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The Best New Zealand Fiction:1 — excerpt

‘In order to make such selections really work, you have to love short stories, or fictions – whatever you choose to call them. And I do. I enjoy reading richly textured short stories (whether it be texture of detail or nuance) every bit as much as I do novels, and the truth is I would really prefer to write them. Not because of the length and the imaginable end, in the relatively short space of time that the short story presents, but because (as in the best poems) the writer can offer windows into worlds where the reader gets enough information to understand almost everything; they offer the reader the opportunity to do some imaginative stretching.

I am reminded as I write this, of a night when I was on a train that was running late between Hua Hin and Bangkok. There were many delays, night fell, and the journey that was supposed to have taken two hours stretched into four. Much of the time was spent parked up in sidings waiting for other trains to pass, while around us lay the seamier side of Bangkok’s sprawling suburbs and ramshackle houses. It was in one of these sidings that I witnessed the birth of a child. From where I sat, I saw a woman lying on a floor in a room dimly lit by a single bare lightbulb, while two big men pulled on either side of her. I thought she was being assaulted, and I felt more helpless in my comfortable cubicle than I can tell you.

And then, I saw one of the men hold up the child, naked and covered in birth membrane, and after a moment or so, offer it to the woman’s upstretched arms. A moment later the train jerked into action and we had left the scene. That moment is a gift: what I know about Thailand beyond the orchids and the velvet eye of the elephant, the tourist traps and the brothels, the glittering of crowded beaches – although if I were to write a story about that country they might all be there. What is memorable is that I know how a life has begun, in a place behind the scenes, and all of that space before and after rests in my imagination.

Just what I ask of a good story.’

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