In receipt of the MK Fellowship

James_McNeish

At the Going West festival in Titirangi in 2006 I met James McNeish. He was a figure of grandeur to me since I read his novel, Mackenzie, in the early 1970s – but seemed grumpy. Why haven’t we met before? he said. We had breakfast together and afterwards corresponded, intermittently, until, after I reviewed his memoir Touchstones for NZ Books, I received a message from him which was half invitation, half summons. He had a proposition to make. I went to Wellington in February 2013, I think it was, and visited James at his place on The Terrace. He said he had a lot of material left over from his research for Dance of the Peacocks and The Sixth Man, and that he thought there might be a book to be found amongst it. Would I like to have a look? Well of course I would. I spent the next three days at James’ place, reading through the files he left out for me on the desk in his study. James wasn’t there for most of that time; or rather, he came and went, unpredictably. The files were amazing: succinct, apposite, meticulous and utterly engrossing. Intelligence Central. From the dossiers I chose the four individuals The Expatriates (working title) will be about. I never felt that James was pushing me in any direction or had any other agenda apart from the stated one. I was free to follow my own inclinations; or rather, to follow the material wherever it may lead. It was an act of extraordinary generosity, which I acknowledge here.

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