Writing in Elsewhere

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WILD CARDS by JOHN DUNMORE, REVIEWED: Mad, bad and dangerous

25 Oct 2008  |  1 min read

Subtitled “eccentric characters from New Zealand’s past” this collection of short biographical articles by Dunmore -- Professor Emeritus of French at Massey, Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2001 -- is considerably more insightful than it looks. To his more than two dozen, diverse subjects -- from ambitious or oddball early settlers through to the singular MP... > Read more

BETWEEN THE LIVES: PARTNERS IN ART edited by DEBORAH SHEPARD REVIEWED (2005): Lives in the margins

23 Oct 2008  |  2 min read

An intimate relationship between creative people may be as volatile and destructive as it can be productive and rewarding. And almost inevitably one partner, for reasons of success or force of personality, can dominate at the expense of the other. This illustrated collection of nine essays (which eschew the obscurantism of much academic writing) looks at relationships between some... > Read more

SPOKEN HERE by MARK ABLEY: It's like, you know, I mean . . .

6 Oct 2008  |  2 min read

When Captain James Cook ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef he spotted an unusual animal and was told by the aboriginal people it was called “kangaroo”. When he sailed home he took a stuffed specimen and the word -- the first aboriginal word to be adopted by the English language -- back to London. Two decades later colonists at Botany Bay pointed to the animal and called it... > Read more

1812: NAPOLEON'S FATAL MARCH ON MOSCOW by ADAM ZAMOYSKI (2006) reviewed

29 Sep 2008  |  1 min read

Few people -- even American Republicans these days -- still believe the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq had much to do with containing terrorism, and various truths about the impetus for these events contend for attention. Doubtless, as with most enormous affairs in world history, time and access to more information from all sides will make things more clear. So don’t expect... > Read more

PRINCES AMONGST MEN: JOURNEYS WITH GYPSY MUSICIANS by GARTH CARTWRIGHT

28 Sep 2008  |  1 min read

London-based author Cartwright made his name in New Zealand in the late 80s/early 90s as an opinionated and often contentious art and music critic, and an award-winning journalist. His pugnacious approach to the art establishment ensured a bad boy image, but Cartwright backed it up with acute and provocative writing, although his star was tarnished by a notorious piece of plagiarism in... > Read more

MAN OVERBOARD by TIM BINDING: Underwater . . . and undercover?

26 Sep 2008  |  1 min read

Novels based on historical characters are always fraught: one weakness in important detail or tone of the period and the whole structure collapses. Binding’s novel therefore treads in dangerous waters: it is based on the 1956 disappearance of Commander Lionel Crabb, a British war hero and frogman who was last seen near Portsmouth where a warship carrying Soviet premier Khrushchev had... > Read more

AUTHOR RICHARD PRICE ON CLOCKERS: The book, the movie and the money-go-round

26 Sep 2008  |  9 min read

Richard Price barely has to open his mouth and you know where he’s from. The voice is direct with a “yeah, well” shoulder shrug delivery and nothin’s like, too exact, you know? Words get bitten off, sentences sprinkled with streetwise epithets and answers come before the question is finished. Fast talk because it suits the faster life. Welcome to the Bronx. This... > Read more

MADONNA UNAUTHORISED, BOOK REVIEW AND AUTHOR INTERVIEW (1992): Personality as art

16 Sep 2008  |  5 min read

Two years before she had a hit record, Madonna told her friend Erica Bell: “I don’t just need attention. I need all the attention. I want everybody in the world to know who I am and to love me.” And the game plan for Madonna Ciccone – an all American cheerleader with an IQ of 140 – was to “travel through people”, to use them to fulfil her own needs... > Read more

THE MOTEL LIFE, a novel by WILLY VLAUTIN

16 Sep 2008  |  1 min read  |  1

This dark and depressing novel is an impressive debut by Vlautin, the frontman and songwriter for the American alt.country band Richmond Fontaine whose music is, unfortunately, little known here. The band’s melancholy album The Fitzgerald was a result of Vlautin living in the rundown Reno casino of that name and is peopled by marginal, stale cigarette characters who live whisky-soaked... > Read more

Richmond Fontaine: Exit 198B

FROM HELL BY ALAN MOORE AND EDDIE CAMPBELL (book review) 2002

15 Sep 2008  |  3 min read

That there's yet another version of Jack the Ripper in cinemas - From Hell starring Johnny Depp, and based on this graphic novel - is hardly surprising. The mysterious Jack has fascinated generations of film-makers for three reasons: location, location, location.Think London in the late 19th century: narrow cobbled streets barely illuminated at night by flickering gas lamps; thick mist to cloak... > Read more

ANCIENT MARINER, BY KEN McGOOGAN REVIEWED (2005): Ice cold and Coleridge

13 Sep 2008  |  1 min read

In the middle of the 18th century only 20 per cent of ordinary sailors in the Royal Navy were volunteers, the rest had been press-ganged into service. The reasons why so few willingly joined were simple: the money was lousy, the conditions woeful - on a typical frigate there would be two or three floggings a week. A Navy career also tested the immune system. During the entire Seven... > Read more

THE BOOK OF THE FILM OF THE MAN (2006): From silver screen to serious stuff

12 Sep 2008  |  4 min read

You know how it is, you see Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea and you think, “Man, I should read that book. It looks kinda neat.” Or you watch Michael Jackson: The E! Hollywood True Story and decide you’d love to read a biography of that troubled and troublesome soul. Right now there is a glut of bio-flicks in cinemas which, by the very constraints of film, sometimes... > Read more

COMIX ARTIST ART SPIEGELMAN INTERVIEWED 1991: The Maus that Rawed

30 Aug 2008  |  9 min read

Art Spiegelman – like many authors one suspects – can’t resist looking for his book in stores. But the categories bookshops have are seldom very useful he says, and his book Maus, a 160 page paperback-sized comic, defies convenient pigeonholing. Store owners think it is “humour” because it’s a comic (”people looking there certainly aren’t... > Read more

PETER ACKROYD INTERVIEWED ABOUT HIS DEFINITIVE CHARLES DICKENS BIOGRAPHY 1991

22 Aug 2008  |  8 min read

It was an afternoon in June 1846 when Charles Dickens finally broke the writing block which had been troubling him. It had been two years since his previous novel, but these last weeks present walking in the hills of Switzerland above Lausanne had allowed him to sketch out the framework of a book. In his study overlooking the lake, Dickens – a man of curious personal superstition... > Read more

POSITIVELY GEORGE STREET BY MATTHEW BANNISTER (2000): Rocking and popping in Flying Nun

3 Jul 2008  |  3 min read

Credit Giles Smith’s hilarious Lost in Music if you will, but recently there has been a proliferation of stories about bands which, if not exactly losers, didn’t quite get a seat in the Business Class of Life alongside Bono. Smith’s story of his time in the ill-fated 80s band Cleaners from Venus (“one man’s journey into rock and back home to his... > Read more

Sneaky Feelings: Husband House

1968: THE YEAR THAT ROCKED THE WORLD by MARK KURLANSKY reviewed (2004)

2 Jun 2008  |  3 min read

With this 2004 year about half gone we appear to be in a volatile time. Some days you just don't want to get out of bed. In politically precarious North Asia both South Korea and Taiwan are suffering internal ructions. Islamist terrorism has cast a shadow of fear over the "coalition of the willing", there have been bombs from Baghdad to Madrid and southern Thailand, and the... > Read more

CRAIG UNGER INTERVIEWED 2004 : Inside the house of Bush and the house of Saud

26 Apr 2008  |  5 min read

American author Craig Unger doesn't sound the lefty conspiracy-theory nutcase his opponents paint him. Back in New York after a European speaking tour supporting his House of Bush, House of Saud -- which persuasively lays bare the complex relationship between the ruling dynasty in Saudi Arabia, and the family and friends of the first and second presidents Bush -- Unger is credible, jocular... > Read more

THOMAS KOHNSTAMM INTERVIEWED: Finding comfort and hell on this Lonely Planet

6 Apr 2008  |  4 min read

Some years ago I was invited by Lonely Planet to write for them. This was flattering and exciting, but there was a catch: I would have to undertake a research trip at my own expense and write it up within their strict guidelines. Around the same time the American writer Thomas Kohnstamm was also approached. He abruptly quit his boringly corporate Wall Street job, threw his cellphone in the... > Read more

ALAIN DE BOTTON ESSAY (2006): The Sin of Being a Populariser

4 Apr 2008  |  5 min read

As someone with an amateur’s enthusiasm for architecture and design, I was disappointed to miss the recent talk by the English essayist Alain de Botton, author of the popular book The Architecture of Happiness. I call him an essayist because that is what he is: as someone who travels often and writes about it I had previously enjoyed his provocative little book The Art of... > Read more

HILLARY AND BILL CLINTON'S AUTOBIOGRAPHIES CONSIDERED (2003, 2004): Sax, lies and soundbites

4 Apr 2008  |  24 min read

Last week, late-night US television host Jay Leno quipped about a matter diverting American attention - the long-awaited US$8 million ($13.85 million) memoirs of Hillary Rodham Clinton. "Hillary Clinton's book hits the stores this Monday," he said. "Oh boy, it took her a long time to write it. But in her defence, every time she tried to use the desk, Bill was always using it for... > Read more