Elizabeth Knox

Click Here

Why I wrote The Absolute Book

  Why I wrote The Absolute Book The Absolute Book owes its existence to my sense of coming back to life as time and events intervened between me and some bad years. Years during which my mother was dying of Motor Neuron Disease (ALS) and my brother-in-law was killed in much the same way the novel’s protagonist’s sister. That feeling—of sudden freedom from responsibility, but with indelible memories of the strictures of responsibility—seemed to want me to do something with it. The sense of a freedom of movement that comes with being finally able to leave the worst troubles behind. Or the troubles themselves leave. You keep a vigil, then the one you’re watching over is gone and you get to walk away tired rather than run away scared. Me and my husband Fergus did a lot of traveling in the ‘afterwards’. I wanted to capture something of that; all our walking through the world. And how, the further we walked, the bigger the world became. The Absolute Book began directly when I started musing on the kinds of stories I love. Particularly those I’d loved for a very long time. I was sixteen when I read Mikhail Bulgakov’s The

Read more >> Why I wrote The Absolute Book

Useless Grasses: On Imagination

This was the opening address of the New Zealand Festival’s Writers’ Week. I was honoured and privileged to be asked to open Writers’ Week. It’s Saturday not Sunday morning, but let us imagine we’re a congregation. Each of us owes the other, we keep ourselves in check, we look to one another when we’re low, and want not to be shamed in one another’s eyes. We sit together listening, often looking up and out, past the ancestral memorials, to the view beyond the window of slow, heavy clouds on a day when rain is gathering and the wind is low. Some of us are simply watching the weather, some looking for a hidden heaven, some for—or at—God, some at planetary time. Several of those things might be imaginary, but we have to imagine all of them—even the weather now.   Last November in Golden Bay my husband Fergus, sister Sara, and I, went for walk a way we hadn’t taken before, which is unusual since we’re always going to Golden Bay. We saw a South Island black piwakawaka. The little bird wasn’t making its usual sound of someone vigorously washing a little window. The day was hot, and the birds

Read more >> Why I wrote The Absolute Book

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

Read more >> Why I wrote The Absolute Book


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, and it’s even more difficult now. Young writers, those with fire in their bellies, never think, ‘Why write?’ What they think, and should, is, ‘Why not?’ I used to think, ‘Why not?’ Mostly in response to the surprisingly many people confidently prepared to ask, ‘Who are you to think you can do this?’ I got into the healthy, bloody-minded habit of asking, ‘Why not me?’ And the thing is, that however difficult the lonely slog, it becomes normal. I’m aware that mine isn’t a life a lot of writers have. Lots of them have jobs teaching writing. Or have jobs in order to supplement their writing. I’ve been lucky. Also I’ve been sequestered. And that has been for the most part wonderful. But it isn’t easy, and eventually that defiant but joyful, ‘Why not?’ turns into, ‘Why? Why write?’ When I was younger I used

Read more >> Why I wrote The Absolute Book

Cast Down: My Olympic Essay

I wrote this essay in 2002 for an exhibition of Tracey Moffat’s work at the City Gallery. My subject was Moffat’s Fourth series. Now seems a good time to put this essay up here. I couldn’t find all the images I talk about in it, but I’m sure you get the picture. Cast Down In 2000, the artist Tracey Moffat sat through hours of Olympic Games coverage in order to select a few telling shots of competitors who came fourth in their events. The men and women of Fourth are like the children and adolescents of Scarred For Life – the girl whose mother has just handed her a copy of her birth certificate; the boy caught giving birth to a doll, his friend as midwife. Scarred For Life’s terrible, formative moments appear as though remembered by the people they happened to – the adopted girl, or the boy suspected of strange inclinations. What Scarred For Life and Fourth share is a sense that their subjects are recreating a moment, looking back and reflecting on something that changed them, something they have to learn to live with. The children and adolescents of Scarred For Life seem to muse on the meaning of the

Read more >> Why I wrote The Absolute Book

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 second novel, was published in 1987, Skylark Lounge in 2000. Between these novels are several abandoned works, (a tantalising excerpt of Academy can be found in the first issue of Sport). Several things interest me about the bits of those abandoned books I was lucky enough to have read, and how I remember Nigel speaking about them. One thing is their relation to work by Ian Wedde appearing around that time. Nigel particularly admired Ian’s fiction. They both seemed interested in representing a cosmopolitan, down-at-heel, urban New Zealand, writing sensation and information dense depictions of our country as a place in which people lived in cities, inventing and enjoying themselves as human particles in the substance of neighbourhoods, as the regulars of pool halls, people with plausible street identities and monikers like Jimmy Ronk, Hairy John, and The Crazy Jap. The boarding house in Nigel’s

Read more >> Why I wrote The Absolute Book



Bat, Bean, Beam
Booknotes Unbound
Delia Sherman
Ellen Kushner
hicksville comics
lawrence patchett
let me be frank
Lynn Davidson: Writer and Teacher
Megan Whelan Turner
Muse by Craig Ranapia
second sight
These Rough Notes
tina makereti
Tuesday Poem