At the White Coast

Janet Charman


‘i’m quite alone when i hear my name called in Mum’s voice as if she wants me back at once’


If ‘mother won’t come to us’, New Zealanders must go to mother . . . Here an expat poet finds herself in alien yet strangely familiar territory, a place her ancestors ‘got off’. What must she do to survive? Score herself a bedsit, work in a pub, hunt up an office job – and keep an eye out.

Set on the cusp of the 1970s–80s, Janet Charman’s compelling new book centres on the disorienting experiences of a young woman newly arrived in London – squalid flats, temp work, ancestral visits and trips to the Continent. Charman has a laser-sharp eye for unsettling social cues, her outsider’s vision of the city peristently challenged by encounters with an array of its remarkable inhabitants – the distant relatives who stayed at home; her welfare ‘clients’ and their social workers; and her fellow antipodean travellers. And all contact in the new old land is marked by the claims and memories of that other white coast: Aotearoa.


Charman’s account of the OE experience reveals a passage hedged with earnest expectation and ripe with the black comedy of disillusion. In gritty lyrics, telling details and biting word play, this multi-voiced narrative sets out a secular pilgrimage – of the many generations of Kiwis to alight at the white coast, this is a shining record from a single traveller.


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Janet Charman has an MA in English from the University of Auckland for which she completed a thesis on the novels of Jane Austen. She was the Literary Fellow (Writer in Residence) there in 1997. Her first collection of poems was published by New Women’s Press in 1987 and she has since published five books with AUP: red letter (1992), end of the dry (1995), Rapunzel Rapunzel (1999), snowing down south (2002) and cold snack (2007), winner of the 2008 Montana New Zealand Book Award for Poetry. In 2009 she was the recipient of a month-long visiting fellowship at the International Writers Workshop of Hong Kong Baptist University. In the following year ‘at the white coast’ was co-winner of the International Writers' Workshop (Auckland) Kathleen Grattan Prize for an unpublished sequence of poems. Charman has supported her writing with work as a nurse, telephone operator and teacher and lives in Avondale, Auckland, with her partner and their two daughters.


July 2012, 230 x 165 mm, 88 pages
Paperback, ISBN 978 1 86940 728 5, $24.99