Which New Zealand Authors Have Positively Impacted Your Reading Life?

When I read that Murray Ball had passed away about ten days ago, I remembered how much I was into his Footrot Flats comics when I was a kid. In fact I remember when I spent a week in hospital when I was in grade six, my parents and everyone buying me all those little 1/3rd A4 in height sized, Footrots Flats consecutively numbered books because they knew that was my favourite comic strip from the Sunday Mail kids comic colour pages lift out thing that used to exist back in the 80’s, which my grandparents used to save and put aside when they threw out the rest of the paper. I’d collect about a months worth when I visited them. Interesting that Footrot Flats with a lot of sexual and other adult references such as when Jess (the neighbour’s female dog) was in heat or when Wal’s girlfriend who Dog referred to as a hussy turned up. As well as a cat called Horse beating up other animals and a lot of other violence, the Murphy farm criminals threat, and aspects like this, probably today by more overprotective parenting influences wouldn’t be seen as a kids’ comic. But it was back in those days. My parents even game me a stuffed toy version of Dog, the main character from the comic strip when I was in hospital. All those comics and the stuffed toy are long gone, but I still remember how much I loved that comic when I was a kid.

Now I wasn’t the only kid that was into reading about what went on in the daily hurdles of Wal Footrot’s New Zealand sheep farm. So what made this New Zealand comic about life on a farm so appealing to Australian kids? I for one certainly had no intention or desire to want to live on a farm. Of all the places around the world you wanted to visit as a child, New Zealand probably wasn’t up there. Was it the characters? Was it the fact nothing was really off limits topic wise? If it happened on a farm with animals or humans, it appeared at some stage in these comic strips. Or was it Dog, a character who wanted to be cooler, braver and loved by everyone, who in reality was quite flawed, that kids could relate to? Who knows? If you want to revisit your own childhood or perhaps introduce these great adventures to a new generation you won’t find any of the original comic books in our libraries, but we do have some of the collections such as The Essential Footrot Flats, Footrot Flats Gallery 1 and Footrot Flats the Long Weekender. We also have the movie A Dog’s Tail Tale (imagine the first Tail in the title has been struck through, we’re limited with fonts in WordPress) whose theme song Slice of Heaven went onto become New Zealand’s unofficial anthem. But it had me thinking, what other New Zealand authors have had an impact on your reading life and dominated popular culture and you’d recommend other readers check out?

I’ll suggest two more. The first being thriller writer Paul Cleave. Most of his novels are set in a more crime ridden alternative version of Christchurch. His 2006 novel The Cleaner is one of the best books I’ve ever read. The Cleaner has your common serial killer thriller type novel but also mixed in is a side story of comic twists as characters assume the wrong thing about other characters and that those characters did something the other ones did, and other things all with hilarious results, (similar to what Donald E Westlake used to do in his classic comic capers). There’s also a wrench scene that comes completely out of the blue in the storyline that will bring tears to any male reader’s eyes. The basic plot of The Cleaner is a sort of as it happens memoir by a serial killer named Joe who has been terrorising the streets of Christchurch by night. By day he works as a cleaner (hence the title of the novel) in a police station where everyone thinks he is mentally challenged, his nick name is slow Joe, a role he’s happy to play up. While keeping an eye on the detectives on his case one day he learns another victim has been added to his tally. Not impressed he decides to solve this new murder himself and deal with this framer with his own justice. Most authors who write a masterpiece struggle with consistency, but although there’s one or two that aren’t quite up there, most come close to the bar set by The Cleaner. My next favourite would be Blood Men.

When Hunt for the Wilderpeople came onto DVD, Kaye at Broadbeach library suggested I check out the author’s book this film was based on. That author being Barry Crump and that novel Wild Pork and Watercress. And that was a very good suggestion. If you’ve seen the movie, it’s very different to the novel. For one in this book Ricky is related to the Faulkners, with his mother being the sister of Aunty Bella. He has spent time in various foster homes but in the book was in juvie, only brought to the farm because he was too young to be sentenced there after committing his latest crime. Like the movie Bella wanted him there, Hec just tolerated him because he loved Bella. In the movie Ricky runs away by himself into the wilderness to avoid the social services woman (who isn’t in the book) and so he won’t go back into the system, loose his dog etc. In the book Hec doesn’t go into the bush to bring Ricky back, instead the two actually make a decision to go into the wilderness together until Ricky turns fifteen when he will be old enough to live where he wants, plus Hec is losing the farm and doesn’t want to live in town. Once in the New Zealand bush, the similarities to the movie are pretty rare. It’s really a completely different story from that point on. The movie was a light comedy, the book is a darker survival, coming of age tale, written by Ricky. The difficulty of writing a book through the mind of a kid for an adult and also of a different race would I imagine be pretty hard to do plausibly, but Crump has done a great job. There’s also a chapter at the end written by another character the two came across at one point in the book about his encounter with them, which lets you see the two main characters through someone else’s eyes who isn’t the fourteen year old child. This allows you to see them the way the rest of the New Zealand public would have seen them and I think really enhanced the story.

The library has a 2015 republished version of this 1986 book with ties to the film (it’s sort of a promotion of the upcoming at the time film). It shares the film’s title combined with the actual one. I highly recommend anyone after a good survival tale, checking it out.

So which New Zealand authors have you enjoyed over your reading years? Who should other Australians and people from other countries check out from the shelves of our library?If you’re curious this a photo of a Kiwi in Queenstown, I took in 2003.  He is not real and therefore not able to write anything, but if he could I’m sure he’d have an awesome story or two to tell!