Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

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Busytown: A turn-up for the books

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  • Joe Wylie,

    I once heard Duff attempt to intimidate his Australian interviewer on ABC radio by playing up to the we-were-cannibals savage-Maori stereotype. Duff's interviewer feigned admiration for his toughness, and slyly suggested that, if he lived by such a hard-assed code, he'd have no qualms about being eaten himself.

    Duff was momentarily thrown onto the back foot and, to the best of my recollection, replied "Eh? Well, he'd have to be a pretty tough warrior to, uh, partake of my flesh."

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Paul Buchanan ('Pablo') puts the boot into the University of Auckland for its comparative treatment of himself and Ihimaera.

    In Mr. Ihimaera’s case it appears that, upon hearing that news of the plagarism was about to go public, the University rapidly pushed through an “investigation” of the matter apparently involving his HOD, the new Dean of Arts (who was not the Dean the fired me) and Mr. Ihimaera. No disciplinary board with colleagues outside of the HoD and Dean was apparently convened. Mr. Itimaera gave apologies and assurances, and the case was closed.

    I really do feel for the academics of the University of Auckland who have to deal with this management. I saw enough under Dr Hood to be suitably concerned, and I was only on the outside.

    WLG • Since Nov 2006 • 2264 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace,

    I'm eager to hear examples -- mostly novels, because it seems to me that poetry makes different rules for itself, and that they work just fine -- of contemporary literature that cites or incorporates other material, and does it well and productively.

    I'm a fan of how Kate Grenville has incorporated real people and historical documentation in The Lieutenant and The Secret River (both set in early European New South Wales). Her account of discovering the story and material behind The Secret River, which became a book in its own right, is also riveting.

    Fiona Kidman's A Captive Wife (about Betty Guard) and Annemarie Jagose's Slow Water (the doomed career of a gay missionary) are also based on real people and events and have relied heavily on letters and diaries. I particularly liked Slow Water as it features my ancestor in a bit part, and I recognised much of the historic material (but don't recall how it was attributed). Going back further Elsie Locke's The Runaway Settlers is based on early Canterbury families.

    I can't put my hands on any of these books so can't check how they credited their sources, but they are all successful examples of historical fact based fiction.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 3203 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    What I’m saying here, I think, and as I said on Beattie’s Blog, I am disinclined to join the others who have so quickly rallied to throw stones at a man who’s novel Whanau was the first ever non children’s book I read as a child. (My step-brother won it as a school prize). Here was a narrative which told my story with all it’s glory and heartache and laughter and tears and violence.

    Tania: As I said elsewhere, I would warmly recommend Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It sure looks like it's highest profile fan (a gentleman by the name of Barack Obama), took it to heart when appointing the current Secretary of State. But I can't blame anyone who marked her down after being outed as a recidivist plagiarist. I'm not at all surprised by reports that Goodwin's publishers audited the manuscript of Team of Rivals with the proverbial nit-comb.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    Rich

    I take your point that there is some separation of private activities from University.

    However, if a plant biologist does some woodwork then his homemade cabinet (a poor Krenov copy) is not really of interest to the Uni. If on the other hand he does some private consulting for a breeding company and it becomes clear he falsified results then that is the concern of the University. Essentially it is the use of the same skill set for which the University is paying.

    Prof Ihimaera wrote a novel and is employed to teach his creative writing skills. The overlap is obvious and hence any question of his integrity in his private novel writing reflects directly on his role in the University.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews,

    Fiona Kidman's A Captive Wife (about Betty Guard) and Annemarie Jagose's Slow Water (the doomed career of a gay missionary) are also based on real people and events and have relied heavily on letters and diaries.

    There's also the famous example of Maurice Gee and Plumb, which drew on the diaries of his grandfather, James Chapple.

    Ian Wedde in Symmes Hole used the diaries of James ‘Worser’ Heberley, a 19th century whaler (and the man behind the Worser Bay name). The book's at home but there's an acknowledgements list as long as your arm, from whaling histories to books about Polynesian navigation to a history of McDonalds. Probably as close as NZ lit had got by then -- the mid-80s -- to Pynchon-like fiction.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 656 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    And sad that people have been so horrible and unforgiving. Whoops – stuff up.

    Tania I accept that people make mistakes. What I am uncomfortable (and a bit angry) about is that instead of admitting the failure and doing everything in their power to rectify it, both the University and Prof Ihimaera have tried to minimize and dismiss and deny.

    If they had acknowledged the error and fixed it, it would been embarrassing but not anything more than that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • stephen clover,

    So I heard a "rumour" on the weekend -- and it's not the first time that I have heard it, and from sources as reputable as you would want -- that Witi Ihimaera "farms out" the grunt work of writing his novels to a collection of minions*. He supplies the plot/narrative framework, and they flesh it out with the words.

    * Insert protogés, disciples, apprentices, whatever.

    Several questions/points come to mind, if indeed this is true:
    [1] Is Witi taking the fall for one of the minions' sloppy work?
    [2] If so, it could explain the less-than-satisfactory response by he, Auckland Uni, and Penguin.
    [3] This rather complicates the notion of "authorship" and name/brand that seems to be a central concern in the arguments of those baying about this evil known as plagiarism.
    [4] Equally, this encourages me in my own quest to re-determine the nature of authorship and the ownership of sequences of letters and punctuation marks as a far-less pedantic concept.

    Is it true? Is this a common practice, does anyone know? Amongst writers of the Historical Fiction genre?

    wgtn • Since Sep 2007 • 355 posts Report Reply

  • Just thinking,

    I've been in places where that happens, & this result is never a mistake.

    Putaringamotu • Since Apr 2009 • 1158 posts Report Reply

  • richard,

    For the purposes of the PBRF, research is original investigation undertaken in order to contribute to knowledge and understanding and, in the case of some disciplines, cultural innovation or aesthetic refinement.
    It typically involves enquiry of an experimental or critical nature driven by hypotheses or intellectual positions capable of rigorous assessment by experts in a given discipline.

    It is an independent* creative, cumulative and often long-term activity conducted by people with specialist knowledge about the theories, methods and information concerning their field of enquiry. Its findings must be open to scrutiny and formal evaluation by others in the field, and this may be achieved through publication or public presentation.
    In some disciplines, the investigation and its results may be embodied in the form of artistic works, designs or performances.

    [...]

    I just looked up the PBRF definition of "research" - which shows up on Auckland's website, amusingly enough -and it explicitly includes artistic works. We cannot be sure, but it seems very likely that Ihimaera's creative output would be used by Auckland to justify its share of PBRF money.

    Where I live, a university that was not seen to be very serious about any suggestion of academic impropriety by a publicly (by which I mean the US Federal government) funded researcher would be in very serious trouble -- and it further mystifies me that Auckland has taken such a cavalier approach to this matter.

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews,

    So I heard a "rumour" on the weekend -- and it's not the first time that I have heard it, and from sources as reputable as you would want -- that Witi Ihimaera "farms out" the grunt work of writing his novels to a collection of minions*. He supplies the plot/narrative framework, and they flesh it out with the words.

    Last year, Lynda La Plante got pinged for exactly that. Her novel Entwined was found to have plagiarised a Holocaust memoir called Five Chimneys. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

    La Plante's passages were so close to the original, it was clear she had done more than draw on the heart-rending memoir for background, instead lifting whole sections of text and putting them into Entwined with the lightest of massaging.

    When the Herald asked her how this came about, La Plante did not reply directly. Through her lawyers, she said she had never read Five Chimneys herself, but that a research assistant she no longer uses may have lifted the passages for her. La Plante denied intentionally plagiarising Five Chimneys, and the Herald makes no claim that she did. But outsourcing any task always has its perils, and when asked how much material her assistants put into her novels and how she checks that they are not plagiarising other books, La Plante's lawyers said Entwined was unique and her other books were not "researched on the same basis".

    There is another popular crime writer I read about this year who does a similar thing: supplying basic plot outlines and chapter summaries to an army of assistants who do the grunt-work of writing. Name escapes me now though.

    The SMH link:
    http://www.smh.com.au/news/books/la-plante-novel-lifted-holocaust-story/2008/09/05/1220121523455.html

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 656 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    I heard a "rumour" on the weekend

    Um this makes me really uncomfortable. If it's true then we need facts not rumour. Leave rumour and innuendo for the MSM we should have higher standards.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4451 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Ian Wedde in Symmes Hole used the diaries of James ‘Worser’ Heberley, a 19th century whaler (and the man behind the Worser Bay name). The book's at home but there's an acknowledgements list as long as your arm, from whaling histories to books about Polynesian navigation to a history of McDonalds. Probably as close as NZ lit had got by then -- the mid-80s -- to Pynchon-like fiction.

    There's a chapter that contains a skilful pastiche of the kind of helter-skelter stream of consciousness accorded to Tyrone Slothrop in Gravity's Rainbow. If Ihimaera's serious about forging a new kind of fiction he could do a lot worse than check out Symmes Hole - Wedde was way further down the track. Even the opening endorsement, by a Hawaiian academic if I recall correctly, is a cunning (but thoroughly acknowledged) fake. Wedde has a lovely turn of phrase when he's on form - for example, "runny robot shit", when describing a spilt McDonalds' shake. I'm still hoping he'll surface again one day and deliver on Symmes's potential.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • stephen clover,

    Um this makes me really uncomfortable. If it's true then we need facts not rumour. Leave rumour and innuendo for the MSM we should have higher standards.

    What about "rumour", though. As differentiated by quote marks, often performed with fingers on hands of the speaker.

    wgtn • Since Sep 2007 • 355 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Is it true? Is this a common practice, does anyone know? Amongst writers of the Historical Fiction genre?

    Well, not as rare as you might think. Patrick O'Brian dedicated The Mauritius Command, the fourth Aubery/Maturin novel, to friend, fan and fellow historical novelist Mary Renault. He did that, in large part, because she lived in South Africa and provided him with topographical and other information in local archives when travelling to Africa for any length of time was an unimaginable indulgence. (Until very late in the game, O'Brien's own fiction was, to use Christopher Hitchens' or Clive James' lovely turn of phrase, a cult in no danger of becoming a major religion.)

    Having said that, even if you're outsourcing your research the buck still stops with the person whose name is on the cover, IMNAAHO. It's not acceptable when actual historians like Doris Kearns Goodwin and Stephen Ambrose try it on, so why should historical novelists get a pass?

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Through her lawyers, she said she had never read Five Chimneys herself, but that a research assistant she no longer uses may have lifted the passages for her.

    Ah yes... always classy blaming the help, especially when they've got no right of reply. Reminds me of some Lady Catherine de Burgh mutter how about hard it is to find good help nowadays, and once upon a time the servants knew their place, were properly trained and not shy of a little hard work...

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • stephen clover,

    even if you're outsourcing your research the buck still stops with the person whose name is on the cover

    Not just the research, but the WRITING. You know, the literary stuff.. the rareified business of stringing words into sentences and so on.

    always classy blaming the help

    heh, I think I see what you did there... nice one ;)

    wgtn • Since Sep 2007 • 355 posts Report Reply

  • Ngaire BookieMonster,

    Sad for him. And sad that people have been so horrible and unforgiving. Whoops – stuff up. Could happen to any of us.

    I think on the whole most people have been sad about this also, and were looking for reasons to be forgiving in the hope that this can be explained, even as a mistake (which is an entirely human and understandable thing).

    But the responses from parties involved to their general audience have ranged from defensive and dismissive at best to meaningless hyperbole at worst. By comparison, "Whoops - stuff up" would have been an excellent start to then expand upon.

    My own problem with the story has not been that it happened in the first place, because it does happen and everyone makes a mistake they wish they could take back, and it doesn't mean the easy dismissal of an entire body of admirable work. It's always been more about the lack of given insight into how it got this far. I think it would be enlightening for all in the industry, other writers, as well as the general reading public, to know how that occurred. Instead it's been presented as some personal misstep, so that inquiry into the details can be framed as either a personal criticism or a privacy issue.

    At the foot of Mt Te Aroh… • Since Nov 2009 • 174 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Ngairie:

    Indeed. And your last sentence is particularly apposite:

    Instead it's been presented as some personal misstep, so that inquiry into the details can be framed as either a personal criticism or a privacy issue.

    Or an employment issue where Ihimaera and the University of Auckland are being unfairly pilloried by ill-informed people who don't know "the facts".

    First, that's a obnoxious piece of circle jerk reasoning, that tactfully forgets to mention that "the facts" aren't out there because Auckland University immediately went into lock down and spin cycle modes when this story broke. You're entitled to refuse to comment, but in my book you don't get to come back and bitch that the public discourse is unfairly biased when you're refusing to front and make your case.

    It's also a nice way to try derailing away from pretty basic questions of academic standards, and the basic natural justice that the UoA's standards are applied consistently, regardless of whether you're a celebrity professor or the most obscure first-year. When a range of figures, from Ph.D. candidate Paul Litterick, both here and on his blog, to Professor Emeritus Karl Stead are saying that there's a stench of double standards all over this affair, I'm paying attention.

    Apart from basic matters of academic hygiene, would it be fair comment to point out that one way or the other Auckland's doors are kept open by public funding? Well, as Clarice Starling could tell you: Quid pro quo is a bitch. You take public money, then you front up to public scrutiny and criticism.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    An equivalent statement to Prof. Ihimaera would have required him to withdraw the book and correct the "error" and if he didn't he wouldn't be getting his salary.

    I suspect that would breach employment law. You can't stop paying someone just because they've broken the rules. You could be warned and eventually dismissed, if it was serious enough.

    The situation is not necessarily usefully compared with students. If a student submits plagiarised work, the university won't accept it, they won't graduate. If a professor submits plagiarised work, it doesn't go through the university, it goes through the publisher. To some extent it's a private contract between the writer and publisher, the university's involvement is that they employed him while he wrote.

    The university doesn't therefore have the same powers that they would over a student. The response has to be different, and probably more limited in options.

    So Auckland Uni gets Witi's royalties and pays him a salary in return?

    If he's anything like the academics I know, they keep their royalties. There might be an upper limit or a sharing of them, particularly for a more popular book like a textbook or a novel.

    However, if a plant biologist does some woodwork then his homemade cabinet (a poor Krenov copy) is not really of interest to the Uni. If on the other hand he does some private consulting for a breeding company and it becomes clear he falsified results then that is the concern of the University. Essentially it is the use of the same skill set for which the University is paying.

    Prof Ihimaera wrote a novel and is employed to teach his creative writing skills. The overlap is obvious and hence any question of his integrity in his private novel writing reflects directly on his role in the University.

    It's not a case of overlap. Books are his research output. They form about 40% of the work of an academic. This book would have been written entirely on university time, not some private contract on his own time.

    We cannot be sure, but it seems very likely that Ihimaera's creative output would be used by Auckland to justify its share of PBRF money.

    We can be sure. His books and many other creative endeavours (musical composition, theatrical writing, poetry) will all be in the PBRF pile. This one might be included in a very small font however.

    Is it true? Is this a common practice, does anyone know? Amongst writers of the Historical Fiction genre?

    Slightly off topic, but having read some abstracts of the book on The Unfortunate Experiment, and some strong criticism on them which will be published shortly, it gave me the impression that Lynda Bryder employed a research assistant to go collect all the quotes, and then used those quotes without context to make them say something quite different. It was like some sort of soundproof wall between researcher and writer through which only notes passed.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Musical notes, perhaps..

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Wow. There's news of some more bad -- no, appalling -- behaviour coming down the pike. Not my place to tell you, but it should be public soon enough.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Kerry Weston,

    Crime writer Dick Francis is also a "family business" with his son, Felix co-authoring them these days, but is acknowledged as such. Apparently Dick had been doing it for a while, his wife used to help write them from the 1960s, not sure if she got credit, though. Dick Francis Bugger, the link no longer works. See if I can find another.

    Manawatu • Since Jan 2008 • 494 posts Report Reply

  • Kerry Weston,

    Dick @ wiki
    Dick Francis

    Manawatu • Since Jan 2008 • 494 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Not my place to tell you, but it should be public soon enough.

    Not even a vague clue?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

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