Rotorua's set to be engulfed by a tidal wave of crime next January, that's not a flight of fancy but an established fact.

However locals can rest easy, it won't be baddies running amok with guns or serial killers in our midst. In their stead will be those who write about them and avid followers of their work gathering for Rotorua's first noir literary festival, sold out this week.

For those in the dark, noir is the literary genre the dictionary defines as 'fiction characterised by cynicism, fatalism and moral ambiguity'.

Or as festival organiser Grant Nicol puts it, noir's "dark and foreboding crime fiction".


As grim as that may sound to some, it's up there in today's most sought-after reading categories. For that thank the Scandinavians, in particular Sweden's Steig Larsson's immensely popular The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the trilogy it spawned.

So how did a chap from Rotorua get himself so immersed in noir he's now running a festival to celebrate it?

Grant's always been into life's dark side.

"Everyone else has always thought me to be gloomy, depressing and weird, I've never trusted people who are happy all the time so I guess we're all different and in many ways it is not really a surprise that I ended up writing gruesome, sad stories."

Our People didn't find Grant the slightest bit gloomy, he's one of those matter of fact types who doesn't waste words embellishing his self-image, and with him what you see is what you get.

He began writing as a teenager when a close school friend was killed in a crash near Putaruru.

"It made me realise that I should be doing exactly what I wanted to do with my life, that I couldn't just survive, that was a massive impetus for me [to put words onto paper]."

It's not coincidental Finland's the setting for his first noir novel, he developed a great affinity for the country while living in Belfast, subsequently spending a year there after two in the even more far-flung Iceland.

A back flip's necessary here to fill in the gaps between teenage Kiwi schoolboy and the author of downright creepy novels loosely based on real life events.

One of those school leavers who hadn't a clue what he wanted to do with his future, his first job was with Auckland's Kodak photo finishing lab. When the shutter went down on the business he turned to stage managing a succession of popular rock bands of the 1990s.

"A mate in Push Push asked if I knew anyone who could string a guitar, I spent two fruitless weeks trying to find someone so I said 'teach me how and I'll do it', the band work grew from there."

Time with Shihad and Jordon Luck and the Exponents preceded a move to Sydney and more band work before Grant embraced restaurant work. A decade on, his home country lured him back, his parents had retired to Tarawera.

Grant's feet continued to itch, in 2004 the time was right for his delayed OE. As a child he'd spent two years in London where his father was seconded to the BNZ.

But it was Belfast that captured him. "I had a lot of Irish friends from Sydney days, had an ancestral visa through my Scottish side, went on to qualify for a British passport." He was back working in hospitality and writing on the side.

His 40th birthday present to himself was a trip to Iceland. "I'd always been curious about it but it was very pricey to get to, then the financial crash made it more accessible."

He visited in summer, returned to Ireland where "the troubles" were allegedly over although Grant found Catholic-Protestant antipathy still ran deep. "It's so ingrained in the Irish there'll never not be problems of some sort."

His time in Iceland was the motivation for his first noir novel On A Small Island. The chilling plot had its genesis in real life sexual abuse inflicted over 25 years in a Nordic boys' home.

He self published online, marketing through social media and writers' festivals. "It [self publishing] was not difficult, just expensive."

Iceland drew him back, this time it was winter. Looking out at a hefty Rotorua frost we remark he must find home positively tropical.

"That first winter was pretty eye-opening but you get used to it. There it only gets down to -5C, Finland's super cold in winter, -20C, but not nearly as windy as Iceland which is so exposed."

Grant experienced what he's talking about, he moved to Finland after an online meeting with a woman who became his girlfriend, he stayed a year.

All those hours of darkness encouraged him to intensify his writing output. Of his two Icelandic years he says Reykjavik's the most beautiful city he's lived in.

"Iceland is super unique, with a population of only 300,000 it has no borders, no direct influence from outside, their language hasn't changed in 1600 years. It's a really cool creative hub full of writers, musicians."

Grant fell into the writers' category, his noir murder mysteries total four, a London publisher has embraced him.

He returned home last year to be nearer his unwell father; writing's shelved while he studies massage therapy at Toi Ohomai.

"I hadn't been back long when I heard from Icelandic and Finnish writer friends who'd been at a UK noir festival and were talking about me on a train to London. They said if I could organise one here they'd come down."

Is this to be a festival for writers or readers?

"Hopefully a 50-50 mix, I'm particularly keen to get as many New Zealand crime writers together under one roof as possible. Unlike romance writers who have a big organisation, a lot of crime and noir writers don't know each other, don't have a similar umbrella.

"A good percentage of New Zealand readers are into crime fiction, the books sell really well. This is our chance in Rotorua to show the New Zealand public what this type of writing's all about, introduce them to some outstanding international authors."

Born: Auckland, 1969
Education: Roydvale Primary, Christchurch; Pickhurst Primary, London; Birkenhead Primary, Northcote Intermediate and College
Family: Parents: David and Valda Nicol (Rotorua), brother John (Auckland), a niece and nephew
Interests: Writing, reading "Not just crime biographies, but all biographies, science fiction too." Indy American films, rock bands
On Rotorua: "It's our uniquely Kiwi hot spot."
On his life: "It's been a journey of unexpected twists and turns."
Personal philosophy: "Follow your own instincts, no one knows you better than you do."

Where: Shambles Theatre
When: January 26-27, 2019
Workshops: Arts Village January 25
Confirmed speakers-panellists: Lilja Sigurdardottir, Iceland, Kati Hiekkapelto Finland, Michael Rowbotham, Paul Hardisty Australia, Alex Gray Scotland, Vanda Symon, Dunedin
Sponsor: Creative New Zealand (Rotorua branch)