Keri Hulme is quitting the West Coast, and she'll be in the big smoke for Auckland Writers Festival.

For sale: hexagonal house in quiet position near top white-baiting lagoon in the heart of the South Island's West Coast. One careful lady owner: New Zealand's first Booker Prize-winner, Keri Hulme.

Hulme, 67, has put her house in Okarito, 150km south of Hokitika, on the market so she can move to Moeraki on the other side of the island. She has lived in Okarito for more than 40 years but described the small settlement a couple of years ago as being ruined by "ugly [holiday] McMansions". Her house, she reckons, is a bargain.

"If anyone wants to buy a self-built house full of borer, regularly visited by possums and rats, I have got just the property," she says on the phone from Oamaru where she has been staying with her mother.

Hulme, whose first (and only) novel The Bone People won the Booker in 1985 and has gone on to sell more than three million copies worldwide, is making another journey, travelling by Jeep and train from her Westland home to Auckland in May.


She will make a rare public appearance at the Auckland Writers Festival where her novel has been nominated as the first annual Great Kiwi Classic. She will read from the book at the May 18 event, followed by a "giant book club" discussion between a panel and the audience.

"I was astonished to hear The Bone People had been chosen for the Great Kiwi Classic," she said. "There have been a lot of really good books written in New Zealand over the past few decades. I consider it a real honour for the book."

When Hulme won the Booker, she was touring the US after receiving the Pegasus Award for Maori literature. "My mother and I were in Salt Lake City, of all places, and this nice chap from the BBC told me I had won. I said, 'You're pulling my leg.' And that was recorded for posterity."

Hulme agrees that winning the literary prize, which was taken by Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries last year, can be a double-edged sword.

"It certainly was an important moment in my life ... and it's been very good for me and the family. But it's quite an uncomfortable public position in as much as you feel obliged to satisfy media curiosity.

"Also, I didn't realise how much and how arduous it would turn out to be to travel to various events and I am sure Eleanor Catton has already found this out, I suspect.

"It can go on and on, until I put my foot down 12 or 13 years ago and said I am not travelling any more to places outside of New Zealand."

Living in Okarito, population 30, has given her some privacy - "except people came to Okarito, people just turned up. On my back gate [on the roadside], there's a sign that says, 'Unless you know me, or have contacted me first, do not come in.' That may seem rude, but the earlier one was even ruder: 'Unknown visitors will be shot on sight'."

Hulme isn't averse to the judicious use of guns.

"I use an air gun on the rats but I keep a .22 handy while I am at home for shooting possums. The rats and possums are enormously destructive."

Hulme is still working on her long-awaited novel Bait. "But it has turned into three books. I am going to have to work seriously on it this year because it is this vast, shambling, sprawling set of novels. I think I can sufficiently trim it.

"On Shadowside [the second book] is fantasy and I have invented a nice race of people for it. It was fun and I have been quietly working on that too. The third one is a collection of short stories."

Big names at festival

Keri Hulme will join a long line-up of New Zealand and international authors at the Auckland Writers Festival. The list includes Eleanor Catton, Lloyd Jones, Elizabeth Knox, Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Walker, British broadcaster Sandi Toksvig, Scots Alexander McCall Smith and Irvine Welsh, Scandinavian crime writer Camilla Lackberg and Guardian science writer Jim Al-Khalili. Tickets go on sale tomorrow. The festival runs from May 14 to 18.

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