Interview: Rachel Kerr talks about Victory Park
Rachel Kerr is a Wellington writer who lives in Island Bay with her family. She is studying te reo Māori and has degrees in film and creative writing.
Rachel has worked as a librarian for Te Kooti Whenua Māori and Judicial Libraries. Victory Park is her first novel and is shortlisted for the NZ Booklovers Fiction Award 2021.
Tell us a little about your novel.
The first draft was written towards the Masters in Creative Writing at the IIML at Victoria University. Plot wise – it’s about a woman who’s married to a failing Ponzi schemer who has moved into a council flat to live independently, who makes friends with a neighbour who becomes her confidante and support person. Both women have five-year-old sons, which becomes a point of contact. They’ve both come through serious difficulties so I was wanting to see some rejuvenation.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was interested in the impact that a public disgrace has on family, particularly on children, and also on the people they come into contact with, the ripple effects. When I first started writing it I was thinking about Bernie Madoff, but since then there have been various local fraudsters to follow such as David Ross – and they keep on coming.
What research was involved?
At the start I did some formal academic research into Ponzi schemes, and looked up relevant court cases, which are full of telling detail. I also spent a lot of time in the physical spaces of the book. In the end the book is more about the relationship of the women than the technicalities of the case though. It started to come alive when I got a sense of how the characters responded to events, rather than the events themselves.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
The first draft was written under the supervision of Emily Perkins. She encouraged me to keep writing forwards in the story – not to go back and revise, which was helpful advice in for getting a basic structure down. In later drafts I focussed on a few issues for each run through so as not to get overwhelmed. One thing I found useful was to compare a page of mine to some writing I loved now and then – that helped me to keep up the pressure. Also useful to see how other writers handle beginnings, endings, transitions etc.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Jenna Todd suggested Common People by Jarvis Cocker, a great suggestion. There’s a Pacific Island Church opposite the apartment block so I imagine some choir music in the mix, in with traffic noise and clanging from the panel beaters.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
Siobhan Marshall for Bridget, Robyn Malcolm for Robyn.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
As I got towards the last rounds of editing, I had a much more intimate sense of what was happening in each scene, and a stronger sense of how much I could trust the reader. It was satisfying getting the sense that the stuff of everyday life is enough to sustain a story.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
When I received an email from Mary McCallum accepting the book for publication, my partner and I went out for lunch – a moment of pure happiness. Little did I know how much editing there was yet to come!
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg. It’s an incredibly rich story of the domestic life of an Italian family before and during WWII. The way time collapses and expands is magical and quite true to families – sayings and incidents from thirty years ago can pop up fresh as ever today.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I’m thinking about writing about a teenager who has been excluded from school, but it’s still in the very early stages.