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Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - NEWS - In­ter­view/ Sarah Cather­all Pho­to­graph/ Kevin Stent

El­iz­a­beth Knox, 58, is an award-win­ning writer of adult and young adult fic­tion, in­clud­ing her best­seller, The Vint­ner’s Luck. Her hus­band, Fer­gus Bar­row­man, 56, is the pub­lisher of Welling­ton’s Vic­to­ria Univer­sity Press. FER­GUS/ I met El­iz­a­beth when I was edit­ing her first book. Af­ter Z-Hour was pub­lished 30 years ago, on Novem­ber 11. Bill Man­hire gave me the man­u­script to read, and I rang her up, and said that if she fin­ished it, I would pub­lish it.

Bill in­tro­duced us again at Rack­ets, the cof­fee bar near Vic­to­ria Univer­sity in Welling­ton, and we had lunch there. She was com­pletely wild. She was en­er­gised and rest­less and talked fast. She knew a huge amount about all sorts of things, mu­sic and film, and there were lots of com­mon­al­i­ties. I wasn’t sin­gle at the time, but I be­came sin­gle over the fol­low­ing months.

We got to­gether quite sud­denly, in the course of proof­read­ing. It was one of those things, which I re­ally hadn’t seen com­ing.

I thought her first novel was bril­liant. It’s a novel about some young peo­ple who get stuck on Takaka Hill wait­ing to be res­cued in a storm.

What thrilled me was the writ­ing. The wis­dom. So much was go­ing on in each book.

I’ve pub­lished all her books. It took all the pres­sure off when she got an over­seas pub­lisher too, and it was also val­i­da­tion for what we were do­ing.

I’m a lark and she’s an owl. She of­ten re­ally hits her stride af­ter din­ner and works in the even­ing, and into the small hours, and then she will watch TV to re­lax. I can’t stand TV. I lis­ten to mu­sic. I al­ways turn it down when it’s both­er­ing her.

The Vint­ner’s Luck was in­ter­est­ing. I re­mem­ber her telling me the dream she had, when she had pneu­mo­nia, and I said: “That’s an amaz­ing story. You should write it.”

There’s a point in that story where she won­dered whether she might give it up, and whether it was silly to con­tinue with, and she had to find that next stage. I do credit my­self with en­cour­ag­ing her to keep go­ing.

She’s got into the habit of writ­ing more than one book at once, be­cause of ill­ness and fam­ily, and so on, and that means she can bounce from book to book. She got oc­cu­pa­tional overuse syn­drome some years ago, so she talks into her Dragon Dic­tate, or writes long­hand, and then this voice ac­ti­vated soft­ware puts it on the screen.

El­iz­a­beth be­came coeliac a cou­ple of years ago, so that has changed things. We’ve also built gar­dens – we’ve got 10 me­tres of gar­den bed. Be­tween us we have 100 years of un­ex­pressed gar­den­ing. El­iz­a­beth gar­dens very suc­cess­fully. I build things like the planter boxes. EL­IZ­A­BETH/ When I met Fer­gus, I was be­ing strung along by a man who was al­ready in a re­la­tion­ship. Fer­gus was very shy. I walked into the café and he im­me­di­ately blew his nose. I thought of him as this shy, nasal guy. I thought: “Rats, this isn’t some­one who will dis­tract me from X.” So he be­came my edi­tor, and it was six or seven months af­ter that, that I fell for him.

Fer­gus is al­ways the first per­son to read what I’ve been writ­ing. We don’t talk about the ideas be­cause they man­i­fest them­selves in the nar­ra­tive. You build this thing, and it’s like grow­ing the plants that at­tract the bees.

Fer­gus un­der­stands my writ­ing. He knows where I’m com­ing from. He’s the mas­ter of un­der­state­ment. I’ve had other au­thors who have said to me: “But does he like it?”

If we are walk­ing to­gether, and I need to solve a prob­lem, that’s of­ten when I’ll talk to him.

What I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate is liv­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment where books are cel­e­brated. Fer­gus is a reader of fic­tion es­says and po­etry. It’s great liv­ing with some­one who is part of the process. And it’s been very good for me to be part of the VUP crowd, with so many peo­ple who care about writ­ing, be­ing with some­body who is fa­cil­i­tat­ing the ca­reers of so many other writ­ers. I wouldn’t have that if I wasn’t mar­ried to Fer­gus.

He’s very af­fec­tion­ate, con­sci­en­tious, and he’s very in­tel­lec­tual. He’s also a crea­ture of habit. It’s partly to do with his di­a­betes. Fer­gus was 31 when he was di­ag­nosed. He was fad­ing away and not go­ing to the doc­tor. Damien Wilkins said to me: “What’s wrong with Fer­gus?” So that means we now have to have reg­u­lar meal times.

Be­cause I live such a quiet life at home, I don’t think I feel par­tic­u­larly in­ter­est­ing to my­self or oth­ers around me. It’s that process of post­pon­ing the idea of be­ing val­ued as com­pany. Some­times I think: “Oh well, I’ll ap­pear to him again once I’ve given him a book to read.” Even though I’m there all the time and we talk about our son, and our gar­dens, and the cats, but there’s a point where he’ll say: “Oh yes, that’s right, there’s this per­son who I live with and they also do this,” and I get that re­ac­tion out of small things, but when­ever I fire a big novel down the pipe, he’ll go: “Oh wow, we’ve been talk­ing about that for­ever, but it’s dif­fer­ent to what I imag­ined it would be.”

He’s the mas­ter of un­der­state­ment. I’ve had other au­thors who have said to me: “But does he like it?”

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