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Dishing on The Fish

4 March 2022
Lloyd Jones' new book, The Fish. Picture of the cover.

From the internationally acclaimed author of Man-Booker shortlisted Mr Pip, Lloyd Jones’ latest novel, The Fish, is a unique and compelling story set in a seaside community. Style spoke to the celebrated Kiwi writer on the eve of the book’s much anticipated release. Interview Josie Steenhart.

Where did the idea for the character of the Fish come from?

Where did he come from? Like all characters… I close my eyes and they are willed into the world on the back of language. I hear a voice and then I just go from there. The story grows and takes the turns it does. In the writing, the ‘fish’ becomes a lightning rod for a whole host of other things that have been hiding in the subconscious. Now, they find themselves in new and surprising associations. If that sounds a bit mystical, it’s because it is.

Where did you write the book, and what was the timeframe?

It was mostly written in Wellington, and Melbourne. It was written on my laptop, on the back of discarded drafts, on the back of envelopes, in notebooks, on desks, in buses, on walks, in cafes, on bits of paper clawed up from under the bed.

The timeframe is harder to answer. Novels can take a very long time to coalesce. For example, the BBC programme The Verb broadcast a short piece on another fish character I wrote back in 2008. While that fish and the fish of the novel are not related, clearly the possibility of a fish becoming a character was awoken… The fish of 2008 developed a taste for milk. In the novel The Fish, the narrator’s sister gives birth to a fish in a caravan. That fish turns into a construction of a family’s fears and anxieties about their crazy wild daughter and sister.

How much of the novel was written during covid and did that affect it in any way?

Most of the novel The Fish was written before Covid, but I was still editing and adding to it last year.

The beach is a key location of The Fish - are you a beach guy?

I am indeed. I love the sea, always have. At another time in life I used to surf. These days I settle for body surfing. The sea offers mystery. To coastal-dwellers it is a constant in our lives. But so much of it remains invisible and unknown. It is a bit like an embodied subconscious. The place of dreams and strange creatures.

Style covers Canterbury, Otago and the Southern Lakes, do you have any favourite spots in these regions?

Well, I’m not a lake person. I find lakes to be a bit sinister and dark. Not nearly as companionable as the sea.
I remember as a child staying with my mother at Cave Rock Hotel in Sumner. That was my first experience of a surf beach and I loved it. I used to make a point of squeezing in a trip there whenever I visited Christchurch.

I like Dunedin’s St Clair. I remember visiting one of my kids studying at Otago Uni and taking a trip out to the peninsula. The fine silver aspect of the ocean-facing beaches there was a revelation. In the novel, marram grass and sand hills separate the sea from the caravan where the Fish is born. It is a scrappy beach, home to driftwood and flotsam, in other words a perfect neighbourhood for the Fish.

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