Bianca Zander is a lecturer in creative writing at AUT and recently published her second novel, The Predictions. She talks about leaving her journalism career to write fiction.

1. The lead character in your latest book receives a prediction that casts a psychological shadow. Where did you get that idea?

In my mid-20s I was told by a fortune teller that I would be on my own when I was older. At the time I was already alone so I didn't want to think that was my destiny, good lord. It was a bit horrible. As much as you don't believe in those kinds of things, it still holds sway. You have to actively try and shake it off. So I took that experience and turned it into a story about someone who had to out-run their unfavourable destiny.

2. What are your parents like?
Mum is Australian, Dad's a Kiwi, they met in Te Anau and went to live in London, where I grew up. Mum is probably one of the kindest people you'd ever meet. I was an only child for 11 years and she gave me an awful lot of attention, which was nice. Having all that focus on you is an asset. My Dad is the hardest working person in the entire universe. He really pulled himself up by his bootstraps; he was an orphan and he did well in the world. He renovated very high-end properties for people like Saudi Arabian oil sheikhs. One of these houses was a chateau in the South of France - a gift from one oil baron to another - and all the builders on it were New Zealanders who lived there with their girlfriends. I think they were having quite a debauched time. I was about 6 or 7 and my mum didn't like us visiting that chateau. I saw some things I shouldn't have seen and in my first book there is a scene of a child looking through a keyhole which comes directly from that time.

3. When you're writing sex scenes, do you have people in mind who you hope will never read it?
You know, I think people like reading sex scenes. So I kind of think of it as more of a sweetener for the reader, a little gift. No, it doesn't make me embarrassed.

Advertisement

4. You went to The Godolphin and Latymer School. What was that?
It was a [primary and secondary] school in central London, not the poshest school but still private. The primary school was tiny, quite claustrophobic in a way, and it was run by a very intimidating old biddy who had Parkinson's and used to kind of shake in a bit of a rage. Quite a few kids at the high school became actors and went on to be famous, like Kate Beckinsale who was in my class. Sophie Dahl went there. My brother was in the same class as James Jagger. He went to his birthday party and, of course, we all wanted to know whether the Rolling Stones were there, but all my brother would say was that there were lots of really old people.

5. What kind of teenager were you?
Very shy and insecure but I came across as quite aloof, I think. I moved to New Zealand for the first time when I was about 13, we stayed a couple of years. I didn't acclimatise very well to Auckland, I had a miserable time. I went to Dio and found it very cliquey. The highlight of my week was going to the library on a Thursday, getting out 8 or 10 books and holing up in my room and reading them.

6. How did you find New Zealand when you moved permanently at 19?
Well, like anybody I was breaking away from home. It was like the typical OE in reverse. I went flatting. I enrolled in university but didn't really go to my lectures. I worked in restaurants and kind of fell in with a bad crowd. I had a few lost years there. I think it's good to have a period where you're not trying to be a writer, and later you can mine those experiences. But at the time I certainly wasn't thinking, 'hey I'm doing this as research'.

7. As a journalist you immediately did well. Why didn't you pursue that career?
There were a few times when I had to go and visit someone where something terrible had happened and I just found it so crushing. Maybe I was too sensitive or something, I don't know. I remember doing a cover story for The Listener on methamphetamine use and it was just a big stressful ordeal. And I wanted to do something more creative. Fiction is just a better fit for me.

8. You've said it took years to transition from journalism to writing fiction. Why was that?
You can't bare your soul as a journalist without being kind of laughable, it's just not part of the job description. Although I think that's changed a bit with blogs - the personal essay has kind of made a resurgence. But certainly when you move into fiction, even though you're making things up, you have to reach for that authenticity and if you don't, your writing has no heart. That was the feedback I used to get on a lot of my first attempts at fiction, that it had no heart.

9. How have you and your film-maker husband Matthew Saville managed to combine being parents with two careers?
The most obvious thing is we don't own a house. We've invested in our careers. There have definitely been moments where it has been a struggle, but it feels like it's bearing fruit and I'm happy we've made those sacrifices.

10. You already have a US and a UK publisher, which many New Zealand writers would envy. How did you swing it?

Well, I got roundly rejected by just about every publisher in New Zealand with my first novel. I guess they just didn't like the book. So I managed to get an agent in New York and I worked with her for a year before she was prepared to submit my novel to publishing houses in the States.

Advertisement

11. How do you forge through writer's block or discouraging feelings about the work when you're writing?
It is really challenging, especially when you're writing a first draft because you're kind of digging up all this stuff from way down below and it's a very isolating experience. I think writing can make you crazy, even if you start out quite sane. A lot of what we talk about when we teach creative writing is about writing habits and how to stay healthy over the course of the year. I advise students to make sure that they stay socially connected.

12. Do you have any writing essentials like a special brand of coffee or a lucky chair?
When you've got two young kids you can't afford to be precious about all that stuff. All you need is time. My idea of absolute luxury is three or four days in a row where I can write. I don't care where I am.

The Predictions, by Bianca Zander (rrp $29.99) published by Hachette NZ is available now.