How I write: Science-fiction award winner Laura Jean McKay

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Dr Laura Jean McKay, who won the Arthur C Clark award for her book “Animals In That Country”, is happiest with a book in her hand by a body of water.

DAVID UNWIN/Stuff

Dr Laura Jean McKay, who won the Arthur C Clark award for her book “Animals In That Country”, is happiest with a book in her hand by a body of water.

Dr Laura Jean McKay recently became the first New Zealand-based author to win the Arthur C. Clarke Award, one of the world’s top science fiction prizes, for her novel The Animals in That Country. McKay is from Australia but moved to the Manawatū to take up a position at Massey University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Which writer do you turn to when you have writer’s block?

Janet Frame. I found her Lagoon and Other Stories in an Australian library around 20 years ago and was completely transfixed. I couldn’t believe everyone didn’t know about this book (of course, they did – I was the latecomer)! I still turn to Frame when I’ve forgotten how to flip the world over and look at it from a new perspective. She always helps me remember.

What book do you go back to time and time again to re-read?

I’m not allowed to reread books anymore (unless it’s for writing). I had a problem when I was a teenager of rereading the same books over and over again – a really random selection too: from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to ER Braithwaite’s To Sir, With Love.

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“The Animals in that Country” by Laura Jean McKay

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“The Animals in that Country” by Laura Jean McKay

Which authors would you want in your book club?

I’m lucky – I have and do work and write (of sorts) with these writers anyway, and they’re wonderful: Tom Doig, Henry Feltham, Romy Ash, Ingrid Horrocks, Tina Makereti, Lisa Lang, Anna Krien, Bella Li, Josephine Rowe, Thom Conroy, Bryan Walpert and Jack Ross. In a dream world, I’d add Ellen van Neerven, Elizabeth Knox, Witi Ihimaera and Pip Adam because I love their amazing brains. We’re going to need a bigger room for this book club …

Where are you happiest with a book in your hand?

By a body of water: a river, a beach, a pool, in a bath. Books and water are the perfect companions, which is why so many of mine are bent out of shape!

What’s your writing routine?

When I’m writing well the early hours before breakfast are the best for me. As soon as I eat my thoughts start getting muddy. It’s like I need to creep up on myself and get to that dream state brain before the world kicks in. I love sleeping in, but it’s bad for the words.

And where do you write?

Ideally at a computer without internet access and in a place where I haven’t been doing busy web work. If I’m really serious about something I need to cut myself off. In reality, it’s usually in snatches, between the busy.

Can you share a piece of good advice you’ve received about writing?

I was really struggling for months with the manuscript of The Animals in that Country. I don’t believe in writers’ block which was awkward in this case because it seemed that I definitely had it. Two theatre makers – David Woods and Kate Kantor – came cycling past my house and I told them about my problem. David said, you need to make friends with your document again. Spend time with it. Format the page numbers. Bold the headings. Hang out. I did and it worked. Once I took the pressure off the work and just spend time in the company of my story I grew to like it again.



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