New Zealand History

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Writing fiction as a non-fiction writer

July 9th, 2013

Seminar presented at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage on 3 July 2013

Coast is a novel from David Young after some decades as a writer of non-fiction, particularly in the field of history and environment.

Exploring the effects of two world wars on three generations of men from the same family, Coast is also a meditation on the power of landscape. The east coast of Kincardineshire, Scotland and the North Island’s Rangitikei coastline where a Scots community endures even today, anchor this story in psychological, as well as physical, reality. Told from the standpoints of the three related key characters, the narrative unfolds a male social history spanning much of the twentieth century. It embraces issues of identity, belonging and connection to place. Kin and romantic love, matters of class, the Depression, active service abroad – first on the Western Front, then through the air war in the Pacific – and of family life, reach out beyond Pakeha concerns to the circularity of history and the tangata whenua.

The question of how much the writer brings to his fiction from his previous historical endeavours and from his own life is explored in this talk. The author’s history of conservation in New Zealand, Our Islands Our Selves, his Whanganui River book, Woven by Water, and even his first book, Faces of the River, played a part in the genesis of this work. So too did oral and documentary historical research.

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