Friday, August 2, 2013

Night at the Department Store: the launch of The Mannequin Makers

The doorman and me (good product placement, eh?)
Wednesday night I launched The Mannequin Makers at Kirkcaldie and Stains, a Wellington department store/institution that is celebrating its 150th year.

Here's an excerpt from my speech:
Some people have asked, “Why Kirks?” Beyond the fact I thought they might let me borrow a few mannequins, I’ve always been drawn to department stores. Maybe it was the fact my nana worked as a curtain maker at a department store in Palmerston North. Maybe it was the way Ian Athfeild transformed the town’s old DIC store into the new public library, where I did a lot of my growing up, or at least my growing into books. Maybe I watched the movie Mannequin at too impressionable an age. Maybe it’s that anachronistic vibe proper department stores have.  I’m sure the stock has changed a lot in the last 150 years, but there’s something pleasingly still and unhurried about walking around a place like Kirkcaldie and Stains.
So here we all are, in this mini-time warp, to listen to me babble on about a novel — how very Twentieth Century!
But we mustn’t despair. It has been an exciting week for New Zealand books and writers, after all.
Last week, John Campbell, acting as chief judge of the New Zealand Post Book Awards said a couple of interesting things.
The first: "Literature is not baby food, it doesn't have to appeal to everyone."
While I agree with the sentiment — and hold in my hands a book, if you’ll allow me to skite, with a profound capacity to disappoint — I question the analogy as someone who spends a lot of time covered in baby food. Anyone who scans the baby food isle at the supermarket these days will be met with flavours such as “Moroccan Lamb and cous cous” “Minted peas and polenta” “Cauliflower, Broccoli and Cheddar” — the last of these I can say without doubt is not to everyone’s taste, at least not a certain seven-and-a-half-month-old’s.
But I can unreservedly agree with something else John Campbell said. That it is, “a tremendously exciting time for New Zealand literature.” I say that as a reader, first and foremost.
Last time I did this, on the first of July 2010, I’d just gotten engaged. Now I stand before you married with a kid, a mortgage and a cholesterol problem... This book really took its toll on me. When I finished I was 10 kgs overweight, I needed glasses, and though I’m not quite sure how, I’m blaming all my recent dental bills on this book as well. But I got through, and it’s time to thank the people who helped get me here…
I wasn't quite sure how the space would work out. We were upstairs in the exhibition space (also known as the Christmas Sales space), though the drinks table was set up outside among the furniture. The fancy crockery that had been on display was pushed to the sides of the exhibition space and just invited to be knocked over or nicked... in all Kirks were very trusting and accommodating. And two mannequins were set up in the space, which was cool. 

But the x-factor came from the eeriness of being in a department store long after closing. It was a bit Night at the Museum, or, dare I say it, that montage scene in Mannequin.

At the end of the night we filed out through the vacant store, echoing the scene in The Mannequin Makers when Avis is stolen from the window... But I've said too much already!

Tilly and Matt from Unity Books did a roaring trade on the night, even selling out of the copies of my first book that they brought along (mostly to colleagues who started working with me since my last launch and never got around to buying A Man Melting).

And to top things off, the first review is in and it's rather nice.
"This is an engaging and deadly smart novel... The Mannequin Makers lives up to its cover blurb billing Cliff as a talent to watch – it’s tremendous, darkly entertaining and original from start to finish."— Sam Finnemore, The Listener
The whole review is currently behind the Listener's paywall, but will be on newstands next week.

Let's keep this ball rolling, eh? Only 11 days till I leave the country (and you can publish all the lousy reviews you want!).

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