Monday, 6 September 2010

I swear it's alive.

I swear every computer is maliciously alive. I know all internet providers and website servers are. And they all conspire to give me hell. It’s the wasted time which drives me mad with frustration and irritates the hell out of me.

I know I follow the instructions carefully and to the letter. As a long time educator, tutor, professor and teacher I do understand the importance of reading instructions and following them exactly. I am also capable of asking questions and then using the information in the answers correctly.

I swear computer people seem unaware that they speak a weird jargon. They also seem unable to turn their instructions into simple steps. I find I am expected to automatically have gone through three or four stages before the instructions apply. Once the technobabble is translated into real English why is that when I do stages one, two and three, the result is not what it is supposed to be? Said expert trots along and does exactly the same steps and the result is perfect.

What annoys me is that all the computer experts simply smirk and all but pat me on the head.
I know it is the malign life form within my computer.

Sunday, 11 July 2010


There's been a big fuss recently about a respected writer and university professor who has published a book which contains bits and pieces, so some reviewers claim, from a few other academic books. 'Plagiarism' was the cry and the author was royally ticked off. One magazine made a great song and dance about the wicked professor and how he should resign.

I shouldn't be surprised at this magazine's double standards but there, two weeks later, in the Reviews section, was a two page review of 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' with much praise for its author.

Now I regard this rubbish as published fan fiction though I'm told the proper name is a Mash novel. I don't care what name the publishers try to wrap it up in. It's blatant plagiarism, the stealing another writer's work. Of course choosing a writer who is long dead, but very popular, guarantees a sale with publishers who look for gimmicks and novelties to sell.

The two page review made no mention of stealing, plagiarism, or fan fiction. This was a novelty novel, so original and clever! I don't know how the reviewer had the impertinence to write that. It's a copy of Jane Austen's work with zombies - zombies I ask you! - thrown in. Nothing original about that, just a gimmicky publisher and a writer who would do anything to see his work published, even plagiarise if he can get away with it.

But it's about time reviewers made a stand and called the authors of this novel and others of its ilk to task for plagiarism, the outright theft of another writer's creation.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

'There isn't....

a decent book on the library shelves.' is a cry I am now hearing every week when I do my library volunteer work. Volunteering sounds grand, but it simply means shelving books. It's an incredibly boring job because no matter how often one straightens the books, places them back in the correct Dewey order, and leaves each row tidy, one knows that two second later some reader will come and mess it all up again.

A volunteer is neither fish nor flesh for it's also made quite plain that one is not a librarian. One must not use the librarian's door, offices, chairs, mugs etc or help the public without pointing out that one is a volunteer. Librarians deal with the public.

This amuses me as the public want a quick answer to "Where are the cooking/craft/painting/war/history etc books?" Seems to me a waste of all our time for me to traipse people down to the librarian's front desk when I know exactly where the enquirer needs to be. I usually loudly proclaim 'I am a volunteer not a proper librarian.' and whisk Joe Public to the required section. The librarians haven't worked out how to tell me off when I do this.

However things are becoming tricky right now because the war cry from the fiction section of the library is "Why can't I find a decent book to read?" The library has an excellent turn over of new books which are bought and shelved almost daily. People can suggest a new novel and it will be bought. Nice! But as one dear old soul moaned today: "They're all peculiar." He was not happy to keep finding new novels full of vampires, or characters taken over by ghosts. Alternative History gives older readers acid indigestion and they have heart attacks when faced with same sex love triangle stories. The Baptist home schooling families want more Christian books and object to all the murder mysteries. The stalwart colonials are affronted by all the American novels. And so it goes on.

Trouble is now I'm getting to be a familiar face, and people know I write, I am being urgently requested to find something worth reading for a larger and larger number of readers. This is not on. I am NOT a librarian. Trouble is I review books for a fiction website and I am the world's fastest reader. When the librarians have to say they haven't read the book being waved under their noses, I have. This does not make me popular.

But Joe Public is right. The current crop of new novels left me reviewless. I couldn't finish any of them. Next week I will join the cry of "Why can't I find a decent book to read?" And hope the new batch of novels going onto the New Books Shelves contains something other than werewolves, vampires, gratuitous violence, rape and pillage.

Friday, 14 May 2010


I am trying to link my blog to my website. I will rant again tomorrow!
Literary Writing?

It does seem, in New Zealand, that there is, among writers and in so called writers’ support associations, a general and derogatory opinion of genre fiction. New students in my writing classes always tell me they are writing literary work. There was a time when a genre writer could not join a national writers’ association as a full member and still today, people insist that Literary is best.

We have, in New Zealand, writers who are successfully published overseas, and sell well, in the Fantasy and S(cience) F(iction) genres, and yet are treated as ‘prophets without honour’ in their own country. For many people, including writers who should know better than to put down one of their own, say 'Fantasy is not true, it's about things that don't exist, it's pure escapism.' Therefore readers of SF or Fantasy are escaping from reality because they are not good at coping with real life. 'They're losers!' They think that Fantasy readers want 'magic wand solutions' when the average person knows that this is 'wishful thinking and a load of codswallop because life's not easy like that' And of course every writer knows how simple it is to create a believable world with its culture and peoples and write well about it.

The majority writing view of the Romance genre is the same. The fact that it is the last remnant of the Mediaeval knight's code of honour watered down into our century's thinking is lost. New Zealand Romance writers get it in the neck for writing a load of 'sentimental rubbish', but they, and their readers, know it's a dream world which makes a nice escape from nappies, housework, struggling to make ends meet, the dreadful, constant news about murder, terrorists and threats of economic and ecological collapse. I actually know of a marriage counsellor who prescribes a list of Romance books to some of the husbands so that they can understand what women would appreciate and value in a man. Of course we writers know that a novel about two people, focussed solely on them and their relationship, is so easy to write. The genres called Women's Writing and Chick Lit are sneered at as second rate too. Good old MCP chauvinism is alive and well although heavily disguised as reputable book reviewing.

Literary writing is still held up as the best, even the only way of writing. It’s an attitude left over from the days where education was for the privileged and the size of your vocabulary and ability to speak in complex structures meant that you were not one of 'the ignorant great unwashed' or 'the working class'. There's a strong remnant of this opinion still in academia, the publishing world, and, sadly, the New Zealand writing world. But, and this is the great joke, no one, no critic or academic, can define ‘Literary Writing’ or has come up with a definition of New Zealand ‘Literary Writing’ which all or most agree with.

I teach my students that the Literary Genre is about ideas, universal themes of importance to all people. In the Literary Genre the characters will be memorable, the theme one that leaves the reader thinking. I believe that a good literary novel is not self indulgent navel gazing by a writer, but makes a universal statement that is true. Honesty, the writer's honesty, is one of the keys, for me, to the Literary Genre. It might not be your version of the truth, but it is the author's, and it makes you think.

With that as a definition then ‘Literary Writing’ can been seen in many types of fiction. PD James' crime novels, Terry Pratchett’s satires, or in some of Patricia McKilip's fantasy novels, to name a few.

‘Literary Writing’ is more complex than every day writing, using what my linguistics prof used to call 'the language beyond the lexical bar.' That is the writer can use Latinate words and complex structures. At one end of the ‘Literary Writing’ scale there are literary writers who are experimenting with language, in the use of words and structures, so that to the ordinary reader the writing becomes impossible to read or understand. At the other end are those so full of a love of language that they write prose like Gerard Manley Hopkins's poetry.

As a Kiwi I'm often depressed by this writing divide in my country. It seems only the correct NZ style Literary Genre is valued and it's not always the best of literary writing. And since Bill Manhire started his creative writing course we seem to have lots of course clones producing the same flat, dull, passionless and often meaningless writing. Our Arts Council grants go to these students and our New Zealand Society of Authors continues to encourage the belief that only these courses produce the ‘great New Zealand writers’ worthy of grants. I am not alone among the many readers in New Zealand who find such prize winning, or reviewed and vaunted, so called great literary works, as pretentious and arty-farty, peculiarly fixated on New Zealand's 'deep dark underbelly' or 'native consciousness' as though other countries aren’t populated by people who also do same nasty things to each other. It is sad to see some story or first novel lauded as a great literary triumph, and the author presented with grants and great reviews, when the ordinary reader can’t get through more than a few pages and will never finish reading it. It seems to me that the ‘Literary Genre’ has become a form of New Zealand intellectual snobbism to the detriment of all writing and writers.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

'Dark' Fiction

If I have to read and review another novel called 'dark' I shall cram it down the author's throat and shoot the publisher. Why is all this stuff getting published? It's depressing to read, no wonder the Romance genre is so popular.

Translated into my English anything branded as dark means I have to wade through a turgid story about some weak ineffectual Main Character who is deceitful, dishonest, indecisive and, generally speaking, a drip of a worm who eats junk, drinks too much, screws only married people and lives in self inflicted squalor thinking only of themselves and, usually, lustful sex!


I don't give a damn what the critics say, it's boring. Post modern is it? Not for me! Wishy washy, selfish, self indulgent crap. I am sick (pun intended) of reading about the MC's vomit, empty filthy 'fridge, ghastly food, and demolition decorated place of abode. I won't call it a home because it isn't. Is this truly how people live? Because the people I see around me don't live like that.

Most of us find life a challenge all right, a bloody mess and muddle, made more so by the majority of the human race. But do we have to drug, drink, fornicate and generally make more of a mess? No, we have a choice, and exercise it. I wish these boring Post Mods would do so and get themselves a life.

Thursday, 14 January 2010


We have a delightful colony of Little Blue Penguins in our town. They are carefully protected and monitored, have a safe, fenced nesting area - dogs and cats can wreak havoc - and are a tourist attraction.

The main colony has a pleasant tourist area where people may, from a safe distance, watch the penguins arrive at dusk and cross the beach to their nests. There is an information centre, a spy hut where one can view what's happening in several nests, a delightful hot drinks kiosk and shop, an intelligent commentary as the penguins timidly make their way from the sea to their nests under the cliffs, and opportunities for photographs in a lighted area, camera flashes can damage penguins' eyes. Alas, like most tourist things it is expensive to visit. However the penguins are prospering and have spread out along the little peninsular so that there are several other nesting groups close by, one under the old railway sheds, another in the rock garden at the Port Side restaurant and a suicidal group who have to cross the road to reach their nests under a collection of old customs sheds.

The problem is that tourists who don't want to pay the fee to enter the official tourist site have heard via the internet that you can see and photograph the Little Blues just outside the official tourist site. Chaos now reigns. Despite the notices to keep a 10 metre distance, not to crowd, herd or frighten the penguins back into the sea, and one poor volunteer trying to keep people from chasing the birds and taking pictures with flashes right in the birds' faces this is happening.

What ails people that they must chase these little birds and flash their mobile ‘phone cameras in their eyes? No sooner has the volunteer rushed off to another group harassing the penguins than the first misbehaving group of wretched tourists are back blocking the birds from their nests, herding them into corners to take flashlight photos. No amount of sweet reason and sensible explanation works on these people. They want their photograph for their website and to hell with starving chicks and blinded parents.

The problem is growing each week. When tourists are stupid enough to go and poke sunbathing sealions and throw stones at basking fur seals, chase rare and protected Yellow Eyed Penguins and hound Little Blue Penguins one has to ask why New Zealand encourages overseas tourists. Maybe it’s time to stop assuming that anyone has the right to come to New Zealand as a tourist and start issuing permits to people who want to share our wildlife rarities with respect.