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Interview: Nora West talks about Unholy Business

Nora West was born in England and was educated privately from the tender age of eight. She did get to Art School – obtaining degrees in Textiles from Goldsmiths College, London, and later in Art & Design in NZ. She married a New Zealander and they raised their four children in Gloucestershire; the family moved to Auckland in 1982. Nora has lived between Auckland and Waiheke Island since then, lecturing in Community Arts at Unitec and Whitecliffe, managing an art gallery, working in the prison and mental health sectors, and active in women's and environmental issues. She now has six mokopuna and has settled permanently on Waiheke Island, where she helps run a recycled crafts collective called Upcycle. She drives an elderly EV, keeps free-range bantams, composts, and sings with Sister Shout a cappella choir.

Nora talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Unholy Business.

I wrote a fictional account of my great uncle sailing to NZ in 1913, and have written this later, 1960s account of a school year in my life.

Unholy Business is a fictionalised account of a true story, that happened to me as a schoolgirl in the 1960s. I lived the experience, with the truth being stranger than fiction. This novel is made up of true and embroidered bits mixed with complete fabrications, things half-remembered and mis/overheard; fragments from a year in my life sixty years ago. The originals of any characters taken from life are long gone now and my own children know better than to believe most of it

What inspired you to write this book?

I had told the tale many times and been encouraged to write it down.

What research was involved?

When I started I realised a great deal more research was needed to make sense of the story.

It was lockdown by then so I had lots of time to google details, and a box full of old letters and documents to pore over. Much of it is complete invention.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I would walk on the beach while the plot bubbled in my head and then go back and write for an hour or so.

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

Scott Joplins The Entertainer, and score of Aida, and Italian accordion music.

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

Thomasin McKenzie for Alice, Bradley Walsh as Quentin, Sylvia Kristen Scott Thomas?

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

I enjoyed working with Kelly Bickerton over zoom on new ideas.

Also the way the next chapter grew fresh from nowhere, so I was delighted to read it as any other reader.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I had a small gathering and read bits out in the library.

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

Charlotte Grimshaws The Mirror Book dealt with similar topics of father/daughter personality clashing.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Next I need to distribute this book far and wide before starting on the next one, to be set in London 70s Artschool.

Author image: Kelly Bickerton

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