James McNeish is a well-known novelist and biographer. He has received critical attention in New Zealand and overseas; many of his works have appeared in London and New York. His novels include Mackenzie (1970) and Lovelock, nominated for the 1986 Booker Prize. His non-fiction encompasses social history, memoir, a psychological study of a young chorister convicted of multiple murder, The Mask of Sanity: the Bain Murders (1997), and Dance of the Peacocks: New Zealanders in exile in the time of Hitler and Mao Tse-tung (2003) which has become a standard work in the literature of expatriatism. James McNeish has also written plays.
Photo Credit: © Bruce Foster
Place of residence: Wellington, New Zealand
James McNeish was the 1973 recipient of the Meridian Energy Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship. One of New Zealand's most long-standing and prestigious literary awards, the fellowship is offered annually to enable a New Zealand writer to work in Menton, France.
Some publications not mentioned in McNeish's Oxford Companion entry are two plays: 1895 and The Mouse Man. Also, Joy (Hodder and Stoughton, 1982), Walking on my feet: A.R.D. Fairburn, 1904-1957: a Kind of Biography (Collins, 1983), and Ahnungslos in Berlin, also published as The Man from Nowhere & Other Prose. (Godwit, 1991)
McNeish has published two further novels, My Name is Paradiso (David Ling, 1995), and Mr Halliday and the Circus Master (David Ling, 1996). In 1998 he published An Albatross Too Many (David Ling, 1998), a sequel to his memoir As For the Godwits.
James McNeish was the Katherine Mansfield Fellow to France in 1973, Writer-in-Residence to Berlin under the DAAD Kunstlerprogram in 1983, and the National Library of NZ Fellow in 1999.
Dance of the Peacocks (2003) is the story of five New Zealanders who went to Oxford in the 1930s, encountered war and revolution, and found they couldn't come home again. James Bertram, Geoffrey Cox, Dan Davin, Ian Milner and John Mulgan all left New Zealand for England at a time of political ferment and social upheaval. "Dance of the Peacocks: New Zealanders at large in the time of Hitler and Mao Tse-Tung" was on show in the National Library Gallery, Wellington in 2003-4.
The Sixth Man: the extraordinary life of Paddy Costello (NZ, 2007; UK, 2008) is a biography of New Zealand's 'most brilliant linguist and ablest foreign envoy'. Costello was accused by the British authorities of being a Soviet agent in the Cold War. The title derives from Dance of the Peacocks where Costello appears as a sixth, secondary figure. 'McNeish has delivered a stirring biography of a brilliant New Zealander' concludes Richard Griffin, in The Listener, 20-27 October 2007.
Lovelock: a novel (2009) is the fifth printing of this work, and is an expanded edition of the New Zealand classic which first appeared in London in 1986. The new edition is published together with the author's "Berlin Diary", McNeish's 1983 journal written while researching the novel; and an afterword which contains a sobering commentary on Lovelock's death.
McNeish was awarded the 2009 Creative New Zealand Berlin Writers' Residency.
James McNeish's most recent work is The Crime of Huey Dunstan, forthcoming from Random House New Zealand. Professor Chesney recalls a court case in which he was a witness. Trying to determine the motivation behind a murder, he is at first baffled by an ordinary, unassuming, polite young man who seems determined at all costs to incriminate himself. This is a compelling and emotionally-engaging novel- an important insight into the workings of the law . . . and of humanity. The novel is due for release in June 2010.
- James McNeish’s bibliography in the Auckland University Library's New Zealand Literature File
- James McNeish's biography at Playmarket
- A list of documentaries made by James McNeish during his broadcasting career, available from the BBC and Radio NZ
- James McNeish biography written by Jennifer Harris
- Review of The Sixth Man in the Times Literary Supplement, 24 July 2009.
- Review of The Sixth Man by Francis Beckett, The Guardian, 30 August 2008.
- Review of The Sixth Man by Richard Griffin, The Listener, 20-27 October 2007.