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Interview: Jenny Pattrick talks about Harbouring


Jenny Pattrick is an acclaimed historical novelist, whose The Denniston Rose, and its sequel Heart of Coal, are among New Zealand’s biggest-selling novels. In 2009 she received the New Zealand Post Mansfield Fellowship. She has been active in the arts community, and has also written stories, songs and shows for children. Jenny talks to NZ Booklovers.


Congratulations on being shortlisted in the NZ Booklovers Awards 2023. Can you tell us a little about your shortlisted book?

It is 1839 and Huw Pengellin is desperate to find a better life for his family than the one he ekes out in Wales. His wife, Martha, is fully aware just how foolhardy Huw’s schemes can be, but she is keen to escape the foundry slums, as well as Huw’s brother Gareth, with his hot eyes and roving hands. Might Colonel Wakefield’s plans to take settlers to the distant shores of New Zealand offer a solution?


On the other side of the world, watching the new arrivals, is Hineroa, who is also desperate to find a better life. Will she be a slave for ever, will she ever be reunited with her people, and will the ships that keep sailing into the bay bring further trouble?

What inspired you to write this book?

Harbouring is mainly set in Whanganui a Tara/ Wellington which is where I live and grew up, where my parents lived and where my children and most grandchildren live, so it seemed time this lovely harbour was centre stage in one of my novels.

Also it is where the first mass immigration of settlers from Britain arrived. A controversial and complex time for those settlers and the local tribes. So plenty of opportunity for drama.


What research was involved?

Plenty. For a historical novel I usually research for a year before I start writing. These days there is good information online particularly in Papers Plus for newspaper articles and on the Turnbull Library website and other museums for old photographs; though this novel is too early for photographs but engravings and watercolours were useful. There are several good non-fiction books written about this period, both from Māori and Pākehā perspectives which I found very useful. The Welsh side of the story I researched almost entirely online.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

Research first. Then invent my main characters and become familiar with their imaginary back stories. As the story develops more research is usually needed. In earlier novels I always wrote in the mornings. This time my husband was ill when I started writing. Then I stopped when his illness needed more of my attention; then I picked up again after he died. I was worried the narrative might not hang together and had to spend time revisiting the earlier part.


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

A couple of Welsh hymns sung by a rousing choir, interspersed with quieter Māori whakapapa chants, and then as a jarring note – Rule Britannia performed by a brass band!


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

Rawiri Paratene as Te Rauparaha. And Cliff Whiting as his savage nephew Te Rangihaeta. Sam Neill as a choleric Colonel Whakefield; Miriama McDowell for the clever Hineroa; Tandi Wright (my niece!) as Martha Pengellin, and Simon Leary as Huw Pengellin. All NZ actors so the two Pākehā would have to swot up their Welsh accents!


What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

Reading chapters aloud to my husband Laughton and hearing him say ‘Go on! What comes next?’ I would laugh and say ‘I don’t know!’ We got about half-way before he died.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Sat down with a glass of whisky and looked at the harbour from our porch.


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

A Brief Affair by Australian author Alex Miller. I love all his books and this gentle novel just spoke to me for some reason. Also The Sweetness of Water, an astonishingly good debut novel by American writer Nathan Harris.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

Who knows? I don’t! Something no doubt.


Penguin Random House



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