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Exciting new titles from Escalator Press
Work at Escalator Press is heating up as we prepare to publish not one, but two, fantastic new novels in October.
A Change of Key by Adrienne Jansen

Adrienne Jansen’s new novel A Change of Key dives into the mystery and anxiety of a life interrupted. Marko, whom we first met in The Score, has tried to make a new life for himself in a country far away from the troubles he experienced in his native Bulgaria. But now, someone is determined to expose Marko to the world once again, shattering the peace he has cultivated for himself at the – once safe – ends of the earth.

‘This novel does that wonderful thing – it makes me care. I cared about what happened to these people. I loved their inventive and imaginative actions, and the music that binds them together … There’s a rich and embracing tenderness for the characters and their story.’

– Renée

Below, Adrienne tells us about her research for the novel, which took her all the way from Wellington to Sofia.

Researching A Change of Key in Bulgaria

Sofia, Bulgaria, 2016. I was there to reconstruct the past of Marko, elusive violinist. With an excellent guide, I visited a monastery, suburban areas where Marko would have grown up, apartments where he would have lived as an adult, cafés and parks. We talked about the social context of the times. But it was the several hours with Professor Yosif Radionov at the National Academy of Music that were like gold. There were many details for this novel that I could check with experts here – the actions of the KGB/FSB, for instance – but Radionov gave me something different. On a practical level, he confirmed some details from my own research and refuted others. But more than that, he gave me a sense of that institution and that era. I have a CD of him playing Vladigerov’s ‘Bulgarian Rhapsody.’ When I need to find that sense again, I play it, over and over.
Monsters of Virtue by L. J. Ritchie

L.J. Ritchie returns with his second novel, Monsters of Virtue, a YA thriller that explores what may have happened if the eugenics-focused bill of 1928 had been passed, allowing sterilisation of the ‘mentally defective’ to openly take place in New Zealand. Ritchie creates a dystopian school that takes the best and brightest youths and makes them better, training them up to lead and breed a society of perfect New Zealanders. There has been some wonderful feedback from early readers so far, including:

‘I devoured this in one long read and enjoyed it hugely. L. J. Ritchie could easily become the John Marsden of New Zealand … There is action and even visceral violence in full measure. Above all, this novel works on you emotionally.’

– Professor Rob Watts, Professor of Social Policy at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Below, L.J. Ritchie describes the research path that led him to the fascinating themes explored in the novel.

Researching Monsters of Virtue: the darkness of New Zealand’s past

I was researching for a different story and stumbled onto a paragraph about the eugenics movement in early 20th century New Zealand, which I had previously not known existed. A few days later, I dropped everything else and started planning and researching for this story. I tend to find that’s the best thing to do when writing: if an idea stands out, follow it wherever it takes you.

The most difficult thing about researching eugenics in New Zealand was that relatively little has been written about it. There’s no single book you can read to get the whole story. I had to piece it together from many different sources – from academic articles to 1930s newspaper stories to the records of parliamentary debates. This meant that for the first year and a half, I was constantly replanning and rewriting. I would find a new piece of information and have to completely change the story to accommodate it. For example, I had been working on the book for almost a year before I found out that New Zealand had come close to passing a eugenic sterilisation law in 1928. None of the other sources I’d read had even mentioned that.

Beyond the topic of eugenics in New Zealand, I had to research the international eugenics movement, the Great Depression, and all the other big ideas covered in the book. I read Darwin and Plato and Machiavelli – all fascinating, but not the easiest books to read. Even the details of everyday life in the ’30s could be a challenge. It’s easy enough to learn about the big events in history or what prominent figures said and did. It’s a lot harder to get a sense of the lives of ordinary people, especially those who were young, working class, or female – and some of my characters are all three.

Author photo courtesy of Rachel Kemp.
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Escalator Press · Whitireia New Zealand · SX33471 · Wellington, Wellington 6011 · New Zealand

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