The baby seal book club
I'm the last person who would think to pick up a book about babies, but such is the appeal of Toby Morris' new graphic novel Don't Puke on Your Dad that I liked it anyway.
At this early stage of life, I tend to regard babies in the same way as very expensive pieces of ceramic artwork - they're lovely, but not for me, and it's probably safest if I don't pick them up.
The first few pages of Morris' book deal with similarly wary feelings on his part: "One night early on in the pregnancy I arrived home drunk to find the entry to our tiny apartment blocked by a hulking great new pram. I owned a pram! Me!"
The book doubles as a kind of diary and sketchbook, using cartoons and short snippets of text to share Morris' feelings about the birth and growth of his son, Max.
Max is exhaustively chronicled month by month over the first year, and Morris faithfully allows his style to evolve as his son's features and body change. There's a summary at the end of each chapter which includes a portrait, a list of all the new things Max has learned - "Reaching out and grabbing things,"; "Smiling a lot. Likes a tickle," - plus a note of what kind of music he prefers at the time, his weight and measurements.
In geometry, a locus is a set of points which are determined by one or more specified conditions. A good example is a circle – think of its circumference as a locus resulting from the condition is that all the points need to be equidistant from a single point.
In Pip Adams’ newest book I’m Working on a Building, the condition is that each chapter needs to contribute to an understanding of a character named Catherine, and the locus is the shape of the book. Beyond this, it gets harder to explain.
I’m Working on a Building began as the creative component of Adams’ PhD, which asked “In what ways can the language of structural engineering inform, alter and enlarge fiction?”
Catherine is an engineer who specialises in building large structures and sabotaging relationships. The chapters intersect in random order at different points of her life, finding her working in shiny offices in Wellington; overseeing project in North Korea; living with her husband in Christchurch, and hiding in squats as a drug-addicted young teenager.
Part of the story deals with Catherine’s involvement with the misguided construction of a replica of the world’s tallest tower, the Burj al Khalifa, on New Zealand’s West Coast. Other sections cover her escape from a serious earthquake in Wellington. Quite a lot of the story doesn’t mention her at all.
Sometimes when I interview people as a reporter, they can be quite hard to understand.
Sources can have strong accents, difficulty speaking due to neurological or physical disabilities, or they can just have complicated stories that stretch their ability to explain a narrative out loud. They can forget crucial things and remember them in the middle of digression that has nothing to do with the matter at hand, or email me a radically different version of the same story two hours after I’ve sent the piece to press. Often they are just very old, and operate on a different understanding of time to the rest of us.
Usually we will have to work together to translate the body of a source’s tale into standard news style, but only rarely is it impossible to include a person’s own words in the finished piece. Story and plot can be passed on separate to words, but words and speech convey a person’s identity in a way that nothing else can. They’re precious.
The value of self-told tales is apparent in Irish writer Eimear McBride’s debut novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Written in a kind of stop-start mixture of short sentences, repetition and localised vernacular, her style can be hard going at times, but it adds so much depth to the experience.
Here’s the first sentence, as an example: “For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you.”
Some people keep little black books to keep a record of all their enemies, but my notebooks are for ideas.
My favourite kind come from Japan Mart in Richmond. They have plain cardboard covers, sturdy bindings and unlined paper, which is important when you have handwriting as awful as mine.
Some of the scribblings inside them turn into news stories, while others are different:
"Get rich quick scheme #275: 'Streetwise PR!' Private PR group which writes reasonably-priced press releases on behalf of individuals who want classier complaints, letters to the editor and Stuff Nation contributions. Exclamation point in name is key."
As it turns out, this genius idea has already been well explored on the other side of the world by Korean writer Lee Ki-Ho. I’ve been trying to read more contemporary Korean and Japanese literature in anticipation of a trip to both countries later this year.
North Canterbury poet Bernadette Hall’s voice is strong and trustworthy. She doesn’t mess around, but nor is she harsh.
Launched in November by Victoria University Press, her new book Life and Customs is broken up into three delightfully named parts – “How lovely to see you”, “Sul: a ballet that awaits performance” and “Life & customs”.
The straightforward opacity of all three titles neatly illustrates one of the defining aspects of Hall’s work: although the language she uses is totally clear and sensible, the sentences she makes with it afford a little more mystery.
Having said that, “Sul” is exactly what it sounds like: a ballet. Told in 11 parts, it recounts the fantastical tale of a girl called Sul who runs away to live with the Ice King.
Informed by fairytale logic and Hall’s time in Antarctica, the story is richly detailed and beautiful, ripe for illustration and re-issue.
The pastoral “How lovely” and “Life & customs” sections are set in Otago. A satisfying mixed bag, they include voices from Hall’s ancestors; images gleaned from travel and from being around children; a terrifying “angel of perfection” and a few longer prose poems.
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