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Lay, Graeme
Writer's File

Graeme Lay

Auckland - Tāmaki Makaurau
Lay, Graeme
In brief
Graeme Lay is an editor and a prolific writer of stories, magazine articles, television plays, fiction and non-fiction books. He was the book editor of North and South magazine from 1990-99. He has published several novels and collections of short stories, and edited many short story anthologies including the popular Short Short Stories series. In 1999 and 2002 he was a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, now known as the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, for his young adult novels.


Lay, Graeme (1944 – ), fiction writer and editor, was born in Foxton, spent the formative years of his childhood in Taranaki, graduated from Victoria University of Wellington, became a secondary-school teacher and then settled on Auckland’s North Shore in 1972.

A prolific writer of stories and magazine articles, television plays and fiction and non-fiction books, he became books editor of North and South magazine in 1992. He has published two novels, The Mentor (1978) and The Fools on the Hill (1988), two collections of short stories, Dear Mr Cairney (1985) and Motu Tapu ( 1990), and edited four short story anthologies, Metro Fiction (1987), the popularly successful 100 New Zealand Short Short Stories (1997), Another 100 New Zealand Short Short Stories (1998), and The Third Century (1999).

He has moved the focus of recent work to non-fiction, with Passages: Journeys in Polynesia (1993), Pacific New Zealand (1996) and, in the planned ‘Pacific Pride’ series, his working titles are The Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. These books and his many magazine features (often accompanied by his own colour photographs) on the islands of the South Pacific aim to modernise perceptions of an area that has often been projected as distant and exotic, and to place New Zealand intimately within a South Pacific context.


Graeme Lay attended Victoria University of Wellington, graduating with a BA(Hons) in 1966. After living in Surrey, England, for three years and travelling through Europe, Lay and his wife Gillian returned to New Zealand in 1972 to settle on Auckland’s North Shore.

In 1988, Graeme Lay received the Lilian Ida Smith Award. He was named 1998 Reviewer of the Year at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, now known as the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards.

After travelling to New Caledonia and Rarotonga, Graeme Lay developed a deep interest in the islands of the South Pacific and the history and culture of the region’s indigenous peoples. Many of his books, both fiction and non-fiction, are set against a Pacific backdrop; including the Cook Island trilogy Leaving One Foot Island (Mallinson Rendel Publishers, 1998), Return to One Foot Island (Penguin, 2001), and The Pearl of One Foot Island (Penguin, 2004); Wave Rider (Penguin, 2000); and Temptation Island (Cape Catley, 2000). Return to One Foot Island won a 2002 Notable New Zealand Children's and Young Adult Books Award in the Senior Fiction category.

Lay contributed to the photography collection Auckland and Beyond, (New Holland, 1998) with Holger Leue, and New Zealand: A Visual Celebration (New Holland, 1999) with Gareth Eyre.

Lay has edited three anthologies in the popular Short Short Stories series (Random House), which collect stories of 500 words or fewer entered in a series of competitions. In a departure from the previous format, the fifth volume in the series, 50 Short Short Stories by Young New Zealanders (Random House, 2001), features work by writers aged 18 or under. Lay selected the stories and edited the volume.

Lay also edited the short story collection Boys Own Stories (Random House, 2001) and published The Town on The Edge of The World (Random House, 2002).

Lay has written and contributed to numerous travel guides and collections, including Pacific Pride: An Introduction to the Islands of Samoa: Samoa (Pacifika Press, 2000); Pacific Feasts and Festivals (New Holland, 2002); The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest (Awa Press, 2004); Passages: Journeys in Polynesia (Random House, 2004); Inside the Cannibal Pot (New Holland, 2007); and Home & Away (New Holland, 2012).

Golden Weather: North Shore Writers Past and Present (Cape Catley Ltd, 2004) is a collection edited by Graeme Lay and Jack Ross. Golden Weather presents a roll call of writers celebrating the North Shore including James K. Baxter, Michael King, Frank Sargeson, Janet Frame, Robin Hyde, C K Stead, Kevin Ireland and Hone Tuwhare.

Lay’s historical novel, Alice & Luigi (David Ling Publishing) was published in 2006.

Lay has contributed to anthologies The New Zealand Book of the Beach (David Ling Publishing, 2007) and The New Zealand Book of the Beach 2 (David Ling Publishing, 2008). Further collections include In Search of Paradise – Artists & Writers in the Colonial South Pacific (Random House, 2008), Whangapoua – Harbour of the Shellfish – A History (Whangapoua Beach Ratepayers Association, 2009) and Way Back Then, Before We Were Ten – New Zealand Writers and Childhood (David Ling Publishing, 2009).

Lay was the 2014 judge for the Page & Blackmores Short Story Competition.

HarperCollins published Graeme Lay’s trilogy based on Captain Cook’s career – The Secret Life of James Cook (2013), James Cook’s New World (2014) and James Cook’s Lost World (2015).

The James Cook trilogy was reviewed for North and South, ‘Graeme Lay [...] is well placed to attempt what no one has ever managed to achieve, by telling us not just what Cook did, but what it was like.’

Canvas Magazine descibed it as 'a compelling account of [...] this towering but enigmatic figure. Both insightful and a great read.’

Lay has been a finalist for the Travel Writer of the Year award three times, and his work New Zealand Travel Guide (Globetrotter Travel Guides, 2015) is now in its 7th edition.

Graeme’s novel Fletcher of the Bounty, based on the life of Fletcher Christian, will be published in 2017 by HarperCollins. A non-fiction work, A Guide to James Cook’s New Zealand, will be published by New Holland in 2017.


  • Interview with Graeme Lay for Christchurch City Libraries
  • Graeme Lay's profile on the Awa Press website
  • "The Best Books I Never Wrote" article by Graeme Lay for The Dominion
  • Interview with Graeme Lay for Flash Frontier
  • Graeme Lay also writes for The Spinoff
  • Interview with Graeme Lay on Radio New Zealand