Isa Pearl Ritchie’s new novel Fishing for Māui, launching at Unity Books Wellington on Wednesday 4th July at 6pm, is a novel about food, whānau and mental illness.
Sarah Jane Barnett describes it as “an accomplished story of a family in crisis – Ritchie’s great skill is her ability to conjure the inner lives if her characters. Fishing for Māui is a compassionate meditation on what it means to be well.” As with Unity tradition, Isa answered our author interview questions.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
I just started Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill; it was recommended to me by Anahera Gildea during the trauma narrative workshop stream she ran at the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat earlier this year. I happened to already have it at home because it was one of a number of books my mother had given me to read a while ago. My mother and grandmother have been hugely influential in influencing what I read by giving me lots of books – as a child I was surrounded by books with strong female characters and that is actually quite unusual.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
I love, and have been influenced by, a wide range of writers. I love Barbara Kingsolver’s writing because it is so well researched and has strong female characters. My favourite NZ writer is Patricia Grace, and also Gaelyn Gordon who wrote amazing books for young people. As a young person I read a lot of Chuck Palahniuk and Douglas Adams and enjoyed their social commentary and philosophical experiments embedded in their writing, and one of my favourite books of all time is Peter Pan and Wendy by J M Barry for similar reasons. I love Anita Nair’s and Joanne Harris’ writing because they tend to be evocative of flavours and scents. I tend to go through binges of writers, last summer I read a lot of Margaret Atwood’s early work, the summer before I read a pile of Iris Murdoch.
WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
I can’t fit any books on my bedside table which is far too small, so they are all piled up against the wall; there’s the book I’m reading at the moment, a biography of Virginia Woolf, Cat Tizard’s autobiography, a Hindu book about death, a book written by a Buddhist teacher about lucid dreaming and shadow work, and Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés because I need to read parts of it periodically when I’m doing a lot of emotional processing.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
I mostly only like film adaptations if I happen to watch the film first – but then it’s hard to read the book. I don’t really like film adaptations, generally because they take out all the best bits, like Tom Bombadil and all that Elvish singing and the detail about food and stuff is all missing from Lord of the Rings and that was the best part of the books – and Peeves was missing from the Harry Potter movies which is quite sad because he was originally going to be played by Rick Mayall.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
I have a really good memory for books I read and movies I watch so I don’t tend to read things more than once. The exception is Peter Pan (which I also had as a cassette tape when I was little), the Harry Potter books (because I’ve read them aloud a few times) and the two books I took with me to Tahiti on an exchange when I was 16 – Maurice Shadbolt’s memoirs and Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
Characters are important – for me to get into a novel I have to care what happens to the characters. I really like quirky characters – the characters who don’t behave in a ‘normal’ way and therefore incidentally make you question ‘normal’. Questioning ‘normal’ is important especially as a lot of things in history that were considered ‘normal’ or ‘natura’ have been since revealed to be exploitative – like the subjugation of women, people of colour, the colonisation of indigenous people and the ‘conquering’ of the environment. As a writer of fiction I tend to carry my own characters around with me in my head like imaginary friends. It gets a bit crowded in here.
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
Most of the classics – and also most of the books my grandparents and great-grandparents wrote (ethnographies, cultural psychology and books about childrearing in NZ). I really should take a pile of these books to Tahiti or somewhere I don’t have the internet.
WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?
Ursula Le Guin, Clarissa Pinkola Estés and Barbara Kingsolver, but Ursula is dead so it might have to be a seance and I don’t think it’s good tikanga to mix that kind of thing with food.
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
I actually think I would like Barbara Kingsolver to cook because I loved her book about eating local food – so we might have to go to her place for dinner instead. I’d like to try her homemade mozzarella. I might also make ratatouille because it is my favourite thing.
HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
I only have about half of my books at home – there are others gathering dust in Raglan in family homes. I get quite conflicted about owning too much stuff because my family has a hoarding pattern and so I try to only own things that I need, use or actively enjoy. I have this book shelf that was really cheap and a bit flimsy; it’s from a hardware store, and it’s just plain pine and covered with a whole range of books about food, novels I intend to read, YA fiction and some other books I can’t bare to part with. It is currently draped with easter egg-LED lights and also has a bright yellow rabbit and a Wonder Woman toy sitting on top of it – and none of this is my daughter’s doing, I take full responsibility. I should probably do something about my book situation. The problem is I’m not really emotionally ready for eBooks or for the future. I’m not very good with technology. I went into a shop to buy an eBook reader and someone tried to sell me a Nespresso machine – I’m just not ready for Margaret Atwood’s dystopian futures yet.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?
Is a literary quote one from literature or about literature? I have a few from books:
“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” – Douglas Adams
My favourite quote from Peter Pan is when Peter notices the crocodile has stopped ticking and decides to start ticking, himself, unknowingly prompting the crocodile to follow him:
“…though whether with the purpose of regaining what it had lost, or merely as a friend under the belief that it was again ticking itself, will never be certainly known, for, like all slaves to a fixed idea, it was a stupid beast.” – J M Barrie
“To light a candle is to cast a shadow…” Ursula Le Guin
A QUESTION FROM PREVIOUS AUTHOR INTERVIEWEE, MARTIN EDMOND:
“How many miles to Babylon?”
I had to look this up and it’s from a nursery rhyme and a fold song but actually from Wellington it is 9,652 miles. Google maps says it will take one day, two hours and $3,855 to get there. Is this supposed to be a metaphor? Maybe the answer is 42.