As Offspringette heads off for her New Zealand adventure my thoughts are very much there again and,as I said yesterday, it all seemed like a good opportunity to have a little New Zealand litfest of our own on here and celebrate that dovegrey favourite, Janet Frame.
Well may you wonder quite how I've managed this one, dovegreyreader asks... Janet Frame, but last year I put this project to Pamela Gordon, Janet's neice and asked whether she would be able to answer some questions that might give us the chance to get to know the real Janet Frame. We didn't set a deadline, I was happy to wait as long as it took and for Pamela to do this in her own time because I was just so grateful that she agreed to do it.
I think you will all agree this has been worth the wait and I am honoured and delighted to be placing Pamela's personal account of her aunt on the record here.
Pamela, firstly we'd love to know about the real Janet because I suspect the one we think we know from books and films may bear little resemblance to the one that you know.
The myth of her as a 'recluse', especially in New Zealand, is so deeply culturally ingrained that even if strangers met her in person, they interpreted everything they saw in terms of the stereotype. She could see through these people, and sometimes played up to their expectations. Her theory was, why bother when they had so clearly made their minds up. She could be very obstinate in unwelcome company, just shutting up completely until people gave up and went away. She liked to preserve her own creative space from rude interruptions. Writers have to spend much time alone. That doesn't mean they don't like company. She did, but she was discerning. And she did crave the intimacy of marriage and family, but she knowingly sacrificed it for the sake of her art.
Janet would occasionally behave like a Zen master. I remember an anecdote her US publisher George Braziller tells of their first meeting - they were having a meal at a restaurant and the communication was awkward. She was ever on the alert for patronising behaviour. So she upended the salad bowl onto the table. She probably muttered something like, "Are you happy now?" She had done the 'mad' thing, could they now get on with their meeting? That was quite instructive (she was studying Buddhism at the time). George got the message. And they did become close friends.
She was very funny. She was quick with her wit, and there was much laughter in her company. But she was also comfortable with silence, too. Aren't the conversations that incorporate pauses, deeper and more enriching? That's my opinion, and I feel very lucky to have been her friend, and to have shared quiet times with her. She loved to just watch people, animals, or landscape, and you can tell if you know her work, that she took in what she observed and turned it into literature. She had a photographic memory.
I loved her dearly and the feeling was mutual, and I was one of her closest confidantes. I know I can't claim to define any 'real' Janet, but I can say with some authority that there was a real Janet, and she was no disembodied cipher, and she didn't have any disability or disorder; she merely sensitively embraced her own humanity with courage and humour.
Janet had a lot of friends, although she did tend to compartmentalise them - some of them apparently didn't know about all the others. Or maybe she made everyone feel unique. I think she didn't like people getting together and comparing notes. She really hated being talked about behind her back because she had suffered from malicious gossip early in her life. So she expected loyalty and discretion from her inner circle. I used to think that was for her own protection, but now I realise she was also guarding her loved ones from the negative side of fame. Fame truly can be a curse.
She had a gift for making a wide range of friends, including with her neighbours. She often became close to her neighbours. She moved house frequently, partly in the search for a quiet environment or to be near loved ones, or because her address became too well-known and she was being harassed. Or because she needed some new material for the next book. Or to get away from the scene of the last one. Or just for the thrill of it. There was always a good reason.
She was an exciting person to know. She loved novelty and adventure and travel. She was an early adopter of just about anything new, including computers, but also slang, and she was fascinated by whatever was "the latest thing". But she was no slave to the current fad: she was original, and unconventional. She wore comfortable clothing in striking colours like orange or red or bright blue, whether that was fashionable at the time or not. She wore coloured stockings and patterned socks, and multi-coloured hats. She deliberately chose not to conform; she really didn't care what people thought. If they cared about such things, they were not her kind of person anyway. She did tend to test people, maybe because she had been betrayed in the past, and one of the first hoops she put a potential friend through was to expect them not to judge by appearances. I was lucky because she trained me up as a child, by giving me Le Petit Prince and pointing out the message explicitly: "The things that are important are invisible to the eye".
In saying all this I haven't even scratched the surface of a wonderful, lovable, complicated person who was full of contradictions, and who was so accepting of the mystery of herself and of other people.
Coming up next ::
Can you tell us about Janet's writing day? Favourite places to write, pen or typewriter, solitude or company etc, how did she care for her manuscripts etc, her hobbies..