You’re a self-published writer. Why should I read your books?
I’m self-published by choice. I want to maintain control over my own work. I do not wish to censor or dilute it for publishers who are influenced by what fits in with current political and market trends. In the past I was open to the right publisher, but COVID delays and a flooded market have recently made a sham of an industry even more shambolic. So I shall remain self-published for some time.
Don’t publishers ensure a quality control not found in self-published works? This is what makes me sceptical. What if your books are plagued with errors, like so much self-published work is?
Many self-published writers jump the gun by going to print too early. I made this mistake with my first book, Tenure as a Statistician. I employed a professional editor for my second, third and fourth books Spitfires and Spots, The Cursed Bus, and Banish the Thinker. I have a strong relationship with my editor.
For a debut, why did you title your book Tenure as a Statistician? It seems a bit far-fetched and awkward.
It’s a far-fetched and awkward story. Tenure as a Statistician is a metaphor of our times. People scour the internet for statistics that confirm their preconceptions. I think we’re all guilty of this on occasion.
You are born in New Zealand, yet have spent roughly half your life living abroad, specifically in Norway for the last five years. Do you strongly identify as a New Zealander when it comes to your writing?
As I was born and raised in New Zealand, I am a New Zealander. But with such a small population and young history, I don’t give much attention to national identity. Although I have written extensively about New Zealand, I favour exploring ideas and landscapes outside my country of birth. I much prefer being a small fish in a big pond, than attempting to be the opposite.
New Zealand is going through a renaissance-like indigenous charge with its need to recognise Maori sovereignty, considering the past injustices committed against them by the British crown. Te Reo – the Maori language, is going through a resurgence. What significance does Maoritanga play in your work?
In Tenure as a Statistician a Maori family played a major role in the novel, particularly Rose Mataara and her father, Ru’a. These characters were influenced by my growing up with and playing sport with Maori, hitchhiking throughout the North and South Island while mainly being picked by Maori (who were also the majority of the hitchhikers I picked up when hitchhiking was common in New Zealand), having Maori cousins (my father’s sister married a Maori), briefly studying Te Reo at university, and reading Maori fiction, from Witi Ihimaera and Patricia Grace to Alan Duff and Keri Hulme.
Ru’a’s character was inspired by Dr Ranginui Walker’s book Ka Whawhai Tonu Matou: Struggle Without End – which I found deeply touching.
But since then, I have not touched on Maori culture. It plays no role in my life now I live outside of New Zealand, and there are Maori writers who capture their collective story far better than I could in my sense of the individual features of my characters in Tenure as a Statistician.
So, are you trending towards a Norwegian influence?
Norway is where I live, and what happens around me influences my work. There are no-noise zones on trains and silence is respected. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, I had lived a socially isolated life here, with very little relation to Norwegian people. This allowed an open window for imagination, thought and concentration. Isolation certainly has its up sides for a writer.
You’re not on social media. Isn’t this a massive disadvantage when trying to find a target audience?
Maybe it is. However, I’m not seeking out a target audience. If my work resonates with people, readers will find me. Hopefully it’s a matter of when, rather than if. We’ll see.
What are your political beliefs?
I try to keep politics out of my life, but unfortunately this is difficult for a writer in such a time of political turmoil. I strongly disagree with the left’s insistence that art and creativity should be judged by the biological/cultural/oppression-claimed identity of the creator rather than that of the art itself.
This, along with US leftist corporate tech giants marionetting the distribution of art so cunningly, should not be underestimated in its danger or corruption of free speech. I recognise and understand the power imbalance of the traditional right, and the left’s need to distribute this power more evenly, however, universities and much of academia in the humanities – not all – are punishing new and old voices of the lesser, rather than those making decisions in government, Hollywood, and the tech giants, who preach leftist politics but drown the world with their tremendous capitalist-gained wealth.
In other words, writing is my protest against the system as well as my contradictory therapy for living within it.
You have published both fiction and nonfiction works. Which do you prefer to write?
Definitely fiction. The freedom to escape into your own created world of lies to spread your perception of universal truth is for me the greatest reward of picking up the pen.
So how come you have thus far penned more nonfiction than fiction?
It took me fifteen years to write Tenure as a Statistician and in 2018, the year my son was born, I wrote nothing aside from the transcription of my grandfather’s diaries. Only at the beginning of 2019 did I decide I would write creative nonfiction, having found inspiration from Karl Ove Knausgaard’s A Death in the Family.
The Cursed Bus titular essay and the absurdity of what occurred in Canao were the only works I had considered writing previously. When the COVID pandemic came around, I felt I had to write Banish the Thinker and see how my recordings would be interpreted in ten years time. The other essays in this collection came about from certain past experiences and people whose stories I wished to record.
Another reason I reverted to writing nonfiction is that I wish to attract male readers, and I felt this was the best way to reach them. Sadly, men tend to neglect reading fiction, which is detrimental all round.
Is there something wrong with writing for a female or non-gender specific audience?
No, not at all. But I rarely come across twenty-first century writers who write about the male struggle. Of course that’s not the only struggle, but it’s one hardly represented in modern literature, and it’s the struggle I know and can write best – primarily for myself, but also for connection with others.
Do you connect with books written by women?
Of course. I’m not such a fan of over-represented conflicts in modern feminist fiction, even though I do believe they have a place. I am, however, a fan of the learning I’ve received from the accelerated thinking of the likes of Virginia Woolf, whose catalogue I’ve almost completed, and Susan Sontag – an incredibly perceptive mind.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is one of my favourite twenty-first century novels, multi-layered and perhaps more relevant in 2021, than when it was first published in 2013. A Concise-Chinese English Dictionary For Lovers written by Xiaolu Guo is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and as a New Zealander, I believe Janet Frame holds the greatest mind in the history of New Zealand literature.
Primarily, however, I read far more novels written by men.
What are you working on now?
I’ve been focusing on a collection of short fiction. Stories explore the pressure on young athletes, Medieval satire, working class struggle, derelict bar room debate, policing in Poland during the Cold War, and comic tragedy in the academic creative arts sphere of New Zealand. Also to be included are two novellas based in the mountains of eastern California and on a Caribbean island off the coast of Mexico.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
I’m not sure I believe in it. Either that, or I’m simply not affected by it. I always have pen or paper in my pocket so I can jot down notes when ideas come to mind. One of the doors in my home has been converted into a chalkboard, and it’s always covered with scribbles. I read as much as I can, and put myself in varied situations – so it’s not rare for inspiration to come to me. The difficult part is the constant revising, and I hate being on the computer. But it’s all worth it.
What advice do you have for other writers?