New Zealand is on top of the world this month. Auckland singer Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor, aged just 16 and better known as Lorde, knocked Miley Cyrus off the US charts and just went to No. 1 in the UK. And, more substantially for us writers, Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize for her novel The Luminaries.
It’s the second time a Kiwi has won the coveted Booker. Catton’s win – coming after Lloyd Jones’ nomination and Keri Hulme’s similar win – also underscores just how much writing talent there is in New Zealand. I haven’t read Catton’s book yet, but I understand it flouts the usual structure – successfully – and that is SO hard to do well.
It’s set in New Zealand’s colonial gold rush, which is also bold. Those stories are topic de jour in New Zealand at the moment. I discovered this a while back when I chatting about books I might write with a commissioning editor at Random House. I mentioned novels. ‘You could write one on the gold rush,’ she explained. ‘They sell well’. Alas, I was flat out of story ideas. I’d also written non-fiction about the period a couple of times and knew what I’d have to research for a novel, which demands a different style of data.
More to the point, as soon as a topic’s in vogue, it’s too late to leap on the band wagon. Especially in New Zealand, where just four percent of local books published are novels. (The book that actually emerged from that meeting was my non-fiction Big Ideas, which sat on the local best-seller lists for some months in 2009 and has only just gone out of print.)
So, to me, writing a novel – of epic length – on the goldfields, and catapulting it to the top of the literary world, is awesome.
All power to Catton’s writing arm – and I’m sure she has a great future ahead of her.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
Coming up this week: More NaNo writing tips and ways to get those 50,000 words and ‘Write It Now’ – an ongoing exploration of all things writing.