As a “Canadian living and writing in New Zealand”, it has been a pleasure to get to know this American living and writing in New Zealand. More exciting still, this installment of the Weekend Name Drop is launching his latest novel next weekend. Meet Thom Conroy.
Name: Thom Conroy
Creative fields: Novelist, Reviewer, University Lecturer
Location: Palmerston North, New Zealand
My connection: I first heard of Thom through a Facebook post by the Massey School of English and Media Studies, celebrating the launch of his first novel, The Naturalist. So, I knew about Thom prior to meeting him at the Ruapehu Writers Festival. At the festival, I introduced myself and we shared the commonalities of being from North America and having moved to New Zealand with small children. I mentioned my plans to meet up with Palmerston north’s short story writer, Tony Chapelle, and Thom suggested I also look him up next time I visited town.
Weeks later, Thom invited me to the Speculative Fiction session of Massey’s Off the Page series, followed by dinner with the featured writers, Tim Jones and Jess Richards, along with poet Tim Upperton. Recently, I attended another session and enjoyed a meal with Thom, David Hill, Fleur Beale, Anna Mackenzie, and Bryan Walpert, among others. During the same trip, my friend and traveling companion bought a copy of The Naturalist and I intend to borrow it, though I may first read Thom’s new book, The Salted Air, due to be launched next weekend. We’re also both featured in Landfall 231, in which Thom reviews Ian Wedde’s novel, Trifecta.
Inspiration for this writer: While I have yet to read one of Thom’s novels, I have appreciated (in reading and listening to interviews with him) that he, too, is bravely tackling New Zealand content in his writing, though from his North American perspective. I feel that we are both writers who, while retaining our own cultural identity, are still operating as New Zealand writers. Of course, I am envious and admiring of Thom’s vocation as an English/Creative writing professor and of his reviews in publications such as Landfall and The New Zealand Listener. I am most appreciative of the way in which he has included me in some of Palmerston North’s literary scene, enabling me to meet writers I may not otherwise get to know. I loved hearing his passage from The Salted Air which Thom’s colleague, poet Bryan Walpert, tells me is very lyrical.
Why you should check him out and share with others: In 2014, Thom made a splash with The Naturalist, knocking Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries off the top of New Zealand’s best seller list. (Come to think of it, Eleanor Catton and Bryan Walpert are also North Americans writing as New Zealanders). In The New Zealand Herald‘s Canvas magazine, David Hill acclaimed Thom, writing:
“So, several nods of approval to Massey University’s Thom Conroy for making scientist, rebel and loner Ernst Dieffenbach a credible, affecting protagonist and the centrepiece of this vivid (and handsomely-published) novel.”
It seems The Naturalist is one of those fine occasions in which an author finds an historical figure who, while initially appearing obscure, makes people wonder after, “Why has this story never been told in this way before?” The Salted Air promises to be a different sort of venture, an innovative novel comprised of short, connected, lyrical vignettes, touching on delicate issues of suicide, loss and transgression, but also of love and hope.
Sample of work:
I heard the knock, and I knew who it was. There was something in the knock that told me everything. When Harvey’s older brother Bruce opened the door and he was still wearing his white shirt and tie from the dinner we’d been to with his parents, I somehow knew he would still be wearing this shirt, this red tie. He came and sat on the end of the bed without asking, but I didn’t mind. He put his head in his hands and then, smelling of musk and cologne and wine, he began to cry right there in front of me the same as Harvey used to do. Just a full-on cry without the least modesty or reservation.
Sometimes I think there are no separate emotions. That there is only one emotion, one intensity of feeling, and it takes in everything: rage and joy and love and sorrow, all of it. It’s the fullness of it, the wholeness of it that matters. And Bruce’s grief there on the end of the bed in which I was lying was so whole it seemed to fill Harvey’s childhood bedroom. Before I knew it, I could feel it with me beneath the duvet, and so I told Bruce to join us, his grief and me. I folded back the sheet and guided his body into the warmth. I held his head on my shoulder and touched his hair and said nothing at all.
Both of us were still crying when I turned his face to mine. When I felt his shoulder blades above me. When I opened my palm on the top of his head. I remember tears on both our faces during all of this, and the taste of salt seems bound up in everything. The tang of it on my lips. The grittiness of it in his hair.
I often think of that knock. Of how much I knew when I told him to come in.
Listen to Thom, himself, in this interview with Kim Hill on Radio New Zealand and in his YouTube series for his creative writing students:
The Weekend Name Drop is a weekly feature on this blog, promoting people I have encountered who are doing creative things.