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Interview: Ray Salisbury talks about Epic: Adventures Across Aotearoa

Ray Salisbury is an author and photographer with a lifelong love for backcountry New Zealand. In 1995 he completed a solo 80-day traverse of the North Island mountain ranges, and wrote about the journey in his book, Cape to Cape. Ray continues to write about noteworthy adventures in New Zealand.

His latest book, Epic: Adventures Across Aotearoa, is published by Exisle. Ray talks to NZ Booklovers.

Can you tell us a little about the new book?

Over the last 50 years, sea kayakers, climbers and alpine trampers have been attempting audacious journeys across NZ that last many months. Most of these adventurers have written books on their travels. Now I have condensed these tales, ready for a new generation to be inspired.

Featured explorers range from Graeme Dingle and Jill Tremain attempting the first traverse of the Southern Alps in 1971, to Paul Caffyn’s riveting account of kayaking around the South Island in the late 1970s.

How difficult was it writing the follow-up to your first book Cape to Cape and what did you find different about the process from the first book?

The second book I wrote was a 200-year social history on the eastern fringes of Kahurangi National Park, titled Tableland – the history behind Mt Arthur. Initially I found it difficult to write this in a dispassionate, third-person, authoritative voice, without the use of metaphors or similes. Writing this history book was like converting my scenic photos into black and white – without colour.

What research was involved?

When writing Epic, essentially, I read lots of Kiwi adventure books, and selected the most captivating stories. Also, this book was not intended to be an exhaustive history, but a selective anthology of endurance epics that span a variety of disciplines — from tramping and mountaineering to kayaking or cycling — and that trace a variety of interesting routes around the country. I chose to showcase women, Māori, couples and individuals to appeal to a wider audience.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I would sit on my big blue sofa, read a book through, and make copious notes. When I’d re-written the story in the third-person, I would add figures of speech, idioms, and points of historical interest. After several drafts, I emailed a PDF of the chapter to the protagonist for fact-checking.

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

The theme from the Chariots Of Fire movie, or a similar cinematic instrumental piece.

What did you enjoy the most about writing Epic?

Interviewing five of the protagonists, especially my hero Sir Graeme Dingle.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I took my wife to the local theatre company to watch The Sound Of Music.

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

The manuscript of a friend’s first book, Breaking Shame. It’s about a mother surviving her daughter’s bi-polar disorder and suicide. A heart-breaking read. I am helping the author craft the book, and find a publisher.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

With four books published, I’m on a roll. I have penned a memoir of the best 20 classic tramps I’ve completed throughout Aotearoa. Plus I’ve designed a landscape photographer’s guide to the top 100 scenic spots in New Zealand. Watch this space.


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