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Interview: Tina Shaw talks about Ephemera

Tina Shaw is the author of more than 20 publications for children, young adults and general readership, including The Black Madonna, written while she held the CNZ Berlin Writers’ Residency, and The Children’s Pond, shortlisted for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh Awards. Her YA title About Griffen's Heart was a Storylines Notable Book in 2010, and Make a Hard Fist was published by One Tree House in 2018. She won the 2018 Storylines Tessa Duder Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. Ursa was published in April 2019 by Walker Books Australia and has since won a Storylines Notable Book Award and was a finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children & Young Adults. Ephemera is shortlisted in the NZ Booklovers Fiction Awards for 2021.

Tell us a little about your novel.

Ephemera is a post-apocalyptic novel set in New Zealand, with a quirky ‘heroine’ who was an ephemera librarian in a past life. She intrepidly sets off from Auckland to find the man known as Nelson and his rumoured stockpile of pharmaceutical drugs in the hope she can help her sister Juliana who has TB. Along with the handsome Lance Hinckley and enigmatic Adebowale Ackers, Ruth travels by steamboat up the Waikato River – the river, as in the past, once more a highway.

What inspired you to write this book?

I initially came up with the idea on a road trip when my partner and I were talking about what New Zealand would be like if there was no internet or electricity – none of the usual things we are all used to in daily life. It actually seemed so appealing that I started creating such a scenario. The idea of the river journey evolved from that. And featuring a river meant that my book is also inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, a book I have always really liked (along with its film version Apocalypse Now).

What research was involved?

The main research involved finding out about the dams on the Waikato River which Ruth and her group have to navigate up and over on their way to Huka Lodge where Nelson is based. I also did some paddling of a couple of the hydro lakes near where I live to get a feel for being on the water.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

Pretty much the same as for my other books – I write every day and get down a first draft, then I plunge into a rewrite of that draft, which is followed by a cleaning-up draft. This book also went through a couple of readers who gave me valuable feedback with the aim of making it stronger.

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

Easy, it would have to be Nick Cave’s ‘Push the Sky Away’ and ‘Envy of Angels’ by the Muttonbirds.

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

I think Carey Mulligan would make an excellent Cynthia (the angry doctor in my novel), while Kate Winslet would be perfect as Ruth. Lance Hinckley could be played by Jake Glyllenhaal.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

Coming up with mad scenarios for the boat trip.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Went on a cruise of the Waikato River from the Aratiatia Dam – nothing like real life mimicking art.

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

So many to choose from … I really enjoyed Pew by Catherine Lacey because it is so original and the main character – named ‘Pew’ by the residents of a Christian township because they were found sleeping on a church pew – is mostly mute.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Finishing the YA supernatural thriller that I’ve been working on for a while now.


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