Dark Empire

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I was supposed to launch this novel a week or so ago, but due to being in ‘self isolation’ I missed the launch.

Maggie’s Launch Speech for John’s novel ‘Dark Empire’

Dark Empire is the work of a Katherine Mansfield devotee.  I can’t imagine anyone here today who has not read or heard of ‘At the Bay’, undoubtedly Mansfield’s most well-known short story. Famed not just for its location, but what have become the legendary characters, the Burnell Family (arguably Mansfield’s own family fictionalised), and too the malevolent, mysterious, Mr and Mrs Harry Kember.  If you listen out this afternoon, you may hear Jonathan Trout shouting out in the bay or perhaps he’s here with you all.

John Horrocks has had the audacity to take some of these iconic characters, and forge new lives for them beyond Mansfield’s imaginings, out of the bay and into the seedy heart of Wellington in the early 20th century.  The narrator is straight from the classical, laconic, Chandler book, except rather than hardboiled, we have returned Boer War serviceman turned detective. A farmer at heart, tall, possibly handsome (sound a wee bit familiar?), who is shacking up with a feisty red headed journalist who writes for Truth (thoughts of Robin Hyde)…

Together, if not fearlessly, then between cups of tea and the occasional slug of whisky, they set out to solve the mystery of the man who drowned just off Somes Island. I’m not giving anything away as this is the opening compelling prologue.  In their scoop, come politicians, brothel owners, a local gym, dodgy financial investments, corrupt police, prisoners on Somes Island, the well-respected (oh no) Burnell family and the dastardly Kembers. Lots of hat tips to Katherine Mansfield for the discerning and endless fascinating social and historical facts woven in to enlighten and enliven.  This is not downtown Cuba Street with a bucket fountain, and Jamie Lee Ross is beginning to look like a lightweight.

The origins of this dark and seedy story began with the author’s keen interest in local history and he’s cleverly combined his passion for KM along with his fascination with therapeutic spas (his poetry collection) to craft a compelling and entertaining crime novel.  So many interesting details woven in, relating to the boys overseas and the men who stayed behind, and the men interned on Somes.   It is the early 1900’s and this is Wellington, warts and all. I’m certain Katherine Mansfield would be chuckling and applauding, although possibly she might take umbrage about Stanley Burnell being caught up in the scandal.

I’m so disappointed not to be here today to read these words and to congratulate John and wish his novel well.

Mainlining Mansfield

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(And a link to my report on the recent conference in Wellington on Beatties Book Blog).
mans_portrait

I overdosed recently. A strange drug set me reeling into literary dismorphia. I was mainlining Mansfield at the time, being drip-fed abstracts over a period of three days. I began to hallucinate, imagine myself tubercular, talented, a genius with a Dad who had enough dosh to keep me afloat – something like a yearly stipend. It felt lovely for a while and I scribbled feverishly in my computer notebook, aware that if the National Library did suddenly want my feverish jottings, that I should spell check now and then. But too, I knew, my odd use of commas and ellipsis would be found exquisite, rather than extravagant and that whole new abstracts would be written, eventually, years after my demise, so I didn’t worry… well, I did a little – but not enough to stop me.

I knew too from listening to more erudite and analytical writers than myself (before the dismorphia and hallucinating) that words like ‘little’ had no place in the literary canon. I used Google and an on-line thesaurus to find alternatives… and ‘not big’ seemed highly original and after all I could embed the link to the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary and thereby avoid any plagiarism charges.

Mind you, (replace with an expression of ‘so what’), I’ll swear I heard scholars insisting that plagiarism was a writer’s right, that ‘The child who was tired’ by Katherine Mansfield, was merely a flattering reframing of Chekhov, perhaps even an improvement on. There was no proof they said that KM had even read the English version of this short story, as if somehow, the Russian rendition would render her English version authentic. Aha, I imagined momentarily channeling Anna Akhmatova ‘s poetry for my blog, claiming never to have read the English translations. But I was distracted as two eminent scholars began arguing over whether or not KM (and therefore me at the time), had contracted Gonorrhea. Someone very clearly wanted proof one way or the other. It was suggested this was impossible without an exhumation, and I didn’t want to offer up myself, my own medical records… for scrutiny…

Someone took me to task too for living through the Russian Revolution, the First World War and the very first General strike in the United Kingdom – as if these things mattered to my literary efforts. Hadn’t I achieved enough with ‘Bliss’, this one story, an almost manifesto for the liberated woman’s libido. Some bright spark even mentioned a fabulous pun running through the story, the pear/pair tree and the various flowerings/pairings, and I have to say I was delighted to claim this subliminal reading as my very own intention. This is the wondrous thing about my fans re-reading me – yes, I know, I know, I’m not KM. But you see, I was mainlining, and the effect was the same.
Me, kayaking almost in front of the Days Bay holiday home of KM

I grew tired though, after three days, and on the fourth, I witnessed the staging of a small play about my short story ‘At the bay’ – just a stone’s throw from the beach – writers leaping up from their flat whites to appropriate my words. Two grown men pretended to swim in the Pavilion, as if it were the sea and Linda, Granny and Beryl muffed their final lines, the great moment when Stanley is finally GONE. I saw one of the writers viciously punch the other to prompt her… it was that punch I think that bought me to my senses, and made me realise, I was just another wannabe, hanging on the coat-tails of the Colonial Shop Girl of literature and I realised I didn’t want to swap lives after all. I like being me, here ‘at the bay’, alive, able to swim in the sea without Jonathan Trout… I wasn’t prepared after all for a Faustian pact, to be famous and dead and remembered, instead of here, today, alive and aspiring.
Days_Bay,_Eastbourne_1920s

I’m doing the twelve steps now… having had a literary awakening, recognising that I am powerless in the face of KM, and I’ve asked for forgiveness for my own literary shortcomings, admitted that the critics at times have been right about my failings, and I’m trying to remove all defective characters from my stories…
I’ve abandoned the excess, found the limit of myself, but I continue to write… and I always will…