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“Books mattered. New Zealand mattered.”

Before the Book Fair, I rashly agreed to write a final blog post for this site. I was certain I’d have plenty of time to get it done – after all, I was in Frankfurt for six nights. Sure I had some events looming, and some interviews to do, but I imagined long stretches back at the hotel catching up with work, reading, writing blog posts and emails, and chatting with other writers from New Zealand. This was a complete delusion.

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Guest of Honour

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Ode to Cologne

Readings in Germany, for Euro-novices like me, are an elaborate production: between the English-speaking author reading for five or ten minutes, and an in-depth interview with the moderator, rapidly translated for the audience, an actor reads from your book in German for at least half an hour. Whenever I describe this style of reading to people in the English-speaking world, the reaction ranges from surprised to aghast.

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Long Night of Maori Stories

I’m just back from the Literaturfestival in Berlin, trading the late-summer sun for a drizzly early autumn back in Glasgow. Eight New Zealand writers were there to take part in an event aptly called ‘The Long Night of Maori Stories.’ We took part in a great deal of eating, drinking, and talking as well, of course, and left Berlin feeling exhilarated, inspired, looking forward to Frankfurt, and – in my case, at least – both tired and strangely refreshed.

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“Maori writers? There are lots of us”

After a number of very interesting conversations so far with German journalists, I wonder if it’s too easy for people to see Maori identity as one thing, or Maori experience as one thing, rather than a complex mess of differing points of view and personal/political histories. On the subject of contemporary Maori writers, I’d like to pass on these exciting piece of information. There are lots of us, writing across a variety of different art forms.

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Much of the event, I have to say, is a blur.

All roads lead to the Auckland Museum. Ten years ago I was in the library there, researching Hibiscus Coast, my second novel. On the shelf I came across Pictures of Old New Zealand, a collection of Lindauer paintings. That was the first time I saw the portrait of Paratene Te Manu, the first time I read the short history of his life he gave just before his death in 1896. There was a great story here, I knew. What I didn’t know: that it would take me so many years to write it…

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Celebrating New Zealand books

Two years ago I moved from the US back to Britain, where I used to live in the days before I was a published writer. In most places in the US, New Zealanders are regarded as charmingly and benignly exotic. In Britain, where many people have past or present family connections across the Commonwealth, we’re much less of a novelty. We’re seen, I think, as reassuringly similar in terms of our culture. As these two countries are the gatekeepers of the English-speaking publishing world, both attitudes can have unfortunate consequences for New Zealand books.

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