Late reader still a great writer

Rocking Horse RoadCarl Nixon is most famous for his Rocking Horse Road novel, which started life as a short story and was serialised in The Press. He answered some questions about his writing career ahead of the 2008 Christchurch Writers Festival. Find more titles by Carl Nixon in the library catalogue.

You’re working at Hagley this year – what’s been your main focus?
The writer in residence position at Hagley Community College is roughly 70 per cent teaching of creative writing to senior students and 30 per cent my own work (which can be done in my own office away from the school). I recently received a grant from Creative New Zealand and am using it to write a new novel.
You spent time with the Court Jesters and doing a lot of dramatic works at the Court– how did that experience help when you came to write fiction?
I grew up doing improv. at the Court (1985-1999) through United Theatre Sports and later Scared Scriptless and then The Court Jesters. In many ways the story-telling skills I use on a daily basis in all my writing were laid down through theatre. On stage I was always the one driving the narrative but never the funny one. It’s an under-rated role – kind of the front row forward of improvised theatre.
You’ve entered and won a number of short story competitions — are you a writing competition junkie? Are writing competitions the best way to get a name as a writer?
The things I like about short story competitions are:
They give you a reason to write;
They create a deadline;
They give you a reason to move beyond the first draft and polish the work;
The thrill of winning;
Cash prizes (writers need money!);
Getting winning stories published in newspapers or magazines.
There’s a session at the writer’s festival called The Child that books built – which books went into the building of you?
I came to reading pretty late. I had remedial reading lessons at about 8 and didn’t really get into books until I was ten or so. At that point I read a lot of Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, Willard Price adventures, and Biggles. Then I moved on to the almost obligatory Lord of the Rings series.
Are there particular New Zealand writers who you admire? Can you tell us what appeals to you about them?
My favourites are Owen Marshall for his world-class short stories which contain infinite wisdom, humour and darkness in equal measure (favourite story: Cabernet Sauvignon with my Brother). Then Maurice Gee whose adult fiction display an insight into human nature worthy of a forensic psychologist. I also greatly admire Lloyd Jones (whose novel The Book of Fame is I believe one of the great New Zealand works of literature).
One of the questions we’re asking all participants this year is how they view libraries and how they use libraries? Tell us about your library experiences.
I love libraries. I can often be found at South Library with my children (whose consumption of picture books is measured by the kilogram). South has vast spaces but is warm and sunny. Red cafe there makes a good latte. And I do a bit of research for my writing as well.

September 2008