Sunday, November 29, 2009

Serendipity revisited.

Way back in November 2007, I wrote this post. Go on, go and read it.

I can now do what I said at the end of that post ("I will have to revisit the post in a few years when the book is safely written and published and it will make rather a nice story, I think.").

So, here's that cryptic paragraph, with all the details for Magpie Hall inserted.

"While waiting for the order to arrive, I had the brainwave for my new novel, in no way related in subject matter to the five books I had just ordered. My protagonist (ROSEMARY) has a specific occupation (TAXIDERMIST) and in the novel, a certain object that I had never heard of before until very recently (A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES) plays a big part in the story. So the Amazon package arrives and I am happily reading the first novel when unexpectedly, what should turn up, unannounced, but a CABINET OF CURIOSITIES. The book delves right into the history of CABINETS OF CURIOSITIES and gives many prime and beautiful examples. That book finished, yesterday I randomly picked up the second in the pile of books and lo and behold the first page has the main character STUFFING THINGS. He is a TAXIDERMIST."

What fun.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It's been a while.

Sorry for the absence. I have been so busy lately, and once publicity for the book launch died down, I threw myself back into the domestic life and had little room for any focused thoughts worth blogging.

It was a great night at Our City in Christchurch, a cosy chat with Ruth Todd from Women on Air. Thanks to Ruth and Morrin Rout for hosting the event and for asking me. Thanks to Gillian at UBS for selling so many books, and of course thanks to everyone who came and listened and/or bought the book. I do like doing those intimate affairs (although there were around 80 people it felt very intimate) where people chime in from the floor and we get a good conversation going. We gave away some magpie tattoos to celebrate, and you can see one of them in action here.

Magpie Hall debuted at number two on the NZ bestseller list, behind a book that was getting, ahem, rather a lot of publicity, whether it was welcome or not. Which leads me to...

New Zealand literature has finally been in the news. It's funny, with dedicated sports sections on the news every night, it's a shame that it takes a bit of controversy to get people talking about New Zealand books. Peter Wells pointed it out on his blog that at least people are now talking about literature: the national book awards usually get a two-minute slot on the late news, but this has been front page news, with this story on the cover of the Dom Post and this on the cover of the Listener.

As a sometimes-historical novelist, people have been asking about my methods for research and incorporating that research into my books. I could talk about it all day, and I might write a proper blog post about it in the future, but basically, I do my reading, I absorb it, I close my eyes and imagine myself into the scene and I write what I see, through the eyes of my character. So you see, there is little chance of inadvertent copying as it has gone through such a transformation, and often dry information is turned into something altogether more subjective. If it is someone else's bright-eyed description, I do not copy it into my notebook but I might take elements of the description and use them in another context, with different words. But if there's one thing that this scandal has taught me it's that people have different ideas about what artists of all kinds should and shouldn't do and I hope I'm never at the receiving end of anyone's scorn and disapproval due to my methods.

I'm also not sure why people have focused on historical novelists as novelists of all breeds research things and rely on the knowledge of others.

Right, that's me. I've joined the twittering classes, and you can follow me here. I hope to be keeping this blog up to date but my life is an unknown quantity at the moment. I will just leave you with this:

If you're new to my blog and have come here because you're interested in Magpie Hall, you may be interested to know that I started this blog as a diary of writing a novel. Please take a look at the archives when I used to post a lot more regularly and philosophically - I was pretty honest about the highs and lows of the writing life, and the novel writing process is documented from go to whoa.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Magpie Hall is now officially out in the world. Available at all good (New Zealand) bookstores yada yada. I feel something like relief.

It had a great launch at Mighty Mighty, which was the perfect venue - it conjured up all the lushness of a Victorian tattoo parlour. The book was launched by my good friend Gemma Gracewood who said unbelievably nice things about Magpie Hall and about me. Afterwards we discussed the fact that while Rosemary Summers isn't based on anyone we know, she is someone we could imagine knowing (indeed, Sally, the manager of Mighty Mighty, is herself a tattooed lady who collects taxidermy). After the speeches, Gemma was joined on stage by three more friends (Nigel, Carmel and Andy) from the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, and they serenaded us with songs by Nick Cave and The Be Good Tanyas, both inspirations for the novel and on my list.

The launch was somewhat overshadowed by the sad death earlier in the week of our friend Heather McKenzie. She was sorely missed and will continue to be so.

Further to my last post about my new website, within days of it going up it was chosen as one of 8 great author websites, alongside the likes of Dan Brown, Peter Carey and Isabelle Allende! Thanks to my fantastic designers Sharon Blance and Brence Coghill. Sharon also took my author photos. If any authors out there would like to contact them in view to having their own website done, please feel free to leave your contact details in the comments here and I will pass them on. They were wonderful to work with and really listened to what I wanted, the result being my dream website. These two are multi-talented and are also the best swing dancers around.

Finally, if you are in Christchurch, I am doing an event tomorrow night (Tuesday, November 10) with Women On Air at Our City, Oxford Terrace. For more details visit, or Please tell your friends!