Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Telling Tales, A Life in Writing by William Taylor

Telling Tales, A Life in Writing by William Taylor, $39.99 HarperCollins Published May 2010

William Taylor is well known to many New Zealanders through his more than 30 published novels, most for young people. Blue Lawn and Jerome both captured the angst of being young and gay in this country and, despite some controversy, both have sold well.

In Telling Tales Taylor, now in his early seventies and the recipient of many awards (Taylor was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004 for his services to children's literature), writes about his own life starting when he was about six or seven and living along with his siblings and mother in Levin – at that time his father was abroad fighting in WWII. A quirky and forthright individual who was also very stylish and hugely competent in matters usually handled by men, his mother was unlike most others to be found in provincial towns of the time. In due course Taylor senior returned from the war and the family moved from pillar to post over the next few years as various business ventures were started and, unfortunately, went on to fail. In this prologue Taylor details his family connections back to England, along with the actual migration of his grandparents and goes on to write about his family’s links to the Hutt Valley. In many ways his was the typical life of a young person of this era, i.e. a member of a family where the parents struggle to make ends meet as they get on with bringing up their children.

Taylor goes on to describe the many parts of New Zealand that he got to know as a child – and later as a schoolteacher and much-esteemed headmaster, and the books he wrote in each of these places.

Telling Tales is a story of a certain generation of New Zealander for whom private matters are kept private. We do learn that as a teenager he was very shy, while he describes his sister as being quite interested in the opposite sex. However, nothing is revealed of Taylor’s private life after his marriage to Delia ends, other than an admission that his ongoing sexual confusion led to his marriage break-up. On the pendulum of sexuality he puts himself somewhere in between heterosexual and homosexual.  And he reflects that his 10-year marriage is the longest intimate relationship he’s ever maintained. Is the reader entitled to know more intimate details than this?  Probably not, but more self-examination and sharing may have made for a more gripping and interesting life story, an actual autobiography. But at the end of the day this story of a writer producing the words that become books is in itself well told. 

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