One of New Zealand’s best…

I first met Kelly Gardiner during the organisation of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia Conference happening in Melbourne in the first week of September.

One of the nice things for me about this conference, has been touching base with writers in Australia and New Zealand because, to date, most of my professional relationships have been with European and American hist.fict and hist.fantasy writers.

Kelly is appearing on a panel about why we authors write about far-flung shores, why we bypass our homeland in favour of other places.

Kelly accepted my invitation to appear on Desert Island Books and I leave you with she and her rather wonderful list.

I have some favourite islands – Waiheke, in the harbour outside Auckland, where I lived for years; Malta, where my first books were set; and the many islands that make up Venice. It would be fabulous to be stranded on any of them, but I wouldn’t be alone for long. If I could choose anywhere on earth to be an actual castaway, it would be one of the islands on the Great Barrier Reef, preferably ringed by a shark-proof reef. And also free of snakes.


  1. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

I’ve read it so many times, and every time I read it differently: as realist romance, as nation-building, as family saga, or as a meditation on the glory, brilliance, destruction and grief of war. It would be with me wherever I live, and especially on a desert island.

  1. The Passion, Jeanette Winterson

If War and Peace is the ‘authorised biography’ of 1812, The Passion is its wild sister, subverting history, style, voice and everything we thought we knew about historical fiction. And it manages to be both heartbreaking and fun.

  1. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

I often need to read Pride and Prejudice. If I’m home sick, I read it. If I’m very sick, I watch it. (If I’m really really sick, I sink into Harry Potter movies.) It is both comforting and a never-ending delight – a masterclass in creating character and precise prose.

  1. Fingersmith, Sarah Waters

The first time I read Fingersmith, the twist in the middle made me shout out loud and throw the book across the room. Perfectly plotted, recapturing all the pace and outrageous characterisation of Dickens and Wilkie Collins, it is compelling even after you’ve figured out what’s going on.

  1. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

I once had to choose, in the face of an oncoming bushfire, which book among thousands to save. I chose my little blue childhood copy of Jane Eyre, because it showed me that heroines could be shy and sometimes fearful – and how writers can make readers feel so much in just a few words. (My house didn’t burn down, by the way. The wind shifted just in time.)

  1. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

It still leaves me breathless, makes me weep, drives me to distraction and laughter. The characters, the plotting, the street scenes, the city. Also I can sing every word of the musical and on the island there’ll be nobody around to notice that I can’t sing.

  1. If This is a Man, Primo Levi

If you were stranded on a desert island, without anyone else for miles, you’d want to remember humanity at its worst, during the Nazi Holocaust, and at its best, creating art. If This is a Man is one of the most beautiful and most horrific books ever written, and the world is a better place because it exists.

  1. Venice, Jan Morris

An impossible task, choosing only one of Morris’s books. One of the finest writers on place and travel and history, writing about one of my favourite places on earth.

  1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling

Pure comfort reading for those long nights when, facing the darkness, we need to be reminded that courage and brilliance is in all of us, and that there are many different ways to be a hero.

  1. The Fat of the Land, John Seymour

Let’s face it, I’m going to need help. And even though a desert island is nothing like an English small-holding, John Seymour’s classic text on self-sufficiency will come in handy if I ever need to salt down several bushels of haricot beans or be reminded that I’m better off living on my island that catching the 8.30 train into town each morning.

Kelly, I think you’ll survive. Authors are nothing if not resourceful! Thanks so much for your wonderful list and I hope it sustains you in your Robinson Crusoe idyll.

If readers would like to find out more about Kelly, head to

And look out for Kelly at the HNSA Conference in a couple of weeks…

Cheers all!