Family Fiction

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30 September 2017, Spiegeltent, Havelock North
Readers & Writers, HBAF

The Spiegeltent’s interior is sumptuous.  Rich red velvet and dark wood, glittering lights and shadowed nooks; it is another world.  A world where perhaps secrets could be revealed, under the dimmed lights.  Secrets are what we have come to hear about, those that drive the plots of two very different books, containing very different characters, settings and times, written by two perhaps not so different writers.

Jenny Pattrick and Mary-Anne Scott are chaired by Anna Mackenzie, another of our great Hawke’s Bay writers.  Mary-Anne’s most recent YA novel, Coming Home to Roost, is a contemporary novel set in a town not unlike in Hawke’s Bay, where Elliot (aka Rooster) struggles to keep a monumental secret from his family.  Jenny’s Leap of Faith explores the gruelling construction of the Makatote viaduct in the early 1900s through the eyes of young worker Billy, as he encounters shady characters and suspicious happenings.  Yet both, as Anna comments, have threads of the same theme running through them: secrets, family, big decisions.

Do the writers’ own families and the people around them inspire these plots and characters? Mary-Anne is mother to four boys, and she’s written two novels about…teenage boys, surely they’re her inspiration?  But no! The central story for Coming Home to Roost was borne from a conversation with an old friend whose son had hidden a huge secret from his family.  One of the other main characters, the straight-talking man of solitude, cats and rum, Arnie, was also influenced by a “well-known local character” who happens to play golf with her husband.  Jenny, not so much.  Her characters come from her imagination. But of course, in every character there is something of yourself, she says, and something of someone else.  And as for secrets?  The villain of Leap of Faith is running from a shady past.  Something dark makes for a good plot, she says.  “Gabriel Locke is a nasty man and it was good fun writing him!”

Along with hearing about the themes of their stories, we also gleaned some insight into the women’s daily writing routines.  Both are early birds, and write in the morning.  Mary-Anne thanks her enforced daily 5.45am childhood music practice for her doggedness. Although Jenny laughingly reveals that she was the one who made her children get up early for music practice, she too has had a daily routine of writing early.  When her mother was alive and living with the family she would start at 6am and write till 10.30am, when her mother would bring her coffee, and the rest of her day would begin.

Sitting in the dim light listening to these two writers talk about their lives is interesting, insightful.  Both talk about their families, their thoughts on youth, protecting our young men as much as we protect our girls, on older people and telling their stories.  Mary-Anne tells tales of being a mother to multiple, social teenage boys and “picking her way through sunbathing bodies to hang the washing out”, while Jenny shares how the first person to read her drafts has always been her husband, Laughton, and ponders how her writing process will change now he is ill.  They are both witty and warm, and passionate about their characters, and agree that the challenges of life for their characters, though they’re set in vastly different worlds and times, are enduring. I leave feeling I know them, and their novels, a little bit better, and hoping to read more from them both soon.

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