Patricia Grace’s memoir is a finalist in Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

Patricia Grace. Photo / Grant Maiden

Penning her life story wasn’t something Patricia Grace had considered.

The renowned fiction writer, who has a slice of ancestral land in Waikanae which has been protected from the expressway, was comfortable writing about other things especially using her imagination.

But she did a re-think when her editor Harriet Allen, from Penguin Random House, urged her to.

“It hadn’t really interested me because I’m a fiction writer who likes to make stuff up.

“But she suggested it, I thought about it for a while, and I didn’t have another project in mind at the time, so I started not really knowing if I wanted to publish it or not.”

Patricia, 84, had no specific plan other than to begin the book about her grandparents and parents.

“I enjoyed doing that part but can’t say I really enjoyed doing the rest.”

She found the process “a bit worrying” especially about “credibility and memory”.

“I got over it after a while especially when I thought ‘well they’re my memories’.”

She was unsure how the book, From the Centre: a writer’s life, would be received when it was published.

“I was really pleased that it was on the bestseller list for so long, and probably a little bit surprised because, as I mentioned, it was a bit of a struggle to write, and I thought it might be a struggle to read.”

Her main concern was that family, the same age as her, would read it and have a different view of her memory.

“But the feedback from them has been so great which was a relief.”

Asked what her late husband Kerehi Waiariki Grace (Dick), who she was married to for more than 50 years, would have thought of the book, Patricia said she knew he would have liked it.

Moreover, she was keen to publish his memoir stemming from a series of interviews he gave when ill.

“I think his story is more interesting than mine.”

Patricia wrote her memoir at her beloved home in Hongoeka Bay, Plimmerton.

After introducing her grandparents and parents (a Māori father and European mother), she writes about growing up in Melrose, Wellington.

Front cover of Patricia Grace's memoir.
Front cover of Patricia Grace’s memoir.

Interesting her “most read and most loved book I had as a child was The Adventures of Pinocchio”.

With strong support from her loving parents, who worked for Olympic Stationery, she had lots of freedom, fun and adventures although there was one unsavory incident when she was assaulted by two girls.

Scholastically she did well despite a spell of depression stemming from an unkind comment by a priest and a creepy parishioner as well as feeling she was on a schooling backfoot for being Māori.

It was at Wellington Teachers’ College, in the Māori Club, where she met Dick, who would later ask her out to the movies and then become “the man in my life ever since”.

The married couple would move north where they would embark on teaching careers as well as raising their family of seven, not to mention many happy years in rural communities.

Patricia would also begin writing, at first a poem published in a newspaper, before short stories which were published elsewhere, all of which made up her mind that “writing was something I would always do.”

Over the years she would write a number of award-winning novels, short stories, poetry, children’s books and works of non-fiction.

Eventually, they would return to Wellington especially because of family connections and a love for Hongoeka Bay.

Patricia continued to write while Dick branched out to improve the education system from a Māori perspective.

A highlight, among other things, was also helping establish a wharenui in Hongoeka Bay which was a resounding success.

The memoir has been in bookshops for a while and is now a finalist in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards in the non-fiction category.

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