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Interview: Nicholas Sheppard talks about Broken Play

Nicholas Sheppard grew up in the rural South Island, then moved to Auckland. He has worked as a freelance journalist for local newspapers such as The Herald and The Dominion Post, and magazines, such as Remix; and has written for prominent American news and cultural websites, such as The Federalist, Huffington Post, Politico, and The Daily Beast. He has taught at a private music school, and currently teaches English. Nicholas talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Broken Play.

Broken Play is a character study imagining the life and circumstances of the first openly gay All Black. I wanted to write a story examining contemporary New Zealand society, and was able to do so through this character, a reluctant pioneer with the greatest extremes in his identity of just about any New Zealand character imaginable.

What inspired you to write this book?

The premise is regularly speculated on in opinion editorials, and the cultural ground has been shifting, and there is such a potent symbolism about the famous black jersey – in this case as the ultimate legitimiser.

What research was involved?

I’m a fairly avid fan of rugby but had to delve deep into the practises and training techniques involved; but also left a lot of scope to imagine a lot of the culture too.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I was woefully poor during much of the writing, so my routine was often haphazard, but I wrote whenever I could, almost always with headphones on listening to classical music full-bore, and with a little aesthetic nest of evocative images on the desk around me.

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

One of the main characters plays piano, so some key pieces in the text itself, that really capture the mood of the book, are Chopin’s nocturne #7, and the andante of Janacek’s Into the mists.

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

The characters are so particular in my mind that I can’t really picture them with actors faces.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

Being able to balance and move with facility between scenes of working-class family life and rugged masculine sporting culture on the one hand, and a love story with a sensual, highly aesthetic tone on the other.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I never felt like there was a definitive moment when it was finished. There was always last little edits, punctuation… You don’t finish a book, just give up on it.

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

Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair. Hollinghurst is the master of literary fiction.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Working on the outline to the next book.


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