This month, we caught up with novelist, poet and short story writer Keri Hulme. Readers will know her best from her novel The Bone People, which won the 1984 New Zealand Book Award for Fiction and the Booker Prize in 1985. All of her work engages myth and dreams, violence and tenderness, the here and now and the other. But instead of discussing themes in her work, or style choices, or present work as a writer, we took a different turn with our interview series this month. We caught up with Hulme to talk not about writing but about everyday life in Okarito.
FF: Keri Hulme, you are heralded as a uniquely New Zealand voice. But besides being a writer, you are deeply connected to everyday living. Could you tell us about how the following are important to you, not only as a writer, but as a reader and a Kiwi in general (or a South Islander, specifically)…
KH: I’m not unique except as being an individual (as we all are.)
On place: the coast and the sea
KH: There are very very few people who write about the places that mean most to me — Okarito? Okarito! Baiting. Birds of all degree. The skid of flounders under your feet, the stab of spear, the taste of their meat. Bait! The total excitement of good catching, and the parties we used to have after.
Unfortunately, there are not many of us left in Okarito who did this kind of stuff.
Moeraki? Ditto. Far south (e.g. Colac Bay & Rakiura) — little stuff written that is anything other than local histories…! Hey I *collect* local histories! I cannot live away from a coastal place. I have tried but I just get depressed & sick, drink too much and don’t do anything creative.
On flavour: fishing and food
KH: O I could talk for hours about this — fish is best when tasting of fish: of course you can enhance that taste — but shit o dear! People who advocate eating pickled &%$!@@! onions with whitebait fried in BEEF FAT! A leetle egg goes well with ‘bait or blue cod the old flour & dip in beaten egg trick — great for a clean fry — but can I say I lurrrve sashimi? And ika ota? And that the best fish is that which you have caught yourself, filleted/cleaned almost immediately, and kept lightly chilled until you eat it (desirably, within a couple of hours).
On connections: history and family
KH: I’m southern (Kati Mamoe/Kai Tahu), bred & born in Otautahi, brought up there & in Oamaru/Moeraki. Have lived on the West Coast (Tai Poutini) since I was 23 (the last 40 years at Okarito.) While my greatgreatgrandmother, Piraurau, came from that area, I don’t want to die there. I’d prefer the south.
Other ancestry include Orkney Scots (which is important to me) and Lancashire English (which isn’t).
On disconnects: myth and reality
KH: There’s a disconnect? Really? Myth informs our realities, can make sense of our lives, teach us about the horrors that are part of our lives, and connect us to all the other beings that we share the Great Round Beast, our mother Earth, with.
On language: humour and horror
KH: Well, humour is the leaven, whether sly, snide, a bellylaugh or a giggle. Humans are unique in as much as we can laugh/interpret funny drawings and written/spoken/otherwise portrayed comedy — but we, sure as, are not unique in enjoying a humourous situation (I’ve experienced bonobo humour — and no, it didn’t involve shit (the youngster was a pickpocket)). Even cats have a sense of humour (and so definitely, do birds).
Horror — is everywhere: we come easily to the language of horror…
Thank you, Keri Hulme, for the interview this month.
For the November ‘eye contact’ issue, please go here.