Author(s): Stephanie Johnson
A unique blend of a compelling story with insights into writing from a prize-winning author...some of us are not satisfied with that one life, even if it is shared with many friends and relatives. Writers take what we learn of human nature and, fuelled by our longings for other existences and other times, forge new identities that can be as real as she is, sitting with her dog on the weathered step of the old house, stories that move us to tears or laughter. Merle is the author of five novels, a sixth languishing while she teaches Creative Writing. As she mentors the assorted ambitions of her hopeful students, observes the romantic adventures of her colleague, and witnesses the hours filled by her husband and their mysterious German lodger, she both imparts and demonstrates how to write a novel. This unique book is immensely satisfying as both love story and writing manual. Written by a prize-winning author, who is also an experienced teacher, the overarching intelligence, compassion and wicked humour are a joy to read.
Stephanie Johnson is the author of several collections of poetry and of short stories, and many fine novels. The New Zealand Listener commented that 'Stephanie Johnson is a writer of talent and distinction. Over the course of an award-winning career during which she has written plays, poetry, short stories and novels she has become a significant presence in the New Zealand literary landscape, a presence cemented and enhanced by her roles as critic and creative writing teacher.' The Shag Incident won the Montana Medal for Fiction in 2002, and Belief was shortlisted for the same award. Stephanie has also won the Bruce Mason Playwrights Award and Katherine Mansfield Fellowship. Many of her novels have been published in Australia, America and the United Kingdom. She co-founded the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival with Peter Wells in 1999 and is a trustee of the festival. The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature describes Johnson's writing as 'marked by a dry irony, a sharp-edged humour that focuses unerringly on the frailties and foolishness of her characters ... There is compassion, though, and sensitivity in the development of complex situations', and goes on to note that 'a purposeful sense of ... larger concerns balances Johnson's precision with the small details of situation, character and voice that give veracity and colour'. Her writing has been described as 'skilful, insightful, witty', displaying 'a truly light touch' (New Zealand Herald). Belief, which was shortlisted for the 2001 Montana Book Awards, was called by Sara Wilson in The Historical Novel Review (UK) 'a powerful novel, unsentimental and unflinching in its portrayal of the potentially destructive power of love and faith'. In North and South, Warwick Roger wrote that Music from a Distant Room saw Johnson in 'top form' a novel which is 'immensely satisfying, utterly believable'. Reviewing The Open World in The New Zealand Listener, John McCrystal praised the 'deftness of touch' with which Johnson renders her characters: 'it's often no more than a little detail, such as the habitual movement of a muscle in a face that brings a character to life'. After commending the lightness with which she wears her obviously extensive research, he noted the care she takes with language 'Best of all is her feel for the elegance of the Victorian turn of phrase.'