“All my songs are stories,” says celebrated Waiheke singer-songwriter Katy Soljak.
So it’s been a natural progression for her to move on to writing short stories. And for them to do well.
Some of the stories in this slim volume – her first book – have already appeared elsewhere: the title story My First Real Pash has been read on Radio New Zealand by Ginette McDonald (who else!); File This has also been read on the radio and printed in Takahe, and Troy was included in New Zealand’s premier literary journal Landfall.
That her book, My First Real Pash and Other Stories is being presented as a multi-media event, with an original painting to attend to each story, with a planned nationwide tour of pop-up exhibitions/performances, is yet another stretch for this multi-dimensional creative. But one which we might expect from Katy, who like all true artists is forever iconoclastic.
She’s been breaking the rules ever since a standard 4 art teacher held up one of her works and said, “This is not how we do things at Havelock Primary.”
While we’re bandying about long lit-review words, I’d like to add another: insouciance. For Katy’s work, while always carrying deeper themes (and successfully, too) has parallel currents of, yes, insouciance. The just go out and do it. With a dash of humour, like just the right amount of chilli in the sauce, too.
And in this ‘subtle yet biting critique of New Zealand society’ (as the cover blurb has it, we find flecks of things darker. It’s like a music of unease, deftly disguised. Katy shows her songwriting chops throughout the book, with memorable, yet enviously (for other writers) simple lines that are almost Dylan-esque in their clarity, their cut-through. Like ‘…she lay on top pf the white doona, perfectly straight, hands folded on her chest, like a mummy, my mummy, very still, but oh Jesus.’ And ,’The six o’clock news blazed static life into the tiny cottage, filling up its lonely corners with tales of recession and disaster.’ Or the ex-husband’s shirts, destroyed by a razor: ‘They lay there, pastel, shapeless ribbons on the dewy morning grass.’ And ‘…afraid of dancing even more into her flashback.’
There’s subtlety and symbolism in equal measure here; and a simultaneous, symbiotic strengthening of them both. This is good writing, very good writing.
That said, I’d like to see her use metaphor more than simile. For when she does, those metaphors are very compelling. And I’d also like to see many single quote marks removed from various descriptors, for these make them less real. It’s up to the reader, I think, to see the irony. Or, if they cover expressions of speech, then let them styand just so as the voice of the characters and their milieu.
The stories steadily gain in power as the book progresses. The last three Made in Germany, Glenda’s Lot and Be my Baby are especially strong: fully rounded in their characterisation, and each holds deep meaning as to their characters’ intent and individual responses. And the deeply-distressing revelation in Be My Baby circles unerringly round to the first story My First Real Pash to explain all with startling clarity. Now we know why the author pretended to be asleep in that first real pash. The depth of pain that is possible within veneers of normality in the human condition is shown. And it has been done most economically with words. That’s real talent.
One last big word to tag My First Real Pash and Katy’s writing with; it’s authenticity. There’s something very real and raw in these stories; and they are told with integrity. My First Real Pash is a book worth reading for all New Zealanders.
The book is currently only available at Paper Plus in Oneroa on Waiheke Island, and at www.lasaviapublishing.com and other online booksites.
The book and its accompanying art exhibition of the twelve paintings attending to the stories was at the Waiheke Community Art Gallery in November/December 2021.