David Ballantyne was one of the post-war writers who did not achieve the recognition they deserved in their lifetime. His novel The Cunninghams (1948) won awards and was well reviewed internationally, but it was 14 years before another book was accepted for publication. He received little critical attention during his lifetime, but Sydney bridge upside down (1968), his fourth novel, was rediscovered as a ‘Kiwi classic’ and republished in 2010.
In his own words, David Ballantyne was ‘a writer who never really made it, neither kudos nor cash to show for a quarter century at the typewriter’.1 Perhaps he would have been consoled to some extent by the republication of Sydney bridge upside down in 2010.
Romance writer Essie Summers’s first book, New Zealand inheritance, was published by English company Mills and Boon in 1957. She went on to become Mills and Boon’s most prolific author, having another 51 books published by the company and selling 17 million copies in 17 languages. Her last book, Design for life, was published in 1997, a year before her death.
Bill Pearson’s Coal flat (1963) was around 20 years in the making and was hailed as the most significant novel of its time when published. Despite this, it was Pearson’s only work of fiction.
Ronald Hugh Morrieson
Ronald Hugh Morrieson had a similar literary history to David Ballantyne. A music teacher, Morrieson spent his entire life in Hāwera, where he lived with his mother. His portrayal of the violence and sexuality of small-town New Zealand has received considerable favourable critical attention since his death in 1972.
Life imitates art
Ronald Hugh Morrieson led something of a double life. He lived in the family home with his mother and aunt for his entire life, but led a dissipated existence after hours, in the manner of many of his fictional characters. He died after a drinking bout on Christmas Day in 1972.
The scarecrow (1963), about a sex murderer in a small town, is a tragicomedy which found a new readership in the 1980s. Came a hot Friday (1964) is a dark tale of sexuality, gambling and violence, and Predicament (1975) is a disturbing novel about adolescence. Morrieson’s final novel, Pallet on the floor, added racism to his repertoire of themes. All four books were filmed.
Maurice Shadbolt’s first book, The New Zealanders (1959), began his long career as a novelist, which culminated in his important trilogy on the New Zealand wars: Season of the Jew (1986), Monday’s warriors (1990) and The house of strife (1993). Historical themes dominate his fiction, including family history in his earlier novels Among the cinders (1965), Strangers and journeys (1972) and The Lovelock version (1980).
M. K. Joseph
M. K. Joseph is best known for his science-fiction works The hole in the zero (1967) and The time of Achamoth (1977) and the war novel A soldier’s tale (1976). He is unusual among post-war New Zealand writers for his diversity of genres, perhaps attributable to his English background and education.
Maurice Gee is a major figure of late-20th-century fiction and by 2013 was the author of 33 novels and collections. Gee’s fiction reflects his early years in Henderson, Auckland, and shows a critical engagement with New Zealand’s masculine culture and puritanical social mores.
His early novel The big season (1962) takes a hard look at club rugby. Later novels In my father’s den (1972) and Games of choice (1976) establish the terrain of his fiction – small towns, complex undercurrents and social critique.
Gee’s long sequence of novels is a sophisticated variation on these deep themes. His celebrated trilogy Plumb (1978), Meg (1981) and Sole survivor (1983), based on aspects of his own family, covers three generations descended from George Plumb, a Presbyterian minister. They map almost a century of social and spiritual change with complex characters and interwoven time sequences. Gee’s later novels Live bodies (1998) and Blindsight (2005) won the fiction prizes at the Montana Book Awards.