Publication: NZ BookLovers

NZ Booklovers recently caught up with Rosetta Allan, an Auckland based novelist and poet, to talk about her debut novel Purgatory. Based on the 1865 Otahuhu murders, Purgatory is a unique and powerful depiction of nineteenth century life in Ireland and New Zealand.

Purgatory is your first novel – you have previously published a couple of volumes of poetry – tell me about your transition from writing poetry to fiction writing. What made you want to write a novel, and what were the challenges for you?

It was a huge learning curve, to be honest. I never pictured myself writing a novel, so when my husband suggested I take some time off work and do some writing, I thought I’ll have a go at some short stories. And then I discovered this story, and it just wouldn’t fit within the form of the short story, so I enrolled in a fiction course – I had joined it for short stories, though it was generally for beginning fiction – but I had to figure this out a lot quicker than the course offered, so alongside that I bought about thirty books on ‘how to’, and how other authors have done it, and really threw myself into figuring out the structure of a novel. With poetry you can’t just ‘dip in’ – the poems are a complete little story on their own, they are like little starbursts. But this story took two years, and I couldn’t write poetry that whole time, because it just felt like a completely different discipline. What I did learn was to try and bring the poetry through with me, so I still felt like a poet writing this book. So in a way I think I’ve been able to have the best of both worlds.

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