Q. What’s a typical writing day like for you?
A. I’m not a fan of mornings. On days when I don’t have somewhere to be, I get up when it gets light. I deal with whatever jobs I have to do, phone calls, emails, chores, so I won’t be distracted later on. Then I go out with the dog and we walk for a couple of hours. That’s my thinking time. By the time I get home, I’ve usually sorted out at least a couple of sentences and a plan for what comes after them, and then I sit down and write for five or six hours, most days. After dinner I watch a bit of TV, give my brain a break. If I’m on my own, I’ll turn telly off, put some music on – I tend to develop a particular album or playlist I like to listen to for each novel – stare out the window and think about what I’m working on for another couple of hours. Big picture stuff, usually. I don’t try to work the page again. At most, I might make a note on my phone. That way, it’s easier to make the thought go away if I decide I don’t like it in the morning. Then I go to bed, maybe read for a bit, and let my subconscious do its work.
Q. What do you do when you’re not writing?
A. I love to cook, to travel, to read. I love film and television, too. I have a jar of very beautiful brushes on my bedside table to remind me that one day I will paint – they’ve been there for eight years, so far.
Q. So where was it you grew up, exactly?
A. A small town about sixty kilometres north of Invercargill in the South Island
of New Zealand. Most New Zealanders have never heard of it. When my family moved there in the mid-70s, it was still a stop on the railway line between Invercargill and Kingston. Back then it had a gas station, an engineering works
which my father and uncle ran, a dairy, a fish and chip shop, a post office, a pub,
a transport yard and a Four Square supermarket. We rode the Kingston Flyer
steam train on its last trip up the line. By the time my parents moved away at
the end of the 80s, only the dairy and the supermarket were left.
Q. What was it like growing up in such a small town?
A. We had a lot of freedom. In those days the family dog was considered a
perfectly good chaperone for small children, and nowhere was out of bounds.
I spent a lot of time wandering around with the countryside with my own
thoughts, so I guess it was pretty good practice for the life I have now.
Q. Did you write as a child?
A. A bit. Mostly I drew. Art was my main focus until I left high school.
Q. What were your favourite books growing up?
A. I loved The Chronicles of Narnia, Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Ursula Le Guin. Later there was Austen and the Brontes. There was a time when I wanted to be a zoologist and read all the Gerald Durrell books I could get my hands on. I read Animal Farm when I was nine – not by accident but because my teacher suggested I should. I enjoyed it very much, but together with Lord of the Flies and Lord of the Rings it helped form a view of the world that was probably a bit disturbing in a ten year old. Basically I read everything I found, including anything anybody else put down for more than five minutes. By the time I got to high school, I’d worked my way through Still Life With Woodpecker, The Clan of the Cave Bear, The World According to Garp and (as a budding Irving fan) The Hotel New Hampshire.
The English syllabus seemed a bit tame after that.
Q. Do you still read a lot?
A. Of course. But these days I’m a little more selective.
Q. Do you wish you’d started to write seriously earlier in life?
A. No. I’m glad I went through my twenties and early thirties fully in the moment.
I got to go to a lot of places and meet a lot of people unconnected to writing, and I think that’s important. Writing is about collecting empathies, and if you're making notes - mental or otherwise - about what you're experiencing as it happens, you're not experiencing life as other people do.