Can you give us a brief outline of Swim?
Swim tells the story of Jacob, an open water distance swimmer, who returns to New Zealand, the country of his youth, after receiving a letter from his estranged Mother. He spends the summer in the small bay of his adolescence, renovating the summer shack his father had built, as he tries to make sense of the tragedies that took place there years before. It is only when Jacob discovers an island, far out to sea, that he sees his chance for redemption and reconciliation with his past. As his fixation on swimming to the island becomes an obsession, his life out of the water begins to crack. Swim becomes an existentialist story about a man who will lose everything, willfully, to get to a point of disappearing, in search for his idea of resolution and himself.
How did your postgraduate study influence your writing process?
My Master's program is a huge part of this story. My thesis manuscript, which consisted of a massive 150,000 words, was the original beast that the novella is today. My mentor and thesis adviser, William Brandt, my classmates, and course convener Emily Perkins, were all pivotal parts of its early incarnations, where I began to recognize my patterns and traps and where my writers voice started to grow.
The natural world is a very important part of Swim, almost a character, was it an important part of your childhood or something that you came to appreciate as an adult?
I have always loved being close to the sea. As a surfer, most of my travels have been surf oriented. In fact, I feel a little guilty that most of the countries I have visited, have only really been coastal, and I've simply seen the crust, from out to sea. I grew up in the bush and on the beach. I think that a really lovely trait of many New Zealanders is our knowledge and relationship with native birds and trees. Because of this, I felt that the natural world's presence on the page was incredibly important in the book.
Questions of contemporary masculinity and what means to reach adulthood in a world of extended adolescence are at the heart of the book. Did you set out to explore these themes or did they arise organically during the writing process?
I think these ideas have been present from the beginning of the process. Back when the idea for the story was beginning to bloom somewhere in me, I was living in Hawaii and hanging out with all these big wave surfers. They were so driven to keep pursuing that one thing, and any commitment or responsibility seemed to be at odds with their desire to put themselves in this incredibly dangerous, almost spiritual place. There was no room for jobs, or relationships, or societal expectation, there was some stronger force at play, which I found incredibly interesting. The more I traveled and researched, the pattern was the same in all extreme athletes, and to an extent myself.
What are you working on now?
Two years ago I spent nine months directing a school on the isolated West Coast of Ghana, and I recently went back to find each of my students and hear their story. The documentary about my return to Ghana will be airing in April.
I have also been working on a collection of short stories and developing my play On Dry Land which was performed back in November.
I'm also currently completing a Master's in Education and Leadership, while working full-time as a High School English teacher.