Spearo is out now!
‘Fourteen-year-old Sean and his mother Anita have only recently emigrated to New Zealand from Zimbabwe after the tragic death of Sean’s father as a result of cerebral malaria. As the novel opens Sean is desperately missing both his deceased father and everything about the familiar life and routines he used to know on the family ranch. New Zealand just seems so alien and different from the landlocked nation he is from. To make it harder for Sean he is a small boy and is acutely aware that he has no friends in his new school – that is until a random encounter in the school library links him with the confident and popular Mason Leadbetter. Mason and his family are very much into spearfishing – in fact everything to do with the sea – and although Sean has no knowledge of the sea at all he seriously values Mason’s offer of friendship and determines that he too will become a ‘spearo’, and so, much to his mother’s alarm, he begins a long and difficult process of learning proficiency in his new and dangerous sport. However, Sean has more than just the physical difficulties to adapt to (and they are immense), he also has the relentless enmity of Mason’s conservation minded older sister Nicole, who, through an unfortunate misunderstanding, assumes that Sean and his father were into trophy hunting of wild animals in Zimbabwe. Nicole’s anger is further fuelled by the recent departure of her mother from the family and she resents the easy way her own father, the likeable Richie, includes Sean into their spearfishing activities. Things comes to a head when Sean and his mother are invited to join the Leadbetter family in Mahia where the annual spearfishing championships are taking place. As a result of a fishing injury, and much to Nicole’s horror, Sean is asked to replace Mason as Nicole’s dive buddy on the big tournament day, and so begins a series of dramas where the two foes are placed face to face in the most unforgiving of environments. Despite spearing numerous fish, including a huge kingfish, they are disqualified by arriving at the weigh-in too late, but that doesn’t really matter as the real prize is a grudging respect they now have for each other and the clearing up of the false assumptions that jeopardised their relationship in the first place. The novel ends on a positive note and with the definite hint that these families may become quite a lot closer in the future.
Once again, the idea behind this new book, Spearo, came from listening into conversations. I’ve always been a keen fisher; I have my own rod reel and love the thrill of catching a fish. I couldn’t understand why my sons wanted to get in the water and begin diving. Why on earth would anyone want to leap off a boat into the wide-open ocean?
But gradually as I listened to the chat around spearfishing I started to realise that this was indeed a thrilling sport. The simplicity of free diving, and/or spearfishing, appealed to me. I also liked the fact that it was a buddy sport and I began to see how much divers relied on each other. I listened to the tales of this ‘other world’ under the sea; the big fish, the struggles to learn how to use spear guns, ropes, dive flags, snorkels, the jargon and the air. Always air.
I heard a spearfisherman refer to himself as a ‘pig hunter of the sea’ and I thought, yes, there’s a story here.
I brought my protagonist in from Zimbabwe because it’s a landlocked country and because Zimbabweans often epitomise the essence of hard-working, getting involved kiwis. I also wanted to write about a kontiki, the sort of fishing my grandfather did, when there was no boat available.
And I love stories about bravery, pitting yourselves against the odds, digging in for the tough times and calling up resilience. Where better for a tale like this than under the sea?