Mansfield Questionnaire: Steve Braunias
Our slightly irreverent literary questionnaire, inspired by Katherine Mansfield.
Write a prelude to your life in one sentence.
Five years after their fifth child was born, the last thing that Mr and Mrs Braunias of Valley Rd, Mt Maunganui expected was another one.
Would your father have accepted your plea for musical training?
My father’s idea of music was yodelling. He wore lederhosen on Saturdays.
Do you speak French?
There was a sort of line in the sand in the fifth form at Mt Maunganui College; the top classes crossed it, and were taught French, but the lower orders took a step backwards, and were taught accounting. I can do your books if you want.
If you were to, at any stage, become a ghost who would you haunt?
My latest book The Shops (Luncheon Sausage Books, $40) is a ghost story. For a while I was thinking of calling it Ghost Shops. But that would have been too literal – Peter Black’s cover photograph, of a white shirt hanging in a shop window, is already an image of ghostliness.
Do you keep ‘great complaining notebooks’ a.k.a. journals?
It’s sort of basically how I earn my living.
Garden parties. Yes or no?
The other day I thought how great it would be to dig up the whole front lawn and plant it out in weeds.
Where have you had the best time of your life?
The other day I set off with Emily and our nine-year-old Minka and we walked an hour and a half alongside the North-West Motorway, or State Highway 16, from Te Atatu to the Lincoln Rd exit. There was a lot of traffic, a bit of rain, and it was terrific fun every step of the way. Plus I collected 16 weed specimens. Later, I sellotaped them onto a piece of A3, and emailed a copy to Massey University weed expert Kerry Harrington. Among the plants he identified were wild radish, narrow-leaved plantain, three-cornered garlic, and – I loved all their names, but this one blew my mind – scarlet pimpernell.
Where have you had the worst time of your life?
Employment Court. I hated everyone in that small windowless room – my employer, obviously, her lawyer, inevitably, but also the judge, my own lawyer, and most of all myself. I didn’t really have any right to be there. I was just complaining, whining, sulking.
If you were to use a nom de plume, what would it be?
Virginia Woolf wrote ‘I was jealous of her writing — the only writing I have ever been jealous of.’ Who are you most jealous of?
Jealousy requires some sort of intimacy. You have to know that person, don’t you? You’re competing with them in some way. You both work in the same field.
Toby Manhire, Adam Dudding, Naomi Arnold, Ashleigh Young, Philip Matthews, Hayden Donnell, Aimie Cronin, Diana Wichtel and maybe about 20-30 others who write journalism or non-fiction in New Zealand inspire equal jealousy. I wish they’d all stop writing.
You left home and then:
Got as far as the shops.
What is your favourite short story?
“The Swimmer” by John Cheever. “He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure.”
Not a comma in sight, and what a devastating punchline. The swimmer’s journey – he sets out to swim all the pools in his neighbourhood, but is possibly insane – is an idea I’ve essentially and happily plagiarised in quite a few of my projects, including The Man Who Ate Lincoln, a series I’ve written throughout the year in the NZ Herald. I’ve set out to eat at each of the 55 food joints on Lincoln Rd in one year. It’s possibly insane.
What was the last real letter you wrote?
I used to hide love letters from a mistress underneath the carpet in the lounge.
What brings you bliss?
Watermelon, Coca-Cola, Peter Frampton, Lotto.
How would you like to die?
I haven’t smoked in five years; a last cigarette would be nice.
‘There is no twilight in our New Zealand days, but a curious half-hour when everything appears grotesque—it frightens—as though the savage spirit of the country walked abroad and sneered at what it saw.’ What are your feelings on New Zealand twilight?
It’s nice and soft, but I prefer the flat, boring qualities of broad daylight in New Zealand, as photographed by Peter Black in my latest book The Shops (Luncheon Sausage Books, $40).
Has anyone ever said of you that you’re ‘a dangerous woman’?
I was walking along the Terrace in Wellington one day and a little boy ran out onto the road, and got knocked over by a car. I ran over to him. He was okay. The driver knelt down beside us and said, “Are you his mother?”
Have you ever had an X-ray?
Yes, it was a very good likeness.
Write a brief history of your eyesight:
Going, going, gone.
Is there ‘the taint of the pioneer’ in your blood?
Some of the happiest times of my years living in Wellington were at an upstairs coffee bar on Willis St called The Pioneer. I’d sit at the window with a cup of filter coffee and a toasted sandwich, and look at everyone walking by down on the street. I never wanted anything to ever change. I’d got as far as I could in life. It wasn’t very far, but I was at peace.
‘I want to be REAL.’ True or false?
I want to go home.