Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Literary star planning a decent break

Eleanor Catton says she won't write for a while following her Man Booker win.

Eleanor Catton says she's been using all the attention since her win to talk up New Zealand literature. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Eleanor Catton says she's been using all the attention since her win to talk up New Zealand literature. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Her Man Booker Prize win made her an international literary luminary, but Eleanor Catton doesn't want any "homecoming fuss" when she finally jets back to New Zealand.

The 28-year-old novelist is looking forward to being reunited with her cats, spending time in the kitchen and catching up with friends and relatives when she gets home in the new year.

Since she became the youngest winner of the prize with her West Coast saga The Luminaries last month, Catton's world has been one of celebrations with friends, book talks, and much chat with reporters.

"I've done what feels like a thousand interviews, with TV and radio as well as with print media, and while they've been mostly fun, being visible and on form is very tiring," she told the Herald from New York yesterday.

"I'm learning that it takes a lot of effort to protect one's internal life while being externally professional. "Sometimes it's a matter of saying less than you want to say, and other times it's a matter of having to speak when you'd really rather not." She credits her publicists for helping her "manage it all in the way that feels right".

Even her grandmother gave an interview to her local paper in Timaru - something Catton found very amusing.

"She even surrendered one of my baby photographs to the press."

There had been an outpouring of good wishes and excitement from New Zealand, she said, which had been "profoundly moving to me" and "sustaining and uplifting in the very best of ways".

"And I'm proud to know that the story of The Luminaries will have a real impact on New Zealand literature long-term."

People always wanted to read good books and to discover new authors, she said.

"As a small country, New Zealand doesn't have a particularly high profile overseas, but if you talk passionately about the New Zealand writers you love and admire, people listen and want to know more. In that way every New Zealander can do their bit to raise the profile of our national literature."

Catton had been "evangelising" about Janet Frame a lot, as well as Elizabeth Knox and Maurice Gee.

While chuffed to be mentioned alongside pop prodigy Lorde - whom she posed with in a tweeted picture channelling John Lennon and Yoko Ono's famous bed-in peace protest - she said a collaboration between the Kiwi stars was unlikely.

"She doesn't need me - she's a fantastic writer."

As a matter of fact, Catton doesn't plan to write anything for a while.

"Writing a novel demands complete immersion, and right now there's too much change in my life, and not enough protected, unstructured time, for a seed of inspiration to take root. I don't feel bothered by that."

Her winning novel, expected to have already sold 50,000 copies in New Zealand alone, was such a huge project she felt "truly emptied out" once she had finished it.

"I knew I wouldn't be able to start anything new for quite a while. It's nice to have an off-season, a winter between the harvest and the spring."

Canadian author Yann Martel had told her that after he won his Man Booker Prize for the Life of Pi, he accepted all the invitations that started flooding his way, travelled the world, and enjoyed the ride.

"I like the sound of that."

In the meantime, she'll be dusting off her tramping boots.

"I'd like to get into the mountains before too long - the Heaphy and Hollyford tracks have been on my to-do list for a long time, and there's no better antidote to the media circus than the mountains and the bush.

"Later this month I'm going to stay with my uncles in Montana, and I'm hoping to do a bit of tramping there, or maybe even cross-country skiing.

"It will feel good to turn my phone off for a while."

Eleanor Catton

* Aged 28. Born in Canada, raised in Christchurch, lives in Auckland.

* The youngest writer ever to win - and be short-listed for - the Man Booker Prize.

* Her novel The Luminaries, set in 1866 gold-rush Hokitika, is the longest book to win the prize, running at 832 pages.

* Teaches creative writing at Manukau Institute of Technology, keen to continue.

- NZ Herald

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