Wairarapa writer dreams of his old home in Paris in a story of child abduction
A manuscript that details a series of child abductions in a quiet, but supposedly curious place, Wairarapa won an Australasian writing award.
From his home in Paris, France, Tom Baragwanath wrote about his hometown of Wainuioru, and nearby Masterton, for his first fictional novel, Paper cage.
âAs idyllic as the Wairarapa is and Masterton may be, there is that belly and elements that are rough,â he said.
After what he estimates to have been 500,000 words spent writing more manuscripts, ideas and finally, Paper cage, Baragwanath received a $ 10,000 advance from the 2021 Michael Gifkins Prize. The prize ensured the publication of his novel in September 2022.
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In an online ceremony, he was announced as the winner of the 2021 award at the same time that 2020 winner Gigi Fenster was launching her psychological thriller. Good winter.
She discovered writing after working in politics and law in Wellington, before moving to a quieter life in Åtaki to focus more on creative writing.
Baragwanath’s own story is similar. But instead of moving to a small town, he left Wellington for Europe and decided to take up writing while living in Paris.
He shares his apartment with his wife, Dianny. She is a lawyer and works in the field of international arbitration.
âIt’s a way to make sure that one of us has a stable job,â he laughs.
âIt’s definitely a leap of faith to focus on writing full time when you don’t know what’s going to happen. You have to be cool with total failure.
They live together not far from the PÃ¨re Lachaise cemetery, which houses more than a million bodies, but famous thanks to its residents such as the singers Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison.
He walks along the PÃ¨re Lachaise, “it is really a beautiful place”, but does not quite understand why the graves of famous people are tourist attractions today.
When so many films, shows, and novels are based in Paris – as many clichÃ©s as it sounds – it seems odd that Baragwanath hasn’t capitalized on actually living in the city. He found himself in a sort of movie set, by fortune and coincidence. In Paris, he studied at the University of Kent – via a satellite campus – learning creative writing.
They had wanted to move to Europe before Brexit took full effect, as he had a British passport.
This meant quitting his job at Price Waterhouse Cooper, and before that in the public service. He had worked in marketing, studied law and held various political positions. But since school he knew he wanted to write.
He convinced his PWC bosses to let him study writing fiction for days. âIt was quite unusual for a company like this, but they let me do that,â he says.
“I got a great education there and one teacher in particular, William Brandt, told me ‘no one ever makes a living writing, so as long as your goal is with it, you’ll have a better time.”
And so, while a new career may not have resulted in writing fiction, a very enjoyable hobby and now a side activity did.
Not relying on it for a career keeps Baragwanath’s writing somehow free, he believes.
And so he spends his mornings writing about the house.
âI really miss being back there. Like I said, being away for that long – especially with Covid meaning I can’t come back without a lot of drama – being able to work in this novel is a way to transport myself to it. I really miss it, even though Paris is pretty good.
It’s a good thing to be a writer in Paris: the working day starts around 10 a.m.