Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Abide with the handmaid’s desire: recent reading

I totted up my reading for the year this morning and there were about eight books jostling for the ninth and tenth spots on my top ten reads of the year. So I’ve decided to leave it another week and see if I don’t stumble on something that can leapfrog these ‘good, but’ books.

Until then, here’s what I’ve been reading of late...

Abide with me by Elizabeth Strout (novel, audiobook)

Abide with MeStrout’s 2006 novel reminded me of Marilynne Robinson’s 2004 novel Gilead: small town America in the 1950s, church ministers at their centre... But Abide with Me is colder, less lustrous. No doubt this is in part due to the contrast between Tyler Caskey’s New England Protestantism and John Ames’ Midwestern Congregationalism. In Strout’s next book, Olive Kitteridge, she finds a way to turn this bitterness into something compelling (see the title character; the novel in stories structure helps too), but Abide with Me is no Olive Kitteridge.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (novel, audiobook)

The Handmaid's TaleI spent the first half of this dystopian novel thinking: if this was really a dystopian novel something would be happening right now. Of course, the quid pro quo of a real dystopian novel (read: genre fiction) is less character development, less controlled writing (and less acclaim for its author). Things pick up eventually — we even get the staple of the genre: a long, thinly disguised information download to explain how things got so... dystopic. And hey, I wasn’t complaining. All up, I liked the book, but at this point in time I might have liked it more if the needle moved a notch or two back towards genre.

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan (non-fiction, audiobook)

The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-eye View of the WorldThis is the second Pollan book I've listened to this year after A Place of My Own. This one delves into the history of the apple, the tulip, cannabis and the potato to tell the story of how humans have changed plants and how we might have actually been doing the plants’ bidding. There was plenty of interesting stuff (I didn’t know that all commercial apple varieties are grown from clones rather than from seed; I’d never heard of Tulipomania), though each section seemed to lose momentum three-quarters of the way in and the wheels were allowed to spin to fill the page-count or hammer home Pollan’s thesis. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

'Welcome to What Next, Population: You'

I’ve been MIA for the last couple of weeks. No, the baby hasn’t come yet (due date is tomorrow: 12/12/12, which was always too perfect to ever happen; I’m just hoping it doesn’t arrive too close to Christmas).

But I have delivered my other baby (for the second time).

Last Tuesday I sent The Mannequin Makers back to my publisher after spending two months making some tweaks, thanks to the useful feedback I received.

(In truth, I spent the first month watching Australian TV shows from the 1970s on YouTube -- Number 96, The Paul Hogan Show, The Great Temptation -- which was a research dead end. Even at this late stage, it isn’t always clear what belongs in a book and what doesn’t.)

Now the manuscript is with an editor who I’m excited to work with. Maybe it’s the masochist in me, but I enjoy this process of giving my baby over to someone else and letting them cover it in red ink, this game of manuscript tennis that eats up month after month. So long as you don’t forget who you are and what you set out to write, you’ll make the right changes, lessen the areas readers can get mired, lost, annoyed, or misled and amp up those moments you always thought should sing but maybe never quite nailed.

Every new version is an improvement on the last. Every new version is an improvement on the last. Every new version is an improvement on the last.

Maybe, by the end of this, we will have a book that some readers read through to the final page. Maybe some will like it, steal it from the library, name their children after its characters… Maybe it will annoy great swathes of people, get thrown across drawing rooms (I don’t think my target market has ‘drawing rooms’…), prompt lengthy ad hominen blog posts and snarky tweets. Maybe it will sink like a stone next year and I will be too busy fathering a real baby to notice. Maybe I will be juggling a real baby and another book-baby.

At this stage, I cannot say – not because I am being coy, but because I do not know.

I have entered the territory of ‘What Next?’ I have no map. I don’t speak the language here. Maybe I do, but I speak it poorly and when I ask the locals for directions they turn their noses up at me and walk away.

Deciding on your next project is a lot like your first week in Paris. You’re busy, confused, bumbling. Embarrassment is there to meet you at every turn. You’re surrounded by houses with plaques declaring the famous writers who’ve lived there. They’ve made their name, staked their claim. There’s nothing for you here, move along.

But eventually you will find that small café down an alley the other tourists don’t seem to notice. A place where the waiters humour your mangled recitation of the menu. A place to sit and let the world come to you. To get to know the regulars and the pigeons, the bitter kick of the coffee, the quiet hour after lunch when the wind toys with the morning’s newspapers.

Soon it will feel like home, this place. It will be knowable. Your knowledge of it will become comprehensive, then godlike, omniscient. You will use this knowledge to toy with the regulars, the pigeons, the headlines on the morning papers – petty games, but it keeps you occupied.

And then, one day, you are done with this place and it’s time to move on. It’s off to the airport and another foreign city, another busy, confused, bumbling week, or month or year.

As you lie on another lumpy hostel mattress, you tell yourself: next time I will read the travel guides in advance. Next time I’ll take language lessons beforehand. Next time I will draw up an itinerary and stick to it.

Or maybe you’ll just write short stories…

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Recent everything

Recent reading

How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran (non-fiction)

How to be a WomanI placed a reserve on this book months ago at the library and then when it was finally my time, I was reading it with the eyes of a father-to-be. I could have a daughter before the year is out (we've left the sex a mystery), and maybe I should have thought a little more about the F-word (feminism), but okay, here I am, reading this book about how to be a woman, surely that's a start!?

Caitlin Moran LIKES TO SHOUT IN CAPS. A LOT. But it works for her. When she wants to, she can turn a great, surprising phrase. Por ejemplo: "I feel embarrassed that she is now having to deal with our secret blackness. This is private. The admin of my soul."

A long-time Times columnist, Moran's prose beats at the columnist's furious, hummingbird heartbeat (though, if you've seen Moran talk, it's not just on the page).

Interesting. Moderately enlightening. Always entertaining.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (short stories, audiobook)

Fragile ThingsAnother audiobook read by the author. This one moderately remarkable since it's fiction and Gaiman is a very able 'voice artist'. His consistent performance 'at the mic' isn't quite matched by the stories 'on the page'. They're a mixed bag. 'A study in emerald', Gaiman's mash up of Arthur Conan Doyle and Ursula Le Guin opens the collection strongly, but there are a few too many shrugworthy stories and unclassifiable snippets (see: filler) for the book to hang together.

Also: the last six New Yorker Fiction podcasts. Still a fan. Magic.

And: Literary Consolation Prizes (via NY Times).

Recent listening

Lots of Ronnie James Dio (in his various bands) and Neil Young with his scungy hombres, Crazy Horse.

Recent home improvements

Installing a dishwasher (handy timesaver when baby arrives). Knocking down a wall in the garage (handy for getting baby in and out of the car). Fixing the guttering (nothing to do with baby, but it needed to be done).

(You can always tell the weekends when my mum and step-dad have come down to visit by all the things we manage to get done around the house. Power tools are useful! Know-how, even more so.)

Recent writing

Slagging off Palmy, then explaining it how it's kind of a compliment.

* Improving The Mannequin Makers.

I have four pages of To-Dos, things like "Explain what happened to Colton" and "More reaction to the differences btwn imagined world (windo scheme) and real world -> the lies! the confusion! the freedom!"

Making changes at this late stage is always interesting. A small tweak can remove a big problem. Equally, a simple change in one chapter can require changes throughout the rest of the book (or at least, necessitate you reading the whole thing specifically looking for things that no longer fit this brave new world).

I'm supposed to give another version of the manuscript back on 1 December so it can be edited over Christmas. It'll happen. Balls to the wall as usual, but it'll happen (as long as the baby doesn't drop before then).

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Advice to young (female) writers

I was recently searching through my emails for the name of someone and came across a request from Dolly magazine last year for a writing tip. Yes, that Dolly. The one that asks questions like Justin Bieber vs. Cody Simpson: Who has the hottest Instagram pics?

But they also, apparently, ask about writing. Which is cool. Since I can't imagine a magazine for male tweens even acknowledging the existence of fiction, let alone cultivating the dangerous, time-consuming, maddening urge to write.

Benevolent soul that I am, I offered Dolly three tips, but never saw the final article. Seeing this email, however, I did a quick Google search and managed to find it.

Here 'tis:


[TOP SECRET] WRITER Tips. (Dolly 1/9/2011, Issue 489, p144)

We conned some amazing authors into handing over their best writing tips. You can thank us when you're on the bestsellers list!

* "Set a designated writing time and stick to it. Think of it as a date with yourself, and honour it. Even a two-hour chunk once a week is great. Don't be afraid to use treats to get yourself through - I do. It might be some time online skimming my favourite blogs, or going out to get a coffee, or a new magazine after a particularly good session. (When I finish a whole book, I treat myself with something extraordinary. I shan't disclose what for fear of judgement.) (SHOES.)" - Zoe Foster, Amazing Face

* "Read, read, read - you learn so much from what other authors do, and you'll also find yourself inspired, challenged and eager to read more." - Georgia Blain, Closed For Winter

* "The reader should always be inside the head, or sitting on the shoulder, of the most interesting person in the room." - Craig Cliff, A Man Melting

* "Write as often as you can, even if nobody will ever read it. Every journal entry, essay, short story and blog post helps you finetune your skills," - Kelly Gardiner, Act Of Faith


The other two tips I offered were probably more useful (and less disputable):
  • Finish things. A story's not much use without an ending.
  • Set yourself challenges. Write a character's life story in 100 words. Write a story  using only dialogue. Write a story that goes backwards in time.The more constraints, the easier it is to fill those blank pages.

Now to work the fact I've been in Dolly into my author's bio...

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's in the eyes - a conversation with Ashleigh Young (tomorrow)

I haven't interviewed any short story writers for this blog for a while, but I have branched out. I've interviewed a poet (cum-essayist-blogger-editor). And to further my branching, the interview is going to be posted on the fledgling online litmag, Three Islands Magazine.

Apart from that, my interview with Ashleigh Young conforms to my usual 'email conversation' format.

I'll post a link to the full conversation when it's online tomorrow, but until then, here's a taster:


Me: You mentioned your blog (, which you maintain in addition to being a crack essayist and poetHow distinct are these forms for you? When you have an idea, do you instantly file it away under ‘Essay’ or ‘Poetry’ or ‘Blog post’? Do these forms ever invite each other round for nachos?

Ashleigh: They're not really on speaking terms. I have what feels like a different brain – or set of eyes – when I'm writing a poem as opposed to an essay or a blog post. 

If there's a subject I want to explore fairly rigorously, a subject that needs a wide landscape, it becomes an essay. But poems often have very uncertain beginnings. They start as fragments - usually single images or scenes, and can go through lots of different translations. 

Blog posts almost always start with me thinking, "Bloody hell, I haven't done a post for a while" and then trying to cobble something together. A few posts come from wanting to voice something that's been nagging at me for a while. A blog has a useful immediacy about it. But it does feel like an indulgence, sometimes, like something that Jonathan Franzen would hate, and I worry a bit about wearing out my welcome. I will try to cut it short before that happens.

[Update: You can now read the whole shebang here.]
If you're in Wellington tomorrow (Wednesday 1 Nov), Ashleigh's debut collection, Magnificent Moon, is launched at Unity Books on Willis Street at 6pm.

While we're treading these waters, it's worth mentioning the other great online arrival with an NZ/literary bent in 2012: The Pantograph Punch. They're producing consistently interesting stuff and managed to scoop me by a full 24 hours by posting Hera Lindsay Bird's interview with Ashleigh Young this morning. It's equally worth a look.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Another land, another land

I come from Palmerston North

So Thursday night at Te Manawa for the launch of Palmerston North City Council's Creative Giants website was interesting. Actually, it was pretty boring and felt like I had wasted my time driving up there to sit and listen to speeches and music for 90 minutes before the free wine started flowing... Which is interesting, but for the wrong reasons.

Better to just have stayed home, read James Brown and let the internet do the talking.

All foreigners ashore

It took a while, but my contributor's copy of Ein anderes Land: Short Storys aus Neuseeland arrived on Friday. (The original copy got sent to my old address and the new tenants are useless and lost/ate that package.)

My story, 'Copies', has transformed into 'Kopien'. This is the second of my stories to be translated after 'Offshore Service' got the Spanish treatment back in April.

Turns out my traveller's German is even shakier than my traveller's Spanish, so I can't make any pronouncements about the quality of the translation, but there is something distinctly unwelcoming to the uninitiated about all those big words...

The first sentence: "Das Leben ist eine Aneinanderreihung unvollkommener Wiederholungen." ("Life is a series of imperfect repetitions.")

There are, of course, some glorious words in the language.

Sammelband - omnibus
dunkles - dark
Ursprungsmoment - original moment
Papier geschnitten - papercut

As they say, you've got to take the Wiederholungens with the geschnittens.

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (novel, audiobook)

True History of the Kelly GangYeah, this was a good book. A top ten read of 2012 most likely. The audiobook took a bit of getting used to as the narrator didn't go for much in the way of differentiating characters' voices in dialogue (and decided part way through to make Mary Hearn sound more Irish). I also spent too much time wondering how Australian Ned Kelly would actually sound.

But there are advantages of receiving a text like THotKG aurally. Carey's Ned Kelly writes in a comma-less tidal wave, and with the audiobook you have no choice but to keep up with him.

Carey's way of breaking up the narrative by describing the various packages that Kelly's account comes in (the conceit is that this true history is archived somewhere in Melbourne) is pretty canny. In fact, the whole thing is canny.

At the conclusion of the novel, there's an interview with Carey. The interviewer is a bit useless (at one point she asks Carey if he would like to talk about any of his other books and you can hear Carey think what an effing terrible question; she also mentions his busy schedule about 900 times: dude's a writer, he's got a spare half an hour to talk about himself) but Carey has plenty of interesting stuff to say.

In particular, I was struck by his description of the life of Ned Kelly, in the popular (Australian) consciousness as being a collection of well-known moments (the killings at Stringybark Creek, the robberies at Euroa and Jerilderie, the shootout at Glenrowan), but the rest of his life was a dark, or at least dimly-lit, field. Carey saw the task of his novel as illuminating these darker parts of Kelly's life while still bringing the story into the spotlight at the expected moments.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Everyone's got their breaking point / with me it's spiders, with you it's me

Are we judged here by the words we say / or is it just by the noises we make?

The truth is not kind / and you said neither am I

Since I submitted the manuscript of THE NOVEL (a.k.a. The Mannequin Makers, for now) on 31 August, I've fallen to bits.

I'm taking steps but it all feels a bit of a rear-guard action.

I've gotten glasses for my myopia. I've had malevolent skin cells (Bowen's disease, actinic keratosis) liquid nitrogened to oblivion. I got a root canal to hopefully put pay to the toothaches I've been having. And last week I was told my cholesterol was shockingly high for a 29 year old (especially shocking as my diet ain't that bad and I'm not that overweight), so I'm exercising more, buying expensive margarine and trying a shot of apple cider vinegar in the mornings (my step-father's prescription).

We shall see.

Next time I'm encouraged to write a novel, I'm going to ask for danger pay.

I do the rolling / you do the detail

Re: The Mannequin Makers, I met up with my editor and Random House last week while she was down in Wellington. Over coffee (actually, over green tea and a chai latte) we discussed the comments she'd sent me the week before.

The email read: "I have now finished reading this and really enjoyed it. It’s definitely different, quirky and memorable... [some specifics]... There are, though, a few things I think need a bit more thought... [10 substantive comments and 1,500 words later]... I hope these don't depress you..."

One the one hand: Ugh, more work. But I agreed with 80-90% of the comments, and they've provided the impetus to improve the novel. Being given the direction and time to make the darn thing better sure beats being told, 'It'll do,' and it being rushed to market and met with a round of shrugs (a Meh-ixan wave, perhaps? no, forget I said that).

I have until 1 December to snip the sutures and massage the organs of the novel so that it's more vexing aspects (the confusing ones at least, it'll still be vexing in several spots, but deliberately so). Then the manuscript with be given to an external editor with a fresh set of eyes and a fine-tooth comb. 

I'm excited to have the ball back in my court for the next six weeks. The path to publication seems a little clearer now, a little less fraught.

By the end of it, I'll have no idea how the real world (or at least those in the bookish segment of the real world) will respond, but I should be happy to stand up and take the rotten fruit, the shrugs and the backslaps, knowing the book is the best approximation of the book I set out to write that I can manage at this point in my career.

I remember running through the wet grass / falling a step behind

I'm heading up to Palmerston North on Thursday for the launch of the city council's Creative Giants website. I have a page. So do Janet Frame, John Clarke and Shane Cotton. Pretty cool company to keep.

In between imbibing free Cab Sav and trying to catch the eye of the canape waiter on Thursday, I'll have a word with the people behind the website about the omission of David Geary and Sarah Laing. Let me know if there are other Palmerstonians (permanent or fleeting) who are sufficiently creative and gigantic and I'll spruik them too!

We came through / like gothic monsters perched on Notre Dame

Of course all of this - the body's revolt, the editing process - is a lot of background noise compared to the biggest thing happening to me this year. I'm set to become a father some time in the next two months. 

It's funny, because I've used this point in character's lives before (once in a published short story ['Copies'], once in an abandoned novel) and now I'm here. The loss of my father in my teens means I will always be interested in the way fatherhood works, as a child and a parent. Now I'm about to step through that shimmering waterfall, that glitchy Stargate, and enter the world of parenthood.

How fucking exciting. How fucking scary.

(Best I get all the swearing out of my system before there's a minor on the premises.)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Street of Crocs / Obscure Jude / De Pairs

The Street of Crocodiles and other stories by Bruno Shulz (short stories)
Carried on their shoulders, a silent immobile lady had entered the room, a lady of oakum and canvas, with a black wooden knob instead of a head. But when stood in the corner, between the door and the stove, that silent woman became the mistress of the situation. 
–  Bruno Shulz, 'Tailor's Dummies'
"Am I to conceal from you," he said in a low tone, "that my own brother, as a result of a long and incurable illness, has been gradually transformed into a bundle of rubber tubing, and that my poor cousin had to carry him day and night on his cushion, singing to the luckless creature endless lullabies on winter nights? Can there be anything sadder than a human being changed into the rubber tube of an enema? What disappointment for his parents, what confusion for their feelings, what frustration of the hopes centered around the promising youth! And yet, the faithful love of my poor cousin was not denied him, even during that transformation."
–  Bruno Shulz, 'Treatise on Tailor's Dummies, Conclusion'

The Street of Crocodiles and Other StoriesSometimes there are books that inspire you to look at the world differently. Sometimes there are books that speak to you, or your past (or your past writing).

Sometimes a book will do both of these things and yet the book won’t become an instant favourite. Indeed, you’ll struggle to finish it.

The Street of Crocodiles is such a book.

Interesting, inventive, sometimes brilliant when examined in small chunks, but unwieldy and tedious when read at length. It doesn’t help that the edition I read is actually two story collections and a few uncollected stories slammed between to covers.

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (novel, audiobook)
Jude the Obscure
Sometimes it’s worth reading a book you didn’t enjoy to bring out in clearer relief the qualities of a recent book you did enjoy.

Such was my experience with Jude, which trudged through its opening chapters like a farmer’s wife crossing a muddy field in her husband’s gumboots and got a bit silly toward the end, but it did make me appreciate Far from the Madding Crowd the more.

Despair by Vladimir Nabokov (novel, audiobook)

DespairSometimes you’ll read an author’s earlier work and be reminded often of their later, more heralded books.

Sometimes, like the case of Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle your reading of the earlier work will be completely occupied by this game of spot the difference (differences being rarer than similarities).

Sometimes, the similarities will be striking but the book will manage its own foothold on your attention and inveigle its way into your consciousness. Such was the case with Despair, which serves as a protean from of many later novels: the eloquent deviant writing in a form of incarceration, the rival for the narrator’s woman, the doubling of characters, themes and symbols. While Despair’s Hermann is similar to Lolita’s Humbert – his arrogance, his love of wordplay, his myopia – the fact Despair gives itself over so fully to the idea of doubles (and false doubles) means it retains its own interest.

(Perhaps also the fact it was the first time I’d read Nabokov in at least four years — after being under VladNab’s spell in my early twenties — made me more amenable...)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Time expands to fill a vacuum

Time flies when you're doing nothing stag parties, weddings, working full time for the first time in over a year, cutting down trees, watching television...

Looking ahead to next month, when the NBA season is in full swing and my hapless Kings are already floundering but still somehow compelling, I wonder how I'll find any 'free' time to write.

That list of short stories to write when I got to the end of THE NOVEL remains untouched.

The list of strange-but-not-that-interesting things that happened to me at work keeps getting longer.


Music. I didn't listen to much in September. My music consumption and writing time are directly correlated.

Here's my Spotify playlist for August:

I am listening to the new Tragically Hip album, Now for Plan A, right now (stream it free here for a limited time). Verdict after two listens: So it wasn't all Bob Rock's fault on World Container and We Are the Same. I'm sure there will be some songs that start to stand out in time, but it's all rather straight ahead rock to these ears.

But then I thought the same about Fully Completely the first five or six times.

I've been wrong before.


The day the tea tasted amazing. Like, really amazing.

The day the lifts went slow.

The day a dove landed on the ledge outside my window.

The day I wore prescription glasses for the first time.

The day they announced the Christchurch Education Renewal Plan.

The day I mentioned the day the tea tasted amazing and no one knew what I was talking about.


Far from the madding crowd by Thomas Hardy

Far from the Madding CrowdAnother audiobook. Perhaps it's because I listened to Jeffery Eugenides' The Marriage Plot earlier this year, or perhaps it's because I'd just gotten to the end of my own novel which does not feature the marriage plot, but I felt conditioned to enjoy Far from the madding crowd.

And I did enjoy it.

I like the way it starts with a very static description of 'Farmer Oak'. I like the way he's had his shot at Bathsheba Everdene early on and the scene where young George drives his sheep off the cliff, reducing him to a shepherd once more.

At the time I liked Hardy's authorly theorising about men and women. The sort of things you could never really get away with in a book today. The sort of things quotation pages lap up, but has the habit of jolting the reader from the story:
"We colour and mould according to the wants within us whatever our eyes bring in."
“Indifference to fate which, though it often makes a villain of a man, is the basis of his sublimity when it does not.”

“A resolution to avoid an evil is seldom framed till the evil is so far advanced as to make avoidance impossible.”

“We learn that it is not the rays which bodies absorb, but those which they reject, that give them the colours they are known by; and in the same way people are specialised by their dislikes and antagonisms, whilst their goodwill is looked upon as no attribute at all.”
I think I liked these readymade pull quotes because they were so barefaced. Oh no you didn't. Oh yes he did.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

While I was sleeping

In the mail the other day I received a package from Random House containing their rights catalogue for the Frankfurt Book Fair. Right at the start (authors are listed alphabetically, with lit-fic first) there’s this page:

This is the first official document spruiking my new novel. Note: The Mannequin Makers is still a working title, but it may stick.

RHNZ did ask me if it was okay if they tried to sell my novel’s rights at Frankfurt (I said yes), but I wasn’t involved in the 32-word blurb. It’s clearly based on the 40,000 word chunk I sent them back in November 2011 and even though the book has grown and morphed since then, I’m not offended by anything.

The interesting thing is to flick through the rest of the catalogue and see the other RHNZ writers with “Forthcoming 2013” titles in the catalogue. I’m already self-conscious about the number of recent New Zealand novels that are set in the past, and it seems this trend is set to continue into 2013. Fiona Kidman has a novel, The Infinite Air, based on the life of Jean Batten. Carl Nixon has The Virgin and the Whale, set in 1919 and about a woman whose husband is missing in action.

Okay, so that's only two other novels set in the past, but what about the books from Penguin, VUP, Huia and whoever else chooses to front up in 2013? 

This trend for looking backwards to make things up may be buoyed by technology (Papers Past et al make immersive research quicker and broader) and publisher's willingness to fork out for old-timey books, but ultimately:
  • writers who don't lean on the same genre book-in book-out are lead by ideas, not the market
  • some ideas need to be set in the past (like me and my sailing ships and department stores)
  • the lag time between beginning a book and it getting published is so long that it's foolish to try and write for what's hot now.

Of course, I was aware of the flood of (*deep, sonours voice please*) serious, literary fiction set in the past when I was a quarter / a half / three-quarters of the way through my novel. Once I was underway, the other books out there helped me to better define my niche. There was a slice of New Zealand life a century ago that was under-represented (the urban, the modern) and a type of story ('tale' might be a better word) that wasn't being employed when dabbling in the past (the adventure). So I felt encouraged to steer towards that type of book.

(Of course, the book had other ideas, steering me back to the mythology of the rural and underpopulated, the rough and savage, in the final section, but these things happen).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Recent audiobooks

During my crash I couldn’t face reading a physical book, but was happy enough listening to them. Since handing my novel in I’ve had my eyes tested and I need glasses. I’m short-sighted, so I can still read book and work on computers without specs, but it’s likely the strain my eyes have been under has contributed to the difficulty I’ve had reading (and finishing) physical books this year.

Anyway, here are my brief reactions (*mildly spoilerific*) to the last four audiobooks I’ve listened to:

Hard Times (Pocket Penguin Classics)Hard Times by Charles Dickens

C-Dick’s shortest novel. Not his best: too overt, the characters are ciphers for the message. Tom Gradgrind’s bouleversement from a man of pure logic and reasoning to a remorseful father laid low by feeling is both inevitable and unearned. But still, it’s Dickens, so it’s worthwhile.

Breakfast with Socrates: The Philosophy of Everyday LifeBreakfast with Socrates by Robert Rowland Smith

I don’t know why I listen to these sorts of audiobooks. I always feel greatly let down by them. I guess I expected to hear some names I hadn’t heard before, or for some theories to be connected to everyday life in new and eye-opening ways. Instead I felt like the smug kid in a high school class who did all the readings over the summer holidays, when really I was looking to be humbled and informed.

The Human FactorThe Human Factor by Graham Greene

A low-level intrigue in a low-profile section of the Foreign Office (MI6) at a time the UK was rapidly decreasing in international significance. Somehow Greene manages to tell a tale that is both suspenseful and also deeply human. The air gets let out slightly before the end, which is a bit of a shame, but still a good read.

A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (Classics Illustrated)Journey to the centre of the earth by Jules Verne

I read some Jules Verne when I was younger, but not this one. I wonder if I would have liked it at 12? I didn’t like it at 29. They don’t even make it to the centre of the earth!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Two years as columnist: still not worth a hill of beans

At a dinner for the writers who'd appeared at Wellington's Writers and Readers' Week in March this year, a visitor from the UK mentioned that he'd read my column in that morning's newspaper. That particular column had been about my time at the Perth Writers Festival the fortnight previous ("if you're lucky a well-respected novelist will skull the last of their wine and admit they think their most recent book is by far their worst"). 

I made the sort of pat, 'Watch out, I might write about you!' joke that I don't find funny but persist in making. Ha ha ha.

Wine glasses were emptied and refilled. Emptied and refilled.

At some point in the evening we got in a heated discussion about Woody Allen.

For badmouthing the execrable Midnight in Paris I got a hand shoved over my bad mouth.

'Say what you will about his recent films,' said my interlocutor, his sweaty palm still pressed against my lips, 'but you mustn't say a bad word against him. The man is a genius.'

My eyes, cartoon-wide, stayed that way even when he withdrew his hand.

He then said something embarrassing about me being a good writer (based on a snippet of a short story he'd heard me read a few days ago that the wine had ratcheted up to something approaching significance) and that my column wasn't worth a hill of beans. In the great wash-up, it was only proper literature (and, I suppose, films) that mattered.

I nodded. I agreed. At least that my column wasn't worth much. I mean how could it compare to a hill of beans?

The image in my head is a Mayan pyramid of baked bean tins, but perhaps he was thinking of a large mound of dried kidney beans or a verdant pile of freshly picked runners? All three crop up on a Google Image Search for "hill of beans" and all three would surely trump a fortnightly 500-word braindump. I mean, a hill of beans would feed a lot of people. Okay, a hill of beans might need a bit of security or someone to patrol for vermin, but it wouldn't come with the same sense of constant failure (failure to be interesting, failure to be funny, failure to be topical, failure to avoid the humblebrag) and the dread that any day you'll get the email that tells you you've been shitcanned. Format changes. New directions. Thanks and best wishes in future endeavours.

But so far, this email hasn't come.

It's been two whole years, which means 52 columns (as of Saturday). Marcus Lush (I think) recently said on Twitter that most columnists only have three good columns in them. Hopefully I write those three before I get that metaphorical sweaty palm across my lips and am told there's no slot for me next Saturday.

En masse, these 52 columns might not be worth a literal or a proverbial hill of beans, but if you stand back far enough, it's neat (yes, I just said 'nea't) that I've been paid to write about:
  1. Writers with day jobs, coming out (as a writer)
  2. Engagements, diamonds, crazy fiancés
  3. Paper books, vandalism, my father
  4. Music, getting old
  5. Short story competitions, mingling, Lloyd Jones
  6. Koru lounges, first times
  7. Paint colours, advertising
  8. Getting up early, writers with day jobs
  9. Weight gain, Don DeLillo
  10. Blood donation, squeamishness, cancer
  11. Agapanthus, pure hatred
  12. Week in the life, writers with day jobs
  13. Buttermoons, wedding prep, Vietnam
  14. New music, getting old
  15. Old teachers, receiving praise, gesundheit
  16. Airport terminals, Singapore
  17. De facto wedding anniversaries, gifts
  18. The internet, research, Moby Dick
  19. Writers festivals, Auckland, Sydney
  20. Travel envy, brothers, Alexander the Great
  21. Landlords, Edinburgh, mullets
  22. Writers with part-time jobs
  23. Kiwis, research, Zealandia
  24. Wedding prep, music, Stevie Wonder
  25. Poetry, furniture polish, Ian Wedde
  26. Libraries, writing, plumbers
  27. Writers festivals, Melbourne, Titirangi
  28. Skin cancer, sunscreen, Vikings
  29. Bad reviews, McDonalds
  30. The internet, privacy, shame
  31. Friends, double-booking, weddings
  32. Stag parties, cross-dressing, heights
  33. Weddings, the big day
  34. Honeymoons, Germans, mistakes
  35. Honeymoons, B&Bs, mistakes
  36. Deadlines, writing, blowouts
  37. Architecture, substations, Wellington
  38. Albatross, Otago Peninsula, awe
  39. Writers festivals, Perth, hotel bars
  40. Writers festivals, Wellington, ambushes
  41. House hunting, open homes
  42. House hunting, first home buyers, tenders
  43. Translations, short stories, shame
  44. Architecture, council housing, Wellington
  45. The Queen (smiling), gin and Dubonnet
  46. Short story competitions, judging, Grizz Wyllie
  47. Doctors, men, Monty Python
  48. Track pants, mistakes, pyromania
  49. DIY, homeownership, Donald Rumsfeld
  50. Job interviews, Australians
  51. Impending fatherhood, names, advertorials
  52. The past, First Crossings, Bear Grylls

Of course, the hope is that during this time I've been doing something that might amount to more than a hill of beans. Perhaps it's THE NOVEL. Perhaps it's the bump I wrote about in column #51 (a well I will no doubt return to, craven and unapologetic, a few more times before December). Who knows? Who cares? Sometimes it's just nice to have a deadline and the chance to talk about track pants. 

It sure beats a sweaty hand across your mouth.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Done and busted

The crash is over. I sent THE NOVEL off to my editor at 10am this morning. So, like, 14 hours before my deadline. Legend.

Of course, technically the end of August was my second deadline. Sticklers might point out that I missed my first deadline by nine months. Ah, sticklers, who needs 'em? Not me.

I declare today Stickler Free Day. And what better way celebrate than with a wee Q&A...

Are you happy with the finished product?

'Finished'? Eep! I prefer the term 'complete'. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. But a novel is never finished. My novel certainly is not finished. Someone is going to get their hooks into it in the coming weeks and at some point in the future I'm going to get it back with a list of everything that's wrong with it and the get not-a-lot-of-time to perform corrective surgery.

Also, not a big fan of the term 'product'. Sound like something my brother puts in his hair.

But are you happy?

Yeah. Mostly. It'll never be what I thought it was going to be when I set out. Or even what I thought it'd be when I was halfway. The last quarter came together really quickly and went down some paths I would have shirked earlier on in the process (it got a quite rural, almost Western, at one point; a bit Flowers in the Attic at another). But it's what was demanded by the engine I built.

Dr Frankenstein, meet your monster.

I'm pleased the ball is in someone else's court now. I've been working hard, both on the novel and my day job for quite some time. This last month has been kind of crazy. If I spent another month or two on the manuscript, I'm not sure I'd make it any better. I need to step away, see what someone else thinks.

How did revision go these last three weeks?

A bit like this:

Of course, this only shows the net result of all the additions, deletions and changes on a given day.

Here's another way of looking at the same data:

The first few days were about adding in little details and reading aloud. I was actually quite surprised at how the word count kept climbing. I thought I would be trimming more than adding.

That flat patch 23-26 August was when I was reading and marking up a paper copy. There was a lot of "cut" written in the margins, which explains the sudden drop in word count when I finally went back to my PC.

The last few days I've been tinkering.

I went through looking at whether I said characters' names too much instead of using pronouns. The next day  changed half of the "he"s and "her"s back to "Kemp" and "Mother".

Then there was the period I fell in love with semi-colons and the day I decided to get rid of them all.

Some other chestnuts:
  • "like" vs "as if"
  • "ships carver" vs "ship's carver" vs "ships' carver"
  • "foremast" vs "fore mast" vs "fore-mast"
  • "rarely" vs "seldom"
  • "towards" vs "toward" (vs "to")
  • "albatross" vs "albatrosses"
  • more section breaks vs less.
The last week has been brought to you by the Control key and the letter F.

Wow, sounds exciting. Is writing a novel really as sexy and rewarding as you make it sound?

Don't forget healthy! Sure, my eyesight has deteriorated markedly in the last six months, but staring at computer screens for sixteen hours a day would make them better at focusing, not worse. Right?

And sure, I've put on *mumble mumble* kgs since I started the novel, but I'm just reflective of a national trend towards obesity. I'm sure the politicians will sort it out.

Is there anyone you'd like to thank?

The internet. I couldn't have done it without her.

Some questions I've asked her recently:
  • Would someone say someone else has ants in their pants in 1919? (No, probably not until after WWII, but there were plenty of songs about ants entering people's pants, at picnics especially, before that.)
  • When did people start using the term: 'sit-ups'? (Quite recently.)
  • How might a Scotsman say 'tippy-toes'? ('Tippertoes'.)
  • Would someone use the term "dolly" back in the day to describe one of those platforms with wheels and a handle? (Hmm, better just have them use a wheelbarrow.)
What did your editor say on receiving your manuscript?

Nothing. I got an out of office reply.

What are you going to do now?

Go take photos of birds.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Last gasps / Orphan Master / Something for the Crash

Okay, so I thought I'd started my crash already, but it seems I'm going to write one last post before my deadline at the end of August...


Today I wrote the final word of the final scene of the first draft of THE NOVEL. That'd be the 103,359th word according to MS Word.

(Over 6,000 of them are "the" so don't get your hopes up that it's any good.)

As I've mentioned before, I revise as I go, so it's quite a polished first draft. I think. But the fact remains that tomorrow will be the first day I read page one knowing what happens on page 238.


Something for the crash


After reaching THE END, I went and did the dishes and vacuumed the house. Badass, I know. Just wait till I hand the manuscript in! 

The Orphan Master's SonWhile I channelled my domestic god(dess), I listened to the final chapters of Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son, a novel about contemporary North Korea. 

It's a great book and it worked well as an audiobook. This is a novel about the power (and dangers) of storytelling and at times it felt the theme was paraded too brazenly. And all of the narrative juice is used up before the novel actually closes (about 90% of the way through to be vaguely specific). But I was transported, tempted and entertained. Definitely one of the best books I've consumed this year.


Okay. That's that. See you in September.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Re: Duce Use Cycle

I spend more time than I should looking at the search terms that lead people to this blog. It’s not like I’m trying to attract visitors to reap ad revenue. In fact, I usually feel queasy when more than 100 people visit my blog in a single day, as if I’ve done something really wrong and should probably take my last post down.

Fortunately, most of the people who come here from search engines spend a few seconds, figure they’ve been sorely mislead by Google and shuttle off elsewhere on the web. And all I'm left with is the string of letters that led them here. It seems a shame just to let them gather dust. I was bought up to believe that if you couldn't make a robot out of a toilet roll, the least you can do is recycle.

But what to do with these search terms. Sure, I've made the odd found poem from them (see here and here), but what about the questions I could never answer (“who frequents funerals for the thrill?”), or the sad, sad image searches (“empty office chair”). What about the what-the-heck-are-you-looking-for-and-how’d-you-get-sent-here ones (“my-itchy-dick-needs-rubbing”) or the searches for people that aren't me but I might one day steal their name and use it as a pseudonym (“sheldon cuff”).

Sometimes I feel like maybe I should be less of a disappointment to these people. Maybe I could actually give them something useful.

In order to get the blog GreenStar rated, I’ve decided to ‘give back’ and ‘recycle’ in one go. So, for those of you looking for a band name or an album title (and really, who isn't?), here are some suggestions that started life as search engine queries. 

For those in search of a band name

[the] bad selfies
body writing whore
soundwave cutie mark
ending for the marriage plot
[the] farewell names
bl4h bl4h bl4h
[the] scary building[s]
lillibutt's big adventure
"slender novels"
island of strange noise
[the] little blizzard[s]
leaky school funding band

For those in search of an album title

park like a douche day
Hamlet for children
nautical superstitions
overpopulation of seals
Carolina West tongue


Musical Interlude, or Dipping-toes-in-other-people's-pools Playlist


There’s one kind of search that brings people to this blog that might not end in total disappointment. There are a surprising/pleasing amount of people googling about poetry. The sad thing is there’s not enough online, or it’s so poorly filed, that the schmucks are pointed this way.

But in the continued spirit of (re)giving, here’s a found poem:

A poem for those in search of literature

poems about bursitis
10 greatest new zealand poems
top book to read
fun nz poems
dialogue of lord wilmore in the count of monte cristo
insults farts
short poems on intention
count of monte cristo red liquid
small poems on wildlife century
new zealand poem marriage
short poems for liars

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Boring for poetry (day) 2012

Okay, so tomorrow is National Poetry Day here in lil ol' Aotearoa. Here's a press release if you're the kind of person who needs one of those to believe things like national poetry days exist (or if you want to see a list of poetry events happening tomorrow).

Some pre-reading for the day:

Pip Adam's review of Geoff Cochrane's latest collection (she feels much the same about GC as I do, but says it far better than I could).

Hera Lindsay Bird's left-right combo (part one; part two) on her favourite poets.

How I commemorated National Poetry Day last year.

And here's a poem I wrote last year when I was feeling more dull and inarticulate than normal. It was first published in the beautiful but short-lived journal Pasture from Kilmog Press.


The Orange-Yellow River is filled with young people
calling Come on democracy!
as if it were a soccer team.

I am not here to swim. Can’t you hear
the noises from the streets in my stomach?
I’m boring for joy.


I knew a girl,
her clothes were on fire
for a life of quiet understanding

but she had two orange boyfriends
skating in her heart’s first event
who were all: yeah, yeah, you know.


The Yellow-Orange River is filled with young people
calling Come on bureaucracy!
as if that would affect me.

Yeah, nah, I’m busy folding and unfolding
the heavy creases of, uh, life.
I’m, like, boring for joy.


We all encounter
problems on the hard shoulder.
If this is not the case, my bad —

there’s green space in my weakness,
space for walking, and perhaps a garden.
But no, my love. Oh, oh yeah, my bad.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Short Story Corner: Jim Shepard: Love and Hydrogen and You Think That’s Bad

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've read two Jim Shepard collections in recent months.

Love and Hydrogen: New and Selection Stories (2004)

Love and Hydrogen: New and Selected StoriesThis book features 22 short stories, a number of which appeared in Shepard’s first collection, Batting Against Castro. I really enjoyed Love and Hydrogen, but I’m just gonna come right out and say it: the book is too long.* It feels like a compendium rather than a collection. I've written elsewhere about my preference forsingle collections over best ofs, and it’s a similar thing here. Most of the stories were great, some weren’t, and it was hard to think about this book as a single entity. More on it shortly.

You Think That’s Bad (2011)

You Think That's Bad: StoriesShepard’s fourth (or 3.5th) collection, however, is about the right size: 11 stories, some of them quite long. Together these 225 pages feel like a comprehensible mass. Perhaps too comprehensible. After a while, it began to feel as if each story was a retelling of the same story: taciturn male struggles to connect with those around him. Even if this is true for 10 out of the 11 stories (11 if you accept the female narrator of ‘The Track of Assassins’ is just another variation on this same central character), Shepard gets away with it because he overlays the most interesting and varied plots and settings over top of the same framework.

So we get a guy who works in black-ops military technology, a trek into the Persian mountains, Dutch water engineers bracing as the near future’s floodwaters rise, a battalion in ‘Nam, a team of scientists researching avalanches above a Swiss village, a physicist working for CERN, the special effects wizard behind Godzilla, a gruesome tale of child murder in Fifteenth Century France and a team of Polish Winter Mountaineers.
Reading a Shepard short story is like reading a Wikipedia entry as if it was written by Richard Ford. Well, most of the time. Some, like ‘Cretaceous Seas’ are shorter, voice driven pieces. Others, ‘like ‘Boys Town’ are more contemporary ‘loser’ stories, with less scope for encyclopaedic knowledge. The sort of thing George Saunders does about sixteen times better.

Three more things that bugged me:

1. The ubiquity of the present tense. Call me old school, but it’s only been the current default setting for literary short fiction for a short time and I don’t think it will remain the default for long.

2. There are a lot of endings (in this collection and in Love and Hydrogen) where characters are about to die (of thirst, in an avalanche, in battle, in a police shoot out, in a Messerschmitt 163...) or at least get really messed up. In order to extricate the narrator from the plot a moment before they die, Shepard grants them a moment of reflection where they’re allowed to say something sage and inscrutable, like:
“They’ve ensured that we’ve progressed this far, and no farther, when constructing our connections to this wild and beautiful earth.” (‘Poland is Watching’)
In isolation, each ending is okay, but after two or three it feels like a tic, after four or five: a crutch.

3. There’s a lot of stuff about national identity that sounds like it’s coming from an American rather than a real Dutchman or Pole or Brit.

In ‘The Netherlands Lives with Water’, the Dutch narrator is full of homilies about his countrymen. 
“Passion in Dutch meetings in punished by being ignored.” 
“She’s only trying to hedge her best, I tell myself to combat the panic. Our country’s all about spreading risk around.” 
To me this screams fugazi. Do I think, ‘Oh, that’s such a Kiwi thing to say’? Only if I’m overseas at the time. I’m largely blind to national traits while living in New Zealand. It may suit Shepard’s Dutch story to make all these Dutch comments, but that just puts a wall between me and his character.

These three bugbears are also present in Love and Hydrogen, but there’s more diversity. It’s not all great ‘color’ (in that terrible American sense of ‘color commentary’ during a sporting contest to obscure the fact this is game number 61 in a season of 82 and essentially meaningless) over the same frame.

‘The Gun Lobby’, which opens the collection, is a contemporary loser story, but it’s bigger and bolder than ‘Boys Town’: the loser’s wife holds him hostage with weapons sourced from his gun-dealing buddy.

‘John Ashcroft: More Important Things Than Me’ is a kind of political diary that starts out like a piece of McSweeny-ish irony at the expense of an earnest Republican, but turns out to be a sweet and heartbreaking meditation on fathers, sons and loss.

‘Alicia and Emmett with the 17th Lancers at Balaclava’ takes the isolated, obsessive male struggling to connect with his family life and runs it on two parallel planes: 1) he’s the historical advisor on a movie about the charge of the Light Brigade 2) he’s actually taking part on the charge of the Light Brigade.

‘Runway’ has the kind of set up that I expected to end with a number 2 (dude about to die... story ends): a man starts lying down on an airport runway, moving further and further up the tarmac over a series of nights, getting closer and closer to the squash zone. I’m not sure I’m happy with the story’s actual ending, but it was pleasing to see another route taken.

There’s also a bit of number 3 (national identity malarkey), but because it’s embedded in possibly the greatest short story about sport that I’ve ever read (‘Ajax is all about attack’; about the Dutch football team in the sixties) I forgive it completely.**

‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ follows a similar pattern to ‘Ajax is All About Attack’ except it’s an insider’s view of the band The Who, and what made them special. It’s a bold move to make John Entwistle your narrator and make him weave in and out of soundbites and urban legends, but it is possibly the greatest short story about rock music that I’ve ever read.***

These kinds of stories take cajones. They take research. And they take incredible skill to find a believable voice and a narrative with any kind of drive.

Love and Hydrogen may have too many stories, but it surely contains greatness.

If not for ‘Ajax’, ‘Batting Against Castro’ might be the best sports short story I’ve read.

‘Love and Hydrogen’ might be the best ‘two men in love’ short story I’ve read (and it just so happens to take place on board the Hindenberg).

The book is lousy with superlative, or near-superlative, stories. And for that reason, I can overlook the overstuffing, the lack of whole-ness, and proclaim it an awesome book.


* Yes, I realise the hypocrisy, given my SS collection featured eighteen stories and tipped the scales at 315 pages. Love and Hydrogen is only 320 pages in paperback, but there’s a lot more words on each of those pages... And if I was to do it all again, I’d probably roll with two or three less stories in A Man Melting.

** It’s also worth nothing that the narrator, Velibor Vasovic, is not Dutch, so it’s likely his antennae is up and detecting national quirks. He can say something like, “Even then I could see that it was very Dutch to look for the simple solution,” and get away with it.

And the stuff about his native Yugoslavia is couched in terms of regional differences (he’s from the hills; in Zugubic rebelliousness was “old farmers fondling their donkeys in public”) or specific to individuals, so his utterances are believable.

But even this tactic of one non-American looking at the inhabitants of a foreign country can grate after a while, like the Czech resistance fighter who is about to be captured by Nazis in ‘The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich’: “Being German, they spent an hour boxing in the square, eradicating escape routes.”

*** Though I did wonder how Shepard got permission to quote Who song lyrics in the story. Perhaps Playboy, who first published the story, fronted the $$$?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I'm about to crash, but...

Okay, so I need to finish THE NOVEL some time next month. To do this I'm going to have to "crash" in the Kazuo Ishiguro sense.

“He [Ishiguro] takes a lot of time to prepare a novel, just thinking about it, and then he draws a line through his diary for three or four weeks. He just writes for 10 hours a day, and at the end he has a novel.”
Well, my crash isn't quite like that. I mean, I've already written 85,000 words. But I need a couple more in places, a couple less in others. I need to make one character appear in an earlier chapter because I've said he was there in a later one. And once I've got everything "in", I have to make it sound not sound like writing. 

So in a week or two I'm going to stop blogging until THE NOVEL is put to bed.

But before I hit 'snooze', I've got to post my thoughts on the two Jim Shepard short story collections I've read (once I've written those reflections, of course).

And I just bought the new poetry collections from Geoff Cochrane and James Brown, and Jenny Pattrick's new novel Skylark.

I'm excited about all three, but nothing can quite compare to the excitement of having a new volume of Geoff Cochrane in your hands.

The closest thing I can compare it to is when I was in my early teens and I'd just brought a new CD and you can't do anything until you've listened to it. We didn't have a CD player in our car, so sometimes I had to make do with reading the liner notes on the way home. Some times, OK Computer for example, the art and the lyrics were a good place to start. Other times, something by The Stone Temple Pilots say, reading the lyrics let a little of the air out of an album.

So when I jumped on the bus today after spending all my allowance on books, I just had to start reading The Bengal Engine's Mango Afterglow.

It's good. How can it not be? But I'm going to take my time, read it alongside Warm Auditorium and then post something thoughtful when I return from my crash.

Until then, you can pass the time by reading my take on Cochrane's previous collection, The Worm in the Tequila. (NB: I totally picked that 'The Lich-gate' would make it into Best NZ Poems 2010)

While I'm posting photos of books on the spare bed in my office, here's my copy of The Warwick Review's NZ issue which arrived in the mail about ten days ago.

It features cover boy Vincent O'Sullivan, Fiona Kidman, Elizabeth Smither, Greg O'Brien, CK Stead, Chris Price, Diana Bridge, Patrick Evans and my short story, 'The Cuddies', which begins the night before Valentine's Day:
In the last few hours before sunrise, Dave Cuddie took the opportunity to visit old friends. He walked along the rows, directing his flashlight at the plaques and nodding his greeting to Hot Chocolate, Dusky Dancer, Racy Lady -- names that had lost their humorous tingle in this his seventh year patrolling Mrs Bonaventure's rose garden.
If you want to read the whole story and you're not in the UK (or can't wrangle a copy of WR), you'll just have to wait until a kind publisher lets me release another collection of short fiction (and hope 'The Cuddies' makes the cut). So, 2021 maybe?