WORD Christchurch 2023: Amy Head, Signs of Life

Last night local author Amy Head launched her third book, Signs of Life, at Scorpio Books.

Signs of Life

Wine flowed, while Scorpio overflowed with excitement, people taking selfies, literati and library colleagues, friends and family. 

Written during Amy's time as the Ursula Bethell Writer in Residence at University of Canterbury (and the first story written during lockdown), Signs of Life is about lives left up in the air, seeking redefinition, re-establishment, in a disrupted city in the aftermath of the Canterbury quakes. 

This is eloquently referenced by the iconic, floating, shipping container on the translucent cover.

Head's editor, Anna Knox, sees Signs of Life as 'a discontinuous novel' - you can dip into it anywhere - with brilliantly adept observations of human experience.

Friend and fellow writer David Coventry described how Amy's haunted characters evoke a feeling of immediacy and fear, communicated over the distance of disrupted time - when lives were tilted: showing the broken, forgotten and invisible disabled, crying; we're alive! We exist!

Amy Head came back to a very changed city in 2015 and felt that these stories, with aftershocks that are still impacting lives even now, needed to be told.

Accounts of the quakes themselves, she says, have trivialised the lives impacted by them. Fiction is able to celebrate these resilient people. It's a brave thing to chronicle.

Amy puts her characters back together '...as the future might hold them...' says David. Her chapter on Ernest Rutherford, splitting the atom, draws a parallel to chain reactions set off in residents' lives as a result of the earthquakes. 

Time is a theme in Head's work, she says. She can focus on a particular era and imagine life going on there.

How this turbulent time in Christchurch's recent history affects her characters' lives, and how they react to their revised, up-ended existence, informs and drives the story; much like a 360 degree photograph adds life to a landscape.

Amy's work exhibits a quiet mastery of the intimate moments of New Zealanders lives, says David.

The carpark was full of cars, the forest had absorbed the people.

The author read an excerpt where the character Flick is jogging in a forest as a logging truck pursues her. It's ominous, threatening, like a scene from Stephen King's Road Rage. Yet Flick toys with hopping sideways into the trees out of the way, leaving it to the last moment.

Tony is alive, but everyone thinks he's dead, and there's an out of control community patroller.

Head's characters find redemption in humour under all the wreckage. It's part of our have a cuppa and get on with it kiwi way?

Head was born in Auckland and studied for her BA at the University of Canterbury, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts. She went on to gain a Master of Arts in creative writing from the Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. 

Amy's first book, Tough; a collection of short stories, won New Zealand Society of Authors' Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction.  

Scorpio Books has long been a partner of WORD Festival, and independently sponsors wonderful events supporting local authors. Thanks Scorpio!

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