Creating a Martian colony

Mars has become a kind of mythic arena onto which we have projected our Earthly hopes and fears.”
– Carl Sagan

Fiction writers since the days of Edgar Rice Burroughs have speculated on what or who might live on Mars, and how humans might fare together or alone in a new environment. Current space-faring aspirations have inspired various nations to investigate the ‘red planet’, from the NASA Mars rover — your name could make the interplanetary voyage — to the UAE Hope probe due to launch next year. Chinese students can experience life on a Martian base in the Gobi desert as China prepares an orbiter and rover for the 2020 launch window.

For the rest of us, interplanetary exploration is only a page turn away, with a heady mix of nostalgia, fast-paced action, intrigue and Martian terrain that is envisioned from the lush to the inhospitably harsh. Simon Morden’s sequel to One Way continues a thrilling science fiction series that places convicts on the red planet’s surface. The Arabella of Mars series by David D. Levine is a space opera nostalgia package bedecked with regency props, political intrigue and a swashbuckling heroine. And Richard K Morgan’s Thin Air dives into corruption and kidnapping in a vividly rendered Martian outpost. Something for all tastes in these voyages of the imagination. Enjoy!


Lost Mars : stories from the golden age of the red planet
“Since the 1880s, after an astronomer first described “channels” on the surface of Mars, writers have been fascinated with the planet, endlessly speculating on what life on Mars might look like and what might happen should we make contact with the planet’s inhabitants. This wonderful collection offers ten wildly imaginative short stories from the golden age of science fiction by such classic sci-fi writers as H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, and J. G. Ballard, as well as hard-to-find stories by unjustly forgotten writers from the genre.” (Catalogue)

No way / Morden, Simon
“In this sequel to the unnerving One Way, Frank Kitteridge, who’s been abandoned on Mars by the unscrupulous builders of the first base there, learns that survivors at another base are itching to exploit him for all he’s worth. To get back home, he must fight back now.” (Catalogue)

Arabella the traitor of Mars / Levine, David D.
“At last husband and wife, Arabella and Captain Singh seem to have earned the attention of great men, ones who have new uses in mind for the Mars Company captain and his young wife. Both Company and Crown have decided that it is time to bring Mars into the folds of Empire, and they think Singh is the perfect man to do it. Now, Arabella must decide between staying loyal to the man she loves and the country of her father or betraying all that she has known to fight alongside the Martians in a hopeless resistance against the Galaxy’s last remaining superpower.” (Catalogue)

Overdrive coverA Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs (ebook)
This science fiction planetary romance, packed full of dangerous feats and swordplay, is set on a dying Mars. Civil War veteran John Carter is unexpectedly transported to Barsoom, the planet we call Mars, and finds with the weaker gravity that he has super-human strength. In combat he finds respect and belonging with the Tharks, an aggressive race of green four-armed nomads. But when the Tharks capture the human-like Dejah Thoris, Carter feels the need to help this beautiful princess of Mars.” (Overdrive description)

Thin air / Morgan, Richard K.
“An ex-corporate enforcer, Hakan Veil, is forced to bodyguard Madison Madekwe, part of a colonial audit team investigating a disappeared lottery winner on Mars. But when Madekwe is abducted, and Hakan nearly killed, the investigation takes him farther and deeper than he had ever expected. And soon Hakan discovers the heavy price he may have to pay to learn the truth.” (Catalogue)

Retrograde / Cawdron, Peter
“Mankind has long dreamed of reaching out to live on other planets, and with the establishment of the Mars Endeavour colony, that dream has become reality. The fledgling colony consists of 120 scientists, astronauts, medical staff, and engineers. Buried deep underground, they’re protected from the harsh radiation that sterilizes the surface of the planet. The colony is prepared for every eventuality except one–what happens when disaster strikes Earth?” (Catalogue)

Red rising / Brown, Pierce
“Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. He works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations. But they have been betrayed. Darrow discovers that vast cities and sprawling parks cover the planet, and Reds are nothing more than slaves to the decadent Gold ruling caste. Now he will sacrifice everything and stop at nothing to bring down his enemies.” (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.

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

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 one of our interview with Douglas Parker. Enjoy!

You finished your first draft of the novel in 30 days based on the “No plot, no worries” approach and were involved with NaMoWriMo (which Wellington City Libraries is also involved in). Could you elaborate on the process and advantages of writing so quickly?

I had always wanted to write a novel, but I assumed I would have to dedicate myself to it exclusively, and for a long time. A mortgage, full time job, and family commitments prevented that.

Then I happened across the NaNoWriMo book, No Plot, No Problem. With its promise of completing a first draft in 30 days it was too good to ignore. In the book I found a no-nonsense, practical approach that was clearly based on years of experience. Thousands of people had done this already, so why not me?

The thing that attracted me most to the NaNoWriMo approach was its determinedly anti-perfectionist stance. The book has many practical tips about writing, and writing fast. But for me the best piece of advice was “don’t get it right, get it written!” Accepting at the start that whatever I wrote, I knew it needed to be worked on after the 30 days were up.

This had the wonderful effect of freeing me from worrying that my writing might not be ‘good enough’. Whenever my mind wandered in that direction, I could remind myself that all I had to do was be creative and write something. I could decide later if it was any good or not.

The NaNoWriMo challenge was to complete a 50,000 word first draft in 30 days. At the end of the 30 days I had 65,000 words, but I was nowhere near the end of the story. So I’d succeeded on one measure, but failed on the other.

Family and friends were very supportive, but when the 30 days were up, they deserved some attention. So I continued to work at a slower pace and after three months I reached the end of my first draft.

My wife was the first person to read it. She disappeared for a whole day and on returning announced “It’s just like a real book!” I took that as a compliment, I’d been trying to write a real book, and perhaps I’d succeeded.

Could you perhaps go way back and tell us about the creative origins of Spores, Don’t Even Breathe?

My wife grew up in California, a hot and dry climate. She loves New Zealand, but to her it seems cold and damp. She often comments on the mildew, and I will often reply with comments like “watch out for the spores!” So when I was looking for a topic, spores were one of the first things that came to mind.

We had also recently been through the bird flu ‘epidemic’. This was accompanied by a lot of misinformation in the news media and a good dose of outright fear-mongering from them, politicians and businesses with products to sell.

If you want to manipulate people, fear is a powerful tool. What could be scarier than invisible spores, floating in the air. To catch them, all you have to do is breathe.

As for my characters, I adopted the NaNoWriMo approach and largely left them up to chance. I only made broad decisions about them before I started to write them in. My main goal was to make the story interesting. A novel is entertainment more than anything else.

I decided on small town U.S.A. for a setting and the Chief of Police for my main character. When folks start dyin’ of them spores, well the Chief of Police has got to be involved. I made the chief a woman, simply because I thought that would be more interesting than yet another story about men running around and saving the world.

The other characters came about the same way, always just trying to keep the mix interesting.

Did you have internal conversations with your characters when you were in the writing phase? If not, what process do you use to generate dialogue?

I found the writing process to be surprisingly visual so I found myself watching my characters rather than talking to them. I usually knew where I wanted the story to go, so I’d just sit and imagine them heading off in that direction, then I’d do my best to write down what they’d done.

Sometimes this was easy. Sometimes it was very difficult to find the right words to describe what I’d imagined and lots of frustrating re-writing would result.

Top 10 for Spring: most borrowed fiction

Wellington readers love a good thriller! Topping our most popular reads Good Girl, Bad Girl launches a new series for Michael Robotham, introducing criminal psychologist Cyrus Haven in this compulsive page turner. There’s thrilling writing from Kate Atkinson, she features twice in our popularity list, with Transcription, where truth and invention catch up with an intelligence retiree, and Big Sky, with Jackson Brodie settling in to a new home, juggling parenting dog and humans as complex mysteries unfold. Character development drives Jo Nesbo’s Knife, this intricate procedural crime novel is driven through a set of grueling investigations, but as the plot twists, feints and reveals readers will be propelled through this gritty piece of writing.

The Rosie Result is still a clear favourite, so popular we’ve given you three different ways to access it! So if you’re downloading it to listen or read, or picking up a paper copy, the final installation of this quirky trilogy will warm your heart. Inspired by her Italian heritage Pellegrino addresses rural-urban drift with a life changing opportunity for her characters and a town in need of new people. Delicious food and delightful setting has clearly charmed Wellington library users.

Is your favourite in the list?


1. Good girl bad girl / Robotham, Michael
“A girl is found hiding in a secret room in a house being renovated after a terrible crime. Six years later, the same girl is living in a secure children’s home with a new name, Evie Cormac. She initiates a court case demanding the right to be released as an adult and psychologist Cyrus Haven is sent to interview Evie. She’s damaged and destructive, yet possessed of a gift, or a curse, that makes her both fascinating and dangerous to be with, the ability to tell when someone is lying. Soon he is embroiled in her unique and dangerous world, his life in utmost peril.” (Catalogue)

2. Syndetics book coverA dream of Italy / Nicky Pellegrino.
“Here is your chance to buy your own home in southern Italy for less than the price of a cup of coffee. The picturesque mountain town of Montenello is selling off some of its historic buildings for just one euro each. Elise is in her twenties and desperate to get on the property ladder. Edward wants to escape a life he finds stifling. Mimi is divorced and starting afresh. And there is one person whose true motivation won’t be clear for some time. These four people all have a dream of Italy. And it’s going to change their lives.” (Syndetics summary)

3. Syndetics book coverBig sky / Kate Atkinson.
“Jackson Brodie has relocated to a quiet seaside village in North Yorkshire. It’s a picturesque setting, but there’s something darker lurking behind the scenes. Jackson’s current job, gathering proof of an unfaithful husband for his suspicious wife, seems straightforward, but a chance encounter with a desperate man on a crumbling cliff leads him into a sinister network. Old secrets and new lies intersect in this breathtaking new novel, both sharply funny and achingly sad, by one of the most dazzling and surprising writers at work today.” (adapted from Syndetics summary)

4. Machines like me and people like you / McEwan, Ian (print), (eBook), (eAudiobook)
“Charlie, drifting through life and dodging full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a bright student who lives with a terrible secret. When Charlie comes into money, he buys Adam, one of the first batch of synthetic humans. With Miranda’s assistance, he co-designs Adam’s personality. This near-perfect human is beautiful, strong and clever – a love triangle soon forms. These three beings will confront a profound moral dilemma.” (Catalogue)

5. Knife / Nesbø, Jo
“A man like Harry had better watch his back…Following the dramatic conclusion of number one bestseller The Thirst, Knife sees Harry Hole waking up with a ferocious hangover, his hands and clothes covered in blood. Not only is Harry about to come face to face with an old, deadly foe, but with his darkest personal challenge yet. The twelfth instalment in Jo Nesbo’s internationally bestselling crime fiction series.” (Catalogue)

6. The Rosie result / Simsion, Graeme C (print), (eBook), (eAudiobook)
“Don and Rosie are back in Melbourne after a decade in New York, and they’re about to face their most important project. Their son, Hudson, is having trouble at school. Rosie is battling Judas at work, and Don is in hot water after the Genetics Lecture Outrage. The life-contentment graph, recently at its highest point, is curving downwards. For Don Tillman, geneticist and World’s Best Problem-Solver, learning to be a good parent as well as a good partner will require the help of friends old and new. It will mean letting Hudson make his way in the world, and grappling with awkward truths about his own identity.” (Catalogue)

7. Past tense / Child, Lee (print), (eBook), (eAudiobook)
“Jack Reacher has extended his thumb and hit the pavement. His plan is to follow the autumn sun on an epic trip across America, from Maine to California. On a country road in rural New Hampshire, he sees a sign to a place he has never been: the town where his father was born. He thinks, ‘What’s one extra day?’ and takes the detour. As Reacher explores his father’s life, and strands of different stories begin to merge, he makes a shocking discovery: the present can be tough, but the past can be tense… and deadly.” (Catalogue)

8. Milkman / Burns, Anna (print), (eBook)
Written in a perfectly-rendered Irish vernacular… Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. Middle sister is our protagonist. She is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her nearly-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with milkman. But when first brother-in-law, who of course had sniffed it out, told his wife, her first sister, to tell her mother to come and have a talk with her, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous…” (Catalogue)

9. Transcription / Atkinson, Kate (print), (eBook), (eAudiobook)
“In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever. Ten years later, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. A bill of reckoning is due, and she finally begins to realize that there is no action without consequence.” (Catalogue)

10. Normal people : a novel / Rooney, Sally (print), (eBook)
“At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s the star of the school football team, while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But, a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. Sally Rooney brings her brilliant psychological acuity and perfectly spare prose to a story that explores the subtleties of class, the electricity of first love, and the complex entanglements of family and friendship.” (Catalogue)

Vivid imaginings: new science fiction and fantasy

This new collection of science fiction and fantasy writing has a diverse range of debut novelists. New Wellington talent H. G. Parry writes about fiction characters becoming all too real, while Ada Hoffman of The Outside has written many short works of speculative fiction and now takes to novel form. Hoffman creates neurodiverse characters from a place of personal knowledge, her own pitch for the novel being, “It’s a suspenseful space opera with some totally wild surreal cosmic horror mixed in, a whole bunch of strong female/queer/disabled characters, genuinely difficult moral quandaries, and empathy winning.”

Set in the universe of the Three-Body Problem Trilogy, The Redemption of Time continues Cixin Liu’s multi-award-winning science fiction saga. This original story by Baoshu, published with Liu’s support, envisions the aftermath of the conflict between humanity and the extraterrestrial Trisolarans.

In Longer, Michael Blumlein explores dauntingly epic topics including love, the expanse of the human lifespan and mortality. Finally, in a nod to the recent Hugo Awards hosted in Dublin (and foreshadowing Wellington’s WorldCon), Brilliant Void showcases vintage imaginings–Irish science fiction from way back!

Brilliant void : a selection of classic Irish science fiction
“An astronomer challenges an emperor. A hunter pursues the last dinosaur. A young Kerryman emigrates to the Moon to seek his fortune. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the winds of change came rushing in Ireland’s direction. Science would transform everything: life, love, death, crime, war, and even history itself. Edited and introduced by Jack Fennell, this collection of lesser-known works of classic Irish science fiction includes stories by Frances Power Cobbe, Fitz-James O’Brien and Charlotte McManus.” (Adapted from catalogue)

The unlikely escape of Uriah Heep / Parry, H. G.
“For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob a young lawyer with an utterly normal life hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world… and for once, it isn’t Charley’s doing.” (Adapted from catalogue)

The redemption of time / Baoshu
“In the midst of an interstellar war, Yun Tianming found himself tortured beyond endurance for decades. Yun eventually succumbed to helping the aliens subjugate humanity in order to save Earth from complete destruction. Yun has spent his very long life in exile as a traitor to the human race. Nearing the end of his existence at last, a consciousness calling itself The Spirit has recruited him to wage battle against an entity that threatens the existence of the entire universe. But Yun refuses to be a pawn again.” (Adapted from catalogue)

The October man / Aaronovitch, Ben
“When a man is found dead with his body impossibly covered in a fungal rot, the local authorities know they are out of their depth. Trier: famous for wine, Romans and being Germany’s oldest city. But fortunately this is Germany, where there are procedures for everything. Enter Tobias Winter, an investigator for the Abteilung KDA, the branch of the German Federal Criminal Police which handles the supernatural.” (Adapted from catalogue)

The outside / Hoffmann, Ada (print, (eBook)
“Autistic scientist Yasira Shien has developed a radical new energy drive that could change the future of humanity. But when she activates it, reality warps, destroying the space station and everyone aboard. The AI Gods who rule the galaxy declare her work heretical, and Yasira is abducted by their agents. Instead of simply executing her, they offer mercy if she’ll help them hunt down a bigger target: her own mysterious, vanished mentor.” (Catalogue)

Longer / Blumlein, Michael (print), (eBook)
“Gunjita and Cav are in orbit. R&D scientists for pharmaceutical giant Gleem Galactic, they are wealthy enough to participate in rejuvenation: rebooting themselves from old age to jump their bodies back to their twenties. You get two chances. There can never be a third. After Gunjita has juved for the second and final time and Cav has not, questions of life, death and morality arise to test their relationship. Up among the stars, the research possibilities are infinite and first contact is possible, but their marriage may not survive the challenge.” (Catalogue)

The record keeper / Gomillion, Agnes
“After World War III, Earth is in ruins, the final armies have come to a reluctant truce. Everyone must obey the law or risk shattering the fragile peace. Although Arika Cobane is a member of the race whose backbreaking labor provides food for the remnants of humanity. After ten grueling years of training, she is on the threshold of taking her place of privilege far from the fields. But everything changes when a new student arrives.” (Adapted from catalogue)

If, then : a novel / Day, Kate Hope (print), (eBook)
“In the quiet mountain haven of Clearing, Oregon, four neighbors find their lives upended when they begin to see themselves in a parallel reality… At first the visions are relatively benign, but they grow increasingly troubling–and in some cases, frightening. Startling, deeply imagined, and compulsively readable, Kate Hope Day’s debut novel is about the choices we make that shape our lives and determine our destinies, the moments that alter us so profoundly that it feels as if we’ve entered another reality.” (Catalogue)

The iron dragon’s mother / Swanwick, Michael
“Caitlin of House Sans Merci is the young half-human pilot of a sentient mechanical dragon. Returning from her first soul-stealing raid, she discovers an unwanted hitchhiker. When Caitlin is framed for the murder of her brother, to save herself she must disappear into Industrialized Faerie, looking for the one person who can clear her. Unfortunately, the stakes are higher than she knows. Her deeds will change her world forever.” (Catalogue)

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.

Novel pursuits : new translated fiction

This month the selection of translated fiction has talent applauded in places of origin. From the best selling sensory immersion of the Japanese The Forest of Steel and Wool to the Eastern European reckoning of regime change. The Acts of My Mother shows the extent that political authority can preside over private lives. And Wioletta Grzegorzewska chronicles the voices and impressions of a 1990’s Polish city as a young student moves there from the countryside.

Through a humourous tale and a deftly plotted thriller Italian writers explore the divine and corruption in the seat of the Vatican. God, as imagined by Giacomo Sartori, who develops a bit of crush on a comely geneticist. A novelist and a journalist join forces to weave a tale that reveals the underbelly of the holy city. A version of history is presented in Marilyn and Me when during the Korean war a local translator and the seductive songstress find friendship in a precarious environment.

From historical to contemporary this range of styles has something for everyone to discover.

The night of Rome / Bonini, Carlo and De Cataldo, Giancarlo
“Things are changing in Rome. The new Pope, determined to bring radical reform to the Vatican, proclaims an extraordinary Jubilee year, one “of Mercy.” A new center-left government replaces its disgraced predecessor. And with crime lynchpin Samurai in jail, his protégé Sebastiano Laurenti attempts to establish himself as the designated successor. Betrayals, ambushes and infighting will inevitably alter the fragile political balance in the Eternal City.” (Catalogue)

The acts of my mother/ Forgách, András
“A son investigates his mother’s past in this moving novel of family, lies, betrayal and forgiveness. Thirty years after the fall of communism in Hungary, as Andras Forgach investigated his family’s past he uncovered a horrifying truth. His mother, whom he deeply loved, had been an informant for the Kadar regime. She had informed not only on acquaintances but on family, friends and even her children.” (Catalogue)

I am God / Sartori, Giacomo
“Diabolically funny and subversively philosophical, Italian novelist Giacomo Sartori’s I am God is the diary of the Almighty’s existential crisis that ensues when he falls in love with a human… A geneticist and fanatical atheist who’s certain she can improve upon creation. So he watches as the handsome climatologist who has his sights set on her keeps having strange accidents. A sly critique of the hypocrisy and hubris that underlie faith in religion, science, and macho careerism.” (Catalogue)

The convert / Hertmans, Stefan
“Set at the time of the Crusades and based on historical events, The Convert is the story of a strong-willed young woman who sacrifices everything in the name of love. Originally known as Vigdis, the young woman changed her name to Hamoutal upon converting to Judaism. Hertmans retraces Hamoutal’s footsteps as she makes her way south, fleeing her family, and then on to Sicily and ultimately to Cairo, where she sought asylum. It is a dizzying, often terrifying journey, full of hardships, that unfolds against the backdrop of the death and destruction of the Crusades.” (Catalogue)

Accommodations / Grzegorzewska, Wioletta
Accommodations follows Wiola after she leaves her childhood village, a close-knit agricultural community in Poland where the Catholic calendar and local gossip punctuate daily life. Her new independence in the nearby city of Czestochowa is far from a fresh start, as she moves between a hostel and a nuns’ convent brimming with secrets, taking in the stories of those around her. In the same striking prose that drew readers to her critically acclaimed debut, Accommodations navigates Wiola’s winding path to self-discovery.” (Catalogue)

Marilyn and me / Lee, Ji-min (print), (eBook)
“It is the winter of 1954 and in the rubble-strewn aftermath of the Korean war Marilyn Monroe has come to Seoul to perform to the US soldiers stationed there. Alice, the woman chosen to be Marilyn’s translator, was once Kim Ae-sun, before her name was stolen from her – along with so much else – by the war. Over the four days of Marilyn’s tour, the two women begin to form an unlikely friendship. A gripping and heartwrenching novel of damage and survival, grief and unexpected solace, Marilyn and Me is a fascinating – and timely – insight into an extraordinary time and place.” (Catalogue)

Village of the lost girls / Martínez, Agustín
“Five years after their disappearance, the village of Monteperdido still mourns the loss of Ana and Lucia, two eleven-year-old friends who left school one afternoon and were never seen again. Now, Ana reappears unexpectedly inside a crashed car, wounded but alive. The case reopens and a race against time begins to discover who was behind the girls’ kidnapping. Most importantly, where is Lucia and is she still alive? Five years ago fatal mistakes were made in the investigation conducted after the girls first vanished, and this mustn’t happen again.” (Catalogue)

The forest of wool and steel / Miyashita, Natsu (print), (eBook)
“Tomura is startled by the hypnotic sound of a piano being tuned in his school. It seeps into his soul and transports him to the forests, dark and gleaming, that surround his beloved mountain village. From that moment, he is determined to discover more. Tomura embarks on his training, never straying too far from a single, unfathomable question: do I have what it takes? Set in small-town Japan, this warm and mystical story is for the lucky few who have found their calling – and for the rest of us who are still searching.” (Catalogue)

That new (book about) love in your life

Love romance fiction? These new titles have something for everyone.  A nostalgic glimpse into war-time Manhattan theatre land, City of Girls will transport you into a whirl of charismatic characters. A danger laced placement sees Special Agent Macy Crow rekindling an old flame while her deductive skills provoke a menacing response. Shakespeare and the supernatural round out our selection taking lovers on unfamiliar journeys, despite eons of practice!

And readers rejoice as your page turning is celebrated in While You Were Reading and The Bookshop on the Shore. These novels delight in the place that reading can hold in your life. Enjoy!

While you were reading / Berg, Ali
“Meet Beatrix Babbage – 29-year-old dog-earer of books and accidental destroyer of weddings. After ruining her best friend’s nuptials, Bea relocates to the other side of the country in search of a fresh start. Bea’s job is dead-end. Her romantic life? Non-existent. Then Bea stumbles across a second-hand novel, inscribed with notes. Besotted with the poetic inscriptions, Bea is determined to find the author … and along the way, she finds herself entangled in one hell of a love quadrangle.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Hide and seek / Burton, Mary
“Special Agent Macy Crow is gunning for a spot on the FBI’s elite profiling team. As an audition, she offers to investigate the recently discovered bones of Tobi Turner, a high school girl who disappeared fifteen years ago. While investigating with local sheriff Mike Nevada, a former colleague and onetime lover, Macy discovers a link between Tobi’s case and several others that occurred around her disappearance. But the murderer’s had years to hone his skills, and soon Macy herself becomes a target.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Flights of fancy / Turano, Jen
“To escape an unwanted marriage, heiress Isadora Delafield runs away and disguises herself as a housekeeper. She finds a position at the home of self-made man Ian MacKenzie’s parents. Ian is unexpectedly charmed by Isadora and her unconventional ways, but when mysterious incidents on the farm and the truth of Isadora’s secret threaten those they love, they’ll have to set aside everything they thought they wanted for a chance at happy-ever-after.” (Catalogue)

A desperate hope / Camden, Elizabeth
“Eloise Drake’s prim demeanor hides the turbulent past she’s finally put behind her–or so she thinks. Alex Duval is the mayor of a town about to be wiped off the map. The state plans to flood the entire valley where his town sits in order to build a new reservoir, and Alex is stunned to discover the woman he once loved on the team charged with the demolition. With his world crumbling around him, Alex devises a risky plan to save his town–but he needs Eloise’s help to succeed.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The bookshop on the shore / Colgan, Jenny
“Desperate to escape from London, single mother Lottie wants to build a new life for herself and her son Raffie. On a whim, she answers an ad for a nanny job in the Scottish Highlands. The children’s widowed father is a wreck, and the kids run wild in a huge tumbledown castle on the banks of Loch Ness. With the help of Nina, the friendly local bookseller, Lottie begins to put down roots in the community. Are books, fresh air, and kindness enough to heal this broken family–and her own…?” (Adapted from Catalogue)

A view to a kilt / Holden, Wendy
“Laura Lake, editor of glamorous glossy magazine Society, is in trouble. Advertising revenues are down, and her job will be in jeopardy if she can’t pick them up. According to those in the know, Scotland is having a moment. With a view to getting a slice of this ultra-high-end market, Laura’s been sent to a baronial estate. It’s supposed to be gorgeous, glitzy, and glamorous. But intrigue follows Laura like night follows day. And at Glenravish Castle Laura finds herself hunting for a scoop that won’t just save her job, it could save her life.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Window on the bay : a novel / Macomber, Debbie
“Jenna Boltz’s life is at a crossroads. When her kids and her dear friend push her to begin dating again, Jenna is skeptical. Enter Dr. Rowan Lancaster, who saves the day when Jenna’s elderly mother suffers an accident in her home. Still fearing a romantic relationship, she insists they remain friends–until she realizes that he may be more worthy of a Paris experience than she thought. Learning to put herself first again, Jenna realizes that believing in love can take us beyond our wildest dreams.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

City of girls / Gilbert, Elizabeth
“In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.” (Catalogue)

The trouble with vampires / Sands, Lynsay
“For close to three thousand years Santo Notte has fought in armies across the world and battled his own, more personal enemies. Of all the places he might expect to encounter his life mate, a quiet corner of upstate New York doesn’t seem likely. But as soon as he makes contact with history professor Petronella Stone he knows that she will be the greatest adventure of his eternal life. But as Pet struggles to protect her nephew from a danger lurking too close to home, Santo realizes there’s another threat to her safety-him.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Ngaio Marsh Award winners 2019

Congratulations to the winners of the 2019 Ngaio Marsh awards! Dame Fiona Kidman has won this year’s award for Best Crime Novel with This Mortal Boy. Best First Novel was awarded to J. P. Pomare for Call Me Evie. The Non Fiction award went to Kelly Dennett for her followup on the disappearance of an Auckland teenager, The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Jane Furlong.

The Ngaio Marsh Awards originated in 2010 for excellence in New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller writing. In 2016 the award for best First Novel was added and in 2017 another category was also added for the Best Non Fiction.


This mortal boy / Kidman, Fiona (print) (eBook) (eAudiobook)
“Albert Black, known as the ‘jukebox killer’, was only twenty when he was convicted of murdering another young man in a fight at a milk bar in Auckland on 26 July 1955. His crime fuelled growing moral panic about teenagers, and he was to hang less than five months later, the second-to-last person to be executed in New Zealand.But what really happened? Was this a love crime, was it a sign of juvenile delinquency? Or was this dark episode in our recent history more about our society’s reaction to outsiders? This is his story.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Syndetics book coverCall me Evie / J.P. Pomare.
“Meet Evie, a young woman held captive by a man named Jim in the isolated New Zealand beach town of Maketu. Jim says he’s hiding Evie to protect her, that she did something terrible back home in Melbourne. In a house that creaks against the wind, Evie begins to piece together her fractured memories of the events that led her here. Jim says he’s keeping her safe. Evie’s not sure she can trust Jim, but can she trust her own memories?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

The short life and mysterious death of Jane Furlong / Dennett, Kelly
“The abduction and murder of teenager Jane Furlong is one of New Zealand’s most enduring mysteries. Jane was 17 when she disappeared from Auckland’s Karangahape Road in 1993.  Her body was found in 2012, 20 years later. Court reporter Kelly Dennett became interested after noticing Jane Furlong’s mother, Judith Furlong, sitting alone in a courtroom during a murder trial.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Author Talk: In Conversation with Liz Nugent and Kirsten McDougall

Join us for a special evening with two acclaimed storytellers who craft suspenseful tales centred on unforgettable protagonists.

Liz Nugent, who was named Irish Woman of the Year in Literature in 2017, 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. Please note: this is a free event.

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

Liz Nugent has published three novels–Unravelling Oliver, Lying in Wait and Skin Deep–which have all been #1 bestsellers and have collectively won four Irish Book Awards. Lying in Wait was voted Readers’ Choice for the famed Richard and Judy Book Club.

In 2018, Kirsten’s second book Tess was a finalist for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel and longlisted for the Acorn Prize for Fiction at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.