Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Invercargill, a small city at the bottom of the South Island in New Zealand. But my formative years (if they ever ended) were spent in Rotorua, a tourist town in the centre of the North Island. Rotorua – “Rotovegas” to the locals – is stepped in Maori history and is a geothermal wonderland known for strong wafts of sulphur, hokey motels and hotels, putt-putt golf. The McDonalds in Rotorua has Maori carvings on the walls.
What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
I grew up in a flat above an old peoples home with my single parent Mum, who was a night nurse for the elderly residents downstairs. The sign at the top of our drive read: “Residence for the Elderly,” I walked past it to school every day. Books: loads. From Men and their Mothers, and other pop psychology, to Sweet Valley High. At fourteen, I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer on the back porch, while the elderly residents ate shortbread and drank tea in the lounge below me. They read Mills and Boons in large print, when they weren’t listening to the TV.
Why do you write?
I don’t smoke.
How do you choose your subjects?
Subjects are like drink. You experiment with several before settling into an unhealthy relationship with a few. Red wine. Lager. Prosecco. And sometimes, just sometimes Champagne.
How do you move from research to writing; is it difficult to begin?
I zigzag like a person running away from a crocodile. It is difficult, but probably funny to someone watching it as a meme on the Internet.
As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
I am most embarrassed of writing “User” in red lipstick on an ex-boyfriend’s letterbox. Nothing I have done since has been as naked as that moment. (N.B. I was eighteen yrs old.)
Your views on success?
It looks good. Seriously, success often seems most easily premised on the views of other people and those views aren’t always easy to corral.
Do you write every day? Do you do many drafts?
I write every few days. I think about writing every day. Writing is a vocation that invites superstition: the muse must be summoned, and sometimes jump leads are required. Redrafting is essential, however some part of the original always remains intact too. I think if every word, every sentence is rewritten there’s a joylessness that creeps into the process and is catching. I use Tracked Changes when I write and find it helps me chill the f*cuk out.
What are you working on now?
This year I have been interviewing professional mermaids: Skype to Skype. I am working on a book about the rise of professional mermaids in contemporary culture. It’s also an investigation into Ron Howard’s 1984 movie Splash, freediving, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, sexism, silliness and how mermaids are saving the world.
Your views on book publishing?
Not for the faint-hearted or the money hungry. One big hate: the way data enables everything to be quantified. I am not someone who believes the worth of a book can be truly assessed by its Amazon sales ranking. Ditto anything else.
Do you enjoy reading ebooks?
No. I don’t read ebooks, however I do read online. I still love physical books and can’t figure out if this is generational, or because I am a hoarder, or simply because the book is still the superior design object.
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life? Your views on social media?
Technology is so insidious, it actually creeps in quite naturally and then you can’t imagine things like not having a mobile phone on you 24/7, or not being able to track changes in a word document. Before I wrote on a computer I used Twink to correct my mistakes. I now find it hard to watch or read anything without Wikipedia-ing it at the same time. There’s this desire to know everything and what happens off-screen is often more interesting than on. And that’s our suspicion about technology too isn’t it? That what happens is off-screen is somehow more natural, more “real” than what happens on? Social Media is like bubble wrap: addictive. Infuriating.
What are your favorite literary journals?
I admire The White Review. I read a lot of art magazines like Frieze.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
Studio 54 for one night of . . . champagne.
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Jerry Saltz, Edward Gorey, Cookie Mueller, Max Ernst, and Alice Liddell, the child, who inspired Lewis Carroll.
Your favourite prose authors?
So many. Russell Hoban and Nicholson Baker really get my pleasure principle. Like most Gen X women I owe some kind of psychic debt to Kathy Acker and Chris Kraus, but also to Maurice Gee, Sue Townsend and Jeanette Winterson.
Your heroes in fiction? And in real life?
Adrian Mole because he is an intellectual but at the same time not very clever. Nicki Minaj for singing Anaconda.
What other authors are you friends with? How do they help you become a better writer?
Jenny Downham – she writes for young adults but her sense of plot and cause and effect is a million times sharper than mine. I trust her. I am friends with lots of NZ visual artists including Yvonne Todd and Kushana Bush. Artists have dexterous minds and “see” things really closely.
Your chief characteristic?
Your chief fault?
Your bedside reading?
I have a two year old and read a lot of Meg and Mog picture books (feminist classics from the 1970s), the wonderful Jon Klassen, Wow said the Owl and more. Also I am reading Charlie Fox’s This Young Monster by Fitzcarraldo Editions and H.G. Wells The Invisible Man.
Don’t overthink it.
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