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Many would know Karyn Hay as the respected broadcaster who fronted Radio With Pictures, ran music shows on Kiwi FM and talk on Radio Live, and most recently hosts a nighttime news and opinion programme on Radio New Zealand National.

But Hay is also an award-winning author whose debut novel Emerald Budgies won the NZSA (NZ Society of Authors) Hubert Church Best First Book Award.

She has also been a Frank Sargeson Fellow and literary advisor to the Frank Sargeson Trust as well as a Michael King Resident writer.

Her novel The March of the Foxgloves was a best seller on the New Zealand fiction list and her new book – Winged Helmet, White Horse – is a dark, wry, funny and sad look at the lives of a cast of variously dysfunctional characters in contemporary London, a central figure being the poet Tim who struggles with alcoholism, an unsympathetic wife and a four-year daughter who refuses to learn to use the toilet and still wears nappies.

Winged Helmet, White Horse is a compelling read right from opening line, “ “pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name etc. OK, Settle down, I'm not Satan . . .”

Time for author Karyn Hay to answer our specially designed writers' questionnaire . . .

The first book which really affected you was . . .

It depends on what age you’re referring to. I still remember a book called The Sweet Porridge by the brothers Grimm from when I was very little. The image of all that porridge swamping the town!There was a poor but pious little girl who lived alone with her mother, and they no longer had anything to eat. So the child went into the forest, and there an old woman met her. She knew of the girl's sorrow, and presented her with a little pot, which when she said, "Little pot, cook," would cook good, sweet millet porridge, and when she said, " Little pot, stop," it stopped cooking.

The girl took the pot home to her mother, and now they were freed from their poverty and hunger, and ate sweet porridge as often as they chose. One time when the girl had gone out, her mother said, "Little pot, cook." And it did cook, and she ate until she was full, and then she wanted the pot to stop cooking, but did not know the word. So it went on cooking and the porridge rose over the edge, and still it cooked on until the kitchen and whole house were full, and then the next house, and then the whole street, just as if it wanted to satisfy the hunger of the whole world. It was terrible, and no one knew how to stop it. At last when only one single house remained, the child came home and just said, "Little pot, stop," and it stopped cooking, and anyone who wished to return to the town had to eat their way back.

When I was older The Metamorphosisby Franz Kafkahad a similar effect.

Your first (possibly embarrassing) unpublished literary effort was . . .

I don’t think I have one. Not because everything I write is necessarily publishable, but it would have to be pretty bad to be ‘embarrassing’.

Do you have any rituals or habits when you are in the throes of writing?

Nothing specific, although I can waste far too much time tidying up before I actually start. I’d love to be one of those people who can write at the kitchen table surrounded by the dirty breakfast dishes but, alas, it is not to be.

If writing was denied you, your other career choice would be . . .


Or flower arranging. I don’t mean being a florist, but arranging flowers and greenery in vases and other vessels for display. Unfortunately the art would be very temporary. Perhaps a sculptor then.

Three books (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to read are . . .

The Good TerroristDoris Lessing

The Wasp FactoryIain Banks

The Dictionary. Oxford or Collins.

Any interesting, valuable or just plain strange literary memorabilia at home?

I do have a signed copy of London Fieldsby Martin Amis that has a rather awkward story attached to it. I went to see him at the Cheltenham Literary Festival and took a copy of the novelwith me for him to sign. I’d read the book years earlier and forgotten I’d bought that particular copy from a charity shop in London, and when he opened it to sign it there was ‘20p’ written in pencil on the top right hand corner of the page. We both saw it at the same time. He hesitated and signed it without comment.

Hardback, paperback or e-book on a long distance flight?


If you could ask a long-gone writer just one question, who would that be? And what would you ask?

Leo Tolstoy. “What is your interpretation of God now?”

The three films you think were good adaptations of literary works were . . .

See the last of your questions. Similarly furrowed brow, mainly due to ignorance on my part.

The last book you bought was . . . (And why that one?)

Dictionary For Dreamersby Tom Chetwynd from the second hand book shop in Jervois Road in Auckland. I’m not sure why because I haven’t had a dream I’ve remembered for ages. The book focusses on archetypal symbols. The author studied theology at London University “followed by many years research into symbolism” which appealed to me.

karenhaywinged_helmet_white_horseCan you, or do you, listen to music when you are at work? If so, who do you listen to?

I like it to be silent.

The book cover you would wear printed on a t-shirt would be?

I think Winged Helmet, White Horsewould translate well to a T-shirt although I’d keep my name off it. I like the imagery of the spiral descent into the abyss, and the fact that it’s in black and white. It would have to be very faded and worn looking though.

You are allowed just one tattoo, and it is of . . .

I don’t want a tattoo. Art on my own skin doesn’t appeal to me, although I quite like other people’s tattoos.

David Bowie sang, “Five years, that's all we've got . . .” You would spend them where, doing . . .?

Paris, being dissolute.

And finally, in the nature of press conferences in Japan, “Can you tell me please why your last book is your best work ever?This is a very Japanese question and I don’t know how to answer it. It’s akin to being asked to compose a haiku. My initial reaction is a furrowed brow.

For more on Winged Helmet, White Horses by Karyn Hay or to purchase a copy go to this website.

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