Sunday, December 13, 2015

Textual tennis

Introduction from Sexual Textual Tennis,
Copyright © 2015 by Carolyn Gage and Rachel J. Fenton


Back in January, I connected with playwright Carolyn Gage on LinkedIn. A few years previously, I'd asked Carolyn for permission to quote from her play The Second Coming of Joan of Arc and use her as a character in one of my stories, which she agreed to, so I was pleased when she messaged me the following:

"If you're ever looking to illustrate a graphic novel, esp. a lesbian one... I've got some!"

Although I was too busy with the NZ Book Council's Graphic Exchange Residency, and the subsequent graphic work that went into Island to Island, and Three Words, and I wasn't able to take on a large unpaid project, I still wanted to collaborate, so I suggested we take the text from one of the essays on her blog and turn it into a comic. Sexual Textual Tennis is the result. Also available in paperback and as downloadable pdf.

Friday, December 4, 2015

New shoes

I am utterly chuffed for Peadar and Collette O' Donoghue whose labour of love The Poetry Bus is finally receiving some long overdue recognition with a terrific review of The Money Issue in The Irish Times. And my "New Shoes, Another Brick" gets generously mentioned, too - many thanks to Martina Evans, The Poetry Bus and The Irish Times.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Trees, words

Much gratitude to Nik Perring, author of Beautiful Trees (Roast Books), for inviting me on to his blog to talk about Three Words, which Nik had this to say about:

"It’s because the whole thing just drips with goodness – it’s the sort of thing that anyone and everyone should be excited about. It’s an excited thing". 

You can read the whole post here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Threes fame

Click on cover to pre-order
You can now pre-order your copy of Three Words: An Anthology of Aotearoa / NZ Women's Comics at a special pre-order price of $45! Estimated delivery date: 3rd of March, 2016.

"A brilliant, collaborative, manifold project, 'Three Words' features all kinds of comics from all kinds of Kiwi women, a vast and varied representation of the beautiful diversity that makes up women's comics in New Zealand – a completely unprecedented collection." Beatnik

With comics by Adele Jackson, Alex McCrone, Alex Wild, Alice Tumblescribbleson, Alie Macpherson, Andra Jenkin, Bek Coogan, Anna Crichton, Beth Duckingmonster, Beth Sometimes, Carolyn Anderson, Celia Allison, Claire Harris, Dawn Tuffery, Demarnia Lloyd, Diane Rimmer, Elsie Joliffe, Emma Blackett, Erin Fae, Debra Boyask, Giselle Clarkson, Indira Neville, The Rabbid, Jem Yoshioka, Jessica Dew, Jessica Hansell, Joanna Anderson, Judy Darragh, Kayla Oliver, Kerry Ann Lee, Lauren Marriott, Margaret Silverwood, Olga Krause, Linda Lew, Lisa Noble, Liz Mathews, Loux McLellen, Lucy Meyle, Maiangi Waitai, Marina Williams, Mary Tamblyn, Mengzhu Fu, Mirranda Burton, Miriam Harris, Pritika Lal, Rachel Benefield, Rachel Shearer, Rae Joyce, Raewyn Alexander, Rebecca Hawkes, Renee Jones, Rosemary McLeod, Warsaw, Sally Bollinger, Sarah Laing, Sarah Lund, Sharon Murdoch, Sophie McMillan, Sophie Oiseau, Stella Corkery, Susan Rugg, Susan Te Kahurangi King, Suzanne Claessen and Zoe Colling.

And essays by Robyn Keneally, Ruth Boyask, Jem Yoshioka, Miriam Sapphira and Rae Joyce.

Please pre-order Three Words and support us making history!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Et al knowing

There's currently a really interesting and important display on level 2 of Auckland Central City Library, giving a detailed and engaging summary of Aotearoa/New Zealand's contraception history and abortion debate.

It's a subject area I covered in my Dundee International Book Prize finalist novel Some Things the English, so I was very interested to read about the developments, and lack of them, in the law and archives.

I was pleased to see the reproduction of some of the Broadsheet magazine illustrations, having only become aware of this amazing and influential publication during my co-editorship on the Three Words Aotearoa/NZ women's comics and cartoons anthology (to be published by Beatnik very soon).

There's also an accompanying blog - the most comprehensive and readable research resource I've seen on this topic - at Auckland Libraries' Heritage & Research site "Heritage et AL".


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Refugees welcome

I'm extremely happy one of my stories is going to help refugees as part of the Refugees Welcome Anthology. My thanks and gratitude to Greg McQueen and team. More details to come!

Monday, October 12, 2015

State of mind

TheNormal State of Mind, Parthian 2015
Susmita Bhattacharya

Set in India in the 90s, The Normal State of Mind tracks the lives of two women as they navigate societal norms, and defy them, to become inseparable friends and fulfilled individuals. First we join Dipali on her wedding night in Mumbai. She has married a man her family found in an ad., but beyond this convention their relationship is far from traditional. Next, we join Moushumi, about to embark on her first love affair in Calcutta. Against the odds, Dipali’s marriage is a success, for a time. Moushumi’s love is a little more complicated by India’s standards and soon tragedy sets these two women on a collision course. Indian society of the 90s might not consider either woman to be of a “Normal State of Mind”, but Susmita Bhattacharya’s debut novel evokes wonderfully a Mumbai as rich with potential and positive change as it is with sensual stimuli, and shows the power of friendship to enable women to overcome societal barriers to succeed on their own terms. Written with wit, warmth and wisdom; Bhattacharya draws a portrait of Mumbai that feels at once intimate and international - a state we can all relate to.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

As kings or serfs

Click on the cover to buy.

Miss Emily Blog Tour

Ms Rae Has a Visitor!
Thanks be – it’s Nuala O’Connor on the blog to talk about her latest novel, MissEmily

The Dickinson household is saved from domestic chaos with the arrival of Ada Concannon, a “neat little Irish person, fresh off the boat”. Amherst in the 1800s is a pastoral environment for the homesick young maid who finds in the gifted middle child, Emily, a fellow feeling; they were born on the same day, they share a sense of mischief and a love of baking. Emily’s fledgling poetry and passion for words is her true vocation but as it begins to dominate her mind, she retreats from the small world around her and enters her infamous white phase. The friendship that forms between the two women is tested when Ada’s personal safety and reputation is violated and Emily finds herself tasked with defending her maid against her own family and those she loves, with shocking consequences. 

“Only this morning I dropped a spoon first and soon after a knife, so I knew a visitor would be calling before the day was out.” p33

They do say Ms Rae loves company, do they not?

Ms Rae:
“A Resonance of Emerald”
Miss Emily was my fond companion from first page to last. It’s presence in my hand was wont to set tongues wagging. I love that you gave equal voice to the characters of Emily Dickinson and Ada, her Irish maid, and I wanted to ask you – as a working-class woman myself – if you considered how important your novel is in that it portrays a strong working-class protagonist, if not on equal footing, at least in terms of equal significance to readers?

Ms Nuala:
Yes, it was important. The novel is as much about social division as about friendship. Can people across classes really be proper friends or is there always an imbalance? Ada is not a sorrowful immigrant – she is a strong, forward-looking young woman who delights in the adventure of leaving Ireland for America. It was important that she had equal footing with Emily Dickinson in the novel, so it is a dual narrative where the two women narrate alternate chapters.

Ms Rae:
“There’s a certain Slant of Light”
Ada is not the only working-class character – no token friendship here – as Emily’s confidante, sister-in-law Sue, a near constant in the real Emily’s life, also features prominently in Miss Emily. Real-life Susan was the daughter of a taverner, rising through the social ranks by virtue of his death and her marriage to Emily’s brother, Austin. Miss Emily captures the transformative essence of Dickinson’s poetry. And as with her poetry – what is often most notable is what is omitted from it – so much resides within a dash – so it is with details of Emily and Sue’s relationship.

“…as always with Sue, I bend to her desire. Her mind is occupied with Austin and with ironing out domestic rucks, which is as it should be. We drink our tea and listen to the clock tick and Baby Martha’s fossicking noises from her bassinette. If Sue cannot come to me in Spirit today, all I can do is endure it; there are days when she cools and retreats and this is one of them, I fear. We sit on, drink our tea, and the clock’s pendulum seems to become drowsy and ponderous, as if the air has grown fat. The ticking sounds sluggish to my ears, it goes slow, slow, slow, then, halt.” p136

Your portrayal of Sue is remarkably nuanced – she is adorer of and adored by Emily, but she is also snobbish, particularly towards Ada. I thought you captured the internal anguish a woman from Sue’s beginnings must have had in the presence of someone who would have reminded her how easily traversed the social ladder could be – how one might slip down its rungs as rapidly as one had climbed – and I wondered how much you consciously cultivated these nuances and how much of Sue’s character was evident from documentation, correspondence with Emily, and so forth? Susan is a triumph of characterisation. Could you talk a little about the research process, what went into the book?

Ms Nuala:
Sue is problematic in that a lot of our views on her (other than Emily’s) come from people with agendas, like her husband’s mistress and that woman’s daughter. She has been painted rather black, but Emily saw her as luminous and really appreciated everything about Sue – her cleverness, her social skills, her beauty. I took my portrait of her mostly from Emily and a little from the hearsay. With Emily and Ada both so good-natured, I needed the balance of semi-villains and so I made Austin and Sue those people. It felt slightly betraying but, in terms of fiction, it has to be done. Two Dickinson scholars are in the process of writing new biographies of Sue and I really hope they unearth more of the good things about her.

Ms Rae:
“The Heart asks Pleasure – first – ”
One of my favourite parts of the novel is when Miss Emily narrates of Ada’s feelings for Daniel Byrne as Ada tends to Emily’s dresses – her favourite being “a snowy cotton wrapper with mother-of-pearl buttons and a pocket” – I especially love the duality of the prose:

I court vicariously through Ada and Daniel Byrne; I watch their shy, sweet glances tossed like luck pennies back and forward in the kitchen. Sometimes a stray penny lands on me and I pocket it gratefully. p118

I fair marvel at the outward observation’s facilitating the reader’s insight into Miss Emily’s life and character. But I especially admire how you fashion not only the machinery of Emily’s poetry, her character and mind and words, but also the storehouse for them, such as her pockets. You marry metaphor and fact as perhaps only a poet could. An acclaimed poet yourself, where did your interest in this particular story spring?

Ms Nuala:
I loved Emily’s poetry at school – it appealed to my sense of teenage gothic gloom. We didn’t read her happy poems much! I heard a few years ago that Emily loved to bake, as I do, so I began to bake her recipes for Black Cake, Coconut Cake and gingerbread and I was thinking about Irish domestics and it all coalesced into a poem first and gradually a novel.

Ms Rae:
“The Soul selects her own Society”
Emily didn’t take to housework – or receiving visitors, unlike Sue – nor it seems did Ada, though she didn’t have much choice! “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers –”. There’s a description of Ada dusting and another of her cajoling hens to lay, and of her plucking one (standing over it, not hung as was her mother’s preference) – nature domesticated is abundant in Miss Emily, described so beautifully by Emily and, surprisingly, Ada. Even when describing the view of her home town as the boat pulls her away, Ada says, “Dublin lies like a big dozy cow, not able to shake the sleep off herself.” In another section of the novel, Miss Emily explains to Ada about her name being a palindrome and I thought it a great analogy for reflection, for Emily and Ada being so alike but for their circumstances differing. 

Emily: Ada, you are like a breath from Madagascar p45
Ada: I shrug but, truth be told, I am as pleased as a dog with two pockets. p47

Could you talk a little about the importance of nature to both Emily and Ada, and where your inspiration for Ada came from?

Ms Nuala:
Emily loved to bake, which is one type of housework, and she also loved all natural things – much of her oeuvre is about nature and/or uses images from the natural world. She was a devoted gardener, like her mother, and she studied botany at school. Ada grew up in Tigoora in west Dublin which is, essentially, the Liffey Valley, so she was immersed in rivers, trees and flowers, much as Emily was.

I needed to invent a maid to give me fictional freedom as I was already working with the facts of the Dickinson lives. However I made Ada a cousin of one of the Dickinsons’ real Irish maids, Maggie Maher, who was a Tipperary native. In that way Ada is still connected firmly to reality and history.

Ms Rae:
“Fame is a bee.”
Considering how prolific Dickinson was, little of her work was published in her lifetime and, it seems, even her own family knew not of the volume she had written until after her death. And it was much later still when her poems were published as they had been written in her hand. Contrast this with what would be recorded of a maid, however, and the picture for the majority of women of the period in which Emily lived appears like a faded Daguerreotype. You are brilliant at recording lives and moments of women’s existences that would otherwise go unwritten. What would you like your legacy to be?
Sue lifted her face to me. “I really liked the poem you sent to me yesterday, Emily. There is such joy in it. I could not say I understood it all, but the image of the bee was rather beautiful. You find poetry everywhere, my dear.”

Ms Nuala:
Women are horribly absent from our historical education, as we know. Today they are also still not hugely visible in many professions, including the writing world. Like many historical fiction writers who take women as their main characters (Emma Donoghue, for example), I want to bring women in history into the light. Social, domestic and material history are much more interesting to me than, say, warfare. I find the term ‘Herstory’ a bit clunky but maybe it’s one to embrace? So, in terms of legacy, I want to add to the herstoriness of history, rewrite the script and look at women mostly, but also look at people as people first, as opposed to as kings or serfs. 

 Nuala by Emilia Krysztofiak

Nuala O'Connor was born in Dublin, Ireland, she lives in East Galway. Already well-known under the name Nuala Ní Chonchúir, she has published four short story collections, the most recent Mother America appeared from New Island in 2012. Her third poetry collection The Juno Charm was published by Salmon Poetry in 2011 and Nuala’s critically acclaimed second novel The Closet of Savage Mementos appeared April 2014, also from New Island; it was shortlisted for the Kerry Irish Novel of the Year Award 2015. In summer 2015, Penguin USA, Penguin Canada and Sandstone (UK) publish Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid.

Catch up with previous stops on the Miss Emily blog tour here, here & here.
Read reviews here & here.
And find out about the research process here.
Some previous interviews with Nuala can be read here & here

 Miss Emily
Nuala O’ Connor
Published 20th August
p/b £8.99
e-book £8.99

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Stuff news

Stuff News wrote a great article about Three Words: the anthology of Aotearoa New Zealand women's comics and cartoons I'm co-editing along with Indira Neville and Sarah Laing.

Doctors without boredom

I'm happy to have poetry included in Poems for a Liminal Age, an anthology published by SPM Publications in support of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), edited by Mandy Pannett, and available to buy here.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Transtasman issue

I have a piece of graphic poetry in the current Transtasman Issue of Cordite Poetry Review, an adaptation of Anita Heiss' social comment/poem "I don't hate you, but...". Sincere thanks to Anita for granting me permission and to Cordite Editor Kent MacCarter for inviting me to participate in this special issue.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Read ear

I'll be reading "The Ear of Dionysus" at Auckland City Library this evening as part of the National Flash Fiction Day celebrations, from 6pm. Many thanks to Eileen Merriman for organising the event.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Many thanks to Wellington writer Tim Jones for generously reviewing Cooked Up; Food Fiction from around the World.

Tim is an acclaimed writer of short fiction, as well as poetry, so I am thrilled he enjoyed the stories in Cooked Up and especially honoured he included my "Food Bank" among his favourites from the collection along with Krys Lee's "Fat", Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's "Mrs Dutta Writes A Letter", and Elaine Chiew's "Run of the Molars".


 Overland Issue 219, cover designed by Christchurch artist Marian Maguire

My sincere thanks to poetry editor Robert Sullivan for including my poem "Exhumed at Earth's End" in Overland issue 219.

Thanks, too, to overall editor Jacinda Woodhead and guest editor Giovanni Tiso.

It's reassuring to see an interest in political non-fiction in Aotearoa and I hope the journal continues to thrive here as well as in Australia.

You can listen to a podcast of the launch here, and there are photographs here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Cooking good

The wonderful Mel Ulm has posted a great review of Cooked Up; Food Fiction from around the World, over at The Reading Life, including my story "Food Bank".

"The close of the story is poignant and powerful, we can feel the woman trying to maintain her pride in front of her son." - Mel Ulm.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A graphic affair

On Sunday, A Graphic Affair went public at Auckland writers Festival and I was involved, and there were witnesses. And photographs.

Here's Ant Sang, assisted by Damon Keen, reading an excerpt from Dharma Punks.

I presented a medley of poetry, graphics, feminist activism and even a spot of promotion for Three Words tied in! many thanks to Christine O'Brien for assisting me!

But it was Sam Orchard's funny, open and heartfelt puppet comic that stole the show.

Hamilton's paradise lost

 Saturday was a sunny day for Hamilton Zinefest 2015.
 Brent Willis was among the first to get his stall set up. The early bird catches the worm, as they say.
 Tim Danko and Three Words co-editor Indira Neville were fine company and at 12.30, we channelled the spirit of Sarah Laing as we talked about Three Words.
 There was live comic drawing in the afternoon.
 And table holders were often absent from their seats, mingling and chatting to other comic folk.
 The crowds ebbed and flowed as the day progressed.
 And more comic drawing and reading.
 Four o'clock was "Swap o'clock", when zine-makers exchanged their remaining fare for their neighbours'.
 Then it was time to go home (after "Fearless" played out on vinyl), via a little detour: Hamilton Gardens, with Taylor Swift fanziner Erin Fae.
All in all, a lovely way to lose a Saturday.