Bridget van der Zijpp’s new novel explores the fleeting, dangerous side of fame. She talks to Linda Herrick

Fame means your life becomes public property, a horror which some people crave, but many must find hard to enjoy. "Keeps you insane," as David Bowie's song put it, and he'd know.

So what happens if you were formerly famous, someone whose meteor blazed briefly but has long since burnt out? Are you still famous? Or are you "normal"?

Auckland writer Bridget van der Zijpp sets about exploring these notions, and more, in her second novel, In The Neighbourhood Of Fame, which centres around former rock musician Jed Jordan, who had a huge hit in New Zealand and overseas in the late-90s. Then it quickly faded away. Jed is now in his 30s and living contentedly in the suburbs with his wife and son, growing peppers in his greenhouse.

The trouble is that Jed, who doesn't define his life at all by his former celebrity, still encounters people who do. His wife Lauren, who married him at the height of his rock glory, loved it then but now carries a deep resentment towards Jed. She's simmering away; he doesn't notice.

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His neighbour Evie, who he's known since school days, has been living in Melbourne for years and has returned home to her dad's house, just over the hedge from Jed's. Evie's father has died and Jed goes over to offer his condolences. Evie has a teenage son, Dylan, conceived on her 19th birthday. She feels Jed's presence very keenly. He gives her a hug and, she thinks, "I was close to collapse inside those arms, trying to breathe in some clues."

And then there's teenager Haley, who's never heard of Jed but who is friends, sort of, with Dylan. She comes into Jed's orbit as well, and a careless action leads to a scandal fed by social media.

Told from the point of view of each woman, In The Neighbourhood Of Fame shines a fresh light on the fragility of relationships, the destructive power of social media and the angst of being a teenager. It's packed full of astute observation, spinning towards a crisis which doesn't have a predictable outcome. Her cast of characters - most of them - are flawed and likeable. There's even a blogger who used to write for Rip It Up. His cynical review of Jed's second "follow-up" album contributed to the end of the singer's career.

It's a sound follow-up to van der Zijpp's debut, Misconduct, which was shortlisted in the 2009 Montana NZ Book Awards and the Commonwealth Writers Best First Book Prize, Southeast Asia and Pacific region. Van der Zijpp, who was once in a long-term relationship with a musician, has seen what the industry can do to people.

"What I tried to depict was that Jed was born with charisma and he became a star because people liked the feeling of him, and the feeling that he didn't really care that much," says van der Zijpp. "I was playing around with the idea that you don't own fame, fame is something other people put on you. You never hear directly from the main character in the novel, you only see him through the eyes of other people and they each see him differently."

Van der Zjipp says there are plenty of examples in New Zealand of young musicians who have done well, then found it hard to sustain, one of the most prominent being Pauly Fuemana and his huge hit, How Bizarre. "I didn't model Jed on any particular person but I suppose Pauly Fuemana is the best example of a kind of one-off. I saw a documentary about him recently - his partner talked about how he sometimes wished he hadn't had that much fame with that particular song. It negated everything else he did afterwards."
Lauren may be the one person in the novel who is hard to fathom because of her unhappiness with a man who seems perfect: good-looking, talented, intelligent. But, van der Zijpp points out, he can also be remote.

"Because he's a creative person, he is quite jealous of his time and quite internal and protective. I think it's a very human quality that sometimes you'll do things to shake up your life, things that aren't in your best interest. I was trying to portray her as someone who is a little bit lonely. She overthinks everything. She thinks he might have been unfaithful to her. She has buried it but it is quite deep-seated. When she does what she does, she is balancing it out. She was in the mood to be dangerous."

Misconduct was all about a woman in the mood to be dangerous when her boyfriend dumps her. Van der Zijpp laughs. "When a relationship breaks up, especially if it breaks up in a bad way, you are quite emotionally hot for a while and thinking about how you can wreck their life. After a while that dissipates but my thinking was, if you did do something in that period, would you be able to forgive yourself? But when I was writing it and if I talked about it to a group of women, there would always be one or two women who said, 'I did that once'."

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Van der Zijpp (pronounced "Zipe") grew up in rural Ruawai, the child of a Dutch father and a New Zealand mother. She always knew she wanted to be a writer but it was a convoluted road, via studying for a Bachelor of Commerce, overseas travel then a long stint at a radio network in Auckland, where she became director of marketing, writing on the side. After 10 years with commercial radio, she quit. "I made a pact with myself that I wouldn't do any work unless it was something I found interesting or enjoyable after that. I don't ever want to get into that situation again when I woke up thinking, 'I hate going to work'."

After her relationship broke up, she moved to Wellington to do a masters in creative writing, taught by Damien Wilkins, alongside contract work for an arts organisation while completing Misconduct. She returned to Auckland a few years ago, and received a Creative NZ grant to write this second novel. Now she thinks she understands more about the dangerous nature of fame.

"It takes a real type of courage to reach out and grasp fame," she says. "When you do that, you know you are going to lose something of yourself. From then on, you are going to have to be your bigger self."

In the Neighbourhood of Fame (Victoria University Press $30) is out now.