Leap of Faith

1 October, MTG theatre
Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival 2017

Jenny Pattrick novels feature firmly amongst my favourite novels of all time – with Catching the Current, The Denniston Rose and Landings arguable occupying positions in my top ten – so it was with absolute enraptured delight and awe that I attended this intimate audience with Jenny Pattrick at Napier’s MTG theatre.  And intimate it was, with the audience of 50 or so seated in the first three rows of the theatre, mere metres away from Jenny and her interviewer Paula Murdoch (manager of the Hastings District Libraries).

Described by Paula as “New Zealand writing royalty”, Jenny Pattrick, OBE, and pioneer of New Zealand historical fiction, shared with us her experiences of writing historical novels (nine so far).  She told us of how she stumbled accidentally into writing in the era she does (early 1900s), prompted by a comment made by American novelist Annie Proulx, “Don’t write about what you know; write about what you don’t know”.  It was shortly after this that Jenny visited Denniston, an old coal mining settlement on the west coast of the South Island, and the rest (to excuse the pun) is history. Her first novel, The Denniston Rose, remains one of New Zealand’s bestsellers.

After a few questions from Murdoch about how Jenny got her inspiration and about her “recycling” of characters (several of Jenny’s characters appear in more than one novel), Jenny read to us an excerpt from her latest novel, Leap of Faith, which was published this year.  The story is set in 1907 and centres around the construction of the Makatote viaduct in the Central Plateau, which was to join the two ends of the Main Trunk Line.  Hearing Jenny read from this novel was such a privilege, leaving me wishing I could hear her read all her novels to me.

The opportunity for questions from the audience allowed Jenny to share about how she balances research with creative writing (her answer being that she typically researches for a year then writes and researches concurrently for a second year).  She also talked about her time in Menton, France on the Katherine Mansfield scholarship where she worked on her “Samoan novel”, Inheritance, as well as the children’s book and songs, The Very Important Godwit, which she wrote with her husband, Laughton Pattrick.   Jenny was also asked about her time in the Faroe Islands and this was the highlight of the day for me as she brought to life my favourite Jenny Pattrick novel.  Amongst other things, she described her week there including her participation in the ritualistic singing of sagas which is a central theme of Catching the Current.

The hour-long discussion ended with a book-signing opportunity which I readily seized.  I left the theatre, clutching my autographed copy of Leap of Faith, with the anticipation of reading it with the author’s image in my mind and the sound of her voice in my ears.

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