Booker prize novel 'comes home'

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 14/03/2014

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The Luminaries has finally come home.

Kiwi author Eleanor Catton wowed a crowd in Hokitika last night, her first trip back since winning the Man Booker Prize for her 832-page novel set in the West Coast township's 1860s gold rush heyday.

A sell-out audience of 460 people, mostly Coasters, packed Hokitika's Regent Theatre.

The 28-year-old sat on stage and chatted with her British publisher, Max Porter, about her epic novel then answered questions from the audience.

"I think tonight, in some respects, is the book's homecoming," Porter said.

Catton said an official welcome at Arahura Marae, near Hokitika, was "profoundly moving".

"I was able to meet the real life ancestors of a fictional character, which is trippy."

Greenstone hunter Te Rau Tauwhare was the only character named after a real Ngai Tahu person because of her respect for Maori whakapapa, she said.

Catton said her earliest idea for the novel was sparked from a tandem cycle trip with her father from Christchurch, where she grew up, across Arthur's Pass to the West Coast and back as a 14-year-old.

"On that trip, I started dreaming of a gold rush story."

She admitted plenty of readers had complained about her historical inaccuracies because she took "many many liberties with West Coast history".

However, her astrological theme was accurately based on the skies over Hokitika's gold fields in 1865 and 1866, the book's period.

"One thing we discovered just after publishing the novel was that the characters refer to the Tasman Sea very frequently in this book but it wasn't bloody well named till about 10 years after."

The final question was from an elderly local, who said his grandmother was named Staines, just like one of the book's central characters, and her brother was a goldminer who owned a pub in Kaniere. Another aunt, he said, was named Francis Wells, another of the characters.

"I've got chills," Catton said.

British television producer Andrew Woodhead has accompanied Catton to the West Coast to check out locations for a planned TV series based on the book.

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- The Press

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