Interviews and News
I still have not become a grandmother or won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I do, however, have a new baby in the house, my new book, Every Now and Then I have Another Child.
Every Now and Then I Have Another Child was published in the middle of Lockdown. A strange time to launch a book, with no means to launch it into the world. However, sometimes the quietest babies grow into the noisiest ones.
I began this book soon after my previous book, Taking My Mother to the Opera was published. I had the most extraordinary dream and woke up at the right moment to get it all down as a poem and name it Every Now and Then I Have Another Child. Even though I tell my students not to write about dreams as they are usually of interest only to yourself, I nevertheless got caught up in the characters of the dream and wanted to follow them. They certainly took me on an exciting journey. I think you’re toying with the reader, Vanda Symon said in a radio interview. Well maybe, but the characters were toying with me. I had no idea where we would end up, but I was having so much fun, I just ignored all doubts.
It’s a complex book to talk about, as it’s all in poetry form but adopts some fictional elements including plot, dialogue, characters and a chapter structure. The main narrator is Joanna, a single woman with grown-up sons, one of whom lives in London, the other who lives in the North Island. She’s a creative writing teacher as I wanted to explore some of the aspects of teaching creative writing to adults. So far, so normal but then she finds a baby in a hotel room and takes it home. The baby requires no feeding or changing of nappies, but she occasionally takes over the narration. Another character who inserts herself into the story is Anna, a doppelgänger version of Joanna. She is stalking Joanna but is she dangerous? There are other characters, including the Boy on the Wall, and a missing mother.
It was great fun to write, so I hope it is great fun to read.
Here is a YouTube reading of me reading an extract during Lockdown 2020
Two years have passed since my last news posting which is a bit tragic. A lot has happened in two years, though I have not yet become a grandmother or won the Nobel Prize for Literature. I expect the former is more likely than the latter.
The publication of my seventh book, Taking my Mother to the Opera, by Otago University Press, in October, seems a good excuse to upgrade my website. Since it is a long time since my prose/poetry memoir, Here Comes Another Vital Momentwas published, the publication of Taking My Mother to the Opera, feels like a first book all over again and is terribly exciting. I am especially lucky in that Otago University Press have honoured the book with a hardcover and ribbon.
Taking my Mother to the Opera, began as series of poems exploring the ageing process of my parents. The more I wrote about their changing selves the more I wanted to write about their younger selves from the time they met in 1947. It’s the basic question we all want answered as we get older, how did I end up here? The original version had poems about my children and my life. I then decided it was getting unwieldy, so I mostly concentrated on my parents, only including wider subjects if they seemed relevant.
Over a period of about six months I was going backwards and forwards to Auckland packing up my parent’s house in pieces. I found it really difficult. My father had died a few years previously at 93, but mother was in a hospital based home with dementia. This seemed to make it even harder. What if she might want something? In her latter years my mother became a bit of a hoarder. Distinguishing junk from treasure was pretty arbitrary. It was the home my father built in 1960 and pretty much the same as when it was built. I never realized how much the house informed my view of my parents until I began this process. They were fairly ordinary people in many ways, shaped by their political, economic, and social lives but of course extraordinary as well. I have found the whole project of writing about my life with them, to be immensely satisfying. It was a way of bringing them to life again and to share my quiet unsocial parents with readers.
This is from A Black and White Story, the first section in Taking My Mother to the Opera.
Your parents were so romantic,
my cousin says. Already the cancer
that will kill her is taking her back.
I was thirteen when I saw them
walking home from the beach.
Your father bare-chested, carrying
Paul on his shoulders, your
mother’s hand in his. I thought
he’s the kind of man I’d like to marry.
Her voice cracks when she laughs,
I couldn’t understand why Nana
didn’t like your dad. Mine
wasn’t good enough either.
Too loud, given to rude jokes
and hugging. Yours had ideas
above his station. The way
he bought your mother a corsage
and took her to the opera.
And now I begin all over again. I have a provisional title, Every now and then I have a child. I expect the gestation to take considerably longer than nine months.
Diane Brown awarded 2014 Beatson Fellowship
So much has happened since my website was first launched in August 2011.
In November 2011 I had both my knees replaced with plastic and titanium ones. A long and difficult operation, which takes a good year to recover from. I’m pleased to report that I’ve just returned from a trip to Europe and my new knees did me proud, tackling cobblestones and marble floors in museums with aplomb. However a man did assist me with my suitcase, as I struggled, up some stairs in the London underground,. At first I feared he might be going to run off with it, but no, he was just being a gentleman. A reminder that the world is still inhabited by mostly kind people.
While I was in hospital, recovering from my operation Aoraki Polytechnic decided that Creative Writing (and other media courses) no longer fitted in with their concept of education. Thus I was made redundant.
Over the years I have had many students tell me of the value of learning Creative Writing from me, not just in learning about writing, but in making their lives worthwhile in all kinds of ways. One student said this about my course, A close up study and application of craft techniques, rigorous critiquing and generous sharing of insight, plus evaluation and communication techniques from my tutor and classmates. These courses are also about the ‘thinking’ life. I know ‘thinking’ can’t be measured easily in terms of financial value, but I do believe our creative community is essential to the wider good of our society – and also, that ‘thinking’ isn’t just the preserve of universities.
Because I have experienced the positive outcomes in studying Creative Writing and wanted to offer an option in Dunedin I set up my own school in 2012. Creative Writing Dunedin provides a range of courses for beginners to experienced writers on all aspects of Creative Writing. Some courses are online using Moodle software, some are face to face.
What I have to offer is a long experience in writing and teaching writing, and rigorous programmes. Students’ work is marked by myself and it’s very much a personal approach. I think this is especially important in creative writing as the student is often exposing their inner self, even if their writing is not autobiographical. Trust must be uppermost. For further information go to www.creativewritingdunedin.nz or to Facebook.
As a result of all this activity progress on my novel Hooked was rather slow. I have finished the fifth and what I thought was the final draft, only to discover it still needs more work. It’s frustrating but it’s more important then ever to get it right as publishing in New Zealand has become tighter. Sometimes you can overwork an idea and when that happens you need to take a break. I’ve decided to concentrate on completing a poetry collection in 2013, as the moment I stopped work on my novel, ideas started to flood in. The provisional title is Taking My Mother To The Opera. It’s a close narrative look at family, at children becoming adults and parents becoming children. Watch this space!
Here’s one of the poems which was published on the Tuesday Poem Site on 14 May 2012.
My mother at 91
‘Your mother’s house has no windows
and her clock was missing numbers;
looks like dementia,’ my father
said. Four years on, he’s dead; she’s 91
living at home alone, burning
the bottoms clean out of pots. ‘None
left for you to inherit,’ she says. Today
her slow cooker’s taking too long
to cook corned beef, there’s a summer
storm and according to her, they’ve turned
the power down, reduced its potency,
‘only in Henderson, mind.’ Everything
is political or conspiracy. ‘In Remuera,’
ovens burn hot as ever. ‘Philip says
the bad weather follows us wherever
we go, ‘I say. ‘Follows him, not you,
don’t you take the blame,’ she responds
not missing a beat. Makes me wonder,
if she was pretending all along,
deliberately omitting windows
and numbers in the doctor’s clinic.
Dottiness being one way to escape.