Readers would be well advised to lock the windows
before opening former Burns Fellow Paddy Richardson's new
novel, reports Edith Schofield.
A seaside cottage, sunsets over the estuary, an endless
golden-sand beach to walk on and time alone to write - it
sounds like every writer's dream.
But for Dunedin author Paddy Richardson a month spent living
alone, among a raft of baches on the Kapiti Coast, was a
She had no car and only a small white West Highland terrier
by the name of Chloe to talk to as she worked on her latest
novel about a psychopathic serial sex offender.
"I was writing an intense and frightening book at a beach
where I knew no-one. I got that feeling of being threatened
and isolated. I think it was a very good thing to happen
while I was writing that novel."
As she drew her main character, freelance journalist Claire
Wright, into the world of notorious serial sex offender
Travis Crill, Richardson (58) found herself locking doors and
closing windows at the Foxton Beach cottage.
The idea of a character, Crill, who came from a good
background, but was basically evil, was how the story began,
"I also had the idea of my main character, Claire, writing
his story and how that would affect her. She takes it on
because of money, necessity and it has an incredibly
intrusive effect on her life."
A Year to Learn a Woman, which is released on Monday,
is very different from her first novel, written while she was
a Burns Fellow at the University of Otago in 1997.
While The Company of a Daughter is a "lyrical,
slow-moving, meditative kind of novel", her latest effort is
"When I talked to people about writing this book they were
generally fairly negative, because they didn't think I had
the experience of that kind of life to write it. They also
felt it would be a very difficult thing to live with, delving
into the darker side of human nature."
Being locked in a cell at the Dunedin Police Station - "it
wasn't anything like I expected, the door clanging was so
loud" - was part of her research.
She also discussed crime and prison with a former police
officer and read extensively about rape, rape victims and
"It was very disturbing because I actually discovered there
are people who really don't have the same empathy or
sensitivity. They don't really care if they hurt people or
"I think in the novel both Crill and [another of the story's
characters] Savannah are those kind of characters. They
create so much havoc."
Work on the novel started years ago, but teaching full-time
at the University of Otago restricted her writing to short
"You do need time to write a novel. You need time to write,
walk, think, absorb it and go back to it."
Being awarded the $6000 Foxton Fellowship, which included a
month's residency in the cottage at Foxton Beach, in March,
last year, gave her that time she needed to push her writing.
"It was amazing because I got so much done."
At about the same time she made the decision to give up her
job, but giving up "money and security" was not an easy
decision, she said.
"I think you just get to the point where you think 'you have
to give it a go'."
But even being able to write full-time required discipline
and motivation to succeed, she said.
"It is all about determination. There are many days when you
don't feel at all like writing, there are all sorts of things
you would rather do than write.
"I never enjoy the first draft terribly much. It is just
getting the story down. It's very laborious at times trying
to work out what could happen."
A second draft "to fix up the writing" was followed by
printing out the manuscript and reading it.
Richardson says she spends at least three to four hours
writing every day, usually in the morning. In the afternoon
she might keep writing, go for a walk to give herself
thinking time, or read.
Her next book, about a child who goes missing, will not be
written overlooking Foxton Estuary, but from a warm and
bright room overlooking Otago Harbour.