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Joe Bennett

Consummate in his Craft: Joe Bennett


Metropol catches up with one of New Zealand’s most prolific and successful writers about putting pen to paper.

Joe Bennett

 

It was in a cricket pavilion in Cheltenham that Joe Bennett wrote a letter in brown ink on pink notepaper to a school in New Zealand. Fed up with his teaching job and having just suffered a duck in that afternoon’s cricket match, he was ripe for change.  “I clearly remember the words I wrote on that letter: ‘Dear Sir, this is an unsolicited request for a job, and you’d be well advised to throw it in the bin’. “I thought if anyone answered that affirmatively, they’d be the sort of person I’d like to work for.”

Three weeks later, Joe got a phone call; the voice on the other end said, ‘Keep your head down, Mr Bennett, the red tape is flying!’
“That was Max Rosser, Headmaster of Christ’s College at that time. A great man,” Joe says. Joe arrived in New Zealand in 1987; he vowed to come for one year only. “Then one year became two, I turned 30 and my feet stopped itching. I bought a house in Lyttelton, got myself a dog and that was that.”  But teaching was never in Joe’s career plan. “Until I was about 15, I dreamed of becoming a professional cricketer. Some of the great cricket writers, like Denzil Batchelor and A.A. Thomson possibly influenced my writing, in a way.”

Apart from cricket, Joe’s fondness for man’s best friend is abundantly clear. Blue is a charming old boy with a lovely nature; he slumbers on the carpet while Joe recites Isabel Rutherford McLeod’s Lone Dog. “The reason I like it is aesthetic. It’s the aesthetic quality of language that’s always pleased me.”  Around 1995 Joe began writing romance stories for women’s magazines. “They were all based on the same premise – square jawed Nigel meets Melissa, there’s some kind of impediment to their union, which is swept aside in the last paragraph, where they live happily ever after. Those truly awful stories sold so well that in the course of a year, I’d enough money to buy a second-hand car!”

It was an article in literary magazine Quote Unquote that was to catapult Joe into the world of full-time, freelance writing. “Graham Lay had written this article on how much he hated dogs and I fired a riposte back to Quote Unquote.”  It was bad timing for Joe, as Quote Unquote was about to fold. A friend encouraged him to send the piece to The Press and, within a few days, Joe received a call from literary editor, Bruce Rennie, saying he liked the piece and did Joe have any more? Joe pulled out his typewriter and got busy.
Good writing comes from technique, he says. “It’s craft, craft, craft. Writing a column’s like this: you’ve got a hunk of vague, loose ideas and associations and you find in those a shape that’s complete unto itself. That’s the exercise.”

He cites his books Laugh, I Could Have Cried, a collection of his best columns, and Where Underpants Come From as two works he is most proud of. Meanwhile, he is currently writing yet another play for LAF (Lyttelton Arts Factory). “It’s based on Macbeth, but is set in a fish and chip shop with only two characters, Mack and Beth.”

We wrap the interview with going back to the title of his book Laugh, I Could Have Cried as his epitaph. Joe considers a moment.
“Honestly, sometimes you can’t look at the world and not laugh. I’m entirely with Jonathan Swift who said, more or less, ‘I loathe and detest that animal called man, but I heartily love Tom and Dick and Harriet’.”

 



 

Flash Fiction

The flashest fiction: National Flash Fiction Day

Up and down the country writers are pounding their keyboards, pausing only to scratch their heads as they scrabble to craft a flash little story that will be awarded the flashest little 300 words in Aotearoa.

Flash Fiction
“Every word is precious and precise.”

Last year’s National Flash Fiction Day (NFFD) competition saw Christchurch writer – and former Metropol scribe – Rachel Smith, awarded runner-up, while first place went to Auckland writer, Patrick Pink, for his flash Gunshots Are Too Common.
“Flash is a concentrated moment, a distilled glimpse, the juicy essence between characters, setting, conflict and time,” Patrick says of the genre.
“Every word is precious and precise. Flash challenges the writer. Flash is poetry. Flash is meditation. It restricts and releases. Flash is the visceral stuff of heart and guts.”
Founded in 2012, NFFD is now one of the most anticipated writing competitions in New Zealand.
The 2018 round is open until 30 April and, as New Zealand’s celebration of the shortest form of fiction writing, winners are announced on the shortest day of the year – 22 June. This year’s judges are acclaimed short story writers, novelists and poets Tracey Slaughter and Sue Wootton.
Last year, NFFD launched the Youth Category, and this year sees Patrick and poet/writer Tim Jones as judges in this space.
NFFD 2018 introduces a te reo Māori prize in both youth and adult categories, judged by poet/ novelist and short story writer Vaughan Rapatahana.
This year, the fourth annual Micro Madness series will also run, with 22 micros selected for inclusion, and three winners will be selected from the 22 finalists.
So, calling all Cantabrian writers…the challenge is on! Think you can fashion that flashiest flash? Well then… head to those keyboards – pronto!
Held at Space Academy, June 22 from 6-8pm.
More news and updates, including other publications and competitions involving New Zealand writers of compressed fiction, can be found by visiting
nationalflash.org.