Peter Wells is a writer of fiction and nonfiction, and a writer/director in film. His fiction looks at a world of secrets, identity, subterfuge and illusion, frequently using the lens of a gay narrator. His first book, Dangerous Desires, won the Reed Fiction Award, the NZ Book Award, and PEN Best New Book in Prose in 1992. His memoir won the 2002 Montana NZ Book Award for Biography, and he has won many awards for his work as a film director. He is co-founder of the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. In 2006, Wells was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to literature and film.
Place of residence: Napier, New Zealand
Peter Wells' Dangerous Desires won the New Zealand Book Award for Fiction at the 1992 New Zealand Book Awards.
In 1994, he was awarded the Auckland University Literary Fellowship.
Wells was joint winner (with C.K. Stead) of the 1999 Landfall Essay Competition Prize for 'When my brother got thin'. This was included in his memoir, Long Loop Home (Vintage, 2001) which looked back at a New Zealand childhood in the 1950s through the lens of a wry, disaffected viewer. The memoir was broadcast on National Radio and won the Biography Award in the 2002 Montana New Zealand Book Awards.
In 2002, Wells was the inaugural Randell Cottage Writers Trust Resident.
Wells' writing has lent itself to cinema and television drama, and reviewers have often commented on its highly visual nature. Niki Caro chose 'Of Memory and Desire', a novella from the collection Dangerous Desires for her first feature film; and Stewart Main directed a television drama based on 'One of Them!', from the same collection. The novella One of Them! (Vintage, 1999) was republished to coincide with the television screening. Wells brought his literary skills to bear on his memories of being a cinema-goer and contemporary New Zealand film-maker in an essay-book called, On Going to the Movies (Four Winds Press, 2005).
His second novel, Iridescence (Vintage, 2003) spans three decades of the Victorian age. Remittance men were sent away from Britain to live in a colony on a small and regular sum - a remittance. Usually behind them was some disgrace or scandal, a secret that each man carried, often to the grave. Samuel Barton, a remittance man, is blown into Napier in 1971, after an undisclosed scandal. He carries with him an earring made up of fabulous jewels. With this earring he will buy his freedom. Iridescence was a runner up in the fiction category of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards 2004. It was also a finalist in the 2005 Tasmania Pacific Fiction Prize. An interview with Peter Wells about the writing of Iridescence can be found here.
In 2005, Wells edited The Cat's Whiskers, a best-selling anthology of New Zealand writers talking about their relationship to cats. It included memoir, fiction and poetry by writers as various as Hone Tuwhare, Margaret Mahy, Shonagh Koea and James K Baxter.
Wells' short story 'Little Joker Sings' appears in The Best of New Zealand Fiction. Volume Three (Vintage, 2006).
His third novel, Lucky Bastard (Vintage, 2007), looked at the role of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome on a New Zealand family after the end of World War Two. The novel is set partially in a noirish bombed-out Tokyo in 1947, in which a disillusioned young New Zealander, working for the Tokyo War Crimes tibunal, sought to find Japanese war criminals. It then jumps to contemporary New Zealand, where the children of the one-time young man tried to come to terms with their father's ambiguous war-time legacy. Siobhan Harvey praises his work, 'Lucky Bastard is... a novel of acute breadth, its individual and collective searches for resolution played out across the past and present, as well as across varying viewpoints.' (Listener, October 13-19 2007 Vol 210 No 3518).
Wells has married visual material to literary matter in two audiovisual essays and talks: 'A Hole in the Hedge: Landscape and the Fragility of Memory' (University of Waikato, 2007), a talk which looked at Frank Sargeson's cottage in Auckland and the role of memory and place in Pakeha values; and 'Somebody's Darling' (2008), an audiovisual essay about the stories of the Napier Cemetary,which also speculates on the ambiguous role of memory in a post-colonial culture.
Wells was awarded the Randell Cottage Residency in 2002, and was the Waikato University Writer in Residence in 2006.
Peter Wells, along with Stephanie Johnson, is the founder of the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival, which was founded in 1999. He continues to be a creative director of the festival.
He was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2006 for services to literature and film.
Wells was the 2009 recipient of the Copyright Licensing Ltd Writer's Award, established to provide financial support for New Zealand writers of non-fiction books. The enabled him to devote time to writing and covered research expenses for writin, The Hungry Heart, a book of biographical essays on William Colenso.
Peter Wells was interviewed by Siobhan Harvey in the anthology, Words Chosen Carefully, edited by Siobhan Harvey (Cape Catley Ltd, 2010).
Peter Wells was awarded the $100,000 2011 Creative New Zealand Michael King Writers’ Fellowship to research and write a non-fiction book titled 'Sparrow on a Rooftop'. He is the ninth recipient of the fellowship.
Peter Wells' The Hungry Heart: Journeys with William Colenso was published by Vintage in 2011. Peter Wells used his blog to talk through his writing and research methods while developing the widely praised biography of Colenso. It was described as 'the book of the year' by the Otago Daily Times.
He is now starting out on his next quest, looking at the defence of Te Rau Kereopa, called Kaiwhatu 'The Eye Eater'. Te Rau Kereopa was the Hau Hau prophet warrior who ate the eyes of the Rev Carl Volkner in 1865, thus becoming an object of media hysteria in the 1860s Pakeha world. Two dissidents chose to stand by his side, offering insight and support. These were two remarkable early Pakeha New Zealanders - the French-born nun Sister Mary Aubert and the Cornish-born William Colenso.
Readers can follow Wells' writing journey on his blog. The link is located in the Media Links and Clips section below.
- Peter Wells' blog
- A Book Council interview with Peter Wells about the writing and genesis of Iridescence (2002).
- NZOnScreen biography of Peter Wells
- Peter Wells on Wikipedia
- Essay 'A Lonely Death', looks at the murder of David McNee by a Maori male prostitute. Published in the Listener, it appears in full here.
- Peter Wells directed the drama Jewel's Darl (1985), see excerpts from this here.
- Peter Wells’ bibliography in the Auckland University Library's New Zealand Literature File