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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 3 (June 1, 1934.)

Among the Books — A Literary Page or Two

page 38

Among the Books
A Literary Page or Two

This pen-name of mine continues to intrigue my readers. It has moved C. H. W. to the following verseful query:—

Seer in editorial chair,
Pray with us a moment bear.
We, in puzzlement profound.
Have a query to propound.
'Ere our reeling senses sag
Let your pen in answer wag—
What's a Shibli Bagarag?
We're not finical nor quibbly.
But it worries us, this Shibli
Whatsitsname; on jaunt and jag
Never once a Bagarag
Have we met. Each lexicon
To our question answers non.
Hopeful, but without success,
We've examined B and S
(For the great discov'ry pantin')
Right from “Ba” to far “Byzantine”;
Yea, from “Sabadilla” on
Through the sibilants we've gone
Till we bumped against “Szopelka”;
But elusive as Powelka,
It—or they—we've nowhere met
In our exploration yet…
Do you wonder that we fret!
Boss, who greets our prose and verse
With, encouragement or curse,
Hear our pleading. Do not lag!
Tell us in your Railway Mag. —
What's a Shibli Bagarag?

[This pen-name is difficult to remember, and the attempts upon it range from Philabeg to Shivery Bagwash. In the Celtic tongue the meaning is a bard of wandering habits, and our Shibli answers both these requirements to the nth degree. —Ed.]

The appearance of “Seven One Act Plays 1934” coupled with the remarkable development of play writing it New Zealand and the publication of a similar book in 1933, is sufficient evidence that the New Zealand branch of the British Drama League is making rapid strides locally. Much credit is due to “The New Zealand Radio Record,” publishers of the book under review, and to the enthusiasm and practical knowledge of Victor S. Lloyd who acted as judge in the 1934 competition. In the latest competition Mr. Lloyd considered one hundred plays. The seven plays include three trophy winners “There Is No Return” by Eric Bradwell (“Tui's Annual” Trophy), “God Made Two Trees” by Ilma M. Levy (“Radio Record” Trophy), and “Drums” by B. R. O'Brien (“Radio Record” Trophy). I will refer to them in the order in which they appear in the book.

Miss Levy's play is a strong piece of work, the dialogue is at times brilliant, in fact I would be amazed to hear any group of people discussing with half such cleverness in any home in New Zealand.

The parentage of Nigel, one of the main factors in the plot, is half revealed after a few, of the opening sentences have been spoken, spoiling I think some of the dramatic value of the latter portion of the play. I am sure, however, that with her accomplishment of crisp clever dialogue, a closer study by Miss Levy of plot and constructional details, will make her later work more satisfying.

Coincidence is one of the greatest stock in trade items of the amateur playright and frequently it is stretched to breaking limits. This is just the trouble with Eric Bradwell in “There Is No Return.” Can you imagine it? A war warrior regarded as dead by his family returns to his home (through a window) on his birthday. The soldier is blind and has lost his memory, is seen by his whole family and departs through the window unrecognised. Curtain!!

A striking bookplate design by Russell Clark, the brilliant young Dunedin artist.

A striking bookplate design by Russell Clark, the brilliant young Dunedin artist.

Apart from this impossible strain on the impossible, the play is well written and suggests that Mr. Bradwell might do excellently with another theme.

In a later issue I hope to review the remaining plays.

A further evidence of the practical work being done by the New Zealand Women Writers’ and Artists’ Society is the appearance of their first journal containing prize-winning short stories and poems following on a recent competition judged by Will Lawson. The poems are mostly light pleasing things showing promise. Except for Miss Mollie Marris, who has written a few musical lines on a greyhound, the poetry covers the well worn path of dream castles, flowers, the sea, regrets and so forth. Cannot our young poets find fresh themes—even a cry of poetic anguish that new thoughts may be so hard to find, would be welcome. However, like little birdies, they must, I suppose, learn to fly.

The same trouble is with the stories. Here, however, most of the writers show a certain amount of technical skill. The senior prize-winning story by Nellie E. Donovan is good in its way, but it lacks character. There is atmosphere and a small revelation of story telling in “The Haven,” although the plot is hackneyed. Glancing through the remaining stories I was struck with an entire absence of plot. A little sub-editing would have eliminated such tautologies as “abounded abundantly, etc.”

I cannot praise too highly the work of this organisation which has been built up largely by the indefatigable labours of the secretary, Miss Donovan. The very fact of bringing out the journal is an achievement and those who may resent my mild criticism must remember that the publication of such a magazine achieves real value by any helpful criticism it may evoke.

page 39

A brilliant plot for a short story came to me the other day. I have not had time to develop it so here is the scheme for whoever cares to use it.

It concerns a super-conscientious sub-editor, who, responding to the urgings of his chief for condensation to make room for more advertisements, feverishly wields his blue pencil. In a few weeks he has learnt how to cut down a two-column article to a half-column, and a half-column to a sixline par.

One night, though, he forgets himself, and, spending more time than usual on the job, reduces a threecolumn scoop to a small crosshead. Then in a final burst of enthusiasm he reduced the crosshead to nothing.

The feat makes way for more advertisements, but it also makes way for a new sub-editor.

Rejection slips from editors are mostly horribly cold and formal. Usually they are printed slips in stereotyped style. The most gracious rejection slip I have come across is from a Chinese publisher. It reads as follows: —

“We read your manuscript with boundless delight. By the sacred ashes of our ancestors, we swear that we have never dipped into a book of such overwhelming mastery. If we were to publish this book it would be impossible in the future to issue any book of a lower standard. As it is unthinkable that within the next 10,000 years we shall find its equal, we are, to our great regret, compelled to return this divine work, and beg you a thousand times to forgive our action.”

Here are some sound observations from a letter I received recently from a literary friend of mine whose penname is well known to readers of leading Australian and New Zealand journals: —“Only a few years ago there seemed to be nothing done to arouse local appreciation of homegrown talent—or of what it might produce. That phase is certainly past. New Zealanders are built with a large mental cautiousness, which is a good thing since it makes for stability. I don't think they ever lose that cautiousness; but once they are convinced of a certain article's use or worthiness they are never afraid to express themselves thus. Realising this, I believe that as years pass there will be a steadily increasing demand for New Zealand literature. At heart the average Maorilander is satisfied this is the planet's greatest paddock. He may jest about it; but every jest carries the assurance that the humour is merely a gay dress for sincerity—or that it is truth in a motley. Therefore I do not consider I am unduly optimistic in saying that the steady belief in their own land and productions will make New Zealand people confirmed buyers presently of their own literature.”

There must be hundreds of writers and artists throughout the country who will welcome the news that the “N. Z. Artists’ Annual” is to be issued this year. Better still, it is to be printed and published in this country and not in Australia. It will be issued in a greatly improved form and will be altogether a big advance on earlier numbers. Contributions, with stamped addressed envelope, should reach the editor (Mr. Pat Lawlor, Box 965, Wellington) not later than July 15th next.


“Mrs. Egg and Other Barbarians” by Thomas Beer (Cassell & Co.) is a reprint of six stories from the “Saturday Evening Post” and three hitherto unpublished tales. This book will be eagerly looked forward to by readers of the famous “Saturday Post” and their name is legion. The humour and philosophy wrapped up in Mrs. Egg and her associates is vastly entertaining. Mr. Beer's character creations, are well known, but none so appealing as the philosophic gourmand Mrs. Egg. —Price, 7/-.

“Dan the Dog Detective” by George Wright (Allen and Unwin). To those who have listened in to broadcasts in the. Old Land, Dan will be a familiar figure. Those who do not know him should meet him in this attractively produced book. So vivid is the picturisation of the author that you can almost see and hear Dan and sense his doggy smell from the pages. Dan's many adventures should be read by the multitude for the book is moderately priced at 3/6. The illustrations of Vernon Stokes are as true to life as the author's word pictures.

“Life Begins At Forty” by Walter B. Pitkin (Angus and Robertson, Sydney). I am not surprised to learn that over 100,000 copies have been sold of the earlier editions of this book. The Australian edition should sell comparatively well. Who is there, who is not over, or approaching, forty, who will not welcome with open arms a book that is going to add joy and inspiration to their lives? The author, who is a Professor of Journalism at Columbia University has handled his subject in that practical commonsense manner that one would expect from an experienced pressman. He has made for many people the discovery of the century, as revealed in the title of his book. Price, 5/-.

“The Fighting Cameliers” by Frank Reid (Angus and Robertson, Sydney). There is much of the romance and adventure of the Foreign Legion in this gripping story of the Imperial Camel Corps. Mr. Frank Reid who is well known as a brilliant journalist under his pen-name “Bill Bowyang,” was with the corps from the rise to the fall of the curtain and he carries the reader with him in all his wonderful adventures. He introduces to us, and makes live, the varied types of all nationalities who comprised that famous band. It is a vivid story of adventure as well as a valuable historical record. Price. 6/.

“Shibli” Listens in.

A monthly magazine relating solely to books and writers is due to be published in Wellington shortly.

I have seen a copy of “The Pacific Travel Magazine”—an attractive monthly. Will Lawson is editor.

Hector Bolitho had hoped to visit Wellington before his return to England, but family ties in Auckland were too strong for such a brief trip.

A pictorial, “Who's Who in New Zealand,” is contemplated. It will be illustrated by leading New Zealand black and white artists.

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