We were probably doomed from the moment the virus first hit the airport.
If that sounds familiar, it's because Tina Shaw's new novel Ephemera is eerily prescient. Its original release date coincided with our national lockdown in response to Covid-19.
As she wrote in this essay for The Spinoff: the significant difference between my novel and what’s happening now is that I used the scenario of a virus that attacks worldwide computer systems, not a biological virus. It’s still bloody eerie for me. Déjà-vu on a world scale. All I did was write a novel – a fictional story. What’s happening now is, obviously, all too real, there’s no comparison, and yet…
As we emerge from level four lockdown, I can’t help feeling that I’ve been here before.
We talked to the author about her work and inspiration.
Kia ora Tina, and congratulations on the launch of your new novel! Please tell us a bit about Ephemera.
This novel is set in New Zealand in the near future after a global meltdown. There’s no electricity, no broadband, and my main character – Ruth, an ephemera librarian – decides to travel south to Huka Lodge to try and get drugs for her sister Juliana who has TB. It’s a perilous journey in many ways, but Ruth is powered by love for her sister.
This book is inspired by Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Can you tell us more about that, and the NZ near-future setting?
Heart of Darkness is one of my favourite books and once I’d realised that Ruth might have to travel south, it made a kind of weird sense that it would be by steamboat up the Waikato River – avoiding broken-down roads and bandits. Just as in Heart of Darkness, my characters are propelled up river towards a Kurtz-like figure – Nelson, a ruthless capitalist who stockpiled pharmaceutical drugs from before the Crash. And of course, knowing the area around Taupō, it was just too tempting to use the luxurious Huka Lodge as my fictional base.
Along with handsome Lance Hinckley and the mysterious Adebowale Ackers, the group journeys through settlements that have sprung up along the river as people attempt to re-establish their lives in this precarious time. They’re joined by a girl who is trying to find her mother, an angry doctor named Cynthia, and these two have their own links to Nelson.
The New Zealand I’ve envisioned is all about people creating communities to survive and doing their best with limited resources. On days when I get fed up with the internet and being connected all the time, it’s a survivalist world that appeals.
You work as an editor for NZ Author and publish your own work quite regularly – Ursa came out last year. Do you have challenges when it comes to carving out time for your creative work? Do you have any advice for writers or artists who want to learn to do the same?
I guess I’m lucky in that I work part-time to earn income and seem to have enough time (mostly!) to devote to my fiction. It also helps that we live in the provinces, so it’s more affordable here than many other parts of the country. My main advice would be to give your best time to your writing, no matter how busy you are – write for half an hour first thing in the morning, before anything else happens, or late at night when the house is quiet.
What would you say to someone who has been secretly dreaming of writing a YA novel. Do you have some tips for a newbie?
Have fun with creating a believable world – this is true of fantasy or real-life stories – enjoy creating a story challenge for your main character, and get into the heads of your young characters: live their highs and lows. Most of all, put yourself into the story – your own highs and lows, your dreams and passions.
We recently published a piece on our blog about parents reading to their children. Can you share with us some ideas for how parents can help spark a love of reading in their children? And do you have any thoughts about how to help older readers, such as teenagers, find the books they’ll love?
When my daughter was growing up, I read to her every night before she went to sleep, it was our special time – that’s the kind of thing I’d encourage all parents to do. I’m also a great believer in modelling good behaviour, so make time for your own reading, and have books lying around the house, and talk to your kids about what they are reading. Share the love. For teens, I’d suggest they visit their local library and check out the YA section. Our local library’s got a great YA section with loads of new books and chairs to relax in. It’s a chill-out space. The other thing is to visit great book sites such as The Sapling. If you see a book you like, buy it – you’ll be supporting a New Zealand author!
Which NZ books, poets or other writers have been special to you in your life? And, which children’s books?
There are so many. Maurice Gee, Fiona Kidman and Patricia Grace have been my go-to heroes. For YA, David Hill and Mandy Hager. Then there are the stand-out gems that have resonated with me, such as Ashleigh Young’s Can You Tolerate This?
What are you reading right now, and have you got any book recommendations for us? (These two things don’t necessarily need to be related)
I’ve just finished reading Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. It’s a bit sad, yet wonderful. Also highly recommended: Auē by Becky Manawatu.
What’s next in line for you, Tina? Any new book projects in the works?
Yes! I’ve been working on a YA horror story featuring two foster kids. A complete change in genre for me, and it’s been great.