If Eleanor Catton was a politician she might be in some difficulty today. For it turns out that while she vented her feelings about New Zealand's "very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture" and declared herself "uncomfortable" being an ambassador for a country that "is not doing as much as it could, especially for the intellectual world", she has done quite well from the public purse.

Creative New Zealand, the agency funded by the said politicians, gave her a bursary upwards of $50,000. That money variously helped with living expenses when she was writing The Luminaries, enabled her to attend writers' festivals in Australia, Scotland, Canada and Germany, and helped finance two six-month university fellowships. All of that was before she won the Man Booker prize in 2013.

Since then, the state funding agency for the arts has continued to pay her passage to international book fairs and festivals, including no doubt the Jaipur Literary Festival in India this week, where she made those comments and others, sparking a week of headlines as they were digested and debated.

And she has gone further. In a statement late Friday she says she stands by her original speech and promises to give interviews where she will "discuss the frightening swiftness with which the powerful Right move to discredit and silence those who question them".


She is, of course, entitled to voice her views, and deserving of her grants.

It takes more than education, guidance and literary grants to produce work of The Luminaries' quality. The credit was all hers - and the country really did want to know about it. She was the toast of New Zealand. It is only the second time a New Zealander has won the prestigious Man Booker and she was the youngest from any country to win it.

She is not a politician, fortunately for her, nor is she really an ambassador in the sense that she is obliged to speak favourably of her country.

Creative NZ sends her to these events for who she is and what she has achieved, not for what she might say. She is an artist, she is free to bag the country and its leadership if she wants.

And the public has the right to reply.

The "tall poppy syndrome" is not at work when it does. She is a poppy the country is proud to have produced. If she believes we have no right to that pride, we beg to differ.

Her public funding would not come close to recompense for the hours it takes to write a book. Few writers' cheques ever do. But the public investment in her is good news. It says our money was well spent.

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