Joan Druett writes fiction and non-fiction. She has an international reputation in the field of nautical history, and has a particular following in North America. Her books are often based on the lives of women, particularly those who were connected with whaling and life at sea. Her non-fiction book, Exotic Intruders: The Introduction of Plants and Animals to New Zealand (1983), won the PEN and Hubert Church Award for Best First Book in 1984.
Druett, Joan (1939- ) was born in Nelson and grew up in Palmerston North.
She completed a BA at Victoria University in the late 1950s and then studied at Christchurch Teachers’ College in 1960. After time in Canada and London, Druett returned to New Zealand and raised a family while teaching.
In her teens and 20’s, Druett wrote science-fiction stories under a pen name and sent them to an American magazine, Worlds of If, for publication, but it was not her first experience as a writer, having written and illustrated her first book at the age of four, for her mother.
Druett describes herself as an ‘accidental historian’, crediting her experience in Rarotonga in the 1980s, when she discovered that 19th Century whaling captains had taken their wives on board for the long journeys. It sparked an interest that was enhanced by her Fullbright Scholarship to New England in 1986 and has produced a variety of publications, many of them featuring women at sea, since 1988. She has an international reputation in the field of nautical history, and has a particular following in North America.
Her first novel, Abigail: A Novel, was published in 1988 by Random House New York.
Druett’s work includes: Exotic Intruders: The Introduction of Plants and Animals to New Zealand (1983), which won the PEN and Hubert Church Award for Best First Book of Prose in 1984; Abigail: A Novel (1988); A Promise of Gold (1990); Petticoat Whalers: Whaling Wives at Sea, 1820-1920 (1991); Murder at the Brian Boru (1992); She Was a Sister Sailor: The Whaling Journals of Mary Brewster, 1945-1851(1992); Captain’s Daughter, Coasterman’s Wife: The Story of Carrie Hubbard Davis (1995); The Sailing Circle: 19th Century Seafearing Women from New York (1996); Hen Frigates: Wives of Merchant Captains Under Sail (1998); Rough Medicine: Surgeons at Sea Under Sail (2000); She Captains: Heroines and Hellions of the Sea (2000); In the Wake of Madness: The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon, 1841-1845 (2003); A Watery Grave (2004); and Shark Island (2005).
She has also written a number of periodicals and reviews and has received a number of awards, including the Stout Research Fellowship at Victoria University in 2001 and a Fullbright Fellowship in 1986. From 1994-1996 she was the project writer and historian for a museum exhibit, The Sailing Circle, in New York.
She lives in Wellington with her husband, a maritime illustrator who has contributed illustrations for many of her novels.
Druett released Island of the Lost (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill) in 2007. It has been described in the New York Times book review pages as 'an able and thorough guide to the minutiae of castaway life.' It tells the true story of two groups of men who were shipwrecked on two sides of the Auckland Islands.
One group, led by an englishman, Capt. Thomas Musgrave, soldiers on to survive. Meanwhile, the group led by a scotsman, George Dalgarno, falls into a Goldingesque frenzy of survival of the fittest. 'Druett shows that real leadership is rare and powerful. In this age of sonar and satellites, her take rings both foreign and true.' (Florence Williams, New York Times Sunday book review, 15/07/07)