A small brouhaha erupted in the publishing industry in the midst of the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards celebrations. A much-respected publisher celebrated a win, they of course immediately ran out of stock, someone Tweeted ‘You had one job,’ and a twitterary stoush ensued, entertaining for its use of florid vocabulary. 

It’s tricky. Booksellers know this all too well and it must be doubly hard for publishers. How many copies of a book do you buy in? 

It depends on all sorts: has one of the staff read it and can hand-sell it? Will there be media? And in this current, mid-apocalyptic era, how long will a ship take to bring the stock (most of it housed in Australia) seeing as there aren’t any freight flights? How on earth do we choose what to set for book club without thinking about it about a year in advance?

Bug Week & Other Stories by Airini Beautrais (Victoria University Press, $30.00) had to be reprinted rapidly after it won the Jan Medlicott prize in May. VUP houses its stock in New Zealand which means that as long as stock is available it can get to booksellers quickly. The reprint was fast and efficient. All the aforementioned swearing was an entertaining waste of time.

The book is a bunch of finely honed, diverse, strange, disturbing and lovely tales. My favourite story, one that will sit with me for a while, is ‘The girl who shaved the moose’. It’s about a wee girl who is bright and loving, aggressive and loyal. On a school trip, unable to keep her hands to herself and bored by dead men’s medals, she pats a taxidermied moose head and sort of accidentally ruins it. It’s a story full of love for a misunderstood child; school doesn’t fit her, but her curiosity can’t be stifled. 

The most disturbing story is ‘A quiet death’. It’s about euthanasia, but it also isn’t. It’s really talking about women’s ownership of their bodies, how vulnerable they are, how even death doesn’t get them off the hook. It was a bit of a shock to this seasoned old reader. Confronted is an overused term but … you will be.

Will a book turn up anywhere near its publication date? With a savvy, internet-infested public who know what’s what, booksellers are often informed by customers … ‘It’s out today.’ Rejoinders of ‘It should be but the boat went to Tauranga instead of Auckland and blah blah blah…’ are met with glassy-eyed suspicion. 

This is happening all the time and the internet is a liar. Our stock of Before You Knew My Name by Jacqueline Bublitz (Allen & Unwin, $32.99) was delayed because it was allegedly separated from our main May release order in transit or something, then sat on a boat in Auckland or something. Chaos reigns.

What a fabulous book though. Well worth the wait. Its Taranaki author Bublitz’s first novel, has been subject to an international bidding war and been compared to other smash hits – I’ll let you make your own judgement on that. It’s about a young woman, Alice, who escapes a dead-end town and a manipulative gaslighter; she goes to New York, struggles, finds and accepts help (there are some genuine, good people in the world), only to be murdered in an opportunistic attack. The story is told from Alice’s viewpoint (yes, she’s dead but it really works – trust) and that of the young Australian, Ruby, who finds her body. 

It works as a thriller and as a page-turning psychological drama. It also delves into the way in which these young women have been worn down, how they still embrace life and intend to live it fully, only to be crushed by a society that blames them for the vulnerabilities it inflicts upon them. It’s good stuff – thought-provoking, intelligently plotted, suspenseful and yeah go on then, a bit confronting. 

On a very personal note, my husband Gareth’s new book, The Thaumagician’s Revenge, should come out on August 4th. It’s the birthday of the novel’s main character, Wren Chester-Harris, and also of a close family member. 

We’d like to plan a party. But will the billions of copies we’ve ordered arrive on time? Auspicious dates mean nothing in this game anymore. It will arrive, at some point, and we shall plunge into the further adventures of Wrench (as she’s known) and her boss, Cabal Thirteen’s ‘hit first ask questions later’ leader, Bot. Terribly exciting stuff for family reads around a winter fireside, or sneaky lunchtime perusals. 

The moral of the story? We all thought we’d learnt to slow down a bit, vowed that we’d never return to our old ways after lockdown. Waiting for a brilliant book from your hardworking independent bookseller is a just another lesson in, to quote Axl Rose, a little patience. 


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