Bestselling author Stacy Gregg (Image: Tina Tiller)
Bestselling author Stacy Gregg (Image: Tina Tiller)

BooksJune 26, 2024

‘Thoroughly pornographic’: Stacy Gregg on the world’s best writer of food descriptions

Bestselling author Stacy Gregg (Image: Tina Tiller)
Bestselling author Stacy Gregg (Image: Tina Tiller)

Welcome to The Spinoff Books Confessional, in which we get to know the reading habits of Aotearoa writers, and guests. This week: Stacy Gregg (Ngāti Mahuta/Ngāti Pukeko/Ngāti Maru), author of Nine Girls.

The book I wish I’d written

American Psycho. I love how funny it is – the Huey Lewis stuff, the bottled water scene. And Bret Easton Ellis is very under-rated when it comes to sex scenes. 

A book everyone should read

Well this question is very prescriptive in its tone. I think kids, particularly, should read whatever they want. I see parents sometimes in libraries dismissing the book a child is reaching for on the shelf on the grounds that it is beneath them. Especially if it’s a comic book or graphic novel. This idea that you should block something from your kid as too lightweight for the child’s reading age is a real misstep by parents. I loved comics. Asterix particularly. Honestly just let kids read what they want. Let them read up a level or down a level. Let them read endless banal fart books or whatever – it’s their call so stop making them pick up books they don’t want just because you think they are worthy material that looks appropriate in their hands. This theory might be coloured by the fact I once bought a copy of Charlotte’s Web for my daughter and she hiffed it across the room at me and said “stop trying to make me read the classics!” That one is a classic though – so I guess yeah, flip-flopping here: make them all read Charlotte’s Web. And Watership Down. Those are the two kids must-reads for me personally.

The book I want to be buried with

Wuthering Heights because Cathy and Heathcliff are the beginning and the end of all romance.

The first book I remember reading by myself

My friend Waitārehu remembers me telling her in great detail the entire plot of Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion when we met in standard three. Our relationship was all about books and our passion for reading is kind of pivotal to my characters Titch and Tania in Nine Girls. The Black Stallion is still without a doubt the best horse book ever written for kids. The best horse book ever written for adults is Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit.

From left to right: the book Stacy Gregg wishes she’d written; a classic that kids could read if they want to; and the book she’d be buried with.

I wish I’d never read

When my daughter was little I flat-out refused to read her the Rainbow Fairies series. I would buy her the books because all the kids collected them so I didn’t want to be cruel but I drew the line at reading them to her and she had to master reading them herself because, as I told her plainly, “Mummy can’t read those. They are author kryptonite.”

The book I pretend I’ve read

Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. Also James Joyce’s Ulysses. To impress boys obviously.

Dystopia or Utopia?

You mean right now? Oh this is definitely a dystopia. In terms of writing – I like a dystopia-lite, which is to say I’m not interested in extremes of fantasy or darkness but a bit of a subtle twist on the real universe is a good thing.

Fiction or nonfiction?

Fiction. Because no matter how much you tart it up or put a spin on it mostly your real life is boring.

It’s a crime against language to

It absolutely drives me crazy when people refer to librarians as “liberians”. Happens all the time. “Hi, I’m the liberian”. No. You are not. You are a librarian. You run a place that lends books. A Liberian lives in a country on the west coast of Africa. Mind-bendingly annoying.

The book that made me cry

This is a trick question because I cry very, very easily if the writing is any good. So most recently … Bonnie Garmus’s Lessons in Chemistry.

The book that made me laugh

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I interviewed Douglas Adams at the Regent Hotel in the 90s when I was a journalist and I was such a colossal fan and he was really horrible to me. He (was, he’s dead now) very tall and he chain-smoked Marlboros and drank endless cups of tea and clearly hated me and my endless questions because I wanted to know everything about him and the books and his episodes of Doctor Who (he was the writer on it in the glory years when Tom Baker was The Doctor) and all he wanted was to promote his new book which was called Last Chance to See and was a very serious book about the fact that we are destroying the world and animal and bird and sea mammal species are dying. I always wished I could go back in time and redo the interview and make him like me.

The book I never admit I’ve read

I have not read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand but if I had I would not admit to it.

The book character I identify with most

Adrian, in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole. Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird.

The book character I never believed

You mean as in an unreliable narrator/person right, not as in a character I didn’t believe in? In that case obviously Holden Caulfield duh. Also Mrs Price in Pet by Catherine Chidgey.

The book I wish would be made into a film or TV

Oh this is a fun question because I write for TV and also have had my books adapted for TV. And it’s a tricky business translating books to screen. I mean they really messed up Lessons in Chemistry recently! I’d like to see Curtis Sittenfeld’s Romantic Comedy because that would be meta.

From left to right: The first book Stacy Gregg remembers reading by herself; the book that made her laugh; and the book she thinks would make a good TV/film.

Most overrated book

The Da Vinci Code in equal first place with The Bonfire of The Vanities.

Most underrated book

I do rail against the literary snobbery of people who dismiss stuff that is popular without giving it a go. I know I just slagged the Da Vinci code but that’s because the writing is legendarily awful, but often if a book is popular it is because there’s something compelling about it whether you like it or not. Case in point: I once spent a whole day in bed in Madrid rather than sightseeing because I absolutely had to find out what happened to Bella and Edward. I didn’t read anymore Twilight books after that one because soppy vampire love is not my thing but I had to admit she hooked me so I acknowledge here that craft is craft. I also failed to turn up for work for two days because I was holed up in my boyfriend’s bed reading The Secret History. For me, above all else being a page turner is the ultimate aspiration.

Best thing about reading

You, the reader, are taking the text and then creating your vision of the world and the characters in your mind as you go. And if it is a really transformative novel, like for instance Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting or Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, or Tama Janowitz’s Slaves of New York you find the book tipping over into your life and suddenly you’re walking around afterwards in the real world constructing your inner dialogue in the language of the book. You see things through the characters eyes. It’s full brain immersion and it doesn’t go away. That’s what makes the novel the most powerful artform for me.

Stacy Gregg’s latest novel: a middle grade story set in Ngāruawāhia, a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults, 2024.

Best food memory from a book

Nicky Pellegrino is hands-down the best writer in the world when it comes to food descriptions. Her way with a courgette stuffed with cheese is thoroughly pornographic.

What are you reading right now?

Ann Pattchett’s Tom Lake. I’m looking forward to seeing her at the writer’s festival. I think this year’s line-up is the best in ages.

Nine Girls ($22, Penguin NZ) is available to purchase from Unity Books.

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