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McCauley, Sue


Sue McCauley is a fiction writer, a journalist and a scriptwriter. Her first novel Other Halves (1982) won both the Wattie Book of the Year Award and the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction. McCauley has had two plays performed, Waiting for Heathcliff (1988) and Hitting Fifty (2002). She was also writer-in-residence at the Universities of Auckland (1986) and Canterbury (1993). Sue McCauley was awarded the Foxton Fellowship in 2005.

FROM THE oxford companion TO new zealand literature

McCauley, Sue (1941 –), fiction writer, scriptwriter and journalist, was born in Dannevirke, grew up on a farm in rural southern Hawke's Bay and was a boarder at Nelson GC.

She worked as a copywriter and journalist in Napier, Wellington, New Plymouth and Christchurch, beginning her writing career with radio and TV plays and short stories in the 1970s.

Her first novel Other Halves (1982) won both the Wattie Book of the Year Award and the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction. An autobiographically based account of a relationship between a separated Pakeha mother and a much younger Maori man, it explored ethnic, gender, age and class differences. It has been frequently reprinted, selling more than 20,000 copies, and was made into a feature film.

Her second novel, Then Again (1986), is set on an offshore subtropical island and deals with the increasingly intertwined lives of several residents.

Bad Music (1990) focuses on the relationships between an ageing rock musician, a young woman half his age and the girl’s mother.

A Fancy Man (1996) also involves an apparent mismatch between an older man and a much younger woman.

McCauley’s novels are characterised by a mix of humour, realism and compassion, with strong sympathy for the underdog. She has also written many scripts for film, television and radio and has published numerous short stories. She has worked as a teacher of scriptwriting and fiction and as a judge of story competitions.

She edited (with Richard McLachlan) Erotic Writing (1992), and wrote the text of Escape from Bosnia: Aza’s Story (1996), the narrative being worked up from recorded interviews.

She was writer-in-residence at the universities of Auckland (1986) and Canterbury (1993). After living in various parts of the North Island 1970s–80s she moved with her husband to Christchurch in 1990.

Author entry from The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature,
edited by Roger Robinson and Nelson Wattie (1998).

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Additional Information

In 1982, Sue McCauley was awarded first place for Other Halves at the Goodman Fielder Wattie Book Awards. The following year, she received the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction for the same work.

McCauley's titles shortlisted for major awards include: Then Again in the 1987 Watties Book Awards, Escape to Bosnia in the 1997 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and It Could be You (1997) in the 1998 Montana New Zealand Book Awards. She also received the Mobil Radio Award for drama (1982) and was a finalist in the NZ Writers' Guild Best Screenplay Award (1993). She was awarded the Queen's Service Medal in 1986.

Sue McCauley was the 1993 Canterbury University Writer in Residence. The residency is designed to foster New Zealand writing by providing a full-time opportunity for a writer to work in an academic environment, and is open to writers in the fields of creative writing: fiction, drama, and poetry.

McCauley has had two plays performed at Christchurch's Court Theatre: Waiting for Heathcliff (1988) and Hitting Fifty (2002).

In 2002 McCauley edited Totally Devoted: New Zealanders Share their Love Stories, a collection of real-life stories written by New Zealanders, and the following year she edited the Whitirea Writing Programme's anniversary collection to mark their tenth year - A Magpie Stole My Heart.

Her second short story collection, Life on Earth was published in 2003. Her short stories and non-fiction have appeared in numerous anthologies; most recently The Best of New Zealand Fiction: Volumes Three and Four (Vintage, 2006).

McCauley moved back to the Southern Hawkes Bay and the farm where she grew up in 2004. She was awarded the Foxton Fellowship in 2005.

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writers in schools information

McCauley is available to talk to intermediate and secondary school students through the Book Council's Writers in Schools programme. She is prepared to discuss writing fiction and non-fiction, and writing for screen. She is happy to speak to up to 26 students at a time, though prefers classes of 12. She is able to run workshops for smaller groups. She is prepared to travel ouside of her region for Writers in Schools visits.

Kapai: Kids' Authors Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
In Whitahora, east of Dannevirke in Southern Hawke's Bay. I live on the farm where I grew up. The desk I write at is where my bed used to be when I was five years old.

What kinds of books do you like to read?
Mostly fiction. Books that make me laugh, books that make me cry and books that make me think.

Do you have a favourite author?
My favourite authors change every few years. But Australian writer, Helen Garner, is a longtime favourite. A.A. Milne (Winnie The Pooh before Walt Disney got hold of him) has a permanent place in my heart.

Where do you get your ideas?
Often they come from something that puzzles me. Writing about it helps me understand. Sometimes it comes from something that makes me angry – something I think is wrong and could be changed.

What is the best thing about being an author?
You get to live lots of lives – your own and the lives of your characters. Sometimes, as I get older, it’s hard to sort out which memories are from my own life and which belong to someone I invented. Nor can I be sure about what was real and what was vividly dreamt.

Some questions from Primary School students

Do you have any pets?
We have lots of animals and tend to treat most of them as pets. The dogs are called Honey and Dan, the horse is called Flynn, and the cat is Possum. We also have several alpacas, a handful of hens and two roosters. And a clutch of cattle and a heap of sheep.

Do you have a favourite colour?
Not really. I love clusters of colours, reds and oranges and pinks all together, or blues and greens.

Do you have a favourite food?
Tamarillos and chocolate.

How about a favourite movie?
Lots of them. Have you seen the New Zealand film, Eagle vs Shark? I really like that one.

What is the most fun thing about being an author?
Well, the most exciting thing (and I don’t know why) is seeing a book you have written on the shelves of an overseas library or bookshop.

Why do you make books?
Because I’m allowed to. But I only make the stuff on the inside, a publisher does all the rest.

Where do you like to go for your holidays?
To Colville, which is right up the top of the Coromandel Peninsula and it’s where our grandchildren live.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
Change the record. You see, we used to have to line up each morning and march into assembly to a military marching tune that blasted out from speakers upstairs. One morning three of us crept in and changed the record so the music that screamed down was rock ‘n roll, a singer called Little Richard.

Some questions from Secondary School students

How did you get started as a writer?
Telling stories to my pony Viti. I spent much of my childhood on horseback and I sang to Viti and told her stories. Her ears informed me that she didn't much like the singing. Back then I wanted to be a writer of poems and songs.

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
A writer called Fay Weldon (who was born in New Zealand). Her novels seemed to be about things and people I was familiar with. This was something I had not struck before, so I had supposed that only a certain kind of (well-educated) person could write novels.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Be persistent, be thick-skinned, and if no one else but you likes your writing, be prepared to give up and do something else.

Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?
For most of us, yes. You can earn money by writing ‘useful’ material – articles, advertising and so on. But most adult fiction only gets written because the Government helps writers survive by way of grants from Creative New Zealand. If you want a good and reliable income, writing is not the career path to choose.

What were you like as a child?
Happy for my first five years, but then my circumstances changed and I began to live more inside my head (perhaps not a bad thing for a writer). At secondary school I got constant complaints about my ‘attitude’. I have never been good at taking orders. One of the good things about being a writer is you don’t have a boss.

Do you have any stories you’d like to tell us?
Years ago when my family and I lived in Northland we had a solid old horse called Fred. One winter’s day we came home after a long weekend away and found that Fred was stuck in the creek. Friends and neighbours had already spent hours trying to push and drag him out of the mud and very cold water up onto the bank, but the bank was too slippery and Fred was too heavy and weak. You could see shredded raw flesh where eels had been nibbling his belly. It was horrible. We tried again and again to move him. My daughter and I crouched in the water massaging his legs to keep the blood flowing. We were crying. Finally I asked if anyone had a rifle at home and if they would please go and fetch it. I didn’t want Fred to suffer this any longer. Someone had rung the fire brigade, but what could they do? There wasn’t even vehicle access down to the creek.

But before our friend came back with the rifle two men from the fire service had walked down to find us. One had a bottle of beer. ‘Watch this,’ he said. ‘I’ve done it with cows. It works.’ He took the top off and forced the bottle into Fred’s mouth. The old horse gobbled down a few gulps. The fireman said, ‘Now.’ We all heaved and pulled, and Fred rose up and staggered onto the bank. Apart from the eel bites he was fine.

Then one of our neighbours who had been at the creek for maybe ten hours grabbed the bottle, wiped the green horsey slime on his sleeve, and drank the beer that Fred had left.

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Media links and clips

Sue McCauley's bibliography in the Auckland University Library's New Zealand Literature File.

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Phone 0064 4 801 5546
Level 4, Stephenson & Turner House, 156 Victoria St, Te Aro
Wellington 6011, New Zealand