C.K. Stead is a New Zealand writer whose works include novels, poetry, short stories and literary criticism.
He won a New Zealand Book Award in Poetry in 1976 for Quesada and a New Zealand Book Award in Fiction for The Singing Whakapapa in 1995, and is the only person ever to have won the New Zealand Book Award for both poetry and fiction. Mansfield: A Novel was a finalist for the 2005 Tasmania Pacific Fiction Prize and received commendation in the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the South East Asia and South Pacific region. He won the 2010 Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award for ‘Last Season’s Man’. His 2007 novel, My Name Was Judas, tells the story of Jesus through the eyes of his betrayer, and is the subject of a BBC World Book Club episode. His latest novel, Risk, was released in 2012 to great critical acclaim.
For much of his career C. K. Stead was Professor of English at the University of Auckland, retiring in 1986 to write full-time. He received a CBE in 1985 and was awarded New Zealand’s highest honour, the Order of New Zealand, in 2007. The author Charlotte Grimshaw is his daughter.
Why I write
It’s my life. I began at age 13 or 14 and am now 80 and have never stopped.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours? Or do you work to a daily word count? What time of day do you write?
There are very few days when nothing is written. Until 1986 I was a university teacher so I wrote ‘my own stuff’ when I could. After leaving to write full time, I kept ‘office hours’ – did my best work on whatever was the current project (novel or collection of poems) in the mornings and other things like reviews, essays, public lectures, answering questions like these, in the afternoons. Lately I’ve become more random about writing, but it goes on constantly.
Where do you work? Describe the physical domain of your writing space…
My university used to be my principal (but not sole) writing place. After 1986 I had a special one room office constructed behind our house. You go out the back door, across a deck, and into the office. It has two desks, a day bed, one wall of bookshelves, a filing cabinet, two large cabin trunks (of files and letters), a pin-board with many family and friends photographs. Also an enormous blow-up Marti Friedlander photograph on the wall of my daughter Charlotte (now the novelist Charlotte Grimshaw) as a baby. And a photograph of my maternal grandparents, Swedish Christian Karlson (after whom I was named) and his wife Caroline. When I travel abroad (every year) I write wherever I find myself.
Worst source of distraction?
Noise, alien radios, random conversation.
Best source of inspiration?
The place between sleeping and waking which is neither.
How often do you get writers’ block / doubt your own ability?
Very seldom. But I once had a bad bout of it and overcame it by beginning a novel about a writer with writer’s block. That’s the one called The Secret History of Modernism – a terrible title, but still one of my favorites among my own fictions.
Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
Many favoured, no favourite.
Deepest apologies for this but the honest truth is there are two: Shakespeare and Dickens.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
Anna Karenina probably (but since I haven’t read it I can’t be sure.)
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
Well I was young, and things could only get better.
How did you get started writing?
By imitating things I admired.
Does writing change anything?
Auden says not, and that might be true in the public sphere. But it changes people’s inner lives, makes them more alert, more sensitive, more aware, better informed sometimes, sometimes give them hope or a vision of possibilities. In that subtler sense, writing changes a great deal. Of course it may also do harm. Yeats asks ‘Did that play of mine send out/ Certain men the English shot?’ He means the Easter 1916 rebels and he’s boasting of course.
What are you working on now and when is it out?
I published a new novel (Risk, MacLehose Press) last October, and a new collection of poems (The Yellow Buoy, Auckland University Press) in February. I’m writing poems now and then at the moment – nothing I can yet think of as a new book.
Posted: Friday, March 29, 2013