Page 3: Establishing identity
Frame, Janet Paterson
This biography, written by Patrick Evans, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
Frank Sargeson and Owls do cry
Frame’s sister June Gordon introduced her to Frank Sargeson, a focus of literary activity on Auckland’s North Shore, in 1955. Almost immediately, Sargeson invited her to live and work in the army hut on his Takapuna property. Frame lived there from March 1955 to July 1956, an interlude which both she and Sargeson found difficult at times. With his encouragement Frame rapidly wrote Owls do cry, which she completed in August 1955. The book was published by Pegasus Press in Christchurch in April 1957 to general acclaim, but was received with dismay in Ōamaru, where it was thought to be too negative and personal.
By this time Frame had been overseas for nine months, first in London, then on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza and later in Andorra. In Ibiza, she felt free of her past. She wrote 50,000 words of a novel, which she never published, and had an affair with an American, George Parlette. In Andorra, she miscarried Parlette’s baby and was briefly engaged to Italian immigrant El Botti Mario, whom she had met at her lodgings. Leaving him and returning to London in May 1957, she then entered the Maudsley Institute, a mental hospital, as a voluntary patient. During her first stay, up to February 1958, she was diagnosed as suffering not from schizophrenia but from the effects of prolonged hospitalisation.
Frame was writing less and less during this period. In May 1958 she changed her name by deed poll to Nene Janet Paterson Clutha. The name change was because of her fear of public recognition, and to acknowledge the significance to her creative imagination of the Clutha River, first encountered during her student holidays in Central Otago.
Encouragement to write
In September 1958 Frame was readmitted to the Maudsley Institute, under the care of R. H. Cawley, a psychiatrist who was to become her most significant mentor. She later described him as her ‘locksmith’ in freeing her from her past diagnosis. He confirmed that she was suffering from the treatment rather than the illness, and encouraged her to spend the rest of her life as a writer. She began with the account of her hospital years that was to be published as Faces in the water (1961). This was followed by The edge of the alphabet (1962), her first work to be conceived as a novel. By then, facilitated by John Money, German and American editions of Owls do cry had appeared, the latter from George Braziller, who was to prove her most supportive publisher.