Getting to Know Clare Moleta

Join us on Tuesday 1st June for a lunchtime launch of Clare Moleta's new novel Unsheltered.

Clare works at the International Institute of Modern Letters and has an MA in Creative Writing, so a familiar, friendly face at our Kelburn bookshop. Clare landed an international publishing deal for her debut thriller and we can't wait to celebrate her success here on campus on Tuesday - we'll be joined by author Elizabeth Knox who will be introducing Clare, so make sure you head on down for a literature filled lunch, meet the authors and grab a signed copy of Clare's book here at Vic Books Kelburn at 12:30pm.

Read on for this week's Journal interview with Victoria University of Wellington's very own novelist, Clare Moleta.  


What is your day job?

Administrator at the International Institute of Modern Letters.

What is your connection to Vic Books?

I've worked on the Kelburn campus for about fifteen years, so I'm in Vic Books all the time. A lot of our students and graduates have worked there too, and had their books on display there.


What are you working on at the moment?

Writing-wise? Mostly publicity, which is a new thing for me and I'm still learning how to do it. I have been slowly writing another book for a few years, while trying to get my first one published. I hope I'll have more time for it soon.


Congratulations on your first novel and international publishing deal! How does it feel to see your name on the front cover of a book and be front and centre in New Zealand bookshops?

Genuinely strange. And great. It took a while to sink in because when Unsheltered came out in Australia, all the copies for New Zealand were still on a ship. The first time I saw it for sale was on a table at the Auckland Writers' Festival, in between Shaun Tan and Patricia Grace! I took a photo of that. Probably the most surreal thing so far was getting an email from my sister in Western Australia saying 'OMG, I just saw your book in Big W!' (kind of like The Warehouse).


Unsheltered is your debut novel. What was your writing career prior to penning fiction?

Mostly writing things that didn't get published. I wrote a bad short story collection in my twenties and an epic kids' novel in my thirties. I like the idea that I might manage two books this decade.


You have an MA in Creative Writing from the IIML here on campus - did you begin your novel as part of your studies or did this come about from ideas afterwards?

I'd been thinking about the story for a while and I'd written some rough material before I started, but I wrote a 100,000 word first draft during the eight month MA. It's a brilliantly structured course and I got a lot of support and inspiration from the other nine students in my workshop and from our convenor Emily Perkins. It was also a year that allowed me to focus largely on writing for the first time.


You have said that "You wrote your worst nightmare". Tell us the inspiration for your novel...

Actually, Emily Perkins said that. Kind of. She suggested in a supervision meeting that the subject matter of my book - a woman searching for her missing child - was my worst nightmare and that's why I was writing it. Which was a level of perception I hadn't reached about my own work at that point! I guess the loss or absence of your child, and being powerless about it, is an underlying dread for most parents. And in 2016 (the year before I wrote the book), Europol reported that 10,000 unaccompanied children had reached Europe, registered as refugees, and then disappeared. I couldn't stop thinking about those kids, but I also kept thinking about all those parents, powerless in the face of their own worst nightmare.


Unsheltered is a gripping and tense eco-thriller in which a woman is searching desperately for her daughter across a climate-ravaged country. How was it writing about such haunting and intense plotlines and scenarios?

Probably more fun than it sounds. In some ways I think it was a relief to write about things I find very consuming, like climate change and forced migration, instead of just despairing about them. But I was also reading widely and researching, and experimenting with different ways of writing. I was learning about craft and reading amazing work by other students, and trying to imagine every aspect of my novel and characters as fully as I could. I was really immersed in the story and the process, and that's always a good place for a writer to be.


You now work at the IIML - it must be exciting to see such talent coming through into the NZ literature scene?

It is a genuinely good and rewarding place to work for that reason. Also because I like and respect the people I work with. It's a place where talent and hard work and generosity and structure all meet and the results are often pretty wonderful.

The author Annaleese Jochem, who did the MA in 2016, said this about it: 'One thing that’s still marvellous to me is how much smarter and more daring I am when I’m able to think in collaboration with other people.' I reckon that would express a lot of students' experience of the IIML workshop.

We're thrilled to be celebrating your book launch here at Vic Books Kelburn on June 1st at lunchtime - all are welcome! It'll be special to celebrate on campus where you both studied and work - what advice do you have for Creative Writing students looking for a career as a published author?

Well, I'm publishing my first novel in my forties and my day job pays my bills, so I'm not sure I'm the right person to give career advice...In my experience, resilience has been essential. The world defines publication as success, but writing is what makes you a writer, not recognition. Kia kaha! Make room in your life somehow. Try to find a community you can share your work with. Read a lot. Pay attention to the world. Keep going.


Some quick fire book recommendations please!

Sista, Stanap Strong! A Vanuatu Women's Anthology (ed. Mikaela Nyman and Rebecca Tobo Olul-Hossen) VUP.

Landfall 241: the new issue - the last with Emma Neale as editor - has an incredible line up of contributors. OUP

Te Whē – te hau o te whenua (ed. by Anahera Gildea and Nadine Anne Hura): bi-lingual Māori literature journal that takes Kaupapa Māori as its structure and inspiration. The questions being explored here feel both specific and universal. You can't buy it but you can read it online, free.

Before You Knew My Name by New Plymouth writer Jacqueline Bublitz (Allen and Unwin): I haven't actually read this yet, but I can't wait to. The Age called it 'as hopeful and uplifting a book about murder as you’re likely to read.'


What are you reading at the moment?

Helen Kelly: Her Life, by Rebecca Macfie. And Goodnight Mister Tom, with my daughter.


What do you like about it?

Macfie is such a smart, vivid writer. I love how she's built a big important story around one extraordinary woman. I grew up in Australia and when I came to live here I was bewildered by the absence of unions, and by how many intelligent adults in paid employment seem to have no idea what they were for. I came to understand the reasons behind that, but this book is the best grounding in that history I've ever read - rich and accessible and passionate, without sacrificing precision. I love learning when I read, and I'm learning a lot.


Which literary character do you most identify with? Why?

I have no idea. Eyore? I don't know, I'm making this up. But I do really I love the story about the balloon and the honey jar.


Hardback or paperback?



Favourite coffee?

Oat milk flat white in a small cup.


Top portrait of Clare Moleta by Ebony Lamb Photography