Book has lo­cal flavour

Whanganui Midweek - - Front Page - By PAUL BROOKS

Kirsty Pow­ell is tour­ing the coun­try pro­mot­ing her novel The Strength of Eg­gshells. With its back­drop of the Man­ga­pu­rua Val­ley, home to the fa­mous Bridge to Nowhere, and a cast of char­ac­ters that in­cludes some of the ac­tual set­tlers of the doomed val­ley, Kirsty was guar­an­teed a good lo­cal re­cep­tion when she stopped off at Paige’s Book Gallery last Fri­day.

The book is about three gen­er­a­tions of women — Mered­ith who set­tles in the Man­ga­pu­rua Val­ley in 1932; her daugh­ter Jane, whose story is told through a psy­chi­a­trist and her po­etry, and Kate, the first per­son nar­ra­tive, who puts it all to­gether in a search for her­self.

The book re­lies on the ex­pe­ri­ences of the au­thor to give it in­tegrity — each mo­tor­bike ride, ac­tiv­ity in the shear­ing shed, farm job, bush walk, hunt­ing trip, has au­then­tic­ity, and her treat­ment of the men who re­turned from the hor­rors of war to farm the un­for­giv­ing ter­rain of the val­ley is sym­pa­thetic but not fawn­ing.

“I grew up on a farm and I did want to show ru­ral life as it is,” says Kirsty. “Par­tic­u­larly the re­silience of ru­ral peo­ple. Ru­ral life is raw, you know?”

She hails from north Wairarapa, be­tween Al­fred­ton and Ti­raumea.

“It’s an area with steep hill coun­try, grows gorse and scrub re­ally well and it slips and ex­poses the papa. So it’s not too dif­fer­ent from a lot of places around here. My fa­ther was con­stantly hav­ing to refence his bound­aries be­cause of [slips].

“In 2014 I was lucky enough to do a course with Witi Ihi­maera. Witi was the first per­son to en­cour­age me to start. He said, ‘Bring me an idea.’ I took him my idea and told him I want to write about three gen­er­a­tions of women, and he said, ‘Kirsty, in your first book that’s too much. Just do two gen­er­a­tions.’ Of course I wanted to do the grand­daugh­ter and the grand­mother, so I just put the po­ems be­tween the chap­ters, but it was too con­fus­ing.” With He­len McNeil from Cloud Ink Press, her ed­i­tor, she de­cided to make Beanstalk (the doc­tor) a real per­son, in­stead of a back­ground char­ac­ter, and bring in the mid­dle gen­er­a­tion. The po­etry re­mains as com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the doc­tor and Jane, his pa­tient.

“It’s fun writ­ing po­ems on be­half of some­one else,” says Kirsty.

Kirsty was in­spired to write about the Man­ga­pu­rua Val­ley af­ter read­ing Arthur Bates’ de­fin­i­tive his­tory, The Bridge to Nowhere (Wan­ganui News­pa­pers, 1981).

“Af­ter World War I, 36 re­turned sol­diers took up leased set­tle­ment blocks in that area. The bound­aries were squares and there’s no way you can fence that coun­try into squares, so that to start with was prac­ti­cally an in­sur­mount­able prob­lem.

“When I felt I wanted to write a novel, which was fic­tion over fact, there was no way I could fic­tion­alise th­ese peo­ple be­cause they were so real.”

In her book Kirsty has used those peo­ple as sec­ondary char­ac­ters and in­serted her fic­tional char­ac­ters as squat­ters com­ing into the val­ley in 1932.

Kirsty says stick­ing to the time­line made it tricky.

“The eas­i­est part of the book to write was the old story, with my fic­tional char­ac­ters com­ing into the val­ley and in­ter­act­ing with the real peo­ple. It was harder writ­ing the mod­ern story, even though it had more fic­tion in it.”

The Strength of Eg­gshells is at Paige’s Book Gallery.

PIC­TURE / PAUL BROOKS

Kirsty Pow­ell reads from her book The Strength of Eg­gshells at Paige’s Book Gallery last Fri­day.

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