ARTicle Magazine

My art inspiration: Amy Head

Amy Head · 08 June 2018

Christchurch-based Amy Head won the Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction in 2014 for her short story collection, Tough. Here she shares the creative inspiration behind her first novel, Rotoroa.

Amy Head

Rotoroa is published by Victoria University Press in June 2018. RRP $30.

I bounce around between various sources of inspiration, but I do find excitement in delving into particular periods of history, and this is one of the things that sustains me while I’m writing fiction set in the past, as my novel Rotoroa is. Once I’ve zoomed in on a stretch of time, in this case 1955–59, all kinds of things feed into my research, and I get pleasure from that, from developing a taste for the culture of the time, and developing my mental image.

"I bounce around between various sources of inspiration, but I do find excitement in delving into particular periods of history"

If I start with a map of Auckland, for example, and focus on the waterfront, I’ll see the Harbour Bridge being built. One book will give me a taste of the nightlife up and down Queen Street and K Road, and another shifts attention to the Auckland Art Gallery, where Colin McCahon is working. In Takapuna, Janet Frame is staying in Frank Sargeson’s shed. There she is, taking off for Europe in ’56. I can listen to Aunt Daisy in front her microphone in Wellington.

When I watch a documentary about jazz, that swings me around to point at New York, where Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk are all playing. An 18-year-old Elvis walked into a recording studio in Memphis a couple of years ago and by now is drawing screams, is generating his own light. Sixty-five years later, tourists will queue up in that Memphis studio to take photos of a microphone he might have sung into. I could go on, but you get the idea.

"When I watch a documentary about jazz, that swings me around to point at New York, where Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk are all playing ..."

My novel isn’t ‘about’ any of these people, but there was something about knowing they were there, something about the energy they produced that helped to power my writing along, even this much later, this far away. They’re a bit like video previews on YouTube, which start moving if you pass your cursor over them: always there, waiting to be stirred back into life.

"My novel isn’t ‘about’ any of these people, but ... there was something about the energy they produced that helped to power my writing along"

Rotoroa

Amy Head lives in Christchurch. Her first book, the short story collection Tough, was included in the NZ Listener and Metro best books lists for 2013 and was the winner of the Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction in 2014. Rotoroa (VUP) is her first novel.