Barbara Else is a playwright and fiction writer, and has also worked as a literary agent, editor and fiction consultant. Known for her sharp humour, Else won the Victoria University Writer’s Fellowship in 1999, and was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature in 2005. She also received the Creative NZ Scholarship in Letters, which helped her to publish Wild Latitudes in 2007. As well as publishing four of her own children's novels, Else has edited several collections of writing for children, and was awarded the Margaret Mahy Medal in 2016 in recognition of her services to children's literature.
FROM THE OXFORD COMPANION TO NEW ZEALAND LITERATURE
Else, Barbara (1947 -), playwright and fiction writer, who has also published as Barbara Neale, was born in Invercargill and educated at Otago University (MA 1969). She has lived in Wellington since 1980, working since 1988 with her husband Chris Else as a literary agent, editor and fiction consultant. She has published short stories in Landfall, Metro, NZ Listener, in anthologies such as Me and Marilyn Monroe (ed. Cathie Dunsford, 1993) and elsewhere, and several on radio, as well as another ten for children.
Her published plays include Night for Clowns (1987) and A Very Short History of the World (1985); four full-length plays have been performed, as have a variety of one-act plays, children's plays and radio dramas. She has won several awards and grants, including the Aoraki Festival Playwriting Award and support from the New Zealand Literary Fund.
The Warrior Queen (1995), Else's first novel, was received with enthusiastic acclaim. Kate Wildburn takes subtle, and sometimes unsubtle, revenge on her husband Richard for his affair with another woman. He is a surgeon and the characters are all of the trendy set in Auckland, married to their possessions as much as each other.
Persuaded by a counsellor that her husband's affair can be no fault of hers, Kate sets out to embarrass him and trip him up at every turn. A series of comic events follows, rich in variety rather than insight, and both parties seem bound to a superficial level of feeling: lust on one side and hurt pride on the other.
Their pursuits are interwoven with the promiscuous affairs of Kate's sister. It is hard to sympathise with any character but easy to sense cathartic satisfaction in the practical jokes the wife succeeds in playing on her man. The book is notable for its cracking pace and sharp wit. Gingerbread Husbands (1997) is a suburban comedy whose protagonist fends off almost anything from importunate men to furry animals in the laundry.
Gingerbread Husbands (1997) was shortlisted for the 1988 Booksellers Choice Book Data Award.
The Warrior Queen (1995) was selected as one of the top twenty books for the 1995 Listener Women's Book Festival. It was shortlisted for the 1996 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.
A third novel, Eating Peacocks (1998) tells the story of the funny, feisty Delia as she copes with the complexities of violent relationships and the nature of memory. A 'finely-judged comedy' writes The Evening Post, featuring the most 'hilariously ghastly dinner party in New Zealand fiction.'
Barbara Else was the 1999 Victoria University Writers' Fellow.
Three Pretty Widows was published in 2001. After the death of Barnaby Rivers, three lovely women come to terms with their own natures, and their attitudes to men, motherhood and love.
'Else is known as a funny novelist,' writes the New Zealand Herald. 'Her humour is quieter, deeper, found in her dark, sardonic point of skew, in her quirky, wry vignettes that are a fond satire of modern middle-class life and those who live it (…) 'From the breath-taking succinct title through to the satisfyingly wrapped-up ending, this is a most skilful, involving and enjoyable read.'
Else's first book for children is Skitterfoot Leaper (1997). Two children, each with problem parents, meet a cat-like creature and pass through a waterfall to a strange winter world.
In 1998, Barbara Else was chosen for a New Zealand and Australia Writer’s Exchange and also was a visiting writer at Vancouver International Writers' Festival and the Winnipeg International Writers' Festival.
Her young children’s novel Tricky Situations, illustrated by Trevor Pye (1999), tells the story of a 'problem consultant', Ms Winsley, who lives in the dull town of Greyvale. The Evening Post judged the novel to be 'even funnier than Roald Dahl'.
Barbara Else is also the editor of Grand Stands (2000). It features prominent New Zealand authors writing on the experience of being a grandparent. Contributors include Albert Wendt, Fiona Kidman and Patricia Grace.
In 1999, Else won the Victoria University Writers' Fellowship.
Another 30 New Zealand Stories for Children (2002) is edited by Barbara Else, with illustrations by David Elliot. This sequel to 30 New Zealand Stories for Children contains stories that are funny and sad, magical and touching.
The Case of the Missing Kitchen (2003) marks a return to the black comedy and family satire that Else made her own in The Warrior Queen. With break-neck pace and deft plotting, this is a wickedly funny take on the thriller genre.
30 Weird & Wonderful New Zealand Stories (2003) edited by Barbara Else, with illustrations by Philip Webb, is a collection of spooky, hilarious and moving tales that are great for both reading aloud and enjoying independently.
Else edited Claws and Jaws: 30 NZ Animal Stories (Random House, 2004), which was listed as a Storylines Children's Literature Foundation of NZ Notable Book in 2005.
Barbara Else was one of three judges for the 2004 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
Else participated in the 2004 Book Council WOW (Words on Wheels) tour of the deep South.
Barbara Else was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature at the 2005 Queen's Birthday Honours.
Else has edited several collections of writing for children. Like Wallpaper (Random House, 2005), is an anthology of short stories for teenagers and was a Storylines Children's Literature Foundation of New Zealand Notable Book in 2006. Mischief and Mayhem: 30 New Zealand Stories (Random House, 2005) is for readers aged 7 - 12. In 2006, she edited Hideous and Hilarious -30 History Stories for Children (Random House) and then Dare and Double-dare - 30 Sports Stories for Children (Random House, 2007).
Else received the Creative NZ Scholarship in Letters, which helped her to publish Wild Latitudes (Vintage, 2007). Wild Latitudes tells the story of a young woman and her teenage brother who are catapulted from a comfortable life in Yorkshire to life in Dunedin during the Otago gold rush. About the novel Else says: 'It seemed utterly appropriate to set the novel in Dunedin during the gold rush, 1864, a time when the small pious settlement had been violently expanded by an influx of several hundred thousand rough and riotous seekers of fortune, con men, entrepreneurs, self-servers all. In a new country, where you're thrown on your own resources, you can reinvent yourself as many times as you like - what an image of what happens to each one of us in the teenage years.'
Else edited Showtime! - 30 NZ Stories for Children (Random House, 2008), a collection all about children having a go at something or being involved in a celebration or unusual event.
Barbara Else was editor of Great Mates: 30 New Zealand Stories for Children (Random House, 2011).
Her children's novel The Travelling Restaurant was published by Gecko Press in 2011. It was a finalist in the Junior Fiction category and subsequently won an Honour award at the 2012 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards.
It was also chosen as the IBBY New Zealand 2012 Honour Book for Writing. The Travelling Restaurant was awarded a White Raven Award at the Bologna Children's Book Fair in 2012. Barbara Else also won the Esther Glen Medal for Junior Fiction in the 2012 LIANZA Awards.
Her second novel in the 'Tales of Fontania' series is The Queen and the Nobody Boy (Gecko Press, 2012).The Queen and the Nobody Boy won Best Junior fiction in the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. The third instalment in the series, The Novel of Possible Endings: a Tale of Fontania, was published in 2014, and followed by The Knot Impossible in 2015.
Else is the 2016 Children’s Writing Fellow at Otago University, working on a new children’s book.
In March 2016, Else was named as the winner of the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal and Lecture Award. Presented annually in recognition of an author's outstanding achievement and continued contribution to children's literature, the Award's previous recipients include Maurice Gee and Gavin Bishop.
Else's Go Girl, published byPenguin Random House in 2018, is a collection of true stories about extraordinary New Zealand women. Each story is accompanied by gorgeous portraits specially created for the book by a selection of New Zealand's best-known illustrators.
Harsu and the Werestoat, published by Gecko Press in 2019 is a magical fairytale written for junior readers. A review on NZ Booklovers said "Else has built a fantastical world, rich in detail and imagination..."
Barbara Else lives in Dunedin and, with her husband writer Chris Else, runs an advisory service for writers.
Last updated June 2021
MEDIA LINKS AND CLIPS
- For more information about Barbara Else visit www.elseware.co.nz
- An audio interview with Else on Radio Live
- There is a bibliography about this author in the Auckland University Library's New Zealand Literature File.
- Interviews with New Zealand Children's Authors
- New Zealand Electronic Text Centre
- Storylines Profiles
- Barbara Else's Playmarket profile
Updated January 2017.