Story: Frame, Janet Paterson

Page 4: Writing and travelling

All images & media in this story

Frame, Janet Paterson


Schoolteacher, writer

This biography, written by Patrick Evans,  was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.

In September 1962 Frame completed the manuscript of Scented gardens for the blind (1963), her most baffling novel. Residence in rural East Suffolk from May 1962 gave substance to the last novel of her English sojourn, The adaptable man (1965), a spoof thriller which reveals its murderer within a few pages. By her return to New Zealand in September 1963, following the death of her father, she had also completed stories published by Braziller as The reservoir: stories and sketches (1963) and Snowman, snowman: fables and fantasies (1963).


After dealing briefly with her father’s estate in Ōamaru, Frame returned to Auckland. The award of a Literary Fund scholarship in letters enabled her to finish writing The adaptable man, despite surgery for breast cancer in February and September 1964. In a beach cottage on Waiheke Island from April to September 1964, she completed a novel set there, A state of siege (1966), about a retired secondary-school art teacher. The book was later filmed for cinema by Timothy White and Vincent Ward.

As 1965 Burns Fellow at Otago University, Frame wrote her seventh novel, The rainbirds (1968), and short fiction and poetry, as well as editing The reservoir and other stories (1966). She bought her first house, in Ōpoho, above North-East Valley, Dunedin, and during a further year funded by the university she began her eighth novel, Intensive care (1970), and gathered 160 poems for publication in New York as The pocket mirror (1967). Friendships with Charles Brasch, and James K. Baxter and his wife Jacquie, also flourished during this period.

Writers’ colonies

Early in 1967 Frame began a significant new period in which she alternated brief and sometimes unhappy stretches of time in New Zealand with travel to the United Kingdom and the United States. In the US she wrote at the Yaddo writers’ and artists’ colony in upstate New York and the MacDowell colony in New Hampshire, as well as in New York and Baltimore. She continued to work on Intensive care and her children’s story Mona Minim and the smell of the sun (1969) in this period. Early in 1969 The rainbirds was published in the United States as Yellow flowers in the antipodean room. Further stays at Yaddo and MacDowell in 1969–71 culminated in the novel published as Daughter buffalo (1972).

The solitude and artistic company these colonies offered her were crucial. She made lifelong friendships at both, with John Marquand (whom she met at Yaddo in 1967) and his wife Sue, and with the Californian painter Bill Brown (whom she met at the MacDowell colony in 1969) and his partner Paul Wonner. She later described Brown as the ‘chief experience of my life’.1

Restlessness in New Zealand

During the 1970s Frame moved restlessly from one small New Zealand town to another, in search of solitude and refuge from the persistent noise of suburban New Zealand. She moved to Dunedin from January to July 1972, and then to Auckland’s Whangaparāoa Peninsula until January 1975. She had a break in the first six months of 1974 as Katherine Mansfield Fellow at Menton in France, then returned to Whangaparāoa.

Frame lived in Glenfield in Auckland early in 1975, and then followed her sister and her family to the Taranaki township of Stratford in July 1976, joining them again in Whanganui by the end of 1979. She also worked on more fiction and attended a postcolonial literature conference at the University of Hawaii in October 1977 and the PEN congress in Sydney in December that year. In May the following year, she travelled to Otago University to be awarded an honorary Doctorate in Letters. Nine months later, after a long and difficult gestation, her 10th novel, Living in the Maniototo (1979) was completed. The book received acclaim as her comic masterpiece when published in the United States.

  1. Quoted in Michael King, Wrestling with the angel: a life of Janet Frame. Auckland: Viking, 2000, p. 346. Back
How to cite this page:

Patrick Evans. 'Frame, Janet Paterson - Writing and travelling', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2010. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 September 2020)