Dominic Hoey, aka Tourettes, is anything but conventional.
A rapper and spoken word poet, the 39-year-old is moving into literature and theatre with a loosely connected series of works, Iceland, a story inspired by growing up in Grey Lynn in the 1980s and how it compares to the present day.
"I guess I just want to write about what happens when you have a community of people, of all different types of people, what happens when they get forced out," Hoey says.
Set loosely in the mid-00s, the book tackles gentrification and the vilification of the poor. Mostly it's a love story between Hamish, a violent but loveable alpha male, and the educated and middle-class Zlata.
While he grew up in the central Auckland suburb, Hoey says he doesn't like going back these days, calling it "depressing" and lamenting the loss of its artistic community. That may explain why the book has such a foreign title. Hoey decided to name it Iceland after spending six months there on a writer's residency and his journey is worthy of its own novel.
"I'd been with someone for five years and they broke up with me and took everything, so I was real broke," he recalls. "In a drunken haze, I applied for this residency in Iceland, thinking I wouldn't get it and if I did I'd have months [to prepare]. And then I got an email saying 'can you be here in six weeks?'"
With no money, Hoey turned to crowdfunding to pay for the trip, which ended up helping to shape the story.
"Part of the prize was that if you gave me a hundred bucks I'd name a character after you. I thought I'd get one or two people, but I got about 20 people that donated. I'm really shit at naming characters, that's the thing I'm worst at as a writer, so it was actually really handy," he laughs.
The trip abroad was a beneficial experience, allowing him to craft the characters and his interpretation of Grey Lynn without being there.
"I think when you are writing about a place, it's good not to be there. Because you want to write from your memory rather than 'this is what this street is actually like', as the truth is usually not as beautiful as your memories or dreams."
Hoey began writing Iceland in 2012, but was forced to take a hiatus when he became sick. In mid-2013, he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an auto-immune disease that Hoey describes as having your spine collapse on itself. He was bedridden for about seven months, a difficult experience but one that was ultimately rewarding.
"I've been very lucky in the sense that I have very supportive friends and family. The things I wanted to do I still could do highly medicated lying in bed. There was a year that was pretty weird, basically just stopping, but it makes you reassess [life]."
He has taken the experience and turned it into a new play, Your Heart Looks Like a Vagina, a black comedy that features the writing of Iceland.
The two projects mark a new career path for Hoey, one he will be embarking on under his own name. "I was really young, that was a long time ago. I had a rap show coming up [and] they were like 'what do you want your name to be on the show?'. And when the guy rang me up, I was on acid and I said 'Tourettes', and 20-odd years later here we are," he recalls.
Iceland (Steele and Roberts, $35) is released on Thursday, June 15. The play Your Heart Looks Like a Vagina is at The Basement from July 18-22