The Shark Party, Janet Colson’s first novel was launched this week at the Adam Art Gallery, Victoria University of Wellington. Catherine English speaks to Janet about the art connection, writing and launching into the NZ market.
Why did you choose the Adam Art Gallery specifically for the book launch venue? The book launch coincided with an exhibition by artist Simon Denny who will represent New Zealand at the 2015 Venice Biennale. He is absolutely contemporary in a way the artists Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin were when they exploded onto the scene in the early 1990’s. The title of the novel refers to the Damien Hirst shark when it was on display in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Was there a shark at the launch? Not at this party but maybe we could arrange it for Auckland or New York.
What are your expectations for the book in the NZ market? Escalator Press is a timely innovative new face in New Zealand publishing. It’s about new and established authors telling bold stories looking outward on the world. Good New Zealand books are good books, period. We should be relentless about getting NZ authors into the world. It’s a brilliant showcase for New Zealand talent.
How did writing your novel make you 'grow' as a writer and as a person? Writing and completing a rounded artwork or piece of sustained writing is a discipline and takes a lot of belief and commitment. My stamina and resilience have increased through the process.
I read that you 'found the courage to talk about things that matter to you' while writing this novel. And Carla also finds her power as the story progresses, so is The Shark Party partly your story too? This is about writing from the heart and speaking your truth. When you plumb your own depths you do the characters the same emotional justice.
I read you enjoy the artist Damien Hirst, but what draws you to Kurt Schwitters? Why did you choose these two for your book? During my research into modernist art, Kurt Schwitters leapt out as an interesting artist, suggesting several possible avenues for plot development. Damien Hirst was in the novel from the start. It was only after I had chosen Schwitters, I learned he was a serious influence on Damien Hirst.
Are you an art follower or collector? I love art. I am very interested in colour and its emotive effect. Damien Hirst has always interested me because we are exact contemporaries from London University. He exploded the ‘thatcherite’ revolution we all grew up with and made art speak to the implications of that.
Tell me about the cover page design The cover design is by Megan van Staden. It’s a graphic interpretation of the Guggenheim Museum where an important scene takes place near the start of the novel. Megan captured Frank Lloyd Wright's lines giving them multiple meanings, including a shark mouth.
Janet is a graduate of the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme. She has published short fiction in the UK anthology Words Made Flesh and created the theatre piece Dali's Womb.