Thursday, 30 June 2011


My laptop fell ill this afternoon and has been sent off to be fixed. I've decided to take the il-logical step of going offline myself for the up-to-10 days it will be away. The stories are so close to ready, it seems crazy, but that's what I'm doing. My occupationally over-used shoulder will thank me for it and so will my mind, I suspect. Nothing will crumble in my absence. The Slightly Peculiar Love Stories will be all the lovelier for the pause. I'll see you in little over a week.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Love and Linda Niccol

I've met Linda only through her two compelling collections of short stories, Geometry of Desire, and The Temperature of Water, but she looks, well, fun. Intriguing.

She won the 2006 Kaos Films British Short Screenplay Competition with 'The Handkerchief', and co-wrote New Zealand’s 2007 box office smash 'Second-Hand Wedding' — among other creditable work you'll read about on her site.

Love, New York style

At least once she replied to my email from New York where she snapped this slightly peculiar sculpture, and where the NZ Film commission had sent her to sell her film script and a novella.

Linda has a story in the newly released Tales for Canterbury, from which all proceeds go to help those in need since the Christchurch earthquakes.

I'm ending Slightly Peculiar Love Stories with her moving and gutsy story of love changed utterly.

And, guess what, the manuscript is being formatted. That means there's still a good chance it'll be online by the end of the week which is also the end of June. Send it thoughts of ease and glitch-free processing, okay?

Monday, 20 June 2011

Tea with Lawrence Pun

Fantastic numbers of you have come and browsed the blog over the last couple of weeks — checking out your friends (or yourselves) and making new acquaintances; anticipating the release of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories. As I keep saying (or others say to me, consolingly) these things take the time they take so, my latest mantra is: before the end of June. Meanwhile, let's have a nice cup of tea.

As you sip, I'd like you to meet Lawrence Pun. (The website's in Chinese, I know. And I'm ashamed to say I can't read a word of it, but you might be able to.) Lawrence is a gentle, charming man who lives in Hong Kong. His love story is as deft and delicate as the sulphur butterfly it features. And as tough as the child who dismembers insects out of ferocious curiosity.

Lawrence K L Pun. Photo by Thomas Langdon.

Lawrence is a fiction writer and cultural critic who has authored four fiction works and a number of non-fiction works on urban cultures and films. His writing has been awarded in Hong Kong and beyond. In recent years, his works have gained a wider audience in Mainland China, and some have been translated into English.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Elena Bossi — en amor con vide

Elena was the convivial hub of our 30-spoked wheel in Iowa (International Writers Programme 2007) and in the photo below is checking up on one of our number in Istanbul last month (no, not the dude on the plinth).

As Elena and I sat one evening in her Iowa room with our feet on the windowsill, she announced that we must make a 'proyect' together for the sake of our friendship which would otherwise founder in the gaps of our communication; my Spanish is threadbare, her English 'pintoresco'. So we began that year to write a novel together, bilingually. That involved a trip for me to Argentina, gracias a Creative NZ, where we shared a work table, our translations, travel, and much hilarity. One day out walking, Elena swooped on a pile of vile-looking fungi, telling me they were as precious as truffles. The resulting jellyfish risotto had something of the flavour we were after, but E conceded that we might have overdone the quantity and that drying them first would have improved the texture.

Con hongos de pino. You know, the ones that grow under pines.

Anyway, to the point: Elena is a fine writer: playwright, essayist, literary critic, and novelist, whose grasp of 'the canon', literary and filmic, is extraordinary.  She was forever saying things like, 'You know the scene in Faust where … ' or, 'Remember the girl in the Salinger story who says, "I love squalid things?"' I could only roll my eyes and blush.

In Elena's Slightly Peculiar Short Story, a man watches a window washer and yearns.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Brenda Sue Cowley on coming to heel

Penelope: How strange. The image I'd formed of Brenda Sue since she sent her story to be considered for Slightly Peculiar Love Stories couldn't be more different from the one she sent yesterday of the athletic young person you see here. Nonetheless (or perhaps therefore) our exchanges have been lively, and I'm taken with the heart in her work.

Brenda Sue: I walk on tippy toes.  I've done it since childhood, as have many of my family members, leading me to believe it is a hereditary trait. 

Walking on tip-toes (usually reserved for puttering around the kitchen, slipping to the bathroom at night, climbing stairs ... and walking towards the computer) is a bad habit. 

It also has adverse physical effects such as (but not limited to) the deterioration of the arch in the foot and the shortening of the Achilles' heel — making it even more of a weakness. 

I met Penelope while walking on tippy toe. A very close friend had died an untimely and earth-shattering death, two years ago this summer.  Someone stepped into my life, and plugged me into a writing group here in Salt Lake City, Utah.  And that is where I met a woman named Dorothee Kocks. I tip-toed towards Dorothee (The Glass Harmonica), a new friend at the time, who quickly became a life-long friend.  Dorothee felt I might have something for Penelope, and that Penelope might have something for me.

On tip-toe, I reached across the world to Penelope and our finger tips touched. Now, while I head towards this publication, I am standing in a correct, upright position – feet spread on the floor, shoulder width apart, and toes gently splayed. 

Reading these blog postings have inspired me not only to correct my poor physical habits, but to correct some writing habits as well. 

Like not walking on tippy toe towards the computer when I think I might be onto something.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Lyndal Adleigh — mystery writer

There are yet more writers of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, but not all have sent material for the blog, so it's up to me. Who shall I choose today? Eeny meeny miney …

I choose Lyndal Adleigh. Information about Lyndal is scarce but I imagine a cup of tea would go down nicely with Lyndal while I fossick around.

With a slice of tan square and a small pile of paper napkins.

Lyndal is fond of these – not a poached egg, but a cowrie shell.

And is often serenaded at the door:

Lyndal's story well suits the slightly peculiar title — a story of love that, if not quite sublimated, is very neatly transferred. Lyndal's character makes the best of it – as we do – finding love that's manageable and almost good enough.

Editor's notes: no, I am not Lyndal Adleigh.
Yes, the stories are going to be published soon. No, not this week. Next? Let's cross our fingers.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Maxine Alterio — days lived well

'A day without writing, reading or storytelling feels to me as though it has not been well lived.'

Another writer of Slightly Peculiar Love Stories, Maxine lives here in Dunedin. She's warm, intelligent, funny, and incredibly hard-working. Diligent also comes to mind. When we belonged to the same writing group some years ago, she read us a single story month after month as she honed and re-honed it to the point where it won a major UK short story prize. Her stories have been well anthologised and her first collection Live News and Other Stories appeared in 2005. Her best-selling novel Ribbons of Grace was published in 2007.

Maxine is currently enrolled in a PhD in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington, where she is working on a thesis based on the memoirs of First World War nurses, and her second novel, Lives We Leave Behind. I'm looking forward to that.

Maxine once had an English butler for ten days. The ingredients of her slightly peculiar story include a physio pool, a steep path, a banana and a file…

Monday, 13 June 2011

Salman Masalha — peculiarity in Jerusalem

I plucked this photo from Salman's website where he also blogs in English, Hebrew and Arabic his unique take on Israeli-Arab relations. In Iowa 2007, if you wanted to find Salman, you checked out the river bank where he was likely to be multi-tasking: monitoring duck behaviour and photographing butterflies, ducks in flight, or his own feet; smoking, and hosting a sort of riverside salon. At night he was the pinprick of red light beside the dark water. The other day he sent a love poem — not for me. For you.

Salman Masalha - self portrait | سلمان مصالحة - صورة شخصي


         …… To Rumi

        Beyond my door which faces west
        Lives a woman who'll never rest.

       She likes to tease my nomad soul
       With words she keeps for gloomy fall.

       But now she flies across the sky,
      And tries to find a place too high

      To paint it blue for me to look
      And tie my heart like horse to hook.

       I dive in blue or fly in beams.
       Some say it's love. I say my dreams.

                               Salman Masalha

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Tender morsels from Claire

Claire Beynon's neatly turned slightly peculiar story treads a fine line between fact and fantasy, earth and sky. She is a Dunedin artist, explorer, and poet who also keeps a much-loved blog.

Claire: Yesterday's attempts to tap out an introductory prelude to my story were sadly lacking in direction and spark, so I gave up on words and turned my attention instead to the catharsis of two 'on-hand' characters and a brief afternoon session of Table-Top Theatre.

Meet Marzipan and his mouse-gal, Moth; the peculiar lovers that share my space at no. 22.

My daughter created this Unlikely Pair some years ago and presented them to me one afternoon with the statement, 'No artist's studio is complete without a cat.'

I've lived with Marzipan and Moth for going on nine years now; the two of them have been an 'item' for a fair while longer, though . . .  Hmm. I'm guessing thirteen/fourteen years?

By nature inclined towards a sedentary life, they make up in steadfastness what they lack in courage and charisma. Yesterday, Marzipan and Moth demonstrated a rare moment of imaginative flare when they took it on themselves to transform my Veronika Maser wire sculpture into a stage set for romance. Who was I to argue? Maser's curlicues provided me with a welcome and necessary connecting element between M & M's ordinarily hum-drum love affair and the altogether unconventional relationship that features in my Slightly Peculiar Love Story.

No matter the nature or duration of a relationship, show me a love affair that does not call for a degree of tautness and flexibility; a measure of daring and trust, recklessness and eyes-wide-open vigilance?

(Mis)quoting from my SPLS story, love 'is a high-wire of our own making' and 'falling is an inevitable part of treading the high-wire. . .'

The universe of the heart can be very peculiar indeed.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Janis Freegard: it comes down to love

Janis's Slightly Peculiar Love Story pounced on me and held me under, letting go only at the end, so I could swim towards the bubble of light that had appeared.  She's also a poet whose collection Kingdom Animalia: the Escapades of Linnaeus has just been released with Auckland University Press. You can see Janis reading her poems here.
Photo by Hilary Tipping: Janis reads at her launch
 Janis: Everything comes back to love.  I rarely set out to write about love, but it often ends up that way.  After all, love is the glue that holds us all together.  And it’s such an inadequate word.  The same word makes do for searing passion and the lightest of preferences: ‘I’d love a flat white.’  (OK, maybe that is a searing passion).  It covers patriotism, affinity, enduring friendship and obsession.

My story in Slightly Peculiar Love Stories started with poetry and a name.  I’d been writing a poem about the sad and sinister side of life, the 'sunless underbelly'.  And, completely unconnected to that, it occurred to me one day that ‘Mill’ would be a good name for a character.  Someone whose real name was Millicent, but who didn’t suit that name at all; neither did she suit 'Milly'.  She was a resilient, determined sort of character, someone with an absolute trust in love; Mill seemed the perfect name.

Many years ago, when I was studying at Auckland University, I was stopped in the street by a scientologist who asked, ‘What’s the most important thing in life?’ I remember I replied that it was love.  I still believe that.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Angelo R. Lacuesta — our man in Manila

Better known to us as Sarge, Angelo was one of our Iowa mates on the International Writing Programme in 2007. His fiction has been nationally awarded and he's among the most widely anthologized Filipino writers of his generation. He was literary editor at the Philippines Free Press for four years and has been a guest editor, editor-at-large and contributing writer for several magazines and online publications. Sarge is a master of the quick quip, whose bonhomie and award-winning smile have most recently been lavished upon his baby son.

My story in Slightly Peculiar Love Stories stemmed from “Space Oddity” — that 1969 song by David Bowie. Also from a weird memory I had in my youth: of me turning my childhood desk into a cockpit from where I could escape my blue world. “Space Oddity” of course refers to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which remains, especially after more than 100 viewings, one of my favorite films. To me, 2001 is about man’s birth and childhood, but I remember just being scared by those hominids and that 20-minute hallucinatory journey when I first saw it as a child.

I remember spending many idle summers visiting my relatives in the rural provinces in the south when I was young, and there was nothing to do for days but go through my uncle’s old textbooks from medical school. On one of those days I discovered an illustrated guide to gynecological diseases. The illustrations were stark and realistic and beautiful, and you can imagine the effect it had on me as a ten-year old child, amid my boyhood crushes and my largely unexplored feelings and instincts.

Many years later, thanks to a writer’s memory, and most especially to editor Penelope Todd’s patience and careful guidance, “Space Oddity” takes shape as a story that hopes to gather the persistent and tender urges of my youth, along with their alien encounters.

(P writes: Careful guidance, tosh — clipping a stray whisker was the extent of it.)

Friday, 3 June 2011

Sue Wootton, peculiar poet, too

Editorial intrusion: from now until Slightly Peculiar Love Stories is launched — let's say mid June, fingers and toes crossed – we'll give a free copy as soon as it's ready to anyone buying a copy of The Glass Harmonica here 

Sue's story in the collection is peculiarly sensuous and achingly wistful. Do explore her website.

Here's a peculiar love poem. A couple of winters ago I spent a lot of time with Raymond Carver. Well, a lot of time reading Raymond Carver, but it's the same thing. For a while my daily life in Dunedin, New Zealand was filtered through a Carver-esque lens. 'Breakfast with Raymond Carver' was the result. The epigraph is from Carver's poem 'Looking for Work', which begins  I have always wanted brook trout/for breakfast. In his poem, he speaks of the quest to find 'a new path/to the waterfall'. Every writer knows the difficult task of getting to 'the waterfall', and the joy of finding it. The path can be quite peculiar. Like love.

Breakfast with Raymond Carver

 …brook trout for breakfast…
           from ‘Looking for Work’ by Raymond Carver

He says This way! He says
but I have to warn you
there may not be brook trout; there may instead be
birds like small brown empty wallets in the trees.

But what trees! Sharp and hairy as a man’s shins
when he lies in bed all day simply because it rains,
his heart going flip, flip, like playing with the top of a carton,
sucking itself down to the filter in only three drags.

Look, I say, camellias: crimson, with stamens like the hairdos
of recently re-blonded wives. But these are the wrong flowers.
Not enough snow, or kitchens, or bare yards, or pickups full of men
and beer and fishing lines. Not enough fish. Not enough cold river.

After the waterfall I make coffee, and there is a table.
No violets, but these bruisable camellias.
He is looking out the window. He is watching cars crawl
and some weather building. A boy’s arm and a girl’s waist.

We talk of selling sofas. And love, of course.

Breakfast with Raymond Carver is from Magnetic South (Steele Roberts 2008). It won the 2006 Aoraki Literary Festival poetry award.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Craig Cliff on Agalmatophilia

As a slack, easily distracted, procrastination-prone, writer, I often have to set myself little (and sometimes not so little) challenges to make sure I write every day.

In March 2008 I set myself the task of writing a story in daily chunks of eight words. Whatever I thought about the end result, I remember loving the challenge of what might be called slow writing.

In November that same year I challenged myself to write a 100 word story every day for a month. I enjoyed this so much I wrote 100 word stories again the next November, though  this time I chose to set them all in the same fictional South Island town. (The town, Marumaru South, was one I had started populating for a historical novel which I had only just started researching in earnest; I decided telling 30 stories about the town's modern day inhabitants would itself be a useful kind of research). The result of my November 2009 challenge could also be read as one 3,000 word story, and was published as such in Sport 38 under the title, '30 Ways of Looking at Marumaru South'.

When I heard about slightly peculiar love stories, I decided to challenge myself again.

I had three governing principles. The first was that I had one week to write the story (in part due to my being a slack, easily distracted, procrastination-prone, writer). The second was that I wanted to write something less than 1,000 words (I'm not sure why; I think I was on a conciseness kick at the time). Combining these two aspects, I decided to write a 140-word chapter (and no more!) every day, which would net me a finished story in one week's time. That "and no more!" is an important part. It allows time for the story to marinate. For the hundred possible next steps to play out in my head while in the shower, on the bus, in team meetings… To write down the first, third or thirtieth option that occurs to me begins to stems the flow of other possible ideas and the story begins to be set in stone...

The third governing principle was that I wanted to rehearse another aspect of the Marumaru South novel that I was still researching and not-yet-writing, namely agalmatophilia, or the love of statues, mannequins and the like.  So I had my rough idea: man falls in love with statue. But I wanted it to be a very different story from the novel I planned to write, which meant a New Zealand setting was out.

I sat down on Day One knowing a man would fall in love with a statue in a country other than New Zealand and nothing else. I headed up the first chapter with the roman numeral "I". Roman, Rome, classical statues… Italy seemed the logical choice to set my story. I then felt around for a name for my main character…

Come Day 7 I had my sub-1000 word story. I allowed myself to edit further so that most of the chapters are much shorter than 140 words. Once you open the door to conciseness, it's hard to abide any sort of flab.

Congratulations to Craig for very recently winning the Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2011 Best First Book for A Man Melting.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Coral's Christchurch chronicle

Coral Atkinson authors novels, short stories and non-fiction; she anthologises, and teaches writing and publishing. She comes through earthquakes, and in her slightly peculiar story writes poignantly of love's sorrow. Here she shares an article that was published in The Press a week ago.

There are many Christchurch houses like it, faded, two-storied Victorian gentlemen's residences quietly subsiding into neglected gardens. The multiple letter boxes and cars parked in the front tell of division into flats. You have probably passed it often, or one like it, and not given a second glance. Yet when I went by recently and saw the house and grounds ominously surrounded by cyclone netting, and red-stickered, I felt a huge welling of grief.

Loss has been a leitmotif of Christchurch's post-earthquake experience; the loss of loved ones, homes, employment, buildings, and the list goes on. I thought I understood and had come to terms with this, but, on examining my sadness over the probable demise of this house in Cashel Street, I realised I mourned more than its potential destruction. What I grieved over was its significance in my youth, and the anchorage it provided for my memories.

 As Katherine Mansfield said, ‘you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on fences – like rags and shreds of your very life.’  read more . . .