Maurice (Francis Richard) Shadbolt Biography
Maurice Shadbolt comments:
Nationality: New Zealander. Born: Auckland, 1932. Education: Te Kuiti High School; Avondale College; University of Auckland. Career: Journalist for various New Zealand publications, 1952-54; documentary scriptwriter and director for the New Zealand National Film Unit, 1954-57; full-time writer from 1957; lived in London and Spain, 1957-60, then returned to New Zealand. Awards: New Zealand Scholarship in Letters, 1959, 1970, 1982; Hubert Church Prose award, 1960; Katherine Mansfield award, 1963, 1967; University of Otago Robert Burns fellowship, 1963; National Association of Independent Schools award (U.S.A.), 1966; Freda Buckland award, 1969; Pacific Area Travel Association award, for non-fiction, 1971; James Wattie award, 1973, 1981, 1987; New Zealand Book award, 1981; Literary Fund travel bursary, 1988. C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire), 1989. Agent: Curtis Brown, 162-168 Regent Street, London W1R 5TA, England.
Among the Cinders. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, and New York, Atheneum, 1965; revised edition, Auckland, Hodder and Stoughton, 1984.
This Summer's Dolphin. London, Cassell, and New York, Atheneum, 1969.
An Ear of the Dragon. London, Cassell, 1971.
Strangers and Journeys. London, Hodder and Stoughton, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1972.
A Touch of Clay. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1974.
Danger Zone. Auckland, Hodder and Stoughton, 1975; London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1976.
The Lovelock Version. Auckland and London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1980; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1981.
Season of the Jew. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1986; New York, Norton, 1987.
Monday's Warriors. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1990; Boston, Godine, 1992.
The House of Strife. London, Bloomsbury, 1993.
The New Zealanders: A Sequence of Stories. Christchurch, Whitcombe and Tombs, and London, Gollancz, 1959; New York, Atheneum, 1961.
Summer Fires and Winter Country. London, Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1963; New York, Atheneum, 1966.
The Presence of Music: Three Novellas. London, Cassell, 1967.
Figures in Light: Selected Stories. London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1979.
Dove on the Waters (novellas). Auckland, David Ling, 1996.
Selected Stories of Maurice Shadbolt, edited by Ralph Crane. Auckland, David Ling, 1998.
Once on Chunuk Bair. Auckland, Hodder and Stoughton, 1982.
New Zealand: Gift of the Sea, photographs by Brian Brake. Christchurch, Whitcombe and Tombs, 1963; revised edition, 1973; London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1991.
The Shell Guide to New Zealand. Christchurch, Whitcombe and Tombs, 1968; London, Joseph, 1969; revised edition, Whitcombe and Tombs, 1973; Joseph, 1976.
Isles of the South Pacific, with Olaf Ruhen. Washington, D.C., National Geographic Society, 1968.
Love and Legend: Some Twentieth Century New Zealanders. Auckland, Hodder and Stoughton, 1976.
Voices of Gallipoli. Auckland and London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1988.
Reader's Digest Guide to New Zealand, photographs by Brian Brake. Sydney, Reader's Digest, 1988.
One of Ben's: A New Zealand Medley (autobiography). Auckland, David Ling, 1993.
From the Edge of the Sky: A Memoir. Auckland, David Ling, 1999.
"A Bibliography of Maurice Shadbolt 1956-1984" by Murray Gadd, in Journal of New Zealand Literature (Dunedin), no. 2, 1984.
by the author, in Islands (Auckland), June 1981; Ending the Silences: Critical Essays on the Works of Maurice Shadbolt, edited by Ralph J. Crane, Auckland, Hodder Moa Beckett, 1995.
Actor: Film:—Among the Cinders, 1983.
I should like to say only that, as a man of my time and place, I have simply tried to make sense of both, in the course of a journey which allows no satisfying destination; my books might thus be seen as bottled messages tossed out at points along that journey. I know I might have been otherwise: I am frequently unsure why I write at all. But then I look from my study window out upon a bruised Eden, my country, and I begin again; there is no escape. My equivocal feeling for the country in which I happened to be born admits of no easy release in either a physical or literary sense. So I make, in diverse shapes, in stories and novels, my not always unhappy best of it. As a New Zealander, resident at the ragged edge of Western civilization, upon the last land of substance to be claimed by mankind, I often feel my involvement with the rest of the human race rather peripheral—as if upon a lonely floating raft. Yet fires lit upon the periphery may still illuminate the central and abiding concerns of man—the fires, I mean, which everywhere the human spirit ignites, and which everywhere shape the artist. So I make no apology. I might envy a Russian or an American—a Solzhenitsyn or a Mailer—his capacity to approach the giant themes of the twentieth century. But I would not wish, really, to be otherwise. For I have tried, beyond the particularities of time and place, to observe and examine those hungers and thirsts which remain constant in man; those hungers and thirsts which, in my peripheral position, may sometimes be more evident than elsewhere.
* * *
In a writing career which now stretches back over forty years Maurice Shadbolt has successfully turned his hand to short stories, drama, nonfiction, and autobiography, as well as the novels on which his reputation is likely to rest.
The stories in Shadbolt's first two books, The New Zealanders: A Sequence of Stories and Summer Fires and Winter Country, which chronicle New Zealand's social history during the first half of the twentieth century and beyond, demonstrate the close relationship which exists between Shadbolt's short stories and his longer fiction. In "Ben's Land," the impressive opening story of Summer Fires and Winter Country, for example, Shadbolt draws on his own family history, and introduces material which would later be reworked in his first novel, Among the Cinders, expanded in The Lovelock Version, and revisited again in his autobiographical work One of Ben's.
His first novel, Among the Cinders, uses the relationship between the adolescent Nick Flinders and his grandfather Hubert to explore New Zealand's history from the pioneering days to the 1950s. Here Shadbolt found a pattern for treating past and present that he would develop in later works, and established his preference for a cast of mainly male characters.
Shadbolt's next two novels, This Summer's Dolphin and An Ear of the Dragon are apprentice pieces with contemporary settings which see him casting around for a form. This Summer's Dolphin is a short novel inspired by the story of Opo the dolphin, whose presence at the beach of Opononi in New Zealand's far north one summer captured the imagination of the nation, while An Ear of the Dragon is a blatant reconstruction of the life of Renato Amato, which attracted considerable criticism when it appeared.
Strangers and Journeys, a loose and baggy monster of a novel which draws together many of the themes and characters of his earlier novels and stories, is essentially a contrast between the lives of two representative fathers and sons, and perhaps concludes a phase of Shadbolt's writing which began in the stories gathered in the first two collections. The earlier sections of the novel, which deal with the lives of the fathers as they battle against both the environment and the harsh economic times, is generally recognized as the strongest section of the novel. As the work moves closer to the present, to the city, and to the lives of the sons it tends to lose its focus somewhat.
A Touch of Clay and Danger Zone, two volumes in a projected but never completed trilogy of the 1970s, are further castings around for a form. A Touch of Clay continues Shadbolt's interest in the relationship between the artist (Paul Pike, a potter) and society, and the relationship between individuals and their environment. But perhaps the most significant aspect of this novel in terms of the progress of Shadbolt's writing is the nineteenth-century strand provided by Pike's grandfather's diaries. Danger Zone, like This Summer's Dolphin and An Ear of the Dragon, does not fit easily into the overall pattern of Shadbolt's oeuvre. It focuses on New Zealand's opposition to nuclear testing in the South Pacific, and is loosely based on Shadbolt's own voyage to Mururoa on board the protest vessel Tamure in 1972.
In 1980 Shadbolt published his first historical novel, The Lovelock Version, which marked a definite shift towards the nineteenth-century. Here for the first time the past is foregrounded in the stories of the three pioneering Lovelock brothers and their families, whose stories jointly depict the full panorama of New Zealand's nineteenth-century Pakeha (European) history. This novel, with its entertaining blend of metafiction and realism, sees Shadbolt the storyteller at his rollicking best.
Good though The Lovelock Version undoubtedly it, it is in the triptych of revisionist-historical novels which followed—Season of the Jew, Monday's Warriors, and The House of Strife—that Shadbolt found his form. These novels together add up to what is perhaps the most important work of historical fiction yet produced by a New Zealand writer. The first of the three novels in what is commonly referred to as Shadbolt's New Zealand Wars trilogy tells the story of Te Kooti's war, focussing in particular on his Poverty Bay campaigns of the 1860s; Monday's Warriors, also set in the 1860s, moves to Taranaki, and is concerned with Titokawaru's war and the story of the rebel American Kimball Bent; the final volume of the trilogy moves further back in time to the early years of the New Zealand Wars and the 1845-46 rebellion of Hone Heke. Common to each novel is a central Pakeha figure whose sympathies lie more with the Maori side than with the colonizers, and who provide Shadbolt with a apparently objective position from which to narrate the events of his stories.
Since the completion of his New Zealand Wars trilogy Shadbolt has turned his attention to autobiographical work, first in One of Ben's: A New Zealand Medley, a family history of national consequence which skillfully mixes the myths and legends of the Shadbolt tribe with those of Pakeha or post-colonization New Zealand, and more recently in From the Edge of the Sky: A Memoir, a more personal memoir which covers the years 1959-1976. He has also returned to the short story form after a gap of almost thirty years with Dove on the Waters, a consummate collection of three novella-length love stories that span the twentieth century.
Shadbolt is undoubtedly one of New Zealand's best known literary figures. And although he has had considerable success as a writer of short stories and autobiography as well as as a novelist, it is fair to say that his New Zealand Wars trilogy alone is enough to secure him a position as one of New Zealand's major writers.
—Ralph J. Crane
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