Book Review: Ghosting by Jennie Erdal

Ghosting, by Jennie Erdal (2004), is an intriguing, somewhat unsettling glimpse into the lives of a ghostwriter and her employer. It’s a true story – her story – and spans nearly twenty years of her life. During this time she loses love, finds love again and her kids grow up, but all the while her relationship with her employer deepens into something increasingly complex and binding.

p1110744

She calls her boss “Tiger”, due to the Tiger head he proudly displays on his wall. A prominent member of the British elite and publishing industry, he’s also one of the most interesting people I’ve ever read about. He’s extravagantly wealthy, flamboyant, a romantic extrovert driven by whims and fancies, but he’s also anxious and obsessive to point of being compulsive. A collector of nude art, a gracious host, a cook, a clean-freak, the owner of murderous dogs – I think you could read this book purely as a character study and get a lot out of it.

Erdal, on the other hand, comes across as being an analytic, systematic, studious type. An expert in Russian language and literature, she was first employed (above the table) as a translator and editor of Russian books. I don’t think Tiger ever set out to employ a ghostwriter. It seemed to me that he started finding extra jobs for her to do out of kindness, as her situation had become difficult. But one job led to the next until she was eventually writing novels for him, and the voice the world knew of as his was actually hers and he couldn’t let her go.

Ironically, she probably wasn’t the best fit for him. His tastes were far different from hers. He wanted graphic sex scenes (“poetic” ones). He wanted her to put down on page extraordinary – hell, supernatural – sexual techniques, which she struggled to write about convincingly. She had no prior experience in writing fiction, and no real inclination either.

Despite all that, she’s obviously a good writer, so Ghosting is a good read. It’s reasonably light, yet full of insightful observations about childhood, relationships, and also the act of writing. About divorce she writes:

Yet when a marriage falls apart, every memory is threatened, and the good times can be blackened overnight. There is nothing that cannot be reinterpreted. Divorce violates the present, but it also slithers backwards on its filthy tentacles and desecrates the past.

Nice. And so very true.

I did feel, however, that she often relied on other people’s quotes to make her point (and maybe that’s the academic in her). Many times throughout I wished I could speak French.

The most interesting aspect of the story is the relationship between Tiger and Erdal. Before I began reading this I imagined the life of the ghostwriter to be a secretive, secluded thing. There would be midnight phone calls and code words, the whole affair steeped in dirty guilt. But Erdal played a prominent part in Tiger’s life – she was in and out of his London office, vacationed with him in France, travelled to foreign book fairs with him. By the end, their lives had become so horribly entwined that I felt suffocated just reading about it. Strangely, it was like Tiger never properly admitted to himself that he wasn’t actually writing his own work. It was like he believed that he was the muse, and she simply his pen.

This is a good read. I highly recommend it.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Book reviews

Yellow Pill – Ink Stains Volume 2

Howdy folks. This rather gruesome (**non-vegan!**) image is the cover of the newest anthology that my writing is a part of. Published by Dark Alley Press, the anthology contains seven gritty, dark fictions.

My story Yellow Pill is a suspenseful tale about Lata, who begins to become increasingly suspicious about the pills her boyfriend Joseph takes for his asthma. He seems to take them an awful lot. He’s cagey about where he gets them from. The local pharmacy is even hounding her, after they ran some tests and didn’t even recognise what the hell they were. Things get much worse when Lara decides to take one of the pills herself.

inkstainsvol2_promo

Ink Stains Volume 2 can be purchased here at Amazon – either as an ebook, or print. Happy reading….

Leave a comment

Filed under Prose

This Giant Papier Mache Boulder is Actually Really Heavy (movie review)

Every time I go to write down the movie’s name I end up missing at least one word. In fact, when I asked for a ticket at the cinema, I got half way through the name and then both the teller and I went “and blah blah yadda yadda” to finish it off. It’s certainly a mouthful, but it’s also quite clever. Because before you even watch the film the name instantly gives you a sense of what you’re going to see. I figured it would be funny, self-referential, and very cheaply made. I imagined an amateur indie film, in which the props are made by the director’s flatmate’s girlfriend, and the soundtrack is recorded on an early-90s Casio keyboard with built-in drum beats.

This was pretty close to the truth, though the music was marginally better than that. It’s made in New Zealand – maybe a classic Kiwi film of the future.

this-giant-papier-mache-boulder-is-actually-really-heavy-_32360_posterlarge

The story begins with the three main blokes – Tom, Gavin and Jeffrey – watching an old B-grade sci-fi film ‘Space Warriors in Space’. Part way through, they are mysteriously sucked into the movie, and come under attack from the evil Lord Froth. With the help of some friends they meet along the way, not to mention the scantily dressed warrior women (obligatory for any sci-fi adventure film), they must find their way back to Earth, and back to reality.

This film is done on a budget – seriously. But they’ve cleverly gotten away with it by setting the story inside a very low-budget film. It reminded me of the early seasons of Red Dwarf, when they used a computer joystick to steer the ship, and pretty much everything else was built from cardboard boxes glued together and painted grey. In TGPMBIARH the lids of pump bottles are buttons on the ship’s console; an electric egg beater is a cargo ship flying through space; lampshades (or possibly suspended baking bowls?) serve as those visor things you wear when you want to aim your ship’s cannons at another ship (you know what I mean…). And no animals were harmed in the film, because they were mostly soft toys (quite cute ones, too). But the cheapness is essential for the plot, it’s part of the point. The characters, for the most part, realise they are stuck inside a budget film, and are generally stumped by the fact that a recognisable kitchen utensil actually fires a laser out its end. Which is why it’s also surprising that the “giant papier mache boulder is actually really (fucking) heavy”.

crew-watching-space-pirates3_1

I had quite a few laughs. They got the theatrical nature of an old sci-fi film right. When someone is punched in the face they don’t just drop to the ground, they fly through the air. If someone rolls down a bank then they bloody well fall off a waterfall too. That’s just common sense. However, if I’m going to pick a hole (and I will), it’s that I felt the film could do with a brutal edit. Some scenes went on too long, and some were superfluous altogether. I know that when you’ve worked closely on something for a long time you get precious, but really it could have done with a good snip snip snip.

TGPMBIARH is running for another week at the Rialto in Newmarket, and also the Dunedin Rialto and the cinema in Devonport. Go out and support a NZ independent film.

1 Comment

Filed under NZ film review

National Poetry Day and Broken Egg

Today is New Zealand’s National Poetry Day. There have been heaps of cool events this past week, and still a few more still to come. You can check them out here.

In celebration of the day, I thought I’d share one of my poems, titled Broken Egg. I wrote it in 2013, and it was published in the February 2014 edition of Writing Tomorrow. I hope that you like it.

 

488346_10151090158818821_2142858731_n

Broken Egg

1

They come bounding at me bow-legged,

expecting beaks like upside down spoons and brass eyes unblinking.

Oi, get off, I skip backwards, I gave you the wheat!

Don’t you remember pecking my hand and hearing me squeak?

 

I check for eggs inside the roosting shed, poke my head in,

perceive a hen-like shape and beak swiveling my way.

Oops, sorry – I say, retreat, retreat.

A rock in your place, a sleeping cat, even,

so stuffed with shadows, I’d think it a hen.

 

Sometimes I hear you wailing all the way from the front fence.

With misshapen eggs, I wonder why you lay.

Maybe because, secretly, you enjoy the quiet, dark,

the rustle of your feathers in the straw,

the curve, the release.

 

2

My mother owns sixty-one eggcups

though seldom eats her own eggs.

They sit in a brown cabinet

beside the lamp whose height hides a layer of dust.

The rest of her house is spotless, of course.

She’s a short woman, it’s not her fault.

 

She tried to have more kids but was stuck with just the one,

then my dad won big with the bonus bonds and moved away

with the lady who cut all our hair.

Two of the eggcups were wedding presents.

They sit front, centre, polished brightly.

Mum doesn’t receive many gifts.

 

In the early eve she’s sleeve-deep in the garden

speaking to her hens, upturning rocks.

Beetles and millipedes have no safe nooks.

I’ll never understand the pleasure she gets, digging potatoes,

wrenching sticky weeds from the mischievous earth.

 

She lays her carrots with care,

side by side on the lilac rug we used to take to the beach.

It’s covered in holes, I don’t know why she doesn’t biff it.

I sit with her till dusk while she shovels compost, full of broken shells.

She told me once that when hens eat a broken egg they get a taste.

 

3

Dad could catch a wave with his body, like a rocket,

arms stretched straight in front, strong legs kicking.

Mum and I skulked beneath the parasol, watching him.

I hear he has three kids now – probably brown, and fit, like him.

 

As a teenager I hated this farm.

I’d climb the overgrown rhododendrons,

perch like a pissed-off gargoyle, listing unfairnesses.

There’s nothing fun about being a kid.

When the doctor told me I couldn’t have any I was glad.

 

Dad sent me a postcard once, from France,

wrote it like he wrote them every week.

I didn’t recognise the handwriting

till Mum pointed out his name at the bottom.

I remember she cried.

She told me once she would’ve liked grandchildren.

 

Sometimes I see you running wide-armed at me,

scabby knees and bright eyes unflinching.

I’ve seen plasters with pictures on them, at the supermarket, just for kids.

Oi, get off, I tut, holding you at arm’s length

and poking your tummy till you squeak.

 

For a downloadable copy, click here.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry

Poi E: The Story of our Song (movie review)

Tonight I went to the movies to watch Poi E: The Story of our Song, written and directed by Tearepa Kahi. I guess the fact that it’s freezing outside, and that it’s a Monday night, accounts for the fact that my friend and I had the whole theatre to ourselves… and usually I’d have been stoked to not have to crane my neck around the tall dude sitting in front of me or to have to mentally fade out the mandatory movie cougher (and because I got to lie back with my feet on the seat in front). But tonight it just seemed wrong.

Poi E poster

 

I’ve always loved Poi E, the song. I wonder if there’s a New Zealander who doesn’t. It’s part of our culture, as well as part of our pop music history – along with Six Months in a Leaky Boat and Slice of Heaven. Yet, weirdly, I had no idea when it was filmed, no idea about the woman who wrote it, the club who performed it, or the man who brought the whole thing together – Dalvanius Prime. Maybe I’m just too young (I was born the year before it was released). When I sat down to watch the movie, therefore, I wondered how anyone could possibly create a whole documentary about a single song.  Woah – I had a few things to learn.

This documentary takes you on a journey from the small town of Patea all the way to England and back. You get to witness a community’s love for their songs, for their culture, and for one fat Maori dude who knew how to make music. There are moments when you have to have a wee giggle about just how ‘kiwi’ some people are – in fact, if I’d watched it while overseas I’d probably have been overcome with homesickness and flown right home (except, if you know me, then you know I’m not so much into glorifying the freezing works). But most importantly, the film addresses the stifling of Te Reo Maori that occurred, well, up until recently really, as well as the pigeon-holing of the whole Maori culture that took place (when there were only certain contexts when it was acceptable for people to speak Maori or to act in any way not white).

And so because, like most people, I’ve always just sung along to the “Poi e” part of the lyrics, sort of mumbling or humming over the rest, I decided to go home tonight and learn the full song. And then I sang it several times to myself, strumming on my guitar, not quite ever mastering all those syllables, but getting close enough!

Go see the film. No arguing. We need to support NZ film makers and become more culturally enlightened wherever possible. And here, of course, is the song itself!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under NZ film review

Middlemarch

In March I attended a writers festival in Ohakune – a little town at the foot of the majestic Mt Ruapehu. On the final night I stood up nervously in front of a room full of respected NZ writers and read Middlemarch, a poem told in the perspective of a woman who is unhappy with her marriage. It was the first time I’d read one of my poems to pretty much anyone other than my six old son, who is nearly always nice about it (though actually, everyone at the festival was nice about it too). I then returned to my cold and tiny backpackers room to find an email from Landfall, informing me that the very poem I had read was to be published in their next edition. I was absolutely thrilled!

otago612164

This fruit is called a Cape Gooseberry, or a Ground Berry. I think they’re awesome.

It’s taken me a shamefully long time to announce this properly. In fact, it’s winter now, and this was an autumn edition. I think this is because the poem was written about my own failing marriage – now recently failed – but hey, really that’s no reason not celebrate a publication. I’ve begun reading the other poems and stories contained within, and am proud that Middlemarch is tucked in among them. The full list of contributors can be found here.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

An Interview with Phil Dadson

Phil Dadson is one of those legendary New Zealand composers /musicians / artists, respected by anyone who knows him or knows his works. He’s also an extremely warm and cheerful chap, and a pleasure to be around. I was lucky enough to talk to him about Five Rhythm Works, his upcoming re-release of five of his earliest From Scratch pieces. The interview can be found here at Pantograph Punch.

Photo by Phabu Makan 1978

Photo by Phabu Makan, 1978.

Leave a comment

Filed under Interviews, Music