Saturday, 21 January 2012

A new book hits the road!


The cork flies from the elderflower champagne as Michael Jackson's ethnographic memoir leaps to life on Rosa Mira Books.

 Road Markings makes an invigorating, tender and thought-provoking journey (almost) the length of the author's natal New Zealand, and deep into the question of origins: what hold do our first places and people have upon us and why? To what extent can those early influences be relinquished or transformed?

Michael writes: “Although our lives may not transcend our origins, we seem to need to believe that this is possible, as in the myth of Maui who sought to return to the womb and be born again.”

It's a book that opens doors in the mind, enlarges the present moment, and keeps the reader pondering long after the reading's done. It's my great privilege to present to you, Road Markings: An Anthropologist in the Antipodes.

Many thanks are due. Firstly to Michael for entering the brave new world of digital publishing; it's humbling that such an esteemed and well-published writer of poetry and prose should trust his fine work to Rosa Mira Books and the Unknown.

Raymond Huber helped in the editing process. Caroline Jackson fitted page design around her full-time job teaching English in Japan. The cover image is by Michael's daughter Heidi Jackson, while my daughter Alex Huber came up with the reflective design, and Caroline made the typography glow. Ongoing thanks to each of you.

Formatting of files was done with patience and attention to detail by Jason Darwin of meBooks, and the website was similarly attended to by Doug Lilly of Arts Net, who took over from Hugh Todd of Constructed Meaning. Thanks, guys.

Sales maestro, Ratty, is feeling pretty knocked about by fatherhood and half a glass of .03% alcoholic elderflower fizz, however he offers his heartiest congratulations to Michael, his craftiest rodent blessings upon Road Markings, and he promises that he'll be up on his feet first thing Monday getting the Sales Department back into tip-top, ship-shape running order. He would like to add that for those of you who don't yet have a reading device, the PDF file of Road Markings will work beautifully on your computer or laptop. All versions are available here.

Please charge your glass-mug-teacup-thimble and drink to the large and vivid life of  
 Road Markings: An Anthropologist in the Antipodes.

Friday, 20 January 2012

A few words from Michael

Woosh, the day's been swept away with last-minute preparatory tweaks to the website — those behind-the-scenes tinkerings that ensure purchases go through cleanly, and that one thing leads to another . . . However, I've been rescued from the need to write a post from scratch by author Michael Jackson having kindly come up with an appetizer. I've phrased it somewhat as the conversation we have yet to have.

Michael Jackson photographed by Freya Jackson
Michael, your writing returns, time and again, to the themes of belonging and  failing to belong, and of the hold that the past exerts on us — its places and people and our experiences there:

Yes, in At Home in the World (1995), I wrote of the paradoxical experience of returning to my natal New Zealand every year, like a migratory bird, and finding the place both changed and unchanged, strange and familiar. Every expatriate knows the dilemma that is born of this experience – attempting to keep the home fires burning, yet watching them gutter and gradually go out. There is a Maori saying that for as long as you live on the land, a fire burns there (ahi ka), signaling that you have the right to be there. But if you abandon the land, the fires die (ahi mataotao) and you forfeit that right. As we say, occupation is nine tenths of the law. 

You've lived away for many years now, but when you came back to New Zealand in late 2008 to warm the coals again, you were working over this dilemma?

I hired a car, and hit the road, determined to see if these questions could be resolved through conversations with old friends and visits to old haunts.  Road Markings emerged as a series of meditations on the power of first experiences in shaping our lives – first love, first landfall, first home, first loss.  It touches on the ways that personal stories are interwoven with social and historical events, and shows how ‘the enigma of anteriority’ pertains equally to Maori invocations of toi whenua in making claims for recognition and social justice, the search of adopted children for their birth parents, the notion of childhood as ‘the formative years,’ our current preoccupation with genealogical, geographical or genetic backgrounds, and the allure of myths and models of cause and effect. 

This lovely passage from Road Markings expresses it further:
“I sat down on the tideline and slipped the rucksack from my shoulders.  I felt the sun on my face, heard the slipshod sound of the sea and the distracted cry of a nesting dotterel.  My mind drifted. I was thinking of the gap between the inspiration I drew from places like Waikawau Bay and the satisfaction I had found in America, Europe and West Africa. With every return home, the expatriate is reborn. It is not simply because you are returned to the landscapes of your early life; it is because the quotidian, momentarily bathed in a new light, appears exotic.  And so you marvel that this place you could not live in because of its emptiness and insularity still has the power to remind you of who you really are.”  

Road Markings: An Anthropologist in the Antipodes appears here tomorrow. Michael, thank you for the privilege of seeing it into the world. 


Thursday, 19 January 2012

Impending delivery

 One of my favourite jobs of editing was when Longacre Press decided to publish The Accidental Anthropologist, a memoir by ethnographer and poet Michael Jackson — New Zealand born but living and teaching at Harvard Divinity School in the US. It was quite a tome and I swam though it many times during the processes of selection, editorial discussion, copy editing and proof-reading.

Michael wrote: '... my lifelong preoccupation with renewal ... lies in the childhood fantasy without which I could not have endured – that another life awaited me elsewhere, or with another, and once reborn in that other world, I would find fulfilment and happiness.' In the book, Michael draws on his own rich experience and research in NZ, Africa, Europe and Australia, on the writings of his own literary heroes, and on his interactions with writers, thinkers and anthropological texts.

He likens his life course to that of a shape shifter, making it apparent that our lives are as various as the bonds we form and the social landscapes through which we move.

I never tired of engaging with the language and ideas made vivid in Michael's lucid prose – he is also an admired poet. Swimming is an apt metaphor — it was a book to be swallowed by, a book to brace and exhilarate the reader.

   ... spellbinding. Literary memoir at its best. Vincent O'Sullivan 

I was thrilled when Michael agreed to publish his new memoir with Rosa Mira Books, work in which he returns to the themes of 'firstness' and renewal; the tidal pull of the past, and the yearning for the elusive.  

Road Markings: An Anthropologist in the Antipodes will be published on Rosa Mira Books on Saturday, NZ time — Friday evening in EST.

I'll write more about it here tomorrow.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Two birthdays

In true summer style, I managed to overlook the fact of Rosa Mira Books's first birthday yesterday. On 11.1.11, both the website and Dorothee's captivating novel, The Glass Harmonica, were launched amidst high excitement.

Perhaps it's fitting that I forgot the birthday until today, 12.1.12. since in the early hours of this morning, faint mewings were heard in a boat shed on Tristan de Cunha as the world's first ratadillos were born. Within hours they were seen peering from Ratty and Lily's holiday accommodation — a muffin of a nest elegantly reinforced with a handful of dog treats and Aunty Dillo's jewels, and perched atop a drum uncannily like one in the house where the artist is staying.

You saw them first here.
Suggestions are being taken for names. In fact, if your name is chosen by Lily the Pink for either of her infants, you are entitled to a free copy of the Rosa Mira publication of your choice.

Meanwhile, reviewers are being sought for Road Markings: An Anthropologist in the Antipodes, to be published in nine days on the palindromic 21.1.12. It's an interesting exercise. Michael is highly respected internationally as a poet and prose writer, and as an anthropologist, but digital reading is still ticklish territory — some publications aren't ready to review digital-only; some are still discussing it; one or two are jumping right in. The American Ethnologist said this morning : 'Anything by Jackson is always worth a look.'  If any of my readers would care to jump in, let me know, and I'll send you a copy for review.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A piquant new year to you, too

Since the New Zealand Listener has just published a story 'The e-book case' that includes two small paragraphs about Rosa Mira Books (with photos of five pioneering males and one female model), I've hoisted the gooseberry flag to signal that Rosa Mira Books is rousing itself from summer somnolence and reviving activity, as of now. I'm going to give the fomatter a poke, to see if he's home from holiday and able to make the very last tweak to Michael Jackson's Road Markings: An Anthropologist in the Antipodes, so that review copies can be sent out forthwith, and the book made available for sale, not as I'd thought on Rosa Mira's first birthday on January 11th, but ten days later.

I hope you're all having the kind of new year start you want. Some of you might even have a new reading device. I've begun to use the iPad for reading at last, but I think that long-term I'll be looking for something lighter on the wrists, something with the weight (and flex, please inventors) of a small paperback.

I'm not sure where the rat is. Rumour has it he and Lily got hitched in Tristan de Cunha.  Ratadillos? That'll stretch my drawing skills. I'll definitely have to sell a book or two to get in the mood for that nest of critters.