Sunday, January 28, 2018

Return to Fire Island: Fortnight 26 of the Burns

I'll have you know, this is NOT the end of my Burns year. I'm still on the university's payroll for another three days. As such, I must refrain from doing any number crunching, graph making or sweeping generalisation until at least 1 February.

Biggest new first...

My book got reviewed in the New York Times yesterday!

In his debut novel, the New Zealand writer Craig Cliff adds to the canon, but with such ambition, creativity and sheer energy that he shows there’s still something new to say about a national narrative that can seem, at times, to hold no surprises.
I tend to agree with everything in the review (apart from the bit about Marumaru being in the North Island, and maybe the way it makes it sound as if The Mannequin Makers follows on from The Luminaries, when TMM was launched in New Zealand a handful of days before Catton's book in 2013). It is "almost Shakespearean in scope" (emphasis on almost) and ambitious (see first point) and the final part probably is the weakest (oddly, some American reviewers have struggled with the third part, which is clearly the greatest extended epistolary subantarctic castaway yarn by a mute Scottish woodcarver in the history of the printed word).

So, yeah, I was happy to be reviewed in the fricken' New York Times, and doubly so that it was strongly favourable (I've spent too much time on review aggregator sites!), but I think it would feel different (more immediate?) if this was happening in 2013 or 2014. Right now, I can't help thinking about my location scout/levitation saint novel (how I need to finish it; how a good review in the NYT might help it find a publisher and a readership).

My US Publisher (Milkweed Editions, an indie press based in Minnesota) - who've been fantastic the whole way - have been extra excited the past 36-hours. When you see your editor's mum congratulate her on Facebook for a review of your book, it reminds you how many other people it takes to get your book out there, and how each of them stake their reputations on you. 

At some point this year I'll be putting my next novel out there with agents and publishers and I'll try remember all this when the rejections come. 

Better to be loved late than strung-along early.

Fortnight 26 wordcounts
Total words: 6,620 (40% on this blog, 60% on other non-fiction - book reviews and judges comments)
1st week: 0 (travelling)
2nd week: 6,620

My 100-words-a-day story hit a snag somewhere around Christchurch. It was boring me, and it was turning into something that would need around 5,000 words to complete it, which meant more than another month doing something I wasn't feeling in tiny chunks. So I took a breather to reconsider. I'll hit restart again for February with a different story.

Roadtrip continued...

Following on from the end of Fortnight 25... after two nights in Christchurch we drove to Nelson for three nights, then Picton for one night, before catching the ferry back home (?) to Wellington.

We rented our house out while we were down south. I inspected the place back in August and it was looking good, but it was depressing to return for real this time and find they hadn't cleaned inside very well (like, trail mix on the carpet in one of the bedrooms), the fabric softener part of the washing machine was full of washing powder (so they'd been washing their clothes with plain water all year) and the outside (not the renter's responsibility) was going to take A LOT of work to wrestle back to respectability.

Every time I went out my front door to bring in another box, I was greeted with this young flax growing from the garage gutter.

Oh, and that room I built in my garage to store the stuff we wouldn't need in Dunedin (beds, books, toys, suits) and save the cost of a storage unit? Half the stuff was moldy. Not incredibly moldy - the room stayed dry, it's just whatever moisture or spores were present when the stuff got shut away last January had been trapped there for a year. So there have been many loads through the washing machine (putting the washing liquid in the drum!) and kitchen stuff through the dishwasher and everything else wiped down by hand and left in the sun's life-zapping rays.

After four days of this (and weeding and keeping the kids from killing each other), I was well and truly missing Dunedin.

So I flew back to Dunedin...

...for this guy's birthday

Fittingly, January 25th is when the prizegiving is held for the annual Robert Burns Poetry competition, for which I was one of the two judges for this year.

You can read about the winners in the ODT article.

I landed mid-morning and had time to kill before the ceremony at 5pm, so I went back to my bare-looking office at the university, procrastinated, got a haircut and spent a bit more time with the Gordon Walters exhibition at the Art Gallery.

Gordon Walters: it's not all about the koru.

The ceremony itself was a treat - getting to hear the poets read their work aloud, especially the ones written in Scots, really brought them to life.

And afterwards, judges and winners were given free tickets to the Burns Night Dinner at Toitu.

Those brackets on the "(and woman)" part were a bit weird. Especially if you've already clicked on the ODT link and read Jill O'Brien's winning poem from the published category ('Reply from the Lassies') or read about the current debate in Scotland about whether the bard was a "sex pest"

Whether it was the impact of #MeToo or simply a coincidence, the night became a kind of conversation about the role of women and what should and should not be celebrated about Burns.

For the first time in the 157 year history of the Dunedin Burns Club, a woman, Ayrshire-born Donna Young, delivered the 'Address to the Haggis' (and did so splendidly). 
Peter Sutton reading his winning poem from the unpublished category

Jill O'Brien, winner of the published category

Donna also sang Jill's poem (which was written to be performed), and local writer Lisa Scott excoriated Burns and resuscitated his reputation over the course of an hilarious (and at times hilariously uncomfortable) ten minutes, before the toast to the lassies.

Everything was taken in good spirit and I felt proud to be there as the Burns Fellow (and that I whakapapa back to Scotland - Clan Ross represent!), but also to be knocking around in 2018 when dumb reverence or pregnant silence is so passé.

The next day it was my farewell morning tea at the Department of English and Linguistics. After that, I knocked around in my office for a few more hours, graffittied the desk, then caught the shuttle one last time to the frustratingly distant airport, and back to Wellington.

But but but

As I said, I'm still technically the Burns fellow for another three days!

Maybe I can finish my novel in that time?!?

Um. Alright.

But, my daughter starts school and my son goes back to daycare on Wednesday. I don't go back to the Ministry officially until 12 Feb (though I will be popping in and out before then) and even then I'll only be 0.6 of an FTE, which means I'll still be a writer two days (and whichever early mornings I can scrounge) a week.

This last week, it's been frustrating to be home and not working but not have the time to touch my novel, after travelling for a fortnight and not touching the novel (after cleaning and packing and not touching the novel).

I had four books to review when I first got back to Wellington (I'd read them but hadn't written the reviews, having run out of time in Dunedin), which soaked up a good many evenings. (And the review I did of three books for NZ Books will probably close more doors than it opens... oh well.)

Former Burns Fellows inform me there's a thing called the Post-Burns Blues... But hopefully I'll be too busy to notice. 

Like, I've got three more blog posts to write (best books of 2017; January consumption diary; graphing my Burns Year productivity). How could I possible have time to get depressed!

And I'll be back in Dunedin in September for the 60th anniversary of the fellowship.

And I have something to aim for fitness-wise: being the spritely elder statesman at the  100th anniversary of the Fellowship in 2058.

Pass me my running shoes!

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