Counter Culture
October 9, 2019 posted by Unity Wellington

Interview | Lawrence Patchett

Interview | Lawrence Patchett

Read Lawrence Patchett’s excellent response to our author questionnaire, including a fine selection of local writing, and join us for the launch of Lawrence’s new novel, The Burning River, 6-7:30pm Thursday 17th October 2019.  All welcome.


ABOUT THE BOOK

In a radically changed Aotearoa New Zealand, Van’s life in the swamp is hazardous. Sheltered by Rau and Matewai, he mines plastic and trades to survive. When a young visitor summons him to the fenced settlement on the hill, he is offered a new and frightening responsibility—a perilous inland journey that leads to a tense confrontation and the prospect of a rebuilt world.

‘Patchett’s is an extraordinary imaginative achievement: an unsettlingly strange, and fully realised, narrative situation and world. I read The Burning River experiencing a mixture of intellectual exhilaration and emotional agitation of an intensity fiction has not produced in me for some time.’
—Dougal McNeill

Cover: Turi Park
210x138mm, pbk, 336 pages

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lawrence Patchett is a Pākehā writer of fiction. His first book, I Got His Blood on Me: Frontier Tales, was awarded the NZSA Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction. In 2013 he was awarded the Todd New Writer’s Bursary. Raised near the Waikirikiri/Selwyn River in Canterbury, he now lives near Wellington with his partner, and has two daughters.


WHY DO YOU WRITE?

I always try to keep this simple, so the answer is: because I’ve always wanted to, ever since I was eleven years old, and because it’s one of my jobs. Also because I want to get better at it.

WHERE AND HOW DO YOU WRITE?

I write on the train, in my garage—which I romanticise by calling my ‘shed’—and in cafes, and libraries, and wherever really. Right now I’m extremely lucky to have an office at the University of Canterbury. There’s a view and everything! Plus a 20-volume edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which has an exhaustive definition for pretty much every word you can think of.

I write by hand into a diary or exercise book, and then type it up and do heaps of crossing out and rewriting. I’m a real rewriter, so I have to work through lots of messy drafts before anything decent starts to come out.

WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?

I’m always reading a few books at once. So right now I’m reading Ngā Waituhi o Rehua, nā Katerina Mataira. It’s taking me a while to read it, because I’m still learning the language! I’m also reading Melt by Jeff Murray and Craig Cliff’s Nailing Down the Saint, and rereading Carl Shuker’s searing book A Mistake. I’m also really enjoying Peat by Lynn Jenner.

WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?

I tend to have favourite books rather than favourite writers, if that makes sense. And mostly I read contemporary New Zealand literature, because it’s so awesome, and so connected to the things I care about. To be honest, I’m inspired by the work of my friends and peers here in Aotearoa.

But in terms of short stories, two writers I really love are Jim Shepard, for his commitment to telling a gripping story, and Patricia Grace, for her extraordinary craft—I think her collection Small Holes in the Silence is pretty incredible.

WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?

Oh man, it’s always such a mountain! Right now there’s a stack of research books, with Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka, by John and Hilary Mitchell, near the top of it. And then another mountain of books for te reo course work, with an edited book I really like at the top: He Pitopito Kōrero: Readings from the Māori Language Press. Then there are some essays by my partner, and a promising couple of books given to me by my friend Breton, including a monster collection called That Glimpse of Truth: 100 of the Finest Short Stories Ever Written. 

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?

It’s a toss-up between Winter’s Bone and True Grit.

The movie I can’t wait to see is the film of Tina’s book, The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke. It hasn’t been made yet, but surely it has to be soon. I reckon Hēmi will be so fun to follow on the big screen.

WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?

The Pesthouse by Jim Crace. I’ve read it so much the front cover has fallen off and there are scribbles all over the pages. Crace grips the reader with this terrifically absorbing adventure narrative and love story, and, at the same time, needles away at other questions underneath all that storytelling.

In second place is How to Catch a Cricket Match by Harry Ricketts. I listen and/or read to this book whenever there’s a big upheaval. I seem to find it very comforting. I love the way Harry’s writing mind works, and the voice he uses, and when it’s all brought to bear on cricket, it’s just a perfect experience.

WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?

The dog in that short story by Dave Eggers: “Oh, I’m a fast-fast dog.” Dogs are the best.  

 WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?

I tried for ages to read Ulysses, until a friend reminded me that reading is supposed to be fun, so I stopped and gave away my copy. A bit of a fake answer, sorry, because I don’t intend to read it really.

WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?

Jim Shepard, who would have to bring his dog. Elsie Locke, who would have to be prepared for lots of research questions from me. And Katerina Mataira.

And I like a big gathering, so three wouldn’t be enough. I’d need my partner and daughters there, plus my son-in-law, Ari. They would ask great questions and keep the conversation going, because I’d be too awestruck to do any talking.

WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?

A big barbecue feast: zucchini sliced longways and cooked slowly; peppers and those big flat mushrooms cooked in lots of butter; green salad; and a massive bowl of my partner’s potato salad. We’re also omnivores, so probably something from the butcher at Paraparaumu Beach. And apple crumble with ice cream.

We’d drink lemonade from the lemons from our tree, and Emersons or Tuatara beer. We’d be outside looking at trees and watching sparrows and piwaiwaka, which would be laughing at us in their language.

HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?

Strictly alphabetically, except for on my desk and bedside table. My partner has another system. We are still negotiating.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?

Right now it’s this one by Tina Makereti: ‘Now is not the time for passivity or meekness […] Write the thing you are scared of. Now is the time for you to step into the story that matters’.

 

author photo: Ebony Lamb

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