Monday, August 29, 2011

Is Paul Cleave too dark for New Zealand bookstores?

It was great to see 2011 Ngaio Marsh Award winner Paul Cleave get some good coverage in yesterday's Herald on Sunday (see right). Cleave was interviewed by acclaimed author Nicky Pellegrino, who edits the books pages for the Herald on Sunday, and he was quite upfront about how he feels overlooked in New Zealand, despite his international success.

I think it's good to see an author speaking his mind, rather than just being politic with his comments - New Zealand is a very small market, so sometimes I think people don't address issues because they're worried about making waves - they're worried about putting certain people off-side. The New Zealand books industry is filled with fantastic, enthusiastic, passionate people, but there are plenty of things that could be done better, and if no-one talks about them, nothing will change.

In his interview with Pellegrino, which you can read in full online (click here), Cleave mentions how frustrated he is that he sells hundreds of thousands of novels in Europe, and yet his books can be hard to find in many bookstores in his home country. He has been told by one bookstore that a reason might be that his books are "too dark" - which is interesting because I know that bookstore chain stocks plenty of novels by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Mo Hayder, Stuart MacBride, Karin Slaughter, Val McDermid, and many other authors who go to some very dark places. But maybe because they are international 'big names', that 'rule' doesn't apply to them?

Personally, I think bookstores in New Zealand should be proud to stock Cleave's books - he's a Kiwi writer doing great things on an international stage, who largely gets good and great reviews from readers and critics alike (although as he notes in Pellegrino's article, readers do tend to 'love or hate' his writing) - we should be supporting Cleave and other writers like him, rather than shunning his work because it doesn't fit into some narrow idea of what local fiction should be. If indeed that was a real reason given, rather than just an excuse from a staff member at that particular large chain, which has had plenty of problems in the past few years.

I would point out that I have seen (or heard about) good stock levels of Cleave's Christchurch-set thrillers in other bookstores in New Zealand, such as the excellent Unity Books in Auckland, Penny's Bookstore in Hamilton, Page & Blackmore in Nelson, and even the Borders store on Queen Street, Auckland. UBS Canterbury also had plenty of stock at the Setting the Stage for Murder event last weekend. And of course Kiwi readers can readily purchase Cleave's books online from places such as Fishpond and Mighty Ape.

What do you think? Are Cleave's books too dark for New Zealand bookstores, even though they are gobbled up by European readers? Should we - bookstores, festivals etc - be more supportive of our quality local writers, regardless of what they write? Should authors speak out about issues in the book industry, or just keep writing? I'd love to get your opinions on some of these issues


  1. Dunedin bookstores often have his books, but then, Dunedin is a special place (-:

    When I flew up to Christchurch for the Ngaio Marsh Awards function I checked out the airport bookstore to see if Paul's books were there. No. So I asked a shop assistant if they had any and they couldn't find any, so I gave them a spiel about how he was a world famous Christchurch author and finalist in the Ngaio Marsh Awards (didn't know he had won at that stage) and how surprised I was they didn't stock his books. I was stared at blankly. Hmmm

  2. Too dark ugh that is such stupid crap. No darker than many other authors and you would think that being a small country you would push your own front and center. Paul's work is awesome the book stores there would do well to have his work on display asap.

  3. "Too dark"? Sounds like a flimsy excuse to me. That's a handy, vague response given when one either doesn't know the reason or doesn't want to say what the real reason is.

  4. If memory serves, Paul's struggled with the 'dark' thing for years. I'm still on my first cup of coffee so you'll have to forgive me if I get the details wrong, but I seem to recall that an early version of The Cleaner won a 'Get Published' contest, only to have the publishing house pull out when they saw what won.

    The legend is that he had to take it to America and build up interest there before he could get Random House over here to pick it up.

    His work is dark, and it is very much at odds with the tastes of the NZ literati, but for a fan of crime fiction, they're simply wonderful.