Fatal Flaws and Wild Cards: New Mystery Fiction!

Ready for some New Year mysteries? Look no further than our first booklist for 2020! Top of the pile is The Wild Card by Renée (Ngāti Kahungungu). As Ataria Sharman explains in The Pantograph Punch,  protagonist Ruby Palmer “is no damsel-in-distress. She’s a theatre-stealing, boss ass wahine toa determined to solve the mystery of her friend’s death, even at risk to her own life.”

Also in this month is the fourth book in the Wyndham and Banerjee historical crime series by Abir Mukherjee as well as the second novel by German writer Simone Buchholz to be translated in to English. Enjoy!

The wild card / Renée
“Ruby Palmer has been dealt a rough hand. She was left in a kete at the back door of the Porohiwi Home for Children when she was a baby, and then at seven she discovered that Betty who stopped the bad stuff happening to Ruby at the Home has drowned. Now in her thirties, Ruby suspects her friend was murdered–her only lead is a notebook that uses the symbols on playing cards to tell a story she can’t understand. To discover the truth, Ruby needs to find the wild card, and fast.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

The ashes of London / Taylor, Andrew
“London, 1666. As the Great Fire consumes everything in its path, the body of a man is found in the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral. The son of a traitor, James Marwood is forced to hunt the killer through the city’s devastated streets. There he encounters a determined young woman who will stop at nothing to secure her freedom. When a second murder victim is discovered in the Fleet Ditch, Marwood is drawn into the political and religious intrigue of Westminster – and across the path of a killer with nothing to lose…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Death in the East / Mukherjee, Abir
“1922, India. Leaving Calcutta, Captain Sam Wyndham heads for the hills of Assam, to the ashram of a sainted monk where he hopes to conquer his opium addiction. But when he arrives, he sees a ghost from his life in London – a man thought to be long dead, a man Wyndham hoped he would never see again. Wyndham knows he must call his friend and colleague Sergeant Banerjee for help. He is certain this figure from his past isn’t here by coincidence. He is here for revenge . . .” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Beton Rouge / Buchholz, Simone
On a warm September morning, an unconscious man is found in a cage at the entrance to the offices of one of Germany’s biggest magazines. He’s soon identified as a manager of the company, and he’s been tortured. Three days later, another manager appears in a similar way. Chastity Riley and her new colleague Ivo Stepanovic are tasked with uncovering the truth behind the attacks, an investigation that goes far beyond the revenge they first suspect . . . to the dubious past shared by both victims.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

One fatal flaw / Perry, Anne
“It is 1910 and a fire has left one criminal dead and another charged with murder. Convinced of his innocence, Jessie Beale begs barrister Daniel Pitt to defend him. It’s a hopeless case–unless Daniel can find a witness whose testimony on fire damage is so convincing that any jury would believe him. Daniel’s friend Miriam Croft was taught by forensic scientist Sir Barnabas Saltram, who has built his reputation on giving evidence of this kind. But when Saltram agrees to testify, Daniel starts a chain of devastating events.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Murder fest / Wassmer, Julie
“A local Arts Festival is being held to honour a cultural exchange visit from representatives of Borken – Whitstable’s Twin Town in Germany. Yet very soon, personality clashes surface among the participants; local politicians try to use the festival for their own ends while others jostle for improved billing on the festival programme. Tempers flare, old feuds re-surface and on the eve of the first event, a cryptic message – Murder Fest – is received by the local police.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Fiction New (and Like New!)


The first new books for the year are in! Included in this month’s selection is Becky Manawatu’s debut novel Auē. Auē has been called a “contemporary story of loss, grief and domestic violence – but also of hope” and has been getting some great feedback. Check out RNZ’s interview with Manawatu here, and a preview of the first chapter via The Spinoff here.

Also in: re-releases, including the combined works of Giorgio Bassani with The Novel of Ferrara and the first English language edition of Irina Odoyevtseva’s Isolde. And of course there’s also a great range of page-turning summer reads, including Danielle Steel’s Spy: a Novel and Westwind by Ian Rankin. Enjoy!

Auē / Manawatu, Becky
“Taukiri was born into sorrow. Auē can be heard in the sound of the sea he loves and hates, and in the music he draws out of the guitar that was his father’s. It spills out of the gang violence and the shame he feels about abandoning his eight-year-old brother to another violent home. But Arama is braver than he looks, and he has a friend and his friend has a dog, and the three of them together might just be strong enough to turn back the tide of sorrow.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

The novel of Ferrara / Bassani, Giorgio
“Set in the Italian town of Ferrara, these six interlocking stories present a world of unforgettable characters: the doctor whose homosexuality is tolerated until he is humiliatingly exposed by a scandal; a survivor of the Nazi death camps whose neighbors’ celebration of his return gradually turns to ostracism; a man who has never recovered from the wounds inflicted in youth. Above all, the city itself assumes a character and a voice, deeply inflected by the Jewish community to which the narrator belongs.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

I am God / Sartori, Giacomo
I am God. Have been forever, will be forever. Forever, mind you, with the razor-sharp glint of a diamond, and without any counterpart in the languages of men. So begins God’s diary of the existential crisis that ensues when, inexplicably, he falls in love with a human. And not just any human, but a geneticist and fanatical atheist who’s certain she can improve upon the magnificent creation she doesn’t even give him the credit for. It’s frustrating, for a god…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Westwind / Rankin, Ian
“After his friend suspects something strange going on at the launch facility where they both work–and then goes missing–Martin Hepton doesn’t believe the official line of “long-term sick leave”. He leaves his old life behind, aware that someone is shadowing his every move. The only hope he has is his ex-girlfriend Jill Watson–the only journalist who will believe his story. But neither of them can believe the puzzle they’re piecing together–or just how shocking the secret is that everybody wants to stay hidden…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Hunter’s moon : a novel in stories / Caputo, Philip
Hunter’s Moon is set in Michigan’s wild, starkly beautiful Upper Peninsula, where a cast of recurring characters move into and out of each other’s lives, building friendships, facing loss, confronting violence, trying to bury the past or seeking to unearth it. Once-a-year lovers, old high-school buddies on a hunting trip, a college professor and his wayward son, a middle-aged man and his grief-stricken father, come together, break apart, and, if they’re fortunate, find a way forward.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

This is yesterday / Ruane, Rose
“Alone and adrift in London, Peach is heading into her mid-forties with nothing to show for her youthful promise but a stalled art career and the stopgap job in a Mayfair gallery that she’s somehow been doing for a decade. She is too young to feel this tired, and far too old to feel this lost. When Peach is woken one night with news that her father, who has Alzheimer’s disease, is in intensive care, she can no longer outrun the summer of secrets and sexual awakenings that augured twenty-five years of estrangement from her family.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

In love with George Eliot : a novel / O’Shaughnessy, Kathy
“Marian Evans is a scandalous figure, living in sin with a married man, George Henry Lewes. She has shocked polite society, and women rarely deign to visit her. In secret, though, she has begun writing fiction under the pseudonym George Eliot. As Adam Bede‘s fame grows, curiosity rises as to the identity of its mysterious writer. Gradually it becomes apparent that the moral genius Eliot is none other than the disgraced woman living with Lewes…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

On swift horses / Pufahl, Shannon
“Muriel is newly married and restless, transplanted from her rural Kansas hometown to life in a dusty bungalow in San Diego. She misses her freethinking mother and her sly, itinerant brother-in-law, Julius, who made the world feel bigger than she had imagined. And so she begins slipping off to the Del Mar racetrack to bet and eavesdrop, learning the language of horses and risk. Meanwhile, Julius is testing his fate in Las Vegas, working at a local casino where tourists watch atomic tests from the roof.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Spy : a novel / Steel, Danielle
“At eighteen, Alexandra Wickham is presented to King George V and Queen Mary in an exquisite white lace and satin dress her mother has ordered from Paris. But fate, a world war, and her own quietly rebellious personality lead her down a different path. By 1939, England is at war. Alex makes her way to London as a volunteer in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. But she has skills that draw the attention of another branch of the service. Fluent in French and German, she would make the perfect secret agent…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Isolde / Odoevt︠s︡eva, Irina
“Left to her own devices, fourteen-year-old Russian Liza meets an English boy, Cromwell, on a beach. He thinks he has found a romantic beauty; she is taken with his Buick. Restless, Liza, her brother Nikolai and her boyfriend enjoy Cromwell’s company–until his mother stops giving him money. First published in 1929, Isolde is a startlingly fresh, disturbing portrait of a lost generation of Russian exiles.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Home Fires: Books that Defined a Decade

I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.  — Ta-Nehisi Coates

How do you define a decade–especially one like the 2010s? The past ten years have contained so many political and economic shifts, so many changes in technology and language and beliefs that it seems impossible to sum it all up without leaving out someone–or something–of critical importance. It’s the same when trying to make a list of the decade’s best books: there are so many fantastic titles, so much variety, that twenty works can never do it justice.

Instead, the selection of books below is just one path through the fiction and non-fiction of the past ten years. It has stories of the Great Migration; stories about girls made of sticks; stories of religion (both real and more squiddy); stories of science and history and what’s still to come. So choose a year, choose a book and venture back in time into the strangely familiar world of 2010-2019.

(For more options, check out our alternative Best Books of the Decade, Librarians’ Choice Fiction or Librarians’ Choice Non-Fiction booklists for 2019!)

2010

Kraken / Miéville, China
“Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly preserved, giant squid. But what does it mean when the creature suddenly and impossibly disappears? A dark urban fantasy thriller from one of the all-time masters of the genre. Mieville has won the British Fantasy Award (twice), the Arthur C. Clarke Award (three times), and the Locus Award (four times).” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

The warmth of other suns : the epic story of America’s great migration / Wilkerson, Isabel
“From 1915 to 1970, the exodus of almost six million black citizens changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official records, to write this definitive and vividly dramatic account of how these American journeys unfolded, altering our cities, our country, and ourselves.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

2011

A visit from the Goon Squad / Egan, Jennifer
“Jennifer Egan’s spellbinding interlocking narratives circle the lives of Bennie Salazar, an aging former punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other’s pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail, along with the secret lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs, over many years, in locales as varied as New York, San Francisco, Naples, and Africa.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

In the garden of beasts : love, terror, and an American family in Hitler’s Berlin / Larson, Erik
“Berlin, 1933. William E. Dodd becomes America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s Germany. The ambassador has little choice but to associate with key figures in the Nazi party, and his increasingly concerned cables make little impact on an indifferent US State Department. Meanwhile his daughter is drawn to the young men of the Third Reich, and has a succession of affairs with senior party players…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

2012

The testament of Mary / Tóibín, Colm
“Toibin’s Mary is nothing like you’d expect, especially if your religious views run to the traditional. She doesn’t think Jesus was the Son of God, that his death had any significance, and that the motley men surrounding him (her “keepers” now) are holy disciples. She also blames herself for abandoning her son on the Cross to save her own life. In a voice that is both tender and filled with rage, The Testament of Mary tells the story of a cataclysmic event which led to an overpowering grief.” (Adapetd from the Catalogue)

Names for the sea : strangers in Iceland / Moss, Sarah
“Sarah Moss had a childhood dream of moving to Iceland. In 2009, she saw an advertisement for a job at the University of Iceland and applied on a whim, despite having two young children and a comfortable life in Kent. The resulting adventure was shaped by Iceland’s economic collapse, the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, a woman who speaks to elves and a chef who guided Sarah’s family around the intricacies of Icelandic cuisine.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

2013

The luminaries / Catton, Eleanor
“It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to stake his claim in New Zealand’s booming gold rush. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of 12 local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: a wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous cache of gold has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Going clear : Scientology, Hollywood, and the prison of belief / Wright, Lawrence
“Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with current and former Scientologists and years of archival research, Lawrence Wright uses his extraordinary investigative ability to uncover for us the inner workings of the Church of Scientology. At the book’s centre, two men whom Wright brings vividly to life, showing how they have made Scientology what it is today: L. Ron Hubbard and his successor, David Miscavige.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

2014

Cuckoo song / Hardinge, Frances
“When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out. Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. A breathtakingly dark and twisted tale from award-winning author Frances Hardinge.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

The sixth extinction : an unnatural history / Kolbert, Elizabeth
“Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. But this time around, the cataclysm is us… The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind’s most lasting legacy; as Kolbert observes, it compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

2015

A manual for cleaning women : selected stories / Berlin, Lucia
A Manual for Cleaning Women compiles the best work of the legendary short-story writer Lucia Berlin. With the grit of Raymond Carver, the humor of Grace Paley, and a blend of wit and melancholy all her own, Berlin crafts miracles from the everyday, uncovering moments of grace in the Laundromats and halfway houses of the American Southwest, in the homes of the Bay Area upper class, among switchboard operators and struggling mothers, hitchhikers and bad Christians.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Between the world and me / Coates, Ta-Nehisi
“Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men–bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this history? Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

2016

The vegetarian : a novel / Han, Kang
“Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people, but their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye decides to become a vegetarian. In South Korea, where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is an act of subversion. Her rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre forms, leading her bland husband to acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation, spiralling her further into fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming–impossibly, ecstatically–a tree.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

How to survive a plague : the story of how activists and scientists tamed AIDS / France, David
“This is the story of the men and women who, watching their friends and lovers fall, ignored by the nation at large, and confronted with hatred, chose to fight for their right to live. With unparalleled access, David France illuminates the lives of extraordinary characters, including the closeted Wall Street trader-turned-activist; the high school dropout; the South African physician and the public relations executive.” (Adapetd from the Catalogue)

2017

Home fire / Shamsie, Kamila
“Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings, she is finally studying in America, resuming a dream long deferred. But she can ‘t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London or their brother, Parvaiz, who ‘s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. A contemporary reimagining of Sophocles ‘ Antigone, Home Fire is a compelling story of loyalties torn apart when love and politics collide.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Driving to Treblinka : a long search for a lost father / Wichtel, Diana
“Diana Wichtel was born in Vancouver. Her mother was a New Zealander, her father a Polish Jew who had jumped off a train to the Treblinka death camp. When Diana was 13 she moved to New Zealand with her mother, sister and brother. Her father was to follow. Diana never saw him again. Many years later she sets out to discover what happened to him. This unforgettable narrative is  a reflection on the meaning of family, the trauma of loss, and the insistence of memory.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

2018

Convenience store woman / Murata, Sayaka
“Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction–many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual–and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less…” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Fire and fury : inside the Trump White House / Wolff, Michael
“With extraordinary access to the West Wing, Michael Wolff reveals what happened behind-the-scenes in the first nine months of the most controversial presidency of our time. Since Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, the world has witnessed a stormy, outrageous, and absolutely mesmerizing presidential term that reflects the volatility and fierceness of the man elected Commander-in-Chief.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

2019

Black leopard, red wolf / James, Marlon
“Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter – and he always works alone. But when he is engaged to find a child who disappeared three years ago, he must break his own rules, joining a group of eight very different mercenaries working together to find the boy. Drawing from vivid African history and mythology, Marlon James weaves a saga of breathtaking adventure and powerful intrigue – a mesmerising, unique meditation on the nature of truth and power.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

This land is our land : an immigrant’s manifesto / Mehta, Suketu
“There are few subjects in American life that prompt more discussion and controversy than immigration. But do we really understand it? In This Land Is Our Land, the renowned author Suketu Mehta attacks the issue head-on. Drawing on his own experience as an Indian-born teenager growing up in New York City and on years of reporting around the world, Mehta subjects the worldwide anti-immigrant backlash to withering scrutiny.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Sci-Fi Lord of the Flies: New Science Fiction

Salvation Lost / Peter E. Hamilton

Supernova Era, by Cixin Liu

Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy was one of the most expansive science fiction series in recent years, and this month Liu returns with a brand new epic: The Supernova Era. Liu began writing Supernova Era soon after the political uprising in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 (the book was published in China in 2004 and for the first time in English this year), and perhaps not coincidentally (social upheaval, disillusionment) it tells the story of an Earth that has been stripped of its adult population, leaving only children to try and navigate the future.

This month also sees some great Australian sci-fi, including The Old Lie by Claire G. Coleman and the finale of Jay Kristoff ‘s Nevernight Chronicles. For more on Coleman’s work, check out this recent interview. Enjoy!

Supernova era / Liu, Cixin
“Eight years ago, a star died. Tonight, a supernova tsunami of high energy will finally reach Earth. Dark skies will shine bright and within a year everyone over the age of thirteen will be dead. And so the countdown begins. Parents apprentice their children and try to pass on the knowledge they’ll need to keep the world running. But the last generation may not want to carry the legacy of their parents’ world. And though they imagine a better future, they may not be able to escape humanity’s dark instincts.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Salvation lost / Hamilton, Peter F
“The comparative utopia of twenty-third century Earth is about to go dreadfully awry when a seemingly benign alien race is abruptly revealed to be one of the worst threats humanity has ever faced. Driven by an intense religious extremism, the Olyix are determined to bring everyone to their version of god as they see it. But they may have met their match in humanity, who are not about to go gently into that good night or spend the rest of their days cowering in hiding.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Darkdawn / Kristoff, Jay
“The greatest games in Godsgrave’s history have ended with the most audacious murders in the history of the Itreyan Republic. Mia Corvere, gladiatii, escaped slave and infamous assassin, is on the run. Pursued by Blades of the Red Church and soldiers of the Luminatii legion, she may never escape the City of Bridges and Bones alive. Her mentor is now in the clutches of her enemies. Her own family wishes her dead. And her nemesis, Consul Julius Scaeva, stands but a breath from total dominance.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

A second chance / Taylor, Jodi
“Behind the facade of St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research, a different kind of academic work is taking place. Just don’t call it “time travel”–these historians “investigate major historical events in contemporary time.” And they aren’t your harmless eccentrics; a more accurate description might be unintentional disaster-magnets. The Chronicles of St. Mary’s tells the adventures of Madeleine Maxwell and her compatriots as they travel through time, saving St. Mary’s and thwarting time-travelling terrorists.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

The old lie / Coleman, Claire G
“Shane Daniels and Romany Zetz have been drawn into a war that is not their own. Lives will be destroyed, families will be torn apart. Trust will be broken. When the war is over, some will return to a changed world. Will they discover that glory is a lie?” (Catalogue)

Ten Thousand Doors: New General Fiction

As I continue to write in French, and my books often speak about Madagascar, it has become natural for me to translate. That’s why I consider myself as a bridge between Madagascar and elsewhere — Johary Ravaloson

Madagascar has a long literary history, but until the release of Beyond the Rice Fields in 2017, not a single novel from Madagascar had been translated into English. But things are slowly starting to change, with the recent translation and publication of Johary Ravaloson’s Return to the Enchanted Island, a retelling of the myths the author heard as a child–especially the story of the first man, Ietsy. (For more on Johary Ravaloson, check out this interview.)

Also recently released: Agent Running in the Field by the masterful John Le Carré, The Boyfriend from Wellington’s very own Laura Southgate and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow–described as “a journey through books within books, worlds within worlds, mysteries within mysteries”. Enjoy!

Inland / Obreht, Téa
“Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life – her husband who has gone in search of water and her elder sons who have vanished after an argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home, and her husband’s seventeen-year-old cousin, who communes with spirits. Inland showcases Tea Obreht’s talents as a writer as she re-imagines the myths of the American West.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Agent running in the field / Le Carré, John
“Nat, a 47 year-old veteran of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, believes his years as an agent runner are over. He is back in London with his wife, the long-suffering Prue. But with the growing threat from Moscow Centre, the office has one more job for him. Nat is to take over The Haven, a defunct substation of London General with a rag-tag band of spies. The only bright light on the team is young Florence, who has her eye on Russia Department and a Ukrainian oligarch with a finger in the Russia pie.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The boyfriend / Southgate, Laura
“Erica is 17 and in her last year of high school. Donny is 42 and everywhere – in her yoga class, at German Club, in her parents’ spare room . . . The story of a young woman who finds herself subject to the gravitational field of a charismatic man, The Boyfriend is a cautionary tale about blindly accepting traditional ‘love’ narratives. This clear-eyed, dismaying and often hilarious examination of sexual desire, trauma and growth is a remarkable debut and a perfect novel for our time.” (Catalogue)

Return to the enchanted island / Ravaloson, Johary
“Named after the first man at the creation of the world in Malagasy mythology, Ietsy Razak was raised to perpetuate the glory of his namesake and expected to be as illuminated as his Great Ancestor. But in the chaos of modernity, his young life is marked only by restlessness. When an unexpected tragedy ships him off to a boarding school in France, his trip to the big city is no hero’s journey. Only a return to the “Enchanted Island,” as Madagascar is lovingly known, helps Ietsy stumble toward his destiny.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Find me / Aciman, André
“In Find Me, Aciman shows us Elio’s father, Samuel, on a trip from Florence to Rome to visit Elio, who has become a gifted classical pianist. A chance encounter on the train with a beautiful young woman upends Sami’s plans and changes his life forever. Elio soon moves to Paris, where he, too, has a consequential affair, while Oliver, now a New England college professor with a family, suddenly finds himself contemplating a return trip across the Atlantic.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The Irish princess / Chadwick, Elizabeth
“Ireland, 1152. The King of Lenister, awaiting news of his newborn child, is disappointed to hear he has a daughter. Diarmait MacMurchada wanted another strapping son to shoulder a spear, wield a sword, and protect his kingdom. But the moment Diarmait holds tiny Aoife in his arms, he realised she would be his most precious treasure. Forced into exile, Aoife and her family find themselves at the mercy of Henry II. Aoife – aware of her beauty but not its power – intrigues and beguiles Henry in equal measure…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The butterfly girl / Denfeld, Rene
“Naomi Cottle is an investigator who finds missing children. But the one child she has never been able to find is her sister. Now, twenty years later, there is at long last a clue that her sister might still be alive. Celia is a street child. Her life is tough and she has seen more things that any child should. Street children have been going missing and the town has been turning a blind eye. It is only when Naomi turns up that they find someone who will listen to them. And someone who might give them hope.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

A modern family / Flatland, Helga
“When Liv, Ellen, and H kon, along with their partners and children, arrive in Rome to celebrate their father’s 70th birthday, a quiet earthquake occurs: their parents have decided to divorce. Shocked and disbelieving, the siblings try to come to terms with their parents’ decision as it echoes through the homes they have built for themselves, and forces them to reconstruct the shared narrative of their childhood and family history.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Albert Einstein speaking / Gadney, Reg
“From a wrong number to a friendship that would impact both their lives, this begins with two unlikely friends – the world’s most respected scientist and a schoolgirl from New Jersey. From their first conversation Mimi Beaufort had a profound effect on Einstein and brought him, in his final years, back to life. In turn he let her into his world. This riotous, charming and moving novel spans almost a century of European history and shines a light on the real man behind the myth.” (Catalogue)

The ten thousand doors of January / Harrow, Alix E
“In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place. Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Stories Below Sea Level: Climate Authors in Aotearoa

men say that one day
that lagoon will devour you”

dear matafele peinam, by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

Up until surprisingly recently, climate change was a neglected topic in the world of fiction. Environmentalist Bill McKibben addressed this in his 2006 essay What the Warming World Needs Now is Art, Sweet Art, pointing out the lack of impact climate change had had on fiction and art compared to previous societal challenges.

However over the last few years things have changed: books focussing on the climate emergency are being published faster than ever, including in New Zealand. Authors have taken up McKibben’s challenge to use fiction to examine the changing world around us, to spur us into action. This undertaking has extended to organisations such as Track Zero and Verb Wellington, both of which have promoted the transformational power of literature.

Yet despite climate change’s more prominent role in local fiction, another question stands out: exactly whose climate stories are being published–and whose aren’t? As Lani Wendt Young recently pointed out, in 2015 only one percent of fiction published in New Zealand was written by Pasifika writers, and only four percent by Māori. And yet Māori and Pasifika communities are disproportionately affected by climate change.

Over the next few weeks Wellington City Libraries will be releasing a series of interviews with publishers, editors and authors whose work has addressed the climate emergency in Aotearoa and the Pacific. Their work spans different genres, languages and formats, but all of them tackle climate change and its complexities. To get things started we’ve got a booklist of local climate fiction and non-fiction for you to browse–and if there’s an author or work you’d like to see included, please let us know!


Where we land / Jones, Tim
“A New Zealand Navy frigate torpedoes a boat full of refugees fleeing a drowning country and Nasimul Rahman is one of the few survivors. First he has to reach the shore alive and then he has to avoid the trigger-happy Shore Patrol, on alert to stop climate change refugees entering the country. Donna is new to the Patrol. When word comes through that the Navy has sunk a ship full of infiltrators and survivors might be making their way ashore, it sounds like she might be put to the test.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Melt / Murray, Jeff
“This novel is an urgent, crushing observation of adaptation and exclusion amidst preparation to settle Antarctica as climate destruction starts to bite. New Zealand in 2048, gateway to the melting continent, is thrust into the centre of the climate crises. Vai Shuster, the Advocate of a tiny, broken island, must find a place for her community in a world that’s not sure it needs the poor.” (Catalogue)

So many islands : stories from the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans
“Giving voice to challenges and triumphs, these writers paint a vibrant portrait of what it is like to live, love and lose the things most precious to them on the small islands they call home. Voicing global issues such as climate change and nuclear testing in the Pacific – a fight close to the heart of these precariously poised islands – to petty politics and the gaps between generations, readers will find universal connections with these worlds and words.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

High water
“Eleven of New Zealand’s best cartoonists take a speculative stab at the looming threat of climate change in this thoughtful, provoking and sometimes hilarious collection. With tales ranging from washed-up celebrity polar bears, to giant post-apocalyptic crabs, High Water takes the reader on a thrilling romp through one of the most important issues of our time. Contributors include Dylan Horrocks, Sarah Laing, Chris Slane and many others.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Sea change : climate politics and New Zealand / Hayward, Bronwyn
“The scientific consensus is clear: our climate is changing and action is needed urgently. Yet at the same time, it can seem that the solutions needed are too large and the problem too insurmountable. Bronwyn Hayward is an international expert on sustainability, youth politics and democracy. In Sea Change: Climate Politics and New Zealand she lays out what New Zealand and New Zealanders could do to keep the average global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Ruby and the blue sky / Dewar, Katherine
“Grammy night: Ruby wins ‘Best Song’ and makes an impulsive acceptance speech that excites nature lovers across the world. While Ruby and her band celebrate, an extreme evangelical sect, funded by covert paymasters, dispatches a disciple on a ruthless mission to England. As the band plays its sold-out tour, Ruby is pursued by eco-groupies insisting she use her new fame to fight climate change. Back home, Ruby must confront a challenge not even tea, beer or her mum’s veggie lasagne will make go away…” (Catalogue)

Star sailors / McNaughton, James
“In the not too distant future, the effects of climate change devastate the world and New Zealand becomes a haven for elites. When a young couple from the wrong side of the tracks gain entry into Wellington’s most exclusive gated community, it appears their troubles are over. But they find themselves divided over the identity of Sam Starsailor, an alien prophet who has washed up on a beach near New Hokitika and is said to bring warnings from another planet.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Towards a warmer world : what climate change will mean for New Zealand’s future / Meduna, Veronika
“The year 2014 was the hottest on record since we’ve begun collecting global temperature measurements in 1880. As new thresholds are breached, acclaimed RNZ science writer Veronika Meduna explores our future in a warmer world. Beginning with lessons from our ancient geological past, this BWB Text draws on current observations and increasingly sophisticated climate models to describe possible end-of-century scenarios for New Zealand.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Mistory : a novel / Temple, Philip
“Following Annie’s strange death, her partner is forced to think about what he has allowed to happen to his life, his community and his country. His diary, kept during the year of The Change, reveals how the example Annie left him, and the mission of his young sister Sophie, drive him to escape the life of a bureaucratic cipher and work with the Movement in its fight to bring back a free and fair way of life.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

He Matapihi Molesworth Library: Aotearoa Fiction

He Matapihi Molesworth Library, our brand new space in the National Library, has opened to the public! He Matapihi has a fantastic lending collection focussed on works from Aotearoa, including Māori and Māori local history, biography, Te Reo, art and architecture, natural history, general history and social comment–and, of course, fiction!

To celebrate this exciting new collection we thought we’d put together a list of some of our favourite local fiction, from recent releases such as Elizbeth Knox’s The Absolute Book and Jeff Murray’s cli-fi Melt to classics such as Robin Hyde’s visceral Passport to Hell. And with hundreds of fiction titles on the shelves at He Matapihi, there are plenty more to choose from. Enjoy!

Absolute book / Knox, Elizabeth
“Taryn Cornick believes that the past is behind her – her sister’s death by violence, and her own ill-concieved revenge. She has chosen to live a life more professional than personal. She has written a book about the things that threaten libraries – insects, damp, light, fire, carelessness and uncaring. The book is a success, but not all of the attention it brings her is good. There are questions about a fire in the library at Princes Gate, her grandparents’ house, and about an ancient scroll box known as the Firestarter . . .” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The imaginary lives of James Pōneke / Makereti, Tina
The candle is low. Tomorrow I will see whether it is my friends or a ship homewards I meet. But first I must finish my story for you. My future, my descendant, my mokopuna. Listen? So begins the tale of James Poneke–orphaned son of a chief; ardent student of English; wide-eyed survivor. All the world’s a stage, especially when you’re a living exhibit. But anything can happen to a young New Zealander on the savage streets of Victorian London.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Melt / Murray, Jeff
“This novel is an urgent, crushing observation of adaptation and exclusion amidst preparation to settle Antarctica as climate destruction starts to bite. New Zealand in 2048, gateway to the melting continent, is thrust into the centre of the climate crises. Vai Shuster, the Advocate of a tiny, broken island, must find a place for her community in a world that’s not sure it needs the poor.” (Catalogue)

Passport to hell : the story of James Douglas Stark, Bomber, Fifth Reinforcement, New Zealand Expeditionary Forces / Hyde, Robin
“Finding himself in early trouble with the law, the young James ‘Starkie’ tricked his way into a draft in 1914 by means of a subterfuge involving whisky and tea. Hyde portrays a man carousing in the brothels of Cairo and the estaminets of Flanders; attempting to shoot a sergeant through a lavatory door in a haze of absinthe, yet carrying his wounded captain back across No Man’s Land; a man recommended for the V.C. but also subject to nine court martials.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

A madness of sunshine / Singh, Nalini
“On the West Coast of New Zealand, Golden Cove is more than just a town. The adults are more than neighbors; the children, more than schoolmates. That is until one fateful summer–and several vanished bodies–shatters the trust holding Golden Cove together. All that’s left are whispers behind closed doors, broken friendships, and a silent agreement not to look back. But they can’t run from the past forever. It’s not long before the dark past collides with the haunting present and deadly secrets come to light.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The cleaner / Cleave, Paul
“The city is sweating over the Christchurch Carver’s seven gruesome murders. But Joe, who works for the police, knows that one is a copycat murder, and he determines to find that killer and frame him for the other six deaths. Joe is in control of everything in his simple life, including both his day job at the police department and his . . . night work.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

False river : stories, essays, secret histories / Morris, Paula
“Fictional characters muse upon the truth behind real people, non-fiction pieces contain short interludes of fiction, fiction is written to read like an essay, made-up elements slip into true accounts. These pieces range the world, from America, to Antwerp to Aoteoroa, and talk about writers, famous figures, family members, witch-burning, cyclones and numerous pertinent and stimulating topics.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Marlborough man / Carter, Alan
“Nick Chester is working as a sergeant for the Havelock police in the Marlborough Sound. If the river isn’t flooded, it’s paradise – unless you are also hiding from a ruthless man with a grudge, in which case, remote beauty has its own kind of danger. In the last couple of weeks, two local boys have vanished. Their bodies are found, but the Pied Piper is still at large. Marlborough Man is a gripping story about the hunter and the hunted, and about what happens when evil takes hold of a small town.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Chappy / Grace, Patricia
“Uprooted from his European life and sent to New Zealand, 21-year-old Daniel pieces together the history of his Māori family. As his relatives revisit their past, Daniel learns of a love story between his Māori grandmother Oriwia and his Japanese grandfather Chappy. The more Daniel hears about his deceased grandfather, the more intriguing Chappy becomes. In this touching portrayal of family life, acclaimed writer Patricia Grace explores racial intolerance, cross-cultural conflicts and the universal desire to belong.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Rotoroa / Head, Amy
“On tiny, isolated Rotoroa Island in the Hauraki Gulf is a treatment facility for alcoholic men. It’s here that three characters at very different points in their lives will find themselves gathered, each for reasons of their own. There is Katherine, known to history as Elsie K. Morton, famous journalist and author; Jim, a sleepless alcoholic; and Lorna, a teenage mother who joins the Salvation Army looking for a fresh start. As the stories of their lives are revealed, so too are their hopes and vulnerabilities.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Verb Wellington 2019: Librarians’ Choice!

When it began life in 2014, Verb Wellington (then LitCrawl) featured 15 literary events across a single night in November. Six years on, things have changed! This highlight of the capital’s creative calendar runs for a full four days, with writers from Aotearoa and around the world packing into shops, bars, libraries, galleries and more to listen to–and take part in–a range of exciting literary events.

To help you navigate these authorial riches, we’ve put together a librarians’ choice of Verb Wellington events. And if you need to do some reading before heading along, never fear–we’ve got links to the books associated with each event as well! So whether you like discovering the luxurious yet desolate apartments of post-recession Iceland or Tinakori Road in the ’60s–or anything else!–Verb Wellington has got you covered. (And for bonus reading, check out our curated list of Verb Wellington eBooks here!)

Monty’s Pick:

Going to Custard: High Tea with Danielle Hawkins and Catherine Robertson.

The pair of best-selling Aotearoa writers sit down and tuck in to talk about how they draw upon life to spin into stories for their beautifully Kiwi pages.

When it all went to custard / Hawkins, Danielle
“The news of Jenny’s husband’s infidelity comes as a nasty shock to the part-time building control officer and full-time mother – even though, to her surprise, her first reaction is relief. What really hurts is her children’s unhappiness at the break-up, and the growing realisation that she may lose the family farm. This is the story of the year after Jenny’s old life falls apart; of family and farming, pet lambs and geriatric dogs, choko-bearing tenants and Springsteen-esque neighbours. And of getting a second chance.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

What you wish for / Robertson, Catherine
“Dr Ashwin Ghadavi, the newly imported GP, is trying hard to fit into Gabriel’s Bay. His challenges include the immoveable force of his office manager, Mac, the ambiguities of the Kiwi idiom and his unrequited attraction to Mac’s daughter, Emma. Having returned home, Emma is on a mission to right eco wrongs, and her targets include local farmer Vic Halsworth, who’s already neck deep in the proverbial and, to make matters worse, seems to be having visions of moose.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Fiona’s Pick:

Val McDermid: Queen of Crime with Val McDermid and Noelle McCarthy.

Val joins RNZ’s Noelle McCarthy for a discussion about her latest books: the beautiful My Scotland, an ode to the Scotland in her stories and what those places mean to her, and the rather more bloody, How the Dead Speak.

My Scotland / McDermid, Val
“In My Scotland, number one bestselling author Val McDermid takes readers to the landscapes where she has lived all her life, and the places where her stories and characters reside. Accompanied by over 100 stunning photographs, this remarkable book uncovers Val’s own Scotland in all its glory – from the iconic Isle of Skye to the majestic streets of Edinburgh; from the undiscovered hideaways of the Highlands to the wild and untamed Jura.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

How the dead speak / McDermid, Val
“After an explosive case that forced Tony Hill and Carol Jordan to reassess everything they thought they knew about right and wrong, both are dealing with the fallout in their own separate ways. While Tony must pay the price for his actions, Carol is conducting investigations into suspected miscarriages of justice. But when a shocking discovery is made on a construction site, Tony and Carol are brought into each other’s orbit once again…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Cathy’s Pick:

Lit-Sync For Your Life 2019 curated by Chris Tse.

Six of Wellington’s most dynamic and fearless drag performers will shablam the house down in a literary drag show celebrating New Zealand books and writers.

He’s so MASC / Tse, Chris
He’s So MASC confronts a contemporary world of self-loathing poets and compulsive liars, of youth and sexual identity, and of the author as character–pop star, actor, hitman, and much more. These are poems that delve into worlds of hyper-masculine romanticism and dancing alone in night clubs. With it’s many modes and influences, He’s So MASC is an acerbic, acid-bright, yet unapologetically sentimental and personal reflection on what it means to perform and dissect identity.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

How to be dead in a year of snakes / Tse, Chris
“In 1905, white supremacist Lionel Terry murdered the Cantonese gold prospector Joe Kum Yung to draw attention to his crusade to rid New Zealand of Chinese and other east Asian immigrants. Author Chris Tse uses this story–and its reenactment for a documentary a hundred years later–to reflect on the experiences of Chinese migrants of the period, their wishes and hopes, their estrangement and alienation, their ghostly reverberation through a white-majority culture.” (Adapted from the Catalogue)

Neil’s Pick:

For the Love of the Library with Laurinda Thomas, Bee Trudgeon, Jackson Nieuwland and Elizabeth Knox.

Three librarians discuss, with Elizabeth Knox, what they value most about their work, their workplace and how they see the libraries of the future for Aotearoa.

The absolute book / Knox, Elizabeth
“Taryn Cornick believes that the past is behind her – her sister’s death by violence, and her own ill-concieved revenge. She has chosen to live a life more professional than personal. She has written a book about the things that threaten libraries – insects, damp, light, fire, carelessness and uncaring. The book is a success, but not all of the attention it brings her is good. There are questions about a fire in the library at Princes Gate, her grandparents’ house, and about an ancient scroll box known as the Firestarter.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Wake / Knox, Elizabeth
“One sunny spring morning the Tasman Bay settlement of Kahukura is overwhelmed by a mysterious mass insanity. A handful of survivors find themselves cut off from the world, and surrounded by the dead. As they try to take care of one another, and survive in ever more difficult circumstances, it becomes apparent that this isn’t the first time that this has happened, and that they aren’t all survivors and victims—two of them are something quite other.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Paul’s Pick:

Growing up Wāhine Māori with Nadine Anne Hura, Patricia Grace and Tayi Tibble.

Nadine Anne Hura talks with one of our greatest writers Patricia Grace, and powerhouse of poetry, Tayi Tibble, about the ways that being a Māori woman has influenced their written worlds.

Chappy / Grace, Patricia
“Uprooted from his privileged European life and sent to New Zealand to sort himself out, 21-year-old Daniel pieces together the history of his Maori family. As his relatives revisit their past, Daniel learns of a remarkable love story between his Maori grandmother Oriwia and his Japanese grandfather Chappy. The more Daniel hears about his deceased grandfather, the more intriguing and elusive Chappy becomes.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Poūkahangatus / Tibble, Tayi
“This collection speaks about beauty, activism, power and popular culture with compelling guile, a darkness, a deep understanding and sensuality. It dives through noir, whakama and kitsch and emerges dripping with colour and liquor. There’s whakapapa, funk (in all its connotations) and fetishisation. The poems map colonisation of many kinds through intergenerational, indigenous domesticity, sex, image and disjunction.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Spores, Don’t Even Breathe: our interview with Douglas Parker – Part Two

We recently had the pleasure of a surprise visit from Wellington-born writer Douglas Parker. His book Spores, Don’t Even Breathe has been gathering some fabulous reviews from readers: as one said, “A cracking good read–easy yet gripping”. It’s always good to see a new author emerge, and when we heard that NaNoWriMo had been a key part of his creative journey to publication we just couldn’t resist an interview. So here for your delight, edification and enjoyment is part two of our interview with Douglas Parker (for part one, please click here).

Could you tell us a little about the publishing process and how you went about getting Spores out into the public domain once you’d finished writing it?

My wife very kindly took on the job of getting the book published. She found an agent with ties to both New Zealand and the United States. He took us through the editing process and presented the book to publishers in New York.

It was accepted by the editors at two publishers, but rejected by the marketing department at both of them. Apparently it didn’t neatly fit into any of their categories. This was a few years back and the ‘science thriller’ genre was new.

After this we decided to self-publish. This is very easy to do these days, but not necessarily easy to do well. We used a professional service to do the layout for Kindle and published only a purely electronic version at first.

After we did this, a lot of readers told us they’d prefer a physical book, so we released a print version using Amazon’s print on demand service.

How did you go about setting up publicity and events for Spores, Don’t Even Breathe?

We’ve only done two events. The first was a launch party which was held at Ekor Bookshop on College Street. We chose it as a location because it’s a nicely designed space, and about the right size for the number of people we were expecting.

Ekor were very supportive, advertising the event to their client base and putting Spores on their shelves. I gave a talk and signed books, which seems to be the standard for a book launch. It was a lot of fun and certainly helped me to feel like a ‘real’ author.

The second event was attending the New Zealand Book Festival in Auckland. This is an annual event where New Zealand authors can sell directly to the public. It was a great to be able talk to readers directly, tell them about my story and get their immediate feedback. Nothing teaches faster than the look of enthusiasm or disappointment on someone’s face when you tell them about your story.

Beyond that we’ve mostly stuck to social media for marketing, mostly because the book is available online in both electronic and physical formats. More on that below . . .

You describe Spores, Don’t Even Breathe as a science thriller. Could you describe the attributes that make a book a science thriller as opposed to a thriller or science fiction?

I think of science fiction as being speculative. It explores alternative worlds where the science and technology are radically different to those we have today, or have had in the past.

A science thriller is based in the present and has a strong science element. However the science is contemporary, which allows the story to explore its impact on the world the reader inhabits.

Of course, one of the problems with contemporary science and technology is that they change rapidly. If I was writing Spores today, I’d need to include references to CRISPR technology, which didn’t exist when I was working on the first draft.

What was it about the genre of science thriller that drew you to it?

I fell into this genre by accident more than anything. I have a science background, and so with ‘spores’ as the topic it was natural for me to write about it from a scientific perspective. It was only after the novel was finished that I started to think about what genre it might fit into.

How do you use social media to promote yourself, your work and Spores, Don’t Even Breathe?

I have a website hosted through WordPress and a Facebook page. My wife manages these and is constantly prompting me for interesting items to post. Well, constantly prompting me for any items to post, I’m afraid I’m not the best at coming up with new material for the feed.

The difficulty with social media is that there is a lot to learn if its going to be used well, and it changes very rapidly. So we seem to always be in catch-up mode. Still, we know a lot more than we did at the start, and when the next book comes along we’ll be much better at getting the message out there.

Are you planning something new?

Still in the planning stages. I’ve decided to set the next novel in Wellington. I’ve always loved the landscape and it is going to feature heavily in the story, along with the weather. To me this is an important part of the city’s unique character – beautiful at times, unruly and threatening at others. A nice dramatic backdrop to the unfolding story.

There will again be a strong science element, along with a dark family history. Beyond that, you’ll have to wait . . .

Would you use the same NaMoWriMo 30 day approach?

I will definitely use the NaNoWriMo approach again, although I will probably commit to more than the 30 days. I wasn’t able to finish in 30 days last time, despite exceeding the fifty-thousand word limit. So next time I plan on giving myself three months to complete a full first draft.

I find the idea of finishing very motivating, but it will be interesting to see if I can sustain the required intensity for that long.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

I really like the early short stories of William Gibson. They present a plausible near future, where science and technology has advanced, but not so far that it isn’t believable. These stories are nearly 40 years old now, but the world comes closer to their future every day. Russia’s use of social media to interfere in U.S. elections being an example.

For me, the power of this writing is that it presents this technological future without any particular moral judgement. The characters use advanced technology to meet their typically human needs – love, greed, revenge, etc. It isn’t presented as a good or a bad outcome, just an inevitable one.

In Conversation: an Interview with Liz Nugent!

It’s not every day you get to interview one of Ireland’s most successful thriller writers, but with the acclaimed Liz Nugent on her way to Aotearoa we were lucky enough to get the chance! Since the publication of Liz’s debut novel Unravelling Oliver in 2013, she has released two more fantastic psychological thrillers that examine the inner workings of some unforgettable and disturbing characters. Liz has also won four Irish Book Awards, with her second novel Lying in Wait voted Readers’ Choice for the famed Richard and Judy Book Club.

Even more exciting: on Thursday, 3 October at Karori Library you, too, can join Liz for a special (and free!) event as she chats to Wellington writer Kirsten McDougall about turning to psychological thrillers after a career in Irish radio and television, and the art of getting inside the heads of monstrous characters. So join us on Thursday, 3 October for Liz’s only Wellington event!

When: Thursday, 3 October
Where: Karori Library
What time: 6.30pm – 7.45pm

In previous interviews you’ve mentioned your focus on ‘explaining but not condoning’ the extreme or horrific actions your characters take. Could you talk more about your approach with this? (And have you had any interesting responses from readers in regards to your characters?)

I like to get under the skin of my sociopathic protagonists and figure out what makes them tick. I want to know their triggers and their motivations for committing heinous acts. And I find that easier to do when I write from their point of view because people will always justify their actions no matter how bad they are. How often have we heard ‘she made me do it’ as an excuse? The provocations are real to them so while I absolutely do not condone their terrible behaviour, I think I understand it. Readers have a very mixed reaction to this. Some will have sympathy for the murderer while some will absolutely hate him/her. But I leave it ambiguous in the books. It’s up to the reader to decide whether it was nature or nurture that made the character the way he/she is!

I really like your description of hearing the short story that Unravelling Oliver is based on being read aloud by actor Barry McGovern. How do you think this ‘reading aloud’ process influenced your writing–and have you used it with subsequent works?

I wrote this short story called Alice in 2006 and made it to the shortlist, and because of that, it got broadcast on national radio. I have a background in theatre so I asked if Barry could be the reader. He is such a good actor that he brought the character of Oliver to life for me, and that gave me the impetus to go on and develop that short story into a book. I haven’t done that with other characters but when I’m writing, I think of certain actors in my head who would be right for the role and how they might play them. It’s a weird way of writing, but it works for me!

What has been your experience of teaching creative writing masterclasses like the one you’ll be running at Celtic Noir? Is there any specific advice you’d give to someone interested in writing psychological thrillers?

I’ve taught the class I’ll be teaching in Dunedin three or four times in Ireland and the feedback is pretty good. I take a very informal approach. We should have a bit of fun when we’re learning so hopefully, I’ll get to know a bit about the students too. It is very relaxed, and as I’m using the work of Vince Gilligan, who created Breaking Bad, it will be hugely entertaining.

Pschological thriller writers should go back and read the works of Daphne du Maurier, Patricia Highsmith, and Barbara Vine. They really are the masters (mistresses) of the genre.

What is your sense of the thriller genre and crime fiction at the moment, both globally and in Ireland?

I have a feeling that the incredible growth in popularity has to do with the current political climate. Nothing seems fair in the world right now. In Ireland and elsewhere, we look to Jacinda Ardern as a great political leader and while I’m sure not every Kiwi is happy with her, she conducts herself with grace and dignity. In Ireland, we are geographically caught between the UK and the USA, both currently being governed by pathological liars and buffoons. When people like that get into positions of huge power, it makes for a very unjust society. That’s why I think crime fiction is booming because at least, usually, the bad guy gets caught in the end.

Would you be interested in adapting your own work for either television or film?

I am currently just finishing a short film I have written based on a story I wrote many years ago. It’s going into production very soon so I’m pretty excited about that.

My first novel has been optioned for the screen by Leonardo di Caprio’s production company in LA. It would change my life if that got made but I’m realistic enough to know that it may never happen. Books get optioned all the time and never turn into films. I can dream, though.

You’ll be in New Zealand for the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival (as well as other events, including here in Wellington!). Do you have any other writerly–or not so writerly–plans while you’re here?

I’ve got events in Auckland, Nelson, Rotorua, Wellington and Dunedin and I’m really looking forward to meeting writers Amy Ridout, Kirsten McDougall, Fiona Sussman, Dame Fiona Kidman, Liam McIlvanny, Adrian McKinty, Vanda Symon and Zoe Rankin. Also looking forward very much to meeting readers and booksellers. I love bookshops and libraries so I’ll certainly be visiting plenty of those on my way from north to south.

Not so writerly, the scenery, the wineries and watching the water going anti-clockwise down the plughole! Also, I want to see the haka close up. My husband is travelling with me and I know the Rugby World Cup is on while we’re there, so we’ll be on three time zones: New Zealand, Ireland and Japan.