Award winning author Anna Taylor talks about writing, awards and atmosphere.
In 2009 Victoria University published Anna Taylor’s first book, Relief, to wide acclaim. This year Anna Taylor won the 2010 NZSA Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction. Since then life’s got busier: she’s appeared on national television and radio; given interviews to numerous print publications and has been invited to speak at writers’ festivals around New Zealand. All this while she fits in her paid work as a creative writing teacher at Whitireia Community Polytechnic and works on her second book, but she’s not complaining, “I feel very lucky. As a first time author, it did feel like the book could sink without trace, but so far it seems to have kept its head above water. Winning the best first book award has been a real blessing - it feels like it's generated a lot more energy around the book, probably just as it was starting to sink, and so I'm incredibly grateful for that.”
Water is a common feature in Relief, offering both a symbolic and physical presence in the book. Often a character’s moment of release is tied to the image of a wave, the sea or a lake. In one striking story, “Going Under”, a man coming to terms with the end of his marriage hits a hawk on the open road and then has the difficult task of drowning the injured bird. As he walks into the lake Taylor crafts a perfectly small moment of catharsis, leaving both her character and the reader with a sense of clarity and peace. Taylor says, “I love the way a short story can capture a moment in time, and can create feeling so effectively, and so that's what appeals to me about them. I imagine that's what attracts other lovers of the short story too”. Relief is an evocative book, capturing the atmosphere between people and place; however her eerie open spaces can feel more like the southern states of America than New Zealand, “I'm very committed to living in New Zealand, and so even though my stories may not appear to be based here, I do think of my writing as being from New Zealand and about New Zealand. I realise the New Zealand-ness may not be explicit in my writing, but for me, this is where the stories come from”.
Taylor is embarking on a bigger body of work, a collection of three novellas, “I am trying to branch out a little . . . and that does feel like a leap for me. I guess a novella needs to have more of a sense of plot and shape than a short story, and so I'm grappling with that at the moment”.
A committed writer, this year Taylor has pulled back from her hectic teaching workload to concentrate on her writing, “For the past couple of years I've tutored for more than one institution simultaneously, and that really did feel like too many balls up in the air – but this year I've been writing with the support of a Creative New Zealand grant, and so keeping work and writing in their individual compartments has felt much more manageable time-wise. I'm able to just focus on my teaching at Whitireia this year, and I'm really enjoying the process of working with the creative writing students there”. Taylor says both her grant from Creative New Zealand and Work and Income schemes like PACE (Pathways to Arts and Cultural Employment) have helped to launch her career as a writer. “I think there is some amazing support for artists in this country - I was on the PACE scheme for a while after I finished the MA, and people like Biddy Grant, who oversee that process, are truly wonderful. The CNZ grant, of course, has also been amazing – I do feel so blessed to live in a country that supports arts practitioners in this way”.
Updated on 23rd July 2015