What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was about six I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a jockey—not that I’d ever been on a horse! Not wanting to let me know too soon what the world was like (then) my father said, ‘But darling, you’ll grow too big!’ So I put it out of my mind. I never did get too big, and by the time I was fifteen New Zealand had its first female jockey. Of course by then my plans had changed.
When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was sixteen. I’d starting writing letters between the characters in an imaginary game I played with my sisters and friends. I remember lifting my pen from the page and thinking, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’
What’s your first childhood memory?
I was eighteen months old. It was night and I was buttoned into my father’s coat with my head poking out of his collar. We were on the deck of the Lyttelton ferry. I remember looking at the lights of Seatoun and Breaker Bay as the ferry sailed out of Wellington Harbour.
What’s your most embarrassing childhood memory?
I was eleven. It was the end of year school performance. The girls of my class and the class above ours were doing a fashion show of the clothes we’d made in what they used to call ‘Manual Training’ (the girls did cooking and sewing and the boys did woodwork and all made Taiaha—Maori spears—and caused one another injuries). I was the announcer of the show. My friend Denise hadn’t given me her notes so, when she came on stage, I said, ‘And Denise is wearing …’ then, hissing, ‘Denise, what are you wearing?!’
As a young person, who did you look up to most?
My father. He was vivid, flamboyant, opinionated, and very handsome.
What was your worst subject in school?
What was your first job?
I had a holiday job with my father, who was the editor of a New Zealand encyclopaedia. I had to make a photo library. I mischievously filed photos of the Prime Minister of the day under ‘Disasters’.
How did you celebrate publishing your first book?
I bought a pair of boots.
When you finish a book, who reads it first?
My husband, Fergus, who is also my New Zealand editor and publisher (though only of my adult books).
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
What’s your idea of the best meal ever?
Fresh mozzarella and sliced tomatoes drizzled with some grass green olive oil and followed by black Otago cherries.
Which do you like better: cats or dogs?
I have three cats—a ginger boy, a beige boy, and a black girl. They are from the same litter and still sleep in warm, furry pile.
What do you value most in your friends?
Warmth and optimism
Where do you go for peace and quiet?
The Wellington Botanical Gardens are at the bottom of the street where I live, so I go there.
What makes you laugh out loud?
I laugh so often it has to be inappropriate some of the time!
What’s your favourite song?
Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust – a very old jazz standard.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Camille Desmoulins in Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety. Of course Desmoulins is a historical figure (French Revolution), but Mantel’s Desmoulins is wonderful and strange and tragic and loveable.
What time of the year do you like best?
What is your favorite TV show?
This is difficult! I’m going to have to say Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But Deadwood is a close second.
If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you want for company?
My husband Fergus and sister Sara. I’d like my son Jack to be there too, but I’m sure he’d much rather be on a nearby island with his many friends.
If you could travel in time, where would you go?
Tata Beach, Golden Bay, New Years Eve, 1975. It would have to be the kind of time travel where only your consciousness travels and you enter your younger body. I remember being sent to fetch my grandmother for the family barbecue (my mother’s family at that time had three houses on the beach). We walked along the track by the lagoon. Grandma said she was wearing her ‘plum gown’. We saw a weasel and a weka. I’d just like to do it again, that walk with Grandma Douglas, then the meal with my parents and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins.
What do you want readers to remember about your books?
How they felt, and who they were, when they were reading them.
What would you do if you ever stopped writing?
Well, I guess I might stop burning the coffee!
What do you like best about yourself?
My ability to forget myself completely for long stretches of time.
What is your worst habit?
I’m a very bad networker—too solitary, shy and uncommunicative. You’d think it would okay for writers to be like that, but not anymore, not really.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
My novel Black Oxen – deemed a failure by some. When I do a talk there are always people who come up to me afterwards, look left and right, lean in close, and say, ‘Of course the book I really love is Black Oxen—I’ve read it six times!’ I feel that way about it too. Hooray for the minority!