Gordon McLauchlan is a well-known media personality who, in addition to his writing, has fronted television programmes, worked in radio and has edited the New Zealand Herald’s books pages. McLauchlan is best known as a cultural critic and a social historian. He has written a number of best-sellers, including The Passionless People, which launched two one-hour television programmes. McLauchlan spent 10 years as the editor-in-chief of The New Zealand Encyclopedia, and he published A Short History of New Zealand (Penguin) in 2004 (reissued in 2009).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
McLauchlan, Gordon (–) was born in Dunedin, and lived in New Plymouth, Pahiatua, Taihape, Napier, Auckland and Wellington before settling in Auckland. McLauchlan was educated at Wellington College and spent a year at Victoria University of Wellington before joining the Manawatu Evening Standard as a reporter.
McLauchlan worked as a journalist, feature writer, sports writer and sub-editor before becoming a freelance journalist/writer in 1973. He became a full-time writer in 2000. McLauchlan is a well-known media personality who, in addition to his writing, has fronted television programmes, winning Presenter of the Year at the 1987 national Television Awards. He has worked in radio and has edited the New Zealand Herald’s books pages.
McLauchlan is best known as a cultural critic and a social historian. He has written a number of best-sellers, including The Passionless People (Cassell, 1976), which launched two one-hour television programmes.
A prolific writer, McLauchlan’s long list of books includes: Auckland (Reed, 1978); The Acid Test (Methuen, 1981); McMeekan, A Biography (Hodder and Stoughton, 1982), The Line that Dares - A History of the Union Steam Ship Company (Four Star Books, 1987); A History of New Zealand Humour (Penguin, 1988); The ASB and Its Community (Four Star Books, 1991); The Big Con (GP Publications, 1992); The Story of New Zealand Beer (Penguin, 1995); The Northland Co-operative Dairy Company – A History (Four Star Books, 1996); New Zealand Credit Unions, the First Forty Years (Four Star Books, 2002); A Short History of New Zealand (Penguin, 2004, reissued, 2009); A Life’s Sentences – A Memoir (Penguin, 2004); Great Tales From New Zealand History (Penguin 2005, reprinted in 2008); A Short Short History of New Zealand (Penguin 2005, reprinted 2007); The Farming of New Zealand (Penguin, 2006); The Life and Times of Auckland (Penguin, 2008). He has also written a play, The Last Days of Frank Sargeson, which was work-shopped and twice performed by Auckland Theatre Company.
McLauchlan spent ten years as the editor-in-chief of The New Zealand Encyclopaedia (Bateman, 1984, revised 1987, 1991, 1995).
McLauchlan edited and contributed short stories to the well-known anthologies, Morrieson’s Motel (Tandem Press, 2000), and The Littledene Club Final (Tandem Press, 2002).
McLauchlan is a long-standing member of the Frank Sargeson Trust. He was also founding chair of the Michael King Writers' Studio Trust, and is currently a literary associate of the Trust.
WRITERS IN SCHOOLS INFORMATION
McLauchlan prefers to speak to students aged 10-18 years, and is prepared to discuss being a storyteller, a non-fiction writer, and a Screenwriter/Playwright. He can run workshops by prior arrangement, and can discuss the special topic of the research and writing of history. He would prefer to speak to 15 students per session, with a maximum of 25. He is not able to travel outside of his region for Writers and Schools visits.
Kapai: Kids Authors’ Pictures and Information
Where do you live?
What books do you read?
I try to mix my reading between established, long-lasting literature - including re-reading Shakespeare and Yeats, for example - and new fiction and non-fiction from NZ and overseas. I read prodigiously because I believe that reading for a writer is like petrol for an internal combustion engine - you have to keep topping it up.
Who is your favourite writer?
Many different writers excite me, but Shakespeare is so great, so momentous, he bestrides all the others.
How do you think up your ideas?
I'm not sure but I think ideas come from an amalgam of all life's experiences - reading, family background, conversation, relationships, etc. But they also come from an independent way of looking at the world, looking beneath the surface. One of the advantages of experience in journalism is that it teaches you to look at the deeper ramifications of what you hear.
What is the best thing about being a writer?
The best thing is that you get to work where and when you like and that it mostly doesn't seem like 'work' in the conventional sense. Writers must also impose serious discipline on themselves because they have no one to tell them what to do and when to do it. The downside is that writing is a solitary pursuit, although writers tend to have fairly rich internal lives and be able to stand a lot of their own company. However, wise writers try to organise social lives to stop becoming too introverted.
Some Questions from Primary School Students
What sort of pets do you have?
What is your favourite colour?
All of them in association - but perhaps blue.
What is your favourite food?
Probably Malaysian, although I wouldn't like to eat it all the time. I'm very fond of occasional meals of traditional NZ food: roast meat and vegetables.
What is your favourite movie?
What is your favourite game?
What is the most fun thing about being an author?
I like reading and I like people and writing means they are the things you must concentrate on most.
Where do you go for your holidays?
I travelled widely through NZ as a magazine journalist when I was young and like to go back to some areas from time to time. But I like to go somewhere overseas once a year. When I go on holiday I also work for at least a couple of hours a day by taking notebooks and a laptop. I hate blobbing out mindlessly for more than a day.
What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
I pretended I had bad eyesight and wore a pair of glasses with no lenses in them for weeks and whenever I was asked about something on the blackboard I used to pretend to peer at the board as though very short-sighted. The rest of the kids knew and would laugh and it took the teacher weeks before he knew what they were laughing at.
Some Questions from Secondary School Students
How did you get started?
My father and two of his brothers were journalists, so newspapers and magazines were the subject of much talk within the family and I grew up hanging around newspaper offices. Therefore, it was always a career option for me. I went to eight different primary schools as my father moved from newspaper to newspaper and this meant I had fewer friends than most kids and spent a lot of time reading. So I was always interested in writing.
Who inspired you when you were getting started?
My father, not only because he was a journalist but because he was widely read and would recite passages from Robbie Burns, Shakespeare and other authors. He would discuss books he was reading with me.
What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?
Read, read and then read some more. Reading for a writer is like petrol for an internal combustion engine - you have to keep topping it up. And keep a journal of notes about what you see, the people you meet and what you read.
Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?
Yes. For some time, at least, you are wise to have some other way of earning a bread-and-butter income. Freelance journalism can be a back-up.
What were you like as a teenager?
Restless in the extreme, but because I loved sport I kept busy as a boxer and a rugby player. I had trouble concentrating on study but never lost my appetite for reading.
Is there anything else you could tell students about yourself?
I have a lot of anecdotes from travel, mainly about people I have met. For twenty years I supplemented my income by acting as a contract publicist for international airlines - Air New Zealand, Pan Am, United Airlines and Continental - and that took me many times around the world. I was also on the executive committee for the International Pen organisation and for several years travelled to exotic countries once or twice a year.
I also like to talk to kids about confidence and fearlessness and how it gives you access to a wide range of people.
MEDIA LINKS AND CLIPS
- Gordon McLauchlan interview on the Cultural Icons site
Updated January 2017.