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New Book: Janis Freegard’s Wild, Wild Women

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Wild, Wild WomenMaggie Rainey-Smith launched Janis Freegard’s new book, Wild, Wild Women, at Unity Books on Wednesday 19 June in Wellington, with a view to what makes this book special – and hints at why it was selected as winner of the At The Bay I Te Kokoru 2023 short story manuscript award.

This month, we publish Maggie’s launch speech and celebrate Janis’s book.

You can find the book at the publisher’s page here.


From Maggie Rainey-Smith…

Janis Freegard, novelist, poet and short story writer. Winner of arguably our most prestigious short story award, the KM Memorial Award, in 2001 with her short story ‘Mill’.  Her novel, ‘The Year of Falling’ with Mākaro Press came out nine years ago and was recently translated into Bulgarian.  Two collections of poetry through Auckland University Press and her most recent poetry collection ‘Reading the Signs’ with The Cuba Press, in 2020. (Not to mention her huge successes over the years with flash fiction and stories on Radio New Zealand, anthologies both international and local.)


Wild, Wild Women.  What an enticing title. Published by At the Bay I te Kokoru.

The collection kicks off with quite a conventional story called ‘Moeraki Boulders’ … a woman takes what she wants … the usual … what Erica Jong once called ‘The Zipless (bonk)’, I’ll say to keep things seemly… and it sets the tone for the rest of the collection: strong women taking control, having agency in their own lives… not that we will always think their decisions wise!

I’m thinking of this collection as a degustation.  A long slow meal of multiple flavoured dishes with distinctly different flavours yet working alongside one another, complementary, a building of something substantial and satisfying.

The stories are unpretentious, not wanting to be more than they are, which is a quietly intelligent observation of the various ways we inhabit womanhood. Men get a mention, and they are not that pretty apart from Baldy… He’s strong, good looking, and they’ve attempted sex but it was a flop, so hey presto, the perfect friend and flatmate. He is missed. What happened to Baldy?

One of my favourite stories in the collection is ‘Saturday Night’. It’s a quiet story that leaves a lingering aftertaste.  “Cool nights in an eighties Auckland spring”  “Sex drugs and rock and roll”! A group of young friends with fake IDs, trying to make the most of that sacred thing, the Saturday night out that includes casks of Blenheimer, pills and booze. The sacred Saturday night… so many expectations through which a kind of pathos emerges.

There are three kinds of fishy stories. I really liked ‘Swimming in New York’.  “Serena felt like a fish, a snapper perhaps, silvery and dense, one who’d slipped away from the shoal.”  How hard can it be to pay off your student loan if all you have to do is swim naked in a flash rooftop pool in a downtown New York high rise while a pervert business tycoon watches you. There’s a contract.  Easy, eh? And no, the story doesn’t go where you imagine it might.

Women and water and fish and there’s the ‘Lorelei’ – a wonderful romp and a cautionary tale (pardon my pun).   Laugh out loud, the water birth. Tears of laughter. If I say too much I’ll spoil the plot but high tech IVF is involved and it hasn’t all gone according to plan.

‘Split Infintive’ – another great title. An argument. The sort a comfortable couple might have because, well, they can… habits develop… there’s boredom and dissatisfaction. Love has died. Oh hang on, don’t be in such a hurry.

Cars, lamingtons and pelargoniums versus geraniums. Proper brown teapots. It’s a Kiwi collection of this there is no doubt.  There’s a Damlier named Dulcie with a walnut dashboard making her way through Canvastown, Pelorus, the Rai Valley and tearooms we all recognise and Carly (you know, as in Carly Simon) takes Dulcie for a spin.

A wee morality tale with ‘Love and Lust’ personified, chatting at the cocktail bar, cherries on toothpicks, a philosophical to and fro on the merits of carnality versus hot cocoa. Well, sort of. I think the debate’s still going on.  You can feel the fun the author has writing this.

There is the exquisite insight of a story like ‘Exposure’. A young teenage girl, barely into womanhood infatuated with a tattooed older woman who is renting a house on the beach near to her home… nothing gets resolved. It’s the grit of a real, often insubstantial, but precious life. A character who finally has agency and takes control even if we hold our breath and wonder and worry too… what will become of her.

Overall, this is a most enjoyable romp of a read. I read chronologically but you could start wherever takes your fancy. I could feel the author’s joy and humour laced with compassion brimming out of these stories. They feel real, closely observed vignettes of life.

So raise your glasses and toast Janis and Wild, Wild Women.


Janis Freegard’s new book Wild, Wild Women can be purchased from the publisher here.


Maggie Rainey-SmithMaggie Rainey-Smith is a novelist, poet, short story writer and essayist.  Her poetry Collection ‘Formica’ was published in 2022 by The Cuba Press. She blogs at acurioushalfhour.com and her website is www.maggieraineysmith.com

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