Paddy Richardson on place-setting: getting it right

Paddy Richardson, the 2019 CNZ Randell Cottage Writing Fellow, says she loves research but there is no substitute for actually treading the same ground as the characters she’s writing about. Her Randell project, The Green of the Spring, focuses on the experiences of Otto Bader, a German internee on Matiu Somes Island during WWI. The great value of the Randell residency was the opportunity it gave her to get to know Wellington and to visit and stay on the island.

“Place-setting – getting that right – has always been extremely important to me as a writer. Being on Matiu Somes Island enabled me to fully experience the island – the landscape, the sea, the wildlife and the weather – which made these men’s experiences so much more real to me,” she says.

This extract from Paddy’s Randell project The Green of the Spring is a wonderful demonstration of how that lived experience, that empathy, can be transferred to the page:


And there is the city, Wellington, rising in the distance, tantalising us with her buildings and her busy-ness, reminding us of the freedom we once had, and of that world in which we are now unwelcome. The island, though, Pansy.  Although on some days we are tormented by the most driving of winds, the island is beautiful, with the roll and glisten of the harbour and the hills about us, the mornings so still and the sky shot pink. It is the island I turn to when I need comfort. I walk across the cliffs and up to the highest points of the island. I watch the seals basking and diving, watch the sea-birds which appear to experience such joy and ebullience in their gliding across these wide skies; I am certain they fly for the sheer pleasure of it, nobody could persuade me different.  And I swim. Pansy, swimming in the ocean with that first rush of chill which turns to warmth as your body becomes accustomed to the temperature, the rise and dip of the waves and, above all, that feeling of being alone in all that vastness, well it is marvellous.  The city seems so close that I feel almost I could make it over there. I wonder what Wellington would make of a drenched and naked German arriving on her shores.