Lightning signs prize-winning New Zealand writer

Lightning Books acquires acclaimed Māori historical novel by prize-winning New Zealand author

Lightning Books has acquired UK rights to The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke, the second novel by the award-winning New Zealand writer Tina Makereti.

First published in New Zealand in 2018, and longlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, the country’s biggest literary prize, this powerful historical novel tells the story of the orphaned son of a Māori chief who ends up exhibited as a curiosity in Victorian London.

Loosely based on a true story, and meticulously researched, it explores identity, cultural collision and colonial attitudes to race, as well as presenting an arresting vision of 19th-century England from an outsider’s point of view.

‘There is an amazing wealth of great writing coming out of New Zealand at the moment, and Tina is at the forefront of that’

Lightning’s editor-at-large Scott Pack acquired UK & Commonwealth rights (excluding New Zealand, Australia and Canada) from Charlotte Seymour at Andrew Nurnberg Associates. Scott says: ‘I met Tina when I was visited Wellington in 2016. She gave me a copy of her debut novel, which I loved, and I have spent the intervening years no-so-secretly plotting to publish her over here. And now I am. There is an amazing wealth of great writing coming out of New Zealand at the moment, and Tina is at the forefront of that.’

Tina Makereti is one of New Zealand’s leading Māori writers. Her first collection of stories, Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa, won the inaugural Fiction Award at Nga Kupu Ora, the Māori Book Awards, in 2011. Her debut novel, Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings, won the same award in 2014, and was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award. In 2016 she won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize (Pacific Region) for her story, 'Black Milk'.

She says: ‘I'm extremely excited to see The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke published in the UK. It feels like a sort of homecoming for my characters, James and his friends, who took shape as I walked the streets of Piccadilly, Marylebone and Southwark in 2015. The exhibition of human beings is a terrible yet fascinating hidden history, rarely seen through Indigenous eyes. Like me, James can't help loving London, even as he grapples with an Empire that is expanding rapidly into his own hidden world.’

Lightning Books will publish The Imaginary Lives of James Pōneke in August 2019, coinciding with Makereti’s appearance at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Published on
April 8, 2019