What happened to Frankenstein's monster after it fled to the northern ice? A new collection of stories imagines a sequel to Mary Shelley's classic, giving new life to the creature cobbled together "from corpses and the overreaching of science". Discover Qiane Matata-Sipu's legacy publication amplifying the voices of Indigenous wāhine, and how fantasy writer Nikky Lee secured a publishing deal through a Twitter pitch. Happy reading.
BOOKS IN REVIEW
Mary's Boy, Jean-Jacques and other stories, by Vincent O'Sullivan (Te Herenga Waka University Press, $35). Reviewed by Sally Blundell, a journalist, writer and reviewer based in Ōtautahi Christchurch. A longer version of this review will appear on anzliterature.com.
In the final chapter of Mary Shelley's melodramatic fireside yarn, Frankenstein's creation, racked with despair, vows to flee to the most northern extremity of the globe. "I shall ascend my funeral pile triumphantly," he tells horrified polar explorer Robert Walton, "and exult in the agony of the torturing flames."
Does he? Vincent O'Sullivan picks up the loose thread and spins out a gripping second yarn as the benighted creature is "rescued" from the ice by Captain Francis Sharpe and the crew of the Dorothea.
We are somewhere in the early 1800s, somewhere near the Arctic circle. Shelley's book has been published, anonymously; the exploits of Captain James Cook have cleared the field of any further maritime advancement. "What did the greatest Yorkshireman leave for maritime ambition, on anything but a minor scale, to be fulfilled?" Sharpe muses. With no scientific goal, he decides to traverse the globe from the north pole to the south, for no other purpose than to show "it might be done".
Their "inexplicable guest" is a subject of intellectual discussion. For the older Sharpe, entrenched in an Old Testament Christianity, he is the archetypal primitive man. For the younger lieutenant, Richard Jackson, he is the archetypal "untampered natural man". Your obsession in your way, Sharpe says, as my own with another. "Your Rousseau, my Aquinas."
As Jean-Jacques is welcomed into these quiet conversations, he begins to experience what he has craved for so long — camaraderie, friendship, laughter.
This comes to a crashing end when Sharpe reads Shelley's book. Their guest, he learns, is a "depraved creature", cobbled together "from corpses and the overreaching of science". A plan is hatched as the Dorothea approaches the rain-battered slopes of Te Waipounamu.
Huge in scope, compelling to read, Mary's Boy, Jean-Jacques is the last and by far the longest of the stories in this book. All but one of the other stories are quieter, more contemporary, pivoting on the ties of family, loss and betrayal.
In Good Form, two siblings, successful in their professional lives, broken in their personal lives, are anchored to the old family farm by the inexplicable repercussions of their father's infidelity, retold through the limited lens of childhood. The writing is spare, the story lingering.
In Splinters, O'Sullivan sketches out the gentle intimacy of a Friday afternoon tradition shared by a grandmother, Emily, and her grandson Donald — draughts, freshly baked melting moments. But buried within the warmth of this domestic scene is the memory of Emily's own past transgression — undiscussed, unshocking even, but irrevocable in its presence.
Betrayal appears again in the superb The Young Girl's Story. Louise lives with her parents in London. Her mother's research into the works of writer Manson — a nod to the author's work on Katherine Mansfield — takes her to an academic conference in Nice. In staging a suggested tryst with the scholarly Kelvin Stein, Louise executes a punishing betrayal of her mother's expectations with the swift and incisive mastery of a Mansfield short story.
O'Sullivan builds his stories slowly. His words are measured, his plot lines unhurried. Only at the end of each story do we recognise his extraordinary grip on our attention. Ko tēnei, ko tēnā drives a spine-chilling nail of a tale through the mannered formality of a Victorian drama. Residing in the shabby grandeur of his father's rural estate, Oliver is clever and reclusive. His brother Mason is a sharp-eyed amoral adventurer, drawn to the horrific purchase trade in human artefacts in Northland. The plot careers towards a final act of revenge breath-taking in its violent execution.
Fiona Kidman's last trip away ends in her husband's final journey.Read an extract from her memoir, So far for now, here..
Qiane Matata-Sipu discusses storytelling, her legacy publication, and her "bloody hard hustle". By Taylor Aumua.
Qiane Matata-Sipu is an award-winning multimedia storyteller known for her powerful images that showcase her love for her people, culture and dedication to her whenua. But if you asked her what she wanted to be when she "grew up", Matata-Sipu would say she wanted to be a firefighter. And when it came to deciding what to study at university it was a toss-up between outdoor education and journalism. A small nudge from her nan helped to make her decision to go into journalism and hooked her into the world of storytelling.
In December 2021, Matata-Sipu self-published her first book, NUKU: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women. Inside are 344 pages profiling 100 kickass Indigenous women who are doing things differently. It's shortlisted in the illustrated non-fiction category of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, to be held on May 11.
"The significance of NUKU being shortlisted in the Ockham awards means that the voices of these indigenous women are being acknowledged at that level and that's really awesome," says Matata-Sipu. "The book is a legacy publication that I hope people are buying and passing on to their mokopuna and it stays in their whanau forever."
Although a book was always the end goal for the NUKU 100 series, NUKU is much more than a book. It launched in 2019 as a podcast, photography and video series dedicated to amplifying the voices of indigenous wāhine. Since then, NUKU has held annual exhibitions and events and has become a social movement, championing and connecting indigenous wāhine around the world.
"One of the purposes of NUKU was to share diverse voices to inspire and empower our wahine and remind them who they are. But I didn't factor in how much impact this work would have on me and our team. We got to spend time with each wahine we profiled and a little bit of them rubbed off on to us. You can only imagine how empowered someone must feel after hearing the stories of 100 incredible women, it makes you think: Why should I ever doubt myself? Why should I ever question who I am? Why should I ever feel a certain way about my identity?"
Within NUKU: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women, Matata-Sipu pays a special tribute to her nan, Dawn Matata, and her role in NUKU's creation. "When my nan was alive she was my biggest fangirl on Facebook," Matata-Sipu laughs. If my nan was alive she would have commented on every single one of the NUKU podcasts, she would have listened to all of them. But, I don't know if NUKU would have actually happened if she was still here. Part of it was the fact that she wasn't here, so I began searching for that intergenerational connection and intergenerational wisdom that came from her."
Around the time her nan passed, Matata-Sipu was also six years into her infertility journey and asking herself who she was as a wahine in that particular life situation. "I was searching for things to help console me and heal me. I couldn't find it anywhere, so I made it myself," she says about NUKU.
As rewarding as NUKU has been, Matata-Sipu admits each sweet moment came from some "bloody hard hustle".
"I'm so proud that we got to do this, we made NUKU on the smell of an oily rag! But at the same time, that sucks," Matata-Sipu says, laughing.
"There was a time where we had literally no money or funding, but we still had all the passion and drive to keep going.
"The highlight has been being able to make this with the people I love."
After three years of on-the-go interviews and shoots for NUKU, while co-leading the protection of her whenua in Ihumātao, all between the uncertainty of Covid lockdowns, Matata-Sipu is taking a break from NUKU.
This year has been about coming back "home" for Matata-Sipu. And "home" has meant coming back to her reo and taking one year to do Rumaki Reo at Te Wananga Takiura; a full immersion course in te reo Māori.
"NUKU just made the yearning for te reo Māori even stronger and the goals and aspirations I have for NUKU require me to have a better understanding and knowledge of my reo. It's a journey I always knew I'd have to take eventually," says Matata-Sipu.
"I questioned a lot if this was the right time, because of everything happening with the success of NUKU right now. But I'm loving it so much."
She is currently working on a new self-funded 10-episode podcast, under NUKU, called Tōku Reo, which follows the language reclamation journeys of indigenous wahine to encourage others it's never too late to learn.
"I really do need support to make NUKU happen," says Matata-Sipu.
"It is really important mahi and I do want to see it grow. It has so much positive impact on our wāhine, on our whānau, community, on tāne and non-indigenous people. I never want it to end."
NUKU: Stories of 100 Indigenous Women, by Qiane Matata-Sipu (available from nukuwomen.co.nz, $65)
FIVE QUICK QUESTIONS WITH NIKKY LEE
1. Writing fantasy is all about world-building, and readers are exacting. What is it about that work which appeals to you?
Part of it is wanderlust I think. I love to travel and experience places and cultures far different from what I know. To me, fantasy worlds are an extension of that. The other part is the excitement of imagining the impossible. I find it endlessly fascinating, like pulling something apart to see how it works but in reverse. There's also the escapism factor. I love being able to ignore reality for a minute to think, 'I know magic isn't real … but what if it was?' In a way, you get to play creator, building a world from scratch with no limits but the ones you choose.
2. How has writing helped you cope with anxiety?
I can only talk about my own experience here, but I've found writing hugely meditative. It is a way for me to unwind and process the world around me. Looking back on some of the stories I've written, I've found many deal with a particular fear or anxiety I had at the time of writing it.
The challenge I'm facing now is shifting from writing creatively as a hobby to something that I get paid for. Suddenly I'm no longer doing it just for me but for others as well with deadlines and expectations resting on my shoulders. Learning how to manage that has been a real learning curve.
3. One of your aims for your debut novel The Rarkyn's Familiar was to create a strong heroine. Tell us about Lyss.
Lyss was a tricky character to write. She witnessed her father's murder and is set on bringing the men responsible to justice. Problem is, he was murdered by Empire soldiers, so Lyss' story opens when she's trying to learn magic so she can become a soldier herself and infiltrate the Empire's army. Of course, as ill luck would have it, her plans go up in smoke when she accidentally ends up in a blood pact with a monster from the Otherworld. She's a very driven character who doesn't need protecting, but at the same time, she's not quite grown up and has a bit of learning to do.
4. You secured a publishing deal through a Twitter pitching event - what was that like?
These events are always fun. The camaraderie between the authors participating is wonderful; everyone lifts each other up. The hardest part is fitting the pitch of your book into 280 characters. This particular event was held on US time so I had to schedule my pitch tweets in advance as half the event window ran through the night. The nerve-racking bit is checking in the next morning to see if you've had any interest (an agent or publisher will like your pitch tweet to indicate they want you to submit to them). For this particular event, a couple of my pitches caught the notice of my editor, who worked at Parliament House Press. I did some research to make sure they were reputable and once satisfied, I submitted. I expected to wait a month or more for a response, but I had a reply the next day asking for the full manuscript!
5. You write horror for young adults. Is it difficult to strike the right tone, and how do you do it?
My horror tends to fall into the dark fantasy end of the spectrum, but I rarely set out with the intention of writing a story for any particular age group. For me, it always starts with the idea; a scene or character or scenario that I want to explore. Sometimes the words come out with a young adult voice and sometimes the story crosses into more adult territory. As for striking the right tone, I feel young adults are pretty darn clever and are more discerning than they're often given credit for—for this reason, I've never felt any need to tone my content down for them.
The Rarkyn's Familiar, by Nikky Lee (Parliament House, $37), is out now.