Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A long time between drink: Launch Day 2013

For every launch, there will be collateral damage.
It’s been 1126 days since my last book launch. Or 27,024 hours.

Sometimes it has felt like a very long time. As if my book was taking forever.

Now, as the act of writing slowly recedes into memory, and those 27,024 hours between launches begins to telescope into a single, easy figure (“about 3 years”), it doesn't seem that long.

In an alternate universe I could have written one word every 15 minutes from the moment my last book launch wound down and I’d only be writing the final word of the novel (“am”) as the clock strikes six tonight. (I'd then have to improvise the Acknowledgements page.)

The reality of composition, of course, is different, but something about this equation makes sense. There’ve been few waking hours in recent years that I haven’t thought about “my next book” (sadly, I wasted the first year trying to write something the wrong next book).

And there’ll be few waking hours the rest of my life where I’m not thinking about my new "next book".

All I need to do is keep placing one word after another.

And in 160 weeks, give or take, I’ll have this same wonderful knot in my stomach.

My book is dead, long live my book.

More on The Mannequin Makers
A playlist for the novel (and the launch)
Location Guides: Part One (Marumaru), Part Two (Antipodes Islands), Part Three (Crossman's Gully)
The editing process

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Mannequin Makers Playlist

It's that time again. Time for a Largehearted Boy-esque playlist for my new book, The Mannequin Makers.

You can check out my playlist for my short story collection, A Man Melting, here. Back in 2010 I picked a song for each of the 18 stories, and the range of artists (Van Halen, Paul Simon, Gene Kelly, The Go-Betweens, The National, Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, Milli Vanilli) reflects the diversity of the collection.

A novel, of course, is supposed to be more unified. That is not to say it doesn't range widely (from Scotland to the subantarctic; from the 1860s to 1970s), but it has still resulted in a less eclectic playlist than last time, I think.

I've split my playlist into four parts to mirror the structure of the novel. The three or four songs for each part are a mix of songs I listened to often while writing, songs I came across at pivotal moments, or songs that just seem to fit that particular part of the story.

For those of you coming to my book launch tomorrow (6pm at Kirkcaldie and Stains; the doorman will let you in), these'll be the songs playing in the background as you skull your pinot and try and catch the eye of the waitress with the platter of corn fritters...

Part One: Welcome to Marumaru

'Death and the Maiden' by The Verlaines

Shall we have our photo taken?
We'll look like Death and the Maiden

Great song, great band. I got into this track again via a cover by Stephen Malkmus, but the original is better.

Thematic link: the idea of posing for a photo based on a work of art. In the case of The Mannequin Makers, that art is, funnily enough, mannequins:
"Perhaps most tellingly, when a visiting photographer set up his equipment at Hercus & Barling the townsfolk chose to be immortalised performing the poses of The Carpenter’s models." (p30)
'The Killing Moon' by Pavement (Echo & the Bunnymen cover)

He's a yo-yo man, always up and down
So take him to the end of his temper

Keeping the Stephen Malkmus thing going, I reckon this cover by Pavement of Echo & the Bunnymen's song is better. Or at least, I listen to it a lot more than the original.

Temporary thematic link: I wilfully misheard the line "take him to the end of his temper" as "take him to the end of this tableau" for the longest time. (The living mannequins refer to their displays in the department store window as 'tableaux'). But the creepy vibe and lyrics do sorta suit the father-villain, Colton Kemp, who's the focus of Part One.

'The Outer Skin' by Sean Donnelly (Chris Knox cover)

And it seems like nothing can penetrate through the outer skin
Crouched and cold on a slate grey day in the Southern world

Another cover. There's probably a thematic link between Colton Kemp's attempt to recreate life in the form of wooden mannequins and artists trying to breath new life into other artist's songs... but let's not get too carried away. Again, I mostly chose this track because it sounds like I think Part One reads, and I listened to Donnelly's version a lot more than Knox's (partly because Knox's version isn't available on Spotify, but Donnelly's is).


Part Two: The Mannequin Speaks

'My Rights Versus Yours' / 'Adventures in Solitude' by the New Pornographers

Under your wheels, the hope of spring, mirage of loss, a few more things
You left your sorrow dangling, it hangs in air like a school cheer

Less than forget but more than begun
The adventures in solitude never done

This is the first of several cheats. A double shot from the New Pornographers because:
  • I couldn't choose between these two songs
  • they both seem important to the novel and apropo given what takes place within its pages.
I got into New Pornographers during the three years I worked on The Mannequin Makers and was lucky enough to see them live and intimate at the San Fran Bathhouse here in Wellington. Great concert. Great band.

'Pascal's Submarine' by Gordon Downie

Stumbled in to sleep's ravine
Into a dream of Pascal's Submarine
Where if you can remain quiet and still
You might escape life's fill of misery

This song actually stared me towards Blaise Pascal, who supplied the epigraphs for my novel (one at the start, then one for each of the four parts). The epigraph to Part Two "... all man's misery stems from a single cause, his inability to remain quietly in one room," is reflected in Downie's song, which is really about the sinking of the Russian submarine, Kursk, in 2000.

'Eye in the Sky' by the Alan Parsons Project

The sun in your eyes
Made some of the lies worth believing

I heard this song while driving out to Cattle Creek during my research roadtrip. It was actually a double shot of Alan Parsons, with the instrumental 'Sirius' up first, followed seamlessly by 'Eye in the Sky'. I recognised 'Sirius' from Jordan-era Chicago Bulls starting five introductions, but was less familiar with the second song. Still, one listen was enough for me to be earworming it for the rest of the trip. It just seems to fit that part of the world, where Avis winds up at the end of Part Two. The vague religiosity, the keyboards, the creepiness... a perfect fit for the introduction of The Carpenter.


Part Three: The Carpenter's Tale

 'Tales of Brave Ulysses' by Cream

And you touch the distant beaches with tales of brave Ulysses,
How his naked ears were tortured by the sirens sweetly singing,
For the sparkling waves are calling you to kiss their white laced lips.

This is one of those songs I rediscovered late in the process of writing The Mannequin Makers. I was at a friend's, in charge of choosing which LPs to play. At the top of the pile was Disraeli Gears, and when 'Tales of Brave Ulysses' came on, I thought, 'Ah! This song.' I entered a note in my phone to listen to this song again when I was at home and proceded to thrash it for the next couple of months.

Part Three opens with The Carpenter lashed to the mizzen mast of a clipper ship, with a storm approaching. I was thinking about The Odyssey when I concocted this scenario, and it turns out the narrator (The Carpenter) who read a lot of epics and Penny Dreadfuls when he was younger is thinking about these kinds of stories when he starts telling his tale.

'South Australia' by The Pogues

And as we wallop round Cape Horn, heave away, haul away
You'll wish to God you've never been born, we're bound for South Australia

There are a couple of sea shanties in Part Three, one is completely invented, another is a modified version of the 'South Australia' shanty sung in the mid-late Nineteenth Century. The Pogues' song is based on the same shanty. There are dozens of versions of 'South Australia' on Spotify by a range of artists. I like the Pogues version best, hence it makes my playlist.

'Nautical Disaster' by The Tragically Hip

The selection was quick, the crew was picked in order
and those left in the water got kicked off our pantlegs
and we headed for home.

Anyone who follows this blog knows there had to be a Tragically Hip song in here. And no, a song by their frontman (see 'Pascal's Submarine') was not enough.

This song about a fictional shipwreck gets the nod for this section of the novel, which has its own fictional shipwreck.

'How to see through fog' by The Drones

And they only ever think you're good
When you're walking like you're made of wood

This song only came out in January 2013, but it was on high rotate as I worked through the editing process. It seemed to really fit the passages where The Carpenter is marooned in the subantarctic, and the whole figurehead/mannequin carving thing. This fan-made video featuring mannequins, zombies and blood, makes some different, but equally valid, connections.


Part Four: The Mannequin Speaks

'Lovers in a Dangerous Time' by Bruce Cockburn

Spirits open to the thrust of grace
Never a breath you can afford to waste

The award for biggest earworm during the writing on The Mannequin Makers goes to this Canadian classic. There's something addictive about the low drone of Cockburn's "Luvverrrs... in a dangerous time" at the start of the chorus.

You can probably pour over the lyrics for connections with what happens in Part Four, but I'm happy to let Bruce do the talking.

'Numb as a Statue' / 'Wanted Dead or Alive' by Warren Zevon

I'm numb as a statue
I may have to beg, borrow or steal
Some feelings from you
So I can have some feelings too

I am wanted dead or alive
I'm a new kind of man
I've got to survive

Another double shot, another artist who I listen to religiously. 'Numb as a statue' is pretty prefect for the narrator of Part Four (Eugen Kemp), while 'Wanted Dead or Alive', off Zevon's oft-maligned (but I kinda dig) first album captures the western feel of the journey to the hinterland.

'Murderer' by Low

You may need a murderer
Someone to do your dirty work

I listened to a lot of Low while writing The Mannequin Makers. They're this book's version of The National (who I thrashed in 2008 when working on A Man Melting): dark, repetitive songs that make for great writing music. They also fit pretty well with the M.O. of my novel (described by Random House's international rights person as "quietly horrifying", which I'm now using myself without hesitation) - 'Murderer' is a particularly good example of this and a fitting way to end my playlist.

Right, guess I have to write another book now. See you all again in three-to-five years.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Mannequin Makers Location Guide: Part Three: Crossman's Gully

What the guidebooks say

Name: Crossman's Gully
Nature: Fictional
Location: A day's ride (by horse) from Marumaru (also fictional, see part one).
Importance in The Mannequin Makers: features in Part Two, Part Three and Part Four. Without giving away the plot, let's just say the climax happens here.
Inspired by: Earthquakes (the town), Clay Cliffs, Knottingly Park Bush Hut

What the novel says
"I made my way slowly to the door and eased it open. The hinges gave a creak but the man did not wake. Outside, I surveyed our destination for the first time. To my left a curving wall of rock rose up to a height of thirty feet. The rock was yellow with black tarnished edges and greenish-black vertical stripes. A collection of square-sided boulders lay at the foot of this cliff, their surface brownish-grey with pocks of the same sandy yellow. Dry, thorny bushes and larger trees with waxy green leaves sprang up from gaps between the boulders but I stood on a sort of plain with knee-high grass that swirled in the breeze like some diaphanous material. The grass was bound by another curving wall of rock perhaps forty yards away. It was as if I stood between two cupped stone hands." (p.109)
Skirting around the spoilers

The locations in Part One and Two weren't too difficult to talk about without spoilers. I guess saying there's a shipwreck in the subantarctic is a bit of a spoiler, since it happens halfway through the book, but it's pretty clearly signalled on the back of the book.

Crossman's Gully is a bit different.

Let's just say it's a place certain characters retreat to in various times in the novel when town gets a bit too much. 

The notable features of this gully are it's geography and the hut from which Avis has just emerged in the passage above.

A world of pure imagination

When I first ventured into Crossman's Gully in the first draft of Part Two of the novel, I didn't know what it looked like. I didn't even know it would have a name.

So the first draft was a bit vague. There was a hut in a gully.

Good stuff.

I knew that I'd need to flesh it out more in future drafts, and when I returned to the gully in subsequent parts of the novel.

With this in mind, I went on my road trip in late January 2012 (third time in three posts it's been mentioned... must've been important).

Clay Cliffs and Earthquakes

I blogged about my visits to Clay Cliffs and Earthquakes here. Basically, I was drawn to these places by their names. I didn't know what I'd find exactly, and certainly wasn't thinking: this can be my gully.

But when I arrived at both I thought: this can be my gully.

First up was Clay Cliffs, near Omaramara. The geology of the place was pretty interesting, but I was more struck by the view looking back through the formations to the braided river, the brown plain and the foothills.

And a bit further around, you glimpse the snow-dusted Southern Alps.

The scene I'd already written in my gully occurred in early January. I was there late January, so it was pretty similar. I began rewriting my scene in my head.

I thought I'd cracked it. I thought Clay Cliffs was enough.

Then I went to Earthquakes. And I was like, "This is my gully."

And then, when I went to Waimate, I had the final piece of the puzzle: Knottlingly Park Bush Hut, the design of which I shamelessly appropriated for the hut in my gully where events happen.

In the end, Crossman's Gully is all of these places and none of them.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Mannequin Makers Location Guide: Part Two: the Antipodes Islands

What the guidebooks say

Name: Bollons Island (aka Horseshoe Island, Lemon Wedge) and Antipodes Island (aka the big island)
Nature: Real
Location: The subantactic (about 860kms south east of Steward Island)
Importance in The Mannequin Makers: the islands were Gabriel Doig is shipwrecked.
Inspired by: Museo del Fin del Mundo, birds, Wellington's south coast.

The beginning of the end of the world

Here's where it all started: Ushuaia, Argentina. The southernmost city in the world on the cusp of winter, 2009. 

And in this town there was a museum (Museo del fin del mundo, the museum of the end of the world). And in this museum there was a small room devoted shipwrecks. And in this room there was an bilingual information panel. 

And on this bilingual information panel there was a short paragraph about the final days of sail power, when steam ships were taking over the world. How some unscrupulous ship owners would send their wooden sailing ships around Cape Horn in the hopes they'd wreck to get the insurance money in order to buy a steam-powered vessel.

Okay, thought I, that's the ship owner's motivation. But what could possess a captain and crew to man an aging vessel being run hard on the most dangerous route in the hope they'd never come back? Money - sure. The thrill of defying death - perhaps. Madness? Perversion? 

As I stood before this bilingual information panel in the Museum of the End of the World, very near the end of the world, characters and plots began to form...

Moving Tierra del Fuego

I began researching what would become The Mannequin Makers in late 2010. As I mentioned in the last post, I was calling it Fin del Mundo at the time. While my initial focus was on Eugen Sandow, department stores and life in urban New Zealand in 1902/03, I knew that I'd eventually need to write about my shipwreck rounding the Horn.

But then a couple of things happened.

1. I went to another museum. This one was closer to home: the Museum of City and Sea in Wellington. And in that museum there was a glass display case. And in that glass display case there were dead albatross.

I took a photo on my phone because I was struck by the size of these birds, even as they lay supine, wings folded away.

These birds has washed up on beaches in the Wellington and Wairarapa regions after the Wahine storm of 1968.

I knew, standing in front of that glass display cabinet, that I knew so little about the southern ocean. I'd thought of albatross as big seagulls, but these were of a different order.

I went back to see these birds a couple of months later and they were gone. They belonged to Te Papa and had been loaned to the Museum of City and Sea. Could I see them in Te Papa? No, they were in storage. 

Now you see them, now you don't. 

2. An emperor penguin came to Pekapeka Beach. I heard about his arrival while at work. The next day was "a writing day", but instead I drove an hour north to sea this interloper from the Antarctic.

I blogged about it here (I'm still sore the nonsensical name of Happy Feet stuck instead of the more obvious/appropriate Peka, but that's just the novelist in me).

Around (June 2011), I felt I'd broken the back of my urban NZ research and was moving my attention to the shipwreck. I started watching Wild South DVDs from the library and reading books.

I quickly became fascinated by New Zealand's subantactic islands. I devoured books about them. The stories about shipwrecks there were amazing. The fact the Government of Southland, then NZ, set up castaway depots and sent Government steamers down there to patrol the islands and pick up the unlucky souls seemed like such a rich vein of history. 

I decided to move my shipwreck from Tierra del Fuego to the Antipodes Islands because I could. Because it would mean I could immerse myself in these books about castaway depots and poorly charted islands and put it all into my book. Because, in a rare bout of patriotism, it seemed like something Kiwi authors should be writing about.

Brass tacks

I'd learn too late about Gareth Morgan's Our Far South expedition to the very part of the world that had captured my attention and I'd attempt to depict in my novel.

So I've never been to the Antipodes.

Of course, I've never been to Marumaru. Or on board a clipper ship. I've been to Dunedin (which features in the novel for a chapter or so) but not in 1891.

I had my imagination. 

I had my books (the most important being Straight through from London: The Antipodes and Bounty Islands, New Zealand by Rowley Taylor which made my top ten books of 2012and DVDs. 

I had another museum: Te Papa, where I got to see (and touch) biscuit tins and castaway suits from the Antipodes Island castaway depot. And I got to see a scale model of the GSS Hinemoa, the steamer that patrolled the depots.

I had the South Coast at my doorstep. I'd go down to Houghton Bay and stare into the teeth of the southerly, imagine it was twice as cold and twice as windy and that I had nothing at my back but a fingernail of land dotted with tussock and penguin guano.

And I had my trip to Dunedin, where I saw Royal Southern Albatross up close and in flight, and other pelagic birds. I blogged about it here.

And it turns out that was enough.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Mannequin Makers Location Guide: Part One: Marumaru

I'm going to run a short series of posts about locations in The Mannequin Makers in the lead up to its release. Specifically those places you can't easily visit because they're either made-up or darned inhospitable.

First up: Marumaru.

What the guidebooks say

Name: Marumaru (later: Marumaru South)
Nature: Fictional
Location: The East Coast of the South Island, New Zealand.
Importance in The Mannequin Makers: the town where the two mannequin makers, Colton Kemp and The Carpenter, have their rivalry.
Inspired by: Baring Head (and later: Moeraki Peninsula and Waimate).

The creation of a town

Back in October 2009 I set myself the challenge of writing 30 linked 100-word stories set in the town of Marumaru South. At the time I wrote:
Each story will centre on a different character in the fictional South Island town of Marumaru South (there's a real Marumaru in the North Island, somewhere on the East coast). In my mind Marumaru South lies somewhere between Timaru and Oamaru (hence the name). 
That's pretty much all I know at this point. My hope is that each day the town will come a little more into focus, and that maybe one day I'll be able return to Marumaru South with more words to spare.

I hadn't been down to that part of the country for probably a decade when I started this challenge. It would be another nine months before I read Janet Frame's Owls Do Cry, which is set in Waimaru (a fictionalised Oamaru), so I wasn't channelling that, either. 

I'm not actually sure what got me locked on that part of the world, anymore.

What I do know is that I was facinated by the views of Baring Head I could see from Mt Albert/Houghton Bay Road in Wellington, where I'd started living about three months earlier.
Baring Head from Wellington (telephoto!)
The long stretch of green grass set above the cliffs seemed crying out for a story. It seemed manicured, yet wild. And there was a lighthouse - all fictional towns need a light house.

So I wrote '30 Ways of Looking at Marumaru South' and it got published in Sport 38 (April 2010). In 30 short bursts I'd managed to build up a picture of modern day Marumaru, and give myself the confidence to write a novel set there, only a century earlier.

I started writing The Mannequin Makers, though at that stage I was calling it Fin del Mundo.

I didn't go to Baring Head until January 2012. I blogged about that visit here and took photos like this:

From Baring Head, looking south
By this time, I'd written about half of The Mannequin Makers, including the crucial first section which lays out the town's geography and businesses - at least in 1902/03. There aren't many remnants of Baring Head left in the Marumaru you'll find on the page, except at the start of Chapter Three:
The lighthouse, vacant since the death of its first and only keeper, stood at the head of a nameless crag. From the handful of times Kemp had gone fishing with his father he could recall the way the bluff and the land sloping down and away resembled the severed tail of a lizard. For twelve years the gas-powered light had acted as a beacon for ships — Mayor Raymond was still agitating for another townsperson to take up the mantle of lighthouse keeper — but for now the tall white tower and the rocks below attracted only would-be suicides.
(Also at work here is my time living in Edinburgh, staring out my apartment window at the castle, which is set upon a 'crag and tail' formation).

Later in January 2012 I went on a brief road trip in the South Island. I was mostly scouting locations for parts of the novel I was yet to write (see future post on Crossman's Gully), but I was struck by the way the Moeraki peninsula looked a lot like my imagined Marumaru. 

Moeraki Peninsula from the north.

I also travelled around Waimate, which is probably the town closest to Marumaru in terms of latitude, just a few too many k's inland to be it. I loved my time in Waimate, and maybe some of it filtered into the final part of The Mannequin Makers, when we return to Marumaru, or during the revision/editing phases. I don't know. But it's worth a mention.

Monday, July 1, 2013

A quietly horrifying invitation

It’s the first of July. Which means my book launch is this month. You are all invited. All fourteen of you.

Just remember, I’m footing the bill. I’m not saying I endorse pre-loading or diets that exclude finger food, but such people will get a special message in their signed copy of The Mannequin Makers.


Speaking of book launches, Danyl Mclauchlan's first novel, The Unspeakable Secrets of Aro Valley, is being launched this Friday.

Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro ValleyI'm gutted I can't make it because:
  • I'm getting my wisdom teeth out on Friday afternoon. True story. So I'll be a bundle of joy at 6pm.
  • The launch is at Philosophy House on Aro Street. As Danyl says, "if you live in Wellington you’ve probably thought about climbing over the high brick wall around it to get a glimpse into the incandescently lit basement, but never quite had the nerve." It's like he's seen straight into my soul!
  • Like most people who've spent a portion of their twenties in Wellington, I lived in Aro Valley for a year and wrote average short stories set in damp flats. In fact, my first published short story ('Cristo Redentor' in JAAM 25) was set in Thule Street. So I'm looking forward to the unspeakable secrets being spoken, so to speak.
But enough pretend-camaraderie. I've been to enough writer's festivals and had enough old ladies come to the signing table just to tell me they've already "overspent on books today" (*holds up bulging bag full of other writers' books*) but they "enjoyed my session" (*condescending smile*) to know that when it comes to the front table at Unity Books, it's every man, woman and young adult author for themselves!

So, Danyl Mclauchlan, Sarah Laing, Emma Martin, Carl Nixon, Eleanor Catton, Carl Shuker, Tanya Moir, Amy Head, Stephanie Johnson, Damien Wilkins, Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Pip Adam, Fiona Kidman, Elizabeth Knox and whoever else has had, or will have, a new book out in 2013 - firstly, damn you! (Strong year for local fiction, huh?) Secondly, you should totally come to my book launch. All will be forgiven. 

Did I mention there'd be finger food?