A book I really enjoyed reading this year was the Wellington political intrigue novel ‘The One That Got Away’ (Town Belt Press), by “Jennifer Palgrave”.  Jennifer Palgrave is the pen-name for Lois Cox & Hilary Lapsley. I interviewed them about the book.

This is a real Wellington novel (although partly set in the UK), with places like the Whistling Sisters and Te Papa. What gave you the idea to write about a plot to kill David Lange?

We were talking about the disastrous effect Rogernomics had had on New Zealand and remembering how divisive the policies had been, not only in the country but also in the Labour caucus. With feelings running so high, David Lange wanting to stop for a cup of tea might have seemed outrageous enough for a fanatic or two to consider poison…


While this is a work of fiction, there are a number of real people mentioned in the book, like David Lange and Kim Hill. Were there ethical considerations in how you portrayed people?

We had to be aware of such considerations. We wanted the novel to seem possible but, for example, we couldn’t have portrayed some of the real people enthusiastic about Rogernomics as villains (although we were tempted). We were happy to feature people like Kim Hill doing what they do in public weekly. Some of the more private scenes involving Lange, for example, his kindness to the fictious MP, Michael, can be imaginatively deduced from the various memoirs written about him and the era. Other scenes like the Oxford debate have been exhaustively described in non-fiction pieces.

One of your characters talks about women in politics doing “emotional shitwork”. Do you think things have changed much since the Lange era?

Any place where men and women interact, that still goes on to some extent! But we’ve had three women Prime Ministers since then and there is a much greater proportion of women in Parliament now. We hope things have changed.


You wrote this collaboratively. What was your process?

We talked about the shape of the book as well as the plot details as we went and would each write particular scenes. All done in longhand at the dining table! Then we would dictate them to each other as we typed them into the computer. Some editing would happen then. Once we had a full draft, we edited together – and now, we’re not even sure who first wrote various pieces.


How have you drawn on your own experiences in writing ‘The One That Got Away’? Was there much research involved?

We’re old enough to have lived through the eighties as adults, and Lois was very involved in the Labour Party until about 1984. We used places we knew and experiences we’d had to flesh out the story. For example, Hilary had enjoyed a holiday on Naxos; and Lois had spent time in Cambridge, though not as an undergraduate. We both like the walks around Wellington – and Lois confesses that Monty in the book is very closely modelled on her daughter’s late dog, Duchess. Some of the house interiors are based on houses we know – but our characters are not based on the people who live in them.

We still had to do research. We read about the international money-go-round and the lives of the super rich. The books we mention in our afterword reminded us of the time and told us more about the inner workings of Lange’s office.

Who do you think this novel will particularly appeal to?

As our heroine identifies as lesbian, we expected that we would get a readership in the lesbian community but have been pleased that many others have enjoyed the book too, for its portrayal of politics then and now.

What’s next for “Jennifer Palgrave”?

We’re glad you asked that. We’ve been writing about what happened to our heroine Lauren, the year after the events in The One that Got Away. In that book, she helped with Jacinda and Labour’s successful campaign in 2017. Now Lauren has turned her attention to climate change and finds herself embroiled in the possible murder of a climate change activist. The book about that adventure will be available in early 2021.

Where can people buy a copy of ‘The One That Got Away’? 

Unity Books and Another Chapter in Wellington have copies and the Women’s Bookshop in Auckland. It is also available online as a Kindle book.

Thanks Lois and Hilary. Looking forward to the sequel!

The Meow Gurrrls poetry group will be reading from our new zine at Photospace Gallery, Level 1 Courtenay Place this Saturday 21st November,
1 – 3pm. Meow Gurrrls reading on the day will be Abra Sandi King, Mary-Jane Duffy, Mary Macpherson, Sudha Rao and Janis Freegard and there will be music from Ainsley Day. The zine also includes work from Rewa Morgan and Kirsten Le Harivel and lovely illustrations by Mary-Jane Duffy. Copies will be available for sale in the gallery.

Hope to see you there! You can also watch our Meow Gurrls videos on Youtube.

Every year, the New Zealand Society of Authors celebrates Courage Day (the New Zealand name for the Day of the Imprisoned Writer). The official day is 15 November, but this year, the Wellington branch of NZSA will observe the day on Monday 16 November.

Courage Day recognises writers who have been imprisoned or oppressed because of their writing and is named after James Courage, a New Zealand novelist and poet. His book, A Way of Love (1959), is regarded as the first published gay novel by a New Zealander and it was banned here.

We are very lucky to have Dr Christopher Burke joining us to talk about James Courage, having studied his life, literary works, journals and correspondence.

Mandy Hager, author and president of the NZSA, will also talk to us about Courage Day and the ’empty chair’ movement.

The meeting is at 6pm at Vic Books Pipitea and all are welcome to attend. There will be a cash bar and we ask for a small contribution towards venue costs if you can.

Here’s a clip of me reading at the launch, from the Wellington City Library’s Youtube channel. Always a bit weird to watch oneself!

A few people have asked me where ‘Reading the Signs’ is available. You can order directly from the publisher, The Cuba Press, at or look out for it in indie bookshops, like Food Court Books, opening soon in Newtown.

Looking forward to reading in Palmerston North with these wonderful Cuba Press poets on Tuesday night 6:30pm 27th October 2020 at the Palmerston North City Library. I will be reading from my new book, Reading the Signs.

Image may contain: 6 people, text

I started writing this book while I held the Ema Saiko Poetry Fellowship at NZ Pacific Studio in 2014. Now it’s becoming a real thing, thanks to The Cuba Press. The poetry sequence in the book deals with loss and recovery, climate change and gender fluidity. Images (including this remarkable cover) are by the inimitable Neil Johnstone, who will also be playing music with Steve Burridge on the day. The launch date coincides with the last day of Neil’s ‘Chalk Dogs Have No Names’ exhibition – great opportunity for art, music, poetry and a drink in convivial company. 1pm 24 October 2020 at Potocki Paterson in Dixon St. I’d love to see you there. Bring your friends!

So – the Pegasus Books poetry readings are back on in Wellington and this Friday 9th October, I have the great pleasure to be reading with Dinah Hawken, Helen Heath and Sam Duckor-Jones. Hurrah!

6:30pm Friday 9 October 2020
Pegasus Books, Left Bank, Cuba St, Wellington, NZ

Hope to see you there!

https://www.facebook.com/pegasusbooksnz

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5b/2008-09_Pegasus.JPG/1024px-2008-09_Pegasus.JPG

Here’s the latest Meow Gurrls’ offering for you to enjoy: ‘Wish No. 29’ by Abra Sandi King.

So, the New Zealand Arts Festival is upon us and this year, I’m appearing in the Joy of Queer Lit Salon. Here are the deets – all welcome. Maybe see you there!

The Joy of Queer Lit Salon

Ticket Information:

  • General Admission: $19.00
  • Buy Tickets
  • Additional fees may apply
There are loads of fantastic events at the Festival. It’s going to be great!

 

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Wordle: janisfreegard.com

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