Book Launch, December 7, Whangārei: Ngā Kupu Waikato – Poetry Anthology

Kamo Book Launch – Ngā Kupu Waikato – edited by Vaughan Rapatahana

Ngā Kupu Waikato is an anthology of poetry about the Waikato edited by former Northlander Vaughan Rapatahana

VENUE Book Inn, 420 Kamo Road, Whangarei

DATE / TIME: Saturday 7 December, 1.30pm

Also launching at the event is Scoria, a collection of ‘Short prose from the Cinder Cone’ by Jac Jenkins and Kathy Derrick, published by the newly-formed Pavlova Press.

Readings will be delivered by Vaughan Rapatahana, Piet Nieuwland, Olivia Macassey, Jac Jenkins, Kathy Derrick, Alistar Tulett and more.

Roundup of Northland creative writing news – November 2019

Cool journalism in Metro magazine from Dargaville writer and blogger Ayla Miller

Getting paid to play your favourite role-playing game sounds like a fantasy – but could it become a reality? Metro intern (and journalist) Ayla Miller goes underground into the world of New Zealand’s professional Dungeons and Dragons players.

https://www.metromag.co.nz/society/society-business/dungeons-and-dragon-professional-dungeon-master-new-zealand

Call for Submissions #2 – Pavlova Stories

Pavlova Press will shortly be calling for submissions of poetry, short prose (fiction or non-fiction) and images for an anthology focussing on our nation’s relationship with pavlova. We will be giving you all summer to work your magic and submissions will close on 31 March 2020. We will provide more details as they come to hand – in the meantime start thinking up various pavlova scenarios.

Pavlova Press Writing Workshop with Jac Jenkins

Shifting Gears: Transforming your Stories from Good to Great.
Saturday 16 November 1.30pm-3.30pm
Three Mountains Brew Shop and Gallery
1137a State Highway 14 Maungatapere, Whangarei
$25pp (includes a copy of Scoria: Short Prose from the Cinder Cone)

Join Pavlova Press for an afternoon of story shaping to celebrate the production of their first volume, Scoria: Short Prose from the Cinder Cone. They will demonstrate various techniques they found useful during their final round of story revision. Writers of all levels (beginner or more experienced) who have stories in any form from raw draft to ready to submit will find value in the workshop. They will have examples for you to work on, but also feel free to bring some of your own work to experiment with. Registration is recommended since numbers are limited. For more details see pavlovapress.co.nz

Roaming Rhymester at Whangarei Central Library November 12

Keith Levy aka “The Roaming Rhymester” will be telling stories set to music in Whangarei Central Library on Tuesday 12 November at 10.30am. It’s for adults and it’s free so come along and enjoy!

New book from Ian King of Whangarei

The new book from novelist and voiceover impresario Ian King is due out mid-November: Blueprints to Building Your Own Voice–Over Studio: For under $500! 

 

 

National Novel Writing Month – Northland needs a NaNoWriMo leader

National Novel Writing Month is fast approaching this November, and Northland could use a NaNoWriMo leader.

Whangarei and Northland are grouped under “Elsewhere in NZ” so please see https://cdn.nanowrimo.org/regions/new-zealand-elsewhere-in-new-zealand for all the information about how to connect with other Northland NaNoWriMo writers, several of who are keen to connect via Writers Up North on Facebook. 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/449540938563494/

 

 

Five great ways to respond when someone writes unfairly about you as an author

  1. Write some serious literature, like Tom Wolfe did https://observer.com/2000/02/its-tom-wolfe-versus-the-three-stooges/
  2. Endure a little unfairness, then show the world your talent through your next publication https://blog.bookbaby.com/2016/02/how-writers-can-respond-to-book-critics/
  3. Stand up for your writing – but don’t use rage, insults or sarcasm https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/books/review/should-writers-respond-to-their-critics.html?_r=0
  4. Remember that you invited the opinion of the critic – but you don’t have to allow incorrect facts to be published (so request that inaccuracies are corrected) https://thewritelife.com/respond-negative-review/
  5. If inaccurate and defamatory criticism is presented as fact – and is not genuinely held opinion – and it costs you money, you can sue them https://www.dezeen.com/2014/08/22/zaha-hadid-sues-critic-martin-filler-new-york-review-of-books-over-book-review/

US Short Story award win for Northland author

 Whangarei writer Michael Botur has won first prize in Short Story Land’s largest contest, given out twice-yearly to entrants from around the world.

Botur’s winning story, ‘Silent Retreat,’ beat entries from Tennessee, Missouri, Utah and Florida to take first prize on October 4, winning a prize of $US500 in the Short Story Land 6-Month Competition.

‘Silent Retreat’ tells the story of a backpacker couple from the UK who battle demons inside their heads as they undertake a vipassana silent retreat in the mountains of northern India.  

Botur has published five collections of short stories, won the 2019 Northland Short Story Award and this year competed in the inaugural Tall Tales Festival in Russell, which challenged competitors to perform an exaggerated story.

Botur said this is fitting as his most recent published collection, ‘True?’ resulted in many book critics conjecturing about how true the stories are and what it means when the human mind distorts memories and experiences.

“The story Silent Retreat, as with most of my stories, takes real-life inspiration from emotions that people I know are going through, then blends that using fictive and narrative devices,’ Botur said. “I make a lot of composite characters by combining attributes from many people I know, so that’s what you’ll find in this story.”

“When I was starting out in fiction writing, I used to agonise a lot over whether people would associate my worldview with the worldview of my characters. After a while, I realised it’s pointless worrying about that. A small proportion of the public will think my stories are true; another proportion will assume the stuff in my stories is too far-fetched to be true. Sensible readers understand that telling a convincing lie is behind all successful storytelling.”

Botur delivers creative writing classes in Tai Tokerau and runs the website WriteUpNorth.co.nz, which warmly welcomes submissions of creative writing from Northlanders.

Silent Retreat will be published as part of Hell of a Thing, Botur’s sixth short story collection, in 2020. The story is free to read on US and NZ platforms –

https://nzshortstories.com/silent-retreat/ and http://www.shortstoryland.com/about-the-contest/.

 

 

SILENT RETREAT

vipassana

Me and Mickey are under the moon in the freezing mountains above Delhi, awaiting permission to enter ten days of silent retreat in a golden temple. The silent running-away thing is just in time, honestly, cause if I don’t find shelter I’m going to scream.

Standing on tired legs in a queue of shivering backpackers watching the vultures and the squirrels, I squeeze my fiancé’s hand. Mickey, the big lanky wildman with his dirty mullet, ignores me as he chews, bouncing his big shoulders, fidgeting, wishing he had a bump of coke or a piece of ass. He’s in a singlet; I’m the only one who researched the weather up here and brought Merino and Gore-Tex clothes. I lean into him to share my warmth, stamping my feet, puffing into my palms. My head tucks into his armpit. He rubs my scalp then pushes me away. I need my man cause I’m super-vulnerable right now. I should be with my Mumsy but she’s two and a half continents away. I Skyped Mumsy a week ago and she told me she’d been given a month to live. She reached through the webcam to stroke my fringe away from my eyes and my face melted cause she told me FLIPPING LYMPHOCYTES are making my precious Mumsy’s flipping BLOOD dissolve into runny clear pus, totally degrading my mother, all this while me and Mick are having the time of our lives, romping around Asia.

Unfair doesn’t even begin to describe it. GOD. My Mumsy is a saint. She captures spiders with a tumbler and a piece of paper and shakes them out the window. My Mumsy puts music on for pot plants. She’s been a primary school teacher for 39 years, on her feet for 6 hours a day, she’s only just got her pension and you know what that jerk in the sky gifts her? Leukaemia. No words in the universe can express my frustration so here we are, beginning ten days of vipassana so I can at least learn to control my feelings.

Dhamma Salila Vipassana Centre of Light is a group of concrete huts painted gold with a quiff of snow piled on the some of the domes. It’s a 10 kay trek north of Shivpuri, this cluster of huts on a cliff over the coldest, northern-est gorges of the Ganges. Uttarakhand is this state held up on the cold shoulders of mountains north of Delhi. The Beatles hung out here, apparently. Did they last ten days? Me and Mick have to last ten, though I’m not sure if this induction counts as a day, since it’s 6 o’clock in the morning. It’s actually rather important to have control over precisely when this experience will conclude as I’m expected to telephone Mumsy in Bolton as soon as I return to civilisation, and I would return a lot sooner if these silly volunteer henchmen guarding the door would let us get on with it. The sahayaks, as the volunteers are called, are half a dozen pimply Indian young men in button-up shirts. They take their job way too serious. They roam the line, reminding people in accented English that this is a non-denominational centre. Religious symbols must be put away. I see a Malaysian-looking girl unfasten her headscarf and fold it up. Some Sikh guys shake their heads and trudge back down the driveway. My silver cross necklace goes in my pocket.

Keeping 100 French and Germans and Japanese standing still on stone steps with heavy luggage while the sun rises over the Garhwals is part of the vipassana spiritual journey, apparently. It’s all emotional highs and lows until we get to ask a question on the second to last day and get a profound answer. Maybe I’ll ask if these sahayak wankers get off on torturing Westerners. Mickey’s stamping his feet to some private rhythm, looking around for some action, his huge shaggy head towering over everyone. Our whole OE, our whole trip around the world, it’s been one big party to Mickey. Cape Town, Patagonia, Rotorua… we’ve worked in orphanages, ranches, WWOOF farms and offices, hopping from visa to visa. Mickey guzzled and snorted our wages, spent thousands on football bets, Champion’s League tickets, gifts for his female “friends,” some of whom felt obliged to hit on him right in front of me. Urgh. I brought in most of the money. Sometimes we were students, sometimes apple pickers; a couple times I was an au pair. Mickey got us deported out of Monaco for weeing in the street and filming the snake of urine wriggling downhill, Go piss, go! I told him he was a foolish child. He got in a tizzy and embarked on Operation Globetrotter, having little affairs in four or five countries, four or five jobs, Sri Lanka, Agra, Nepal, and now we’re here, we’re engaged to be married a month from now once our troubles are behind us and, hurrah, the line is finally moving, shuffling away from the sucky world outside, away from all the friends criticising me over Facebook for sticking with Mickey. Away from my Mumsy’s limp voice and wet cough and letters that smell like her.  

We file inside a concrete temple painted white and decorated with pollen, bunting, prayer flags, pink and gold paint. A cow watches us enter, chewing a stick. We settle on a floor of flagstones polished smooth from a hundred thousand bums. We face the front like kindergarteners, adjusting our spines. One Norwegian-looking girl, a metre away from me, has hair as bright as a lightbulb and sharp breasts. Mickey shunts his bum away from me and whispers something to Miss Pointytits and I’m about to break my silence to interject when our guru-ji shambles out of some side-passage and hauls himself atop a cushion on top of a barrel. He is a little Indian man with a black afro scorched white. He wears a three-piece suit wide around the shoulders. The cuffs of the suitjacket are too long, but he’s by far the neatest-dressed here. I spy the gold links of a pocket chain. He also has gold circlets around his long white wizard-beard, and gold rings on his fingers. Jeepers. Considering all the gold our money is sponsoring, there’d better be a good breakthrough at the end of this thing.

Parking themselves in positions around the hall, guru-ji’s sahayak-helpers drizzle their hands downwards and give us the SHHHHHH gesture, though they make zero sound. The rules we’ve agree to are no talking, no mime, no sign language. No reading, no writing, no texting.

Our guru-ji launches into a monologue, rubbing his heart and smiling. He has a poster of himself behind him, explaining his name: G. G. Nirmal, Escort To Peace. I’m amazed the people down the back can hear his subtle, moist voice, the clacking tongue, the tiny emphasis on every fourth word. He’s telling us to scan our bodies to identify what pain we’re going to address over the next ten days. I’m tuned to Mickey more than myself because Mickey’s pulled his big sweaty brown bear-paw off my buttermilk hand and he’s leaning towards the Nordic-looking woman. About to stray again, the bugger. We went to Antarctica on this protest boat and he managed to pull this girl from flipping Korea who didn’t even speak flipping English. Mickey’s always been my rock, though. I used to be fat; he gave me a chance to improve myself. I still have my stretch marks. I’ll forgive him a thousand times.

I try to listen to the front, get my two thousand Euros’ worth. I paid for Mickey to attend; he really ought to get his money’s worth too. It’s not as if our relationship will automatically heal and this is some hotel: we have to sleep in separate male/female dorms. I need to let him go for the next week and a half. He’ll come back a better man, surely.

It’s agony, at first, listening, straining, feeling the sulphur in my throat, stinky hungry breath, sore vulva, petrified thighs. I’m quietly trying to keep track of the time. I guess our guru-ji’s been talking for 90 minutes by counting one Mississippi sixty times a minute, sixty times an hour… We pass the two hour mark – no break – and I keep losing track but judging by how the sun’s baked the blue night away, we’re three hours deep into noble silence. Guru-ji hops down off his barrel, reminding us we’re allowed to prepare a single essential question for the afternoon before we leave. I’ll ask why my life is amazing while Mumsy’s life has broken down and which God I can scream at.

 

*

I am in Mumsy’s arms. Her frizzy Christmas jumper tickles my nose. Her boobs warm my face. She carries me like a basket down the hall from the Christmas party where I’ve fallen asleep watching telly with a coat for a blanket.

A cry of agony. Squealing car tyres and fingernails on a blackboard. The dream disintegrates. Someone’s bleating for hel…. Roosters! That’s all: you’re on a farm on top of a mountain, girl. You paid to be here, far from Christmas. Get up. Get hurt. God’s unhappy with you. That’s why he’s taking Mumsy. In this discomfort is a lesson. You’d better listen.

With finger gestures and tilted heads from the sahayaks, my tribe of sleepy backpackers is invited to shuffle – in our pyjamas and singlets – towards the temple. The air is cloudy and wet. Someone’s chasing a stray goat. My teeth tremble. Men file along the path first, women after, and I intentionally step towards Mickey, hoping to brush against him, though I notice he’s preoccupied with some Russian-looking boy and has his fingertips under the Russian’s nostrils and the boy is smelling Mickey’s fingers for…. DAMN IT.

MICKEY, YOU ABSOLUTE KNOBHEAD. Mickey’s fingered that lightbulb-haired harlot, presumably. I sidle up to him and kick his ankle. He makes a show of squishing a mosquito on his hand then winks at me and wipes his fingertip on his shorts.

After a long sitting-session with another unending speech, this one describing the life of a breath, we have a lunch of porridge and jam at wooden trestles in the dining hall. Everybody winces, trying to adjust their spines and tailbones. As soon as everyone’s had a bowlful of prison food, the sahayaks beckon us out onto the lawn. Geese mutter and waddle away. Guru-ji Nirmal leads us in a long sprawling tour across the estate, a flock of 100 of us corralled by the sahayakon keeping us in line while guru-ji, wearing a white suit for a change, points to the sky, the mountains and talks about the atmosphere. There are thin paths which are sometimes just planks of wood over springs of cold water murmuring between the pebbles. Out the back of the farthest corrugated iron shack I can see there’s a dull grey glacier. Apparently China is three passes over. You can see its mountains if you climb the cherry tree.

I turn to Mickey. ‘A glacier, honey, how cool is that?’

A sahayak puts his hands on my shoulder. It’s a gentle scolding.

Silence, Amelia. Don’t waste your words.

 

Around noon we’re sent out across the fields to collect firewood, bundle hay, pluck handfuls of spinach. We sweep the cobwebs out of sheds, scrape moss off the bridges. This place is the size of a small country. I listen to the birds talk. I watch a rumour of wind run through the wheat. Cicadas chatter in the trees.

Later, we return to the stone floor. Guru-ji is demonstrating how to swallow food more slowly each time we eat, going forward. He strokes his fancy suit-buttons as he mimes ingesting a spoonful of imaginary porridge, chewing like a baby. It’s insulting, demeaning, and I pick up Mickey’s hand for a sympathetic squeeze but he pulls out of it. Looking across his big chest, I can see he’s busy with his pointy-titted side-project. The two of them are giggling discretely into their cupped palms, trying to duck the attention of the sahayakon. Probably they sneaked out of their dorms for a midnight rendezvous. God Mickey’s a bastard.

G. Nirmal chews through a few more hundred of my 2000 Euros while I fantasise about coffee. I descend into a half-asleep trance. I’m feeling fundamental changes trickle through my veins, into my toes, my fingertips. Guru-ji talks about ‘butterfly thoughts,’ how when a person is truly relaxed and receptive, thoughts will settle between our ears and we should simply stand back and admire those thoughts without pouncing on them.

    ‘…A thought is merely a thought,’ Guru-ji Nirmal tells us. ‘A thought is not an order, nor is it a command.’ My rotunda, July 15 2020, my bridesmaids, Jasmeet and Ashley and Deeya, the catering, my chocolate cheesecake with truffle butter. ‘A thought has no substance. A thought is made of wind.’ The thought that settles on me is the little receipt with my bank balance, Mumsy’s fifteen thousand bloody quid she popped into Western Union saying she couldn’t use it, but Mumsy, you can’t talk like that, you can’t give up, Mumsy, I need you, you’re my MUM. ‘My cheeldren: blow on the butterfly. Let this butterfly alight into the weend and dreeft over to China.’ I listen to the air flow in my nostrils, and out, and in. Mumsy’s laughter, unwrapping the photo frame I made her with popsicle sticks and glue. Spice Girls on the stereo. Iraq on the TV. I hear the engine of my heart. I watch vultures climb columns of warm air. Mumsy fainting on the far end of the phone. Dialling an ambulance from eighty countries away. I hear the crick of Mickey stretching some cartilage. I hear the gloop of blood swimming through my arteries. My pulse vibrates in rhythm with the cicadas chirping in the bamboo. I smell the salt leaking from my man’s armpits. Whatever’s not quite right with my Mickey, we’ll mend it. Couple’s therapy. Spend the last of Mumsy’s money stifling the animosity.

Time is a river, children. Dip a toe; let your consciousness flow. Do not stick a stake in the riverbed.

My river, the Wharfe, ebbing past the abbey, cool bronze, liquid shade. Stinking summer. Lawn baked brown. My Mumsy is excited that exams have ended and she gets to hang out with me, not realising I only want a boy. I can’t have an old lady killing my cred. Mumsy yanks her dress over her head and runs, cream knickers, faded bra, into the river and I’m aghast with embarrassment, but no, there are a couples, families, toddlers all piling into the river under the spell of the Bolton Priory ruins looking over us, and I’m still refusing to go in, I’m far too cool, I have to bury myself under the picnic blanket and text back this crazy Irish boy I met at this disco and my Mumsy hauls her wet laundry body out of the river with a whoosh of dripping hair, her eyes stretched with glee and she’s collected water in her dress like a dribbling bucket and she dumps water all over me and I scream YOU SLAG, YOU ALMOST GOT MY PHONE WET and she’s trying to drag me into the Wharfe and I can’t help laughing and scratching and fighting as she forces me into the river and dunks my head under and I’m sure, amongst the gold and olive bubbles, I’m sure I spot a stickleback and a flurry of tadpoles, little beads of joyous life to match the happy miracle of Mum. We should BE like a river, actually – Derren Brown said, that, weirdly, on one of his specials. Derren Brown, mentalist philosopher, yeah, his show used to come on after F*R*I*E*N*D*S and I always wished my relationships were like Rachel and Ross, and that weird coffee guy who’s obsessed with Rachel who looks a bit like an albino Derren Brown, that’s right, I remember his specials about the power of the mind on TV as I watched the screen upside down on the sofa out of one eye, texting the apeman from Muine Bheag whose boat was ashore and needed a bed for the night, telling him my bed was his and I’d leave the back door unlocked for him, yeah, Derren Brown talking about the stoics and my Mumsy putting down a nice cuppa tea and asking me if we’d studied the stoics in Greek and me responding with a PFBBBT, blowing my fringe out of my eyes. This ancient Greek grandpa called Seneca – or was he Roman? No, surely Greek – said you should envision losing everything to make you more appreciative. Picture your house being burgled and you’ll appreciate your assets more. Envision Mickey being run over by a tram. Picture me howling sorries in the street. Imagine Mumsy’s eyes closing forever, her funeral, everything she carefully collected summed up in a so-called estate, her teaching pension, one hundred grand all for me, money I’ll take to a bioresearch company in Oxford and beg them to clone my Mumsy back from that clump of hair I picked up off the bathroom floor when she could pull out her hair without scissors, the hair I’ve always kept in my purse, my purse in a suitcase in a locker in a temple in the Himalayas.

A butterfly thought settles then it’s gone again.

Mickey shagged our wedding planner in London. Huh.

Mickey beat up that poet boy in Tangier, the sensitive kid who massaged my feet on the deck of our lodge overlooking the ocean.

Huh.

Thought here, thought away. I am not judging the thoughts. I am a conduit for the universe, as Ross said in that joke to Rachel with the barista who looks a bit like Derren Brown leaning between them and …. what was his name, the coffee creep…. Shit.

Thunderclap. Purple storm in the distance. Spears of heaven stabbing the mountains. Burning mosquito repellent. Citronella tang. Pollen in my nostrils. The tickle of a cockroach running up my leg. Swallowed shriek. I hold the wriggling cockroach up against the sun. Its body is bronze. I look through its wings. They turn the sunlight gold.  

A voice, coming from the cassette player on the barrel beside Guru-ji, is telling me to think of my nostrils as passages from heaven to earth. Breathe the infinite into you. There is no life without breath. Controlling other human beings doesn’t matter. Money doesn’t matter. Food, sex, sports cars, mobile phones, sitcoms with gorgeous New York singles sipping coffee and laughing: all pointless detail without breath.

Stop doing everything in life except breathing, Amelia. That’s it.

We eat rice and dahl and ghee-fried vegetables for dinner. It’s all delicious and desperately-needed. I try to hold each vegetable on the tip of my fork and appreciates its green, its yellow, it orange, though I’m starving, too, and I gulp it down. My senses have become sharply attuned. I listen to my stomach kneading the food. Steaming lentils being slopped into little bowls, and we’re given plastic jugs of water decorated with frangipani. Mickey bends down and gives me a quick peck on the cheek before going over to sit with the good-looking people. I appreciate his tiny gesture. I have resolved to tuck my ego away.

In my dormitory, I sleep next to the Nordic beauty with triangle tits. Everybody sleeps easily – except Miss Norway. I listen to the tiny slap of her feet on the concrete as she creeps to the toilets to suck my fiance’s diddle while I stroke my boring brown hair.

 

*

 

Days pass, days of roosters, cold bucket showers, porridge and potatoes for breakfast, mushy soup, sweet tea. I pass Mickey in the food hall. He tries to high five me like I’m some comrade.

At the trestle table where I eat, Mickey has scratched into the soft wood of the breakfast bench, with his spoon or his fingernail, ‘Ur on the rag I dont blame u 4 angry. Mick xoxo.’

And it’s true. No need to take it as an insult. My period makes my guts churn like a washing machine. Occasionally, my vulva itches and I need to scratch. I’m destroying my good knickers, the peach ones. Let things flow, Amelia. Don’t stick your stake in the stream. I want to vomit and smash, rage and cry. Understand the thoughts knocking on your brain are just that: thoughts. They’re no premonitions, not instructions. They’re just butterflies.

Unfurl your fists, girl. Eat your breakfast. Meditate. Accept that today is a day of breathing, and tomorrow. Don’t anticipate leaving, Amelia. Don’t wish you were somewhere else.

During today’s sermon someone mutters ‘Black Hole of Calcutta,’ and there’s giggling from the back and the sahayakon get in a flap. I ignore it, study the mosquito bites on my calves. They are annoying and itchy. I accept this without judgement. Just as cows are a source of food for me, so I am a source of food to a tinier life. A big old cow, girl. Cowgirl. You can ride me sometime if you want, Rach. Canned laughter. Who said that? Jennifer Aniston’s in Central Perk coffee shop and she’s talking to… SHIT! Who’s the interlocutor? That’s a word I haven’t used since I took LAW101 eight years ago. What the heck was that barista guy called … Geoff? Gareth? SERIOUSLY, BRAIN, YOU’RE GONNA FAIL ON ME NOW? It’s on the tip of my tongue… Back to the Nineties when I used to rest my head in Mumsy’s lap, Y2K, 9/11, Gulf War II, Seinfeld, Frasier, Ally McBeal, E.R., Ross, Rach, Monica, Chandler, Pheebs, Joey and, um, what’s his name, all those outstanding minor characters like, SHIT, white hair serious guy… Chandler.. no, that’s been taken.

Buried in the back of my brain is a video of me and my Mumsy weaving Celtic promise knots. Our gran was from a farm in a valley-crag between two cliffs outside Donegal and she would take Mumsy there when Mumsy was my age to ‘Learn The Ladyness.’ I can feel Mumsy’s calloused palms as she comes behind me, teaching me how to tie a Celtic heart knot to capture my love, sealed with a rhyming spell.

I promise I will find a man / broad of chest and strong of hand

My husband, faithful, never strays / I boil the beans / he rakes the hay

She has passed, a voice says, Your Mumsy. She’s dead. Just now; today. A red light glowing in my brain. An urgent message from across space.

I beckon a sahayak aside and whisper I’m pretty sure I need to phone my Mumsy.

‘In Rishikesh there is being telephone,’ he says. ‘You may leave. You are walking and this bus, it is taking you.’

I ask for my suitcase, go to my room, sit on my mattress, pull my knees up against my chin. What’s a suitcase? A stone on wheels I choose to drag around. For four thousand Euros, Cancer Research UK treats women to a late-life pampering. Women are matched with top quality wigs made from real human hair. My Mumsy, who had to throw away dresses kids spilled ink on, my Mumsy who was sworn-at by council estate rat-people when she dropped off their homework after hours, my Mumsy could have gotten her nails painted with the money I paid for this place. She could have had a Thai girl file the corns off her feet. She could have had cocoa butter rubbed into the grey flesh of her forearms. The money could’ve made her a queen before she died.

Things we hold to be top of importance – life or death – are only as important as rainfall, or the drop of a rotten branch, or a feather falling from a vulture.

I cry til I’m dry, then return to the meditation hall.

 

*

A rooster pierces my dreams. My spine complains. The cold stones prick my feet.

Today is not a day of Mississippis. Today we are allowed to line up and one by one ask Guru-ji the most important question in the universe. Our lives are jigsaw puzzles. Restore the missing piece, our lives will be complete.

When I made him put that ring on me in Corfu, did Mickey really promise to be faithful or did I only imagine it?

Did my mum lie about how long she has left to live, or did I mishear her, preoccupied with Mickey?

He’s ahead of me in line, that man of mine is. He’s asking guru-ji for – seriously?! – the email address of that pretty girl. I’m astonished that the helpers actually bring it out to him, written on paper. Mickey high fives the cool kids in line as he passes.

I’m not astonished. He has shamed me, and yet he has not. I let emotion pass through me without sticking.

He sees I’m not high fiving him and pauses his celebrity tour.

‘We’ll catch up soon, derlin,’ he whispers, all confident. ‘Have a heart-to-heart. Fix things between us.’

I ignore him and shuffle up another few flagstones. 39 people have gone before me; there will be dozens after. I am a drop in the ocean. Unimportant.

‘I have to ask you something, guru-ji.’

‘Please, child.’

This is your chance, Amelia.

‘What was the name of the barista in F*R*I*E*N*D*S? It’s been seriously bugging me.’

The guru-ji nods to his helpers. They disappear into an office, return within 30 seconds with the name written on refill paper.

‘GUNTHER! Thank you!’

I float away, full of helium.

Mickey finds me at the back of the line.

‘Babe, I’m thinkin after this we’ll book train tickets to –

‘Mickey, shut the fuck up.’

 

Book launch: Taking the Plunge by J. B. Reynolds

Taking the Plunge by J. B. Reynolds launched at Whangarei Central Library October 12

Taking the PlungeJody Reynolds launched his first novel, Taking the Plunge, in the May Bain room at the Whangarei Library on Saturday October 12th. 

Everything you need to know about the book is here https://jbreynolds.net/taking-the-plunge/

Sometimes all you need is a leap of faith…

When her husband’s recent infidelities are exposed, Kate Hensley does what any sensible woman would; she kicks him out of the house and pursues a younger man. Could her snowboarding instructor, Evan Randall — blue-eyed, blonde, and gorgeous — be the solution to her problems?

If only love lust were that simple.

Gossip travels fast in the high-country, and while Kate’s new BFF supports her romantic endeavours, it seems no one else does. With opposition to her amorous adventure mounting, Kate learns that Newton’s third law applies to love as it does to motion, and she must decide whether the price of being true to herself is one she’s prepared to pay…

AVAILABLE FOR ORDER ON AMAZON NOW. 

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Bitter review by Liz Breslin: a response

A challenge to a hateful piece of writing by Liz Breslin

Opinion by Michael Botur

UPDATES OCTOBER 20 

  • NZSA has coerced me into removing mention of Liz Breslin’s age, and I have done this
  • I’ve changed the title of this opinion piece from ‘Bitter reviewer Liz Breslin’ to ‘Bitter review by Liz Breslin.’ 
  • I’m still shaking my head at the irony that the NZ Society of Authors, which is supposed to uphold the free speech values of PEN International is attempting to scare a writer into unpublishing an opinion piece. Hypocritical, unethical, and laughable. 

 

Sigh. Usually I concentrate on the positives around writing – setting examples for other authors; putting out encouragement, praise and support. I put on shows with the Poetry Posse; I encourage people to enter awards; I tutor creative writing in community classes. 

Mostly I’m a pretty positive guy, but the following hit piece by bitter Otago reviewer Liz Breslin, published in takahē #96, can’t go without a response.  

So, here’s some perspective about the short story collection True?, which received its only negative review from Ms Breslin in takahē #96 in August 2019 – a deliberately cynical, bitter review presumably motivated by …. God knows. 

Breslin writes:

“Whether written in the first, second or third person (all of which are used in different stories across the collection), these stories fail to hit the mark.”

> Yeah, nah –  please see reviews from experienced reviewers who have had training in writing. https://nzshortstories.com/reviews/

“But the writing is often too authorial, poorly proofread and possibly offensive,” Breslin writes. 

> Breslin – who, again, has published very little – appears to have an ulterior motive in publishing her hit piece. Some kind of hate-jealousy-bitterness. Not very professional. Let’s read on. 

“The cumulative effect of pages and pages of casual, barely-disguised disability-bashing leaves a pretty sour taste.”

> Considering one of my day jobs recently was organising a conference for people with disabilities, it’s outrageous to suggest the author has done some “disability-bashing.” I’m waiting on an apology for this particular line. 

“It’s hard for the reader to move beyond offensive cliché and find a place of empathy,” Breslin writes. 

I have empathy for all my fellow writers in New Zealand, and it would have been nice if this fellow writer of Polish ancestry has shown some empathy for a fellow Pole. Sadly, NZ writer Liz Breslin has brought hate and bitterness into her writing. It’s a shame and a waste.

Again, Liz, I beg you – please get some advice from experienced reviewers who have had training in writing literary reviews. https://nzshortstories.com/reviews/

 

Update October 20 2019: 

On October 19 and 20 I received emails from two NZSA representatives pressuring me to remove this piece and to not stand up for myself. 

Neither of the emails asked if I was okay, or asked why I felt hurt, or offered to help, mediate, or assist. Instead, the emails attempted to blackmail me into accepting the nasty review. 

The first email – from a senior NZSA leader – claimed my opinion piece – which, remember, was standing up against a nasty review with personal comments – was “clearly defamatory, and could also be described as ageist. […] Your post is possibly libellous, could be described as cyber-bullying and is defamatory. “

[actually, opinion pieces are not defamatory if they are somebody’s genuinely held opinion. Breslin’s opinion is genuine and not defamatory; likewise, my opinion is genuine and not defamatory.]

The second email – from Di Menefy – said “You’ve damaged yourself more than Liz and I think this is incredibly sad, especially after the work you do to help other writers in the north. […] Jenny Nagle has asked us as your branch to discuss and then contact you regarding your post on www.writeupnorth.co.nz re Liz Breslin.”

Her email continues

“The committee of the Northland branch have made the following decisions:

  • “This personal attack on a reviewer is unprofessional and not supported by NZSA Northland. The use of the photograph of branch members at the top of your blog implies that this post is endorsed by us. Since we do not endorse it, we request that you remove the photograph immediately.
  • “You have promoted your website as being “set up to share the work of writers of all ages from Northland, New Zealand. The site is especially designed to promote Northlanders who have never had their creative writing published before”. On the basis of your aim we have been promoting this blog through PenNorth, but because an unprofessional and personal attack on a reviewer is not supported by our branch we feel we must remove the link to your website from PenNorth.”

My response, in brief: free speech means I have the right to publish an opinion on anything. When I have been impugned in a published piece of writing, I have even more right to respond. 

I have a policy of never yielding to bullies. It is surprising and sad that the NZSA has chosen to bully me, but I am taking a deep breath and moving forward ( and also removing the photo they asked me to remove, because I’m a nice guy and I like to do favours for people who ask).

Update November 18 – They’ve been discussing this in their committee meetings and sending me the meeting minutes over email. I don’t think they liked that I pointed out Di Menefy sent me a couple of crazy emails. C’mon guys. Shouldn’t you be working on creative writing? Can I suggest you all get something better to do with your Saturdays rather than figure out ways to hassle me? Please move on. Maybe you should spend your time helping Northland writers get ahead, just like I do, every single day, by facilitating Writers Up North, and appearing at poetry and fiction events, and coordinating dinners for writers, and performances, and advocacy, and advice, and tutoring, photography, media releases, web publishing and more…

 

 

Full text of the nasty review below:

True? Short Stories by Michael Botur
Whangarei: Michael Botur (2018)
RRP: $25. Pb, 309pp. Available from Amazon
ISBN: 9781721058129
Reviewed by Liz Breslin

‘Truth, Dare or Promise?’ asks an app in one of the sixteen short stories in Michael Botur’s fifth collection. The collection’s preface, from Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground, reads: ‘A true autobiography is almost an impossibility … Man is bound to lie about himself.’

There are, of course, at least two kinds of truth to stories: the factual kind, and the kind that makes a character, a turn of events or a location resonate with a reader. With this in mind, let’s examine Botur’s stories to see how they ring.

The stories are driven by plot and by premise. In ‘Better than Jail’ a guy learns how the ‘straightos’ also go crooked when he starts data work at a finance company as his first job out of jail. In ‘The Sword of Damocles’ a burgled man turns bully on the woman shifting his son’s bike as stolen goods. ‘Because I love him’ sees a teenager collude in the ransacking of her parents’ house while her mum is otherwise busy at her dad’s funeral. ‘Schrödinger’s Scoop’ is the story of a journo who sets out to destroy the career and reputation of a politician who is pretending to be more Moriori than he actually is.

Many characters are involved in the three-way trilogy of sex, drugs and violence.  The guy on a detox in the back of Aussie beyond. The anaesthetists locked in a harder faster destruction race. The summer of student debauchery. This could be fascinating stuff, and there are interesting situational set-ups, but, whether written in the first, second or third person (all of which are used in different stories across the collection), these stories fail to hit the mark.

There are some indications of Botur’s poetic leanings – here, for example, in choppy fragments:

Fire at the airport. Norovirus in the Beehive. Korean popstar threatening to jump off the Harbour Bridge … Latte, long black, Americano, green tea, black tea, Pepsi, vodka, Red Bull, Burger King, Burger Fuel, Murder Burger, Velvet Burger. Your face melts into the palm holding your head above the keyboard. (‘Schröedinger’s Scoop’, p. 94).

But the writing is often too authorial, poorly proofread and possibly offensive.

Offense can be a truth when you’re writing irredeemable characters.  Clever writing can give you a chance to explore and even empathise with the complexities of lives. But here it is unclear where the division between Botur and his characters lies, giving the impression sometimes that it is Botur’s own viewpoint we are reading.  The daddies’ rights clanger at the end of the collection, for example, is practically polemic. ‘That Tingling Sensation’ (which has some of the best dialogue in the book if you disregard the capitals every time someone shouts) dispatches people with disabilities:

They did a gig for the Special Olympics. Some sort of 11 year-old disabled child became too clingy for JT. The kid said, ‘You’re the best daddy’, about a hundred times before JT barricaded himself in a portaloo until security took the kid away. (‘That Tingling Sensation’, p 300).

Read in isolation, this sentence may not offend. However, the cumulative effect of pages and pages of casual, barely-disguised disability-bashing leaves a pretty sour taste.

So too does Botur’s treatment of the newly-famous:

 24 year old born Miranda Lilith Pruitt – the same lass who’d begun her poetry career at our trite tavern get togethers reading entries from her journal in a voice so frail she struggled to be heard over the sound of people sipping the foam off their beer – was to be presented with the People’s Choice Award. With the award came a cheque for $10 000, budget to publish a hundred-page poetry collection, and she would have her name engraved on a roll of honour at the English department up at the university. (‘The People’s Choice’, p 229).

Though the writers’ group decide to show up and cheer Miranda on at the awards (big of them), there’s a disbelieving contempt that runs through this story, of this woman, of this industry, of these awards. And it’s hard not to read it as coming from Botur himself.

It’s another writer, recently-separated-Sallyanne, who gets another of the precious-few happy endings in this collection – she starts attending a local writers’ group run by young, tortured alcoholic novelist Jeremy. Sallyanne takes over the running of the group, gets together with Jeremy is offered a newspaper column which magically skyrockets in popularity. She declines international syndication – not wanting to be pigeonholed. Truth?

The stories here could be engaging and provocative. The groundwork is laid. Botur knows how to set up a situation. But the job of a writer is partly to shine light on the broken bits.  Here, there is scant light, and it’s hard for the reader to move beyond offensive cliché and find a place of empathy. As it stands, this collection does not make me want to go and seek out more writing by Botur. The reader deserves better. The characters deserve better. The stories deserve better. They deserve true.

Northland-made book explains Te Tauwhanga ā Reipae- the origin of Whangārei’s name

Te Tauwhanga ā Reipae book explains the legend behind the naming of Whangārei

Northland author Meryl Carter has published Te Tauwhanga ā Reipae, which explains the origins of the naming of Whangārei.

The book contains a waiata (song) entitled Reipae recorded with funding obtained from Whangārei District Council’s Creative Communities Fund.

Meryl Carter, a former teacher, planned the book for 20 years and told media she couldn’t find a similar resource, so she worked with her whanau to form Taimania​ Productions and create the book and the waiata.

Te Tauwhanga a Reipae translates as The Waiting Place of Reipae. It references the legend of Reipae waiting near Manaia for her two brothers and meeting Tahuhu Pōtiki.

Credit to Whangarei literary zine ‘Taking Flight’ which for years acknowledged the origins of Whangarei’s name (Te Tauwhanga a Reipae means The Waiting Place of Reipae… before she took flight).

Te Tauwhanga ā Reipae is illustrated by Adrian Hill and Taimania Toia and was funded by the Māori Language Commission.

ISBN 9780473414306

Buy it from: http://aotearoabooks.co.nz/te-tauwhanga-a-reipae/

ps – Sorry that Write Up North is publishing this two after the book was launched. Better late than never…

Te tauwhanga a reipae

Onerahi artist Jan Leitch: picture book illustrator extraordinaire

Check out the stunning illustrations of Onerahi children’s book illustrator Jan Leitch. 

Whangarei resident Jan studied art and animation in her native Scotland and is a graduate of NorthTec’s children’s book writing course. 

Jan is working towards publishing her first children’s book in the coming year. 

All images are copyright Jan Leitch and can be enjoyed and shared on her Chalk N Charcoal Facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/Chalk-N-Charcoal-327307788144071/]. 

 

 

 

Broken Windows – short story by Michael Botur

 

BROKEN WINDOWS

Short fiction

by Michael Botur

 

1.

A window smashes, tinkles. Party music punches the air. You sit upright in bed, afraid to breathe. There’s a lull, for a silent second, then your neighbour is bellowing at his woman over the bass.

Doof doof doof. Like somebody stamping on the floor in boots.

You speed-dial the council, checking on Felicity as you wait to be connected. Your wife’s eyeballs twitch under the sleep mask pulled against her chubby soft face. She snorts, turns, mumbles. She’s had an exhausting day setting up the gallery. Take control or Felicity will direct her frustration at you. Don’t neglect your duty. This used to be a good street before the uncivilised moved in. Regain it, man.

Noise Control, please. Me again, ha ha, I know, I know, terribly late isn’t it, ha ha, and on a Tuesday, I fully agree, but listen, there’s a situation I’m hoping you can help me resolve… .

You give your details and clarify, yes, you’re THE author, of the Dan Drayton action thrillers, yes yes, studying her tone as she reads your name back. You’re insistent noise control officers intervene to silence the doofs and roars at 148b Calcutta Close. Gazza Hendrix and his uncouth tribe cannot be allowed to ruin the neighbourhood. It’s not even his house – the man has the privilege of renting the place. You inform the phone operator about the decibel breaches you’re registering with the app on your phone and insist she shares your complaint with the seldom-seen landlord. You email her a copy of the spreadsheet on which you’ve been recording the date of each noise crime over the past year, decibel level of each infraction, notes on associated violence and damage and rubbish pollution. You add for her a description of Gazza’s reprehensible so-called music, a vile electronica sampling Pachelbel’s Canon with periodic pauses to lull one into a false sense of security before a robotic DJ says ‘Let the bass drop,’ and drop indeed it does, like a piano crashing into your bedroom.

Since bringing his boys home from school, Gazza’s been blasting his apocalyptic soundtrack while guzzling bourbon and cola, throwing empty cans at your fence, pacing the verandah, making endless calls to cousins yelled into his cellphone. The framed diplomas on your wall shudder and rattle.  There has been six hours of Gazza’s racket so far, plus pops and shrieks from the Hendrix children as they destroy bottles with a BB gun. At one point Gazza mated with that woman of his on the trampoline. You zoomed in with the video recorder on your phone and made sure to capture the evidence up close, the blue droplet tattooed under Gazza’s eye, the empty bowl of his partner’s starved stomach. Her flimsy knickers dangling off her big toe as she rocked and kicked.

After the noise complaint is officially received by the council, you follow with a strongly-worded email. You then spend an hour taking photos from the safety of your double-glazed windows. At 1.16am, you email Parking, Barking & Noise photos of broken glass which has fallen into your property from the garage window shattered at 1.08 by Gazza’s elbow. You supply photos of garbage sacks on your berm, a photo of an oil slick leaking from a rusting hulk under the fence towards your stormwater drain and, perhaps most ghastly of all, photos of two shirtless brats on the deck, having fun far past bed time.

It’s 2.15, now. The thinnest part of the night. Five millimetres of glass protects you from the chaotic air outside. In bed, you pull noise cancelling headphones over your ears and listen to a podcast. Lisping liberal Malcolm Gladwell is discussing the ‘Broken Windows’ policy enforced in New York. Radical when introduced, Broken Windows punished even the most minor crimes, dissuading offenders from letting their sin pollute the population. From Gladwell’s cool lips spring sage statistics. Within two years of citizens being encouraged to report violations as minor as a broken window, neighbourhoods measured 78 percent decreases in noise pollution, graffiti, muggings and assaults.

Your eyelids settle. Your thoughts wobble. At 4.22 there’s a wet PLAP, and PLAP again. Fists hitting meat, meat hitting wood. Red and blue lights lick the ceiling. Gazza begins bellowing at the cops. His woman is sobbing. There’s a squeal from Gazza’s swing set. The gasps and giggles of children.

Nearly dawn, now. As treebirds begin chirping, you email property manager Neelam Gurunathan the name of your solicitor and inform Ms Gurunathan that unless she gets rid of Gazza and his feral family, Mr Graham G Baigent, LLB, will be launching civil proceedings on your behalf.

Drained, zombified, you stagger down the hall. Slippers and coffee.

Lots of coffee.  

 

Solicitor Graham Baigent costs $295 an hour. From 9.13 to 9.43am you give him as much pre-prepared information as possible over the phone and email him six times, handing over photos, your spreadsheet, your audio and video recordings of smacked flesh and cracked glass and outrageous fornication. He promises to send a letter to the property manager forthwith. The letter is dispatched at 12.01pm. The end begins.

Mr Baigent’s legal notice summarises the Residential Tenancies Act, its laws regarding the right to peaceable enjoyment of a property, penalties of two years imprisonment or a $100,000 fine. The letter concludes by encouraging Ms Gurunthan to research Broken Windows policy and neighbourhood renewal. First step in renewing the neighbourhood: the immediate eviction of one Gareth Mason Hendrix. Graham Baigent has checked Tenancy Tribunal hearings from the past ten years. This isn’t the first time Mr Hendrix has broken rental rules.

It’s 1.08pm when Neelam Gurunathan telephones and apologises and promises to take immediate action. She didn’t know “all this” was happening, she swears. Her words have a forced, grovelling tone. A higher-up has leaned on her.

You put two Javanese statuettes on the windowsill to hold the curtains open, kneel against the wall and watch as, 20 minutes following the phone call, Ms Gurunathan parks her BMW convertible with a squeal, trots up the driveway in clopping heels, stumbling as she navigates potholes. Gazza comes to the door in a singlet, camouflage pants and a blue paisley scarf wrapped around his forehead. His boys run among his legs, even though it’s a school day.

Neelam’s body contorts meekly as she hands him an envelope and attempts to walk away. Gazza opens the letter, understands he’s been given 48 hours to vacate the premises, and begins hurling bourbon cans at his property manager.

Homo pauperis can read! Astonishing, really. Not so astonishing is Gazza’s reaction to the upset. He biffs a toaster down the driveway. It thuds against the door of the convertible. The boys chase after the toaster and play with its spilled springs and filaments. A rudimentary science lesson, you suppose. More troglodytes emerge from the house, men in caps and singlets, cousins or uncles, then follows a long period of drinking and smoking on the deck, the men muttering while the children frolic in a car wreck. Gazza then begins hauling rubbish onto the kerb – a couch, a boxing bag leaking foam, some tyres. Bottles, cans and crates: he and the children simply throw them from the deck towards the road.

Gazza’s common law wife is seen, briefly, carrying small seedlings out from the woodshed and loading them into the family’s van. You watch the sashay of her buttocks moving up and down. A firm bum, hard and ripe despite her pilled grey Warehouse trackpants. She’s slim, the wife, and with her hair sequestered in a messy bun that makes her chin looks elegant. Cleopatra-esque. You can see the knobs of her spine. Every ounce of fat smoked away. It’s a shame she’s wasted on a man who spends his final moments doing pointless loops around the driveway on a BMX. He could have made something of his life, perhaps. You lent him your copy of Rich Dad, Poor Dad 18 months ago and assumed, since it never came back, he might have been studying it.

The boys carry armloads of shiny orange metal out. They’ve stripped the copper from the hot water cylinder, it appears, and you begin dialling the police before they scream away in some vehicle and it’s over.

You’ve fixed the broken windows problem! You! You’re a superhero of sorts – a real life Batman. You message your wife, ask her to pick up dinner and wine on her way home from the gallery. You squeeze in a couple hours of highly productive writing, fizzing with glee. Covert ops mercenary Dan Drayton finds himself on shore leave in Bangkok and isn’t sure if he should trust the advances of a sultry Saigon siren, who lures him into a grotty flat full of Thai ruffians with back plastic sunglasses fixed to their eyes, baboons in tank tops who beat the stuffing out of the hero.

The scene is making you anxious. This isn’t the outcome Dan Drayton deserves. You put your computer to sleep and lie down on the couch, flipping on the telly for some comfort.

Felicity arrives home with a My Food Bag featuring some good sirloins. You dine quietly with a tablecloth and candlelight, Brahms on the stereo, and outside, silence like snow.

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He shows his face, the landlord does – well, he visits his property, though his face is concealed under black Ray Bans. You’re summoned over for a handshake and a chat.

Ms Gurunathan introduces you to the owner, inflecting the introduction with apologetic little notes about ‘the tenants,’ and backs away to let the men talk while she tallies the damage on her tablet. It feels wrong to stand on Gazza’s turf. It’s a contaminated place.

You’re astonished to find yourself dealing with a landlord who’s cool-headed, professional, courteous. A late 30s gent with the physique of a yachtsman and the polo shirt to match. Behind the aviator lenses, his skin is well-stretched over his skull – he pays for a good chemical, perhaps, or a great surgeon, or maybe it’s just the sun which really smooths a man’s frown-lines. He says he splits his year between sailing the South China Sea and tending to his investment properties in this country.

Once you’re done chatting, he’s given a tour of the run-down bungalow by Neelam – seemingly for the first time. The owner of this half-a-million dollar asset appears never to have seen his own building. He takes cautious steps around the verandah, perhaps imagining he’s on the deck of his boat. He steps over a sun-brittled plastic buggy lying on its side, kicks a dog dish away.

At the end of the tour, the landlord leans against your broken fence and pulls your ear close to his lips.

‘By the way,’ he says, looking down his nose so you almost get a glimpse of his eyes, ‘I could use someone like you to check my assets for me, if you’re needing work. You’re not, like, agoraphobic or anything, are ya?’

‘I edit a financial magazine; I also publish action thrillers… well, I will, so long as my publisher gets off her behind and…. Anyway, I’m gainfully employed, but thank you.’

He pushes the sunglasses back up his furrowed nose. ‘I just assumed you didn’t have much goin on, since you’ve been monitoring these guys 24/7… .’

‘When you say check your assets for you, d’you mean keep an eye on tenants? A secret agent, of sorts?’

‘Tenants come and go. Bricks and mortar’s the part that stays, my friend.’ He hands you his business card. It’s thick and white and the corners are sharp. ‘Spies like us, huh? Hit me up if you wanna go pro. I need a kicker-outer. You do renos too?’

‘Beg your pardon?’

‘Renovations. Fix things. Like these windows here on the garage. Whack out the busted panes, chuck a new bitta glass in. That sound like you?’

‘I’d imagine that’s best left to the professionals.’

‘Well my friend, think about it. You’ll be saving me tonnes on a glazier. Paneless. Get it?’

He winks, makes a clucking noise out of the corner of his mouth. Ms Gurunathan opens her convertible for him and he hops in and disappears. Onto the next property, presumably. Or the airport.

It’s settled, then. Gazza the window-breaker, the polluter of neighbourhoods, is moving on. Gareth Hendrix, whose last name prickles you with its non-traditional spelling, its pretentious X as if he’s trying to make a political statement.

Be a kicker-outer. The world needs people like you. You’re pretty sure he said it like that.

You set the alarm and lock the gate and phone security to tell them to monitor your home, even though you’re only popping down to Deli Delight. You pick up a kilo of salmon steaks, dill, unsalted butter, choux pastry, portobello mushrooms. Your Range Rover is parked in front of the laundromat. Amongst the dark den of washing machines there is music erupting from a portable speaker and people chattering. You see them and freeze, acid rising up through your groin. Gazza’s mob are draped across the laundromat like a still life painting, some sitting on washers, others lying on the floor playing games on their cellphones, spending a pointless day there in the dry warmth. You hoist your canvas shopping bag onto your shoulder to hide your face and scuttle past.

Tonight’s vol-au-vent with truffle and fennel sauce tastes heavenly, garnished with praise you recite to your lover. The world needs people like you. Be a kicker-outer. 

Felicity throws down her knife and fork. ‘Is that what he said?!’

‘Words to that effect.’

You lean your chair back from the dinner table to dip your ears in the ambrosia that is the Jean-Francois Paillard chamber orchestra performing Pachelbel’s Canon distributed through a Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 wood panelled surround sound system. You stroke your wife’s hand as the third movement climaxes then put your fingers under her wrist and tug her to the bedroom.

 

With the ability to concentrate on your work, you ascend through the peerage of publishing. You get manuscripts completed and sent away, you get correspondence dispatched, you get acceptance, and cheques, and bylines. First there’s your longlisting in the Tom Clancy Awards for Action Thriller Writing. Then there’s a two-page spread in Saturday’s paper covering your six published novels, your biography of von Tempsky, not to mention your academic papers. What really accelerates your ascent is the telephone call directly from Penguin managing director Ferguson Chen, who says he has a talent acquisition manager looking for more titles specifically within the veteran-turned-mercenary action thriller genre you specialise in– so long as you can bring more spies into your books.

Indeed you can. The advance which Penguin pays you is a profound motivator to get more manuscripts completed. You purchase a Herman Miller Executive Size B Lumbar Support Aeron chair so you can truly write in style. It doesn’t fit in the boot of your Range Rover so you stop in at the dealership on the way home and upgrade to a 2018 Tesla Model X.

That night, you and Felicity celebrate with tapas and a show – Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, a 2.5 hour return trip to the city centre and home, cringing as the car slows when you enter Calcutta Close. That prick neighbour’s probably having another party. That’s the night ruined.

Your exhale as you realise there is no sound on the street. The smashed windows of 148b are black and silent. You will never see Gazza again.

 

5.

A van comes by one Wednesday. The vehicle hums and rumbles on the lip of the driveway. Perhaps workmen have been dispatched to clear away the car wreck and – hang on, who’s this – it’s the female, the fuckable wife, scampering inside the house, re-emerging with some bundle of fabric in her arms – the curtains?! The filthy devils have stolen – no. No, she’s spreading the big square cloth against the side of the van. It’s a quilt, yes, a quilt with gaily coloured trains and tractors. Eager hands reach from the rear of the van and snatch the quilt.

The vehicle honks twice then disappears.

A honk aimed toward your house… and a wave. What could it mean?

You contact property manager Neelam Gurunathan hoping for advice on whether you need a restraining order.  Your guts are a pretzel of twisted angst. Ms Gurunathan no longer works for Asset Advance, you’re informed. The new property manager, Jitesh Johnson, informs you the decision has been made to keep the house empty for a year to “increase its value.” 

Mr Johnson breaks it down for you. It’s a formula known as TRA, or Tenant Risk Algorithm. The decreasing value of a property caused by suboptimal tenants is plotted on the Y axis of a three dimensional graph. Rising prices for the property are plotted on the X axis.  The Z axis shows the rental payments of the tenants, which restore some balance to the force tugging down the price of a house once it is no longer pristine.

‘It’s like when you drive your car off the lot, it loses half its value the moment it hits the street, sometimes better to leave a property empty, know what I’m sayin?’

You tell him that as the owner of a 2018 Tesla Model X you indeed know what he is saying.

He drops round to check the water meter at 4 and shakes your hand, strolling the driveway with you, tutting at the cracked fence, the crushed cans and glass crumbs tangled in the bushes.

‘Please don’t worry about him getting revenge, these people are used to getting kicked out of places all the time,’ Jitesh Johnson explains. ‘They know it’s nothing personal. Listen, we got some seriously bad TRA scores with our applicants at the moment. If you know any good tenants needing a place, please send ’em my way.’

You inform the property manager you don’t mix with renters. Anyone with half a brain years ago got a deposit for a mortgage, signed up for the Reserve Bank newsletter and watched house prices push up from underneath like being on top of a fountain of spurting oil. 

The TRA thing is fascinating, though. You discuss it with Felicity as she tucks forkfuls of beef Wellington into her mouth, ruminating over the haves and the have-nots and how you can understand why sterilisation is offered to certain families and it’s really doing them a favour. After the main is cleared away, she moans over a delectable lemon gelato.

You squeeze in a quick three hours of writing before bed. There’s a rather wooden subplot about a vindictive villain your publisher has insisted you put in your latest novel. You stay up writing while Felicity snores, wearily adding a backstory about your Ukrainian baddie becoming enraged by a brutal landlord’s oppressive TRA score when he was a young man. The score turned him into a remorseless anarchist. It’s a humane detail, you feel. Something about his mother being chucked out of her apartment into the gutter of a snowy Kiev December. A realistic motivation. Half-realistic, anyway. Next time you’re on a panel at a literary festival and you’re asked how you understand the complexities of such disturbed characters, perhaps you’ll reveal your genius.

Or perhaps you’ll chuckle quietly to yourself and play coy.

 

With the Laundromat People long-gone, life goes from strength to strength.

It’s not just being shortlisted to ghostwrite the new Jack Ryan book Explosive Decompression. It’s being asked to write a guest column for the Wall Street Journal. It’s the A+ from your cardiologist. It’s spinning your chair to face out the bay window and feeling powerful within your walls. It’s the limited edition Pony of the Penines 2000 piece puzzle from Berslfärne. It’s a matinee film at Rialto Cinema Deluxe watching Anna Netrebko sing Aida at the Met while you sip a tiny bottle of champagne and enjoy a choc top ice cream with pecan nuts. It’s the smiling faces and sensuous smells at Divine Deli on the way home. It’s gouda cheese and a macchiato and managing to walk past a family of beggars outside the exit without treading on their wet blanket, quilt, rag, whatever it is.

It’s the way your wife points her nose in the air as she hot-glues wires onto her sound installation. Felicity is about to display an exhibit at the art museum about how the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 inspired artists worldwide who mixed real volcanic ash into the pigment, creating an ephemeral movement known as Emergency Art. She bites her lip, strains her biceps to connect the wire to the diode and…. Light! She has light!

You wrap your arms around her flesh. She snuffles your arms, asks you what makes you think you’re worthy of her donating her body to you.

You’re happy, that’s what. You’ve succeeded in demonstrating to deviants that anti-social conduct will result in punishment. It’s safe to have visitors round for dinner parties again.

And you’ve become a lion of publishing. It’s hard to put it in words for Felicity, though you’re sure she senses it. A don, a silverback. A hero. You want her to join you in celebration of yourself. Happiness rediscovered.

That happiness begins with a startling shag on the carpet, changing position four times so your backs and thighs don’t hurt too much. Your kisses afterward are wet, sloppy, careless, your lips smeared on her eyes, her lashes on your tongue, her hand on your hammering heart.

 

On Pier Four, overlooking wrinkled green water, a photographer is taking photos of you with the wind flicking your scarf so those who peer at the jacket of your books know you live in moody tempest.

The angst becomes real halfway through the shoot. You smell cigarette smoke, hear cans crinkled and dropped on concrete, and a certain belch. He must be near. Your suspicion is confirmed when your ears are alerted, mid-photo, to a certain phlegmy hacking of the throat coming from the playground. The Hendrix child’s vile cough is followed by the mother telling the child to shut up. The boys are riding a roundabout. No coats on the children, despite the drizzle. The family is amongst a pile of suitcases and laundry bags parked on a picnic table, Gazza pacing and smoking and talking on his phone, hunched in a hoodie, evidently waiting for someone to take the family somewhere. 

‘YO, NEIGHBAAA!’ comes the spear of noise. It lands between your shoulder blades, pinning you. Creep away, pretend you haven’t heard and you may receive a so-called kinghit to the back of the head. Escape is impossible. Besides, Dan Drayton wouldn’t run.

‘Oh, hi,’ you say, and swallow. He comes jogging over, surprisingly sprightly, as if upbeat. Happiness derived from, what? Intoxicants?

‘Mr Hendrix… .’

‘It’s Gazza, bro. I seen you doing your camera shit. Lookin flash, cuz. Just wanted to say laters, cheers for bein neighbours and all that.’ He’s short, up close, and what appeared through your binoculars to be muscle is simply bosoms and chubby arm fat. He sticks out his hand to shake. There are three watches on his wrist. ‘Might see you round, my bro.’

What does the inflection on round mean? Is it a promise? A threat? A plea for shelter?

A child’s face appears between his thighs as if he’s just given birth. The boy crawls through Gazza’s legs, runs excited laps around the man. ‘Can we stay here and play, daddy, pleeeeease?’

‘Course, son, course,’ he tells the boy, ‘Got four hours to fuckin kill. Shelter ain’t open til dinner time.’

He looks at you hard, squinting, cocks his head like he’s just been insulted or surprised. He reaches out, smears a knuckle across your wet cheek. Stray raindrops appear to have landed on your eyes.

‘Don’t worry bout us, cuz,’ he says. ‘Snot your fault.’

Your photographer is loading his gear into the car. He dithers, keeps his back to you as he slams the boot shut. He says he can’t photograph you if you’re crying.

He’s utterly mistaken, but the shoot’s over. Your face is flushed red, your eyes pink, nose raw. Not tears though, you insist. Just a cold.

 

You’ve spent all week researching the protocol for an authentic Japanese degustation. After drinks and gossip and stowing everyone’s coats begins the kaiseki. Each item of food is served on the dining table so everyone can sit up properly. You can hardly expect yourself or your guests to kneel Oriental-style, what with Gladys’s steel hip and your slipped disc from years hunched over the desk.

It’s freezing outside. The trees slap wetly against the windows. Leaves stick to the glass. The fireplace grunts as the wood shifts in the flames. Your guests enjoy a shokuzen-shu of fiery sake. After a sakizuke of oyster follows the hassun, grilled tofu with wasabi, then a takiawase of simmered soy beans, carrot and bacon.

Maura Sanders, unimpressed with the slow reveal of the ten courses, makes a joke about starving to death, which causes Felicity to lament that news report surely everyone’s seen about that DREADful famine in North Korea. Richard Sager postulates we should hear the dictator out and that this Kim Jong-Un must be a satirist method actor of unrealised genius. His riposte gets you all chortling, you warm humour stoked with spicy liquor.

Between the mukozuke, futamono and yakimono courses a playful argument brews with indignant snorting, explosions of laughter, refills of bubbles. From the discussion of global concerns arises a debate over the threat of climate change. The inability of low-lying nations to respond is discussed. The fate of uneducated poor people is lobbed about the table like a beachball, which reminds Maura Sanders: whatever became of those reprehensible redneck neighbours of yours?

You begin telling the story with a disclaimer that Gazza Hendrix has had many options. He was privileged to have had civil neighbours who allowed him an extremely long leash, considering the dole bludger didn’t have to get up for work any day of the week. What’s manifestly unfair to taxpayers is 44 percent of supposedly poor people actually collect benefits which, added up, give net income greater than that enjoyed by legitimately hard workers. You cite your sources. Everybody’s nodding, except James Boxleitner, who counters that in his eight years on the board of Salvation Station the divide between middle class, working poor and benefit-dependent shrank every six months until there was no divide left whatsoever. He cites his own sources. Our world is unfortunately choked, in the centre, by economic forces pushing aspirational families back down the ladder to keep them from receiving wealth re-distributed from the one percent, he claims. We see it when good people can’t get houses and have to live in neighbourhoods full of broken windows. It’s not their fault they’re forced into conditions of hopelessness.

‘Economics, not eugenics,’ he says, staring at you hard til you’re forced to look away.

Felicity stands in front of you and informs Boxleitner that actually a certain Malcolm Gladwell not long ago addressed these very same concerns and sided with you. So there.

‘GLADwell?!’ James Boxleitner sniggers, ‘That flip-flopper?!’

By 2008, Malcolm Gladwell was, at every appearance, publicly accepting that Broken Windows was a failure whitewashed by a mayor who sold it as an effective system when it was in fact the opposite, Boxleitner explains. Broken Windows policies caused naïve juvenile window-breakers to enter the criminal justice system and become convicted felons, permanently altering the course of their lives, destroying their chance at getting a career, a mortgage. No right to vote or get a business loan or lease a place to live.

‘So effective council monitoring of bylaw breaches is all that’s needed in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, you understand?’ Boxleitner continues. ‘Not crucifying people for blowing off steam now and again. Jesus Christ, that broken windows thing’s been discredited for a decade. You oughta get out of the house more.’

The table laughs. Your collar burns.

‘It doesn’t change anything,’ Felicity interjects, shielding you with her middle. ‘Have some more Chianti.’

‘This stuff is $200 a bottle.’ Boxleitner has to peer far around Felicity’s waist to look you hard in the eyes. ‘Auction it; let me auction it. I’ll give the proceeds to Salvation Station. You said you had two in the cellar.’

‘Boys!’ Felicity lays the su-zakana loudly on the table then hurriedly fetches the shiizakana and naka-choko. Sasha Gould changes the subject. She has eight days in Kyoto booked for the northern spring. The Sanders talk about their 10 day cruise of the Alaskan fjords. Felicity dishes out the tome-wan then the mizumono. Everybody groans with delight, pausing periodically to wipe their lips with silk napkins and gush compliments.

As coffee and brandy are being served and you’re stacking plates beside the sink, Boxleitner pulls you conspiratorially into the laundry. There’s a load of washing on; the room is warm and smells comforting. Boxleitner is doing his Ph.D. in social anthropology and would be delighted to get in touch with the Nasty Neighbour for a research interview. You’re happy to help, though when you go to write down where to find the family, you’re stumped. All you can do is describe the rainy playground, the wet quilt on the cold concrete.

 

 

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