The Silence Beyond

CoverThis wonderful book is a volume of selected writings by the late Michael King.  It shows his wide-ranging skills as a historian, cultural commentator, writer, thinker – someone with real insight into New Zealand culture.

The introduction by his daughter Rachael King, herself a brilliant writer, lets you know you are in for something special. She talks of:

Searching through a box by his desk one night, I came across several photocopies of an essay called ‘The Silence Beyond’. It began: ‘At the age of thirty I found out that my name was not my real name’.

This essay resonated with me. There was a similar revelation in my family when it was realised my grandmother didn’t have Swedish origins as we thought, but had been adopted and her ancestry was East End London Jewish. King shows that genealogy and family knowledge isn’t  a dry thing, it does opens up ‘the silence beyond’.

Amongst the eulogies and wise meditations, there is also a big  pulsing vein of humour. His anecdotes about the New Zealand literati are fantastic:

  • He is in a rowdy group of students who wake up Charles Brasch. He gives them a thimble of sherry.
  • Janet Frame buys a photocopier,  sticks it in the garage, it gets infested with ants and all her photocopied letters and manuscripts are speckled with squashed ants.
  • Janet Frame:  Scrabble Star. She invents the word Silltits – “It’s what all those women in New York get when they spend all day leaning out of tenement windows and watching the action in the street”.
  • Dan Davin – Starsky and Hutch fan.

Should authors experiment?

In the past few years there have been many adult authors trying their hand at writing books for children and teens.  Just because they’re best-selling adult authors doesn’t always mean they will write best-selling (or even good) books for younger audiences.

Clive Cussler, for example, has written dozens of books for adults and is an author who is always on our best-seller lists. However, back in 2006, he released a book for children called The Adventures of Vin Fiz.  It was so condescending and old-fashioned that I gave up after a few pages.

John Grisham is another adult author who recently turned to Young Adult fiction, with his Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer books.  I haven’t tried it myself (I couldn’t bring myself to do so), but the reviews have been pretty bad all round.

There are equally as many adult authors who have written some amazing books for children and teens.

Should authors experiment or should they stick with what they’re good at?  What do you think?