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Some book launches can be a disaster when a writer fails to inspire – boring person, boring book.

It could never be said of Gigi Fenster. Launching her new novel, the thriller A Good Winter, at Ōtaki Yard on September 25, Gigi gripped the gathering with her wit and energy. This was surely going to be a good read.

Gigi holds a PhD in creative writing and various law degrees, and teaches creative writing and law. She was born in South Africa and moved to Wellington 20 years ago. But she fell in love with Ōtaki, settling here in 2015.

Meantime, she wrote several books – well enough to receive awards, including the 2020 Michael Gifkins prize for an unpublished manuscript with A Good Winter.

At the launch, Gigi talked about her journey writing the book:

In my dressing gown, I wrote a book. I wrote this book some years ago, when I had just received the Todd Writer’s Grant for new writers. I’d just written my first novel, I was still finding my feet, and someone gave me this advice:

  • First you find your characters

  • Then you put them up a tree

  • Then you throw stones at them.

So, I found my characters: First Olga, a 62-year-old woman who years previously left her family and the sheep-shit farm she grew up on to move to the city. Where she lives a somewhat isolated, lonely life.

Into Olga’s life comes my next character – Lara. A widow who has moved into Olga’s apartment block to be close to her daughter.

I knew what tree I wanted to put these characters up. I wanted the tree to be a bending, moving one. I wanted the mood to be tender and gentle.

We’d see Olga’s vulnerability. We’d feel sorry for her.

I was ready to start throwing stones. And I knew the stones I’d throw. Lara’s daughter is a single mother suffering from depression. She needs help. Lara needs help. Olga is there to help.

I started throwing stones up the tree. And bloody Olga started throwing them back down again. She did not want to be tender or gentle or vulnerable. She was pissed off. She was bitter. She didn’t want our pity. She wanted to stay up that tree, throwing stones. And holding Lara close. Really close. Dangerously, terrifyingly close.

I retreated. The whole experience was bruising. I put the book away and didn’t return to it.

Until years later. When in bed, in my dressing gown, in Ōtaki, I got an email from the wonderful poet, photographer and friend, Mary Macpherson, with a link to the Gifkins Prize.

Mary has a saying that I hope to adopt for my own – as artists, we keep throwing mud at the wall and sometimes, something sticks. I threw that mud. It stuck.

Olga can sit in her tree and throw her stones. I’m in my dressing gown in Ōtaki throwing mud at the wall. I am so lucky and grateful to be here.

A Good Winter, available at Books & Co ($38) and e-books from


LAUNCH: Author Gigi Fenster, centre, with daughters Hannah, left, and Ruth at the launch of A Good Winter at Ōtaki Yard on September 25.

Photo Ian Carson


A thriller from mud on the wall



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