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)

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.

Author Interview: Award-Winning Lee Murray – Part 3/3!

Please note: this is part three of our interview with Lee Murray. Please click here for part one and here for part two.

Lee Murray is an award-winning New Zealand author of science-fiction, fantasy and horror. She recently won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novel with Into the Mist, book two of the Taine McKenna series, as well as Best Collected Work as one of three editors on Te Korero Ahi Kā. However Murray’s work isn’t limited to the page: she has also helped establish key writing communities in New Zealand and organise events such as GeyserCon, New Zealand’s 40th National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention.

To learn more about Murray’s work, check out her website here — or part three of our interview below. Enjoy!

You’ve also done a lot of other great work helping to develop the sci-fi, fantasy and horror writing community in New Zealand. What would you like to do next in terms of this?

Thank you. One of things I’m especially proud of is being co-founder and co-convenor of Young New Zealand Writers, a not-for-profit volunteer group established almost ten years ago to develop writing and publication opportunities for our youngest writers through a shared love of science fiction and fantasy. Young New Zealand Writers runs programmes for school students such as free-to-enter writing competitions, anthologies, mentorship, and our annual day Youth Day Out, which is occasionally held in conjunction with our national science fiction and fantasy convention. It’s a huge task, but every year the quality of the work and the talent of our students convinces me that forming new readers and writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror are some of the most important things we can do to keep the community vibrant.

There are a lot of other great ways to raise awareness. For example, Speculative Fiction Writers of New Zealand (SpecFicNZ) has just established a regular podcast, called none other than The SpecFicNZ Podcast, to focus on trends in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. With lively discussion and interviews by the group’s members, the podcast is still in its infancy, but definitely worth tuning in to for a listen. I notice some of the mainstream literary festivals, such as Featherston Booktown, the National Writers’ Forum, and the South Auckland Writers’ Festival, are introducing genre panels and presentations as part of their regular programming line-up, a trend which can only be promising for the genre. Of course, by far the best way to ensure the health and longevity of our local science fiction, fantasy, and horror community is for New Zealanders to read and recommend our work. That’s it. The more people read and rave about us, the better our chances of attracting the notice of local publishers and producers, and that in turn creates more opportunities for writers, which will improve the number and range of titles on offer for readers to enjoy, and so on and so forth. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of demand creating supply. You heard it here, folks!

What are your thoughts about CoNZealand next year? Will you be very involved?

I’m not at all involved in CoNZealand planning, although, if I can get together a few colleagues, I might propose a couple of panel presentations. Mostly, I’m looking forward to enjoying the convention as an attendee and welcoming a number of friends from overseas. I hope they’re as inspired as I am by our landscape, and our people, and that no one goes home without trying our wonderful hokey pokey ice cream.

As someone with an impressively busy schedule, what advice would you give to authors trying to fit their writing around other commitments?

I’m the worst person to ask this question because I am hopeless at saying no to those other commitments. Over and above my actual writing, I undertake a lot of mostly unpaid writing-related activities. I’ve already mentioned the national convention, and the Young New Zealand Writers group. In addition to those, I typically have several mentees on the go, a book or two I’ve been asked to blurb, a half dozen blogs I’ve promised to write, panel presentations to plan, reviews to write, and more than one commissioned work to edit. Last summer, I had to turn down a prestigious international judging opportunity as I had already committed to judging two other national competitions over the same time period. With my to-be-read stack teetering at 90 novels and 30 novellas, I couldn’t possibly squeeze in any more. As it was, I spent almost the entire summer in my hammock reading! The thing is, while many of those extra commitments take me away from my writing, they also contribute to my work by immersing me in all aspects of genre fiction. Plus, I get a sneak peak at some wonderful new work, while also having a hand in developing (and celebrating) the new talent coming through the ranks.

Ah. I think you are asking for suggestions on how to schedule your writing around paid work commitments as well as the demands of family and community. I am fortunate to write full-time, but many of my colleagues who work other jobs write in the early morning or late evenings when their children are in bed. Or perhaps they scribble furiously in a notebook on the train into work. I have a friend who does writing sprints in the car while her children are at their music lessons. One friend gets all their best ideas in the shower. Another finds their inspiration while out running. All trying to carve out writing time where they can. With the latest CNZ survey revealing that New Zealand writers average around $12,000 in annual earnings from their writing, the reality is most writers cannot make a living from their creative work. This means we are in danger of losing those middle voices, where writing becomes something people do only as students, or when they have retired from full-time work. On the other hand, it’s also true that writing seems to take the time available, so if you have an hour to spare, then the poem or drabble will take you an hour to write, whereas if you can afford to invest a week, the same piece will invariably require the full week. So, perhaps there is some merit in having at least some pressure on us to make our time profitable. I should add here that, even at my fastest, I’m an incredibly slow writer, producing only 500-1000 words daily. Still, I console myself that Hemingway wrote just 500 words a day and yet his body of work comprises an impressive 10 novels, 17 collections of short fiction, two books of poetry, and nine works of non-fiction (albeit some published posthumously).

Author Interview: Award-Winning Lee Murray – Part 2/3!

Please note: this is part two of our interview with Lee Murray. Please click here for part one.

Lee Murray is an award-winning New Zealand author of science-fiction, fantasy and horror. She recently won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novel with Into the Mist, book two of the Taine McKenna series, as well as Best Collected Work as one of three editors on Te Korero Ahi Kā. However Murray’s work isn’t limited to the page: she has also helped establish key writing communities in New Zealand and organise events such as GeyserCon, New Zealand’s 40th National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention.

To learn more about Murray’s work, check out her website here — or part two of our interview below. Enjoy!

The Path of Ra series is also a distinctly New Zealand work. Have you received much feedback from both local and international readers in regards to the story’s setting or language?

The Path of Ra is a collaborative series which I co-author with my friend and colleague, Dan Rabarts. Having already worked together with some success on a couple of anthology projects, Dan and I decided to join forces, taking a he-said / she-said approach to a futuristic supernatural thriller. When we started working on the novella — yes, it was going to be a novella and it accidentally turned into a three-book series — with both of us being Kiwi, there was no doubt that we would set our story in New Zealand. We selected a near-future Auckland as the setting, partly for its geography, its sprawling urban spread, and especially for its recognisable landmarks such as One Tree Hill, the Auckland Harbour Bridge, the downtown waterfront, and the iconic Sky Tower. As far as feedback from our readers about the setting and language goes, here’s what some of them had to say:

“The descriptions of the scenes, including a dark version of Auckland and the surrounding countryside, really worked for me.”

“…a fast-moving futuristic novel with a great New Zealand flavour and supernatural thrills on the side.”

“Setting the novel in near future New Zealand is so brilliant! I’ve never read another novel with that setting, so it feels fresh in a genre that frequently feels overused and stale.”

“The unusual setting in a bleak near-future New Zealand added to the dark atmosphere. Also, it was interesting to learn several New Zealand and Māori phrases, thanks to the glossary thoughtfully added at the end of the book.”

“Set in the Auckland of the future, an energy-starved darker version of itself, the story manages to seamlessly combine a nod to culturally insightful supernatural elements with the clarity that only science can provide.”

I think, when we read fiction, we like to be transported to somewhere fresh and exotic, as Roald Dahl writes in Matilda: “…books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives.” For our Path of Ra stories, Dan and I believed that Auckland in the 2040s could be that new world, a city sweltering though the effects of rapid climate change where fuel and food shortages have an impact on everyday lives, and where the underworld draws inexorably nearer. Our readers seem to like it.

In terms of language, our tendency to use Kiwi vernacular in our writing has proved to be very entertaining during the editing process. For example, when we submitted Hounds of the Underworld to the publisher, our editor mentioned a possible Freudian slip. Did we know that Penny had called for the laboratory fume hoods to be turned up full tit? Shouldn’t that be full tilt? New Zealand is the only country in the world to use that particular turn of phrase. We love providing that uniquely Kiwi context by adding words like chur, ropeable, and Weet-Bix to our stories. We also love that after working with us for three years, our American publisher immediately knows what we mean when we talk of whānau, whāngai, and wairua. Using these local terms allows New Zealand readers to recognise the backdrop as being distinctly Kiwi, while also offering a fresh landscape for our international readers.

However, when we use these terms, we’re careful to provide context, so the word is understood, making the reading experience an enjoyable one, without overly taxing the reader. It’s one thing to provide a strong Kiwi flavour, and another to clobber your reader over the head with it. Sometimes though, we’ll change a term to something simpler, just to avoid a reader stumbling over an unfamiliar expression in a crucial scene. For example, in an early draft of Teeth of the Wolf, my character, Penny, mentions that Cerberus was ‘full of beans’, and our editor questioned why the Labrador was fed just a page later. In the final text, we agreed that the dog should be full of energy, since no actual beans were consumed! Happily, our publisher, Raw Dog Screaming Press, is hugely supportive of diverse voices, and I suspect the company’s focus on authenticity is, in part, the reason the house was awarded this year’s international Horror Writers Association’s Specialty Press Award.

You were the programme director at GeyserCon this year – what did the role involve? (And were you able to enjoy the convention as a fan as well?)

Being programme director for one of our national science fiction and fantasy conventions means around two years of weekend volunteer work — and a willingness to relinquish your soul. I’m kidding, of course, although not when it comes to the amount of work. Mostly, the role involves being completely potty about science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and having the connections and the firepower to persuade, cajole, or press-gang your colleagues into sharing their talent and their expertise. After that, it’s simply a matter of ensuring your panellists and presenters offer topics and activities that you’d be excited to attend yourself. So, despite the fact that I was running around like a headless chicken checking on things most of the weekend, I got to experience a lot of the activities and discussions on offer. I can honestly say GeyserCon was a wonderful experience.

This year’s event included cosplay and gaming streams, as well as an industry stream for writers, screenwriters, and poets. The presentations included fight scenes, writing from found objects, designing fantasy maps, planning for a geothermal apocalypse, designing Victoriana costumes from op shop materials, cosplay make-up, gaming for kids, creating zines, and a hilarious horror-thriller debate. Fans of science fiction, fantasy, and horror were simply spoiled for choice. One of the best things about our national conventions is that with just 200-300 attendees, the numbers aren’t too overwhelming, which makes them a good opportunity for introverted geeky sorts like me to network with friends, catch up with new trends, and generally immerse themselves in all things genre. I almost always come home with more books than I have time to read, too.

For part three of our interview with Lee Murray, please click here.

Author Interview: Award-Winning Lee Murray – Part 1/3!

In the bio section of her website, author Lee Murray describes herself as a New Zealand-based writer of fantasy, science fiction and horror. While this description is correct, with Murray publishing a range of award-winning speculative fiction, it doesn’t really capture the scale or importance of her role in New Zealand’s writing community.

Looking through previous Sir Julius Vogel Awards lists, one of the first things you’ll notice is the regularity of Murray’s name among the finalists. This includes her Taine McKenna series, now on its third book with Into the Ashes, as well as the Path of Ra series co-written with author Dan Rabarts. The initial installment, Hounds of the Underworld, has been called “a wild and gruesome treat, packed with mystery, action and dark humour.”

Murray’s work hasn’t been limited to the page. She’s helped to establish key writing communities in New Zealand, as well as editing several local speculative fiction anthologies including the award-winning Te korero ahi kā. And when she’s not writing, editing or mentoring, Murray helps organise events such as GeyserCon, New Zealand’s 40th National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention.

To discover more of Murray’s work, check out her website here–or part one of our interview below. Enjoy!

You recently released Into the Ashes, book three in the Taine McKenna series. What first inspired you to write a thriller series with a local setting, and why do you think it’s been an overlooked genre in New Zealand writing in the past?

New Zealand inspired me! What better setting for an adventure? New Zealand offers landscapes and geology and legends which make it the perfect setting for a thriller adventure. The Taine Mckenna series features the Urewera mountain ranges, the soaring cliffs and icy channels of the Fiordland sounds, and the raw energy and bleak isolation of the Central Plateau. The series concept was, quite literally, inspired by our landscape, the idea coming to me while I was out running in the bush. Before sustaining an injury, I used to run marathons — completing 25 marathons and a couple of ultramarathons — which meant a lot of time running on trails.

While our New Zealand terrain can be dangerous, especially if weather conditions change rapidly, the bush doesn’t offer up a lot of beasties. There are no mountain lions, no snakes and no grumpy bears. Probably, the worst thing a runner is likely to come across is a wētā or two, or maybe a swarm of wasps. Out on the road, you might meet a stray pig dog, or a herd of cows on the way to milking, but I’ve never encountered anything on a bush trail. I was discussing this with some friends while running on a bush trail, and it occurred to me ‘what if there was something?’ and ‘what might that be?’ and the idea for Into the Mist evolved from there. I went home and opened a file which I optimistically called “Global Blockbuster” and that was how the series came about.

By the time I came to write the third book, Into the Ashes, not only did I have a contract to fulfill, readers were hanging out to see what would happen between Taine and Jules and whether Temera would regain his gift for seeing. Again, my inspiration for the third story came entirely from the New Zealand landscape. I was on a road trip with my son and husband and we were passing through the Central Plateau on a spectacularly clear day, and I remember thinking the region would make the perfect backdrop for a story. There were the mountains, the supervolcano, the lakes, the army training grounds, and all the wonderful local legends and mythology associated with the area. Adding to that, one of our greatest fears here in ‘The Shaky Isles’ is a dread of ‘the big one’: a massive volcanic-earthquake event. My mind was racing. Then my son said, “Mum, you should call your book Into the Ashes.” And that was it. The idea was born, and the eventual book became my personal favourite in the series.

I agree that too few adventure-thrillers are set against our local landscape though, and I’m not entirely sure why that is. I suspect those manuscripts exist, but with our local publishing industry’s focus on literary titles, genre authors are having to travel further afield to find homes for their work. As Bilbo Baggins says in Tolkien’s The Hobbit: “We don’t want any adventures here, thank you! You might try over The Hill or across The Water.” Often, New Zealand’s genre writers are published by smaller or foreign presses with smaller publicity budgets, which means our work is less likely to appear in local bookstores and libraries or come to the attention of New Zealand’s reviewers.

Pleasingly, there are signs that the situation is changing. For example, Craig Sisterson’s New Zealand Crime and Mystery Writers’ group is gaining some notice, with its annual Ngaio Marsh Awards showcasing new mystery-thriller works and authors, although the focus remains on real-world procedurals in the vein of Paul Cleave and Vanda Symon. Alan Carter’s Malborough Man is a good example, the novel starring UK detective, Nick Chester, who is forced to relocate to New Zealand after botching an undercover case. Gaining ground in the speculative thriller-adventure arena is Waikato writer Adrian J. Smith, the author of fast-paced New Zealand-based monster adventures in Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s bestselling Extinction world. Smith tells me he is writing an original title which also uses a Kiwi backdrop, so that will be one to watch for. Happily for me, the McKenna military thriller with its strong local focus appears to have filled a neglected niche in the market and its novelty may account, in part, for the series’ success, with Into the Mist and Into the Sounds winning the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novel in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

For part two of our interview with Lee Murray, please click here.

A novel take on desire and longing

This month’s new romance novels have something for everyone, from the outstandingly popular online series After by Anna Todd to Jenny Colgan’s warmth and smiles in The Bookshop on the Shore. We’ve also got a charming new twist on Pride and Prejudice from Uzma Jalaluddin!

From the racy to the retiring, these recent additions to our romance collection are sure to enchant and beguile. Enjoy!

Tell me lies : a novel / Lovering, Carola
“Lucy Albright is far from her Long Island upbringing when she arrives on the campus of her small California college and happy to be hundreds of miles from her mother–whom she’s never forgiven for an act of betrayal in her early teen years. Quickly grasping at her fresh start, Lucy embraces college life and all it has to offer. And then she meets Stephen DeMarco . . .” (Adapted from the catalogue.)

The bookshop on the shore / Colgan, Jenny
“Zoe is a single mother, sinking beneath the waves trying to cope by herself in London. Hari, her gorgeous little boy is perfect in every way – except for the fact that he just doesn’t speak, at all. Then Hari’s aunt suggests Zoe could move to Scotland to help run a bookshop. Going from the lonely city to a small village in the Highlands could be the change Zoe and Hari desperately need.” (Adapted from the catalogue.)

Loving Sylvie / Smither, Elizabeth
“A sensual, witty novel that weaves together the stories of three women, beautifully written by one of our most clever wordsmiths. Elizabeth Smither takes us into the richly imagined worlds of three women, written with such beautifully deft skill as to make them vivid and alive.” (Catalogue.)

Ayesha at last / Jalaluddin, Uzma
“Ayesha  Shamsi has a lot going on. Though she’s lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Ayesha’s cousin Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself.” (Adapted from the catalogue.)

A love story for bewildered girls / Morgan, Emma
“Grace has a ‘full and interesting life’ – which is code for not married. Her life is the envy of her friends, but all this time she has been waiting in secret for love to hit her so hard that she would run out of breath. When Grace meets a beautiful woman, she falls suddenly and desperately in love. At the same party, lawyer Annie meets the man of her dreams. And across the city, Violet, who is afraid of almost everything, is making another discovery of her own . . .” (Adapted from the catalogue.)

The girl he used to know / Garvis Graves, Tracey
“Annika Rose likes being alone. She feels lost in social situations, saying the wrong thing or acting the wrong way. She just can’t read people. She prefers the quiet solitude of books or playing chess to being around others. Apart from Jonathan. She liked being around him, but she hasn’t seen him for ten years. Until now that is. And she’s not sure he’ll want to see her again after what happened all those years ago. Annika Rose likes being alone. Except that, actually, she doesn’t like being alone at all.” (Catalogue.)

A summer to remember / Moorcroft, Sue
“WHERE? Nelson’s Bar is the perfect little village. Nestled away on the Norfolk coast we can offer you no signal, no Wi-Fi and – most importantly – no problems! WHO? The ideal candidate will be looking for an escape from their cheating scumbag ex-fiancé, a diversion from their entitled cousin, and a break from their traitorous friends. WHAT YOU’LL GET! Accommodation in a chocolate-box cottage, plus a summer filled with blue skies and beachside walks. Oh, and a reunion with the man of your dreams.” (Adapted from the catalogue.)

After / Todd, Anna
“Book One of the After series–the Internet sensation with millions of readers. Tessa didn’t plan on meeting H. during her freshman year of college. But now that she has, her life will never be the same.” (Catalogue.)

Star crossed / Darke, Minnie
“When Justine Carmichael (Sagittarius, aspiring journalist and sceptic) bumps into her old friend Nick Jordan (Aquarius, struggling actor and true believer) it could be by chance. Or it could be written in the stars. Justine works at the Alexandria Park Star – and Nick, she now learns, relies on the magazine’s astrology column to guide him in life. Looking for a way to get Nick’s attention, Justine has the idea of making a few small alterations to ‘Aquarius’ before it goes to print. What harm could it possibly do?” (Adapted from the catalogue.)

Author Interview: Vogel Award-Winning Kura Carpenter!

The Sir Julius Vogel Awards are New Zealand’s annual celebration of home-grown science fiction and fantasy, with awards covering books, dramatic presentations, fan publications and more. One of the most competitive categories is Best New Talent, and this year’s winner was Dunedin-based author Kura Carpenter!

Kura’s debut novel, The Kingfisher’s Debt, tells the story of Tamsin Fairchild, a translator who must team up with rookie cop Scott Gale to investigate the disappearance of a newborn baby. But this is no ordinary crime: beneath familiar New Zealand locations is a world rich in danger–and magic. Vogel Award judges described The Kingfisher’s Debt as “very cleverly set in an urban fantasy world overlaying (or underlying, depending on your perspective) Dunedin, New Zealand. The writing is crisp, the plot excellently designed and executed.”

We contacted Kura to discuss her writing process, the Vogel Awards and what it’s like to be a fantasy writer in New Zealand. For more on her writing check out her website, and for the full Sir Julius Vogel Awards list, click here. Enjoy!

You’ve described The Kingfisher’s Debt as urban fantasy–a genre combining both fantasy and mystery. How did elements of these two genres complement each other in the shaping of the story?

My story follows a typical mystery structure–crime discovered, investigation, clues revealed, case solved–but the world it’s set in is an alternative New Zealand where magic exists, but most regular people don’t encounter it, in much the same way that you don’t know anything about crime unless it directly touches your life.

The crime in my story is connected to the people who deal in magic, I guess maybe that’s what you mean by shape. The mystery and magic are interconnected. Without the magic, there would be no desire to try and steal it.

Reviews of The Kingfisher’s Debt have praised your descriptions of real-life locations–Dunedin’s midwinter darkness and the “80s kitsch of St Clair”. Were there many challenges in bringing this familiar world to the page?

None. Although I was going for a 90s vibe, so I guess I failed.

There has also been a lot of positive feedback about the characters in The Kingfisher’s Debt–their grittiness, unusualness and dialogue. How did the character of Tamsin–and her excellent first person perspective–come about?

She just popped into my head and I wrote down what she said.

I’m an introvert, I feel awkward meeting people, so I talk to myself all the time, practice conversations, that kind of thing. It’s probably the only benefit of anxiety, all the internal practice improves ones writing ability to capture ‘voice’.

Was it difficult to create a story with both past and present timelines? Was there much planning or re-drafting required with this?

No. I don’t plan, I’m a pantser, an intuitive writer, (which often surprises people who assume I must be a strict outliner). I’m just fortunate to have better than normal intuition for pattern and structure.

I’d come across the zipper-structure (alternating timelines) when reading a novel years ago, and after I’d written my first draft I realised that’s what I’d inadvertently created, it just needed some shuffling of scenes to get the timeline straight and make sure the subtext was as I wanted.

It’s always exciting to have a story that includes a library! You’ve previously worked in Dunedin City Library–what was it that drew you to the library as one of the locations in The Kingfisher’s Debt?

Yes. I’m lazy. It was the easiest thing to do, use locations I’m familiar with.

How do you feel about the fantasy writing scene in New Zealand at the moment? How do you think it might develop in the future, especially with WorldCon taking place in New Zealand next year?

That’s a hard one. On the one hand adult-reading level fantasy has been all but deserted by New Zealand’s traditional publishers, not for lack of talent, but because it’s simply not profitable. Talent wise I think the scene is stronger than it ever was. With the rise of self and indie publishing, has come a lot of opportunity.

While in many fields New Zealand punches above its weight internationally, for example film, sport, and even our P.M. is beloved globally, however when it comes to fantasy writing, we haven’t managed to carve out a spot beyond our borders.

Other New Zealand writers who write realist fiction consider what I write to be commercial and appealing to the masses, but because I’m not writing American or U.K. stories my story is actually non-commercial, it only has local appeal. WorldCon will shine a spotlight on us briefly, but the trouble ultimately remains that we’re a small market for telling our own stories, our own brand of fantasy. If we’re going to develop in the future then we must become leaders and not just followers.

Our latest new New Zealand fiction showcase

In dividing the light, things are seen. And we notice ourselves.”
― John Allison New Zealand poet. 

New Zealand literature is a rich and diverse field one full of many voices and many stories. This range and diversity is well represented in our latest fiction showcase to focus  on new New Zealand fiction releases.

Our latest showcase ranges from the compulsive, tense, nail biting  page turner that is Call me Evie by J.P. Pomare to the more gentle captivating A dream of Italy by Nicky Pellegrino there is also the latest outing from best selling  author Catherine Robertson called What you wish for and Pearly Gates set in and celebrating small town New Zealand by Owen Marshall.  As well as  a veritable  host of  wonderful other voices and stories to be experienced and enjoyed.

Call 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)

A dream of Italy / Nicky Pellegrino.
“The picturesque mountain town of Montenello is selling off some of its historic buildings for just one euro each. To be considered as a future resident of Montenello contact the town’s mayor, Salvio Valentini. Many people read Salvio’s advertisement with excitement. 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.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Julian calendar / William Henry.
“A bright young photojournalist returns to London with the aim of releasing himself from a profound love affair that has stalled without explanation. Instead, he is derailed by memories of the secretive nurse who broke his heart, and rejuvenated by a man whose unexpected and intense friendship challenges the fundamental notion of love itself.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Photos of you / Tammy Robinson.
“People are here for me, to celebrate the anniversary of the day I was given life. On the very same day I’d just been told my life was all but over.’ When Ava Green turns twenty-eight, she discovers this will be her last birthday. The cancer she thought she’d beaten three years ago is back, only this time it’s terminal. But she is not going to let the cancer define her last, precious months, she is going to make her childhood dream come true: her wedding.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverWhat you wish for / Catherine Robertson.
“Dr Ashwin Ghadavi, the newly imported GP, is trying hard to fit into Gabriel’s Bay. His challenges include the immovable 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 determined to help her old friend, Devon, whether he wants it or not. She’s also 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 Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPearly Gates : a novel / Owen Marshall.
“This entertaining and insightful novel both skewers and celebrates small-town New Zealand. Pat `Pearly’ Gates has achieved a lot in his life and evinces considerable satisfaction in his achievements. He has a reputation as a former Otago rugby player and believes he would have been an All Black but for sporting injuries. He runs a successful real-estate agency in a provincial South Island town, of which he is the second-term mayor. Popular, happily married, well established, he cuts an impressive figure, especially in his own eyes. But will his pride and complacency come before a fall?” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverRotoroa / Amy Head.
“On tiny, isolated Rotoroa Island in the Hauraki Gulf is a treatment facility for alcoholic men. It’s here, at the Salvation Army-run home, 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 sent to the island by his family; 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 Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverThe Ice Shelf / Anne Kennedy.
“The Ice Shelf: an eco-comedy” On the eve of flying to Antarctica to take up an arts fellowship, thirty-something Janice, recently separated, has a long night of remembrance, regret and realisation as she goes about the city looking for a friend to take care of her fridge while she’s away. En route she discards section after section of her novel in the spirit of editing until there is nothing left to edit. The Ice Shelf, a novel written as Acknowledgements, is an allegory for the dangers of wasting love and other non-renewable resources.” (Syndetics summary)

Admissions : tales of life, death & love in a hospital not far from here … / Mira Harrison.
“Here are the stories of eight women doctors, nurses, cooks and cleaners at the heart of a hospital that connects them all in a city that could be anywhere. Inspired by Mira Harrison’s experiences in healthcare in the UK and NZ, these engrossing narratives unveil the shifting balance between professional and private worlds. Our scrupulous or haphazard plans are disrupted by falling in love; by our connections to others; by the birth of our children; by loss, grief, and ultimately death.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)

Latest Reader’s Choice Fiction selections

The Bight Edge of the World cover

Read something great, intriguing, surprising or satisfying? Want to let other people know about it?

The Readers’ Choice selections are books nominated by people who want to pass on their reading experience to the library community. These selections are highlighted with Reader’s Choice stickers so that others can find great reading material.  You can find slips for Reader’s Choice reviews in new books, or ask staff for one if you have a review or recommendation to embellish the library collection.

Shelter in place / Roberts, Nora
“Sometimes, there is nowhere safe to hide. It was a typical evening at a mall outside Portland, Maine. Three teenage friends waited for the movie to start. A boy flirted with the girl selling sunglasses. Mothers and children shopped together, and the manager at the video-game store tended to customers. Then the shooters arrived. The chaos and carnage lasted only eight minutes before the killers were taken down. But for those who lived through it, the effects would last forever.” (Catalogue)

Reader’s review: “One word, ‘Brilliant’. There is a reason why Nora Roberts is an international bestseller, her books just keep getting better and better.” (no rating, but I guess it would be high!)

Ascendant / Campbell, Jack
“In the three years since former fleet officer Rob Geary and former Marine Mele Darcy led improvised forces to repel attacks on the newly settled world of Glenlyon, tensions have only gotten worse. When one of Glenlyon’s warships is blown apart trying to break the blockade that has isolated the world from the rest of human-colonized space, only the destroyer Saber remains to defend it from another attack. Geary’s decision to take Saber to the nearby star Kosatka to safeguard a diplomatic mission is a risky interpretation of his orders, to say the least.” (Catalogue)

Reader’s review: “A good entry in a good series, although you get more out of it if you’ve red the books that come before it. A more thoughtful approach to political issues than is usual for military science fiction.” (4/5 stars) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tane’s war / Weir, Brendaniel
“One lifetime, two battles. It’s 1953 and Briar is a dreamer living with his father in Pukekohe. His behaviour sees him sent to a training farm to be “turned into a man”. But the plan backfires when his arrival awakens feelings in fellow shearer, Aussie. Tane is the farm foreman and his Maori heritage sets him apart. Briar and Aussie threaten the walls Tane has built around his own secret past; walls created in the trenches of WW1. Tane is confronted with a choice. He cannot change history but maybe he can help change the future.” (Catalogue)

Reader’s review: “I thought this book was excellent. It was very cleverly constructed with different interweaving timeframes and connected characters… It was also a sad eye-opener of cruel homophobia. Luckily views in Aotearoa are more tolerant now… (review abridged)” (5/5 stars) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The boat runner : a novel / Murphy, Devin
“Epic in scope and featuring a thrilling narrative with precise, elegant language, The Boat Runner tells the little-known story of the young Dutch boys who were thrown into the Nazi campaign, as well as the brave boatmen who risked everything to give Jewish refugees safe passage to land abroad. Through one boy’s harrowing tale of personal redemption, here is a novel about the power of people’s stories and voices to shine light through our darkest days, until only love prevails.” (Catalogue)

Reader’s review: “I thought this book was an excellent read for all mature readers… As an avid reader of books in the War genre I think this novel is among the very best with many unexpected twists and turns.  It certainly is thrilling” (5/5 stars) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Kompromat / Johnson, Stanley
Kompromat reveals how the devilishly cunning machinations of Russian President Igor Popov succeed in crucially influencing the electoral outcome on both sides of the Atlantic. Plot, counterplot and subplot are deftly woven into an “alternative” account of events which ends as Britain’s new Prime Minister, Mrs Mabel Killick, seeks her own mandate to deal with Brexit-related turbulence.” (Catalogue)

Reader’s review: “A different slant on political events made this book very entertaining but at times a bit confusing. It told a reasonably plausible story which while not deep was thought provoking. Bang up to date too!”. (4/5 stars) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

To the bright edge of the world / Ivey, Eowyn
“Lieutenant Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska’s hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. Forrester leaves behind his young wife, Sophie, newly pregnant with the child he had never expected to have. Adventurous in spirit, Sophie does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband carves a path through the wilderness. What she does not anticipate is that their year apart will demand every ounce of courage and fortitude of her that it does of her husband.” (Catalogue)

Reader’s review: “I thought this book was great.  Brought an era to life with a present day contrast to a colonial era.” (5/5 stars) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐