Stories in a Flash

Do you have a fear of commitment or a very short attention span? Does the prospect of reading a thick novel fill you with trepidation? Are you one of the many who never finished The Luminaries?

Then Flash Fiction might be just the literary genre for you.

Flash Fiction, which can also be described as Short Short Stories, is fiction of extreme brevity. How extreme? A whole narrative might fill only a page or two, or even less. The writing is succinct and suggestive, often leaving the reader to fill in the gaps.

National Flash Fiction Day

A local celebration of National Flash Fiction Day, ‘Flash in the Pan’ is planned on 22 June, 6pm – 8pm at The Twisted Hop and will include author readings from Owen MarshallRachael King, James Norcliffe, Fiona Farrell and others.

The winners of this year’s National Flash Fiction Day Awards will also be announced and the ‘Norton Flash Fiction International Anthology’ will be launched. Attendance is free and the event is open to everyone, readers and writers alike.

For more information on this event visit the National Flash Fiction Day NZ website or Facebook page.

Read Flash Fiction

A novel relationship: WORD Christchurch

Carnival SkyIn all my years of reading and attending Literary Festivals, I have never once been in the same room as a writer and an editor. WORD event The Novel Relationship, with two writers and their editor in the same space at the same time, was therefore a must for me.

The event, “chaired and refereed” by Chris Moore seemed to promise, if not blood on the walls, at least a bit of bruising and the possibility of raised voices. I took my umpteenth coffee, got my pen and paper ready and settled in for the fray.

The two authors were Laurence Fearnley, whose writing I love: Butler’s Ringlet; Edwin and Matilda; The Hutbuilder. She has a new book The Reach, which will be available in September. And Owen Marshall, whose work I have yet to discover. The editor was Anna Rogers and if ever I write a book, I will want her to be the person to guide it to publication. She was great.

They all know one another, so the event got off to a smooth start.

Laurence Fearnley likes a soft edit:

I like an edit that takes into account pace and tone. I like to meander into my sentences. Then an abrupt sentence can happen. The pace needs to match the character progression. I like sentences that walk into the sentence. Anna is good at that with me.

Owen Marshall appreciates that Anna is a writer herself and that they can actually get together to discuss any possible changes.

Editors are the traffic cops of writing, but they can only suggest.

Anna feels that an editor’s job should be in the background:

I’ve done my job if I am not seen.

The tension really ratcheted up when they had to decide who would read first. It was that civil. But I love to hear authors read their own work and I was not disappointed with their renderings.

But my mind wandered just a teensy bit to Lionel Shriver who famously dumped her editor and friend of long standing after she had been disparaging about Shriver’s book We Need to talk About Kevin, ran off with her ex-editor’s husband, married him, found another editor and made a lot of money.

Try as we might (and there were questions about self-publishing and the isolation and smallness of the New Zealand market), this event remained resolutely sweet and fluffy. A little lambkins-frolicking of an occasion. Dare I say it – and any editor would get the machete out I am sure: It was a nice event.

More WORD stuff


Happy Birthday, Janet: WORD Christchurch

Janet FrameAugust 28 2014 marked the 90th anniversary of the birth of one of New Zealand’s most celebrated authors (so far) Janet Frame. As part of WORD Christchurch, Bernadette Hall, Owen MarshallTusiata Avia and Janet Frame’s niece and literary executor, Pamela Gordon discussed her work and influence.

Owen Marshall said that although he met Janet Frame three times, the thing that most closely aligned them was their shared common experience and knowledge of Oamaru and the fact that he “loved her work very much indeed”.  He read her description of returning to Willowglen, her family home, after the death of her father. Owen Marshall also visited Willowglen, when it was in a derelict state, and took a plug and chain as a souvenir, which he showed to the audience.

Tusiata Avia, the winner of the 2013 Janet Frame Literary Trust Award, read four beautiful poems from Stories will tell: I take into my arms more than I can bear to hold, If I read St John of the Cross, Drought in another country and The end.

Bernadette Hall told us about her attendance at Janet Frame’s 70th birthday party as part of the New Zealand Arts Festival in Wellington. She remembers her as a ‘sturdy, white curly haired figure” with her handbag on her lap, underneath which was a book with her bookmarks and speaking notes. As she stood up to giver her speech, her book and marking papers fell out which Bernadette felt “rather charming”.  Once she gathered up her notes she read two passages, My Cousins ‐ Who Could Eat Cooked Turnips and an excerpt from Daughter Buffalo about two dogs mating. Bernadette enjoyed the juxtaposition of the writing with the formal occasion she was presenting it in. Malfred’s train journey from A State of siege was the work she choose to read, with emphasis on the quote:  ‘Where were the people to look on the scene and know its meaning?’

Book cover of A state of siegeBernadette also shared her original poem, Dark pasture, written with permission of the Janet Frame Literary Trust. Alternating lines from A State of Siege and Hall, it ends with the Frame’s line: “where is the Ministry of Imagination? the Secretary of Empathy?”

Pamela, chair of the Janet Frame Literary Trust, said she was also “lucky enough to be her friend” and that people are surprised that the real Janet was “ribald and quite funny”. The Janet Frame Literary Trust believes “exaggerations and errors of biographical fact” abound about the life and personality of Janet, and states that as time passes, “the Janet Frame ‘story’ hardens into a legend”. The biographical page of the Trust hopes to debunk some common myths about the writer; including her mental health and reclusiveness.

As her works were read at the event, it is hard to argue with Pamela when she said “her work remains strong and vibrant today.”

Tusiata Avia


Selected stories by Owen Marshall – New Zealand e-book month

Owen Marshall is a renowned short story writer and novelist, who worked for more than 25 years as a teacher before retiring to work full time as a writer. Many critics rank Marshall among the finest, if not the finest, of New Zealand’s short story writers.

In these sixty stories taken from the past thirty years, Marshall displays his mastery of the short story form, his love for the South Island landscape and his unsentimental yet humane delineation of recognisable characters and situations.

You can read Selected stories as an e-book from our Overdrive collection.

Selected stories  is also available as a paper book.

The Larnachs

Owen MarsallI talked last week about attending The Larnachs, a Christchurch Writers Festival event with Owen Marshall, author of the recently released and well reviewed book of the same name. And on Sunday I frocked up and rocked up to the Cashmere Club – a fittingly posh-sounding place for a posh-sounding event. A sell-out crowd was in attendance, which was nice – some previous events have been down a little in numbers, which is such a shame, and it’s YOUR LOSS! Make it up to yourself, and make sure you get tickets for some of the events still to come …

Right, grump over, and back to Larnach Castle, or “the Camp”, as the family used to call it. Owen Marshall is one of New Zealand’s best-known and best-loved writers, and has once again put his talents to great use, bringing this story vividly to life. In conversation with the always wonderful Ruth Todd, Owen talked about the book, the family, the history and the scandal – the love triangle between William Larnach, patriarch; his second and best-loved son Dougie; and his third wife Connie, herself a member of another illustrious and political New Zealand family.

coverMuch of the session focused on how Owen actually wrote the book: whether he talked to the family beforehand (he didn’t); if he’s had any feedback from the family afterwards (he has, and all positive); how he decided the balance between historically accurate fact-telling, and fictional made-up story-telling (he aimed for “… an imaginative re-creation of a situation experienced by real people …”); and how he chose whose story to tell (three stories, two voices: Connie and Dougie each tell their story in the first person, while William, whose character Owen describes as ‘Shakespearean’ in nature, is seen through their eyes).

There were three readings, a heap of audience questions, and so so much more discussed than I can possibly do justice to here. I must confess I’d have liked it to be a bit more on the gossipy side – it wasn’t till right at the end that one lady said, “I’m going to be brave and ask about the scandal”, and I wanted to hug her … But the session was great: warm, inclusive and a fascinating insight into not only one of our best-known families and landmarks, but also the writing process itself.

Coming up soon for the Writers Festival, Setting the Stage for Murder, with Tess Gerritsen and John Hart, and What’s for Pudding, an afternoon tea discussion with Alexa Johnston and Kate Fraser.  Go now. Buy tickets.  Enjoy.

Intrigue and scandal at the castle

CoverI’m off to a session of The Press Christchurch Writers Festival this Sunday.  I’d like to say it’s because I’m committed to filling my mind with erudite learning and historical facts about New Zealand.

Honestly, though?  It comes to this:  there’s a castle.  And in the castle there is, by all accounts, an intrigue and a scandal.  If this alone isn’t enough to woo you, add these enticements:  the setting is our own beloved Larnach Castle; the writer is Owen Marshall; and tickets for the event are only $15.

The Larnachs is a fictional re-telling of the story of William Larnach, his third wife Constance, and her relationship with William’s son Douglas.  I’m not going to blather on today about the storyline, the great attention to details both character and historical, or the glowing reviews received for the book so far.  Instead I’m just going to say, go get yourself a ticket and I’ll see you there.  And next week I’ll post some pics, and we can have a good old natter about the event, the writing, and what we all thought.

Oh, and if anyone has already managed to get a copy and read it, please comment below and tell us what you thought!

A glimpse of Owen Marshall

The series of author interviews I’ve undertaken recently in the endeavour to bring a bit of the Press Christchurch Writers festival to CCL readers has been deeply interesting. The manner in which the interviewed authors have responded to my questions has provided a glimpse into their personalities, writing style and process.

Some have answered in a very considered or academic style. Others were more off-the-cuff, humorous and loaded with information and insight. This must reflect the writer’s personality, no?

In my recent interview with author Owen Marshall, I was struck with how succinct his answers were. There were no wasted words – a definite sign of an accomplished writer and, perhaps, an indication that in life Marshall is also  thoughtful and deliberate.

Though Marshall considers himself primarily a prose writer, he was scheduled to be one of the presenters at the Poetry for Lunch session at the Writers Festival. I had looked forward to hearing him read his poetry, to experience the words by the man who had birthed them and therefore has a deeper familiarity with them than anyone else in the world. In his interview, Marshall revealed that he had planned to read from his newest collection of poetry Sleepwalking in Antarctica at the Writers’ Festival.

Being a non-native New Zealander, discovering many of these New Zealand writers and their work has been a revelatory journey. Yet I’m left with a lingering question: is all writing somehow an unavoidable revelation of self? Is studying the way a writer approaches, builds and uses language a kind of map into the writer as an individual?

Read my full interview with author Owen Marshall.