My Prime Minister’s Award Speech

For about ten years between when their daughters left home and Dad lost his licence and confidence after a couple of accidents while reversing in the supermarket car park, he and Mum would go on long late summer, exploratory driving holidays. Dad with his two Canons, photographing landscape – the sun-blistered jarrah waterwheel at Mount White Station where Mum’s father had spent the first twenty-one years of his life; or terns on the glistening sand of the estuary at Pakawau.

Mum would collect stones. Not the geologists’ pink quartz, or olivines, or Separation Point granite, but stones for which she had her own names – honeycomb or ice cream. One year in Jackson’s Bay Mum left her whole holiday’s stash on the porch of their motel – and it vanished overnight.

There had been a friendly weka that evening eyeing up their plates of boxed chicken chow mein. The weka was Mum’s prime suspect. “Blow me down, my stones were all gone,” Mum wrote me on a postcard. “Bother him, the jolly nuisance” and “I’m miffed.”

When I’m writing. I often think of Mum’s words – the way her time sits inside them, as time sits inside all words. And I think of her weka.

There are things I summon to mind whenever I sit down to write something difficult – either painful and knotty, or some scene on which a whole novel depends – and there are a lot of those. Some days I’m loading a revolver, thumbing the brass cases of bullets into the chamber of a gun. More often I’m Mum’s thieving weka, patiently and illicitly moving valuables from one place to another, porch to page in my case. But even though I’m alone and any writing room is the dark depths of night, unlike the weka I’m shifting things from hidden to visible.

The writing life is like that – it isn’t the movie montage of a writer peering at a screen and biting their thumbnail, a wastepaper basket overflowing with balled up pages beside them. It isn’t the other gigs, though they’re part of it – being the teacher who motivates and illuminates, or the speaker who moves people with sermons or showmanship. The writing life is quiet and wild, and covert, and I’m very grateful to all the people who, over the years, have enabled me. For the confidence and goodwill of Creative New Zealand and the Arts Foundation of New Zealand; for the ongoing energy of the International Institute of Modern Letters, of bookshops and libraries and writers festivals; for the kind support of friends; for the valiant support of publishers, particularly Victoria University Press; and for the brave and sustained support of my family, my sister Sara, my son Jack, and always, always Fergus. And, in the end, my readers who, whenever they climb into bed and crack the spine of any of my books are the same as me – quiet and wild and private. Their attention and interest is the life of books, and the afterlife of writers.

Elizabeth Knox and PM Jacinda Ardern


This essay appears in The Fuse Box: Essays on Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters


At some point in every writer’s life they’ll find themselves facing the question, ‘Why write?’ Because it can be a lonely slog, and you have to like it. Because it’s always been difficult to make any money, . . . → Read More: Continuing

Cast Down: My Olympic Essay

#gallery-1 { margin: auto; } #gallery-1 .gallery-item { float: left; margin-top: 10px; text-align: center; width: 33%; } #gallery-1 img { border: 2px solid #cfcfcf; } #gallery-1 .gallery-caption { margin-left: 0; } /* see gallery_shortcode() in wp-includes/media.php */ I wrote this essay in 2002 for an exhibition of Tracey Moffat’s work at the City Gallery. . . . → Read More: Cast Down: My Olympic Essay

Nigel Cox’s Skylark Lounge

“Ah, there he was, standing in the blue, making a dome with his song.”

Skylark Lounge is my favourite of Nigel Cox’s books, though it is a close run thing with both Responsibility and his posthumous collection of essays, Phone Home Berlin.

Skylark Lounge appeared after a long gap in publication – Dirty Work, Nigel’s . . . → Read More: Nigel Cox’s Skylark Lounge

My notes for a panel on the topic “Is Romance Dead”






I found a hand written draft of this in a filing cabinet. Any electronic version has long since vanished (it would be on a 2 inch disk!) I was in the habit then of presenting essays and talks with these subheadings – thanks to the titanic influence of Anne . . . → Read More: My notes for a panel on the topic “Is Romance Dead”

Tata Beach, New Years Eve, 1974.


Three weeks without rain. The motels have had a water tanker in, but all the locals are toughing it out. The air at sea level is hazy with evaporation and the black grid-work of the oil rig they’re building in the shelter of the Bay has disappeared completely. I’m on the beach with David . . . → Read More: Tata Beach, New Years Eve, 1974.

Thoughts upon watching people shout people down

St Jerome in his study by A Durer

I began writing this in October in response to one ‘storm on twitter’ and finished it today, prompted by another.

I’ve been wondering whether, in most people, the instinct for agreement is stronger than the one for self-expression. When people agree they belong. And belonging . . . → Read More: Thoughts upon watching people shout people down

Don’t say ‘sacrifice’

For Armistice Day here is my foreword to the Second Edition of my 1987 novel, After Z-Hour. More photos will follow. They are are being scanned by my scanning-elf.


John James ‘Jack’ Knox with son Jack and wife Rose

After Z-Hour is a ghost story in which one character declares, ‘We . . . → Read More: Don’t say ‘sacrifice’

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita


“Didn’t you know that manuscripts don’t burn?”

I first read The Master and Margarita when I came across it in the Tawa College library. It must have gone deep into me because I didn’t realise until I reread it many years later how much it had influenced me.

It comes . . . → Read More: Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita

Brothers and Sisters: A Grimm tale

I wrote this for a Grimm’s fairytale Bicentenary event. It was published in Sport Magazine in 2012, and I think it deserves another outing.


Stargazer is running the meeting. He unlocks the room and puts a fresh bag in the coffee machine. Hansel arrives with muffins.

Stargazer is a pretty smug fellow. Things . . . → Read More: Brothers and Sisters: A Grimm tale