I didn't know what I'd write about at first, because I do not know that many NZ spec writers. (Which is where the awareness thing comes in). I am also of the opinion that the NZ writing culture is largely "literary" as opposed to genre-orientated. (This notion was particularly well illustrated when, at a university writing workshop a guest speaker stated he "doesn't really understand why people write science-fiction… stories about robots from outer space".) Every time I see a lecturer with a copy of The Time Traveler's wife tucked under their arm I want to run up to them and bust them for reading SF.
I am not a New Zealander by birth. I'm South African. In August of this year (2009) I celebrated my fifth year in NZ. Sweet as, bro. I think the biggest influence NZ has had on my writing would be in terms of finding myself in a totally different landscape. I mean really: Africa—New Zealand. Bit of a difference. There's a wild desolateness about New Zealand that I love; it's…beautiful isolation. Particularly the South Island, where I lived for two years. It's not simply the fact that the towns are small and few and far between. To an extent it is also the physical location of the two islands on the planet. It's just a bit off to the side.
Then there is the interweaving of early and fairly new cultures, the notion of which creates a plethora of ideas and possibilities in any fertile writing mind once you examine them within a speculative fiction framework. How will future societies manage cultural differences? Will the differences matter? Will the differences be essential? Of course, Africa also have these issues and others but with New Zealand the scope is smaller, perhaps not so completely overwhelming. The spotlight is all the more vivid, and I think provides a unique opportunity for the writer to feel immersed in what he/she is writing about. One does not feel so completely overwhelmed by sheer space.
What else—oh, politics. I'm not as up to scratch with NZ politics yet. Even after five years, the culture shock remains. (Boy, does it ever). My lack of intimate knowledge offers up a certain measure of estrangement, and that in turn has made my writing stronger. NZ politics does not consume me with passion the same way that South African/African politics do; I can observe and be objective. Both these qualities have sharpened my observations in general, leading to—yes, you've guessed it—better writing.
So what am I trying to say? I guess…thank you, New Zealand. You are two small islands in the Pacific where I never in a million years thought I would go. You've given me insights and spectacular views. You've frustrated me and wooed me and wowed me and instilled in me a tremendous appreciation for lolly cake. You've helped shape me and thus changed the way I write forever.