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Thursday, March 31, 2011

And Round Four of the Amateur Sleuth Competition

Wiki Coffin missed out but the contest is getting interesting

Also from the Rap Sheet (see link in previous post) -- Four Rode Out

Blogger Jen Forbus has announced the Round Four winners of her “World’s Favorite Amateur Sleuth Tournament.” From a previous pack of eight contenders, online readers have now narrowed the finalists down to this quartet: Nancy Drew, Jane Marple, Carter Ross, and Lisbeth Salander. Forbus will post the revised ballot in her blog later today, and you’ll have through Saturday to choose a favorite.

Mystery -- Who the hell is Carter Ross?  I can't find him or her!

Maverick rides again

Is the golden age of Westerns about to reopen?

The Rap Sheet reports that James Garner is to publish his memoir.

Simon & Schuster announced Wednesday that it will publish a memoir by James Garner.

The Garner Files is due to hit shelves in November 2011.
“I’ve avoided writing a book until now because I feel like I’m really pretty average, and I didn’t think anyone would care about my life. I’m still a little uncomfortable, but I finally agreed, because people I trust persuaded me people might be interested and because I realized it would allow me to acknowledge those who’ve helped me along the way. I talk about my childhood, try to clear up some misconceptions, and even settle a score or two,” Garner said in a press release.

Simon & Schuster’s publisher, Jonathan Karp, added, “This book is charming and disarming and always entertaining--just like James Garner, or Jim Rockford, or Bret Maverick. And it’s the story of a big American life, from growing up in Oklahoma during the Depression to the Korean War and to Hollywood stardom.”

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Copy-editing Harry Potter was a top-secret job

From the State-Journal Register, of Springfield, Illinois, comes an illuminating story

Some people get jobs that yield a life-time's worth of dinner-table stories, as Dave Bakke reports after interviewing copy-editor and proof-reader Susan Jeffers (pictured right).

Susan, employed by Scholastic, was a proof-reader for Harry Potter books one-through-three, and copy-edited all the rest, save book four.

What is astounding about her stories is the secrecy involved.  "We had a secret location in which we would work on the book," she said. "Several people had access to that room.  Nobody else knew where we were or who was involved."  As she admits, "I still feel funny talking about it.  The secrecy was so ingrained in me."

None of the people involved kept the manuscript in their possession very long.  Though each was more than 1,000 pages long, it had to be copy-edited in two weeks, before being passed onto the next step in production.  And there were no electronic copies.  It was all printed manuscript. None of the editing was on computer, as it would have been too easy to forward an electronic version.

Some months after the final book was published, she said, she was sitting in a New York subway car, and saw half a dozen adults eagerly reading the story she had read many months earlier.

As Bakke observes, she could be excused for enjoying a quiet private grin.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


OMG, it's now official

The abbreviation for Oh my God! has passed the Oxford English Dictionary test, and is now an official word.

And so are LOL (laughing out loud), IMHO (in my humble opinion), and BFF (best friends forever).

One would imagine that the internet has a lot to answer for.  However, the OED relates that the first confirmed use of OMG was in 1917.

The update also includes "flat white" (a way to take your coffee that was invented in New Zealand, I believe), and "muffin top."

Muffin top?  Apparently, it is the unpleasant roll of flesh that forms over the waistband or hipband of an overly tight pair of pants.


Six reasons Borders is going bust -- or is it seven?

Former Borders merchandizing strategist and analytics director Mark Evans has outlined six reasons Borders has failed

# Over-investment in music

# Failure to adjust to the e-book revolution

# Situation, situation, situation -- the wrong real estate choices

# Too wide a range of titles

# Inefficient infrastructure

# Failure to establish a distinctive brand.

Now he can add a seventh.

Jason Boog of GalleyCat reports that bankrupt Borders plans to pay $8 Million Plus in bonuses to 17 executives, most of whom have been with the company less than 18 months, and many less than a year.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wiki Coffin starred in The Herald on Sunday

And the rave is repeated in Crime Watch

Craig Sisterson, the hard-working blogger and promoter of Kiwi crime fiction (see righthand column for the link), is also the face behind a monthly column in The Herald on Sunday, one of New Zealand's most well-read papers.

In this weekend's crime fiction round-up, he highlights Wiki Coffin and A Watery Grave, as well as Andrew Grant's Death in the Kingdom (Monsoon) and The Crime of Huey Dunstan by James McNeish (Vintage).

Says Craig:  "Druett marvellously combines mystery and history in a unique crime novel setting.  Wiki is a terrific and engaging lead, the book is drenched in maritime colour and detail, and the murder mystery itself twists to a satisfying end."

Historical fun with names of occupations

As the 2011 national census approaches, a historical survey of occupations being undertaken by Cambridge University academics has revealed some of the oddest job titles in the land.

Faced with filling in the census form plenty of people will be tempted to put frivolous answers into the boxes asking for details about their lives. In the last census ‘Jedi knight’ emerged as the fourth most popular religion and it is expected that ‘heavy metal’ will figure strongly this year. Those determined to have a spot of fun with their answers should, however, be prepared for a fine as it is an offence to supply inaccurate information.

New research has revealed that in the early nineteenth century, the maverick vicar of the tiny parish of Middleton in Norfolk had no qualms about being creative with the truth. Every time there was a birth in the scattering of farms and cottages around the church of St Mary, it was his duty to record the details of the new child including the “qualification, trade or profession” of the father (or failing that, make some reference to the mother) – the equivalent to question 34 in this year’s census.

Taking up his pen, the Very Reverend Dr Peter Scrimshire Wood inscribed a series of wonderfully fanciful job descriptions into the parchment-bound parish baptism register. Among the mention of the mundane (coachman, labourer, farmer, workman) he added occupations that speak volumes about his sense of humour and his far-from-impartial opinions of the people involved.

Listed for 1819 are “lamb gelder”, “chopper of chips”, “good workman”. During the following year, warming to his theme, he listed “cut throat of pigs”, “publican and beggar maker”, “turn coat and knight of the needle”, “master of the rolls and burn crust”, “farmer and fortune hunter” and – perhaps best of all – “cabbage gelder”. Not a man to mince words, he listed mothers of illegitimate children as “whore and man trap”.

Cambridge historian Dr Peter Kitson came across the delightfully quirky entries in the Middleton baptism register while processing data from the 800 or so parishes of rural Norfolk from the early 19th century.

Kitson is one of a team of Cambridge University historians and geographers undertaking the biggest ever survey of occupations in England and Wales from 1379 to 1911. Their key source materials are the eight detailed censuses of occupations carried out between 1841 and 1911, and the 11,400 parish registers housed in county record offices up and down the country.

Tabulating and analysing vast amounts of data is a relentless task. “When one morning my eyes lit on the records for Middleton, I was alone in my office in Cambridge and I actually laughed out loud – I was so happy to be sharing a joke with someone who lived 200 years ago and was clearly trying to enliven the tedium of record-keeping,” said Kitson.

“After sharing my find with my colleagues, I began googling for some of the terms I’d come across and working out what they were. Some – like crispin which means shoemaker and manuary which means someone engaged in manual work – are obscure terms while others are pure inventions – cabbage gelder for market gardener or greengrocer. It’s been fun to decipher the thinking behind the entries – and to speculate why the compiler of the register felt the urge to do this.”

It turns out that the archivists at Norfolk Record Office in Norwich, where the Middleton baptism register is held, had also been chuckling about the entries. “The Very Revd Dr Wood was vicar of Middleton from 1810 to 1856, a very long period of incumbency, but he made his irregular comments in the register only between 1818 and 1822,” said Norfolk County Archivist, Dr John Alban.

“Why did he start writing entries of this kind and then suddenly stop? Was he merely being mischievous or did he have a rather low opinion of his parishioners, as some of the comments suggest? We shall probably never know the answers, although a baptism entry for one of his many children reveals a streak of eccentricity. On 14 May 1815, inspired by current affairs, he christened his own daughter Congress Vienna Amelia Wood.”

There is, of course, a much more serious side to the research being undertaken by Kitson and his colleagues. Starting in 1911 and working backwards through the nineteenth and eighteenth centuries to the ultimate target of 1379, the project will enable scholars to follow the changing occupational structure of England and Wales. A series of maps, some of which are already available online, now show the distribution of occupations throughout the country at the time of each census.

“It’s fascinating to see how occupations were distributed – for example, how many bakers there were in southern England in 1851 and how few bakers there were in the North. Presumably that’s because people in those areas baked their own bread. The data also enables us to trace the clustering of occupations, such as the growing concentration of textile-related jobs in Lancashire and Yorkshire,” said Kitson.

 Peter Kitson works on a research project entitled ‘The occupational structure of Britain 1379-1911’. It is run by Dr Leigh Shaw-Taylor and Professor Sir Tony Wrigley, and aims to reconstruct the evolution of the occupational structure of Britain from the late medieval period down to the late nineteenth century.

An Author's Story of the Christchurch Earthquake

The biggest after-shock in the world, perhaps -- the Christchurch quake of 22 February 2011 

Animal-friend and historical fiction writer Beverley Broad (West Coast Reins, Fool's Gold, Erupting Lies, Ostrich chick hatching and raising in New Zealand: a practical guide) sent me an evocative account of how she heard the news of the quake, and what followed afterward.

As Bev tells the story, she was coming out of the surf at Tauranga, when her hostess ran out with the news that she had just received a phone call.

As she goes on to say, “I knew straight away from her face that it was Christchurch and the most awful ice-cold hand clenched my heart even before she turned on the TV and we watched in horror our beautiful city falling to its knees.

I still cannot decide which is worse, actually suffering the terror of enduring the two and a half minute 7.2 in the dark on the morning of 4th Sept, or being so far away and unable to find our children in the carnage of the 22nd Feb. All telephone links were lost, and to make things worse I had a new cell phone that I wasn’t familiar with and I just could not even see it through my tears let alone make it work with my shaking fingers. Eventually I managed to contact Lucy our daughter in law in Wellington and she acted as a go between for messages. She was able to tell me that Nicola was safe at the school with her kids, but we could not find Rebecca or her family. And of course they had gone to lunch downtown to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

But Arron was late! Too long in the shower! So they decided against the inner city restaurant and were just getting out of the car when they looked up Manchester St and saw clouds of dust as buildings toppled, they did a frantic U turn and headed for the hills where the kids were at school. Rebecca said the drive was diabolical, cracks opened up, mud and water gushed, and the tar seal rippled like a rug being shaken. Rebecca ran into the classroom narrowly missing a brick wall falling on her, found the kids, then got them home. They put up a tent on the lawn and Nicola and family came to share it, they were all still sleeping in it when we got home.
Lucy had managed to get us a flight to Christchurch along with a plane-load of Govt. officials. We flew in with a case-load of food, bread and milk, as at that point essential supplies were critical and queuing for what shops were open, hours long.
At the Animal and Bird Hospital the girls were heroically trying to keep the clinic open with, initially no power, water or sewerage. To date the first 2 have been restored, but sewerage is a long time away; there are portaloos lining all the streets and all water must be boiled. Initially animals coming for help got it free as there was no money and no eftpos. The girls did what they could; common injuries were dogs left locked inside who had ripped out claws and worn their teeth to bleeding gums trying to claw or chew their way out. Mostly their traumatised owners just needed to talk, as everyone did.
We watched in horrified awe as the tsunami rolled over Japan. Tears poured down my cheeks as I watched the clip of the shaking and heard that dreadfully familiar cacophony of sound, and relived that awful few moments on 4 Sept. I had to look around the room and reassure myself that it was not happening again. I had to turn off the TV in the end; it is just too raw and traumatising, especially knowing we are getting so many earthquakes just off shore out from New Brighton beach where we used to live on Marine Parade. So far they have thankfully all been of a small magnitude, but only 5 ks deep and one cannot but help ask “What if….”
What is Christchurch’s future you are probably asking?
I just don’t know, but I will keep you posted.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You know you're from Christchurch when . . .

You have to admit that it takes guts to be funny in the face of ongoing disaster

 I can't find who to credit, but the Saturday Dominion Post has a very amusing list of what identifies a citizen of Christchurch, as the after shocks go on and on ... and on.  Here is a sampling:

# Geonet or ChristchurchQuakeMap is your homepage

# The rest of the country offers you a place to stay

# You sleep in one suburb, shower in another, and collect water from yet another

# You are happy two police officers came to visit

# You think it is fine for a soldier to be stationed at the end of your street

# It is normal to greet people with "do you need a shower?"

# Every house is a crack house

# Little boys don't get excited when they see (another) digger or a dozer -- but all the adults in the street cheer wildly

# When a massive group of students appears in your street, you feel overwhelmed with gratitude, instead of calling the police.  And what's more they leave the street in better condition than when they arrived.

# The answer to where anything is -- "It's on the floor."

# Your teenagers are only too happy to sleep in the same room as their parents.

# You smile at strangers and greet people like you're one big family

# Going to Wellington to escape earthquakes makes sense.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Oxford DNB Literary biography of the day: Paul Scott

Paul Mark Scott (1920-1978)

The Raj Quartet, Volume 3: The Towers of Silence (Phoenix Fiction)
A while back some blogger (the inestimable Graham Beattie?) asked for names of Books that Changed Your Life.   I would have to include Towers of Silence by Paul Scott, because yes, reading it changed my view of the British Raj in particular and colonization in general, and it has certainly influenced all my reading about India since.

Today, the Oxford Dictionary of Biography features Hilary Spurling's  very well-written and perceptive account of the agonizing that went into "The Raj Quartet" (televised in 1983 as "The Jewel in the Crown"), of which Towers of Silence is volume three.

The son of a clever commercial artist and a romantic, restless working girl from London, Scott was a contradiction from the start.  An accountant's clerk at the age of 14, he spent his lunch hours tapping out poems, and his leisure observing the rigid class distinctions and ruthless social codes of suburban Southgate (north London), where old mansions were increasingly crammed in with massive housing developments. This, he vividly understood later, was how the colonial caste system worked in British India.

His close association with the sub-continent was triggered by a posting as an officer cadet in the Second World War.  Initially appalled by the poverty and overcrowding, he came to love the place.  On return to London, however, he stayed there, first as accountant to two publishing houses, and then as a literary agent, representing writers of the stature of M.M. Kaye, Arthur C. Clarke, John Braine, and Muriel Spark.  In 1960, having had mild success with a series of novels, he left, to take up the highly uncertain life of a fulltime writer.  Four years later, he staked everything on India, flying there to immerse himself in Indian culture, at the expense of his bank account and his liver.

The first of the Raj series, The Jewel in the Crown, was published in 1966, to be followed by The Day of the Scorpion (1968), The Towers of Silence (1971), and The Division of the Spoils (1975).  Known collectively as "The Raj Quartet," as Spurling says, they "achieved an epic sweep and power rare in the English novel and quite unlike E.M. Forster's Passage to India, with which they were unfavourably compared".

A fifth in the series, Staying On, won the Booker Prize in 1977.  Unfortunately, Scott could not accept it personally, as he was in hospital, terminally ill with cancer.  He passed away in March 1978.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The most expensive speaker in the world

Need a speaker for your special event?

Speaker Wiki -- or so I have learned today -- is "a free speaker directory that has been written collaboratively by thousands of event planners, speakers, and agencies around the world."

In short, it is a place where speakers and their agencies can list for free.

Browsing this easily navigable site is fascinating -- and particularly so for newly published authors, who are touchingly anxious to talk about their books for absolutely nothing, in the hope that the audience will buy them.

Organizers who want a pop musician, a media personality, or an ex-resident of the White House will have to dig deep, by contrast, because some of the fees charged are nothing short of breathtaking.

Phil Collins and Sting top the list, by extracting a cool million bucks from their hosts, and there's not even a guarantee that they will warble a few notes.  Tony Blair will reveal all for $265,000, though for a mere $5,000 more than that, you can hear Rudy GiulianiCondi Rice can add to her wardrobe of shoes with a fee of quarter of a million, while her old boss, GWB himself, will mangle the English language for just $150,000 (his Dad is even humbler, charging $100,000).  If you would rather hear Bill Clinton, you can have him for the night for $175,000, while Al Gore will tell you all about global warming for $215,000.  And Neil Armstrong will tell you what it was like to walk on the moon for $175,000.

My favorite, I must admit, is a man I have never heard of, namely Jimmy Monk, who advertizes himself as "A true gentleman with extensive experience; focused on Productivity with integrity, real results and a contagious smile!"  (Note the capital P.)

But what about the authors?  One has to go quite a long way down the list to find one, but all at once, there he is -- John Grisham, who will talk about his latest bestseller for $225,000.  Next most expensive is a cookbook author, Rachael Ray, who charges $165,000, and hopefully provides a few good recipes.  Tom Clancy will talk about techno-thrillers for a mere fifty thousand bucks, while Patrick Robinson, another author of thrillers set on submarines, charges $40,000.

Oddly enough, I once shared a book event with the last gentleman, and I don't remember that either of us got paid.  What I do remember is Mr. Robinson hunkering down in front of a cute little girl and saying, "Do you like submarines?"

"No, I like sharks," said she disdainfully, and gave him a wide berth as she passed him by.

Obviously, life has improved greatly since then.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

That caramelized chicken and the best Indian restaurant in New Zealand

Does that caramelized chicken stand up to repetition?

Absolutely.  As of this week (or so we found when we flew back from Hamilton), New World has a special on corn-fed, free-range chicken.  Ten dollars per beast.

So we bought one and cooked the upper half in a roast last night. (Remember there are just two of us.  Normally.)

Today, I faced the leftover bottom half -- two well-trimmed chookie legs.  I made the marinade, and oops! -- no soya sauce.  (What was I thinking?)  So I made the marinade without it, and when the lot (with only two legs) was in the oven pan, I added a good grind of sea salt.

I also added three extremely fresh, small courgettes, coarsely chopped.

It was served with the leftover kumara, potato, and pumpkin from the roast, chopped and very lightly fried in a little olive oil, with Italian herbs and another grind of sea-salt.

Divine.  This recipe takes a lot of adaptation.  I will be using it a lot from now on.

Okay, while we were in Hamilton, we discovered the best Indian restaurant in Hamilton.  Maybe in New Zealand.  Possibly, the world.

It is called the Royal Indian Restaurant, and maybe I should not be advertising it, because the restaurant itself keeps modestly quiet, being featured on almost no websites -- and yet it was full on a Sunday night, with a queue for their takeaway meals.

Considering it is in a small, low-key suburban shopping area (62 Cameron Road, Hamilton East, up by the university), it looked surprisingly upmarket.  Arches, red walls, a pleasant reception area.  And incredibly clean.  All of which was most encouraging.

We had two children in our party of six, and the waiter was very helpful.  First to arrive were the drinks (straws in soft drink cans, but the children were not complaining) and then came an amazing roll of crisp, very thin, baked bread, with dips that were not too hot and spicy.  Hugely enjoyed by the kids. 

Then came stuffed naan, nicely presented in big triangles.  Also quickly gobbled.  After that came the mains -- chicken tandoori, prawn marsala, utterly divine mango chicken (mine -- and I spooned up the sauce after the chicken was eaten, as I couldn't bear to leave any behind), and seafood noodles, which were full of prawns and fish and all that good stuff.  Wonderful flavors, very clean-tasting food.

Complimentary caramelized dumplings were rushed onto the table at the end, but we were really too full to appreciate the treat.

And the price?  I'm not going to tell you about it.  I don't want to queue all the way down Cameron Road the next time I go to Hamilton.

Is any of this going to be about books?  Well, I read the airline magazine with great interest on the way home, with particular attention to the foodie story.  (Remember I remarked that the Alix Bosco book, Slaughter Falls, had intriguing hints of a foodie writer?)

Has Martin Bosley ever lived in Ponsonby, pray?

Huge Enthusiasm for New Zealand Edition of Tupaia

Random House (New Zealand) are the tops.  Truly.

Not only is their edition of my biography of Tupaia (Tupaia: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator, due in June) going to be a beautiful one, with lavish illustrations, but they are pouring huge enthusiasm into the project.

Yesterday, I received the following letter from my editor/publisher, Jenny Hellen:

I’ve just been doing final checks and I LOVE this book – it’s such a great read, so easy, so informative, so chatty and yet so erudite and the product of such detailed research. And the illustrations just take you (the reader) so much further into the story. Just been reminded again about how great it is Joan. Thanks!

Elizabeth Taylor has passed away

Does the death of a film icon merit memorialization on a book commentary blog?

I think so.  I've always thought of Elizabeth Taylor as a modern Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships, and many thousands of words.

A dear friend who worked in the Olympian heights of Hollywood once told me a very touching story about her.  You knew that you were about to receive a visit from the goddess, when a case of Dom Perignon was delivered.  A bottle was put on ice in readiness, and some time after that the lovely woman herself arrived.

She drank just one half-glass as she enchanted the company, and then she left, leaving the rest for her host.

What a gal.

She was tiny, he said, but once you looked into her magnificent eyes, that was all you saw.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Successful self-publisher turns traditional

Amanda Hocking close to a real book deal

My Blood ApprovesBook commentator Julie Bosman notes in the New York Times today that self-publisher of YA paranormal books, Amanda Hocking, has put her new series onto the traditional market, attracting bids of well over a million bucks.

A 26-year-old native of Minnesota, Hocking only just got going last year.  Nine books have been the result, all self-published, and mostly in electronic form.

According to her blog, more than 900,000 have sold.

Her e-books go for under three dollars on, which may be a factor, as it deeply undercuts the price of regularly published books, even in electronic form.  The move didn't hurt her bank account over-much, however, as the low price ensures that she keeps 70% of the revenue.

Altogether, it has been a highly successful venture.  Hocking's books have landed on bestseller lists, and the author has been eulogized as an example of how to circumvent the established book industry.  So to hear that she is now going down the traditional path is quite a surprise.

Her agent, Steven Axelrod, declined to comment, and Hocking herself has dismissed the issue with a shrug.   "Self-publishing and traditional publishing really aren't that different," she wrote. "One is easier to get into but harder to maintain. But neither comes with guarantees.  Some books will sell, some won't."

A philosphical young lady, she.

Friday, March 18, 2011

End of free digital NYT in sight.

Avid NYT readers limited to six articles per month, unless print subscribers.

The following letter was sent out this week:

Dear New York Times Reader,

Today marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions. It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications.

This change comes in two stages. Today, we are rolling out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch. On March 28, we will begin offering digital subscriptions in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

If you are a home delivery subscriber of The New York Times, you will continue to have full and free access to our news, information, opinion and the rest of our rich offerings on your computer, smartphone and tablet. International Herald Tribune subscribers will also receive free access to

If you are not a home delivery subscriber, you will have free access up to a defined reading limit. If you exceed that limit, you will be asked to become a digital subscriber.

This is how it will work, and what it means for you:

On, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge (including slide shows, videos and other features). After 20 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site.

On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For access to all other sections within the apps, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.

The Times is offering three digital subscription packages that allow you to choose from a variety of devices (computer, smartphone, tablet). More information about these plans is available at

Again, all New York Times home delivery subscribers will receive free access to and to all content on our apps. If you are a home delivery subscriber, go to to sign up for free access.

Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.

The home page at and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times. For more information, go to

Thank you for reading The New York Times, in all its forms.


Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

Publisher, The New York Times

Chairman, The New York Times Company

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reprieve for Borders might be cause for optimism

Borders Gets Extra Time to Renegotiate Leases

Publishers Lunch reports that Manhattan bankruptcy court judge Martin Glenn has granted Borders an extension of the deadline to renegotiate existing leases to September 14. The court also gave final approval on the $505 million credit facility pending several changes are made, including a provision giving the unsecured creditors committee $125,000, up from $50,000, to fund investigations of claims of secured lenders. Judge Glenn empathized with part of the creditors' objection, noting that "when I look at the incremental cost of new money coming in, it's pretty steep," but he agreed with Borders contention that they had no better options.

Amusingly, the judge also uncovered an instance of plagiarism in the Borders filing.  He noticed that a Borders motion regarding paying utility companies was "taken almost verbatim" from documents written by law firm Weil Gotshal in the Blockbuster bankruptcy. The judge said Borders' attorneys Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Freidman could not bill for that work.

Borders lawyer David Friedman then introduced a note of optimism. Reuters reports he said that the lease renegotiation extension raises hopes the chain "will emerge (from bankruptcy) either through a sale or a plan" well before the September date. The company line has not included any mentions of a possible sale. Spokesperson Mary Davis commented on Tuesday's ruling, "We are focused on moving through the Chapter 11 process as efficiently and as expeditiously as possible as we seek to reorganize Borders to return to viability and to reposition our company to be successful for the long term."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Verdict on the Caramelised Chicken Tuna dish

And, incidentally, the mystery of the identity of Alix Bosco

My lighthearted post relating how thoughts about a certain mysterious and pseudonymous local writer were triggered by writing down a recipe for a dinner dish was honoured with a link on Beatties Book Blog, which in its turn led to a lighthearted and entertaining stream of comments.

Gender guesses, stray theories, gay sleuths in the literature, it's all there.  Have a read.

Meantime, tra-la, here is my verdict on the recipe for Caramelised Chicken Tuna, which I plucked off Beattie's rave review of the Home at 7, Dinner by 8 cookbook.

It was cheap, easy, and absolutely delicious.  I mixed the marinade (used molasses sugar instead of regular brown), trimmed the chicken legs well, removing all surface fat, and any fatty skin, and then soaked them in the mix.  Three hours, from memory.  Meantime, I prepared the tomatoes and onions.  I like to leave the little stem and a couple of little leaves on the vine tomatoes, scoring the top -- somehow, it seems to improve the flavour.  Oh, and I only used eight, to save a fight over the extra two in a party of four (the recipe says ten).  Cut the red onions in big chunks, then when the guests arrived dropped it all in the oven dish, poured over the marinade, and slid it into the oven.

I turned down the heat, as pre-dinner chat was getting lively and longwinded, which might account for the large amount of marinade in the finished dish.  But I simply froze the excess for another time, and the chicken was wonderfully moist.  Tasty, but not too sweet.  Served with baked potatoes and a small green salad, treacle pudding to follow.

A huge plus was that there was surprisingly little to be cleaned up afterward -- just an oven dish, salad bowl, plates, and cutlery.  Ron was very pleased.

I liked the hint of molasses from the Worcestershire sauce and the sugar I used.  One guest said she would try adding garlic, which would be interesting.  All in all, a recipe I will certainly be using again, and will enjoy varying slightly as I go.

But there is still a mystery.  Why is it called Caramelised Chicken TUNA, when there is no fish in the dish?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

JAPAN NYC Festival of Culture to continue

Despite appalling chaos back home, Carnegie Hall is to press on with exploration of Japanese culture.

As Daniel J. Wakin reports in today's New York Times, when Carnegie Hall announced Japan as the focus of this season's great festival of arts and culture, it did not seem an unusual step.  Now, it has tremendous significance.

As the home country struggles with disaster of apocalyptic proportions, Carnegie will launch a 40-event exploration of Japanese film, visual arts, design, drama, and music, in the second installment of its Citywide Festival Japan NYC.  No performers have withdrawn, and only one event, a panel discussion, has been cancelled -- quite logically so, in view of the title, which is, 'Innovating and Profiting in Contemporary Japan.'  As Clive Gillinson, Carnegie's executive and artistic director, sagely observed, 'All of us felt, as a topic, that wasn't what you'd want to be talking about right now.'

Performers include the Kodo drummers, violinist Midori, and the NHK Symphony Orchestra of Tokyo, while displays include Isamu Noguchi's set designs for the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Caramelised Chicken Tuna and Alix Bosco

Thanks to book-blogger Graham Beattie, I have a recipe for dinner for four for tomorrow night

Turning, as I usually do over that first mug of coffee, to Beattie's Book Blog for the latest in the New Zealand books scene, I was delighted to find that he had solved a problem -- what to cook for guests tomorrow night. 

The recipe, which sounds absolutely delish, is for Caramelised Chicken Tuna, and is quoted in his rave review of an upcoming cookbook, Home at 7, Dinner at 8, by Sophie Wright.

Not only is it cheap and scrumptious-sounding, but it's easy.  You make a nifty marinade with a list of ingredients that are in any normal pantry (soy sauce, brown sugar, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, plus a couple of spices), soak the chook legs for a bit, and then throw the lot in a roasting pan with vine tomatoes and chunks of red onion.

So easy, it sounds relaxing.  And because of this relaxation of the mind, I found myself reflecting on the mysterious and pseudonymous thriller writer who won the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for a debut book, Cut and Run.

Yes, I am talking about the mysterious and pseudonymous Alix Bosco.

Not so long ago, I speculated that s/he was actually a he, the he being the wellknown and successful playwright, Greg McGee.  It was a neat theory, or so I thought, but McGee himself blew it out of the water, by admitting he was flattered, but not flattered enough to let my theory live on.  Instead of merely grinning mysteriously, he revealed that he is not, emphatically not, the pseudonymous etc. Alix Bosco.

While I still haven't read Cut and Run, I picked up a copy of the sequel, Slaughter Falls, to keep me company on a couple of flights.

It promised to be riveting reading.  According to the blurb, "When Anna Markunas comes to Brisbane to watch a rugby test, two members of her tour party suffer a sudden, violent death."  Never a truer word, or so I found out -- "violent" is exactly the word I would choose.  To be specific, the first death (of an ex-All Black run very much to seed) is caused by an exceedingly graphic mauling by bull sharks in a Brisbane canal.

By sheer coincidence, I was in Brisbane airport when I read this bit, with lots of local Aussies handy to tell me about bull sharks.  'Unlikely,' most of them snorted, though I did wonder if they were silently wondering if it was really a good idea to go water skiing next weekend.   That discussion over, I read on, to learn more than expected about the state I was flying over.  The book, as promised by the back cover, is a foray "into the dark world of Queensland's corrupt underbelly" (which may be more real than the sharks, or so a lawyer from New South Wales darkly informed me).  As well as crisp writing, it certainly has pace.  I did wonder if the author had spent too many late nights devouring The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, an imaginative sadistic revenge providing the ending, but the book did its job by passing the monotonous time away very well indeed.

The trouble with mysterious and pseudonymous authors, though, is that the reader is constantly distracted by a search for clues to the writer's true identity -- particularly a reader whose previous theory was sundered so spectacularly by M'sieu McGee.  I became more convinced than ever, for instance, that the writer is a man, simply because of the muscularity of the prose.  Additionally, or so I decided, he is a middle-aged man.  While the novel is sharply pictured in the present, internet and www and all, the events stem from scandals of the 1980s.  As the pages flipped by, I gained the impression, in fact, that this was an old novel, perhaps stowed in the bottom of a drawer until the writer hauled it out and deftly reworked it.

The male writer. The women have beehive hair-dos and wear matador pants.  Believe me, that is the first thing a female writer would have updated.

Additionally, the writer is a foodie.  The mauling of the sharks was memorable indeed, but what impressed me most about the book was the lovingly described food.  There is even a character who is a food writer . . . who is accompanied on his restaurant-test trips by a woman he calls "the Blonde."

So it was really quite logical that printing off a recipe for a marinade mix should remind me of the mystery of Alix Bosco.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Tupaia and Captain Cook in Hamilton for NZ Book Month

Next Thursday -- 17 March (think St. Patrick), Captain Cook authority, John Robson, will be talking about the great cartographer, and I will be talking about the Polynesian navigator who sailed with Cook on the Endeavour, TUPAIA.

It is part of the great New Zealand Book Month programme.

Join us in the library in Garden Place at 6:30pm.

Looking forward to seeing you all!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

NBCC announces 2010 awards

The National Book Critics Circle has released the list of 2010 award winners.

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan (Fiction)

The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson (General Nonfiction)

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell (Biography)

Half a Life, by Darin Straus (Autobiography)

One with Others, by C.D. Wright (Poetry)

Lyric Poetry and Modern Poetry -- Russia, Poland, and the West, by Claire Cavanaugh (Criticism)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Gatsby mansion to be torn down

The mansion that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby is to be demolished -- because no one can afford it, reports the Mail Online.

It has great literary significance, but no one can afford it -- the crumbling 1902 property, at the tip of Sands Point, Long Island, costs $4,500 a day to maintain.

Lacking buyers with the stomach for this kind of upkeep, it will be torn down to make way for a swish gated community that will be another refuge for bonus-enriched bankers, no doubt.

'To be honest with you there isn't anything really special about it,' said the owner, David Brodsky. 'We did a lot of research on its history and there is really no evidence that Fitzgerald was even ever there.'

Local book buffs disagree.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Crime fiction reviewer and book blogger Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts has launched a worldwide competition to vote for a favorite amateur sleuth. 
She has assembled pairs, and has asked readers to choose one of each to go forward to the next round. Wiki Coffin is paired against Ollie Paras, and obviously (though it seems mean to the creator of Ollie), it would be great fun if Wiki should win.
Craig Sisterson describes the process in entertaining detail in his Kiwi Crime Watch Blog.  If you would like to vote, hit the link at the start of this post.  Please do!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fronting the digital age head-on

Avon, one of the first publishers to embrace digital books, is introducing a digital-only imprint, Avon Impulse.  In keeping with most revolutions, speed is a crucial factor -- this format, they say, 'will allow Avon to publish more quickly, with an eye to what's new in fiction and romance, delivering fresh, exciting content directly each month to the digital devices of today's savviest reader.'

Publisher's Lunch reports that while authors will not get an advance, the royalties for the first 10,000 sales will be 25%, and 50% thereafter.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


Actual news items from actual English newspapers

Commenting on a complaint from a Mr. Arthur Purdey about a large gas bill, a spokesman for North West Gas said, 'We agree it was rather high for the time of year. It's possible Mr. Purdey has been charged for the gas used up during the explosion that destroyed his house.'

(The Daily Telegraph)

Police reveal that a woman arrested for shoplifting had a whole salami in her underwear. When asked why, she said it was because she was missing her Italian boyfriend.

(The Manchester Evening News)

Irish police are being handicapped in a search for a stolen van, because they cannot issue a description. It's a Special Branch vehicle and they don't want the public to know what it looks like.

(The Guardian)

A young girl who was blown out to sea on a set of inflatable teeth was rescued by a man on an inflatable lobster. A coast guard spokesman commented, 'This sort of thing is all too common'.

(The Times)

At the height of the gale, the harbourmaster radioed a coast guard and asked him to estimate the wind speed. He replied he was sorry, but he didn't have a gauge. However, if it was any help, the wind had just blown his Land Rover off the cliff.

Mrs. Irene Graham of Thorpe Avenue , Boscombe, delighted the audience with her reminiscence of the German prisoner of war who was sent each week to do her garden. He was repatriated at the end of 1945, she recalled -

'He'd always seemed a nice friendly chap, but when the crocuses came up in the middle of our lawn in February 1946, they spelt out 'Heil Hitler.''

( Bournemouth Evening Echo)

And from New Zealand ...

The children even wrote to the Prime Minister to ask if they could use his images in animated parts but unfortunately he was unable to help, so they altered the script and had a donkey character instead.

(Whangarei Report)

Pasifika cookbook judged best in the world

Random House is basking in tropical sunshine 

Random House NZ was advised of two wonderful wins this week.

The first was Me'a Kai:The Food and Flavours of the South Pacific being judged best cookbook in the world at the Gourmand Cookbook Awards, held in Paris. This is an astonishing win as the other two finalists were the magnificent NOMA Cookbook, a drop dead gorgeous volume by the man many consider the finest chef in the world at the moment, and the stellar New York Times Cookbook.

The gala event the night before the awards was quite the night. The Samoan tourism authority sent across a troupe of dancers to perform at the event, so supportive are they of Robert Oliver's raison d'être for writing the book — to support and encourage local growers and help develop sustainable tourism and agriculture in the Pacific.

On Friday Random House Hew Zealand also heard that Craig Cliff, whose Man Melting was published in 2010 to excellent reviews, is the winner, best first book, of the Commonwealth Writers prize, South East Asia and Pacific region. The overall winners will be announced in May at the Sydney Writers festival.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Russell Crowe to star in new role in Wellington

Jonathan Millmow in Wellington's Dominion Post reports that Russell Crowe will be cast in a new role at Basin Reserve next Sunday.

New Zealand cricketer Stephen Fleming had the bright idea of staging an earthquake charity match, and then set about finding stars.  First, he nabbed Shane Warne, and then he talked Russell Crowe into playing a part, his arguments aided and abetted by Crowe's cousin, New Zealand cricketer Martin Crowe.

It didn't take any arm-twisting, apparently, though Fleming says that Russell Crowe jibbed at the first suggestion, which was to wield bat and ball.  "But he was happy to coach," he said. "He said to me 'I'll sit there and look self-important.  I do that well.'"

Though most of the world does not know it, Russell Crowe is a New Zealander by birth.  When he was small his father, a keen cricketer, shifted the family to Sydney.

The Canterbury side will be captained by Fleming, whose team includes Warne.  Martin Crowe will captain the Wellington eleven.  No one is sure yet which side Russell Crowe will coach, but Martin reckons he should be in Wellington colors.  After all, as he points out, Wellington was his birthplace.  Apparently, he had some talent as a cricketer -- was a useful number six or seven in the batting side, "and bowled like a poor man's Gavin Larsen in his heyday."  But coaching, it seems, is about his limit, now.

Tickets go on sale on Monday.

Australian bookseller Angus & Robertson to close 37 stores

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that altogether, 38 stores will close across the country, with the loss of 300 jobs.

The administrators of collapsing book chains Borders and Angus & Robertson have announced that 37 Angus & Robertson stores will be closed over the next three weeks, along with the Borders store in Rouse Hill, New South Wales.  Fifteen will shut their doors in the state of Victoria, eleven in New South Wales, seven in Queensland, two in Western Australia, two in the ACT, and one in South Australia.

Administrator Steve Sherman said that New Zealand operations, Borders online, and Angus & Robertson online will not be affected.  (Yet?)

According to him, the stores that are closing were "the least viable of the 260 REDgroup retail outlets," and needed to be closed to save the rest.  "As administrators," he said, "we need to take these difficult decisions in order to give people at the remaining stores their best chance at a long-term future."

REDgroup retail, which owns Borders and Angus & Robertson, among other stores, failed in February 2011 with debts of $118 million (AUD).

Friday, March 4, 2011


The world certainly carried on while I was away on the stormy sea, with the tragic news of the Canterbury earthquake having immediate impact.  Somehow, it is even worse to hear of it in bits and pieces, as satellite communication waxes and wanes.  Family members are safe, though shocked, and our deep sympathies go to those who are hurt and bereaved.  A deeply moving moment was when 1,800 Australians remembered those lost in a two-minute silence, timed to coincide with the same pause in the life of New Zealanders on shore.  Not a sound was heard throughout the ship.

The folk at special effects house Weta Workshop are doing their part to help.  They have put three extra-special models from the Lord of the Rings series up for auction on eBay, with the proceeds destined to benefit the victims of the Christchurch disaster.   The model of Bag End, signed by Sir Peter Jackson, tops the bidding with a current offer of well over $6,000.

Richard Taylor has signed a model of the pub in the first film of the trilogy, the Prancing Pony.  And every man with the heart of a boy would love to bid for the raygun that was designed by Greg Broadmore.