Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Wednesday, October 26, 2016
WHEN A COMIC STRIP IS NOT SO FUNNY: former poet laureate moved to tears by debut novel.
Mākaro Press publisher Mary McCallum and author Sue Wootton with Strip.
STRIP, a debut novel by Dunedin poet Sue
Wootton, was launched by leading author and poet Vincent O’Sullivan to a
packed University Bookshop in Dunedin last night.
Vincent said the novel was intricate, challenging and
provoking and took the reader into a ‘moral web’ that New Zealand fiction
doesn’t always enter so starkly. He said he admired how a terrible error
on the part of the protagonist nonetheless drew ‘a deep sympathy’ from the
reader, and at one point the former poet laureate was compelled to stop reading
‘as the pages blurred with how movingly the details came in on one’.
Strip is about Harvey, a doctor who hangs up his
stethoscope to draw comic strips, and later becomes at an-home father for
their adopted daughter, and life is good. But when his family is threatened, he
acts to protect them in ways that are morally questionable and have tragic
‘We always say, don’t we,’ said Vincent O’Sullican, ‘that
it’s a fine achievement in fiction when we suspend our disbelief as the
strength of the telling convinces us. But it is an even more impressive
occasion, I think, when an author is able to let us go of our instinctive
prejudices and moral certainties in a wider tide of sympathy as characters
entangle themselves in wretchedness, so it is not the mistakes that hold us,
but what you might call the low-key heroism of doing wrong while trying to do
right. New Zealand fiction doesn’t always take us so starkly into this moral
Strip is a novel that addresses a public issue of
medical morality – euthanasia for those whose lives are deeply compromised by
ill-health – and looks at the private issue too of how far people will go for
the ones they love. It was inspired by Wootton’s previous career in the medical
profession, and her interest in writing about the public and private notions of
right and wrong.
‘In Strip, devastating events are set in motion by a
few small initial errors of judgement,’ she says. ‘The story is about motives
and mistakes, conscience and culpability, lies, truth and love. At what point
does an action cross the line between right and wrong? What about an inaction?
And what if in intending to prevent harm to one person you do harm to
another? Harvey is responsible for more harm than anyone else knows.
There’s his public—and very topical—crime but there is also his secret, private
one. Both have ramifications he never dreamed of and did not intend.”
Sue Wootton is an award-winning poet and fiction writer with
a background as a physiotherapist and acupuncturist. Her prizes include
winning the Aoraki Literary Awards for both poetry and fiction, and second
place in the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine. Her combined interests
inform her current PhD studies at Otago University and a blog she co-edits
called Corpus, both of which explore the nexus between creative work and
Strip is published by Wellington’s Mākaro Press,
which Vincent O’Sullivan said had quickly become ‘an invigorating
cultural force’. The press worked with students from the Whitireia
Polytechnic publishing course to produce the novel.
Will be enjoyed by readers with an interest in: New Zealand fiction • the nexus of medicine and the arts • the issue of childlessness and adoption • the issue of euthanasia.