The author of the year’s most exciting novel
I was born in a hospital that no longer exists. In my mind, it’s an old skyscraper at the top of a steep hill which is probably bullshit.
My parents were hippies or activists or maybe both.
For my first three years, we moved around the country living in urban communes. I sometimes wonder if this is why I’m always restless and lonely.
In 1980, we settled in Grey Lynn and soon after my sister was born on the dining table. The house was haunted by mad people, rats, laughter, dogs and the cold.
My parents didn’t believe in money. Or at least we never had any. But then no one else did either, so it wasn’t that bad at first.
I had developmental problems as a child. I couldn’t speak properly nor read or write. So school was a lot of fun.
My father had a library of books in our house. My parents always read to us. I think that’s where my obsession with words began.
In the 80s my Mum’s friend wrote a novel. She got to go to Paris. It was so exotic no one could quite believe it. “Did you see that big tower thingy?”
When I was 12 I won a school poetry competition. Eight lines of rhyming couplets that changed the course of my life. From then on I wrote every day. It was all fucking terrible.
In ’93, me and some friends started a rap group called Home Squeeze. It was as awful as you imagine. But it was my first time seriously listening to the music of words.
I played drums in punk bands. DIY shows and photocopied zines. I fell in love with the idea that you can just make something, that you didn’t need to wait for permission.
I remember sitting in the dole office at 18 telling them I wanted to be a writer. “We have a job cleaning the rust off the bottom of washing machines.”
I wanted to go to uni to learn how to write but I couldn’t fill out the forms. So instead I harassed any writer I met to give me tips.
“What’s a metaphor?”
“How do you edit?”
“Can you buy me a drink?”
When I was 22 I remember telling my girlfriend, “I’m going to write a novel one day.”
She laughed so hard that snot came out her nose. I couldn’t even get the washing machine job so it was pretty ridiculous.
I trained as a chef. Started working in kitchens. I flipped burgers and I cooked under one of the best chefs in Australia. The money was shit either way.
In one kitchen I worked with this Indian chef. English was her third language but her vocab was insane. While I cut onions and gutted fish she’d teach me words and then I’d use them during service. “The boss has a lackadaisical attitude towards paying me.”
I had a manuscript of poetry I carried around for a year, showing it to anyone who was interested. Which wasn’t many people. And then I lost it. Probably for the best.
As rappers we were signed and dropped by multiple record labels. We never read the contracts properly. Being poor is a mental trap as much as a material one.
This was the height of the meth epidemic. We often went onstage at 2am. “Wake up dickhead we got to rap now.”
Rent was cheap back then. With the dole, under the table work and shoplifting you could scarp by and have time to create. I lived in an old dog pound, a laundry, a shed, a hallway, a basement, but mostly in my head.
When I was 30 I finally got into uni. It kind of sucked. But I met a couple of lecturers who were really encouraging. One advised me against doing an MFA. “Just go write a novel.”
Iceland is cold and everyone eats puffins. I did a two-month residency there. Wrote a book called Iceland. I’d only been writing prose for a couple of years and had no idea what I was doing. But all the best adventures begin with getting lost.
In 2012 I got an autoimmune disease and spent a year in bed. But I got to finish the novel.
When the disease started it was the worst pain I ever felt. Now it’s just normal.
Being sick meant no more kitchens. I saw a post about a job doing youth work and applied. I was hired and turned up for training. “Here’s ya kid, good luck.”
Me and my friend Josh made a zine out of glue and spelling mistakes. It sold heaps. I started performing poetry around the country. I started a podcast with my best friend Todd. We interviewed everyone from Jacinda to the bartender at Whammy bar. It was popular but it’s hard to monetise drinking and talking shit. It’s hardly a scarce commodity in this country.
Iceland got published in 2017. Shit reviews, good sales. I guess that’s all you can ask for really.
A few years back I decided to try and teach people all the shit I’d learnt. I called it Learn To Write Good. Over time I got the hang of encouraging people to let their secrets loose onto the world.
Last year my best friend Todd died. He was always in the audience in my head. Even though he’s gone, I’m still writing for him.
The plot of my new novel is about fighting and drugs and money. But I think it’s really about the things we have to endure for a shot at holding our dreams.
Poor People With Money by Dominic Hoey (Penguin Random House, $37), about Auckland barworker Monday Woolridge’s desperate need to escape the city’s gangsters and vampires, is currently at number two in the best-selling chart for fiction.