Haley, Russell

Haley, Russell

In Brief

Russell Haley was a poet, novelist and writer of short stories. His first book of poetry, The Walled Garden, was published in 1972, and his first prose fiction collection, The Sauna Bath Mysteries and Other Stories, was released in 1978. Russell also wrote a biography Hanly: A New Zealand Artist (1989), and several novels. Russell Haley received and was nominated for many key awards, prizes and fellowships.


HALEY, Russell (1934–2016 ), poet, short story writer and novelist, was born in Dewhurst*, near Leeds in Yorkshire. He spent two years of National Service in the RAF and was stationed for a period in Iraq. He began writing while attending Teachers’ Training College in Buckinghamshire. He emigrated to Australia in 1961 and then to New Zealand in 1966, attending the University of Auckland (MA 1970). He was closely associated there with the student group which founded Freed (1969–72), editing the final issue, Freed at Last, himself. Haley initially concentrated on poetry. His first book, The Walled Garden (1972), was notable for the surrealistic and psychedelic character of its imagery, while his second, On the Fault Line (1977), explored the dislocations and changes associated with a return visit to his birthplace in Yorkshire. During the 1970s Haley turned to prose fiction, publishing his first collection, The Sauna Bath Mysteries and Other Stories, in 1978. Real Illusions (1984), published both in New Zealand and the United States, carries the subtitle A selection of family lies and biographical fictions in which the ancestral dead also play their part. In an Afterword, ‘Here and There’, Haley quotes a passage from Salman Rushdie’s Shame relevant to his own practice: ‘As for me: I, too, like all migrants, am a fantastist. [sic] I build imaginary countries and try to impose on them the ones that exist.’ The Transfer Station (1989), a series of closely linked stories which fuse French and New Zealand elements in a futuristic scenario, was written during his tenure of the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship in 1987.

Haley was a leader in the movement away from critical realism in New Zealand fiction; his work featured prominently in The New Fiction, ed. Michael Morrissey (1985), an anthology devoted to charting this development. Haley edited (with Susan Davis) The Penguin Book of Contemporary New Zealand Short Stories (1989), including many texts ‘which disrupt readers’ expectations as to how prose stories function’. The introduction also questioned the established perception ‘that the powerful influences of Sargeson and Mansfield have created a kind of bi-polar literary force-field in which the whole of present day short fiction is still magnetically articulated’ and noted a movement away from ‘the search for a New Zealand identity’. In the 1980s Haley began writing longer fictions, publishing two novels, The Settlement (1986) and Beside Myself (1990), which elaborated some of the techniques and devices of his short fiction. He also wrote Hanly: A New Zealand Artist (1989), a biographical study of the painter Patrick Hanly. Haley has written scripts for several radio dramas broadcast in New Zealand and Australia, and has received several awards and fellowships, including the Auckland University writing fellowship in 1985. He has also worked as tutor in English at the university. In 1994 he moved to a smallholding near Puhoi, north of Auckland. PS

*Correction note: Russell Haley was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, not Dewhurst as written in the Oxford Companion.


In 1990, Russell Haley was awarded second place for Patrick Hanly at the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards.

Haley's novel All Done With Mirrors (1999), follows the journeys - both internal and external - of Tilly Katterfelto, a fifty-something Dunedin woman who carries at all times a fragment of skin from a stage magician ancestor.

In 2000 Haley published two short novels as a single volume, A Spider Web Season and The Transfer Station (2000). A novel Tomorrow Tastes Better (2001) features Harry Rejekt, first introduced to readers in A Spider Web Season.

Haley's novella The Transfer Station appeared in Nine New Zealand Novellas, edited by Peter Simpson (Reed, 2005). This is a companion volume to the best-selling Seven New Zealand Novellas.

Russell Haley died on July 4, 2016.


Updated November 2022.