Eleanor Catton, New Zealand author and winner of last year's Man Booker Prize, created a stir recently with some comments she made at the Jaipur Literary Festival about New Zealand and the arts.
These included that:
New Zealand did not have a lot of confidence in the brains in its citizens and there was a lot of embarrassment over writers. She grew up with the "strange belief" that New Zealand writers were less great than writers from Britain and America. 'Because we were some colonial backwater, we weren't discovered, which I'm hoping will change,' she said. The last thing that was needed was a whole country of embarrassed writers slinking around. "The good side of New Zealand is that there isn't all that kind of shallow literary fame where everyone's backstabbing each other."
It got me thinking because she had a point. I too grew up with a strange belief that New Zealand writers weren't as good as writers from other parts of the world. And not just writers but artists, musicians, actors, directors, anything culturally related.
I have no idea where I got it from. Neither of my parents are particularly into the arts and I can't remember them ever expressing a view one way or the other. But there it was, deeply ingrained into my psyche. When I first started writing one of the biggest things I had to get beyond was this conviction that there was no point because how was I, a nobody girl from New Zealand, ever going to be as good as writers from America.
And it's not just me. We have writers in New Zealand who are bestsellers overseas but most New Zealanders have never heard of them and most bookstores don't carry their books. We show up in hoards at the latest terrible Hollywood blockbuster but it takes some serious work to get people to see New Zealand movies, even if they are receiving acclaim at Cannes or Sundance.
Ironically enough, it's the opposite when it comes to sports. Sports we are there. We are loud, proud, and more than happy to proclaim to the rooftops that our sportsmen and women and the best in the world.
While artists like Eleanor Catton, Peter Jackson & Fran Walshe, Sir Richard Taylor, Hayley Westenra and others have definitely helped create a change in our perception of the arts in recent years, there's still this feeling that they are the exceptions. And it's clearly something we're putting on ourselves. Whenever I've been overseas at writing conferences, if anything, I get extra positive attention for being from New Zealand, not less. No one has ever expected less of me for it.
So what are your thoughts? Is this the same worldwide? Do artists who aren't your own countrymen always feel a bit better when compared to what can be found on your home turf? Or do us Kiwis need to start getting better at backing our own?
Kara Isaac lives in Wellington, New Zealand where she spends her days working in product management and being double-teamed by a ninja preschooler and his baby sister. By night she writes romantic comedy and was the 2014 winner of the RWA Lonestar Contest (Inspirational). She loves to connect with writers and readers on Twitter and Facebook.