Berlin-based NZ writer Sarah Quigley. Photo / Martin Hunter
Berlin-based NZ writer Sarah Quigley. Photo / Martin Hunter
Sarah Quigley - or should I say Dr Sarah Quigley, for she has a doctorate in English literature from Oxford, no less - has long been recognised as one of New Zealand's finest writers.
Her fourth novel, The Conductor, is one of our June feature books and is attracting a symphony of favourable reviews in the New Zealand media.
Here, Quigley tells us about the inspiration for the story, her life in her adopted home of Berlin and how music can provide sustenance in dark times.

Q: How does a New Zealand writer living in Berlin come to tell the story of a Russian composer and conductor?
A: I've always been interested in Shostakovich's music, which can be difficult and very beautiful at the same time. I also began thinking about how difficult it must have been to be a composer or a writer living and working under a repressive Stalinist regime.
Something else I've been interested in writing about, for a long time, was the task of a conductor, which seems as lonely and demanding a profession as that of an artist. After I read about the historic performance of the Leningrad Symphony, my imagination was caught.
I realised I could combine two stories, that of Shostakovich and that of the conductor, in a blend of fact and fiction. I began the long task of research for the novel, and wove it together with my own imagined Leningrad and partially invented characters.

Q: How did you put together a mental picture of Leningrad in World War II?
A: When I first moved to Berlin, I noticed so many traces of the war that hadn't been erased by time. In East Berlin, there are still bullet holes in buildings and bunkers in the city streets. This made the war seem very much closer than it might otherwise have been.
I also read a lot about wartime Russia - the deprivation, the shelling and bombing - and I tried to imagine what it must have been like living in such chaos and danger, without knowing when or if it would ever end.

Read Bronwyn Sell's full interview at NZ Herald. 

Bookman Beattie's review of The Conductor.
Nicky Pellegrino's review of The Conductor.
And if you are a NZ Listener reader than you will find The Conductor reviewed by Graeme Downes in the issue out today - the issue dated June 25-July 1. Graeme Downes is a senior lecturer in music at the University of Otago.