For the 14th in this regular series of quickfire author interviews, I put the 9mm questions to New Zealand author Joan Druett, who is renowned as both a maritime historian and historic mystery writer; from a crime/thriller perspective she is acclaimed for her ‘Wiki Coffin’ mysteries set on colonial-era sailing ships, in particular the United States Exploring Expedition (the exploration, survey, and travel around the Pacific 'South Seas' by the United States Navy in 1838-1842). Wiki Coffin is a translator for the Expedition, and has been described as "a Maori detective with the physical attributes of a Hurricanes rugby player" (for you US readers, just imagine one of the Pacific Islands-descent linebackers in the NFL, and you'll get the drift).
Since first falling in love with maritime history, Druett has written 18 fiction and non-fiction books. You can read the first chapter of DEADLY SHOALS, Druett's most recent Wiki Coffin mystery novel, HERE. The Wiki Coffin series includes four novels, and at least three short stories that have been published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
But for now, I'll leave you with Joan Druett.
Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
Do I sound hopelessly old-hat if I say Hercule Poirot? He's cute, he doesn't inflict personal angst on the reader, I don't have to put up with his sex life, he somehow avoids being a comic book hero, and he gets the job done. I get half my inspiration from Agatha Christie, the rest from logbooks and salty memoirs.
What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. The Banksia monster was the first villain to terrify me, and yet it was so cozy. Believe it or not, it is still in print!
Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
Crime came late, simply because it was a response to an editor who approached my agent asking if I would think of writing a maritime historical mystery. Before that, I had established a solid track record in maritime historical novels (Abigail, A Promise of God), and maritime historical nonfiction (Petticoat Whalers, Hen Frigates, She Captains, Rough Medicine). And, before that, there were a few books and many stories. And a number of academic papers.
Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
Walk, take train and boat rides, socialize with family and friends, eat good food, drink Belgian beer (the influence of Poirot?). A big favourite is catching the little ferry to Matiu Island, in the middle of Wellington Harbour, walking around it to see the birdlife, and have a picnic before heading back. But it has to be a nice day.
What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn’t initially consider?
See the above. Another great excursion is to take the train to Paekakariki, and take the coastal walk. Great views of Kapiti Island, and the Fisherman's Table puts on a great lunch. With overseas visitors, we usually end up at the Museum of Wellington, which is a huge hit, and then walk around the waterfront to Te Papa.
If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
Billie Piper, because she is so exuberant and radiant. But she is not at all like me.
My favourite is Run Afoul, and my favourite scene is when Wiki is reunited with his father -- in the company of Forsythe, who is drunk. Not only does Wiki decide to have a bit of fun by being deliberately vague about a situation his father has misunderstood, but then Forsythe, wobbly but very serious, decides to defend Wiki's reputation in the most embarrassing way possible, much to Wiki's astonishment and my amusement. I really enjoyed writing that chapter. And I liked the rats and snakes, too.
What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller’s shelf?
When I sold my first short story, I bought a bottle of sherry and gave it to my mother; I think I was really celebrating being old enough to buy alcohol. Selling the story gave me enough money to do it.
What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
Which one do I choose? One of the most memorable was the time I personalized a book for an elderly lady who dictated a long message to "Bill." Just as I finished, her daughter arrived at the desk, and gasped, "You can't do that -- Bill's dead!"
Thank you Joan Druett. We appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.
So what do you think of Joan Druett's answers? Have you read any of her Wiki Coffin books? If so, what did you think? Do you like historic crime? Maritime novels? Thoughts and comments welcome.