An extraordinary collection of short stories will be
launched in Dunedin today. Beyond The Breakwater - Stories
1948-1998 represents a lifetime's work by O. E. Middleton.
Nigel Benson meets a writer who sees more than most.
Ted Middleton at home. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
"When you write, you have to be your own toughest critic,"
Ted Middleton muses.
I'm talking to the man who made me want to be a writer.
The first story that ever got under my skin as a young boy
was published by Middleton in 1967.
Killers is about a travelling family that deliberately
runs over a hawk while it's feeding on road kill; the
senseless slaughter of a creature faithfully performing its
It made such an impression on me that I have avoided killing
Except fish, of course, but that's different.
Such is the power and endurance of Middleton's words and
A retrospective collection of his short stories, Beyond
The Breakwater - Stories 1948-1998, is being released
The book spans half a century and weaves together 26 of his
best short stories, selected from the 63 short stories he
wrote between 1948 and 1998.
"This book is the 10th collection of my stories. It's a
retrospective selection of my short fiction," Middleton says
in the lounge of his Pine Hill home.
The book cover is illustrated with long-time friend Ralph
Hotere's The Harbour Bar - Westport.
Hotere also contributes a portrait of his old mate as the
"I'm pleased to have it beautifully produced with the fifth
cover Ralph Hotere has done for me," Middleton says.
Behind him, a huge Hotere work reaches from the floor to the
It seems almost incidental that Middleton is blind.
"I've been writing in Braille for 25 years now. nThis is my
workhorse," he says, patting what looks like an Enigma
A five-centimetre-high stack of Braille pages sits beside the
"All my writing is based on how my text will sound read
aloud. Literature began as an oral thing and I reasoned that
if you wrote something that sounded well aloud it would be
more successful," he says.
"I have always been able to hear the sound of what I write in
my head and that's sharpened when I read it off Braille on to
tape. That side of language is very important to me.
"So my writing may appear superficially simple but, if it's
read aloud, certain things will come out, and you don't
necessarily get all I put into it if you just look at it on
The collection will be launched at the University of Otago
staff club at 11am today by Emeritus Professor Lawrence
Jones, who also wrote the foreword for the book.
Prof Jones believes Middleton's blindness has added a unique
dimension to his writing.
"He gets things like the feel of scales on a fish, or putting
one's hand in the fish's gills after you've caught it. I
can't think of another New Zealand writer who does that sort
of thing the way he does. He sees the world his way and he
uses language his way."
Blindness has been a hindrance, rather than a handicap for
"It's like Beethoven losing his hearing, for a writer. The
limitations of blindness are very severe. It is a very
limiting thing in many ways," he says.
"When I'm writing I'm totally reliant on the vocabulary I
carry with me all the time. It's not always adequate. If I
want to look up something in the dictionary I either have to
ask Cynthia [his partner] or ring a friend."
Middleton believes he would have been a more prolific writer
had he been sighted.
"It would have been a lot easier and I would have produced a
lot more," he says.
"But, the founder of Western literature, Homer, was himself