Monday, October 9, 2017

Aloe Veritas: Fortnight 18 of the Burns

LBNC - Long Beach, not California

18 is a scarily high number. I mean, there are only 26 fortnights in a year (or as I’ve begun to visualise it, carriages on a gravy train). With late December and most of January’s writing time severely compromised by family time / the dreaded return to Wellington, the last few carriages are about to leave the station!

(We’re going on the Taieri Gorge Railway trip on Labour Weekend, which might explain the trainish bent to my metaphors).


Fortnight 18 total words: 11,429 
(novel: 72%, blog, 14%, non-fiction: 10%, short stories %4)
1st week: 7,051
2nd week: 4,378


I went up to Wellington last Tuesday to meet with my boss (and my boss’s boss, quite by chance) to talk about what I do, and how many days/hours I work next year. 

I put forward my first and best offer, which should provide an okay balance on income and output (both for my employer and my own writing).

It has yet to be shot down (or accepted). 

We shall see.


The publication date for the US version of THE MANNEQUIN MAKERS has been pushed back to 12/12/17, which is trickily close to Christmas (not that I’m expecting it to go Danielle Steele) but avoids any confusion between NZ and US readings of the date.

On the positive side, the old battler received a starred review in Publishers Weekly last week. Abridged version:

New Zealander Cliff makes a stunning American debut with a story about obsession gone horribly wrong… [plot description] This is a spellbinding and original tale, rife with perilous journeys, fascinating historical detail, and memorable characters.

As I am in the midst of another novel, it’s hard not to read in some ambiguity in that first sentence (it’s the novelists obsessions that go horribly wrong).

Together with a similarly positive Kirkus review (“A grim and glorious meditation on the cruelty of fate”), I’ve at least got decent US pull-quotes for my website (when I get around to updating her).

I was approached by an agent in the US who’d read the PW review and wondered if I was working on anything else. So nice to be a cold contactee for once (!) but very early days on that front. Like, maybe I should finish this new fricken novel, eh?

I also carved out time to write an essay about writing THE MANNEQUIN MAKERS (as if I wasn’t self-concerned enough) for my US publishers to pitch to various online outlets. 

We shall see what becomes of it.

We. Shall. See.


Tourism in Brief

In the middle weekend of Fortnight 18 I took the family (including in-laws) to the Port Chalmers Seafood Festival (worth it) and Long Beach (crib me!).


In addition to keeping the novel moving, I’m working on a piece ('essay' seems too hifalutin) about NBA 2k18 (as mentioned in my September consumption diary); I entered the Sunday Times short story comp in the UK with one of the stories I wrote in February; and I’m giving a reading tonight (Monday – technically Fortnight 19’s achievement) at the University Book Store as part of the NZSA’s regular salon.

Monday, October 2, 2017

September Consumption Diary



4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (novel, audiobook)

After getting a sixth of the way in (and writing about it in my August consumption diary) I didn’t listen to Auster’s forking doorstop for a week thanks to time in Invercargill and Stewart Island. 

And it really is the kind of novel you need to read in a sustained burst, as you’re trying to keep four different versions of Fergusson straight in your head. 

Auster is pretty good at differentiating Fergusson 1 from Fergussons 2, 3 and 4, not labouring the differences and not being too repetitive, but it’s still a massive undertaking for a reader to keep everything straight in their head.

Especially when Auster’s two key weapons in sustaining interest and momentum over such a long book are prolepsis (telling us what will happen ahead of time) and ellipsis (leaving things out). I’m particularly fascinated by prolepsis – it’s a move a lot of writers don’t pull. And Auster isn’t a virtuoso like Muriel Spark in the way he uses it – he’s more plodding, more deliberate, less playful. But it’s still fascinating, especially as you need to keep straight which version of Fergusson's future we've been told.

After a few solid hours, I got back in the swing of things and fair devoured the last 20 hours of the audiobook. 

I was about an hour from the end when the Booker short-list was announced. I was surprised by the amount of shade thrown in the direction of 4 3 2 1, which made the cut.

Like this from The Irish Times:

Anyone possessed of a sense of humour will smile at the inclusion of US heavyweight veteran Paul Auster with 4321, a bulky work best described as worthy and a lifetime’s personal statement. Repetitive and unconvincing, it is laboured in the extreme and while it was a surprise to see it on the longlist, its inclusion on the shortlist is a shock. So unlikely a contender as this must be the one to wager your house on; the odds will enable you to purchase several more.

“Worthy”? “Repetitive and unconvincing”? “Laboured in the extreme”? Had the writer read the same book? I suspected Ms Battersby did not make it far, if indeed she ever really tried.

But then, in the novel’s final movements, Auster attempts to tie things up in a way that befits the Master Metafictioneer he showed himself to be with books like City of Glass. But here it only served to unravel what had come before and leave me reluctant to defend his book in online comments sections. Maybe it was laboured and worthy? I mean, I wasn't listening to the same book as Auster was reading.

Still, would I rate this over the only other book on the shortlist I've read (Saunder's Lincoln in the Bardo)? Yup (much as I love Saunders short stories).

Anything is possible by Elizabeth Stout (connected short stories, audiobook)

Last month I read My Name is Lucy Barton, and wrote:

Cool control, that’s how I’d describe Strout’s style. This doesn’t pack the punch of Olive Kitteridge (or even attempt that book’s scope), but it still has teeth. I’ve got Anything is Possible, Strout’s latest queued up as my next read, so I might write more about this one with reference to that.

Anything is possible is certainly closer to Olive Kitteridge in scope, and the fact it picks up where Lucy Barton left off might make it even more ambitious. I got the sense, mid-way into the second book, that both MNiLB and AiP had been originally conceived as a single book of connected stories, but the Lucy Barton section grew too big / had sufficient exit velocity to become its own thing, while the gravity of it still influences the stories/chapters in AiP.

But unlike Olive Kitteridge, which is most memorable for me because of the complex and often nasty eponymous character and the smudges and shadows of her in some of the other stories in that book, Lucy Barton is without malevolence. She’s the poor girl from the troubled family who got out, made a life in New York City and is now a successful author. So hardly Randle Flagg.

Which is why, for all the concise mini-dramas and the elegant interlocking that goes on in Anything is Possible, it’s missing that hook to really hang around in the reader’s memory.

Gone with the mind by Mark Leyner (novel/memoir, audiobook)

Described on the back cover as a “blazingly inventive, fictional autobiography”, Gone with the Mind begins with Leyner’s mother introducing him for a reading series within a mall’s foodcourt. The only people in the audience are workers on their breaks from Panda Express and Sbarro. The mother’s intro (read in the audiobook my his actual mother) runs for over an hour and covers all many of private and embarrassing things. Then Mark Leyner gets up and gives a few prefatory words before reading excerpts from his autobiography, Gone with the Mind, only these remarks take six or so hours and he never gets to the excerpts. There’s a final section in which Mark and his mother discuss the reading in a bathroom stall.

The book has blurbs from Gary Shteyngart (don’t they all) and Sam Lipsyte, and these two writers give a pretty good indication of what Leyner’s doing. He loves long medical names and short but impenetrable lapses into theory. His main interlocutor is an imaginary friend (The Imaginary Intern). But amid these deliberately high-grown weeds, there’s a lot of exposure, or apparent exposure. It’s an eloquent, truthy book for an ineloquent, truthy time.

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood (memoir, audiobook)

Following closely on the heels of Leyner’s fictional autobiography we have Patricia Lockwood’s poetic memoir. Leyner wrote his book as a 58 year old prostate cancer survivor. Lockwood writes from her early thirties, having limped back to her family home with her husband in tow, for financial reasons. Her father, the improbable Republican, boxer shorts and nothing else, misogynist, guitar hero Catholic priest, is held up as star and hook for the book, but her mother is equally complex and interesting (and gets more time at the mic).

Lockwood writes of her poetry, including publishing the viral hit ‘Rape Joke’ and her first collection, but always with a remove that doesn’t exist when laying bare the working of her family. But her poetic vision and poetic muscle is laid clear enough in the prose of every page, and is given free(ish) rein in the final pages in order to wrap up a memoir as someone in their thirties must (not with knots but frills and flourishes).


I played quite a bit of NBA2k18 to see what gaming in 2017 is like. This is part of what might become a project, or an event, or something I abandon. Who knows?


I didn’t watch much of anything in September. I think because I was away a lot and playing NBA2k18 and have been listening to audiobooks while cooking/doing dishes rather than watching something on the iPad. But I’m trying to watch old movies on Kanopy, two of which I watched with my daughter (4). She wasn’t that into Nanook of the North (it held my interest) but we both loved Buster Keaton’s The General. My October project is getting through all the Kurosawas I can with my wife (she hasn’t seen any).

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Candle in the Wind: Fortnight 17 of The Burns

Spring on campus
I set myself the goal of writing 15,000 all-purpose words this fortnight.

I failed. (If only I could have stung this blogpost out a little longer)

Total wordcount: 14,543 (52% on the novel, 34% on essays, 13% on this blog and 1% on short stories [editing one I wrote in Feb])
  • 1st week: 6,109 words (4 writing days)
  • 2nd week: 8,434 words (6 writing days)


I lost a writing day on the first week because I was doing parenting things one morning, then met with the Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature Collaboration Group in the afternoon. I was invited to tell them about what I’d been up to as the Burns Fellow, for which these fortnightly posts proved VERY useful. I’ve parlayed my notes into some text for the University’s website, which should show up here in the next week or so.


Has anyone else’s September been especially slippery? Like: it’s almost gone?!


The novel? Well. It’s a bit like my life story – it gets longer every time I tell it.

And while the climbing pagecount of the first draft is good – I need something to which I can apply my scalpel to create drafts two through twenty-six – right now it feels like dangerous territory. Like this is the part of the novel where readers will feel I lost the initial thread, where it was written too quickly and no matter how hard I try to unify the whole and fulfill the promises of the back cover, the first quarter, first half, I won’t be able to unwrite the wrong turns I’m writing now.

But ask me again next fortnight and I’ll feel different. Hopefully better different.


My wife went up to Auckland on Friday and was due to arrive home around 8pm tonight, but her plane couldn’t land in Dunedin because it was too windy (!) and they had to land in Christchurch. The earliest flight from CHC to DND isn’t till 4pm tomorrow, so they all flew back to Auckland and she should land in DND 9:30am tomorrow.

Fuel crisis? What fuel crisis?

The upshot of this is that I have another evening to my own devices.

(I’m secretly glad I’m due another one of these update posts as three-nights/two-days of solo-parenting 2 kids (4 and 2) means I’m not really up to writing fiction (especially when I feel like what I’m writing in the best possible physical and mental situation isn’t cutting the mustard). So, lucky you.)


I'm one of two judges for this year's Robbie Burns Poetry Comp. Entries open now. Winners get cash money; judges get, um, interviewed by the ODT about judging.


At least one of my offspring shares my interest in container shipping.
(The kids have been great, by the way, and I've had a blast. I just didn't leave a lot in the tank for tonight/tomorrow morning.)


I took the kids to Doctors Point on Blueskin Bay yesterday. It only took 30 minutes to get there, but it made me think how many places there are around Dunedin that are kinda like Halfmoon Bay on Stewart Island, except for the BEING A HELLISH FERRY RIDE AWAY FROM THE MAINLAND. 

I'll admit, while on Rakiura I had the odd romantic thought about moving there. Simpler, more rugged life, etc.

But you can have that in Blueskin Bay or Long Beach or Bull Creek or Kaka Point.

People who move to Stewart Island are basically elite hipsters, like the ones who eschew fixie bikes for penny farthings, or write their cafe poetry ON A TYPEWRITER.

Doctors Point (my kids enjoy my company, honest)


Let’s not talk about the election.

Next week, after one or two beers, then we can talk.

It's just a little weird that I've been a public servant since 2004 (starting in Queensland, with a 2 year gap while in Edinburgh) and have never gone through a change of Government. Maybe 2020? Or maybe Winston does Winston-things?

Sorry. Not talking about the election from: NOW. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Blazing skies: Fortnight 16 of the Burns

Bathing Beach, Rakiura

Fortnight 16 wordcounts

Total words: 8,633 words (70% on an essay, 21% on this blog, 9% on the novel)
  • 1st week: 8,633 words (4 day week because I left for Invercargill on Friday morning...)
  • 2nd week: 0 words
That essay was my thing on 'The Moves in Contemporary NZ Short Stories', for the conference I talk about more below, and it'll be posted online in due course. Some of that wordcount includes the work I did cataloguing every move in two short stories as a proof of concept for what a more data-driven analytical approach might entail. 

Dan Davin Short Story Conference

This was the first conference focussed on the short story in NZ in decades. I think everyone involved (and hopefully some of those who were not) feels the experience should now be repeated - whether it's annual or bi-annual, there's plenty to be said for, and lots to be gained from, bringing together writers, academics and readers who are passionate about the short story.

Things kicked off on Friday night (1 Sept) at the Civic Theatre in Invercargill with the prize-giving for the Dan Davin short story competition and a keynote from Janet Wilson.

Saturday was wall-to-wall presentations (including mine), keynotes and panels. You can read more about who talked about what here.

Me, presenting
(This photo and the ones at Stirling Pt and the marae courtesy of the Southland Express article here)
Sunday we all boarded a bus and went to Te Rau Aroha Marae in Bluff (via Dan Davin's childhood home, Stirling Point and Bluff Hill). 

Conference folk, Stirling Point, Bluff
The wharenui was designed by Cliff Whiting, and the wharekai was also decked out with the fruits of collaborations between Whiting and local hapu. Bubba Thompson was there from day one of the project and he was there for us that day to share all the knowledge and whakapapa that went into that amazing place.

I've spent 30+ hours in the marae on the top floor of Te Papa in Wellington, which was also designed by Whiting, thanks to all those Writers on Mondays sessions over the years, and there's always something new to look at.

But being there in Bluff, in a living, breathing (not to mentioned the world's most southernmost) marae, it was next level.

When Bubba explained how the wharenui demonstrated inclusiveness (each of the tīpuna were females who'd married Pakeha, with the whalers and sealers depicted in some of the friezes), and there was a wall dedicated to people who'd come to Bluff on any of the four winds so that there was somewhere for everyone find themselves.
The start of Day 3, Te Rau Aroha Marae, Bluff

Two more papers were presented in the wharenui and then Cilla McQueen put the perfect bow on proceedings by reading a Dan Davin story set in Bluff (in which the protagonist muses about relations between Pakeha and Maori).

After a great lunch, it was time to leave Te Rau Aroha and Bluff, so we swung back to Invercargill, checked out the Basilica that Davin's family attended, then headed on to Riverton. I left the bus there and joined my family (more on this part of the trip in a sec).

I'm really glad I made the effort to attend, and present at, the conference. It left me with a half dozen ideas, some of which I can achieve alone in front of a computer but many focus on ways to bring more of us together, to expand conversations, dive deep into ideas, and push the short story forward here at the edge of the world.

Non-literary tourism

Riverton from up More's Reserve
Me and the whanau spent two nights in Riverton, then caught the ferry from Bluff to Rakiura/Stewart Island and stayed in Oban for four nights. My brother joined us for this stretch.

My kids, my bro, kaka

Ulva Island
The kaka joined us on the deck every afternoon around four. The weka and robins on Ulva Island were equally friendly (although the weka tipped over to annoying when we tried to eat lunch on the beach). I saw a flock of about a dozen mohua/yellowhead making their way through the bush, tomtits doing acrobatics on the sand (presumably in pursuit of unseen insects), brown creepers being brown and creepy. I forgot to bring my proper camera on this trip, which I only use these days for snapping birds, so you'll have to take my word for this, eh?

Inside the Oban Presbyterian Church
My brother and I went on a gonzo kiwi spotting trip one night but came up empty. He went out the next night in pursuit of the Aurora Australis, which was supposed to be flaring up, but the cloud cover/drizzle did him in.

In non-bird/celestial matters, we managed to see quite a bit of the area around Halfmoon Bay (but still only a fraction of the island) despite having a two-year-old and a four-year-old in tow, thanks to the day we rented electric bikes (one for each adult) and a two-seater kiddie trailer which was attached to my bike. E-bikes are fun, and when you add in the hills, the sections of unsealed roads, the sudden icy downpour just before lunch and the fact I was towing 35 kgs of preschooler, the e-sistance was VERY welcome. We managed to get out to the lighthouse at Ackers Point, Deep Bay, Butterfield Beach, Horseshoe Bay and the start of the Rakiura Track at Lee Bay - and get my son down for a nap in the middle of the day.

I definitely want to go back and do the track when the kids are older (they did pretty darn well with the walk to Golden Bay to catch the water taxi and then bossing it around Ulva Island for 3.5 hours, though a fair bit of that was spent with one or the other kid on my shoulders).

Bikes, Horseshoe Bay

Ackers Point Lighthouse

Bathing Beach

Windswept, Lees Bay
On our last night the five of us hung out at the South Seas Hotel, had a few jugs (well, the adults did at least) with the locals and had a decent pub feed. Message to Lorde: try the onion rings - best I've had!

Ominous rainbow before the ferry crossing home

The ferry ride back on Saturday was rough.

Like: 5 metre swells.

Like: that scene in The Wolf of Wall Street where Leo DiCaprio's luxury launch is pounded by a storm and the only way that could be fun is if you were coked out of your mind.

Like: my wife threw up four times, me once (we both took SeaLegs the night before and that morning) and my son was sick too (I thought two was too young for motion sickness) before being rendered unconscious by the rocking.

My daughter spent the middle 30 minutes of the voyage hunched over a sickbag, groaning/whining, but never actually spewed (which meant she was the slowest to recover when we got back on land).

So yeah, total nightmare, but kinda to be expected when crossing the Foveaux Strait.

Tom Sainsbury reading his crack-up GoT fan fic
NZ Young Writers Festival

My trip way down south was planned before I knew the dates for this year's Young Writers Festival, so I missed all of it except for the last session, which was a Fan Fiction event hosted by man/snapchatter of the moment, Tom Sainsbury.

Tom read some Game of Thrones fan fic (small quibble: he said his protagonist was a White Walker but the way he was described he sounded more like a wight). Jack Vening read some Benjamin Button fan fic (very niche, very dark) and Rhydian Thomas did a very NSFW/R18 mash up of Beckett and Secret Diary of a Call Girl, featuring Bill English.

The only bum note was a piece about George Bush written by some dude who didn't show up but sent his friend to deliver his pages of A4, which Aaron Hawkins, Dunedin City Councillor and a driving force behind NZYWF, read out admirably.

So yeah, it was odd, a bit ragged around the edges, but funny and warm, too, which is exactly what this kind of lowkey, free, non-ticketed festival should be.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

August consumption diary

I read/listened to 6 and a bit books for fun this month and read more than that for an essay, but let's start with music because I got a few things to say and you should hit play above while I prattle on.


Hamell on Trial – A new discovery. He reminds me of Dave Wyndorf without the leather and the space rock and the comic books. It’s legitimate to ask what’s left of Wyndorf without those things… well, it’s Hamell on Trial. It helps that they are both about 60 and have the same, goateed, cat-eyed, plastic-surgery-but-not face, and seem to have self-confidence that belies their level of success. But it’s the world that wrong in both cases. Check out Ed Hamell and thank me later.

(A week ago the award for 'old dude who I didn’t know existed but then I listened to lots this month' would have gone to Willy Nile. Commiserations Willy.)

The Eurythmics – Turns out Lennox/Stewart worked their way into my DNA as a kid and rewrote some of my genetic code. I challenge anyone between the ages of 29 and 36 to listen to their greatest hits now and not conclude this is the greatest music you used to hate. Unless you never hated them, in which case, you were a genius and I hope you still are. 

(NB: This only applies to songs that were played on the radio back in the day. Anything that was new to me left me feeling NUTHIN'! Nostalgia, huh?)

Ryan Adams – Spoiler alert: I’m going to combine Prisoner and Prisoner B Sides as one album for my end of year list of the best music. I’ve never been a huge Ryan Adams guy, but something clicked for me with Prisoner and I love a lot of its supposed B sides. Is this the rare case that a double album might've been justified? Nah. The way these tracks were released was perfect.

Earworm of the month - 'Cumberland Gap' by David Rawlings (with a lotta help from Gillian Welch). I don't mind that it sounds A LOT like CSNY's 'Ohio', or it's one of about 1,000 songs called 'Cumberland Gap'. It's catchy as all get out.

BOOKS (in order of consumption)

Nothing but blue skies by Thomas McGuane (novel, audiobook)

An out of control novel about an out of control middle-aged dude in Montana. I enjoyed many aspects (its humour, its engagement with Clinton-era contemporary matters, the language), but it never quite hung together to be totally satisfying. I don't want to be that guy, but maybe I just like McGuane's short stories better.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (novel, audiobook)
Cool control, that’s how I’d describe Strout’s style. This doesn’t pack the punch of Olive Kitteridge (or even attempt that book’s scope), but it still has teeth. I’ve got Anything is Possible, Strout’s latest queued up as my next read, so I might write more about this one with reference to that.

Moranifesto by Caitlin Moran (non-fiction, audiobook)

I really enjoyed How to be a woman, which was one of my top ten reads in 2012, the year I became the father of a little girl and future woman. Moranifesto has that same verbal vim and the ability to wed the personal and the political in relatable ways. And the audiobook, read by Joanna Neary, is a joy – Neary walks that tightrope between a Moran-impersonation and standard narrator voice, making it feel less like reading a book than having a slightly tipsy female friend hold forth on whatever’s grinding her gears most this minute.

Because it is, despite the political sounding title and politically focused preface, essentially a collection of columns, it feels disjointed and makes some of the entertainment pieces feel lighter than they might otherwise.

And on the politics, Moran’s pitch is essentially the same as Thomas L. Friedman’s in Thank you for being late: the internet and related technologies provides humanity the ability to get the best out of everyone, if used wisely. Whereas Friedman goes and talks to CEOs of tech companies in Silicon Valley and the Middle East, Moran is a bit more scattershot and dare I say it superficial, but better company and no less compelling.

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whittaker (novel, audiobook)

Hey, this was good. I almost said 'fun'. And it was fun in parts. But it puts its two main characters (the titular animators) through the works. There were elements I wasn’t fussed about, and it’d be a dick move to say, ‘great, for a first novel’, and go and list the structural whiffs and tropes I’ve seen before, but I can be a dick sometimes. Totally. But not today.

Because I’d recommend this book to most anybody. Whittaker not only gives us two memorable protagonists and embeds the creation of not one but two feature length animated films within the text, but totally gets inside the process of creating something other than a novel and the way an animator might see the world.

The Butterfly Effect by Jon Ronson (non-fction, podcast/audiobook)

This was hard to classify as it’s only available on Audible, where I get my audiobooks from when I’m not borrowing them from various apps associated with my local library, but it’s more of a podcast than a book.

Ronson traces the impact of PornHub (and the other tube sites it snapped up) making hardcore porn free and accessible for everyone with an internet connection, and it takes him some interesting places (custom shoots including a guy who pays women to destroy his stamp collection). The structure demands that Ronson focus on the more unexpected, possibly uplifting elements of the shift, but he doesn’t ignore on the downsides (massive rise – excuse the pun – in erectile dysfunction in young men; virgins being placed on sex offender lists and having any hopes of a normal life being dashed). It’s light on the impact on women in the industry, partly because this is covered in other places (like Hot Girls Wanted, the film and later series on Netflix) and going over this ground might feel like flogging a dead horse. But shouldn’t we? To take porn is potentially soul destroying for the performers as read risks sidelining our empathy for these people. As a female, Christian, recovering porn addict says, ‘You don’t name a deer if you’re going to shoot it.’

Anyway, anything that wades into this space will be problematic in some ways, but it was really interesting and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Enchanted night by Steven Millhouser (novella, audiobook)

Pet hate: audiobooks with music tracks. This one featured annoying incidental music at certain points (including the first, like, 10 minutes) as well as a second narrator for one specific character (but not other female first person chapters) and a babbling vocal chorus are various points which, though indicated in the text, just felt hammy.

This novella resembled the bitsy longer stories in Millhousers short fiction colelctions that I tend to like less than his more unified stories (indeed, I often begin to skim these longer ones).

I was interested to come across the sections here told from the perspective of a mannequin, who is both a mannequin and alive/enchanted.

There’s definitely a lot Millhouser and I share in common in terms of what interests us, what gets out fiction juices flowing, but in terms of how this book was constructed (and produced as an audio programme) meant I couldn’t enjoy it.

In progress:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (novel, audiobook)

I normally wouldn’t write about something I was only a sixth of the way into, but when an audiobook is 36 hours long, there’s actually plenty to be said that far in. I was skeptical about the single life with four branching paths as described in the novel’s blurb, and wasn’t sure about committing one and a half days to such an endeavor. For some reason I imagined each scenario being told in its entirety before the next one started back at Fergusson’s birth. The actual structure is far more preferable: Chapter 1.0 covers everything up to Fergusson’s birth, 1.1 has Fergusson’s earliest memories, 1.2 overlaps slightly with 1.1 – enough to show there are some differences – but moves the story/chronology forward, 1.3 overlaps/contrasts with 1.2 before moving forward, and so on.

There are very few ‘scenes’, as in something with dialogue or detailed desciptions of setting, characters appearances etc. Instead, there’s a lot of story-telling. And it’s intoxicating. At least, the first six hours have been…


Short story collections. A lot of short story collections. I read/reread books by Alice Tawhai, Lawrence Patchett, Nic Low, Sarah Quigley, Amy Head, Breton Dukes, Tracey Slaughter Helen Waaka, Pip Adam, Bill Manhire… and I also read parts of Steven Millhauser’s Voices in the Night and Lydia Millet’s Love in Infant Monkeys whenever I wanted a non-Kiwi palate cleanser. This was all to inform my essay on ‘The Moves in Contemporary NZ Short Stories’, which I’m presenting on Saturday in Invercargill at the Dan Davin Short Story Conference (full programme here). I ended up taken a different path with the essay (one closer, in some ways, to the work I did with Recurrent Neural Networks earlier this year).


Game of Thrones season 7 (& the Ringer’s Talk The Thrones after every episode) – I haven’t read GRRM’s books (well, I read the first 50 pages of the first book on a flight once, then the person whose book I borrowed woke up) and I like the way the presenters on Talk the Thrones are split 2/2 in terms of readers/Maesters and non-readers. This season was disappointing, in terms of what it could have been, but it was still appointment TV/streaming via Neon when the kids are in bed. The big question is: will I read the books in the 2 years between now and the final season?

Little Big Lies (season 1) – No. The great Michael Kiwanuka song in the intro and the murder-mystery / chorus of bitchy side characters in episode one hooked me in. But what followed was five episodes of the same kinds of scenes being rolled out again and again (hmm, here comes Perry, I wonder if he’ll hurt Celeste or not… oh, there he goes). And the teen daughter planning to auction off her virginity for a good cause – I’m sure I’ve seen that before. And then it got wrapped up in the seventh and final episode with the least surprising answer to who died and who dunnit. Pfft, yawn and argh.
No, don't do it, just walk away, no, no... Oh. You shouldn't have done that.
L’Avventura – A classic Italian film about two characters trying to track down a third. How could I not watch this given the book I’m working on? This is the kind of film my fictional filmmaker would feel embarrassed to say he didn’t like / left him feeling bupkis, but I am not that filmmaker. I totally get how it broke with tradition and sought to do something different with film – that doesn’t have to mean it was successful in making me feel what Antonioni intended the audience to feel. But 57 years is a long gap to bridge, I guess. My bad.

Kids stuff

My kids are into the Smurfs at the moment thanks to some petrol store promotion, but they like the recent films (Smurfs 1 and 2) and not the animated series of my youth. Heathens!