More writers to talk on the walk

DIANA DEKKER
Last updated 05:00 20/03/2013
writer's walk
FAIRFAX NZ

NEW WORDS: Elizabeth Knox, James McNeish, Joy Cowley and Jack Lasenby are to be added to Wellington's Writer's Walk series.

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Four new names have been added to the Wellington Writers Walk: Joy Cowley, Elizabeth Knox, Jack Lasenby and James McNeish.

Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae will unveil names and quotes tomorrow to bring to 23 the number of writers sculpturally enshrined on the waterfront.

The walk opened in 2002 and features sculptures created primarily in concrete by architect and designer Fiona Christeller. It celebrates the place of Wellington in the writers' lives and their place in the life of Wellington.

Elizabeth Knox, 54, best known for her book, The Vintner's Luck, approves of people stumbling on highly literary and quirky sculptural interludes in the city. "I like those things. I just like them."

Knox is Wellington-born. She loves Wellington's clean, swimmable harbour and the ability to walk everywhere, also the "lacework" of hilly roads and the way the city allows people to "look down on other people's lives. You can see your far-away neighbours from lots of places. It's a kinship thing".

Knox will have two books out this year, a young adult book called Mortal Fire and an adult book, Wake. The adult book is literary science fiction set in a dormitory suburb "inserted" outside Nelson. "It had to be inserted if you're going to do dreadful things to people."

Knox's literary output almost stalled for three years after her mother, who died a year ago, became seriously ill. Both new books relate to her caring for her mother and feeling responsible for keeping her as independent as long as possible.

"Both books have people being trapped, the whole thing of someone watching someone keeping their intelligence and emotional response intact but slowly being unable to communicate. I was the person who tried to keep her independent, with smaller and smaller possible measures of independence. My experience is all disguised, as usual."

James McNeish, 81, rates his inclusion on the walk "a privilege".

"The whole thing is a good idea. I'm not a Wellingtonian, except latterly, but I happened to have a quotation which seemed appropriate. It happened to fit.

"Wellington is the only part of New Zealand worth living in. You can walk anywhere and it has the feeling of a village, and the drawbacks and advantages. Wellingtonians have a certain edge to them, like the weather."

Auckland-born McNeish is working on the third draft of a novel "which should have been finished last month. The publisher is waiting for it". He started it on a Creative New Zealand residency in Berlin in 2009 but it harks back to research for Lovelock, his 1986 Booker Award nominee. A Lovelock contemporary at the infamous 1936 Olympics, which proved a propaganda coup for Hitler, was a resistance fighter executed by the Nazis in 1944. "It never ceases to amaze me, the Hitler era."

McNeish's last published book was his memoir, Touchstones.

He has yet to take in the waterfront sculptures. "It will be a nice surprise. I would like to do more walking but my ticker's not so good. I was playing tennis till last year and that was fun. This year I had to stop. a great sadness.

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"My brain still ticks over. I can still write and still see. Writers are very lucky people. You don't retire. One of the worst things of all is retirement."

Joy Cowley, 76, views the walk as very positive.

"In a larger sense Wellington has a heart, and a cultural heart. Poets and writers and artists always feel at home in Wellington. There's something about the place. It's homeland.

"Frank Sargeson said there were more poets in Wellington per square mile than anywhere else in New Zealand. I do think we're the envy of other centres with their arts centres spread out over large areas, like Auckland. Even Miramar isn't too far away."

Cowley spends her time between Wellington and the Wairarapa. In April she will have a knee replacement "so I will be laid up for three months".

"I have a novel for [publishers] Gecko ready to go. It has been on the backburner for three years. I have a long gestation period for novels and then when I start they go quickly." The title of the children's novel is Speed of Light. "I can't say anything more. Telling a story gives away its energy. It begins in a southerly storm."

Jack Lasenby, 82, has a jovial gripe about the way he has – to his delight – been included on the walk.

"The've put me up sideways, apparently. I've been teaching kids for years to read top left to bottom right and now I have to stick my head sideways to read my own quotation.

Lasenby shifted to Wellington in 1969 to edit the School Journal. He's working "as prolifically as ever", on a teenage novel, a sequel to Calling The Gods, which won the Young Adult Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards last year. The new book is the third in a trilogy. "I'm a few thousand words into it. I've just turned 82 and I'm lucky to be busy with something to keep me off the streets."

The book is set several hundred years in the future and relates to his fear of the worst happening in an overpopulated world which could be stricken with something like avian flu or swine virus. "Despite our superior medical technology, we can't cope with those sorts of things."

Optimistically, and looking back at his years in the bush as a possum culler, he considers a world without "a camp oven, a billy or a knife" and concludes: "Maori were here a long time without any of these things."

- The Dominion Post

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