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The Dunedin author plans to have finished the first draft of her new novel by the time she heads north, but will still have plenty of work to do.
Richardson, of Broad Bay, was recently announced 2019 Creative New Zealand Randell Cottage Writing Fellow. She has published seven novels and two short story collections, and her Randell Cottage project, The Green of Spring, is the sequel to her 2017 novel, Through the Lonesome Dark, which was long-listed for the 2019 Dublin Literary Award. Set in World War 1 New Zealand, The Green of Spring will tell the story of young mining activist Otto Bader, from Blackball, who is arrested as an enemy alien and incarcerated on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour along with others of Austrian and German origin.
Richardson was born in Christchurch, but has lived in Dunedin since 1987 and has completed a degree in English literature at the University of Otago.
She began writing in her 30s, starting with poetry before moving on to short stories, and wrote her first novel as a Robert Burns Fellow in 1997.
Richardson said she was working on the first draft of The Green of Spring, and planned to have it mostly finished by the time the fellowship started in July.
She would work on the novel during her six months in Wellington, at a cottage supplied for the task, and include the atmosphere of the city and of Somes Island.
She would also spend time reading diaries written by people who were incarcerated on the island, which were lodged in the Alexander Turnbull Library, as well as documents in the New Zealand Police Museum in Porirua.
As to her writing routine, she said she usually wrote from about 9am to 2pm.
Her first draft was "the basic story".
"I always find first drafts really hard, just getting the story down.
"You’ve got 100,000 words that have somehow got to come out of your head."
She never knew exactly what was going to happen in novels she wrote.
"I don’t have a plan in place when I first start. I have a general idea of who the characters are, what it’s about, but what’s going to happen, I don’t know.
"I may have a vague idea of how it will finish, but that may change a lot."
For Through the Lonesome Dark she had "a totally different idea to what was going to happen at the end".
One character she was going to kill, but couldn’t bring herself to do it.
"You get really close to your characters."
And for Richardson, the first draft was only the start.
"I do quite a lot of drafts — I probably do four or five."
Once in Wellington, she would begin working on atmosphere, developing and improving the novel.
On the island that would mean taking walks and making notes on the landscape, "the sea, the sky, the hills, the isolation".
"I like to get a really strong sense of atmosphere in that final draft.
"I want to know what the climate’s like at different times, because these men were there for four years, experiencing the winter and the summer.
"I want to be able to go back and forward, and also stay on the island for a couple of nights just to get that whole atmosphere."