Patricia Grace discussed her new novel “Chappy” with Paula Morris in a session at the Christchurch Arts Festival. This was in the Speigeltent, which is attractive, but rather cold.
Hearing Patricia talk about being brought up in two different worlds (Irish and Maori) reminded me of her novel “Cousins” which I read earlier this year. These days she lives among people she grew up with, in a community in Plimmerton, close to all the amenities of Wellington city. The starting point of “Chappy” came from hearing her husband talk about a Japanese man who lived in Ruatoria prior to the second world war. During the war he was interned on Soames Island, and later deported, leaving his family behind. Patricia wondered how he may have come to New Zealand, and made up ideas about this. She writes about ordinary people leading ordinary lives, and for Maori land issues are part of ordinary life. In “Chappy” she writes about parallel issues in Hawaii.
Patricia works hard at her writing. In earlier years (with seven children) she wrote from 9 to 5 daily, but now (aged 78) it’s mornings only and she’s “gone by lunchtime”. She and Paula talked about how N.Z. literature now reflects more of our multiculturalism, but published literature is still very Pakeha, reflecting the numbers in the population. Twenty years ago Carl Stead said we were a single culture absorbing small amounts from other cultures. Patricia pointed out that Pakeha is now seen as a term of respect, many people describe themselves as such, and Te Reo is gradually being absorbed into English. Her novel “Potiki”, published in 1986, was seen as being subversive and divisive because there was no glossary for the Maori words. She didn’t include a glossary because Te Reo is not a foreign language in Aotearoa, and this deliberate political act was ground-breaking. These days many of us, esepcially the younger generation, understand a lot of Te Reo.
“Which is the place where you belong
the land to which your ties are strong?”