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Monday, May 30, 2011

Living with the rich and famous

It's a wonder to me that anyone even remembers Frank Sinatra -- "Old Blue Eyes." 

When I was a student I used to make money by ushering at a local movie theatre that specialized in old movies.  Frank Sinatra featured in some of them ... but I don't really remember the plot.  But he could sing and dance, and was generally charming, so I guess he was hot in his day.

Apparently, he still has an audience. Douglass K. Daniel reviews a memoir by his widow, Barbara Sinatra, called Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank (Crown Archetype), that is probably expected to do quite well.

She was born Barbara Blakeley, and had a lust for the wild side. A twice-married model and showgirl, she met Sinatra when he was in his fifties.  She fell for him.  An affair commenced, along with all the glitz and glamor -- and demons.

Sinatra, apparently, had a hair-trigger temper. It was part of his "dangerous" charm. One gets the impression that it paid to be happy to submit to his every whim.

She smoked -- he didn't like it -- she quit (though he never gave up, himself).

When he was drunk, she got out of the way.


Amazon's Kindle clear leader in eReader stakes

E-Book report: Nook improved, iPad still catching up

The New York book expo is over, and the assessments are being made.

Amazon's Kindle is seen as the dominant player in the eReader market, though Barnes & Noble's Nook got good comments and is doing surprisingly well.  Apple's iPad, on the other hand, is seen as an under-achiever.

Opinions were expressed that iPad would do better if they moved their eBooks into the iTunes stores, and had a better search capability in their iBookstore.  Others said that the bells and whistles (audio-visual gimmicks) were given more priority than actual book-reading.

The market is huge.  Though over 20 millions iPads were sold in the past 12 months, it is estimated to have been only 10% of the market.  Around 65% of eReader sales went to Amazon.
Availability is apparently a big factor. An Amazon spokesman revealed that their Kindle store has over 950,000 titles, while iBookstore has about 200,000.

I'm following developments with personal interest, not having bought an eReader yet. A friend proudly showed me her Kindle, which she loves.  It convinced me that I have to buy one with a touch screen, as all those tiny knobs were too hard to see.  Not only are they small, but they are lost in the frame, being the same color.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Waiter's cryptic hobby a puzzler

A knack for writing cryptic crosswords

Our Wellington newspaper, the Dominion Post, has a daily page called CAPITAL DAY, "the Insider's Guide to Wellington," in which titdits of local gossip feature, along with notices of local events, many of them free.

Saturday's was the usual page of such trivia, along with a few comments about the ongoing saga of the "Wellywood" sign the airport is threatening to post on their land.  (Comment: it does seem ironic that the sign should be mooted the same season that the local TV studios at Avalon, in the Upper Hutt, have been axed, along with local crew.)

Reporter Kerry McBride evidently keeps her notebook at hand, even when in the pub.  Hence, she was able to produce an interesting story about her waiter, Max Hollander-Eberly (picture above, lifted off his Facebook page).

As he confided to her, he likes doing cryptic crosswords.  He has a knack for them.  He penetrates the meaning behind even the most obscure clues with ease.  So, one day, while whiling away a leisure hour in his Mt Victoria flat, he decided to have a go at creating one of his own.

Three hours later, as Kerry McBride relates, he had written his very own cryptic crossword.

"I just have a very abstract sense of the world and can make connections where lots of people don't see them," he modestly remarked.  The hardest part, apparently, is thinking up the words.  Making up the clues is easy.

Mr. Hollander-Eberly plans to start submitting his puzzles for publication.  Good luck to him.

Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline AestheticsWellington has a good record of producing wordsmiths with a knack for originality.  

There is Burton Silver, who with another New Zealander, Heather Busch, has produced a stream of whimsical bestsellers about cats, starting with Why Cats Paint.

And there is Simon Shuker,  of "Code Cracker" and "Take 5" fame.  The originator of both puzzles, he contributes to The Listener, Dominion Post, Otago Daily Times, and Britain's Daily Mail.

So popular is the code cracker puzzle with British readers, that a few US puzzle-merchants have pinched the idea.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Relic of infamous pirate retrieved

Blackbeard's anchor hauled up off US coast 

An anchor from what is supposed to be the wreck of Blackbeard's flagship has been retrieved off the coast of North Carolina.

Weighing in at over 2,000 pounds, it is about the largest relic yet of his ship, Queen Anne's Revenge.

The ship sank in 1718, about five months after Blackbeard was despatched by British tars.

And why mention this on a blog devoted to words?

At last counting, more than fifty books have been devoted to the story of this flamboyant buccaneer, some of them written for children, others quite serious, and a lot of them just for fun.

According to the story told in 1724 by his original narrator, Captain Johnson (who may or may not have been Daniel Defoe), in A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pirates, Blackbeard -- real name, Edward Teach -- was a ladies' man.  So gallant was he, that he refused to be served by tavern wenches, gallantly waiting on the girls himself.

Then, at the end of an evening's roistering, he would pick out the prettiest and take her back to his ship, where the mate would "marry them," and the "honeymoon" would commence.

Once he had finished with the girl, he would hand her over to his men -- or so Johnson/Defoe claimed.  Kinder chroniclers aver that to be known as Blackbeard's wife meant a lot of prestige in certain circles of the Caribbean.

Who knows?  They were rough times, back then, and no one asked the women for their opinions.

Six stores miss out in Whitcoulls buy-out

Photo by Don Scott
Three stores too quake-damaged for repair

The James Pascoe group, owned by Anne and David Norman, has decided not to include six stores in the purchase of Whitcoulls and Borders in New Zealand.

One is the Upper Hutt store, near Wellington. Three others are earthquake-shattered buildings in Christchurch.  A fifth is in the town of Papamoa, near Tauranga.  The last is in Auckland's Albany Mall.

This leaves staff unsure whether they will be job-hunting soon.  There is a good chance, however, that they will be offered positions elsewhere.

I was talking to a friend who works in JPL-owned Farmers department store today.  Anne Norman is a "lovely person," she said. "She calls in quite often," and is very friendly, happy to stop and chat to the staff.

Isn't it nice to hear that rich people can be nice?

Blog which became bestseller now TV sitcom

My Formerly Hot Life to become television comedy

My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young
Stephanie Dolgoff penned a blog about what it felt like not to be young any more, called "Formerly Hot."

It struck a chord with the forties set, and the blog was a huge hit.

In August 2010 it metamorphosed into a book, My Formerly Hot Life, beguilingly subtitled Despatches from Just the Other Side of Young, which became a bestseller.

Now ABC, hoping to cash in on this blogging success story, have commissioned what they call "a single-camera comedy," whatever that means.

JFK Library announces restrictions

Unless you are researching Hemingway, it is going to be difficult to access material at the JFK Library 

Due to the need to update its archival storage areas, access to text material will be limited  during the northern late summer and fall at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

During that time period, currently estimated to last from August 12 through Nov. 15, 2011, only a select number of collections will be physically available to researchers and to Archives staff members. These include:

--the National Security Files;

--the Ernest Hemingway Papers; and

--the Audiovisual collections (still images, moving images, and audio recordings).

All other collections will be unavailable for research during the approximately 12-week period and Archives staff members will be limited in their ability to respond to offsite requests.

This is one of the great benefits of digitization -- all digitized collections, including the President's Office Files, the John F. Kennedy Oral History Collection, and the White House Photographs, will remain accessible via the library website.

Whatever library or museum or historical society you want to visit, it is always a good idea to phone or write ahead, even going to the extent of making an appointment.  Believe me, it can save a ton of trouble.  The partial closure of the JFK Library is a case in point.

Their phone number is 617.514.1629 or you can email them at:

Borders creditors talking tough

Creditors Oppose Borders Bid For More Time

Perhaps heartened by news of the sale of Borders in New Zealand, Borders' unsecured creditors committee have objected to the bookseller's bid for more time to come up with a plan to exit Chapter 11.

They are "gravely concerned" that extending the exclusivity period up to 120 days "could be detrimental to the interests of the debtors’ general unsecured creditors."  The unspoken agenda, they accuse, is  to "file and solicit a plan at any time," most probably to ask for liquidation.

Instead of fiddling about with a reorganization, the committee wants a sale. Asserting the "absolute necessity" that Borders' assets "will be sold to one or more buyers" in the next 30 to 60 days, they say Borders "should not be allowed to control the plan process by their ability to file their own plan through extended exclusivity because, to date, they have not shared any plan with the Committee."

The creditors also worry that Borders has "reported losses at an alarming rate," dropping more than $180 million in just ten weeks.

Which tends to indicate that something major will be announced within days, not months.

Friday, May 27, 2011

New Whitcoulls owners unworried by e-Books

David Norman unconcerned about rising global sales of eBooks

Anne and David Norman. Sarah Ivey photo
Rich-list stalwarts Anne and David Norman, new owners of Whitcoulls/Borders in New Zealand, dismiss the threat of electronic books.

"The future of books has been vigorously debated, with the conclusion reached that, yes, e-books are a competitor," said David Norman; "but so is e-commerce with all of our other divisions."

In other statements, he said he hoped to avoid any closures of the 57 Whitcoulls and five Borders stores, but it depended on talks with landlords and so forth.  He also went to some length to reassure worried staff, saying that their company (James Pascoe Ltd.) had a long history of takeovers, and would offer jobs to all staff except senior management, which JPL would replace with their own.

JPL has a good record of reviving businesses, and is strongly committed to investment in their stores, stock, and staff.

Elsewhere, optimism has been expressed that vouchers and book tokens will be honored at full face value.  When the chain first hit problems, there was widespread fury at an administrative decision to honor book tokens only if goods to twice the face value were bought.

Wellington's free WiFi may beg legal problems

Wellington's Free WiFi may lead to collision with file-sharing law

This week, to general joy, the Wellington City Council announced a revolutionary move -- to provide free wireless internet access to anyone in the CBD (central business district).

Costs are supposed to be relatively minimal, predicted to be $80,000 for set up, and then $216,000 per year, subsidized by advertising on the access page.

The National Business Review warns, however, that the elephant in the bedroom is the Copyright (Infringing File Sharing) Amendment Act, which comes into force on September 1.

This new law makes the account holder responsible for the actions of anyone using their internet connection.

This means that if any tourist or citizen illegally downloads a commercial song, movie -- or book, the Wellington City Council will be in the gun.

Whitcoulls back in Kiwi hands

Whitcoulls and Borders bought by Anne and David Norman

The owners of Farmers, Pascoes, and other chains of stores have acquired the Whitcoulls bookstores and the ever-failing downunder versions of Borders from parent company REDgroup for an undisclosed sum.

This was after an undisclosed hitch in the agreement (see previous post) was resolved.

Ian Draper, former managing director of Angus & Robertson-Whitcoulls and then of the REDgroup (after quitting when ARW bought Borders), will be appointed to run the business.  At first glance, this seems odd, considering the problems that have beset the chain.  The local literati will certainly have questions, as the administration was roundly criticized for focusing on cards and wrapping paper, rather than books.

However, the Normans have full confidence in him.

He has "demonstrated both passion and zeal that we know will be welcomed back by the team at Whitcoulls and Borders," they said.

Closures would be avoided wherever possible, according to the announcement.  However, see Graham Beattie's prediction that the Borders stores, white elephants since the day they opened, will be discarded.

Harvard fosters the most readers in America reveals the most well-read cities in America

Cambridge, Mass., tops the list with the most books, magazines and newspapers purchased per person (Kindle as well as print).

To keep the bean-counters busy, perhaps, Amazon decided to find out which cities with more than 100,000 citizens bought the most reading material -- from, presumably, though they don't mention the source of their figures.

Anyway, here is the list:

1.  Cambridge, Mass.
2.  Alexandria, Va.
3.  Berkeley, Cal.
4.  Ann Arbor, Mich.
5.  Boulder, Col.
6.  Miama, Fla.
7.  Salt Lake City, Ut.
8.  Gainsville, Fla.
9.  Seattle, Wa.
10. Arlington, Va.
11. Knoxville, Tn.
12. Orlando, Fla.
13. Pittsburgh
14. Washington, DC.
15. Bellevue, Wa.
16. Columbia, SC
17 St. Louis, Mo.
18. Cincinnati
19. Portland, Ore.
20. Atlanta

Cambridge bought the most nonfiction books.
Boulder, Col., bought the most cook books.
Alexandria, Va., bought the most children's books.

Mari Malcolm, managing editor of Books,, said, "We hope book lovers across the country enjoy this fun look at where the most voracious readers reside."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Whoops -- award-winning book not available

You have to wait to buy the Moon and Farmer McPhee

Not very long ago at all, the winner of the Children's Book Award was announced.

It was yet another much-loved Margaret Mahy book.

Well, you have to tide a bit to much-love this winner.

As BeattiesBooksBlog reveals, it's not available, right now.

Create your own catalogue

Free digital publishing for the iPad

Producing that glossy prospectus for the likely client has never been easier, apparently.

Silicon Valley-produced app for the iPad provides a publishing solution for all those marketers who were reliant on copyeditors, designers, and printers in the past.

Given a couple of hours, and anyone who wants to sell, sell, sell can cut and paste material into a template for free, and lo, a catalogue is created.

Scary, isn't it?

Navy SEAL book benefits from bin Laden killing

Eric Greitens's The Heart and the Fist rushes up the bestseller lists

Sometimes landing on bestseller lists depends as much on luck and current events as it does on the quality of the book.

One such is The Heart and the Fist by Eric Greitens, which tells the story of a Rhodes Scholar with a PhD in politics who became a Navy SEAL because as a child he had dreamed of heroes like Hercules.

The book, which debuted in April, did reasonably well.  Then on May 1, a team of Navy SEALS raided a compound in Pakistan, and killed the most wanted man in the world.  Public curiosity was huge, but the participants in the raid, their names unknown, are unable to tell their stories.

So the public turned to this reflective study of what it is like to serve in the elite fighting corps. 

And sales rocketed.  It was on the top-ten list of NYT bestsellers last week, and in the top 100 on

Conde Nast signs $2 billion lease

Publisher Conde Nast pays $2 billion to move to mid Manhattan

A deal has been approved that will see magazine publisher Conde Nast take over 1 million square feet over 21 floors of the landmark tower rising at the World Trade Center.

Conde Nast is the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, among other magazines.

The first tenant to sign a lease was a Chinese real estate firm.  This deal is guaranteed to create a lot more buzz.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Your chance to name a bestseller

Kardashian reality show stars would like your help in naming their novel

Publishers William Morrow are soliciting the assistance of the public.

They would like you all to hit the site embedded above and enter your ideas for titling a book.

The book is written by Kourtney, Kim and Khloe Kardashian.

But, while they've provided a plot and three characters (who sound a lot like themselves) they've come up short when it comes to producing a sexy title for their effort.

The blurb says that it is a fictional page-turner that takes readers inside the lives of three gorgeous celebrity sisters, and explores their complicated relationships with Hollywood and each other, and the peculiar stresses involved in eking out an ultra-glamorous existence.

Oh boy, does that sound dated...  But the "name this book" idea is relatively new, I guess.  And that fur is wonderfully suggestive.  It reminds me of a ditty about Elinor Glyn, one of the earliest bodice-ripper writers:

Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin
Or would you prefer to err
With her
On some other fur?

There isn't any prize for winning, just the warm glow of having your title on the jacket.

Going the ePublishing route alone

This last weekend's New York Times had an article by mid-list, established author Neal Pollack, which I found so interesting hat I printed it off and filed it.

It is a candid revelation of Pollack's decision-making process when he made up his mind to have a go at self-publishing.

As he says, there are plenty of stories of successful self-published authors going the rounds. "Witness the March news that the thriller writer Barry Eisler had backed out of a half-million-dollar deal with St. Martin's Press," he writes. Eisler had done his sums, it seems, and reckoned that over time he could make more money by doing it alone.

So, despite the added fact that spectacularly successful self-publisher Amanda Hocking is now going the traditional route (coincidentally with the same publisher, SMP), Pollack has decided to give self-publishing a try.

As he says, he has the credentials. Unlike a newbie on the scene, he already has an audience and a following. 

He also has good reasons.  In the old days, as all midlist writers know, it was possible to live on advances, as long as the books came out regularly.  Now, the advances are very much smaller.

And the technology is available, so why not?

I'll be following the progress of Neal Pollack's self-published book, Jewball, with interest.

It will appear later this year on the Amazon Kindle store.

PLANKING, the latest downunder insanity

Conjured up in Australia, planking has become an Australasian craze

A New Zealand brewery, Tui (named after an iconic native bird), is famous for posting tongue-in-cheek orange billboards alongside our highways.  A coy statement on the lefthand side (eg. "Australians and New Zealanders are just the same, really") is countered by a bold YEAH, RIGHT, on the righthand side. 

Well, last night we passed a new one.  On the LH side it read, "Planking will never become a craze."

Yeah, right.

The USA has the Rapture, and in Australia and New Zealand we have planking.

What is planking, you ask? It's a competitive fad where people lie down in odd places and pretend to be a plank of wood, and people photograph them with their cellphones and then post the pix on social networking sites.

It became notorious when Acton Beale, 20, plunged to his death while planking on the rail of a seventh floor balcony in Brisbane.

Now pupils are suspended from school, and supermarket workers are fired because they are indulging in the fad.

People, truly, are bizarre.  But at least it adds new words (or new meanings for old words) to the English language.

Will eBooks spell the doom of book sales?

Will eBooks become the next Napster?

Everyone has noticed how few music shops there are now.  Where stores selling CDs, DVDs, and music-related items (often including books) used to dot main streets, now one has to go a long way to find one.

This was because of illegal downloading, largely facilitated by Napster, an online service devoted to peer-to-peer MP3 file-sharing that by-passed the traditional market.  The site eventually ran into copyright difficulties, but not before the established industry was on the brink of ruin.  It even affected Borders, because of an unwise decision to branch out into DVDs, contributing to the book chain's problems.

Now Yelena Shuster, on the site, comments that the same problems now face the publishers of eBooks. According to a survey of 1,959 British consumers, one in three eBook readers illegally download books.

The copyright issue must come up a lot sooner, as downloading an entire book is a very different matter to downloading a single track, but nonetheless it's a prospect that's bound to send shivers down spines in the publishing industry.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sarah Palin expose by former aide

A former member of Sarah Palin's inner circle has written a scathing tell-all, reports Becky Bohrer of the Associated Press.

According to Frank Bailey, author of Blind Allegiance ... Palin was ready to quit as governor of Alaska months before she got around to resigning.

Bailey's book is based on many thousands of emails that Bailey exchanged with the ex-governor during her campaign for the gubernatorial office, her bid for the vice-presidency, and her short reign as governor.

The Alaska attorney general's office says it is investigating the legality of the use of the emails.

Nebula Award Winners 2011

Accolades from the Science Fiction Writers of America

Since 1965, Nebula Awards have been handed out for outstanding works of science fiction, fantasy or anything imaginative that fits the picture.  This year's list is particularly interesting.

Winner is a pair of books that were released within a month of each other, as they evidently add up to a single story:
Blackout/All Clear, by Connie Willis 

Also rans are The Native Star by M.K. Hobson, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by M.K. Hobson, Shades of Milk and Honey, by  Mary Robinette Kowal, Echo, by Jack McDevitt, and Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor.

Tied winners are "Ponies," by Kij Johnson, and "How Interesting: A Tiny Man," by Harlan Ellison.

Winner is "That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made," by Eric James Stone

Winner is "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window," by Rachel Swirsky.
Among the runners up is The Alchemist, by the author of the stunning book for young adults, Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi.

Winner is the mind-bending and spellbinding film, Inception, written and directed by Christopher Nolan.
Among the notables were How to Train Your Dragon, and Toy Story 3, so children's favorites were by no means ineligible.

Winner isI Shall Wear Midnight by the redoubtable Terry Pratchett
Ship Breaker (see comment above) was one of the runners up.

Congratulations to all.  It's great to see science fiction still making a huge impact.

Borders failing further by the minute

In April, Borders Has $32.1 Million Operating Loss--And $132.2 Million Total Loss

From Publishers Lunch:

Borders reported sales of $101 million for the month of April and "other revenue" (primarily from the liquidators) of $72.1 million--producing an operating loss of $32.1 million.

But they lost another $98.4 million in "reorganization items" that includes "amounts related to estimated claims arising from the closure of certain stores and the rejection of related leases." The total one-month tally is sales of $173.1 million, and a net loss of $132.2 million.

In yet another statement of the obvious, which seems to be the fashion in these bewildering times, Farmington Hills turnaround expert Ken Dalto remarked, "That is a disaster for a month. Their inability to make money is significant. A continuing operating loss of that magnitude means they won't emerge from bankruptcy as a successful company."

LJ's book picks for the week

Picked for success

Every week or so, Barbara Hoffert, editor at Library Journal, goes out on a limb, and predicts the most-likely-to-succeed in her pre-publication alert.

This week, she is laying bets on:

Rashad Harrison. Our Man in the Dark
A debut novel about a Civil Rights worker who becomes an FBI informant during the months before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Delphine de Vigan. Underground Time 
Mathilde is isolated and intimidated by a bullying boss.  Paramedic Thibault fights traffic to attend to disasters.  What happens when these two battered souls encounter each other in the crowded city?

"Memoir" of a damaged but magnetic feral mare named True Colors, who has changed the lives of all the people she has met.

Sophie Tucker, a three-year-old Aussie blue-heeler, falls overboard in the shark-infested waters of the Great Barrier Reef.  She swims to a nature reserve, and lives off the land until rescued.  Pearse, an Australian journo living in New York City, recreates her story from various perspectives.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What happened today (23 May)

There were three world-shaking events

Well, maybe they weren't exactly world-shaking, but they were worth remembering.

On 23 May 1701 Captain William Kidd was hanged. 

The question is whether it was right ...

On 23 May 1785 -- in a letter, Benjamin Franklin revealed his invention of spectacles of two thicknesses -- one for distance viewing, the other for reading up close. The first bi-focals!

On 23 May 1906, Henrik Ibsen, Norwegian playwright, died. 

Chronicler of Martha's Vineyard history dies

Art Railton, editor and writer, dies at 95

I was saddened this morning to learn that an old friend, the wonderful Art Railton, has passed away.

I first came across Art when I was researching my first non-fiction book about women who whaling under sail, Petticoat Whalers. He was intensely interested in my project, and wrote me many letters, both helpful and tongue-in-cheek.  Was I coming to the Vineyard?  Yes.  How would he recognize a New Zealander?  Did I dress differently, was I tattooed, would I perform a haka?

As you can imagine, I was as unsure what to expect as he was.  The reality was a distinct relief! Then he introduced me to a meeting of Vineyarders in general, and the Dukes County Historical Society (since metamorphosed into the Martha's Vineyard Historical Society) in particular.  He said wonderful things that I don't remember -- what I do remember is the kiss this Father Christmaslike figure dropped on my head at the end of his speech. It was absolutely heartwarming.

I met Art many times after that.  I would swan into the Society library after a 25-hour flight, quite unannounced, put my hands over his eyes, and say, "Guess who."

He never guessed wrong. 

I guess it was my accent.

We worked together, too.  I wrote stories for his journal, The Dukes County Intelligencer, which he occasionally lengthened beyond all reason, simply because of his huge enthusiasm.  When I needed images or information, he was generosity personified.  He wrote kind reviews of my books, and published them. When the internet came along, we grumbled about the world in long emails, and theorized passionately about how to set it right.

Art lived a long and rich life, probably longer than he wished.  He never got over the loss of his very dearly beloved wife, Marg, who passed away in 2000.  When I saw him last, in September 2009, he confided to me that it was time to go.

Nevertheless, he will be sorely missed.

Kiwi short story writer wins in Sydney

Random House author Craig Cliff has won the Best First Book category of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for his 2010 collection of short stories, A Man Melting.

The award was announced in Sydney with the following press release:

'The judges chose this highly entertaining and thought provoking collection of short stories for their ambition, creativity and craftsmanship. Confidently blending ideas that frequently weave outlandish concepts with everyday incidents, the prose is skilfully peppered with social observations that define the world we live in. The eighteen short stories are truly insightful and amplify many of the absurdities around us, reflecting our own expectations, fears and paranoia on the big questions in life. This book is of the moment, and is rightly at home on a global platform. Cliff is a talent to watch and set to take the literary world by storm.

'Now in its 25th year and supported by the Macquarie Group Foundation, Commonwealth Writers' Prize is unique in offering both established and emerging writers the opportunity to showcase their work. The Best Book winner claims £10,000 while the writer of Best First Book wins £5,000.

'For the last 25 years the Commonwealth Writers' Prize has played a key role in unearthing new international literary names, bringing compelling stories of human experience to a wider audience. As highly acclaimed international authors Aminatta Forna (who won the main award for her book The Memory of Love) and Craig Cliff will follow in the footsteps of some of the biggest names in modern fiction in winning the Prize, including Louis De Bernieres, Andrea Levy, Ian McEwan, and Zadie Smith.

'For the fifth consecutive year the Macquarie Group Foundation, one of Australia's leading philanthropic foundations, is helping to advance one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the world. With Macquarie's support the prize has grown to reach more people around the world, encouraging wider reading across a range of Commonwealth cultures and rewarding the rising talent that other prizes often overlook.'

Congratulations to the very promising Craig Cliff. 

Spymouse whispers that he is now mentoring at the highly successful school of creative writing at Victoria University, which was founded by Bill Manhire, and is also working on a novel with a maritime theme.

"Wellywood" an international embarrassment

Battlelines drawn in Wellywood War

Back in 2009, the blokes on the board of Wellington International Airport decided to build a sign on a patch of hillside on the Miramar peninsula that the airport happens to own.

In March 2010 the world became aware that the sign was going to read WELLYWOOD. The backlash began, making headlines in California, Britain and India.

Wellingtonians were generally aghast (the general reaction is TACKY, TACKY, TACKY) and it could have been a prime reason for getting rid of the supportive mayor.  A Green mayor was voted in.  She hates it, too, but apparently has no clout, because the airport announced on Friday that it will build the sign in time for the dreaded Rugby World Cup in September.

And the expression of public horror has gone ("serving the Middle Earth Since the First Age") is appalled. Twitter comments have been tweeted and retweeted.  Several Facebook pages have been set up, one of which, Wellingtonians Against ... had received 7,500 applauding visits within hours of launch on Friday.  At the latest reckoning, it has well over 13,000 likes.

Others vent their feelings in humor...

Sunday, May 22, 2011

World class historian heads from Wellington to Oxford

Acclaimed Kiwi historian Jamie Belich lands top professorship at Oxford University

This weekend's "your weekend" (produced by award-winning local paper Dominion Post) has a very well-written and rather heartwarming story by award-winning journo Tom Fizsimons, headlined WORLD CLASS. 

It stems from an interview with James Belich, currently professor of history at Victoria University (with a staff of ten), who has landed the Beit Professorship of Commonwealth at the history department of Oxford University (which has a staff of 100).

"Even though he has just been appointed to one of the world's more prestigious academic jobs, James Belich doesn't exactly look overjoyed," it begins, and launches into a quote from the man himself. "I suppose it's always good to get the top one," Belich confesses. "But, you know, it's going to be quite a shock to the system."

There is the English winter, for a start.  And there definitely will be challenges: only seven people have held the chair since if was created in 1905.

The interviewee also reveals a self-deprecating sense of humor. Belich's internationally acclaimed Replenishing the Earth received stunning reviews.  "I couldn't have dreamed of better reviews," he says. [Pause for a beat.] "I won't say the sales are causing J.K. Rowling any loss of sleep."

As Fitzsimons goes on to say, Belich is one of New Zealand's most distinguished historians.  In 1998 his landmark book, The New Zealand Wars, was made into a terrific TV series, which I had the pleasure of watching again just recently. Jamie Belich, the presenter, was perhaps not as gray 12 years ago as he is now, but the ebulliance and enthusiasm were just as remembered.

I owe a personal debt to James Belich.  While I was researching and writing Tupaia, The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator, he showed an unfailing benign interest, and was always willing to discuss points and answer questions. He certainly has my best wishes for what promises to be a very exciting future.