Excerpt from In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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In the Memorial Room

by Janet Frame

In the Memorial Room
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2013, 208 pages
    Dec 2014, 208 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Suzanne Reeder

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In the Memorial Room

September, 1973

Today I received word that my application for the Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship had been accepted and that I am to be next year's Fellow. The Committee would like me to visit Wellington for the presentation ceremony early in October, and I am to leave for France by a ship of the Paradise Line in early December.

Although I am not quite sure why I applied for the Fellowship I'm looking forward to travelling, although indeed I am not a traveller and my first voyage out to New Zealand when I was nine years old, in 1950, gave me enough experience, I felt, to last a lifetime. The money from the Fellowship, however, will give me a chance to write a different kind of novel from my first two which have given me the reputation of being an 'historical' novelist. Wairau Days might just be called an historical novel, but I did feel that New Families, with its emphasis on the private lives of the characters, might not have been dismissed as it was as 'another historical novel from the pen of a talented young writer'.

I'd rather like to write a comic novel in the picaresque tradition, a desire which is perhaps strongly proportionate to the lack of picaresque qualities in myself, for I am a dull personality, almost humdrum, a plodder from day to day with only an occasional glimpse of light, literally as well as figuratively for the disease in my eyes has worsened and in another three or five years I might not be fit enough to take up an overseas Fellowship: another reason, I suppose, why I applied for it. So here I am, shy, bespectacled, rather slow on the uptake, a reader and a student since my early childhood and an accidental novelist, for Wairau Days was written to correct or bring to full blossoming the half-truths of the story of Wairau. How surprised I was, that I so much enjoyed my task of telling the truth!

Although it has been a disappointment to my father whose natural desire was that I should qualify in medicine and take over his general practice, it alarms him less, now, that I should be on the way to being a successful writer (described as 'talented', and 'promising' and not yet too old to panic at the description) than that I should have continued my shilly-shallying of courses at university. The Entomological Course did interest me while I was studying it. And for a while the prospect of Ear-Nose-Throat held me spellbound, and my poor father's eyes were shining when he talked to his colleagues about me. Then came the blackout and the problem with my sight, and, though that seemed to be only temporary and the family accepted it as such and were cheered when by my accounts and those of the physician it improved (a physician is oblivious to his family's ills), I have not yet told them of the new problems with it. In some strange way I have fastened my hopes on the scholarship and Menton and I am determined to get there, and to enjoy it, and to write my new kind of novel, and then, when I return home, take whatever is waiting for me.

This last remark sounds schoolboyish, and might betray my English birth; it shows a recklessness which I have within me but which none may read in my face or behaviour.

I have a severe headache above my right eye.

October 3rd The notice of the award appeared in this evening's newspaper:

Harry Gill, 33, of Auckland, author of Wairau Days and New Families, has been awarded the Watercress-Armstrong Fellowship for 1974. He will leave at the end of November for Menton where he will live for six months working in one of the rooms of the Villa Florita, occupied during her lifetime by Margaret Rose Hurndell, the internationally known poet whose last three books were written at the Villa Florita before her death there in 1960. The Fellowship has been endowed as a living memorial to Margaret Rose Hurndell whose death at the age of thirty cut short a brilliant career.

So. Each of the five fellows before me has taken time to write a study of Margaret Rose Hurndell or to edit letters and one actually discovered an unpublished poem between the leaves of a book sold casually at the annual bazaar of the local English church. At the presentation ceremony in Wellington (which was held last week), when I was asked if I had any plans for making a study of Rose Hurndell I replied that I did not know, I would see how the land lay at Menton, although inevitably Rose Hurndell would be in my thoughts.

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Excerpted from In the Memorial Room by Janet Frame. Copyright © 2013 by Janet Frame. Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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