Sunday, 4 March 2012

Janet Frame Memorial Lecture

One of the writers organisations I belong to is the New Zealand Society of Authors (NZSA). Every year the President of Honour delivers the Janet Frame Memorial Lecture, and this year it was delivered on 1 March at Te Papa by Marilyn Duckworth. 

Marilyn called her talk "Learning to swivel: the changing face of New Zealand literature", and shared many wonderful insights about how the writing life has changed since the days when she wrote her novels longhand, typed them on a typewriter, laboriously counted the words and posted them off on the long 6-week trip to Britain. She is very modest about her work, but what an amazing achievement to be able to look back over 50 years as a published author.

“Novel writing is a dangerous occupation,” Marilyn believes, and she took her “first blithe steps into that crocodile swamp”, aged just 23, with her novel A gap in the spectrum. Back in the 1950s, there were no book launches, no writing courses or fellowships, few local publishers and only a few other women writers, and it didn’t matter if you were “shy and tongue tied” because the publicity machine didn’t exist. Today’s writers travel a very different path, and “the excitement of stepping out into unfamiliar territory” is perhaps no longer quite the same. 

Marilyn also looked back over many years of PEN activities - remembering John Pascoe and Monty Holcroft (who would raise their hats to her in passing on Lambton Quay) Pat Lawlor, Ruth Gilbert, Denis Glover (who told her it was her job “to look decorative” on the committee), Ngaio Marsh and Noel Hilliard, among others. She recalled many “eye-opening and unforgettable” parties, and a number of Wellington bookshops, with fond memories in particular of Hugh Price’s Modern Books, which gave her her first window display.

More changes are inevitable, but as Marilyn said: “reading, however we do it, remains one of the nicest and most rewarding things anyone can do.” And despite being a “70-something novelist” whose own favourite writers are “aging and tired, if not already dead”, it’s clear that Marilyn, who has been an outstanding role model and source of encouragement for many, is still a writer at heart.

“I do love words,” she said. “What writer doesn’t?”

Her talk was recorded for Radio NZ and you can find it here:

You can also read Elizabeth Knox’s 1993 interview with her here:

 And here is one of Marilyn's books:


Cherries on a plate: New Zealand writers talk about their sisters, edited by Marilyn Duckworth.  

The picture on the cover is of Marilyn (left) and her sister Fleur Adcock.

Having a sister myself, I'm very fond of this book. 



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