You’ve heard him on radio and seen him on television. Now Auckland journalist, David Burke-Kennedy, has penned his first book – a fictional saga of Victorian-era colonial expansion.
By Sandy Myhre
It was Joanna Trollope who said a novelist doesn’t become competent at literary crafting until at least middle aged.
That being the case, Auckland’s David Burke-Kennedy is qualified to pen his first novel and Legacy of Strangers is the first of what is intended to be a trilogy.
DBK might be new at the book writing game but he is no stranger to the written word. He has enjoyed a career in broadcasting, journalism and public relations and his phrasing experience and expert word power certainly shows in Legacy of Strangers.
This is a ripping yarn encompassing our own heritage during the Victorian-era colonial expansionist phrase. How many of us have heard family tales of forebears arriving in New Zealand to start a new life? What DBK has done is to interlace his characters around that familial account, starting in the countries from whence they came, and detailing what they experienced when they arrived here.
He hasn’t held back on gritty drama, tragedy, love, lust and violence and, in fact, his dogged research paints of picture of what life must have really been like when fresh-off-the-boat immigrants landed. Here’s Jarlath (one of his principal characters) observing early Auckland…
“There were almost 700 buildings in the town, half the total number in the district……he also had his first encounters with Maori.
“They spoke good English – some had learned from missionaries or at a Wesleyan school established on the edge of the township. A few houses were stone or brick but most were timber and only a handful were more than a single-story high. The town urgently needed more to cope with the influx of immigrants arriving each month from Britain and Australia….”
This is a far better way to learn about early colonial New Zealand than from the dry old history tomes we waded through at school or varsity. The author makes the lives of those he portrays almost tangible because we recognize a street, a town, the bush or the coastline where he has placed his characters.
Add to that a fair dollop of emotional drama, psychological and physiological tension, fluctuating ethos and pathos to keep us enthralled. It’s no surprise, given the spurious legal charges that sent many of them to the colonies in the first place, that one or more of his male characters operate at the dodgy end of the social spectrum. Some are thieves and blaggards and he portrays them well.
The book also presents the seamier side of life that women had to endure during those times. Quite a few young ladies in Legacy of Strangers are prostitutes because, as they explain through this book, they considered they had no other choice. It’s certainly a side of colonial New Zealand our history teachers glossed over, if it was mentioned at all, so full marks to David Burke-Kennedy for even fictionalizing what probably was and making that statement through his characters.
Legacy of Strangers is hard to put down for all sorts of reasons and we can look forward to book two to see what happens. As they say in radio circles, stay tuned.