Q. Why a historical novel?
A. Pakeha New Zealanders are really quite different to British people. Now that’s hardly news to anyone, but when I got home after a long stint in the UK, I started to wonder how we’d got that way – to look afresh at some of the attitudes I’d always taken for granted, growing up. What happened to the British who arrived here with all their Britishness? How, and why, did they turn into us?
La Rochelle’s Road is my attempt at an answer – one of many – to those questions.
Q. Why Banks Peninsula?
A. The simple answer is that I was living there. Some might call it cheating, but there’s nothing nicer than being able to write about what’s going on outside your window, and quite a lot of what happens in La Rochelle’s Road – particularly the weather – came out of my daily adventures with the dog.
There is also a longer answer, in that while some aspects of Banks Pensinsula’s history are typical of colonial New Zealand, others are unique. Right from the very first, groups of Europeans established themselves there only to find what they’d built under threat from a new wave of immigrants with a different agenda. The very early independent settlers found themselves overtaken by France; the French settlers suddenly found themselves part of England. It all added – and continues to add, since immigration is by no means a thing of the past – another layer of tension.
Q. Is Karupoti Bay a real place?
A. No, although it does closely resemble a smaller version of Okains and
Le Bons bays, the two beaches on the Eastern side of Banks Peninsula
where I’ve spent most time. Pigeon Bay, on the other hand, is very real.
Karupoti, by the way, is a variety of potato.
Q. What do the Māori words in the prologue mean?
A. Aumoana means both the colour blue, and the open sea.
Pounamu is a jade-like stone particular to New Zealand. In English, we call it greenstone.
Piki-kotuku, or piki kōtuku, is defined in the Te Aka Māori-English dictionary as ‘darling, treasure, symbol of prestige and uniqueness’. More literally, it is a plume of white heron feathers traditionally worn on the head – piki meaning ‘plume of feathers’ and kōtuku being the white heron (Egretta alba modesta), which is a rare bird in New Zealand.
Iti-kahuraki (or iti kahurangi) is defined by Te Aka as ‘something of great value.’
It’s a very interesting word if you break it down. Iti means small or unimportant; kahuraki means something or someone precious. So one might translate it literally as little precious things. But since kahuraki can also mean ‘blue’, literally the clothing (kahu) of the sky (raki/rangi), one might also translate it as little pieces of the cloak of the sky. Kahuraki is also a name for one of the main types of pounamu.
Q. How many generations of your family have lived in New Zealand?
A. I was the first member of my family to be born here. My parents arrived from England on a rather more comfortable ship in the 1960s. I grew up as the child of emigrants, and in my early twenties I became one myself – I guess that’s one of the things that attracted me to the Petersons’ story.
My parents were a young working class couple from the north of England hoping to make a better life for themselves and their children. They arrived in New Zealand expecting palm trees, and were promptly sent to live in Invercargill (at a very sub-tropical 46-degrees south), where they were extremely happy. It was an entry in my mother’s diary prior to her setting out for New Zealand that gave me the courage to make Daniel Peterson the idealist he was: it was ‘the ideas of the place’, she wrote, that made her want to come here.