When the world’s gone mad, there’s always art…

Recently, a friend and I went to the David Hockney exhibition ‘Current’ in Melbourne. Known as the UK’s greatest living artist, Hockney, who turns 80 this year, is a master at embracing the new while still acknowledging the past. His digital art is inspirational, but so are his acrylic portraits. One informs the other, it seems.

Anyway, my friend and I were talking about how we felt overwhelmed by the current political situation at home and abroad, poor treatment of asylum seekers and refugees in many countries, erosion of women’s rights and the disintegration of fair work practices.

Although we believe in fighting against these things, it is also worth noting that you can’t fight all the time. It is still important to take time out to create: paint, write, cook, or whatever your idea of creativity is.

To this end, here is my latest attempt at creativity: a painting done with Copic markers and fine-line pens, inspired by a photo of an old building I saw when I visited relatives in Oamaru, New Zealand. Oamaru is a peaceful South Island coastal town of grand historical buildings and a centre of ‘steampunk’ culture. Unlike the perfectly renovated buildings in the nearby tourist precinct, this one was yet to be ‘done’. I kind-of like it this way, though.

Oamaru

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A grand design

Grand Palace, Bangkok, ©Caron Eastgate Dann, 2016.

Here is my latest art work, based on a photo I took at the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. I’ve been to the Grand Palace at least 20 times, and it never ceases to amaze me with its vibrant colour, myriad sculptures, designs, gold figures, wall murals, gold and inlaid gems, temples and more.

I’ve used Copic markers, Prismacolour coloured pencils, and a Copic multi-liner pen in an 0.03 thickness, on A4-size Arttec bleed-proof paper.

What I will never do again when travelling

I catch public transport to and from work, and I often see people on the train who are on their way to the airport, bags in tow.

Tow is right—most of them have such enormous suitcases, I don’t know how they cope. They must have half their wardrobe in these things. And even if you can use elevators and escalators most of the time, there are other times when you have to lug the bag up stairs, across gutters and into buses, not to mention crossing the weird gap we have in Melbourne between the train and the platform.

And if you have to travel at peak hours, it’s a nightmare.

I gave up taking a big suitcase overseas in the late 1990s when I went to Europe. My suitcase was on wheels, but these were no help on escalators on the London Tube during the morning rush hour. My suitcase got in everyone’s way, constantly, over two weeks in England, Switzerland and France, and meant I was limited in what I could do once I’d checked out of a hotel. Smart Europeans, meanwhile, were sporting newfangled super-light cases or backpacks.

To be fair, I was going skiing and had all my gear with me. But I’m sure I also had lots of après-ski wear, shoes I would never wear, and bags. If you look at the photos from that trip, I’m never in the same outfit twice, except on the slopes of St Moritz themselves.

After that trip, I vowed that I would never again travel with a great big bag. From now on, I would have a bag that was compact, easy to stow, and light enough to carry easily if the wheels broke or I had to lug it up stairs, for example.

It’s also small enough to count as carry-on only if I have to travel that way, though I prefer to check my luggage most of the time.

I like to remember the traveller’s adage, “Think about what you’ll need for your trip, then take half the luggage and twice the money.”

This is the way I pack...the pencil case with the retro Penguin cover contains my miniature art set for painting en route.

This is the way I pack…the pencil case with the retro Penguin cover contains my miniature art set for painting en route.

Nothing lasts forever

IMG_2532

I have a couple of possessions that have been part of my everyday routine for a decade or more. They are not necessarily valuable or one-of-a-kind, or even very unusual.

One of them was a Capricorn mug I got in Thailand when I was living there in the late-1990s. Almost every day since then, I have had at least one cup of tea from this mug.

IMG_2535Although the gold leaf that used to decorate it has almost gone, it seemed to be going strong. But a few days ago, it broke when it fell into the sink. Just broke, just like that.

Now I have to throw it away, and I will. But I will miss it.

Knowing it couldn’t last too much longer, I recently searched for another on the internet, but there is not one to be found, it would seem, although these mugs were available in a shop at a particularly popular shopping centre in central Bangkok for six years or more.

A couple of years ago, I even emailed the factory that makes Royal Bone China in Thailand, hoping they might have some remainders. They replied very cordially, but no luck: the cups had all been sold years before.

So now all I have is these pictures. If ever you see one, let me know, won’t you?IMG_2531

You don’t see this too often

eggThe other morning, I decided to have a fried egg for breakfast. I heated the pan, cracked the shell of a fresh, free-range organic egg, and…out popped a beautiful double yolk.
I’ve seen this only once or twice before in all the thousands of eggs I’ve eaten, including the truly free-range farm eggs I used to buy in rural Thailand in the early 1990s, they of the bright orange yolks and rich flavour.
It got me thinking about other natural phenomena we love to see: there’s something about them that makes you feel lucky all day.
I’ve seen several shooting stars. They’re usually something you see out of the corner of your eye and realise only after that that’s what it was. The most memorable was in Bangkok in the late 1990s. My then-husband and I used sometimes on a Saturday night to go up to the roof of our apartment building where the pool was and lie on the deck chairs, looking up at the sky.
Unbelievably, given the pollution, you could still see stars. One night, we saw what we thought was a bright shooting star go right across the sky. I’m calling it a shooting star, but this is my name for anything I see in the sky like that: it may well have been some other phenomenon.
I’ve never seen a five-leaf clover, but I have a friend who goes running every day, and she has seen quite a few.
But then, you have to be looking for these things to see them.

A hotch potch: pink frothy tea, stir-fried cucumber and an accidental recipe

 

Have a nice cup of (pink and white frothy) tea, why don’t you?

Here is what I tried this week: a “geisha green tea latte”… that was not green at all, but looked like a strawberry and vanilla milkshake, only hot.

latteI read a lot of inventive things on blogs such as RocketNews24, which has articles about the weird and wonderful flavours of food products in Japan, mainly (chocolate-covered squid, anyone?).

So, what did a geisha green tea latte taste like? It actually tasted like green tea…with rose-flavoured milk froth. It was pricy at $5.20.

Would I have it again? Probably. I like milk shakes, and I like rose-flavoured herbal tea, so a hot green tea milk shake tastes pretty good to me.

When I was a young adult in New Zealand in the 1980s, cafes offered coffee or tea, and that was it. If you ordered coffee, it was usually a spoon of Nescafe stirred into just-boiled water; if tea, you still usually got actual tea leaves in a tea pot. But there was no, “Will that be English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Earl Grey, Lady Grey, Orange Pekoe or decaf, with skinny or whole milk?” The only choices were black and white, sugar or none. My great-grandmother was disturbed when she discovered I didn’t take sugar. “A girl needs sugar in her tea – it’s good for you,” she maintained. (She also felt it highly disturbing that I washed my hair in the morning before heading off to uni. I would, she said, catch my death of cold, one of these days).

But back to choice. So great are the choices these days that what we finish up with often doesn’t resemble the original product at all. My husband recently ordered a “low-fat decaf latte, no sugar”. The waiter retorted, “Why bother?” and we all laughed.

When I first came back to Australia in 1993 from my first two-and-a-half-year stint in Thailand, I was appalled by the amount of choice in the supermarkets of Melbourne. Who needed 50 different types of breakfast cereals? I would stand in the aisles, just staring at the burgeoning shelves. I hate breakfast cereal anyway. My favourite breakfast is congee with chilli, fish sauce and chicken, the way they do it in Thailand. Or reheated left-over rice, with a raw egg stirred through. But toast and marmite or toast and tahine will do if I have to have a western breakfast.

In Thailand in the early 1990s, supermarkets were evolving but they were still not the most usual way Thais shopped, except for canned goods and other packaged products such as instant noodles. They mostly went to markets with fresh unpackaged and unprocessed produce.

Supermarkets had a limited choice (unless you wanted hair-care products), but always great were the lean chicken, truly free-range eggs with the yellowest yolks, delicate quail’s eggs, and luscious prawns ($1 worth was plenty for the two of us for dinner). In the vegetable aisle, we soon learnt to choose Thai vegetables, because such things as potatoes and carrots were pitiful, if available at all. Straw mushrooms, aubergines of all sizes down to the bitter pea-size ones for green curry, red capsicum, snake beans, snow peas, baby corn, spring onions. The best buys were the pre-packaged vegetables and herbs for recipes, just enough to add to your tom ka gai, tom yum or gaeng keow wan that night. A packet, which cost just a few baht, would contain, for example, kaffir lime leaves, a couple of sticks of lemon grass, garlic, chillies, a lime, and so on.

Now, of course, supermarkets in Bangkok are huge, swish and unrecognisable from what they used to be. I’m pleased to see, though, that they retain their “Thainess” among all the expensive imports, and that you can still buy those little packets of herbs and vegetables.

When I first went to Thailand in 1990, you couldn’t buy a cappuccino, really. Some restaurants had what they called cappuccino, but it was regular coffee with whipped cream on the top.

No matter – I used always to order nam manao (Thai lime-ade) when I was out, anyway: lime juice, soda water, salt and a little sugar syrup, the most thirst-quenching drink ever.

Sometimes, mistakes end up being the best recipes. I remember one time, we decided to have dinner with some friends who lived in the same apartment building in Mung Thong Thani (Nonthaburi province), which was then a small village but is now a satellite city. Here was what the village and its supermarket looked like in 1991:

Muang Thong Thani Village, Nonthaburi, Thailand, 1991. Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann

Muang Thong Thani Village, Nonthaburi, Thailand, 1991, about 1km from the apartment building where I lived.                                  Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann

You wouldn’t recognise it today.

Anyway, we were just to bring over to our friends’ place what we had planned to have for dinner, they would add theirs, and we would all share.

I had been planning to have prawns and stir-fried zucchini – wonder of wonders, since I hadn’t seen a zucchini before in a Thai supermarket and had found one that morning.

Or so I thought.

When I went to cut up the “zucchini”, I found that it was, in fact, a cucumber. There was nothing for it  but to put it in with the prawns, anyway. I cut it into long crunchy ribbons and added it just before serving over rice. I also used garlic, chilli, lime, thinly sliced capsicum, fish sauce and a touch of oyster sauce. It came out so clean and fresh-tasting, and I still make that recipe today.

Sometimes the combinations you make by accident are the best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If all your stuff was packed away, what would you miss most?

NeedleI have access to 5% or less of my stuff at the moment, because most of it is packed into boxes awaiting our big house move on Tuesday.

Do I miss that other stuff in the 60 boxes? Well, yes and no.

Books aside—because I still love mine (though I’ve given loads away) and I’m a specialist collector—do we need the ornaments, piles of kitchen gadgets, knick knacks, souvenirs, shoes, bags, bathroom paraphernalia, cushions, pictures, 25 wine glasses and 20 towels?

The answer? I think it’s no. We just kind-of acquire this stuff and then become attached to it, because we think it has something to do with identity.

I’m still me without the ceramic cats from Thailand that hang over my bookcase, without the enormous glass fish I bought cheap at auction when a favourite bar closed, without the three wise men statues I bought in Beijing, and without the coloured-light replica of The Space Needle building I bought in Seattle (pictured, above). But actually, I do want these things, because they’re sentimental.

But there are some things I could happily divest myself of.

Ninety percent of my clothes are sealed in a box now, but I don’t care, because I wear only a small proportion of my clothes regularly.

I think about it this way: last year, I went to the US for about four weeks and I took a small bag the size of carry-on luggage (though I always check mine so I don’t have to carry it). That was fine, as long as I remembered to find a washing machine every three days. So, if I can survive for four weeks with this small bag of clothes, why not forever?

The other thing we’ve done is not replenished the food in our fridge or cupboards as we usually do. We’re down to loaves and fishes-type dishes now, if you know what I mean, but they’ve worked out just fine.

We spend a lot of extra money on whims with food, and we end up throwing some of it out. In fact, I’ve read government statistics that say about 40% of the food Australians buy ends up being thrown away because it goes off before people can eat it. You can read more about that here.

And the thing I miss most about not having access to my stuff? My art equipment! I wish I’d put aside my little travelling paint kit to keep me company this week. Oh well, I’ll see it all next week on the other side of the city.

My Winsor & Newton travelling water colour set. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann

My Winsor & Newton travelling water colour set. Picture by Caron Eastgate Dann

Writers on Writing #1: Angela Savage

I’ve always wondered why the most dreadful crime, murder, is attractive to audiences, whether readers or TV/film viewers. None of us would want to have to deal with a murder in our own family, yet so many of us love reading about it.

This carries over to real life stories as well. When I was at journalism school in New Zealand, I did some work experience at a radio station in Auckland. One morning, the news editor came in rubbing his hands in glee: “There’s nothing like a good homicide to start the day,” he said.

I love a good murder mystery on page and screen as much as anyone else, though I don’t like too much graphic description. I wouldn’t describe myself as a devotee of the murder mystery genre particularly: but when I looked at my book diary for last year, I discovered that 50% of the novels I read in 2013 were, in fact, murder mysteries.

One of the writers I follow is the Melbourne-based novelist Angela Savage, whose blog you can access here. I started reading her books when her first Jayne Keeney, P. I. novel, Behind the Night Bazaar, came out in 2006. Anyone who knows me also knows that reading books about Thailand is my passion (and I’ve also written two myself). When I heard that a novel set in Thailand had won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, I couldn’t wait for it to come out. It didn’t disappoint, and I have eagerly awaited each new book in the series since then. Now there are three, with the publication of The Half-Child (2010) and The Dying Beach (2013).

Last year, through the magic of social media, Angela and I became friends, and we’ve met several times to chat about reading, writing and publishing. We have also discovered that we have at least two other friends in common, and were even invited to the same New Year’s Eve party! Small world, indeed.
Angela kindly agreed to take time out from her extremely busy schedule to answer some questions for this blog. I think you’ll find her answers most interesting, even if you haven’t yet read her novels.

 Angela Savage.

Angela Savage.

1. Why are so many readers fascinated by the crime of murder?

Angela: “Agatha Christie suggests there is an instinctive human need that is satisfied by terror, and Stephen King calls fear the ‘finest emotion’. Murder has always been part of the great narratives, from the ancient Greek myths and Chinese ghost stories, to the Norse sagas and Shakespearean tragedies. In these forms as in crime fiction, we get to experience our fear of death—especially sudden and violent death—through the safety of stories.”

 

2. You are familiar with many parts of Asia, so why did you choose Thailand as the setting for your books?

“Of all the places I’ve lived in Asia, Bangkok is the only location I could feasibly base my expatriate private detective character. I needed a city large and liberal enough for a farang like Jayne Keeney to fly beneath the radar. This could never happen in communist countries like Laos or Vietnam, where I also lived; and Cambodia in the 1990s was simply too dangerous for a lone female PI of any nationality to hang out her shingle.”

Dyingbeach 3. Although Thailand is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, it is a more difficult location to use in novels—many more best sellers are set in other parts of Asia, such as China and Japan. Why is this?

“That’s a good question. It strikes me that both China and Japan were subjected at one time or another to occupation by Western powers, making them perhaps more ‘known’ to Western writers than Thailand, which has never been colonised by the West. But this is pure hypothesis on my part. I’d love to know others’ thoughts on this.”

4. This is one of the reasons I was so delighted when I heard an Australian novel set in Thailand had won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript in 2004. What effect did this prize have on your life as a writer?

“The Victorian Premier’s Award proved to be my pathway to publication. A member of the judging panel was at the time a senior editor at Text Publishing and she made an offer on the manuscript following the awards night. It took 18 months and another four drafts, but the manuscript was eventually published as Behind the Night Bazaar in 2006. I’ve since published two more novels in the Jayne Keeney PI series, The Half-Child in 2010 and The Dying Beach in 2013.”

the-half-child5. Your books have a lot of integrity. You don’t buy into the usual stereotypes. There are no excuses for and no glamour in the drug or prostitution trades, for example, in your books.  Has your work for aid agencies been influential in the themes of your books?

“Thank you for those compliments, Caron. It means a lot to me as I my writing is motivated in large part by a desire to challenge the usual stereotypes. While mindful of debates about voice appropriation and writing about other cultures, I try through my writing to rise to the challenge Edward Said put forward in 1994’s Culture and Imperialism: ‘to think concretely sympathetically, contrapuntally, about others…not trying to classify them or put them in hierarchies, above all, not constantly reiterating how ‘our’ culture or country is number one (or not number one, for that matter).’

“To answer your question, yes, my work for aid agencies has been influential in the themes of my books. In Behind the Night Bazaar, for example, I gave Jayne’s Canadian friend Didier my previous job as a HIV/AIDS educator. The Half-Child drew on the experience of expatriate volunteers I met in Asia who’d worked in local orphanages. And the environmental themes in The Dying Beach rely heavily on my partner’s experience working for an environmental advocacy organisation based in Thailand.

“But my interest in Asia and the politics that underpin my novels predate my career as an aid worker. Indeed, I was drawn to international development as a way to nurture those passions. Nowadays I nurture them through my writing.”

btnbazaar6. What can we expect next from Jayne Keeney and Rajiv Patel? Please tell me they get married!

“As if I’d let slip a spoiler like that! That said, I do have long-term plans for Jayne and Rajiv—which is ironic, seeing as how before I wrote him into The Half-Child, I told someone in response to an interview question that Jayne would never have a partner.”

7. Is there any question you wish interviewers would ask you, but they never do? (If there is, please write an answer to it, too!)

“Having just read Stephen King’s On Writing, I’m tempted to quote Amy Tan and say, ‘No one ever asks about the language.’ But that’s not entirely true. I do get asked about my use of Thai language and idioms. I was also asked recently about my favourite thing I’d written. I’m still searching for the answer to that one.

“I have to say you’ve asked some great questions in this interview, Caron, enabling me to touch on topics that I rarely get to talk about. Thanks for that.

“Last year I was on a panel at the Brisbane Writers Festival called ‘Scene of the Crime’, one of several similar sessions I’ve been part of over the years in which crime writers talk about place and setting in their work. The session chair kicked off with an excellent question about why it is we seem to talk about location in crime fiction more than any other genre. My response was: ‘Because it prevents us from having to talk about the crimes.’ Everyone nodded, then went back to talking about place and setting.

“To paraphrase Amy Tan, no one ever asks about the crimes.

“I would love to talk more in interviews and on panels about the crimes in crime fiction. Why do authors choose to write about specific crimes? How do their theories or perceptions of crime and criminality underpin their work? To what extent does the author see crime in terms of individual morality/psychology versus system failure?

“I definitely fall into the latter camp. I studied criminology as an undergraduate and came to understand crime in terms of various systems failure: in economics, education, mental health, etc. But given the popularity of serial killers  and psychotics in crime fiction, I suspect I’m in the minority in this regard. Still, I’d jump at the chance to have the debate.”

The Steampunk Capital of the World: who would have thought?

Steampunk HQ in Oamaru's Victorian precinct.  Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Steampunk HQ in Oamaru’s Victorian precinct.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

There was a surprise waiting for me on my recent trip to Oamaru, a coastal town of 13,350 people in North Otago on New Zealand’s South Island. I’d known before going that it had a “Victorian precinct”, an old part of the town down by the docks that had been restored as a tourist area to show off its handsome 19th century buildings.

What I didn’t know is it had also become steampunk territory: in fact, it is the declared “steam punk capital of the world”.

What is steampunk? It’s basically an art and aesthetic movement inspired by the industrial revolution and Victorian times, with an added science fiction element: think Jules Verne and H. G Wells originally, and more recently, Phillip Pullman. There are also films, TV shows, plays and music that are considered “steampunk”, including, for example, Rock ‘N’ Roll Train by the Australian band AC/DC and—wait for it—Justin Bieber’s version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, as seen in the 2011 film Arthur Christmas.

This was a brilliant marketing idea for Oamaru, and people come from all over the world to see the precinct. I went to Oamaru this month during a week spent in Dunedin (where I was born but spent only the first three weeks of my life).

There is an annual  Steampunk NZ Festival here too, the next from May 30 to June 2, complete with an “absinthe night” and penny-farthing lessons. Tickets are pretty reasonably priced—$200 for an adult passport to everything, including food, for example. Read more on this here.

I have a few relatives in and around Oamaru, so after morning tea with my first cousin-once-removed, Ella, who has lived in the town for all of her 80 years, I took a 10-minute stroll down the hill to visit the Victorian precinct. Here’s what it looked like as I was walking towards it:

Approaching Oamaru's Victorian precinct from ??? St.  Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Approaching Oamaru’s Victorian precinct (starting with the last building on the left) from Wansbeck St.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

The precinct is very busy on weekends, but I visited on a weekday, when it was quiet and when the shopkeepers had time to chat to each other and me. Steampunk here seems to be, for many, a way of life rather than just a style.

Steampunk Oamaru's main street.  Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Steampunk Oamaru’s main street.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

There are loads of extraordinary galleries here, including the most famous, owned by Donna Demente, a top NZ artist who has settled in Oamaru. She is attributed with driving much of the fine-arts revival in the town, including the annual mask festival. I visited her wonderful Grainstore Gallery, which even allows visitors to take photos, so here are mine:

Donna Demente's Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente’s Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente's Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente’s Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente's Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

Donna Demente’s Grainstore Gallery, Oamaru.
Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

There are several other steam punk-themed events through the year. If you want to know more about Oamaru’s steampunk revolution, take a look at this fabulous video I found on by Anna Repp:

A writer’s home in “the kingdom by the sea”

What is it that is so fascinating about seeing inside a renowned writer’s house, touching the desk they used to work at, seeing where they were brought up—pondering on what made such a brilliant mind? Do we writers hope that, somehow, aspects of the inspiration, the writerly brilliance, of the famous one will transfer itself to us?

It seems that all writers are fascinated with the writing habits of other writers, and I am no exception. I remember being riveted, for example, by the chapter in Stephen King’s excellent memoir On Writing in which he described the placement of his desk. I also have a wonderful coffee-table book, simply titled Writers’ Houses, by Francesca Premoli-Droulers and Erica Lennard (Seven Dials, 1999), which allows me to peak inside the homes of Hemingway, Twain, Woolf, Yeats and Sackville-West, among others. Today’s post is my own story of a trip to the home of one of New Zealand’s best loved writers, Janet Frame.

"The kingdom by the sea", Janet Frame's home, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann

“The kingdom by the sea”, Janet Frame’s home, Oamaru. Picture ©Caron Eastgate Dann

On a week-long trip back to my birthplace in Dunedin, on New Zealand’s South Island this month, I caught a bus to the small seaside town of Oamaru. I wanted particularly to go to Oamaru, not only because I have family who have lived there for up to 80 years,  but also to visit the town where the New Zealand writer Janet Frame spent her childhood, and about which she described in her autobiography as “the kingdom by the sea”.

With my first cousins-once-removed, I had lunch at the oldest restaurant in Oamaru, the 100-year-old Star and Garter (9 Itchen Street), where I had the lightest, tastiest whitebait fritters, the thread-like fish caught locally only that morning. The Star and Garter has hosted many wedding receptions and anniversary parties from the early 20th century, and it has a fascinating wall on which are glued newspaper articles from these weddings. They are pasted at random, so one from 1927 might be next to one from 1972. There’s a great picture of that wall on Real NZ Festival Insider blog here. For more on the restaurant, see this blog: Oamaru Life.

My cousins then took me to the childhood home of Frame, at 56 Eden Street, which she wrote about in several of her works. In typical New Zealand understatement, there is an unassuming plaque at the front, but you can easily miss it from the road and we drove by it at first without noticing it.

IMG_2488IMG_2489This is the house where Frame lived with her parents, three sisters and brother from 1931 to 1943. I was surprised—though I’m not sure why—to hear they hadn’t owned the house: it was a long-term rental property. They moved in when Frame was seven, and the four sisters shared a room and a double bed, as was common in those days, while their brother had his own room.  The house is not large, particularly for a family of seven, but the rooms are generously proportioned, the ceilings high. “This is because it was built in pre-Second World War times,” the guide told us.

Frame-newThere is no photography allowed inside, but these book marks show what it is like. The upper shows the girls’ bedroom, while the lower is Frame’s desk, which she donated to the house when it was being restored. The desk, of course, is from a later part of her life when she was living elsewhere. During the restoration, Frame herself visited the house and was asked if there was anything she would add to it. An old range would be a good addition to the kitchen, she said, and one was duly bought.

In many ways, Frame had a tragic life, with two of her sisters dying young, and many years spent in psychiatric institutions having been misdiagnosed as schizophrenic and even scheduled for a pre-frontal lobotomy at one stage. As is the case with so many people with brilliant minds, they do not conform to the norms that society expects. I love this quotation from her childhood diary: “They think I’m going to be a schoolteacher but I’m going to be a poet.” You can read more about Frame’s life here.

As might be expected in such a small town, my relatives knew the guide on duty that day. They didn’t know Frame herself, but my cousins knew or know several people connected with the family, and it was intriguing to hear them talking not of Frame as the great writer I know from books and films, but in terms of who was related to whom, and who went to school with whom and where they might be now, who they had married and what they had studied at uni, and so on.

A highlight of the house is the 1930s free-standing radio, set up to play a real tape of Frame actually reading from her writing about 56 Eden St. As she describes her mother standing in the dining room by the light of the window, you can gaze, eerily, at just the spot Frame is talking about.

I’ve read some of Frame’s books, including Owls Do Cry, The Lagoon and Other Stories, and To The Is-Land.  I’ve also read Michael King’s seminal biography Wrestling With the Angel: A Life of Janet Frame (Viking, 2000). Several new works by Frame have been published posthumously, too. including the latest, Between My Father and the King: New and Uncollected Stories (2012, also published as Gorse is Not People). She left her entire estate, including manuscripts and publishing rights to all her works, to the Janet Frame Literary Trust, which she formed in 1999. I was interested to read on the trust’s website  that the literary part of her estate is managed by the legendary Wylie Agency of London and New York. Janet Frame’s literary estate also runs An Angel @ My Blog that has all the latest publishing information.

On a personal note, seeing the house and feeling surrounded by quotations from Frame’s evocative writing has made me want to go back and read more. So, I add more titles to my ever-expanding summer reading list.

I will leave you today with a quotation written by Frame, showing that she had moved into the electronic age and had embraced it. To NZ writer and editor Elizabeth Alley, she said in an email: “I really love emailing, it’s like writing a poem in the sky.”