A fascinating novel of hope, love, idealism and human progress, made up of two separate stories, which can be read in isolation and yet reverberate against each other. Sometime in the 1860s, in an isolated valley on Banks Peninsula, Harry Head, “the Hermit of Hickory Bay”, experimented unsuccessfully with flight.
His story forms part of the exuberant blend of fact and fiction which constitutes this tale. The author takes us back to the beginnings of novel-writing, as philosophical play and serious entertainment. Think Crusoe’s island, think Utopia. Twelve characters, driven by obsession, hope or the vagaries of chance, come ashore in widely different circumstances onto the same island.
Once there, the game can begin. Written in two halves, this is a book to be read from either end. Begin with the past and race toward the future, or begin with the present and circle back towards the past. Time may separate the two sections yet subtle links and twisting events bring them together into a varied, intriguing and compulsive whole.
Fiona Farrell (1947 – ) is a poet, fiction writer and playwright. Born in Oamaru, Farrell was educated at the University of Otago (1966–1968) and then studied for five years at the University of Toronto, where she gained a Masters of Philosophy in Drama for her study of TS Eliot’s unfinished verse dramas Sweeny Agoniste in 1976. She has worked as a lecturer in drama, and since 1989, has been a full-time writer.
Characteristic of Farrell’s work is her versatility with different forms. In 1983, she received the Bruce Mayson Playwriting Award. She has had many plays performed on stage and radio: ‘The Perils of Pauline Smith’ (1990) won the Mobil Award for Best Radio Drama in 1990, and ‘Chook Chook’ (1992) remains one of Playmarket’s most frequently requested scripts.
Her short stories have appeared in many anthologies including The Oxford Book of Short Stories (Oxford, 1992) and in the company of Alice Munro, Nadine Gordimer and Hanif Kureshi in two volumes of Best Short Stories (ed. Giles Gordon and David Hughes, Heinemann: London, 1990 and 1995). Her poetry has also been widely anthologised, in collections including An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English (Oxford, 1997), and the best-selling Being Alive(Bloodaxe, 2005).
Farrell has been the recipient of a number of major New Zealand book awards. She has won several awards for short fiction, including the Bank of New Zealand Katherine Mansfield Memorial Award and the American Express Award. Her first novel, The Skinny Louie Book (Penguin,1992) won the 1993 New Zealand Book Award for Fiction. Her novels The Hopeful Traveller (Random House, 2002) and Book Book(Random House, 2004) were runners-up at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2003 and 2005 respectively, and were also nominated for International IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards 2003 and 2005.
Farrell has also held a number of residencies. She was the 1995 recipient of the Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship, one of New Zealand’s most long-standing and prestigious literary awards. The fellowship is offered annually to enable a New Zealand writer to work in Menton, France. She was the Canterbury University Writer in Residence 1991-1992, and held the inaugural Rathcoola Residency in Donoughmore, Ireland in 2006.
In 2007, Farrell published two new books. Her fifth novel, Mr Allbones’ Ferrets (Random House, 2007), is described by the publisher as ‘an historical pastoral satirical scientifical romance, with mustelids’, and reviewing the novel in the Sunday Star-Times review, (May 6, 2007) Iain Sharpe called it ‘brilliant’. It was published in the USA in 2009.
Her collection of poetry, The Pop-Up Book of Invasions (Auckland University Press, 2007) originated during Farrell’s residency in Donoughmore. Iain Sharpe called it ‘a superlative collection … bursting with ideas presented with warmth, wit and humanity’ in the Sunday Star-Times (September 5, 2004). The poems draw vividly on the landscape, history and mythology of Ireland, sharing a sense of discovery, but they also make connections with home, New Zealand, and childhood.
In 2007, Farrell was the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Fiction, worth $60,000.
Mr Allbones’ Ferrets (Random House, 2007) was nominated for the 2009 Dublin IMPAC Award. In the same year, she edited the fourth volume of The Best New Zealand Fiction (Random House).The Pop-Up Book of Invasions (Auckland University Press, 2007) was runner-up in the poetry category at the 2008 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.