Stuff.co.nz called What's so wrong with NZ fiction?. It basically explains (through a bunch of statistics) that New Zealanders love and support New Zealand fiction, but not many of us actually read it.
This article has come about at the most appropriate time for me because I've recently become obsessed with Katherine Mansfield, one of New Zealand's greatest ever writers, and I've also decided that all the books I read next year, for the entire year, are going to be New Zealand fiction.
Why? Because I am one of these statistics. I love and support our fiction, but for the life of me I cannot think of one kiwi novel I've read, and I'm ashamed of myself for that. I figure that if I'm going to strive to become one of the great kiwi writers, I need to know who my predecessors are - I was going to say "what I'm up against" but that sounds like I have a lack of respect for other kiwi writers and I want to be humble and accept that people like Katherine Mansfield were and probably always will be the best.
The article got a lot of comments, and a main theme I noticed was that people think New Zealand fiction is too much about New Zealand and most of them say things like "When I read I want to escape, I don't want to read about places I know, places I can drive down the road and see".
It's the same with young people going travelling and moving to Australia - people that think the grass is greener elsewhere. Sure, travelling when you're young is something kiwi's do - it's a rite of passage and something that I'll be doing myself soon. But, we have a strange culture... we are a loyal and supportive nation when it comes to things like sporting events, tragedies, and triumphs, but when it comes to the quality of life debate, people start complaining, when really, compared to most countries, we live in one of the best places in the world. Yet people still take off in search of greener pastures. Maybe it's because we're a young nation and we struggle with our identity a bit, or maybe it's because we're so far away from everywhere that we have this great amount of curiosity in us.
I understand where those "When I read I want to escape" people are coming from, but I think there is a lot of merit in learning about your own country, even if it is through fiction.
On the other hand, a few months ago I decided to go browsing through the Whitcoulls New Zealand section to see what I had to live up to with my own novel that is set in Wellington, and, first of all, I think our fiction should take pride of place at the front of the store where it can't be missed (some of our bookstores don't even have a New Zealand section!) instead of being squished on a small shelf in between trashy romance and sci-fi. Second of all, I noticed that every single novel I picked up had some sort of international influence attached to it - whether it was written by a kiwi writer and set overseas, or the characters were here from overseas, having immigrated from England or Scotland or Ireland.
And I thought, how sad that is, that New Zealand writers feel they have to draw on outside influences in order to write an interesting story.
In a way, it was a good thing for me, because I'm writing a story with all New Zealand characters (excluding a couple of minor American characters - soldiers who were in Wellington during WWII) set in Wellington during the present day and during the first and second world wars.
We say we are a loyal and proud country, but reading those comments made me question that a little bit - are we really? Do we actually practice what we preach? I know I do and I know a lot of people who do, but it would be nice if more kiwis did.