Where did you draw your inspiration from for your Ockham Award winning novel, The New Animals?
The original spark for the book came from a single image, one that doesn’t make it into the book. It’s kind of a recurring image I’ve had for years – sometimes I dream it, sometimes it sort of pops into my mind. It first came to me when I was in Savai’i, Samoa years ago. So I always felt like I was writing toward that image. But obviously, one image does not a book make so I became quite obsessed with collecting images and writing about fashion. I went to the hairdresser a lot too. I look back and I can see from my hair cut where I was up to in the book – it was very short while I was ‘researching’. Teehee. I watched a lot of video of Alexander McQueen – I love him and I was lucky enough to see the Rei Kawakubo retrospective at The Met. My Instagram is also awash with hairdressers and models and designers. I love Instagram so much, the way you can see the day-to-day of people. Oh, and I visited Auckland a lot. I have a lot of trouble writing about a place if I can’t regularly walk it and smell it and hear it and see it.
What does a day in the life of Pip Adam look like?
I juggle quite a few part-time, short-term jobs to try and make up one full-time job. I think there are so many of us doing this now. So every day is really different, which is great, but also very tricky. I am anxious naturally so I often end up taking on too many jobs worried I won’t get enough, or any more work. I also find the juggling a bit tricky. I love the way it’s made me organised, I love my bullet-journal. Bahaha. I also love the flexibility of the work. Often I can decide to do a late night and spend time with my family during the day, which is really nice. Sorry, I don’t think I have answered your question. Um. Generally, I work at home with my dog Coco, I usually have lunch around midday and pick up my kid at 3pm. Then we walk home together and they will draw or play the ukulele while I do a bit more work until dinner when we cook something. I love TV. So my day usually ends with me lying on the couch watching something.
Tell us why hairdressers are important to you and why you told the Ockham audience to go and hug their hairdresser?
Hairdressing kind of saved my life in a lot of ways. It was there when I left school, I think if I hadn’t had such a compelling job I may have drifted away. It was also there during some really dark times, that wage, that purpose helped a lot when I was very restless and messed-up. Then when I sort of came out of that dark place it was still there. Yeah, I also think hairdressers are just awesome. They work so hard and they are so talented and smart. Hairdressers are amazing and sometimes their work is undervalued.
What was the first piece of work you wrote that you remember feeling proud of?
I’m not sure I ever feel fully happy with anything I write, but the first time I felt like I had ‘found my voice’, like the first time I thought, ‘Oh. This is what I write like,’ was an exercise during the MA. Damien Wilkins was such a perfect supervisor for me. I went to him and I had these stories and these ideas and he respectfully suggested I might like to throw all that out and start by writing scenes rather than stories. He said something like, ‘You don’t know what your voice is. No one knows what your voice is.’ It was the perfect pieces of advice at the perfect time. I started from this idea of just writing scenes – kind of like an artist just drawing hands over and over again. This was how I sort of uncovered a noise to write toward.
You’ve said this book is really personal to you. Would you divulge details of what makes The New Animal most personal to you?
I think what I meant by that is that I sort of mined myself for the stuff about going away and coming back. The way Carla disappears and then comes back. That thing where you have a story to tell and it’s about say, lunch, and you think, ‘Oh, I had breakfast once. I wonder if lunch is a bit like breakfast but at midday?’ Yeah, so there is a lot of personal experience in there but in someone else’s clothes.
What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you?
I love slapstick. One time I was standing in front of a room of people – I was working at a hairdressing school, teaching a class about perming I think and I had to finish the class by telling the class that I was leaving. I began this very heartfelt, sensitive talk about how I was leaving and someone else would be teaching them. I was laying it on thick because I thought there was no way they could carry on without me. Then I ended the talk, I looked around an imagined there were even some tears in the room. Then I walked forward and my skirt fell off.
What’s next in the world of Pip Adam?
I’ve started a new thing, which I am finding really hard. The whole 15 minutes a day thing is proving really hard with this one. So I am so incredibly grateful for this award and to the Acorn Foundation. I am trying to remind myself that not knowing whether I can write this is a good place to be. That writing into the dark is the only way I can do it. Hopefully, this is correct.
What will you spend your Ockham Award winnings on?
I was talking to Danyl Mclauchlan yesterday, saying to him how I’m scared I’ll spend the whole lot on books (I’ve bought so many books since Tuesday) and he suggested talking to someone, like someone who knows money, about what to do with it. Which seems like genius. I have this quiet dream that I can somehow make the podcast more sustainable. I have so much trouble getting episodes done on a regular basis and I hope some of the money can help that. I love the podcast so much. I love that ‘work’ the best.
How did you celebrate your Ockham Award win?
I had such a nice night with the VUP posse. There was a really nice event after the ceremony and I got to chat with heaps of people. Everyone went off after but I went home and ate some potato chips.
What’s the most un/glamorous part of being a writer?
One of the funniest things for me when I was writing The New Animals was, I was often writing about beautiful clothes and beautiful people while sitting in my damp house in Wellington, in my sweats and slippers, with no make-up on and shambles hair while I shared a sandwich with my dog. I spent a lot of time going to shops in Auckland and I always felt like a schlub but the people who worked there were always nice.
SPOILER ALERT: Why did you give a minor character a major narrative at the end of the book?
It has been so interesting not talking about that part of the book. A friend and I were joking the other day about how people must be thinking, ‘This just sounds like a book about a day in the life of some people.’ It’s been interesting for me too because I’ve been talking a bit about the start of the book and I feel like through being asked about it and talking about it I’ve got to know that start of the book quite well. But, yeah, you asking this questions makes me realise, I really don’t fully ‘understand’ that part of the book. I used to often come to Damien, during my MA and PhD, and say, ‘I don’t know where this story is going, should I write a plan, try and work it out?’ And in my memory, he would say, ‘There’s no way out but through. The only way to figure it out is to write it out.’ And that is how I have always done it. Every idea is equal (equally bad or good) but in the writing I find what it wants to be and that is why that happens in the end. I was writing and writing and writing and one day, that’s where it went.
Feature image of Pip Adam by Victoria Birkinshaw, on The Pantograph Punch.