Do you know who just walked past you in the street? The literary talent just noodling around your local supermarket, vaping on a street corner, putting their bin out in their nightie? Could be the next big thing lives next door. 

Hawke’s Bay specifically, and New Zealand in general, is home to some absolutely cracking writers and recent press says we don’t read them very much. I do, but that’s my job. 

If you find yourself wondering where to start, let’s take a look at who could be loitering in your local pub, or walking their poodle down Cuba Street. 

Hawke’s Bay has a really good publication offering opportunity to local voices. Erice Fairbrother and Valerie Thompson are the founders of EV Books and their journal, Vines, has just seen its third edition. 

Vines #3 features award-winning writers Nafanua Kersel and Rosheen Fitzgerald, both Hawke’s Bay Slam Champions, and Nafanua’s poem, ‘Names ‘n’ Shit’, gets special mention in poet Leonard Lambert’s foreword: 

“Now, I have to confess I hesitated on the brink of this one because anything with a title like ‘Names ‘n’ Shit’ is likely to be going for the quick hit, the easy gasp factor. Boy, was I wrong.” 

I’m not going to quote from the poem, because at $15, Vines is an absolute steal and deserves to be bought, but ‘Names ‘n’ Shit’ is a funny poem with a core of steel, straight from the heart of a Samoan woman keen to tell you how things are. 

Apart from Vines, Nafanua has just had pieces published in Vā: Stories from Women of the Moana, edited by Sisilia Eteuati and Lani Young. She’s a writer attracting attention in Aotearoa’s literary scene and remember, you heard it here first.

Also featured in Vines #3 is Napier’s Phoebe Wilton-Stuart, winner of this year’s Peter Wells Short Fiction Prize. Her story, ‘Tweezers’, is a chilling tale of close observation and fascination depicting an encounter between a little girl and her neighbour that is quite unsettling. Very nice work indeed.

Charity Norman is a familiar name in the Bay, having lived here for many years. Her novels are greatly anticipated and her brand-new one, Remember Me, is a cracker, set right here, nest-ling and lurking in the nooks and crannies of the Ruahine ranges.

Central character Emily has lived in London for years. She’s a renowned illustrator of children’s books, has a flat, a lovely grown-up son, a life. Back in New Zealand her father, Felix, is ailing, dementia tangling his brain, threaten-ing his independent life on the family property. A long distance, frank phone call from Raewyn next door finds Emily fronting up to family responsibility and flying home.

Emily arrives home and finds Felix living in a foggy world; when the mist fades he knows Emily, beats her at chess, works in the garden and walks the dogs. When it rolls back in he is distressed, confused, grasping at the edges of thoughts and verbalising memories to do with vibrant, clever Leah, missing for many years. What happened to Leah, and what does Felix know about it?

This is a story of a missing woman, a mystery to crack with the clues stacking up for Emily to follow. It is also a story of family in all its glory and complexity, of the thorny issue of ageing and illness, preserving a person’s dignity, doing what’s right, for everyone. Charity Norman strikes the perfect balance of riveting storytelling with keen psychological portraits of recognisable people and situations that so many families live through.

The Ockham New Zealand Book Awards are always fraught with controversy. Everyone’s got an opinion, right? There are those who mutter suspiciously about the politics of it all, about who pissed off who and didn’t make the list, one journalist describing the list as peopled by ‘wild cards and nobodies.’ Entertaining as this is, the list, and the surrounding think pieces, are worth a look to see who’s out there and what they’re writing.

Two novels that I thought were outstanding were longlisted, but not shortlisted, so now I have to read the short list to see what the wild cards and nobodies have done. She’s a Killer by Kirsten McDougall and Loop Tracks by Sue Orr missed out, but read them anyway.

Fabulous storytelling, social commentary, minds you might meet and be immediately inspired by. Of course read your Marian Keyes, Hanya Yanagihara, John Grisham, James Patterson (who has just released a very entertaining novel with Dolly Parton), whoever floats your boat. Let’s also awhi our own writers, so they continue to write, to grow, and to inspire others. Neil Gaiman has been spotted in the area, but you’re more likely to bump in to Nafanua and Charity in the pub. 

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