An interview with Janina Matthewson

The lovely Janina Matthewson, author of Of Things Gone Astray, agreed to answer some questions from BookieMonster. 

I don’t really need to say this but congratulations on how amazing Of Things Gone Astray is! It’s such an original book. What was the initial idea or impetus behind connecting all these characters with a “thing which/that has gone astray”?

Thank you! Most of the characters started with one image in my mind – a boy standing in front of the ruin of his house, a girl growing into the floor, and they seemed to fit together. But a couple of them were more deliberate – I made a list of clichés around loss and tried to build characters from them. Some of them did not work at all, but some did.

Jake, one of the characters, has been deeply affected by an earthquake. It’s never really definitively stated it was the Christchurch earthquake but it’s certainly the angle I took as a reader. How did the earthquakes influence the book?

I didn’t want to specify the earthquake, mainly because that instantly puts a date on everything that happens, and I didn’t want time to be a big feature. But of course it was on my mind, and as well as being bound up in what happens to Jake and his dad specifically, it had a huge influence. It’s one of my biggest personal losses; my city, as I knew it, and how I have ben dealing with that, and how I have seen others deal with it, was probably the unconscious impetus behind the whole book.

Did you have a favourite character out of all of them?

Marcus. Definitely. I don’t know why, I just love him.

I’ve been calling you a New Zealand writer but obviously you currently live in London, and Of Things Gone Astray is set in London. Do you see yourself as a New Zealand writer or is it more complicated than that?

It’s definitely more complicated than that. I don’t make a particular effort to write about New Zealand – I just write stories, and sometimes something about them is related to it. But so far I haven’t written anything set there fully. 

Your Twitter bio says you hate pictures of animals. Really?

I really do. I quite like animals in real life, but I just don’t understand the mania around pictures of them. Naturally I get quite a few cat cards on my birthday because of how much I hate them.

REALLY?

I’m sorry! No actually, I’m not – I think they’re weird.

What are you reading at the moment? Any book recommendations for the people?

I have a bunch of things on the go – I just got After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry, so I’m about to start that. I’m also finally getting around to reading Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and I have a book each of David Sedaris and David Foster Wallace essays that I dip in and out of. I also love Andrew Kaufman – especially All My Friends Are Superheroes – and Susannah Clarke, Margaret Atwood, obviously, and John Irving.

I think I thought Of Things Gone Astray was your debut novel but you’ve previously released a book called The Understanding of Women. Was that a novel? Sorry!

It was a very, very small novella, or novelette, depending on personal definitions of those terms. It’s about a guy called James who’s always been able to understand other people perfectly, with the exception of his ex-girlfriend. A year after they break up he decides that he needs to find her, so its about his search for her, and what that reveals about him.

What’s next in your world?

I have three big things I’m working on, one of which is a book. It’s a bit darker and stranger than this one, so I’m a bit intimidated by it, but it’ll get there!

Thanks heaps for the wonderful reading and for answering my questions!

Thank you!

Thanks Janina for answering my questions, I’m off to find a copy of The Understanding of Women. :)

A further update on my non-profit work

Another update on my project to work with non-profits and charities is overdue – I’m sorry this has taken so long! In my last update I took you along on the beginning of my thinking of what this work would look like, and the change in direction from working specifically with LGBTQI teens to using my particular skills to work more broadly with community organisations.

The following time I spent in Auckland discussing my ideas, looking at things like scaling up and thinking about my next steps was amazing. The people I met were fantastic people, so smart and generous and supportive – thanks to all of you! I kept using the word “journey” which is such a cliché but I come back to it. I really feel like that’s how it is – I began in one place and I have an overall plan ahead of me and there are some deviations and learning and at the end is the big goal. Does that make sense?

Anyway, the short story is, it was awesome in Auckland, I learnt so much and I now have SO much work to do. I need to do lots more planning for my own personal work in digital communications with non-profits and community organisations, and then a lot of investigation and planning into the bigger, more audacious idea.

Thank you so much to everyone who donated to my Givealittle cause that allowed me to get where I am now. You are fantastic!

Voyages in America by James Robinson

Voyages in America cover imageVoyages in America: A Story of Homes Lost and Found by James Robinson, ISBN 9780692223659, ask your favourite bookshop to order or buy from Amazon.

When you encounter America for the first time it’s an odd experience. Our culture, despite our insistence on experiencing “overseas” mostly through the UK, is saturated with images, ideas and entertainment from America. It’s the country that has overwhelmed the world.

So when you arrive there for the first (or even second or third) time everything is at once intensely familiar and strangely foreign. After spending 6 months in the States in 1996, I remember having the vivid experience of watching The Simpsons back in NZ and thinking about how realistic it is. It is strange as a non-American to realise you have so many shared experiences with Americans, we know so much of their history and their stories, yet they know so few of ours.

It’s easy to be disdainful of America but when you go there it’s very, very hard not to fall in love.

James Robinson’s Voyages in America captures these contradictions and comforts almost perfectly. Voyages in America started life as a blog on Stuff before Robinson decided to turn his thoughtful musings into a book. He did a damn good job of raising the funds to publish on Kickstarter and has produced a very polished tome. Normally collections of previously published columns (as we used to call them) can have a stop-start tone, or a disjointedness but Robinson has avoided this by reworking his blog posts, ordering them around several themes and providing personal background and context to anchor his thoughts.

What results is a meditative reflection on the familiarity and “otherness” experience of travelling and living away from one’s home, and particularly in America, peppered with some insightful personal and cultural observations. Robinson is not just an observer but is a thinker too, addressing a number of stereotypes (both perpetuated by Americans and of Americans).

Testament to the popularity of the blog, Voyages in America is a good read, fun and moving in equal measure. Robinson has a ear for the absurd and maintains a healthy sense of humour throughout the book, never allowing it to be weighed down with cynicism.

Highly recommended reading for actual and armchair travellers and thinkers.

The Sovereign Hand by Paul Gilbert

The Sovereign Hand

The Sovereign HandThe Sovereign Hand by Paul Gilbert, Steampress, buy now.

Fans of Gormenghast and China Miéville should drop everything and get themselves a copy of The Sovereign Hand as soon as they can. An amazingly detailed and hugely ambitious tale on an epic scale, it’s the debut fantasy novel from New Zealand writer Paul Gilbert.

We are taken into the world of Thorn, the gilded capital, a city at the centre of a world of supposed freedom and opportunity for all. In prose that is almost overwhelming at times, Gilbert gives us the tale of Alexa, prophesised hero against the Evil that is coming for Thorn and its citizens.

The above review appeared in the New Zealand Herald on Sunday, 7 September 2014.

NZ Herald on Sunday review imageAnother impressive release from Steampress, The Sovereign Hand is billed as pure fantasy and it really is. The language can only be described as “full on” which matches the epic scale of the world Gilbert has created.

What I love about Steampress is everything they release is interesting and a step forward. Again, brilliant stuff from one of our best indie publishers.

Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

Of Things Gone Astray cover image

Of Things Gone Astray cover imageOf Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson, The Friday Project (Harper Collins NZ)

A highly original debut novel from a New Zealand writer, Of Things Gone Astray is witty, moving and thoughtful. On a normal morning in London things start disappearing for a small group of characters. Things like a sense of direction, a workplace and the front of a house. In the midst of this the relationship between a young boy and his father slowly starts to disappear. Referencing the Christchurch earthquakes, Matthewson creates a magical world with some stunning writing. A book that lives in the reader’s mind long after it’s finished.

The above review first appeared in the NZ Herald on Sunday, 31 August 2014.

Image of the NZ Herald on Sunday review

Disclaimer: I am a total sucker for books like this. Literary, quirky, pulling at your heartstrings, making you laugh books. I mean, if you don’t like books like this WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU, DO YOU HAVE LITERALLY NO HEART???? And I couldn’t leave it at just my small Herald on Sunday review above – I want people to read this book SO BAD YOU GUYS.

I knew right from the first page that Of Things Gone Astray was going to be something special and magical.

Mrs Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight.

They had been dreams of when she was younger and more energetic, dreams of a time when she had full use of her knees.

And now I have to tell you, so far, it is my best read of 2014. The story is like nothing you’ve read before, the writing is intense and incredibly satisfying, and the ideas explored are thought-provoking. It’s also wonderfully hilarious.

She sighed, and resolved, not for the first time, to be less judgemental of how stupid all the young people were.

Matthewson uses her cast of characters to explore modern life, in all its glory and goriness, exposing those thoughts we all keep private, because we think no one else has them.

There are no wrong or right choices, necessarily, just those you make or don’t make and the consequences. And by extension, how you deal with the consequences.

I loved how many feelings Of Things Gone Astray brought out in me, the reader: sadness and laughter and enjoyment and contemplation. I wish I could quote all of it at you but that would be silly: go out, buy it, and read it over and over.

Glory Days magazine – Issue 7

Glory Days magazine issue 7 cover image

Glory Days magazine issue 7 cover imageGlory Days vintage lifestyle magazine, issue 7, RRP $16.90.

Buy or subscribe online

Issue 7 of Glory Days magazine is out and, lucky me, I received a copy in my mailbox!

Issue 7 coincides with commemorations for World War One and so has a focus on wartime – specifically WW1 and WW2. As you can see to the left, the cover girl is Antonia Prebble who is starring in Anzac Girls, which has just started on Australian TV and comes to Prime in New Zealand later this year.

Much like the previous issue this is a nice looking magazine, with lots of fantastic imagery and a very nice feel – this is a magazine you’ll want people to see you reading! And they’ll probably ask you about it because it’s eye-catching.

Issue 7 has some great features, my favourites being The Way We Wore, a collection of images of people from wartime curated by the NZ Fashion Museum (more photos are also available online), This Vintage Town which in this issue takes us through Dunedin and surrounds, and The Beauty Spot: Making Waves which brings back the art of the curl set!

One of the strengths of Glory Days as a magazine is it’s variety of content. I really like that the editors interpret the term “vintage lifestyle” to not just encompass clothes and beauty but to also include vehicles, aircraft, music and some serious history.

Glory Days is a great read and I’m now going to be looking forward to every issue!

Buy or subscribe online