Greg McGee, the Auckland writer who co-authored All Black captain Richie McCaw's best-selling autobiography The Open Side, has been awarded the $75,000 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship in the south of France.
But he almost turned down the chance to write the McCaw book. McGee recalls that when Hachette New Zealand asked him if he'd be interested in writing a "sports biography", he thought, "No, I'm not, really."
"But then I thought maybe it's him [McCaw] because I had done an interview with him back in 2006 so I sent an email back saying, depends who it is. I thought if there is one I want to do, it's that one."
It was a canny choice. Within hours of the book's launch eight weeks ago, the first print-run of 60,000 copies sold out and the book remains at second place in the NZ Bookseller's non-fiction list. It has also become New Zealand's best-selling sports biography, streaking past Colin Mead's 1974 biography.
McGee, who was an Otago rugby representative and All Black trialist in his youth, began his writing career with the 1980 play Foreskin's Lament, an expose of the rugby culture of the times. He says one of the things he learned during his eight-month partnership with McCaw was "to see how much it has changed - not just physical, but the psychological preparation and the self-knowledge. It was an eye-opener".
"I call Richie a lovely kid," he laughs. "He wouldn't like that much because he is so The Man but he is the same age as my kids so it was really fascinating spending time with him until the deadline got quite pressing towards the end and I started thinking, 'Jesus, I'm too old for this'."
McGee, 62, says he plans to fly to France in April to start work on a new fiction project "that involves quite a bit of research in Europe".
"Having been a freelance writer for 30 years, it's often difficult to see more than three months ahead so the prospect of the time and space next year for six months to write is really exciting. The rent comes out of the $75,000 and the air fares and you live on the rest for as long as you can."
Aside from the McCaw project, McGee has also recently written two thrillers under the female pseudonym Alix Bosco, a novel Love and Money under his own name, and he has been working on a tele-feature about the Pitcairn Island sexual abuse trials, based on journalist Kathy Marks' book Pitcairn: Paradise Lost and interviews with Crown Prosecutor Simon Moore.
"TV3 is really interested in it and they have helped fund the development. Now it just needs funding," he laughs. "Famous last words."