Red Edge is the fantastic new book by one of NZ’s most prolific authors, Des Hunt. I’ve read many of Des’ books over the years and I love them because they’re set in New Zealand and focus on our unique wildlife. Des’ books are always fast-paced and action-packed.
After reading Red Edge, set in my home town of Christchurch, I wanted to ask Des some questions about the story. Check out my interview to learn about the inspiration for Red Edge, how Des decides what wildlife will feature in his stories and his secret to writing a page-turner.
As someone who has grown up in Christchurch and has lived around the area where much of the story is set I feel like you’ve really captured my home town. Did you visit Christchurch and some of the locations when researching the book?
I visited Christchurch on four different occasions over a period of three years: two to visit schools and two to do specific research such as visiting Riccarton Bush. I searched the suburbs that had been most affected looking for one that would best suit the ideas I was having for the story. I chose Avonside because I found several houses around there that hadn’t been repaired – the Horton House in the story is based on a couple of those.
Cassi and Quinn are both kids that were young when the earthquakes occurred. They are still affected by them, even now, 9 years later. Have you met kids like Cassi and Quinn when you’ve visited schools?
Yes. That was always the main impetus for the story. At the time I was doing workshops where I asked the children to write a short backstory of themselves. Almost every one of those featured the earthquakes, particularly emphasising the number of houses they’d lived in, and the multiple schools attended. To me it was clear that growing up with instability in home and school was having an affect on these kids, especially their relationships with others. They would have had to make and break friends so regularly that it was sure to influence their dealings with others.
This is your first time writing a female lead character. Did Cassi’s character come easily to you?
I was surprised how it came together so readily. Probably my contact with readers during school visits helped, as girls are usually more willing to share emotions and personal information than boys. She’s a character that I got to like a lot, and I’m hoping she’ll appear in some more stories.
Matiu the tow-truck driver is one of my favourite characters in Red Edge. He helps Cassi and Quinn when they need it the most. If you could have someone handy like Matiu to help you out in a tricky situation who would you choose?
I’d choose someone just like Matiu. They would need to have good sense of humour, be willing to help people, work hard, and have a positive outlook on life. It would need to be somebody much younger than me as most of the problems I experience are age related. I know there is no shortage of such people in Aotearoa as I meet many of them during my travels.
Your books often focus on criminal activity and the kids who bring the criminals down. Do real events inspire your stories?
Very much so – I am an avid collector of news stories. As an example, the story of the lunchbox full of dead lizards in Red Edge came from a newspaper report in August 2017. That got me thinking of using wildlife smugglers as the bad guys in the story. There have also been several court cases involving scammers targeting ’quake victims. I try to get into the heads of these sorts people in the hope that I can make my antagonists more real.
Red Edge is a tense, action-packed read. What is your secret to writing stories that make readers want to keep turning the pages?
One of the things I don’t like reading in a book is lengthy descriptions of people or clothing or buildings or towns – in fact, almost any description of a thing. This has carried over to my writing, where I give very few descriptions of faces or places, unless they are relevant to the story. I like my readers to get a feel for a person through what they do and think, along with some idea of the locations through what happens there. This helps increase the pace of the story. Then, after the first draft is finished, I start cutting out anything that doesn’t contribute to one of the following: developing a character, progressing the story, contributing to the climax. I also make sure there is a good mix of slow- and fast-paced parts, so the reader can catch breath at times, especially after major action scenes.
Many of your books feature our wonderful New Zealand wildlife, including Albatross, Huia and Weta. How do decide which animal will feature in each story?
This is often dictated by the location and the animals that are found nearby. Giant wētā were always in my mind for a story and, at first, I couldn’t see how it would fit in with Christchurch. I did visit Mt Somers near Methven to look for wētā, but I found it difficult to include the location in the story. Then the Kaikoura earthquake occurred and I knew there were species around there, so giant wētā became the main animal in the story. I like writing about our endemic animals as many of them are pretty special zoologically. Also, in the back of my mind is the thought that people who have respect for animals are good guys, and those who abuse them are bad.
You are especially good at creating the villains in your stories. Who is your favourite fictional villain?
I’ve been a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing since I was about 11, so Professor Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes stories is my number one choice. Amongst more recent writing I would choose Lord Voldemort from J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. In my own stories I particularly like the gang leader Skulla from Cry of the Taniwha.
Check out my review of Red Edge and get a copy from your library or bookshop now.