I met Paddy Richardson when we were on a panel together: Worlds at War: The Appeal of 20th Century Historical Fiction at the recent HNSA conference in Melbourne and in the course of my preparation for the panel I read the first pages of her latest novel Through the Lonesome Dark.
I recently finished reading this wonderful novel. Paddy Richardson is a fine writer and her characters are so part of the landscape of the era the novel is set that it’s hard to believe they came from her imagination.
Writing from a child’s perspective is never easy but Richardson does it with ease and as we follow Pansy on her journey from childhood to young adulthood I can only compare Richardson’s writing to Ruth Park. I also keep thinking Katherine Mansfield who had the same magic and immediacy that Richardson’s writing does.
Blackball where the story opens was named after the Black Ball Shipping Line, which leased land in the area to mine for coal. It was formerly known as Joliffetown and Moonlight Gully.
Richardson brings Blackball to life in the times surrounding the First World War. There is hardship and sadness but there is also much hope in the story.
Pansy is a strong and delightful protagonist. Later in the novel Clem, who loves the mining life but volunteers for the war, is the protagonist. This gives the book its battle scenes and the underlying feeling that war is young men fighting old men’s wars.
From the back cover: For the men of the town, Blackball is the daily hardship of working the mine. For the women, it’s the dismal cottages with the piles of coal outside. Yet for Pansy, Otto and Clem, childrend of Blackball, it’s the treasure of the creek and bush and the richness of the friendship which binds them together. But, as Pansy soon realises, ‘grown up is serious’ and past promise cannot be kept.
Set in the times surrounding the Great War, Through the Lonesome Dark confronts and questions the loyalties demanded by family, friendship and love –– both at home and amongst the ravages of war –– and the hope of finding your way back.
Dunedin writer Paddy Richardson is a prolific fiction author. To date she has published two collections of short stories, Choices (Hard Echo Press, 1986), If We Were Lebanese (Steele Roberts, 2003), and seven novels, The Company of a Daughter (Steele Roberts, 2000), A Year to Learn a Woman (Penguin, 2008), Hunting Blind (Penguin, 2010), Traces of Red (Penguin, 2011), Cross Fingers (Hachette, 2013) Swimming in the Dark (Upstart Press, 2014) and Through the Lonesome Dark (Upstart press, May 2017). Four of the last five have been finalists in the Ngaio Marsh Award. Paddy has been awarded three Creative New Zealand Awards, the University of Otago Burns Fellowship (1997), the Beatson Fellowship (2007), and the James Wallace Arts Trust Residency Award (2011). Her work had been published in Australia (MacMillans), and translated and published in Germany (Droemer Knaur). Although she has turned to psychological thriller writing more recently, her first novel was a saga of five generations of New Zealand women, described as a ‘lyrical, slow-moving’ and ‘meditative’. Reviewing her more recent novel Cross Fingers, author Nicky Pellegrino wrote: ‘Part thriller, part social comment, part history, this is a very New Zealand story, stylishly written and compellingly plotted’.
Paddy’s work has appeared in journals, anthologies, including takahē and Landfall and on radio. It has been highly commended in several writing competitions, including the Katherine Mansfield and Sunday Star Times Short Story Awards. Paddy is an experienced teacher of creative writing and has been a speaker at many writing festivals including the most recent Dunedin Writer and Readers Book Week. In 2012, she represented New Zealand at both the Leipzig and Frankfurt Book Fairs.
She is presently working on her new novel, Cheerio Old Son, which is set during the First World War.
Through the Lonesome Dark is wonderful story written by an exceptionally talented writer.