Photographer and author Grant Sheehan
Grant Sheehan is a Wellington-based photographer, editor and writer. His work has appeared in magazines and newspapers such as Condé Nast Traveler, The Telegraph, New York Times and in over 30 books. His recent books include The Night Watchers: New Zealand Nightscapes, (2018) Does Ava Dream? (2020) – about artificial intelligence, its development and implications – and three books for children, about New Zealand lighthouses. Sheehan’s latest book, In Memory of Travel, not only takes the reader on a roller coaster ride around the globe, but explores both the place travel occupies in our memory and the near future of travel .
What book do you wish you had written and why?
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. A great story with fascinating characters and a well-drawn setting, it oscillates between historical novel and thriller and is full of humor and irony.
Which writer do you turn to when you have writer’s block?
Fortunately, I don’t suffer much from writer’s block; This is mainly because a lot of my writing is either essay or introduction to my photography books, so there are always photos to draw from. With my current book In Memory of the Journey, each story was first written from memory, then cross-referenced with photographs taken at the time. Photos can often work as little memory bombs.
* How I write: Karen Nimmo considers domestic noir thrillers a guilty pleasure – the ordinary craziness of life
* How I Write: Dan Salmon finds that poetry opens him up to language
* How I write: Chris Tse listens to music for inspiration
Which book had such an impact on you that you bought it for your friends?
Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry for the Future. It’s a powerful and compelling story set in the near future that emerges from a catastrophic climate event to explore a number of constructive and actionable ideas about the climate crisis. A book about hope.
What book do you go back to from time to time to re-read?
The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, set in Botswana. These stories are beautifully written, evocative and moving. Each book has multiple stories that run parallel but interconnect, a technique that really lends itself to re-reading.
What authors would you like in your book club?
Andy Weir, Matt Haig, Tade Thompson, Kazuo Ishiguro, William Ford Gibson, Amor Towles plus about 100 others…
What book did you read as a child or teenager that had a profound effect on you?
As a 13-year-old school librarian, I read The Hobbit, which led me to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I re-read them several times as an adult, the last time just before the release of Peter Jackson’s first film, knowing that when I saw the films, the characters would not live on in my mind the same way.
Have you ever finished a book and gone right back to the beginning to read again?
Although I don’t remember doing this, I often go back to books I’ve just read, re-reading sections or passages. Recent examples are Carlo Rovelli’s Heligoland and Gaia theorist James Lovelock’s 2019 (which he completed at the age of 99).
When it comes to a memorable book, what’s more important, a great plot or great characters?
While both are important, I feel that strong characters hold sway because in most cases they are the drivers of the story and the reader is more likely to connect emotionally with them than any other aspect. Without a good plot, even strong characters can get bogged down.
What is your writing routine?
I mostly write early in the morning, as I often wake up around 3 or 4 in the morning, write on my iPad, then email it to my office computer and edit it during the day. This piecemeal system seems to work well for me.
What “must read” book haven’t you read? Go on, confess
The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis – I’ve seen the 1976 film with David Bowie and the 2021 TV series, but haven’t read the book yet. It was described by American writer James Sallis as “among the best science fiction novels”.