Ted Dawe's Into the River wins American publishing deal

Author Ted Dawe with a copy of his banned book Into the River.
JASON DORDAY

Author Ted Dawe with a copy of his banned book Into the River.

It may be banned in New Zealand, but Ted Dawe's controversial and award-winning novel Into the River is about to reach a global audience.

Dawe has secured a publishing deal with independent American publishing house Polis Books.

Into the River was the first book to be banned in more than 20 years in New Zealand after the censorship board slapped an interim ban on it while considering whether it should be restricted or not.

The review on the book was requested by Christian lobby group Family First and the board meets this Friday to make a decision.

Publisher and novelist Jason Pinter acquired the North American rights to Into the River and Dawe's earlier novel Thunder Road (the prequel to Into the River) directly from Random House New Zealand. Polis is also interested in the third book in the series, Into the World, which is currently on its ninth draft before publication.

Polis is planning on publishing Into the River, in both hardcover and e-book, in June 2016.

However, the deal is bittersweet for Dawe.

"It does annoy me because I wrote this for New Zealand kids, not American kids," he said.

"I wrote this for those boys who don't enjoy reading and aren't included in the education system – they are the ones who lose out."

The deal is all signed and the publishers will be putting out their own, Americanised, version but Dawe has asked them to keep the cover art, as it was done by his wife.

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"Some of the changes include having a glossary for the Maori words."

Extremist groups like Family First are setting a dangerous precedent for New Zealand writers, said Dawe.

"The ultimate goal of writing is to get an audience and give them something to think about.

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"When the R14 ban got slapped on the book, not only were my sales nothing, it was taken off the shelves in every library so no one was reading it.

"It means extremist groups can say 'I don't like this' and go to the censor."

On Friday the Board of Review are meeting in regards to Into the River and Dawe's "fingers are crossed" they lift the restriction.

It even affects Kindle, he said.

"Amazon has put a block on for all New Zealand buyers. A friend of mine was in Australia and tried to buy it but Amazon recognised their Kindle was from New Zealand so they blocked it.

"It's kind of freaky. It's not even the government."

If the R14 restriction remains, the next step is the New Zealand Court of Appeal, said Dawe.

"Then it becomes a freedom of expression issue. There's a whole bunch of lawyers waiting in the wings to jump in."

The prequel to Into the River, Thunder Road, did well but over its 10 year life span only sold 6000 copies in New Zealand, said Dawe.

He's looking forward to seeing how his work does in the lucrative American market

"It's a very young, vigorous publisher and it's exciting for me because it's quite difficult to get published in New Zealand and once you are published it is a very small market, there's no money in it."

On Wednesday night Dawe will be talking at Auckland Central City Library for a free discussion about the controversy surrounding Into the River.

The talk will run from 6pm-7pm. 

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