He thought he saw a rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again and found it was
The Middle of Next Week.
‘The one thing I regret,’ he said,
Is that it cannot speak!’
From Sylvie and Bruno (Lewis Carroll)
A month now since the launch of The Elusive Language of Ducks, held in Studio 29 – my daughter, Xanthe’s, office in St Kevin’s Arcade in K Road. The launch was a great success. Every dog has his day. Every duck. Perhaps this was mine. But actually no … it wasn’t just about me … it was also about the publisher, Harriet Allan, from Random House as well, and my publicist, Jennifer Balle, and all those people and friends and family who poured so much enthusiasm into the publication. And we were all buoyed by the email that arrived just two hours before the launch with the offer of World English Rights from Oneworld Publications in London!
How difficult it is to be calm and relaxed in these situations. And then it’s over but no, it’s not. The offer of a radio interview. Catherine Ryan. Live. Thirty minutes or 20 minutes? A pre-interview would determine that. A phone call at home one morning out of the blue. Was now a good time to ring? Yes, I squeaked, as all my thoughts poured out of the window in panic. My voice became old, dry, uncertain. I listened to it. I listened to my voice as a listener listening to the radio and I thought, what stupid stuff she is saying, that person who is me.
The pre-interview took me into the land of rejection of live interviews on radio.
My big break. Done for. Sigh. But that’s why I’m a writer because I bugger up every sensible thing I try to utter. Writing is my means of expression. This was my counsel to myself. Ah well.
Another interview, with Lynn Freeman on National Radio. Pre-recorded but ditched because of a technical difficulty, or was it because of the blind black panic that eroded all attempts to speak? To think. Once again watching in horror as my attempted sentences crashed into the walls of their own selves, the Doppler effect, the splattering of my voice taking itself beyond itself into nowhere.
The second try with Lynn a fortnight later was better. Learning to relax, despite the fact that I lost my way to the studio then locked myself in the pitch black dark of the well insulated-for–sound bathroom just before I was due ON.
And now there’s the strangely obsessive wondering as to whether the book will be read, liked, loved. Not read, not liked …
But then the reviews. Stephanie Johnson in The Herald: The Elusive Language of Ducks brings to mind some of Paulo Coelho’s novels, or Muriel Barbery’s enormously popular ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog.’ Readers could regard it in the same way, as a fable that conceals truths and lessons in how to live. It’s poetic gentle and wise.
Judith White’s second novel … is a how-to manual – how to love, how to grieve, how to pick up your life after death and go on. Wry and clever, The Elusive Language of Ducks transcends its bleak theme to leave us as thoughtful and questioning as its gentle protagonist.
Nicky Pellegrino in Herald on Sunday:
Still, The Elusive Language of Ducks is less whimsical than it sounds. It’s a novel about human relationships, about the elusive language of people, in fact, more than anything. It’s about how easily we misunderstand each other, and how that can disastrously shake up our lives.
Apparently White was inspired by her own reluctant duck adoption. She kept a journal on its development, which explains the level of detail about the progress from fluff-ball to handsome Muscovy. Her prose is quite the best thing about this book, poetic and reflective, wry and playful at times, compassionate and observant. …
Ideas are mulled over and lived through, words polished, characters coaxed into life, flavours gradually deepen.
And so there we are. As I write, the book has been hovering between sixth and fourth on the Nielsen Booksellers bestsellers’ list.
People are responding well. There are more reviews to come, and festivals (The Women’s Bookshop Litera-Tea – 25 August; Going West 14 -15 September; Whanganui Writers’ Festival with Xanthe 21 September.)