In February Douglas Wright published a book. It was his first and an extraordinary work: a wonderfully moving dance in words. It was received with deserved critical acclaim which should have made him very happy.

It did.

"It was a fantastic success, wasn't it?" we ask. "Well, I think so," he says in his quiet, hesitant way, "it was on the list of some of the best books in the Herald, which was really nice."

He didn't know that it had also made the Listener list. "Oh really? Oh fantastic. Thank you for telling me. I'd be too scared to go and look."

It is nice to hear that Wright has had this happiness in his year because when we went to see him in February he was "in a hard place in my life at the moment". He had just (three days before) lost his cat, Leo. His great love, Malcolm Ross, had died six weeks before Wright had finished his book - which is Ross' story as much as it is Wright's.

So these losses were much in his thoughts, and always are. But he does have a new cat to dance with in his lovely garden: a tortoiseshell called Alice Thumb after a character in his good friend Janet Frame's Living in the Maniototo.

Wright was frail then; he felt like an invalid. How he must hate to have to read, in everything written about him, about being diagnosed HIV positive in 1989. But there it is.

He said, "I'm losing my health and that happens to everyone, except it's happening a little bit earlier to me."

Still, his book was out and he had some lovely letters from other writers. "They were very supportive, very sweet."

But once published, there was, as many writers find, a kind of mourning: "It's sort of like everything's finished for me in a way." He felt his career as a choreographer was over. He talked about frustrating dreams of making dance, which he tried to block out.

The happiest consequence of his writing is that it led him to attempt another book, "and the book turned into wanting to make another dance. So that's what I'm doing." Which really is cause for celebration: "the re-emergence of the urge to make movement".

In October Wright received the $65,000 Creative New Zealand Choreographic Fellowship. This year he will be workshopping a new work with a group of dancers. "I won't be making it properly, if all goes well, until the beginning of 2006."

As for his health: "I'd have to say that I'm in a vulnerable place, that's the only word I could put on it without it sounding melodramatic," and he was living in a respite facility when we spoke to him. But "I realised that my body hasn't given up on me and I've actually discovered that I can't exist without making something, basically.

"As American sculptor Louise Bourgeoise says: 'Art is a guarantee of sanity.' I've been back in the studio, doing class a little bit. Making the movement phase is nice, but doing all the exercises I haven't done for 25 years ... I'm over it." He has the writer's gift of offering a phrase which allows you to know exactly what it is like to be putting his weary body through such rigours: "It's like eating iron vomit."

He has been thinking about 2004. "You want to know what I've done for the year, don't you? Studying death. By observing it when it happens around you and living through it. I haven't learned anything yet. It's a stripping away."

He says with real glee: "I'm getting dumber and dumber."