Saturday, December 10, 2016

In praise of: Karyn Hay

Photo by Chris Skelton for Fairfax.

To Auckland on Wednesday for the launch of Karyn Hay’s new novel March of the Foxgloves at the Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby. Launches there are always good and convivial. The only drawback with this one was that I was the launcher. This is more or less what I said:
We all know Karyn as a brilliant broadcaster on radio and TV. She is also a fine journalist – the interviews she did for last year’s New Zealand Women in Rock on Prime were a model of empathy – she knows the territory – but she was firm with them too. Nobody was let off the hook.
With all these talents, can she also write fiction? I’m sorry to say it, but. . . yes she can. Please don’t hate her.
Her first novel, Emerald Budgies, published under a pseudonym – she is the Artist Formerly Known as Lee Maxwell – was a cracker and won Best First Book in the 2001 Montana awards. A few years later she was awarded the Buddle Findlay Sargeson Fellowship. It’s been a bit of a wait since for March of the Foxgloves – for all of us – but it has been worth the wait.
The novel is intelligent, sexy, witty – just like the author – and is beautifully written. There is sparky dialogue, lovely descriptions of place, and the two women Frances and Dolly are great characters. You’d want to meet them.
It’s about women’s independence, how new technology can enable that, narcissism and obsession, there’s sex and drugs and music, and a whole lot more.
It was especially interesting for me because it is set in London and Auckland, cities I know, but mostly in Tauranga, where I grew up. So I knew the streets and buildings. I felt right at home.
I learned a lot while editing it. I do a lot of fact-checking when editing fiction, just as much as I do when editing non-fiction – but this one was really hard. Because much of the factual material wasn’t in my reference books, not even in the Centennial History of Tauranga. Karyn had dug it all out of old newspapers, all sorts of obscure places. When I could check something, she was invariably right. That was impressive – and very unusual in historical fiction, in my experience.
But the best part, apart from the pleasure of working on such a terrific novel, was how much we laughed during the process. Even though we both take writing and editing very seriously, it was a lot of fun. I have edited many authors – Lauris Edmond, Vincent O’Sullivan, Paddy Richardson, Graeme Lay, Lloyd Jones, Kelly Ana Morey, loads – but Karyn is, I have to say, by far the sweariest.
And now here is the published novel. The paperback looks good but the hardback looks fantastic. The illustrations by John Constantine are lovely and the photos Vicky Papas Vergara took of burlesque artist Miss Sina King are brilliant, exactly as I imagined that the photos Frances took of Dolly would look. It is a thrill to have been involved in such a superb publication. I know you will enjoy reading it when you have bought your copy. And now, here is Karyn Hay!
 After the launch Karyn and I went with friends for a drink, as is customary after a book launch. Then dinner at SPQR, as is customary in Ponsonby. Then she dragged me to a bar (The Golden Dawn: Tavern of Power) to see Voom. They were much louder than my band was when I played that venue, and better. Good drummer, which is the main thing with a band. And a good night, which is the main thing with a book launch.

Stephanie Jones’s review of March of the Foxgloves for Coast FM was enthusiastic: “Hay is a sly and delightful wordsmith, a grand raconteur of the page, in whose hands historical fiction feels utterly current, even urgent.”

David Herkt interviewed Karyn for Stuff here. She tells him: “We think of history as with people who were entirely different, but often that's a misconception. We have the same motivations – and foibles, of course – and the same ambiguities.”

Radio Live plugs the novel here.

Plutocrats can order the hardback here; paupers can order the paperback here.

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