New Zealand fiction? I just don’t like it!

“No, I don’t read New Zealand fiction”

Having heard this over and over again I thought I would ask a few people why not?

It’s all dark and gloomy.

It tries too hard.

Most of our writers come out of that Bill Manhire course, and then they all write the same.

Crime fiction set in Christchurch? Those sort of things might happen in somewhere like Los Angeles, but it’s just silly to set it here.

It’s just a bit … well, I don’t know – I just don’t like it.

So much for the scientific survey, I am none the wiser.

CoverCultural cringe is something that has always dogged the New Zealand arts. The visual arts seem to have found a place in recent years, but New Zealand fiction is still out in the cold. A colleague suggested it might be because there is not enough popular genre fiction written, she cited the success of Jenny Pattrick’s historical saga series Denniston Rose, and maybe she has a point?

I have certainly read plenty of New Zealand fiction – some I’ve liked, some I haven’t. Surely it is the same when reading any book – some get discarded others become lifelong treasures. For some reason though, when a New Zealand book doesn’t quite come up to scratch it is a slight that cannot be forgiven or forgotten. Are our expectations too high?

My interviewees did say that they liked Shonagh Koea as she has something original to say, Settlers Creek by Carl Nixon also made the cut and the earlier Witi Ihimaera. La Rochelle Road by Tanya Moir was also mentioned – Historical fiction set on the Banks Peninsula. “A very nice read” apparently. High praise indeed!

Fantasy worlds: “A strange hooded figure came to my door … “

Cover… and offered me writing skills, in exchange for a piece of my soul “ and that, apparently, is how Garth Nix got started writing fantasy.  He says.  We are not sure we believe him, and the other authors on the panel at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival this afternoon also look a little startled by this – their answers to the question of how each of them began their writing careers were a little different from Garth’s. 

Elizabeth Knox grew up creating fantasy worlds with her sisters, Cassandra Clare simply wrote what she wanted to read, and Margo Lanagan’s was a pragmatic decision to move to fantasy because she wanted to sell more books than she had been. 

I was really looking forward to this session, and wasn’t disappointed.  Entitled Fantasy: Freedom all round, and chaired by Paula Morris, it was crammed full of discussion about everything from ‘adult’ book covers, to themes of social commentary, genre snobbery, escapism versus reality, plotters versus pantsers*, urban exploration and shadow cities, and how fantasy writing is simply a socially acceptable form of lying (Garth Nix again – this man is seriously funny.  Also, I think he might lie a lot). 

As always with sessions where there is a panel of people, it’s impossible to fully share what everyone said about everything.  And so I will say again what I have said a lot this weekend – find the books, search the web, read up on all these guys, and then come find me and we can talk glorious genre fiction like total fantasy nerds!

* as in flying by the seat of your …