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Interview: David Whittet talks about Goliath and the Gang


David Whittet is a family doctor, an independent filmmaker and author. Medicine is a constant source of inspiration for David’s writing. Like writing, general practice is about being interested in people’s stories. The inspiration for his debut novel Gang Girl, the story of a young woman’s struggle to escape from the Gang, came to him during a fifteen-year stint working as a rural GP in a New Zealand community.


David is the author of Gang Girl, The Road to Madhapur and now, Goliath and the Gang. David talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about Goliath and the Gang.

Goliath and the Gang is the second book in my Gang Girl trilogy. The first novel introduced us to Alicia, the daughter of a notorious gangster. We shared both joy and despair in her lifelong struggle to break free from the Gang and build a new life for herself.


In Goliath and the Gang, we meet Aaron, Alicia’s beloved son. Aaron is cruelly separated from his mother when he’s just five years old. Raised by his Aunt after losing his mother, Aaron is bullied by his loathsome uncle and cousins. His dream of making something of his life, of becoming an entrepreneur like his late father, rapidly disappears in the wake of his miserable childhood.


The sudden appearance of a mysterious Māori diviner sparks hope in Aaron’s heart. Is she the anonymous patron who will change everything? And will he win the heart of her haughty foster daughter?


Twenty years later, Aaron is the CEO of an industry-leading power company and still fighting the Godzone Gorillas—the Gang that kidnapped his mother.

What inspired you to write this book?

Gang Girl was born of the twenty-plus years I spent working as a rural doctor in a remote New Zealand community with a strong gang presence. Goliath and the Gang takes inspiration from my move south to the beautiful Waitaki District, with its magnificent lakes and hydroelectric power stations. Privatisation of the power industry remains a contentious issue in New Zealand. It was headline news when I first drafted the story in the early 2010s, with the government selling shares in Mighty River Power, as it was called back then. Power and conflict against the stunning background of the Waitaki Valley proved the perfect canvas to take Alicia’s story to the next generation.


What research was involved?

As this is the second book in the series, much of the groundwork had already been established. Gang Girl created a strong cast of characters and a unique setting on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Many readers connected with Alicia and Mickey and took their struggles to heart. I apologise to those readers that we lose Alicia and Mickey so soon in the story. Early in the planning, I decided that Goliath and the Gang had to be Aaron’s story. Rest assured, Alicia and Mickey will return for Godzone and the Gorillas, the third and final instalment of the series, where their battle to break free from the Gang will reach its dramatic conclusion.


Research into the hydroelectric power industry shaped the direction of the story. I learnt that many residents in Kurow, a small town in the Waitaki Valley, dread a tsunami-like wave should there be an accident at the nearby Waitaki Dam. My mind went into overdrive. The story has two deadly rivals intent on destroying each other. What if a power station gets bombed in the crossfire? The nightmare scenario of an enormous tidal wave crashing through the local township could become a deadly reality.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I started work on Goliath and the Gang immediately after the launch of my previous novel, The Road to Madhapur. Balancing writing with my day job as a GP in a busy medical centre is always challenging. I dealt with this by focusing on the book on my days off and weekends. Best of all, I completed the novel during an extended vacation in Thailand.


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

For my next project, I have been researching protest songs of the nineteen sixties. It occurred to me that two of these songs would be appropriate for Aaron’s journey in Goliath and the Gang. Both We Shall Overcome and We Shall Not Be Moved have become anthems of worldwide protest movements. These inspiring songs also underscore the novel’s driving force, Aaron’s determination to overcome the Gang’s oppression.


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

When I chose the actors to narrate the Gang Girl audiobook, I considered performance in front of a microphone rather than a camera. Romy Hooper and Paul Harrop owned their roles in the audiobook and are musts for the parts of Alicia and Mickey in a movie.


I look forward to casting the Goliath and the Gang audiobook and discovering fresh New Zealand talent. And who knows? They could become film stars!


What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

My greatest pleasure was returning to the characters and settings we inhabited in Gang Girl. Creating new characters and exploring their inner depths and motivations was an added delight.


Most of all, I enjoyed writing the epilogue, which brings a satisfying conclusion to this instalment of the story and hints at what’s to come in the final book of the trilogy.


What did you do to celebrate finishing Goliath and the Gang?

I finished writing Goliath and the Gang while in Thailand. To celebrate, I took my family on a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. Floodlit temples on the riverbank illuminated the night sky as we enjoyed Thai cuisine and watched traditional Thai dancing on the deck. The evening was truly memorable and will stay with me forever.


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

Of all the incredible books I’ve read this year, Homecoming by Kate Morton stands out for me with its captivating multi-generational story and exquisitely crafted writing. Kate Morton wrote the book during the Covid-19 lockdown, having returned to her homeland in Australia, much like the story’s protagonist. This gripping story has stayed with me long after finishing the book.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

If only there were more than twenty-four hours in the day! I am currently working on three new books, and each one is competing for my time.

The buzz surrounding the launch of Goliath and the Gang has inspired me to complete Godzone and the Gorillas, the final book in the Gang Girl trilogy. I feel a great responsibility to the many readers who have told me how much they have enjoyed the first two books.


Alongside Godzone and the Gorillas, I am working on my next standalone novel, Threepence on the Carpet. Tommy is a Kiwi musician caught up in the hippie movement while on his overseas experience in Britain in the 1960s. During the day, he works for a South African-owned bank. But at night, he writes and performs anti-apartheid folk songs with his flower power girlfriend. There’s trouble when his two worlds collide.


Writing Threepence on the Carpet has been a blast—it’s full of real-life occurrences from the sixties, like the Aldermaston marches, the ban-the-bomb demonstrations, the political scandals, and, of course, The Beatles. This was truly the decade that changed Britain and sent shockwaves around the world.


For 2024 and beyond, The Road to Mumbai will continue the journey of the characters we met in The Road to Madhapur. And I have a film I’m determined to make. Hīkoi is a gritty drama that addresses the child poverty debate and has been described by a potential producer as ‘a Cathy Come Home for our times’.

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