This is a radio interview, transcribed and published in Landfall 178 (Volume forty-five, June 1991) between Janet Frame and Elizabeth Alley.
Elizabeth Alley: In the autobiography you seem more willing than in the fiction to open some of the doors about yourself and your life – to correct some of the myths that surround you.
Janet Frame: I wanted to write my story, and you’re right of course, it is possible to correct some things which have been taken as fact and are not fact. My fiction is genuinely fiction. And I do invent things. Even in The Lagoon which has many childhood stories, the children are invented and the episodes are invented but they are mixed up so much with part of my early childhood. But they’re not quite, they’re not the true, stories. To the Is-Land was the first time I’d written the true story. For instance, Faces in the Water was autobiographical in the sense that everything happened, but the central character was invented. But with the autobiography it was the desire really to make myself a first person. For many years I was a third person – as children are. ‘They’, ‘she’… and as probably the oppressed minority has become, ‘they’. I mean children are forever ‘they’ until they grow up.
EA: For a long time you really were quite reluctant to discuss anything that had to do with the genesis or meaning of your work.
JF: Well I write, you see. I don’t tell about my life. I just write and that is my telling, but in order to set down a few facts and tell my story, this is my say.
EA: Tell me about your title, ‘To the Is-Land‘. Is this something to do with your feeling about the truth of words? And the way that you always prefer to take the very literal meaning of words?
JF: Yes, and it arose from my meeting with the word ‘Is-Land’, in an early story I was reading, one of those Whitcombes stories, and my refusal to accept that it was Island, that it really wasn’t Is-Land. Of course, looking at it n ow I chose the title ‘To the Is-Land‘ for obvious reasons, because of the obvious double-triple meanings. I assumed that words meant what they said, and everyone about me seemed to assume that they did. It was just a gradual process of learning the depths of words, I suppose.
EA: Words were always revered in your house though, weren’t they? As ‘instruments of magic’ I think you described them.
JF: Certainly, I think so. I was thinking of that knowing I was coming here to be interviewed by you. I was having a cup of tea at that little place next door and I took out the bus timetable to read. And I remembered that everyone at home always had something to read.
EA: When did you first discover you could make words work for you?
JF: Oh I’ve never discovered that… I’m still working at that.