Bitter reviewer Liz Breslin: a response

A challenge to Liz Breslin’s hateful writing

by Michael Botur

 

Sigh. Usually I concentrate on the positives around writing – setting examples for other authors; putting out encouragement, praise and support. I put on shows with the Poetry Posse; I encourage people to enter awards; I tutor creative writing in community classes. 

Mostly I’m a pretty positive guy, but the following hit piece by bitter Otago reviewer Liz Breslin, published in takahē #96, can’t go without a response.  

Ms Breslin appears to be a one book author, or a half-a-book author, to be technical. As far as I know, close on retirement age, she has published fewer than 100 pages. 

So, here’s some perspective about the short story collection True?, which received its only negative review from Ms Breslin in takahē #96 in August 2019 – a deliberately cynical, bitter review presumably motivated by …. God knows. 

Breslin writes:

“Whether written in the first, second or third person (all of which are used in different stories across the collection), these stories fail to hit the mark.”

> Yeah, nah –  please see reviews from experienced reviewers who have had training in writing. https://nzshortstories.com/reviews/

“But the writing is often too authorial, poorly proofread and possibly offensive,” Breslin writes. 

> Breslin – who, again, has published very little – appears to have an ulterior motive in publishing her hit piece. Some kind of hate-jealousy-bitterness, probably motivated by how little she has achieved. Not very professional. Let’s read on. 

“The cumulative effect of pages and pages of casual, barely-disguised disability-bashing leaves a pretty sour taste.”

> Considering one of my day jobs recently was organising this year’s inaugural Delivering Disability Services Conference, it’s outrageous to suggest the author has done some “disability-bashing.” I’m waiting on an apology for this particular line. 

“It’s hard for the reader to move beyond offensive cliché and find a place of empathy. “

I have empathy for all my fellow writers in New Zealand, and it would have been nice if this fellow writer of Polish ancestry has shown some empathy for a fellow Pole. Sadly, NZ writer Liz Breslin has brought hate and bitterness into her writing. It’s a shame and a waste.

Again, Liz, I beg you – please get some advice from experienced reviewers who have had training in writing literary reviews. https://nzshortstories.com/reviews/

Northland-made book explains Te Tauwhanga ā Reipae- the origin of Whangārei’s name

Te Tauwhanga ā Reipae book explains the legend behind the naming of Whangārei

Northland author Meryl Carter has published Te Tauwhanga ā Reipae, which explains the origins of the naming of Whangārei.

The book contains a waiata (song) entitled Reipae recorded with funding obtained from Whangārei District Council’s Creative Communities Fund.

Meryl Carter, a former teacher, planned the book for 20 years and told media she couldn’t find a similar resource, so she worked with her whanau to form Taimania​ Productions and create the book and the waiata.

Te Tauwhanga a Reipae translates as The Waiting Place of Reipae. It references the legend of Reipae waiting near Manaia for her two brothers and meeting Tahuhu Pōtiki.

Credit to Whangarei literary zine ‘Taking Flight’ which for years acknowledged the origins of Whangarei’s name (Te Tauwhanga a Reipae means The Waiting Place of Reipae… before she took flight).

Te Tauwhanga ā Reipae is illustrated by Adrian Hill and Taimania Toia and was funded by the Māori Language Commission.

ISBN 9780473414306

Buy it from: http://aotearoabooks.co.nz/te-tauwhanga-a-reipae/

ps – Sorry that Write Up North is publishing this two after the book was launched. Better late than never…

Te tauwhanga a reipae

Onerahi artist Jan Leitch: picture book illustrator extraordinaire

Check out the stunning illustrations of Onerahi children’s book illustrator Jan Leitch. 

Whangarei resident Jan studied art and animation in her native Scotland and is a graduate of NorthTec’s children’s book writing course. 

Jan is working towards publishing her first children’s book in the coming year. 

All images are copyright Jan Leitch and can be enjoyed and shared on her Chalk N Charcoal Facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/Chalk-N-Charcoal-327307788144071/]. 

 

 

 

Broken Windows – short story by Michael Botur

 

BROKEN WINDOWS

Short fiction

by Michael Botur

 

1.

A window smashes, tinkles. Party music punches the air. You sit upright in bed, afraid to breathe. There’s a lull, for a silent second, then your neighbour is bellowing at his woman over the bass.

Doof doof doof. Like somebody stamping on the floor in boots.

You speed-dial the council, checking on Felicity as you wait to be connected. Your wife’s eyeballs twitch under the sleep mask pulled against her chubby soft face. She snorts, turns, mumbles. She’s had an exhausting day setting up the gallery. Take control or Felicity will direct her frustration at you. Don’t neglect your duty. This used to be a good street before the uncivilised moved in. Regain it, man.

Noise Control, please. Me again, ha ha, I know, I know, terribly late isn’t it, ha ha, and on a Tuesday, I fully agree, but listen, there’s a situation I’m hoping you can help me resolve… .

You give your details and clarify, yes, you’re THE author, of the Dan Drayton action thrillers, yes yes, studying her tone as she reads your name back. You’re insistent noise control officers intervene to silence the doofs and roars at 148b Calcutta Close. Gazza Hendrix and his uncouth tribe cannot be allowed to ruin the neighbourhood. It’s not even his house – the man has the privilege of renting the place. You inform the phone operator about the decibel breaches you’re registering with the app on your phone and insist she shares your complaint with the seldom-seen landlord. You email her a copy of the spreadsheet on which you’ve been recording the date of each noise crime over the past year, decibel level of each infraction, notes on associated violence and damage and rubbish pollution. You add for her a description of Gazza’s reprehensible so-called music, a vile electronica sampling Pachelbel’s Canon with periodic pauses to lull one into a false sense of security before a robotic DJ says ‘Let the bass drop,’ and drop indeed it does, like a piano crashing into your bedroom.

Since bringing his boys home from school, Gazza’s been blasting his apocalyptic soundtrack while guzzling bourbon and cola, throwing empty cans at your fence, pacing the verandah, making endless calls to cousins yelled into his cellphone. The framed diplomas on your wall shudder and rattle.  There has been six hours of Gazza’s racket so far, plus pops and shrieks from the Hendrix children as they destroy bottles with a BB gun. At one point Gazza mated with that woman of his on the trampoline. You zoomed in with the video recorder on your phone and made sure to capture the evidence up close, the blue droplet tattooed under Gazza’s eye, the empty bowl of his partner’s starved stomach. Her flimsy knickers dangling off her big toe as she rocked and kicked.

After the noise complaint is officially received by the council, you follow with a strongly-worded email. You then spend an hour taking photos from the safety of your double-glazed windows. At 1.16am, you email Parking, Barking & Noise photos of broken glass which has fallen into your property from the garage window shattered at 1.08 by Gazza’s elbow. You supply photos of garbage sacks on your berm, a photo of an oil slick leaking from a rusting hulk under the fence towards your stormwater drain and, perhaps most ghastly of all, photos of two shirtless brats on the deck, having fun far past bed time.

It’s 2.15, now. The thinnest part of the night. Five millimetres of glass protects you from the chaotic air outside. In bed, you pull noise cancelling headphones over your ears and listen to a podcast. Lisping liberal Malcolm Gladwell is discussing the ‘Broken Windows’ policy enforced in New York. Radical when introduced, Broken Windows punished even the most minor crimes, dissuading offenders from letting their sin pollute the population. From Gladwell’s cool lips spring sage statistics. Within two years of citizens being encouraged to report violations as minor as a broken window, neighbourhoods measured 78 percent decreases in noise pollution, graffiti, muggings and assaults.

Your eyelids settle. Your thoughts wobble. At 4.22 there’s a wet PLAP, and PLAP again. Fists hitting meat, meat hitting wood. Red and blue lights lick the ceiling. Gazza begins bellowing at the cops. His woman is sobbing. There’s a squeal from Gazza’s swing set. The gasps and giggles of children.

Nearly dawn, now. As treebirds begin chirping, you email property manager Neelam Gurunathan the name of your solicitor and inform Ms Gurunathan that unless she gets rid of Gazza and his feral family, Mr Graham G Baigent, LLB, will be launching civil proceedings on your behalf.

Drained, zombified, you stagger down the hall. Slippers and coffee.

Lots of coffee.  

 

Solicitor Graham Baigent costs $295 an hour. From 9.13 to 9.43am you give him as much pre-prepared information as possible over the phone and email him six times, handing over photos, your spreadsheet, your audio and video recordings of smacked flesh and cracked glass and outrageous fornication. He promises to send a letter to the property manager forthwith. The letter is dispatched at 12.01pm. The end begins.

Mr Baigent’s legal notice summarises the Residential Tenancies Act, its laws regarding the right to peaceable enjoyment of a property, penalties of two years imprisonment or a $100,000 fine. The letter concludes by encouraging Ms Gurunthan to research Broken Windows policy and neighbourhood renewal. First step in renewing the neighbourhood: the immediate eviction of one Gareth Mason Hendrix. Graham Baigent has checked Tenancy Tribunal hearings from the past ten years. This isn’t the first time Mr Hendrix has broken rental rules.

It’s 1.08pm when Neelam Gurunathan telephones and apologises and promises to take immediate action. She didn’t know “all this” was happening, she swears. Her words have a forced, grovelling tone. A higher-up has leaned on her.

You put two Javanese statuettes on the windowsill to hold the curtains open, kneel against the wall and watch as, 20 minutes following the phone call, Ms Gurunathan parks her BMW convertible with a squeal, trots up the driveway in clopping heels, stumbling as she navigates potholes. Gazza comes to the door in a singlet, camouflage pants and a blue paisley scarf wrapped around his forehead. His boys run among his legs, even though it’s a school day.

Neelam’s body contorts meekly as she hands him an envelope and attempts to walk away. Gazza opens the letter, understands he’s been given 48 hours to vacate the premises, and begins hurling bourbon cans at his property manager.

Homo pauperis can read! Astonishing, really. Not so astonishing is Gazza’s reaction to the upset. He biffs a toaster down the driveway. It thuds against the door of the convertible. The boys chase after the toaster and play with its spilled springs and filaments. A rudimentary science lesson, you suppose. More troglodytes emerge from the house, men in caps and singlets, cousins or uncles, then follows a long period of drinking and smoking on the deck, the men muttering while the children frolic in a car wreck. Gazza then begins hauling rubbish onto the kerb – a couch, a boxing bag leaking foam, some tyres. Bottles, cans and crates: he and the children simply throw them from the deck towards the road.

Gazza’s common law wife is seen, briefly, carrying small seedlings out from the woodshed and loading them into the family’s van. You watch the sashay of her buttocks moving up and down. A firm bum, hard and ripe despite her pilled grey Warehouse trackpants. She’s slim, the wife, and with her hair sequestered in a messy bun that makes her chin looks elegant. Cleopatra-esque. You can see the knobs of her spine. Every ounce of fat smoked away. It’s a shame she’s wasted on a man who spends his final moments doing pointless loops around the driveway on a BMX. He could have made something of his life, perhaps. You lent him your copy of Rich Dad, Poor Dad 18 months ago and assumed, since it never came back, he might have been studying it.

The boys carry armloads of shiny orange metal out. They’ve stripped the copper from the hot water cylinder, it appears, and you begin dialling the police before they scream away in some vehicle and it’s over.

You’ve fixed the broken windows problem! You! You’re a superhero of sorts – a real life Batman. You message your wife, ask her to pick up dinner and wine on her way home from the gallery. You squeeze in a couple hours of highly productive writing, fizzing with glee. Covert ops mercenary Dan Drayton finds himself on shore leave in Bangkok and isn’t sure if he should trust the advances of a sultry Saigon siren, who lures him into a grotty flat full of Thai ruffians with back plastic sunglasses fixed to their eyes, baboons in tank tops who beat the stuffing out of the hero.

The scene is making you anxious. This isn’t the outcome Dan Drayton deserves. You put your computer to sleep and lie down on the couch, flipping on the telly for some comfort.

Felicity arrives home with a My Food Bag featuring some good sirloins. You dine quietly with a tablecloth and candlelight, Brahms on the stereo, and outside, silence like snow.

DSCF2528

He shows his face, the landlord does – well, he visits his property, though his face is concealed under black Ray Bans. You’re summoned over for a handshake and a chat.

Ms Gurunathan introduces you to the owner, inflecting the introduction with apologetic little notes about ‘the tenants,’ and backs away to let the men talk while she tallies the damage on her tablet. It feels wrong to stand on Gazza’s turf. It’s a contaminated place.

You’re astonished to find yourself dealing with a landlord who’s cool-headed, professional, courteous. A late 30s gent with the physique of a yachtsman and the polo shirt to match. Behind the aviator lenses, his skin is well-stretched over his skull – he pays for a good chemical, perhaps, or a great surgeon, or maybe it’s just the sun which really smooths a man’s frown-lines. He says he splits his year between sailing the South China Sea and tending to his investment properties in this country.

Once you’re done chatting, he’s given a tour of the run-down bungalow by Neelam – seemingly for the first time. The owner of this half-a-million dollar asset appears never to have seen his own building. He takes cautious steps around the verandah, perhaps imagining he’s on the deck of his boat. He steps over a sun-brittled plastic buggy lying on its side, kicks a dog dish away.

At the end of the tour, the landlord leans against your broken fence and pulls your ear close to his lips.

‘By the way,’ he says, looking down his nose so you almost get a glimpse of his eyes, ‘I could use someone like you to check my assets for me, if you’re needing work. You’re not, like, agoraphobic or anything, are ya?’

‘I edit a financial magazine; I also publish action thrillers… well, I will, so long as my publisher gets off her behind and…. Anyway, I’m gainfully employed, but thank you.’

He pushes the sunglasses back up his furrowed nose. ‘I just assumed you didn’t have much goin on, since you’ve been monitoring these guys 24/7… .’

‘When you say check your assets for you, d’you mean keep an eye on tenants? A secret agent, of sorts?’

‘Tenants come and go. Bricks and mortar’s the part that stays, my friend.’ He hands you his business card. It’s thick and white and the corners are sharp. ‘Spies like us, huh? Hit me up if you wanna go pro. I need a kicker-outer. You do renos too?’

‘Beg your pardon?’

‘Renovations. Fix things. Like these windows here on the garage. Whack out the busted panes, chuck a new bitta glass in. That sound like you?’

‘I’d imagine that’s best left to the professionals.’

‘Well my friend, think about it. You’ll be saving me tonnes on a glazier. Paneless. Get it?’

He winks, makes a clucking noise out of the corner of his mouth. Ms Gurunathan opens her convertible for him and he hops in and disappears. Onto the next property, presumably. Or the airport.

It’s settled, then. Gazza the window-breaker, the polluter of neighbourhoods, is moving on. Gareth Hendrix, whose last name prickles you with its non-traditional spelling, its pretentious X as if he’s trying to make a political statement.

Be a kicker-outer. The world needs people like you. You’re pretty sure he said it like that.

You set the alarm and lock the gate and phone security to tell them to monitor your home, even though you’re only popping down to Deli Delight. You pick up a kilo of salmon steaks, dill, unsalted butter, choux pastry, portobello mushrooms. Your Range Rover is parked in front of the laundromat. Amongst the dark den of washing machines there is music erupting from a portable speaker and people chattering. You see them and freeze, acid rising up through your groin. Gazza’s mob are draped across the laundromat like a still life painting, some sitting on washers, others lying on the floor playing games on their cellphones, spending a pointless day there in the dry warmth. You hoist your canvas shopping bag onto your shoulder to hide your face and scuttle past.

Tonight’s vol-au-vent with truffle and fennel sauce tastes heavenly, garnished with praise you recite to your lover. The world needs people like you. Be a kicker-outer. 

Felicity throws down her knife and fork. ‘Is that what he said?!’

‘Words to that effect.’

You lean your chair back from the dinner table to dip your ears in the ambrosia that is the Jean-Francois Paillard chamber orchestra performing Pachelbel’s Canon distributed through a Dolby Atmos 5.1.4 wood panelled surround sound system. You stroke your wife’s hand as the third movement climaxes then put your fingers under her wrist and tug her to the bedroom.

 

With the ability to concentrate on your work, you ascend through the peerage of publishing. You get manuscripts completed and sent away, you get correspondence dispatched, you get acceptance, and cheques, and bylines. First there’s your longlisting in the Tom Clancy Awards for Action Thriller Writing. Then there’s a two-page spread in Saturday’s paper covering your six published novels, your biography of von Tempsky, not to mention your academic papers. What really accelerates your ascent is the telephone call directly from Penguin managing director Ferguson Chen, who says he has a talent acquisition manager looking for more titles specifically within the veteran-turned-mercenary action thriller genre you specialise in– so long as you can bring more spies into your books.

Indeed you can. The advance which Penguin pays you is a profound motivator to get more manuscripts completed. You purchase a Herman Miller Executive Size B Lumbar Support Aeron chair so you can truly write in style. It doesn’t fit in the boot of your Range Rover so you stop in at the dealership on the way home and upgrade to a 2018 Tesla Model X.

That night, you and Felicity celebrate with tapas and a show – Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, a 2.5 hour return trip to the city centre and home, cringing as the car slows when you enter Calcutta Close. That prick neighbour’s probably having another party. That’s the night ruined.

Your exhale as you realise there is no sound on the street. The smashed windows of 148b are black and silent. You will never see Gazza again.

 

5.

A van comes by one Wednesday. The vehicle hums and rumbles on the lip of the driveway. Perhaps workmen have been dispatched to clear away the car wreck and – hang on, who’s this – it’s the female, the fuckable wife, scampering inside the house, re-emerging with some bundle of fabric in her arms – the curtains?! The filthy devils have stolen – no. No, she’s spreading the big square cloth against the side of the van. It’s a quilt, yes, a quilt with gaily coloured trains and tractors. Eager hands reach from the rear of the van and snatch the quilt.

The vehicle honks twice then disappears.

A honk aimed toward your house… and a wave. What could it mean?

You contact property manager Neelam Gurunathan hoping for advice on whether you need a restraining order.  Your guts are a pretzel of twisted angst. Ms Gurunathan no longer works for Asset Advance, you’re informed. The new property manager, Jitesh Johnson, informs you the decision has been made to keep the house empty for a year to “increase its value.” 

Mr Johnson breaks it down for you. It’s a formula known as TRA, or Tenant Risk Algorithm. The decreasing value of a property caused by suboptimal tenants is plotted on the Y axis of a three dimensional graph. Rising prices for the property are plotted on the X axis.  The Z axis shows the rental payments of the tenants, which restore some balance to the force tugging down the price of a house once it is no longer pristine.

‘It’s like when you drive your car off the lot, it loses half its value the moment it hits the street, sometimes better to leave a property empty, know what I’m sayin?’

You tell him that as the owner of a 2018 Tesla Model X you indeed know what he is saying.

He drops round to check the water meter at 4 and shakes your hand, strolling the driveway with you, tutting at the cracked fence, the crushed cans and glass crumbs tangled in the bushes.

‘Please don’t worry about him getting revenge, these people are used to getting kicked out of places all the time,’ Jitesh Johnson explains. ‘They know it’s nothing personal. Listen, we got some seriously bad TRA scores with our applicants at the moment. If you know any good tenants needing a place, please send ’em my way.’

You inform the property manager you don’t mix with renters. Anyone with half a brain years ago got a deposit for a mortgage, signed up for the Reserve Bank newsletter and watched house prices push up from underneath like being on top of a fountain of spurting oil. 

The TRA thing is fascinating, though. You discuss it with Felicity as she tucks forkfuls of beef Wellington into her mouth, ruminating over the haves and the have-nots and how you can understand why sterilisation is offered to certain families and it’s really doing them a favour. After the main is cleared away, she moans over a delectable lemon gelato.

You squeeze in a quick three hours of writing before bed. There’s a rather wooden subplot about a vindictive villain your publisher has insisted you put in your latest novel. You stay up writing while Felicity snores, wearily adding a backstory about your Ukrainian baddie becoming enraged by a brutal landlord’s oppressive TRA score when he was a young man. The score turned him into a remorseless anarchist. It’s a humane detail, you feel. Something about his mother being chucked out of her apartment into the gutter of a snowy Kiev December. A realistic motivation. Half-realistic, anyway. Next time you’re on a panel at a literary festival and you’re asked how you understand the complexities of such disturbed characters, perhaps you’ll reveal your genius.

Or perhaps you’ll chuckle quietly to yourself and play coy.

 

With the Laundromat People long-gone, life goes from strength to strength.

It’s not just being shortlisted to ghostwrite the new Jack Ryan book Explosive Decompression. It’s being asked to write a guest column for the Wall Street Journal. It’s the A+ from your cardiologist. It’s spinning your chair to face out the bay window and feeling powerful within your walls. It’s the limited edition Pony of the Penines 2000 piece puzzle from Berslfärne. It’s a matinee film at Rialto Cinema Deluxe watching Anna Netrebko sing Aida at the Met while you sip a tiny bottle of champagne and enjoy a choc top ice cream with pecan nuts. It’s the smiling faces and sensuous smells at Divine Deli on the way home. It’s gouda cheese and a macchiato and managing to walk past a family of beggars outside the exit without treading on their wet blanket, quilt, rag, whatever it is.

It’s the way your wife points her nose in the air as she hot-glues wires onto her sound installation. Felicity is about to display an exhibit at the art museum about how the eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 inspired artists worldwide who mixed real volcanic ash into the pigment, creating an ephemeral movement known as Emergency Art. She bites her lip, strains her biceps to connect the wire to the diode and…. Light! She has light!

You wrap your arms around her flesh. She snuffles your arms, asks you what makes you think you’re worthy of her donating her body to you.

You’re happy, that’s what. You’ve succeeded in demonstrating to deviants that anti-social conduct will result in punishment. It’s safe to have visitors round for dinner parties again.

And you’ve become a lion of publishing. It’s hard to put it in words for Felicity, though you’re sure she senses it. A don, a silverback. A hero. You want her to join you in celebration of yourself. Happiness rediscovered.

That happiness begins with a startling shag on the carpet, changing position four times so your backs and thighs don’t hurt too much. Your kisses afterward are wet, sloppy, careless, your lips smeared on her eyes, her lashes on your tongue, her hand on your hammering heart.

 

On Pier Four, overlooking wrinkled green water, a photographer is taking photos of you with the wind flicking your scarf so those who peer at the jacket of your books know you live in moody tempest.

The angst becomes real halfway through the shoot. You smell cigarette smoke, hear cans crinkled and dropped on concrete, and a certain belch. He must be near. Your suspicion is confirmed when your ears are alerted, mid-photo, to a certain phlegmy hacking of the throat coming from the playground. The Hendrix child’s vile cough is followed by the mother telling the child to shut up. The boys are riding a roundabout. No coats on the children, despite the drizzle. The family is amongst a pile of suitcases and laundry bags parked on a picnic table, Gazza pacing and smoking and talking on his phone, hunched in a hoodie, evidently waiting for someone to take the family somewhere. 

‘YO, NEIGHBAAA!’ comes the spear of noise. It lands between your shoulder blades, pinning you. Creep away, pretend you haven’t heard and you may receive a so-called kinghit to the back of the head. Escape is impossible. Besides, Dan Drayton wouldn’t run.

‘Oh, hi,’ you say, and swallow. He comes jogging over, surprisingly sprightly, as if upbeat. Happiness derived from, what? Intoxicants?

‘Mr Hendrix… .’

‘It’s Gazza, bro. I seen you doing your camera shit. Lookin flash, cuz. Just wanted to say laters, cheers for bein neighbours and all that.’ He’s short, up close, and what appeared through your binoculars to be muscle is simply bosoms and chubby arm fat. He sticks out his hand to shake. There are three watches on his wrist. ‘Might see you round, my bro.’

What does the inflection on round mean? Is it a promise? A threat? A plea for shelter?

A child’s face appears between his thighs as if he’s just given birth. The boy crawls through Gazza’s legs, runs excited laps around the man. ‘Can we stay here and play, daddy, pleeeeease?’

‘Course, son, course,’ he tells the boy, ‘Got four hours to fuckin kill. Shelter ain’t open til dinner time.’

He looks at you hard, squinting, cocks his head like he’s just been insulted or surprised. He reaches out, smears a knuckle across your wet cheek. Stray raindrops appear to have landed on your eyes.

‘Don’t worry bout us, cuz,’ he says. ‘Snot your fault.’

Your photographer is loading his gear into the car. He dithers, keeps his back to you as he slams the boot shut. He says he can’t photograph you if you’re crying.

He’s utterly mistaken, but the shoot’s over. Your face is flushed red, your eyes pink, nose raw. Not tears though, you insist. Just a cold.

 

You’ve spent all week researching the protocol for an authentic Japanese degustation. After drinks and gossip and stowing everyone’s coats begins the kaiseki. Each item of food is served on the dining table so everyone can sit up properly. You can hardly expect yourself or your guests to kneel Oriental-style, what with Gladys’s steel hip and your slipped disc from years hunched over the desk.

It’s freezing outside. The trees slap wetly against the windows. Leaves stick to the glass. The fireplace grunts as the wood shifts in the flames. Your guests enjoy a shokuzen-shu of fiery sake. After a sakizuke of oyster follows the hassun, grilled tofu with wasabi, then a takiawase of simmered soy beans, carrot and bacon.

Maura Sanders, unimpressed with the slow reveal of the ten courses, makes a joke about starving to death, which causes Felicity to lament that news report surely everyone’s seen about that DREADful famine in North Korea. Richard Sager postulates we should hear the dictator out and that this Kim Jong-Un must be a satirist method actor of unrealised genius. His riposte gets you all chortling, you warm humour stoked with spicy liquor.

Between the mukozuke, futamono and yakimono courses a playful argument brews with indignant snorting, explosions of laughter, refills of bubbles. From the discussion of global concerns arises a debate over the threat of climate change. The inability of low-lying nations to respond is discussed. The fate of uneducated poor people is lobbed about the table like a beachball, which reminds Maura Sanders: whatever became of those reprehensible redneck neighbours of yours?

You begin telling the story with a disclaimer that Gazza Hendrix has had many options. He was privileged to have had civil neighbours who allowed him an extremely long leash, considering the dole bludger didn’t have to get up for work any day of the week. What’s manifestly unfair to taxpayers is 44 percent of supposedly poor people actually collect benefits which, added up, give net income greater than that enjoyed by legitimately hard workers. You cite your sources. Everybody’s nodding, except James Boxleitner, who counters that in his eight years on the board of Salvation Station the divide between middle class, working poor and benefit-dependent shrank every six months until there was no divide left whatsoever. He cites his own sources. Our world is unfortunately choked, in the centre, by economic forces pushing aspirational families back down the ladder to keep them from receiving wealth re-distributed from the one percent, he claims. We see it when good people can’t get houses and have to live in neighbourhoods full of broken windows. It’s not their fault they’re forced into conditions of hopelessness.

‘Economics, not eugenics,’ he says, staring at you hard til you’re forced to look away.

Felicity stands in front of you and informs Boxleitner that actually a certain Malcolm Gladwell not long ago addressed these very same concerns and sided with you. So there.

‘GLADwell?!’ James Boxleitner sniggers, ‘That flip-flopper?!’

By 2008, Malcolm Gladwell was, at every appearance, publicly accepting that Broken Windows was a failure whitewashed by a mayor who sold it as an effective system when it was in fact the opposite, Boxleitner explains. Broken Windows policies caused naïve juvenile window-breakers to enter the criminal justice system and become convicted felons, permanently altering the course of their lives, destroying their chance at getting a career, a mortgage. No right to vote or get a business loan or lease a place to live.

‘So effective council monitoring of bylaw breaches is all that’s needed in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, you understand?’ Boxleitner continues. ‘Not crucifying people for blowing off steam now and again. Jesus Christ, that broken windows thing’s been discredited for a decade. You oughta get out of the house more.’

The table laughs. Your collar burns.

‘It doesn’t change anything,’ Felicity interjects, shielding you with her middle. ‘Have some more Chianti.’

‘This stuff is $200 a bottle.’ Boxleitner has to peer far around Felicity’s waist to look you hard in the eyes. ‘Auction it; let me auction it. I’ll give the proceeds to Salvation Station. You said you had two in the cellar.’

‘Boys!’ Felicity lays the su-zakana loudly on the table then hurriedly fetches the shiizakana and naka-choko. Sasha Gould changes the subject. She has eight days in Kyoto booked for the northern spring. The Sanders talk about their 10 day cruise of the Alaskan fjords. Felicity dishes out the tome-wan then the mizumono. Everybody groans with delight, pausing periodically to wipe their lips with silk napkins and gush compliments.

As coffee and brandy are being served and you’re stacking plates beside the sink, Boxleitner pulls you conspiratorially into the laundry. There’s a load of washing on; the room is warm and smells comforting. Boxleitner is doing his Ph.D. in social anthropology and would be delighted to get in touch with the Nasty Neighbour for a research interview. You’re happy to help, though when you go to write down where to find the family, you’re stumped. All you can do is describe the rainy playground, the wet quilt on the cold concrete.

 

 

#100NZStories100Days

 

 

Why I Did It: Whangarei author completes 100 stories project

 “If you wait around for the approval of self-appointed authorities, you will leave hardly any artistic legacy.”

By Michael Botur

On April 30 I submitted one short story to an online NZ news publication which was paying – PAYING! –authors to publish stories. This was an almost unheard-of opportunity, but when I offered my fine fiction, the person in charge of selecting the stories rejected my submission within ten minutes.

I sent him an even-better story immediately.

He rejected that, too, minutes later. It was obvious this guy hadn’t read what I’d sent him. He simply didn’t like me. I almost concluded that the stories I’d sent in must be rubbish… almost.

Instead, the challenge to overcome this rejection lit a fire under me. I wouldn’t be scared away from entertaining readers because of one cynical gatekeeper. While I couldn’t control the website that didn’t want my marvellous stories, I had the power to publish on the platforms I personally controlled: Facebook, Twitter, Medium and NZShortstories.com.

I announced the #100nzstories100days campaign immediately. I wanted to start on the nice square date of May 1 but that seemed like procrastination.

I just went for it. I published my best story the first day, my second-best the day after.

I used up my top ten fan-favourite stories within a week.

D’oh.

I then posted other favourites, mostly prize-winners…. Which didn’t get me that far (because it turned out I hadn’t won as many prizes as I imagined). 20 stories deep into a 100 stories campaign, I found myself at the bottom of a very steep hill, dedicated to a mission of meagre importance. I wasn’t exactly curing cancer or anything. Just writing the spreadsheet plan and juxtaposing the flavour of the stories so they weren’t too same-y started cutting into my bedtime and my day work.

Looking ahead, I could see that even by posting 15 stories from the five collections of short fiction I’ve published, that gave only 75 stories out of the promised hundy. Add some flash fiction – say, four good flashes spanning four years – that was only 16 flash fictions to add to the mix. I could just hit 91 stories. But a hundred? Uh-oh!

Agonising over the daily upload was cutting into my professional work, my family dinners, my kids’ bedtime. It would have been easy to get the campaign done in a day by chucking up sloppy drafts, but sharing sub-par work was not acceptable. I permitted myself to only publish strong, polished, audience-tested stories that wouldn’t embarrass me.

During all this, I was also polishing a new collection of sixteen short stories. I could toss at least a couple of newbies into the mix, but those new ones wouldn’t have marinated to perfection yet.

Gah! Panic!

The solution: I went back and looked at the initial purpose of the whole thing. Here’s what I learned.

  • Look to the writers who have inspired you. They didn’t suppress their writing because it was time-consuming to publish. Nor should you.
  • If you wait around for the approval of self-appointed authorities, you will leave hardly any artistic legacy. Waiting half a year for the approval of some stranger at Landfall or Overland won’t make you a better writer.
  • Don’t let people who haven’t written as much as you dictate what you can achieve.

Anyway: I limped to the finish line, publishing story #100 on August 15.

I didn’t skimp on what I promised: it was 100 literary fiction short stories over at least 100 days. No poetry, no non-fiction. No cutting corners. I had some stories left over I could have published –30 drafts in my drawers– but I wasn’t proud of those. I didn’t care if just one person in Siberia was paying attention: I had to keep the standard high.

*

I urge anyone inspired by this to publish #10stories10days or #20poems20days or #30reviews30days. There are readers in cyberspace who will be delighted to stumble across your work.

Final thought: Wouldn’t you hate it if your favourite musician couldn’t share an amazing song because one producer didn’t endorse it? Wouldn’t you be frustrated if your favourite director didn’t release an astonishing film because some executive didn’t put their stamp on it?

Quit waiting for permission. If you’re good at your art, give it to your fans today.

https://nzshortstories.com/100nzstories100days/

100 stories 100 days

‘Hongi to God’ – flash fiction by Michael Botur

Hongi to God

 

Leap from your bedroom window. DOOFT. Crush mum’s irises. Creep through the indigo. Avoid street lights, chained dogs. Spot the white exhaust pipe fumes, the red brake light eyes. Sister and her friends with lip rings give you an inch of cramped backseat. The hatchback lurches forward. Scraping springs. Stink of burning vegetables. Crank Tool so loud the speakers crack and rattle.

You will NOT go to that concert.

Park a mile from the gig. Suck stinging bourbon from a hot heavy bottle. Stumble to the entrance. Breathe. Get your shit together. Bouncers part, wave you in. Haul open the heavy fire door. Punched ears. An underground city pressed against the stage. Zion. Maynard screams lyrics you scrawled across your maths book til the white paper went black like a locust swarm. Alex Jones strokes his bass guitar. Earthquake. Avalanche. Spitfire.

You will NOT take part in that so-called crowdsurfing thing. Promise me.

Duck through a minefield of elbows and pocket chains. Everyone is rancid armpits and black wet backs. Tap the shoulder of a mountain-man. Scream, ‘Help me dude, please.’ Step into his cupped hand. Put your fingers on sweaty slippery shoulders. Steam rising from necks and chests and breath. Rainforest. Air raid. Exploding speakers.

Whatever, mum. Okay. Jawohl.

You can’t see your sister up here. She dissolved in 10,000 black t-shirts. You’ll have to walk an hour home. You’ll wake mum as you come in.

You think of her as you swim, nose up, held up like Mum held you on your back in the school pool, ears in the throng, hongi to God.

Northland’s major literary conference, NorthWrite – August 31-September 1, Whangarei

NorthWrite 2019: Expanding Horizons

NOrthwrite

Conference Overview

NorthWrite 2019 will be held at Barge Showgrounds Events Centre, Whangarei. It will open with a mihi and meet-and-greet event on Friday 30 August. The conference will take place on Saturday 31 August and Sunday 1 September.

Initial registrations are for the full conference only. Day tickets will become available from 1 August. If places are still available for individual sessions towards the end of August, we will announce this shortly before registrations close.

Tickets for the conference dinner on the Saturday evening are discounted if purchased with a full conference ticket. They can be also purchased separately at the full price.

NorthWrite 2019 has been organised into parallel streams, designed to reflect the interests of our writing community. Participants may choose to attend sessions within or across streams when they book for the conference. Presentations, other than masterclasses, are scheduled in 1.5 hour sessions. Masterclasses are 3 hours long, covered over 2 sessions.

NorthWrite 2019 streams

  • Publishing – this stream focuses on information about publishing, with ebook publishing covered on Saturday and print publishing on Sunday.
  • Writing techniques – this stream caters for a range of writers. There are sessions on writing for children, non-fiction, fiction writing and self-editing.
  • Masterclasses – this stream is designed for experienced fiction writers, poets and editors. They have been planned to give experienced writers, poets and editors opportunities to engage in in-depth discussions about their craft. The masterclasses are restricted to a limited number of participants to ensure a high level of engagement.
  • Conversations – this stream provides opportunities for participants to engage in informal discussions on a range of topics pertinent to writers.

Masterclasses

Masterclass 1: Editing. This masterclass is limited to 15 participants. It is open to qualified and experienced freelance or in-house editors. This masterclass will be presented by Simon Minto.

Masterclass 2: Novel. This masterclass is limited to 10–12 participants. It is open to writers who are currently working on a novel AND have at least three years of writing study (for example, a Bachelor in Creative Writing or a three-year diploma programme) OR a Masters in Creative Writing OR at least one completed book length work of fiction. Participants’ writing will be workshopped. Full instructions for submitting your sample of your novel will be sent when you book. This masterclass is presented by Catherine Chidgey.

Masterclass 3: Poetry. This masterclass is limited to 15 participants. It is open to writers currently working on poetry who have been published in at least one forum for poetry or short lyrical fiction (such as flash fiction). This masterclass is presented by Harry Ricketts.

Presenter bios are published on here.

Please read the full programme details prior to booking.

Tickets

All ticket prices include GST. Additional booking fees may apply at the time of registration. If you are registering as a student or NZSA member you must have your id number available when booking.

Early Bird from 1 July

Student Conference only $150
Student Conference plus dinner         $200
NZSA member Conference only         $175
NZSA member Conference plus dinner      $225
Non-member Conference only          $200
Non-member Conference plus dinner        $250
Dinner only               $ 75

Full Price from 1 August

Student Conference only                     $175
Student Conference plus dinner        $225
NZSA member Conference only         $200
NZSA member Conference plus dinner         $250
Non-member Conference only          $220
Non-member Conference plus dinner             $270
Saturday day ticket $150
Sunday day ticket $130
Dinner only            $75

Please check this page for FAQ.

Two new books from Northland writer Susan Edmunds

Two new books from Whangarei writer Susan Edmunds, both released in 2019. 

starting_out_starting_over_lr
Starting Out, Starting Over – A single woman’s guide to money in New Zealand 
ISBN 9781869665074
190 pages

 

 

Mummy needs a break

Mummy Needs A Break

Coming September 2019

A hilarious story of the ups and downs of unexpected single motherhood, the perfect laugh-out-loud romance for fans of Why Mummy Drinks, The Unmumsy Mum and The Not So Perfect Mum.

ISBN 9780008316099

 

 

 

 

Susan Edmunds is a senior business journalist who specialises in personal finance issues, writing both long-form and daily news coverage. She started her career as the editor of a university magazine before moving into radio, and finally online news. She enthusiastically ignored all maths classes through secondary school but has since realised that those dreaded numbers make a huge impact on many people’s lives and has developed a close relationship with her calculator.

She is driven by a desire to boost financial literacy and to make as many people as possible – particularly women – realise that it’s not as hard or intimidating as some people might wish it to appear.

She lives with her two small children and accountant husband.