This year, the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival announced an important new initiative: the introduction of an Honoured New Zealand Writer. The very first writer chosen to be honoured in this way for “ the immense contribution they have made to the literary landscape of New Zealand “ is Maurice Gee.
Maurice Gee is a writer with a published career that spans half a decade, beginning with short stories in the 1950’s and ending with his most recent book The Limping Man that came out in 2011. His classic book Under the Mountain has been made into a film not once but twice, the latest being in 2009.
So it was with great anticipation that I went along on the last day of the festival to hear Maurice Gee reading extracts from his books and chatting about his career as a writer with Geoff Walker.
Maurice Gee began by telling the audience that he did not grant many interviews these days but considered it would be mean spirited not to turn up on this occasion.
We heard that his mother was a big influence and that she was a writer herself until “her family swallowed her up”. His father’s contribution to his development (as a reader and a writer) was to give him a Chums Annual full of bloodthirsty stories, which was odd, considering that he was a pacifist. For a while the young Maurice Gee was content with comic stories and it wasn’t until an elderly neighbor invited him to play a game of draughts that he moved onto novels. Seeing Maurice eyeing the books in his room his neighbor insisted that he borrow a copy of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Reluctantly Maurice took the book home. It had long words and tiny print but soon he was entranced. Looking back he reflected that he had been emotionally stunted by reading comics but grew again with Dickens.
Maurice was asked about his books many of which are dark and violent. His answer was that we all have darkness and violence in us. It is also a strong literary device and makes more of a story if the darkness erupts. In this way there is a before, and an after. Although he wished he could have had a bit more humour and lightness in his writing.
He talked about being misquoted in the past when he said that writing for children was easy, when what he really meant was that writing for children was easier for him to do.
Maurice Gee felt that Prowlers published in 1987 was his best novel, and he was the old man he liked the most.
We heard that a biography is being written on his life warts and all, but that sadly he won’t be writing another book for publication. Despite this, he feels no loss as he has a sense of completion.