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Interview: Charlie Paterson talks about Out of the Wild

Updated: May 21, 2018


Seven years in the Fiordland National Park – one man’s tale of adversity and building a dream with little more than dogged determination.

Not the standard romantic wilderness survival tale, but an honest, warts and all account of one young man's unique journey, striving to survive for seven years in a very remote rainforest location inside New Zealand's Fiordland National Park, three days walk away from the nearest road end. A true story of isolation and loneliness, away from all the modern conveniences and comforts most take for granted, Charlie’s tale is one of adversity, building a dream with dogged determination. Battling against considerable and powerful opposition, bureaucracy, severe lack of money, unforgiving nature, himself and ultimately his own ill health; only to find the dream fulfilled will almost destroy him. Charlie Paterson talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Out of the Wild.

It's basically a journal account of my seven years living inside the Fiordland National Park, three days walk down the Hollyford Track at Jamestown Bay, with supplies only coptered in once every six months from Milford Sound. My tale is mainly about the challenges of building and living in such a remote location, told in a warts and all fashion. My venture goes to custard at the early stages and have to copter building materials from the end of the longest oneway road in New Zealand, to the head of Lake Mckerrow, then make barges and float those materials down 11 miles of lake and then carry each piece by hand through the rain forest to the building site. A process that took three months of just cartage. Then, when all the money was gone for coptering building materials, I had to start floating building materials down the Hollyford River and then down the lake, etc. So not your normal house build with a Bunnings just down the road, building materials trucked direct to site and builders sleeping in warm beds under a roof, etc. It's also quite a personal tale, as I had to deal with things most won't comprehend in today's world, like starvation, isolation, celibrancy, and issues many people face today, but don't talk about like depression and loneliness. But also finding some spiritual fulfilment in the wilderness when things got pretty dark and unpleasant near the end of my book, so its a deeply personal tale. My book won't be everyones cup of tea, but if you like outdoor tales, especially tales against the odds, with a bit of early New Zealand pioneer history thrown in, then you may find my book of interest to read.


What inspired you to write this book?

It initially started out as just a journal of day to day life in the wilderness and a way to record events. But as time progressed it also became a way to vent feelings, emotions good and bad, especially when my little project in the bush all went to custard and I got quite depressed and physically sick (bleeding bowel), etc. The journal wouldn't have been published if it wasn't for my lovely wife encouraging me to publish it, in its raw form. Hence a book.


What research was involved?

Very little as it was written mostly as things happened, or within a short time of things happening. The pioneer history associated to my book was mainly sourced from books written by the Historian Hall-Jones, who has written many good books on Fiordland History.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

Initially no set routine, except natures routines as dictated by the infamous Fiordland weather, which meant long times inside, putting pen to paper. It was a good way to fill in time on rainy days. No electricity, no TV, no radio etc, so had plenty of time, especially in the winter months, with the long nights, so a lot was literally written by candle light beside my wood range/fire. When my wife got hold of the manuscript, she had to do alot of editing as I'm shocking at both spelling and grammar.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Sorry, I don't have a musical bone in my body, guessing some of those errie wind instruments used by Maori musicians. Kind of suits the location, with its misty mountains, deep dark valleys and cold temperate rainforest.


If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

Ans. Sorry another crash & burn on this question, as I don't really know my actors. It couldn't be a bulky muscular hulk to play my role, as a lot of the time I literally starved and was just skin and bones, etc. John boy of the Walters comes to mind, but that's of an TV age, most won't know. My wife reckons Victor Mortensen (Lord of the Rings)!


What did you enjoy the most about writing this book?

Stress relief mostly, getting all the ugly stuff out, warts and all. Recording stuff that wasn't meant to be recorded (documenting aquaculture industry culling of seals & DOC mis-managing the conservation estate with our sad silent rainforests) Also describing the forest birds and probably being able to document my coming to faith in the wilderness, near the end of the book, which literally saved my life (my testimony) for family/friends to read, as not the best at articulating things out loud.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Took my lovely wife out for a meal. If it wasn't for her encouragement, there wouldn't be a book in the first place.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Presently reading a book called "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp which is very good, mainly because we are bringing up two small children and want to do our very best for them in a pretty dis-functional world. When living in the bush without power for TV etc I read alot of books and liked historic novels by the likes of James Michener etc. Now that I have kids, reading time is limited to mainly children's books. In other forms of media I like the TV series "Alone" filmed in British Columbia (Canada) its very good for being real life survival in the wilderness, similar climate to Fiordland and similar survival issues re finding food, building shelter and dealing with loneness, etc. Whereas I dislike the survivor tv series as completely unrealistic, a joke.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

My wife has blessed us with two kids, her first at 43 and second at 45 (both miracle children, as we failed on the IVF front and told having children unlikely due to age, etc), so we have allocated time to be full-time parents, as we hunt for the ideal family friendly business to buy and run. Life is incredibly full and busy with very energetic and healthy kids, so at the moment that's our main priority. However, keen to get back into some sort of business in the near future, so on the hunt.


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