McGill, David

McGill, David



In Brief

David McGill has written extensively on aspects of New Zealand history, from the subject of Kiwi slang, to the history of the New Zealand Customs Department. McGill’s The Reed Dictionary of New Zealand Slang (2003) is a comprehensive and updated dictionary of informal New Zealand language. He has also published fiction, several volumes of memoir, and a book for children. David McGill is available to visit school groups as part of the Writers in Schools programme.


McGill, David (1942 –) is a writer whose studies of New Zealand social history, Kiwi slang and Kiwiana have covered a range of subject matter from children's playground rhymes, I Had a Squashed Banana (1989), to a history of the New Zealand Customs Department, The Guardians at the Gate (1991).

McGill has also published several volumes of memoir, the ‘volcanoland thriller’ Whakaari (1995), and a book for children, The Adventures of Horace-Thomas the Magic Horse (1991).

Reviewers seem drawn to praise McGill in an appropriately Kiwi vernacular: Professor Ian Gordon describes McGills Dictionary of Kiwi Slang, Catchphrases, Characters and Kiwiosities (1995) in the Sunday Times as ‘a real bewdy’, while in the NZ Listener Adam Dudding praises the farce, Gold in the Creek (1996), as ‘a bit of a dag.’

McGill was the recipient of the Claude McCarthy Fellowship 1997, Victoria University of Wellington, to research and write Island of Secrets. Island of Secrets: Matiu/Somes Island in Wellington Harbour (2001) is the history of the island as a human and animal quarantine station, and a prisoner of war camp in two world wars. It was the only place in the world where Nazis and Jews were incarcerated together. McGill was also an advisor and provider of material for a proposed eight television plays on Matiu/Somes Island and a feature film of Maurice Gee's Montana award-winning novel set on Matiu/Somes Island, Live Bodies.

Good Old Kiwi Identities (2000) is a collection of published interviews from NZ Listener and Evening Post subtitled The Folk Who Put the Kiwi Into Kiwiana. These include Dame Kiri, Carmen, Denis Glover, Murray Ball, Relda Familton, Kara Puketapu, Bruce Mason, Ivan Mauger, and Ken Gray.

Wellington; A Capital City (2003), is a 20th century social history of the city with over 300 black and white and colour pictures. The Reed Dictionary of New Zealand Slang (2003) is a comprehensive and updated collection of informal New Zealand language.

McGill's novel The Monstrance: A Waiheke Island Mystery (Silver Owl Press, 2003) is the story of a mysterious, stolen monstrance and its impact on the lives of two Auckland Westies as uptight New Zealand crumbles into the swinging sixties. In Xtremis: A Contemporary Auckland Crime Mystery (Silver Owl Press, 2004) is the fast-paced, present-day sequel to the The Monstrance.

David McGill's titles include: Stacey: the life, style and trials of a great New Zealand criminal lawyer (Silver Owl Press, 2005); Girning of Government House (Silver Owl Press, 2005); Landmarks: notable historic buildings of New Zealand (Phantom House, 2005) with photographs by Grant Sheehan; First New Zealand bushranger (Silver Owl Press, 2006); From my cold, dead hands (Silver Owl Press, 2007); Treadmill tapes: confessions of a compulsive pop picker (Silver Owl Press, 2007); Mock funeral: a novel of the Irish riots on the Goldfields of New Zealand (Silver Owl Press, 2008); Communion of the Easter bun rabbit: the food lives of a Kiwi here and there (Silver Owl Press, 2008); The G’Day Country Redux: A Rail Journey Back into New Zealand, (Silver Owl Press, 2009); Shaking 1960 (Silver Owl Press, 2010); A Dictionary of Noughties Kiwi Slang and Geyser in the Creek (Silver Owl Press, 2011); The Compleat Cityscapes (Silver Owl Press, 2012), The Promised Land (Silver Owl Press, 2012), The Slightly Mysterious Little Drummer Boy Who Became Mayor of Auckland (Silver Owl Press, 2013), Stamp in the Creek (Silver Owl Press, 2013), Kingfisher, Kingfisher, Take My Luck (Silver Owl Press, 2014), The Death Ray Debacle (Silver Owl Press, 2015), and The Plot to Kill Peter Fraser (Silver Owl Press, 2017).

McGill published The Guardians at the Gate, a history of New Zealand Customs, No Right to Strike, a history of NZ Police Services Organisations, and Lower Hutt: The First Garden City.


McGill is available to visit school groups as part of the Writers in Schools programme. He is prepared to speak to students aged 7-18 years to discuss being a storyteller, a fiction writer and a non-fiction writer. He will speak to classes of any size, and is prepared to run workshops by prior arrangement. McGill is also able to travel outside of his region for Writers in Schools visits.

Kapai: Kids' Authors Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
Paekakariki, New Zealand, Southern Hemisphere, Planet Earth

What kinds of books do you like to read?
I read thrillers, serious fiction, New Zealand history, dictionaries

Do you have a favourite author?
My favourite author is Shakespeare.

Where do you get your ideas?

I think up ideas all the time and write them down on the nearest bit of paper and put them in a folder and come back to them when I have finished a book to see what might work for the next book.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?
The best thing about being an author is writing, sitting down at the word processor and seeing words come up on the screen from your fingers, the words becoming sentences and the sentences becoming paragraphs and the paragraphs becoming chapters and the chapters becoming books. It is a bit like knitting, little bits adding up to a jersey.

Some questions from Primary School students

Do you have any pets?
I have a cat called Milo

Do you have a favourite colour?
My favourite colour is green.

What is your favourite thing to eat?


What is your favourite movie?
The Children of Paradise

Do you play any sports or games?


How do you make a book?
You make books slowly, a bit each day, until it is finished, like knitting a jersey or building a garden seat from scraps of wood found on the beach.

Where do you like to go on holiday?
I go to Mount Maunganui and Auckland and swim and walk and flick pipi shells up into the wind.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?

The naughtiest thing I did at school was to carve my name on the school desk.

Some questions from Secondary School students

How did you get started as a writer?
I got started by writing a diary in Form Two year, on holiday at Waiheke Island, co-authored by my father.

Did anyone one person inspire you when you were getting started?

My father.

What advice would you give someone who wants to be a writer?
Write something every day, even just a sentence describing something or somebody you saw that day.

Is it hard to make a living as a writer in New Zealand?
Yes, writing cannot pay well in New Zealand because there are not enough people to buy books.

What were you like as a teenager?

As a teenager I was moody and intense and didn't have a clue what I could ever do.

Do you have a story you’d like to tell us?
I was aged 25 in Australia and had been working nine months in my first job overseas as a journalist and I was flying off to Vienna the next day on my big Overseas Adventure to be a journalist and if I was lucky a writer. I drank too much the night before saying goodbye to a friend in Sydney and went swimming at Palm Beach at the wrong end of the beach where nobody else was swimming. I found out why. I was swept out. I was too weak to fight the current. I put up my hand and said 'Excuse me, I think I'm drowning' to two men 30 metres or so away in the water. I don't think they heard me. I went under. I came up, repeated the words. They took no notice. I started to panic. Then the panic went away as I drifted under water looking up at the bright green sun and thinking I would not see Vienna the next day. I was surprised I was not seeing my past life flash before me. Maybe it was because I hadn't had much of a life to flash by. Anyway, I was resigned to dying. Then the two men were pulling me up and telling me to hold on to their shoulders. Their shoulders were hard as granite and just beautiful. They struggled very hard and got me to shore then just walked away. 'Ah, excuse me,' I called weakly, 'um, thanks for, you know, saving my life.' They didn't even turn around. So I went up the beach to Margot, who was reading the Sunday paper. 'Hey!' I said, my voice stronger now, 'I almost drowned just now.' 'Really,' Margot said vaguely. 'David, you must read this. It's all about sin in the city. It's amazing.' Yeh, right. I almost drown, nobody takes any notice. Not my rescuers, not my friend. Nobody cares. But, the good news is, I get to see Vienna next day. And I did. I bought a green beer in a restaurant, drank it in one gulp and thought of the green sunlight through the water at Palm Beach and how this was the first day of the rest of my life, of a life I was going to have after all. Great. Thirty-four years later I am grateful I got the chance to have a life and write about it.


Updated January 2017.