One Question Quiz
Danielle Hawkins (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)
Danielle Hawkins (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

BooksMarch 27, 2024

‘New books are such a risk’: Danielle Hawkins’ ‘unadventurous’ reading habits

Danielle Hawkins (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)
Danielle Hawkins (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

Welcome to The Spinoff Books Confessional, in which we get to know the reading habits and quirks of New Zealanders at large. This week: novelist Danielle Hawkins.

The book I wish I’d written

Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. An excellent story (exciting, original, thought-provoking), beautifully written. That is the highest pinnacle of literary achievement.

Everyone should read

The Scholomance series by Naomi Novik. It’s just so clever and quirky and stylish. I love the snarky heroine, and I love her unflinching clarity about doing the right thing rather than the easy thing, and I love really smart, well thought-out fantasy books.

The book I want to be buried with

One I wrote, just in case archaeologists thousands of years in the future discover it and conclude it must be a great book of a bygone age.

The first book I remember reading by myself

Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary.

The book I wish I’d never read

Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews. It’s all full of child abuse and incest and furtive sexual attraction. I was 13 or 14 when I read it, and it made me feel dirty.

From left to right: the book Danielle Hawkins wishes she’d written; the book she thinks we should all read; and the book she wishes she’d never read.

Fiction or nonfiction


It’s a crime against language to… 

Use “he smirked” (or expostulated or chuckled or giggled or cried or simpered or murmured or groaned) more than once per book. “He said”, damn it. If you can’t tell how he said it from reading the dialogue, it’s bad dialogue. By the time a character has smirked (or murmured, or groaned, or whatever) three times in one chapter, I hate them.

The book that haunts me

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, about Australian prisoners of war in Burma. They were treated so horrifically, and Richard Flanagan does such a wonderful job of showing how you turn people into brutal torturers.

The book that made me laugh

So many! My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. Many of Terry Pratchett’s books. Bill Bryson’s books. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot.

If I could only read three books for the rest of my life they would be

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Henry Mitchell on Gardening by Henry Mitchell and Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. I think that would be a nice, balanced selection of humour and wisdom and adventure. But only being allowed three books is a cruel and inhuman punishment.

The book I wish would be adapted for film or TV

One of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. They would all make wonderful movies or limited series – way better than Bridgerton. I’d start with Friday’s Child or Cotillion, which are the frothiest and most charming of all. But I don’t think I’ll ever get my wish, because Heyer left instructions in her will that her books were never to be adapted for TV. (Fair enough, too – bad TV adaptations are the pits. Look at what they did to The Time Traveller’s Wife or Prince Caspian.)

The most overrated book

The Seven Sisters series. That’s a terrible confession, when they’re so widely adored, but I really dislike the way they’re written. The dialogue is so stilted and flowery – people don’t really talk like that.

From left to right: one of the books that makes Danielle Hawkins laugh; the series she thinks is overrated; and one of the books she’s choose to read for the rest of her life, if forced.

The greatest New Zealand book

The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. I read it and loved it as a teenager, and I love it even more now.

Best food memory from a book

The food in Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie books. It’s so lavish and so loving described – succulent gravy and spicy pumpkin pie and creamy egg-nog speckled with nutmeg. Yum.

The best place to read

In bed. Obviously.

Danielle Hawkins and her own, latest novel.

What are you reading right now

D E Stevenson, as usual. I read D E Stevenson and Terry Pratchett and Georgette Heyer and Naomi Novik on a continuous loop, with the odd other thing thrown in. I’m a very unadventurous reader – new books are such a risk. Sort of like blind dates.

Take Two by Danielle Hawkins (Allen & Unwin NZ) is available now from Unity Books Wellington and Auckland.

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