Ewing, Barbara

Ewing, Barbara



In Brief

Barbara Ewing has published a number of novels, and has worked extensively as an actor. Her fiction is known for its historical focus, and her first novel Strangers (1978) was followed by The Actresses (1997), published almost 20 years later. Rosemary Robertson said of her third book, A Dangerous Vine (1999), ‘[t]heres an air of fable about Barbara Ewing’s fine novel, of lessons to be learned and changes that need to be made.’


Barbara Ewing ( - ) is an actor and novelist whose first novel, Strangers (1978) was not followed up by a second – The Actresses (1997) for twenty years. Born and educated in New Zealand, Ewing has spent most of her life living and working as an actor in London.

Mistakenly assumed by many critics and readers to be Ewing’s first book, The Actresses was a popular and acclaimed novel. It is described in The Times as combining 'elements of courtroom drama and comedy of manners, as well as sharp insights into the harsher realities of theatrical life.'

A Dangerous Vine (1999) is set in New Zealand. A coming-of-age story about a young woman working alongside a government department’s mainly Maori staff, the novel addresses race relations in 1950s New Zealand. In The Dominion, Rosemary Robertson writes '[t]here's an air of fable about Barbara Ewing's fine novel, of lessons to be learned and changes that need to be made.' In the New Zealand Listener, Marion McLeod suggests that 'A Dangerous Vine is...much more ambitious than Ewing’s two previous novels.'

The Trespass (2002) reaches from a rapidly deteriorating 19th century London to the energy and optimism of early New Zealand. The plot is a superb blend of history, canvassing love, evil, heroism and grief.

Rosetta (2005) is a historical novel that follows the early lives of two girls who marry in 1795.

Her novel, The Mesmerist, was published by Sphere in 2007.

The Circus of Ghosts was published by Hachette in 2011. Reviewer Paula Green writes in the NZ Herald, 'Barbara Ewing's seventh novel, The Circus Of Ghosts, is a fitting sequel to The Mesmerist, a novel set against a vibrant theatrical backdrop in Victorian London. The new novel transports the characters to the over-excited stage of New York City in the 1840s... It's a good read.'

Her novel The Petticoat Men (Head of Zeus, 2014) was shortlisted for the 2015 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. The novel, set in 1870s London, relates the story of the Stacey family and their interaction with the scandal, power-play and intrigue of 19th century society – all incited by the cross-dressing of two young men. The Independent reviewed: "…..Related by the shocked and sympathetic landlady’s daughter, this is a well-told account of a scandal and the horrible treatment meted out to those sentenced, like Oscar Wilde, to punishment for their sexuality."

In May 2020, Massey University Press published Ewing's memoir, One Minute Crying Time. In a review on The Spinoff, Michael Hurst writes of the book:

"The record she candidly examines of those formative years in her own life, years full of heartache and yearning, frustration and delight, years in which she was at times crippled with anxiety and a desperate desire to know more, has given her (and us) a deeper understanding of how we “become”, of how our memories flicker in truth but can be rewritten, rearranged or even erased to suit the needs of our present."

Ewing currently resides in London.


Updated January 2017.