiography of someone who wrote a world famous autobiography?

Jalonen claims not to have read any of Janet Frame's own work until after she wrote Kirkkaus. She got the biographical stories she bases her book on, she says (I think) from Michael King's biography of Frame.

But Michael King's biography covers Janet Frame's life until she was in her late 70s. Jalonen's 'Janet' stops at age 40. Jalonen  appears to be drawing her inspiration from an autobiography she claims not to have read. Unless she thinks Frame's autobiography does not constitute part of her literary 'work'. I have encountered that fallacy before. It is as though the great memoir wrote itself, and this fallacy is, I believe, another aspect of the tendency to dehumanise Janet Frame, to strip her of her agency and self-determination. The obliteration of her face, if you like.

Ah but of course Jalonen probably saw Jane Campion's film adaptation of Janet Frame's autobiography, and Jalonen would not be the first person to have decided she knew Janet Frame better than Janet knew herself, from having watched a movie about her.

Jalonen's story ends, apparently, with Frame returning from England to her parents' empty house, which sounds awfully like one of the last scenes of AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE. The powerful visuals in that movie have convinced many people that they were there, that they saw Janet, that they knew how she was feeling, what she was thinking.

Without ever having read Janet Frame's own work.

So there she is, tiny Janet, marooned on the shore, washed over by the tides she is helpless to defend herself against. The authors of the fan fiction probably think of little Janet as helpless against her own emotion, or whatever twisted fantasy about Frame they are pushing.

For me the little faceless Janet speaks of the perfect little puppet for the author to project their own obsessions onto. Lying there stranded on the shore to be snapped up by the opportunistic beachcomber who can't make up their own story but has to steal somebody else's.

Janet Frame is not just her 'own best character'. She is also the author of her books, including her life story, and the deliberate distortions of her biography are not just morally reprehensible, they verge on plagiarism.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Janet Frame typescripts on display at Hocken

FREEFALL:  treasures from the Hocken library

A current exhibition at the Hocken Library in Dunedin features a 1947 fan letter Janet Frame wrote to fellow New Zealand poet James K Baxter. Frame sent the letter from the Occidental Hotel in Christchurch where she was working as a live-in maid.


Not a performing monkey

Apparently this was not strictly the first contact between the two. A mutual friend of Frame and Baxter had attempted to manipulate Frame into a surprise meeting with Baxter in Dunedin the previous year. Frame was confronted with Baxter's presence at a private meeting without expecting it, and she consequently ignored him. This kind of ambush meeting never went well with Frame who had a fierce sense of her own agency. She was particularly stubborn when it came to people trying to trick her into a situation without having respect for her free will. Stories about these disastrous attempts to ambush Frame are almost always told in a pathologising way, as though she was incapable of the social occasion, but those of us who knew Janet well would recognize her anger when anyone tried to bully her into something she would rather not do, or do under her own steam. Anyone who tried to trick Janet into meeting someone who had begged to meet her ran the risk of losing her trust if not her friendship. And if somebody did manage to force their way into her presence uninvited she did deliberately give them the silent treatment. She reached out to people under her own terms and was very annoyed if any of her associates tried to show her off or treat her like a performing monkey. Janet's friend Bill Brown learned this lesson for himself many years later (she never changed this strategy.) Bill amusingly used to tell of the time he invited friends over to meet the famous visiting author, without asking or telling Janet, and she stayed stubbornly silent for the whole ambush visit, later fuming about the imposition. "I never did that again!" he used to say with a laugh.

Also on display in the exhibition 'Freefall' is the original typescript of Frame's poetry volume THE POCKET MIRROR (1967). Another myth-buster, this original manuscript is skillfully typed, tidy, with all the poems numbered in sequence. There is a story going around that these poems were roughly thrown together in no particular order but the Hocken manuscript shows that, as was her custom, Frame had put together a coherent and well-presented document.

By 1967, 20 years after she first wrote to him, Frame and Baxter were now close friends and The Pocket Mirror contains a verse letter to Baxter called 'The Reply', reminiscing about a winter outing Frame had been on with the Baxter family.

Excerpt from 'The Reply', a poem Janet Frame addressed to James K Baxter in 1967, published in The Pocket Mirror.
Many other wonderful items are on display in this exhibition, which closes on the 1st of July.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Janet Frame in Baltimore

A new Janet Frame poem poster

Introducing the latest Janet Frame poem poster to be produced by Phantom Billstickers ‘Baltimore, November’ was first published posthumously in The Goose Bath (2006) and has been reprinted in Storms will Tell: Selected Poems by Janet Frame (Bloodaxe Books, 2008) ©Janet Frame Literary Trust


A powerful political poem

 The theme of child poverty in this poem is typical for Janet Frame who often chose to highlight political issues in her poetry as in her other writings.

Sadly, in 2017 as I write this, child poverty is now a pressing election issue in Janet Frame's homeland of New Zealand. Poverty also still afflicts the East Baltimore Janet Frame knew so well. The area later became the setting for the brilliant TV series 'The Wire'.
Janet Frame with friend, East Madison Street,  Baltimore, Maryland, USA

Janet Frame (1924-2004) is New Zealand’s most internationally acclaimed author. She won numerous awards for her novels, short stories and poetry, and her bestselling autobiography An Angel at My Table was adapted for the big screen by Jane Campion in 1990. Janet Frame travelled widely and lived for periods of time in England, Spain, France and the USA. In 1986 the American Academy of Arts and Letters made her an Honorary Foreign Member at a ceremony she attended in New York. The photograph above by John Money shows Frame in the back garden of his house in East Baltimore where she made extended visits over several decades.

Janet Frame's Phantom Billstickers Poem Posters



Celebrating a long and happy partnership between the Janet Frame Literary Trust and Phantom Billstickers POETRY ON THE STREETS project.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

RIP George Braziller

Janet Frame and George Braziller
Central Park, New York
Photo: Pamela Gordon
I was very sad to hear in March this year of the death of the remarkable American publisher George Braziller at the age of 101. As his New York Times obituary notes:

Mr. Braziller’s most enduring publishing relationship was with New Zealand’s Janet Frame. It began with her first novel, “Owls Do Cry,” which he published in 1960, and continued for 30 years with eight more novels and volumes of short stories, poetry and an autobiography.
I met George several times in Janet's company, in New Zealand and in the States. He was a gentleman, with a powerful presence, a rich, emotional voice, and a great love of the finest things in life, surrounding himself with the best in literature and art - and if he couldn't find it, he published it!

Among my own most loved treasures are a couple of exquisite George Braziller editions of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves and of the Duke de Berry (I love illuminated manuscripts), and for me one of the highlights of my visit to New York in 2000 with my aunt was a guided tour George gave us around the Morgan Library, a place where he clearly felt so very much at home.

As I have described before, it was very moving to witness the tenderness and depth of George and Janet's relationship - his fierce admiration for her work and her fierce loyalty to him in spite of many efforts on the part of many people over the years to persuade her to move to a larger publishing house that in their opinion would have been 'better for her career'. Janet Frame had her own ideas about that.

My sincerest condolences to George's family, friends and colleagues for their loss.
He will be irreplaceable, and his death feels like the end of an era.

ArtForum obituary

Publishers Weekly obituary

Washington Post obituary

Wall Street Journal obituary

Friday, May 26, 2017

"Read Local": Dunedin's Lilliput Library #99

Little boxes full of books have been cropping up all around Dunedin as part of the Lilliput Library Scheme. Each little library is positioned on the fence line of the Guardian of the box. The project is an initiative of Dunedin poet Ruth Arnison who also coordinates the Poems in the Waiting Room charity.
The idea is for members of the surrounding community to borrow or take a book and return it or swap it for another one. All the boxes I have seen have had a good selection  of children's books as well as light recreational reading and a handful of more meaty fare.
Dunedin's latest Lilliput Library #99 has been decorated as a tribute to three local literary stars: Janet Frame, Hone Tuwhare and James K. Baxter.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Laurence Fearnley: NZSA Janet Frame Award 2016

Novelist Laurence Fearnley has been awarded the NZSA Janet Frame Memorial Award 2016
For a period of ten years the NZ Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award of $3,000 has been awarded biennially to an author of literary or imaginative fiction or poetry with the purpose of supporting a mid-career or established writer in furthering their literary career. The award was made possible by a gift of $15,000 from the Janet Frame Literary Trust to the NZSA in 2007.  Past recipients have been: Emma NealeTim JonesDiane Brown and Elizabeth Smither. Late last year the last in a series of 5 awards was made to Laurence Fearnleynovelist and non-fiction writer.

Laurence Fearnley lives in Dunedin, a UNESCO City of Literature. She plans to use the award developing her current project – writing a series of short pieces structured in such a way that each story responds to the traditional development and dry-down of perfume. That is, the volume will open with ‘top notes’, develop through the ‘heart notes’ and end with ‘base notes’. She says:

 “I have long been interested in landscape and ‘place’ and have explored aspects of both in novels such as The Quiet Spectacular, The Hut Builder, Edwin and Matilda. But I am also interested in perfume and scent, and over the past year I have been thinking about ways to approach landscape through smell, rather than through sight (or sound). I believe that by taking notice of the scent of my surroundings, I have come to appreciate a more detailed, intimate relationship with the places I visit.”

Laurence Fearnley was selected from a very strong field of applicants and the quality of her fellow shortlisted authors speaks for itself: Riemke Ensing, Siobhan Harvey, Tina Shaw and Tracey Slaughter were all highly commended.

 Selection Panel Convenor Owen Marshall congratulated Laurence Fearnley and the other shortlisted writers, and also wished well all those writers who applied.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Janet Frame was not as shy as you think

Janet Frame pictured at the Fifth International Festival of Authors, Toronto, 1984, where she appeared with other international literary stars including Susan Sontag, Margaret Atwood, Homero Aridjis and Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
An interesting article on literary festivals in this week's New Zealand Listener quotes novelist Emily Perkins on her experience of hearing Janet Frame perform her work at a Wellington festival:

 “She read a story but basically knew it by heart – it was the most electrifying experience. For all that she is said to have been shy, she had the room in the palm of her hand.”

Janet Frame was indeed shy when she was young, as so many young people are. Even young animals are 'shy': it is a natural phenomenon. But for some reason Frame's shyness has been grossly exaggerated to the extent that when her shyness is referred to these days the speaker often finds it necessary to add some adjective like 'pathological' to the word 'shy', just to enhance their story, to make it more shocking, more sensational. 'Shy' just doesn't seem to fit the bill given all the other outrageous gossip one has heard over the years about Janet Frame. People imagine that she must have been so shy she was scared of her own shadow, surely. (Perhaps influenced by demeaning fictional portrayals they may have encountered.)

So they just make it up. They add 'painfully' or 'pathologically' or even the egregious 'cripplingly' shy and with a stroke of the pen Frame is made to be 'other'. She is not permitted the run of the mill 'shyness' that describes so many of us, including our other heroes such as Edmund Hillary and almost every rugby player ever. Their shyness is acknowledged and accepted as part of the self-effacing  New Zealand character while Frame's is exaggerated and pathologised.

But even for a shy person, Frame went a lot of places and did a lot of things, and met a lot of people. She mixed easily in all levels of society and she was not as shy as you might have been led to believe, and she certainly was not pathologically shy.

Emily Perkins seems to have realised all this from observing the control Frame had over the huge sold-out audience at the Wellington Town Hall. ("For all that she is said to have been shy.") As a young person Frame had, after all, been a prize-winning speaker in her school years and was on the high school debating team. Hardly an indication of an 'agonisingly' or 'inordinately' or 'deeply' or even 'very' shy person.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

15 Minutes of Frame

15 Minutes of Frame is an event being held today at the Dunedin Public Library, organised by Dunedin City Council staff as part of 'Book Night', an initiative of New Zealand's Book Discussion Scheme.

15 minutes of Frame! So witty! I wish I'd thought of it. ("You will, Oscar, you will.")

'15 Minutes of Frame' is being held today, Tuesday the 23rd of May 2017, at Dunedin Public Library, at 5pm, on the ground floor. There will be a display of Janet Frame books and an invitation to the public to read a favourite piece from Janet Frame's work. There is plenty to choose from!

I heard about this event when I received a request for the use of a portrait of Janet Frame on the poster, which of course I was happy to supply for such a good cause. Unfortunately I can't attend this event but the concept of Book Night means that one can participate in any of the dozens of registered Book Night events around the country from home as well, by taking a selfie of oneself reading and sending it in to the Book Discussion Scheme's Book Night website:
Dunedin Public Library