3 Dec 2017

Owen Marshall looks back at influences on his writing

From Literary lectures, 4:06 pm on 3 December 2017

‘Janet Frame – the closest thing we have to genius in this country’s writing’

Screen shot of Janet Frame from 1975 television documentary

Screen shot of Janet Frame from 1975 television documentary Photo: NZ On Screen

In his Book Council lecture, the eminent short story author Owen Marshall explores what makes his favoured literary form distinctive, and how its transformation has reflected changes in New Zealand society. He also pays homage to his forebears who influenced him, including Katherine Mansfield and Frank Sargeson.  

From the lecture:

It is Janet Frame, however, whom I most admire among New Zealand short story writers; indeed, among all our authors. Her unerring personal sensitivity and symbolic view of the world constitute the closest thing to genius that we have in this country’s writing.

I met her only twice, retain only a few brief notes from her, including a birthday greeting, and attended her Dunedin funeral. Though I do have a more substantial if indirect link with her through our own mutual association with the South Island town of Oamaru, that ‘kingdom by the sea.’

She lived there as a child and young woman, I taught there for twenty years.  

Janet Frame House Trust, Oamaru

Janet Frame House Trust, Oamaru Photo: Flickr / Te Ara

One of the last places I visited before leaving Oamaru in 1985 was the Frame home at Willowglen. The place was derelict, with birds roosting inside and a scatter of mildewed newspapers and torn books on the floor.

Everything a snarl of desolation.

From a small basin in one of the rooms, I tore off a grimy plug and chain as a memento. Michael King jokingly told me he would swap it for Frank Sargeson’s paper knife, but died before there was any chance to negotiate.

Frame’s stories often have a haunting sense of unease, even threat, despite their apparent simplicity; a sense of unknown things stirring just below the surface of life. 

More reading:

2016 RNZ interview with Owen Marshall about Love as a Stranger

2010 RNZ interview with Owen Marshall

RNZ readings of Owen Marshall’s The Larnachs, and Love as a Stranger

1975 television documentary about Janet Frame

Janet Frame Literary Trust

Janet Frame Eden St Trust

New Zealand Book Council

About the lecturer:

Owen Marshall

Owen Marshall Photo: Penguin Random House New Zealand

Owen Marshall is a renowned short story writer and novelist, who worked for more than 25 years as a teacher before retiring to work full time as a writer.

Many critics rank Marshall among the finest, if not the finest, of New Zealand’s short story writers. His novel Harlequin Rex (1999) won the 2000 Deutz Medal for Fiction at the Montana Book Awards.

His writing has been extensively anthologised and he has edited several collections of New Zealand short stories. He has received numerous honours, awards and fellowships for his work.

In 2000, he became an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to literature and in 2012 became a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (CNZM).

In 2013 Marshall was awarded the Prime Minister's Award for Literary Achievement.



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 This lecture was recorded in association with the New Zealand Book Council  Photo: New Zealand Book Council