Unity Books Wellington spoke to Martin Edmond ahead of his talk at City Gallery about his latest book, The Expatriates (BWB).
Martin Edmond’s new book, The Expatriates, explores the connections between New Zealand and Europe through the lives of four extraordinary individuals. Harold Williams, journalist and expert linguist; Ronald Syme, spy and historian of ancient Rome; John Platts-Mills, radical lawyer; and Joe Trapp, librarian – all of these men were born in New Zealand but achieved fame in Europe. They became, from the perspective of New Zealand, expatriates.
WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING AND HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THE BOOK(S)?
I’m reading The Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer’s 1000 plus page long book about the life and death of Gary Gilmore—because a film producer I know gave me a copy and said that I had to. He was right. It’s towards a true crime project we might yet embark upon. And The Featherston Chronicles, by Mike Nicolaidi, again because of a possible future project, in collaboration with a woman from Tokyo who has worked extensively towards an understanding of a similar incident at the Japanese POW camp in Cowra, NSW, during WW2. Also an exhibition catalogue, Monet and Japan, which I bought in St Vinnies—just because I like looking at the pictures I suppose. Finally I’ve been dipping into a copy of The Faber Book of Madness, edited by Roy Porter, which I picked up, literally, in the street last week.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE WRITERS AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THEM?
I don’t really have favourite writers; or else they are too many to mention. When I look around this room where I work, I can see The Complete Posthumous Poetry of César Vallejo; Primo Levi’s If this is a Man and The Truce; Ross Gibson’s The Summer Exercises; various fugitive Red Mole publications. I’ve recently read, or re-read, almost every novel written by Joseph Conrad so perhaps he qualifies. I like books that make a world you can enter into and then store away somewhere, somehow, to enrich your mind.
WHAT BOOKS ARE ON YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE?
Only one. M J Hyland’s Carry Me Down. It is gripping but also almost unbearably painful to read, so it is taking me a long time to get through. She is English but with Irish and Australian connections.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK-TO-FILM ADAPTATION?
John Huston’s adaptation of James Joyce’s The Dead, his last film and also the last story in Dubliners. (There is also a wonderful documentary, by Lilyan Sievernich, called John Huston and the Dubliners: The Making of The Dead.)
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU RE-READ THE MOST AND WHY?
Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet; because it is endless.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY CHARACTER?
WHAT BOOK HAVE YOU ALWAYS BEEN MEANING TO READ BUT STILL HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO?
I’m not going to embarrass myself by listing any of the famous books I have not read.
WHICH THREE WRITERS WOULD YOU HAVE OVER FOR DINNER?
I prefer the company of strangers.
WHAT WOULD YOU COOK THEM?
HOW ARE YOUR BOOKS SHELVED AND ORGANISED AT HOME?
Randomly, by date of acquisition, more or less.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE LITERARY QUOTE?
It’s a toss-up between:
‘I don’t think you should read anything you haven’t written yourself.’ – Elle Macpherson
‘Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself.’ – Walt Whitman
A QUESTION FROM PREVIOUS AUTHOR INTERVIEWEE, PETER WELLS:
“Do you have a full-length mirror? If not, how do you know what you look like when you go out”?
Yes, I do, but I can’t get far enough away from it to see myself whole. So I generally only know what my midriff looks like. In a word: undistinguished.
(author photo credit: Liz March)