In October Keel and Drift, my third collection of poetry, is being published. Emily Fletcher is the cover designer. She’s provided about 6 different designs, and there are opinions about all of them! The discussion around covers is interesting: what cover will make a person pick up the book in a bookstore, how does it reflect the nature of the book, will it appeal to a range of readers (important for this book), and which cover do I love? The problem is that I love several. Emily is a great designer. Wait and see which cover makes it through!
I’ve just had a few weeks in Europe, and took a couple of days in Bulgaria to research a character in a new novel (which is a kind of sequel to The Score). With the help of a small tour company, a pre-arranged itinerary, a driver, and a guide, I created the imaginary life of a boy growing up on Sofia and returning there as an adult. I spent a couple of hours with a very eminent violin professor at the National Academy of Music, visited a small monastery, and spent time in various neighbourhoods in Sofia. This new novel is primarily based in New Zealand, but understanding where characters come from is so fundamental. Now I just have to finish the novel!
Here’s a postscript to Migrant Journeys, the stories of migrant taxi drivers in NZ. Helmi Al Khattat, one of the drivers in the book, was interviewed on Radio NZ. His story is particularly moving and poignant. When he came to New Zealand as a refugee from Iraq, he did everything a country might want him to do. He was a fluent English speaker, but he studied more. He was an experienced mechanic, but he did a mechanic’s qualification. But he could not get a job. He loves New Zealand, he wants his kids to grow up here. I always had an idea that if Helmi could be interviewed when the book was published, maybe someone would offer him a job. And it happened. After the interview someone contacted me about a mechanic’s job. But it was too late. Helmi had already moved to Australia – where he got a job straight away. New Zealand welcomed him generously, then shut its door on him. A lot to think about..
Over the last few months I’ve been working on a collection of poetry, to publish later this year. I’m so dependent on the help of others – Michael Keith, who helped me out of my confusion over the selection and order of poems, and James Brown who has done a great editing job. I’ve resurrected The Landing Press, which just had a couple of e-books to its name, as the publisher, and the Publishing Course at Whitireia are doing the production. I’m always interested in ways to make poetry more accessible, so here’s a real opportunity! (By the way, The Landing Press takes its name from the place where my Hayward ancestors first arrived in NZ, in the Catlins area)
We’ve just launched Migrant Journeys, interviews with migrant taxi drivers in New Zealand. Liz Grant and I have done this book, and we hope it will drive more discussion about how New Zealand receives migrants (especially in employment), racism, and a fair few other subjects. These drivers have such astonishing stories, we’re very grateful to them for being willing to tell them.
At the same time, I have in my arms both ways, which ten immigrant women and I published in 1990, was republished. How extraordinary, that it’s been republished after 25 years. But maybe the stories don’t change much. Five of the original ten women came to the launch, and we went out for dinner afterwards – it was an occasion worth marking. We remembered how when the book was first published, and the first royalty cheque came through, we all decided to blow the whole lot on going out for dinner!
It’s been a very unusual year! In October Mary-Jane Duffy, my colleague on the Whitireia Writing Programme, and I spent two weeks in Indonesia. This is part of a literary project aimed at producing more picture books for Indonesian kids which show things familiar to them. Most of the time we spent in Semarang, in Central Java, running a writing workshop for about 30, mostly early childhood teachers. It’s hard to imagine a group with more enthusiasm or a greater sense of humour. They were funny, great story-tellers, and worked really hard. It was very hot, very interesting, a lot of fun, and very exhausting. Such a lot I could say about that. It’s an ongoing project, so there might be more to come!
In July/August I went back to Penang to finish the Indian Muslim exhibition and be there for the opening, which was part of the George Town arts festival. The exhibition featured photos of about 25 members of the Indian Muslim community in George Town, with a small personal story about each person, and was shown alongside a selection from The Crescent Moon, which was a similar exhibition about the Asian Muslim community in NZ. I hadn’t realized how differently the NZ text would read in a new setting. It was all illuminating.
As part of the George Town Festival we went to a show called 100% Penang. It’s produced by a German company called Rimini Protokoll, which has done similar shows in a number of cities. Look it up – it’s extraordinary.
Sarah Maxey, designer of the cover for A Line of Sight, sent me this email:
Florian Hardwig, who is a German graphic designer (in my world he’s a renowned design superstar) subscribes to my newsletter. He caught sight of the A Line of Sight cover, and wrote to ask if he could include it in his online archive Fonts in Use. This is a website he administers that showcases excellent design and typeface use. This is a huge honour for me as a designer, and you and Escalator Press get a plug and a link to Escalator’s website at the same time. I’m really delighted, it’s better than winning an award!
Me too, because I love that cover.
At the Publishers Association of New Zealand Book Design Awards, The Curioseum: Collected Stories of the Odd & Marvellous won the best cover award for designer Sarah Laing and Te Papa Press, the publisher. “A great example of how a children’s book need not be childish,” said one of the judges. “The Curioseum is the story version of a ‘wunderkammer’, supported by delightful illustrations and the use of hand-rendered type for chapter headings, all making for an engaging and fun read.” I loved editing this collection, and it’s great to see it recognized like this.
In June A Line of Sight, my latest novel, was launched. It’s been a long time coming – ten years since I first started writing this novel. The catalyst was an actual shooting incident in the Bay of Plenty in 2000, which we heard about from friends closely involved. That incident took root in my head, and after many rewrites, and setting the novel aside to do a couple of other projects, it’s finally finished.