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Interview: Grahame Sydney talks about Landmarks

Grahame Sydney talks to NZ Booklovers about Landmarks, shortlisted for the NZ Booklovers Lifestyle Award 2021.

Can you tell us a little about Landmarks?

"Landmarks " is a revisiting of the 1995 Longacre Press publication "Timeless Land" in which the three friends combined to celebrate Central Otago and Southern South Island. That publication ran to four reprints over the years. We have been good mates for decades, and the idea surfaced a year or two ago that with 25 years having passed since "Timeless Land" perhaps a new collection, a jubilee edition if you like, might work. We put the idea to Harriet Allen at Penguin/Random House, and it was picked up immediately: the "Timeless Land" threesome all contributing work completed since the original publication. Same theme - our responses to living in Central Otago and the South, and whatever additions and changes might have occured in our experience over those twenty-five years.

Owen Marshall, in addition to his short fiction and novels, had become a published and respected poet.

Brian Turner's prolific poetry output had always been augmented by his sports and environmental writing, and his opinion pieces.

And I ( GCS ) have always enjoyed writing, although highly aware of the modesty of my literary talents in the company of my old, esteemed mates.

So "Landmarks" contains a prose contribution by me, an essay penned by Brian, and poems by Mr Marshall, as well as what would be expected from each of us.

What research did you do?

I guess the writers sifted through a quarter century of their work and selected pieces which fitted the general theme of Appreciating The South; and I sent the publishers about 300 images painted during the period, from which the editors selected 61 paintings. I agreed with most of their selection, making just two or three changes - dropping a handful I didn't think appropriate for this publication.

What was the process creating this book?

The main wrangle we had was trying to decide upon a suitable title for the collaboration. Should the title refer to "Timeless Land, " even in a subtitle, or should it be fresh and new? It took several months of back and forth, some exasperation, before a title was found on which contributors and sales team/publishers could agreeably compromise.

In all other ways the team at Penguin Random House were patient and accommodating to our ( my especially ) rather fussy, demanding wishes. Nothing seemed to be too much bother, and for that we are immensely grateful.

How did you celebrate completing Landmarks?

No celebrations upon completion : the work was long done. But we have had several long signing sessions together, and, as ever, have met whenever we can arrange it - Owen is in Timaru, Brian and I in the heart of Central Otago.

What book is a favourite read recently?

I cannot speak for the literary gentlemen, but having continued my obsession with American politics and the sordid world of Trump, and setting aside the perpetual consumption of painter's biographies e.g. William Feaver's two volumes on Lucian Freud and anything by Ross King, I'd have to say my favourite book for 2021 so far is "Featherhood" by Charlie Gilmore. Its a lovely account of a troubled man's life plaited neatly with the touching story of a rescued magpie.... a beautiful way of approaching memoir.

What is next on the agenda?

Next for me is more of the same: I paint. Maybe fewer landscapes, and those I do will be larger...perhaps. Who knows ? Impulse rules. More egg tempera now, more figure studies, a few interiors. Possibly a still life or three, if I'm granted the days. As for the old boys: Owen is busy with short fiction again, and Brian is riding his road bike with habitual ferocity, still hoping for that elusive national title. At least his competition is thinning out as the Grim Reaper sharpens his pencil.


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