Important reading and writing questions for Gigi Fenster

Gigi Fenster is a finalist in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction category for her psychological thriller A Good Winter. Winners are announced 11 May.

What was your first thought when you learned you’d been shortlisted for the Ockhams?

Before thought, there was the sore tummy – that unsettled, achey, something’s not quite right tummy. I’m not sure I’ve shaken the funky tummy feeling yet.

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At one point you had abandoned writing A Good Winter. How much of a break did you take and when did you know it was time to get back into it again?

The problem wasn’t so much that I found it difficult being with the main character, as it was that she wouldn’t do what I wanted her to do. I had an image in my head of how I wanted her to be, but she was not obliging.

As a child, I wanted to draw a particular chicken. I could picture the chicken perfectly in my head. I tried drawing her scores of times, but my drawing of her never matched the image in my head of her. So I thought the drawings were rubbish and threw them away.

Having lived through A Good WinterI now wonder whether those chicken drawings weren’t actually just fine – albeit not exactly, precisely what I had in my head.

A Good Winter is your third book, tell us how your writing process might have changed over time.

I think my process for writing fiction is quite different from the nonfiction process. When writing nonfiction, I tend to get caught up in, and distracted by, the research. I spend hours reading about fascinating, but irrelevant things. And hours writing them up. And hours cutting them again. I suspect that I’m more efficient when writing fiction – more words on the page per hour at the computer.

Are you working on anything right now?

I’m almost finished a first draft of a nonfiction book about obscenity law tentatively called, be reasonable. It traces a series of court cases from the censoring of an anti-Catholic pamphlet in Victorian England through to the court cases around James Joyce’s Ulysses.

And what are you reading?

I’m re-reading George Saunders’ A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. I never re-read books, but this one deserves a second, third, fourth read. It is, I think, essential reading for anyone who wants to write.

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