Emily Perkins and Damien Wilkins are classic New Zealand writers in the sense that writing isn’t the only thing they do. Both have other strings to their bow, other jobs – Perkins as host of The Good Word, and Wilkins as a lecturer at Victoria University.
Their careers also follow a similar path: major early success – Not her real name for Perkins and The Miserables for Wilkins. Both made careers overseas and both now work in New Zealand and both are published in New Zeland by Victoria University Press.
Fergus Barrowman, their publisher and former teacher, hosted, and was rightly proud of their success. An absorbing, and detailed session followed, which concentrated on the writing process, the challenging and invigorating process of teaching creative writing.
We discovered that Wilkins dislikes satirical writing, and prefers dialogue, which took him a long time to learn; Perkins dislikes protected characters The readings from each author were well chosen and appreciated by the audience.
The session could easily have gone on for another hour, as one of the audience landed a great topic, with the great question of what is the New Zealand story? Colm Toibin had written it was about children.
Wilkins agreed – as New Zealand is a young literary culture it made quite a lot of sense. Our films are also full of child’s commentary on the adult world. Janet Frame had a hotline to child fears, he said; a child’s lack of power, lack of control. Perkins said for an author the child as agent is a thrilling kind of figure. Barrowman added that Katherine Mansfield never created an adult relationship in her writing which was as interesting as the relationships of the children in her work and that she satirised adults.
What do you think – is the great New Zealand story set on a farm? Is all the emotion in the silences? Is it about childhood? Tell us your great New Zealand story.