As I headed for my long holiday through New Zealand and Australia, the burning question was not how many pairs of shorts to pack, but how many books I could reasonably take with me.
The tight baggage allowances for some of my shorter flights was one consideration. The other was the knowledge I’d have lug all these books around for weeks.
Friends who have travelled extensively in the region assured me I’d have no problem buying new books en route. Although the prices tend to be a lot higher than in the UK, second hand bookshops are plentiful and many coffee shops have used books on sale they said.
Reassured I wouldn’t be left high and dry, and viewing this holiday as a chance to expand my horizons and discover new authors, I decided to limit my bookish companions to just three physical books:
Last Man in the Tower by Arvind Adiga
Bookman, Anna Burns Booker prize winning novel
Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Myerling
In the event my trek around Australia never materialised (but that’s another story).
The promised paradise of book supplies never materialised either.
Our first stopping point was the popular coastal resort of Whitianga. No bookstore in sight. The nearest we got was this display of used books – they’d obviously been in the sun for many weeks. Even I wasn’t that desperate (they had nothing to appeal anyway).
Two stops later, we reached Lake Taupo, another popular location for tourists. Things started to look up when the owner of the motel we stayed in mentioned he had shelves full of books other guests had left behind. He almost begged me to take them.
Unfortunately they were rather a sad collection of discarded travel guides (a few years out of date), light romances and crime. Every blockbuster crime writer was in evidence. Clearly this is what travellers like to read …
Despite drinking more flat whites than I’ve drunk in my life, I never did find a coffee shop with a bookshelf of used books for sale.
By the time we got to what proved to be our final destination, the large town of Nelson in the South Island, I was down to my last paperback (Sixteen Trees of the Somme). I still had plenty of options on the e-reader but I really wanted the feeling of turning pages.
Nelson did have three bookshops: two chains and one independent. I headed to them in great excitement, equipped with a list of New Zealand authors I picked up at the local library.
What a disappointment to find hardly any of these authors on sale. Most of the books being promoted were by authors from outside the southern hemisphere in fact (crime fiction was once again much in evidence. )
It was a shock to find that books in New Zealand are very expensive – a good 30% higher than prices in the UK. As an example, I bought my copy of Milkman in the UK for £7.99 (about 17 New Zealand dollars). In New Zealand, it was on sale for 30 New Zealand dollars. Most novels in fact were in that price range and even higher. They were not hardback editions, they were what I call ‘airport edition’ size – so a soft cover but a larger format. I’m not surprised to find that book sales are falling in New Zealand.
I got into an interesting conversation on the pricing issue with Thomas, one of the co-owners of Volume, a delightful independent bookshop in what’s called the city’s Bohemian Quarter. Prices are apparently high because the market in New Zealand is small (the whole country has a population only just over four million) so print runs are low, and thus publishers don’t get the benefits of economies of scale. Many books are printed outside the country, so prices have to include transport costs. Plus, books in New Zealand (unlike those in the UK ) are not exempt from the sales tax.
I heard a different side to this issue from Lisa at ANZLitlovers – the real issue in Lisa’s view is that New Zealand publishers don’t aggressively market their wares outside of the country. Not even to their near neighbours, Australia (population 25million). What a missed opportunity…
This helps explain why I struggled to think of any New Zealand authors ahead of my trip; if they don’t get promoted to potential readers on their near doorstep, they’re hardly going to be making an effort to get them known in the UK.
I know what you’re wondering …. did I buy anything?
Well yes I did, but I was restrained. I bought just one book: The New Ships by Kate Duigan. It’s been shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards 2019. It’s a layered family history narrated by Peter Collie, a partner in a prestigious law firm. Set in Wellington, New Zealand, it moves to London, Europe and the Indian subcontinent as Collie tries to make sense of his past.
I was tempted by another of the award contenders: The Cage by Lloyd Jones but I had already read one of his novels previously, Mr Pip which was published in 2006 whereas reading Duigan would be a new experience. Anyway it seems I can get The Cage for a reasonable price in the UK so may well end up buying that at some point.
If anyone is interested, the New Zealand authors whose names were given to me by a helpful librarian were:
- Eleanor Catton (winner of the Booker Prize with The Luminaries)
- Keri Hulme (winner of the Booker Prize with The Bone People)
- Lloyd George (author of Mr Pip)
- Ngaio Marsh
- Janet Frame
- Witi Tame Ihimaera
- Maurice Gee
- Elizabeth Knox
- Patricia Grace
If you know any of these writers and have a recommendation, do let me know. I’ll try and get them from a UK supplier (the chances of my library stocking them are very slim).