Homegrown: 5 Fun Ways NZ Features In “The Wall of Night” Series ~ by Helen Lowe
Firstly, my thanks to Karen for inviting me to blog here today as part of the recent launch of Daughter of Blood, the third novel in my The Wall of Night series.
People frequently comment on the fact that The Wall of Night books are epic fantasy and set in an alternative world, as well as being published overseas to boot, so in that sense are not really New Zealand stories. To which I reply (in classic Kiwi style): “Now hold on a minute, mate. These are books written in New Zealand, by a New Zealand born and bred author – you can’t get much more “homegrown” than that!”
I would also argue that there is plenty of New Zealand in my writing, only in a subtle way, rather than stamping every page – metaphorically speaking – with buzzy bees and No. 8 wire. As proof of my point, here are five fun examples of Aotearoa influences woven into The Wall of Night series.
Landscape – what could be more New Zealand, after all, than a braided river and a block and tor mountain range, with wild thyme growing underfoot and slopes covered in “scrambling green” (sweetbriar) and “dark twisting thorn scrub” (matagouri). Anyone who has crossed a Canterbury river or spent time in Central Otago will recognise their influences when the main characters in The Heir of Night (the first book in The Wall of Night series) cross into the region known as “Jaransor.”
Moko – in the second book in the series, The Gathering of the Lost, one of the secondary characters, Solaan, is “a short, dark woman with a spiral of blue tattoos across chin and cheeks.” Admittedly, many countries and cultures have tattooing traditions, but I think this particular depiction owes at least a little to Aotearoa and the moko.
Tokotoko – Mistress Ise, a secondary character in the newly released Daughter of Blood, uses a walking stick that has “mother-of-pearl eyes set into the knotted head.” Now that particular walking stick might not have been influenced by the Maori orator’s tokotoko, now also associated with the NZ Poets’ Laureate – but of course it was.
Taiaha – I myself missed this particular influence, which first manifested in The Heir of Night, until my Daughter of Blood copyeditor questioned my description of a spear having a “leaf-shaped blade with its collar of black, shining feathers.” (The feathers were the problem, not the spearhead.) So I sent him an image of a taiaha – and an assegai, as it happens. However, since I am a Kiwi gal and have never been to Africa or assegai country, I think it fair to cite the taiaha as the influence. Admittedly, it is only a very slight influence as the spear in the Wall series is not a taiaha. Nonetheless, I was very sure of my ground when it came to the possibility of a spear being decorated with feathers. And although the black feathers might have come from a raven or a crow, the influence on my imagination could equally well have been the blue-black sheen of tui plumage, or the decorative significance of huia feathers in Maori tradition.
“A Woman’s Destiny” – the first Science Fiction novel written in New Zealand is held to be Sir Julius Vogel’s Anno Domini 2000: A Woman’s Destiny (1889). The premise of the book is that women have achieved suffrage and gone on to hold major positions of authority in politics, law and industry. So it is perhaps fitting that one of the observations frequently made about The Wall of Night series is the number, prominence, and variety of women characters and the matter-of-fact gender equality of the main Derai society. From Sir Julius Vogel in the nineteenth century to Helen Lowe in the twenty first: it’s nice to know that I’m writing speculative fiction in the Kiwi tradition – and exporting it to the world.
So the next time someone says to me “not really New Zealand stories” I shall reply: “Yeah, right. Get off the grass, mate!”
Helen Lowe, is a novelist, poet, interviewer, and blogger whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three), is recently published. Helen posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, occasionally on SF Signal, and is also on Twitter: @helenl0we.