This much I know: Dame Fiona Kidman

By Sarah Daniell

Writer Dame Fiona Kidman. Photo / Robert Cross
Writer Dame Fiona Kidman. Photo / Robert Cross

My characters are constant companions both before and during the writing of a novel. I take them around with me pretty well everywhere I go. Once the book is written, some of them will have had their say and I am happy to part company with them. But others stay and their voices still fill my head, in the way that "real" people do. This is why some of my characters reappear in subsequent books, because they have been getting on with their lives and it's time for them to check in again.

I think I'm a main trunk line kind of person. The centre of the North Island is so beautiful it moves me to tears. I grew up in the countryside near small towns and villages, mostly in Northland, as my parents moved around. Those towns entered my heart and stayed there. In my new book, All Day At The Movies, the countryside influenced the story. I wanted to include as much of New Zealand as I could because, in a way, the book pays homage to this country, its joys, its beauty, and also its tragedies.

I follow basketball a bit. I rather like the term "slam dunk" — standing tall, aiming high, nailing it.

I am happy in the present. My life feels rich and full. I have explored earlier times through my novels, and particularly the role of women within those eras. Those times fascinate me but I don't want to inhabit them. In this country, people have greater opportunities than at any time in history. That doesn't mean that I think life is easy for everyone. I acknowledge the hardship many endure, but the possibilities are there.

I suppose as we get older time seems fast because we see generations growing and changing before our eyes. I'm a great-grandmother now and in the bustle of things I'm constantly surprised that new life is springing in all directions, and sometimes all at once. Two of my great-grandchildren were born in the same week, so this multiplication turns into an explosive life force.

Ian and I will have been married for 56 years next Saturday. The shared pleasure in family is a factor, as are commitment and a sense of humour. We realised quite early that we each had dreams that would take determination to fulfil them and the freedom to pursue them. We followed our own paths but they always converged.

I can't speak for all readers, but to some extent I think very long books have had their day. We tend to seek variety and to want to move on to new sets of ideas before long. But I wouldn't have missed the Dickens experience, nor the years in my teens when I was enamoured with the Russians. That dramatic sweep of great events and eras was what storytelling was all about. Perhaps we owe it to ourselves to focus more on long texts. Will I read Barkskins [Annie Proulx's new novel]? It's got 714 pages. I'm thinking about it.

I broke a pact I made to myself. It was to be unfailingly true to myself. We all make false moves now and then. You pick yourself up and start again.

All Day at the Movies, by Fiona Kidman (Vintage, $38). Dame Fiona Kidman will speak at Remuera Library, Auckland, on September 13.

- Canvas

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