Auckland writer Julie Hill has written for a variety of New Zealand publications as well as for stage and screen. Two of her plays have been nominated for Best NZ Play at the Chapman Tripp theatre awards, she produces music programmes for Radio NZ, and in 2014 she hosted a discussion on short stories at Christchurch’s WORD festival. Now, this diverse creative has put together a collection of her own smart and darkly comic short stories in ShameJoy. NZ Booklovers recently had the pleasure of asking Julie a few questions.
With a rich and varied background how would you describe your current writing style?
I’m interested in the kinds of stories people tell about themselves and why, and how they morph over time to become self-mythologies. When my gran reached 90 she only had one story left, something about a boat and an engagement ring, which she told over and over. I am still unsure what it meant.
So there’s often an imaginary or fantastical world that exists alongside or sort of engulfs my stories, because you tell a story from your memory, which is just this big soup full of truth and lies.
And then I think there’s some gentle social satire, and I am really chuffed people have found ShameJoy funny.
What about the short story form appeals to you and what does it bring to our constantly evolving notion of literature in NZ?
I love short story collections that are like songs on an album; that are individual but reference one another and build a whole beast. Janet Frame, Eudora Welty and Shirley Jackson are some of the gold medalists in that area I believe.
NZ writers don’t feel constrained to write solely about our identities any more, which is a beautiful thing, because that is boring as hell. NZ is crawling with great writers. Almost literally. In fact I believe that if we swapped selling milk powder to China for distributing free MacBooks to all writers, we could really get this economy cranking.
ShameJoy was written over a long time, as you can tell by the fax machine and suchlike, in lots of different cities and and in untold mental conditions. Three of the stories, For They Shall Inherit the Earth, I Won’t Be Happy Until I Lose a Leg, and Whistle Solo, ended up becoming plays. But mainly the book came about through the encouragement, patience and fortitude of Clare Needham, my editor at Giant Sparrow Press.
The relationship between Germany and New Zealand has been growing with increasing numbers of Kiwis in Deutschland. What takes us there and what is distinctive about the stories that come from that space?
What takes NZ artists there now is the cheap rent, the art/music/dance scenes and possibly because they prefer Angela Merkel to John Key.
I first lived in Germany as a teenager on an exchange not long after the Wall came down and have been semi-obsessed with it since. Then I discovered my aforementioned gran’s people were Prussian Germans, which explains why I dig overanalysing things and get stressed out when people are late.
How is NZ humour distinct and what makes it so?
Well there is the whole self-deprecating thing, which seems to be where our Maori and non-Maori foreparents intersected humour-wise, and which applied in the wrong way can be extremely harmful, but it can also the source of comedy gold.
There are tons of funny people in NZ but they haven’t necessarily benefitted from the kind of TV programming our networks have been interested in over the past while, so they do theatre shows or stand-up instead. Which is fine but we should harness these people and get an HBO-style network on the go, i.e. one where writers have much more power to write what they want, and stuff it full of amazing NZ comedy. Any squillionaires reading this: call me.
Recently I watched Hook Ups, a cartoon web series by Jessica Hansell, aka Coco Solid. If I was PM I would be standing on a ladder literally throwing wads of dollar bills on this girl.
ShameJoy, by Julie Hill, is published by Giant Sparrow Press. RRP is $24.95, available now.