Wellington Scoop
Network

Kim Hunt and her badass characters

kim hunt edited

by Marian Evans
I loved Kim Hunt’s crime novel The Beautiful Dead when I read it. Loved her protagonist, Cal Nyx. Could see the movie. Now The Beautiful Dead has been short-listed in the Ngaio Marsh Awards, Best First Novel category. And Kim has completed the second in the Cal Nyx series, The Quarry, and is working on a third.

This Otaki crime writer has also finished a standalone novel and has an elegant website that includes a blog about cars, bikes, her stealth camper and botanicals.

Where did Cal Nyx come from? What do you love about her?

I came to writing crime fiction kinda late. It had been suggested to me many years ago when I was an undergrad, possibly because of the dark nature of my work, but I veered away because of the generally disparaging attitude to genre fiction, that it’s somehow a lesser form. Sometime later, when I cared less about those attitudes, crime fiction really appealed. The styles of the form meant there was a framework I could hang my stories from. It actually gave me enormous freedom to develop kick-ass queer characters with real depth and drop them into trouble and adventures.

Cal Nyx evolved from a long planning session. I tend to hit the road before I start a new project, clear my head, ponder ideas away from my usual routines. I wanted a really strong protagonist who worked solo, happy to move about in in both urban and rural environments. Being a park ranger meant she could move about freely and of course she’s in the outdoors which I love. But she also has an inner-city base. She’s complex.

There’s that hackneyed trope of the female character in a sticky situation rescued by a bloke and I wanted very much to redress that. I wanted to write a highly competent, resourceful, if flawed, female protagonist. Cal is an ‘amateur sleuth’, someone not constricted by the rules which bind police, though elements of police procedural do come into the story via Cal’s lover, Detective Inspector Liz Scobie.

I love that Cal is so capable and courageous and has these colourful mates she can call on if she needs specialist, sometimes underground help. I love her imperfection and bravery. She’s not without fear, but she somehow gets stuff done. She makes mistakes and she’s a twit at times in her relationship with Scobie, but she’s also very determined and driven. And I love that despite some awful things in her past, she’s still open-hearted and decent. I love that she’s so human and has excellent taste in cars.

car
I’ve had a number of fab classic vehicles over the years. I miss the ones I’ve had to sell, but enjoy my current 1976 Triumph TC2500.

On your website, you refer to your ‘badass female characters’. What does ‘badass’ mean to you?

I think of the term ‘badass’ as applied to hot-rods and custom machines. They’re utterly unique, total one-offs, often highly powered (over-powered even, but maybe there’s no such thing.) So, when I say badass female characters, I mean women prepared to cross lines to get stuff done, I guess they’re more or less a bit wayward, unorthodox, courageous and driven in any combination. As in cool, tough, awesome. Lots of different women could be considered badass. In my novels, Cal has those tendencies. In The Quarry, two of her band of ‘helpful friends’, Gina and Pirate, are kinda badass too, each in entirely different ways. My use of the word is a positive one, it’s complimentary. Like a badass custom, they’re really fast, awesome, almost scary, but cool. Excellent.

kim's truck
The Austin ute was my work truck when I was a floor and wall tiler in Sydney and doing undergrad study. I had the ute modified with a Datsun 180B engine, Holden Torana brakes and steering. The firewall and transmission tunnel were re fabricated to fit the new gear. The ute was strong and reliable and I had lots of great times in it.

You’re from Aotearoa New Zealand but the series is set in Australia. Why’s that?

I lived in Aus for much of my adult life, nearly 25 years in total. At the time I began Cal’s story, I’d moved back to Aotearoa. I wanted to set something here, but my process seems to be that I can write about the place when I’m not actually situated within it, as if I’m remembering it. So, Cal’s stories just seemed more comfortably sited in NSW.

kim's motorbike
The Triumph hardtail motorbike I used to ride to and from the South Coast of NSW where I was living to the University of Sydney when I was doing my Master of Letters. I had some long, cold rides home at night after my classes. The southern freeway through the National Park was dark and lonely at night. I felt very hardcore. No rear suspension on the frame.

It’s that writing from a distance thing, I guess. I do have a standalone set here in Aotearoa and I want to write more stories set here, but maybe I’ll need to move overseas to do it.

Have you always been a reader and has crime fiction always been what you love to read?

Sadly, I was never a big reader as a child. I was too busy immersed in full-throttle childhood scrapes with fort building and hammering homemade trolleys down steep Wellington streets, wearing out my gumboots using them as brakes. When I did read, I loved myths and legends from other cultures and I loved comic westerns. But, when I eventually found her, I loved Agatha Christie’s work for the mystery puzzles, racism and classism notwithstanding.

My first writing was literary fiction but it seemed so amorphous. Later, drawn to the darkness of crime fiction, I related to the structure of it. The narrative framework of crime fiction gave me a skeleton to hang a story from.

In terms of influence, as a reader I like crime fiction which has a spare style and I love tripping over a working-class protagonist (eg Emma Viskic’s Caleb Zelic). I prefer action to psychological thrillers, so I guess my writing is influenced by what I like to read myself, though I don’t just read crime fiction. Some of my favourite authors are Annie Proulx, Gregg Hurwitz, Michael Ondaatje, Joyce Carol Oates, S. A. Cosby. I still find Thomas Harris’s Hannibal books astounding. What a feat to make such a killer sympathetic.

Currently I just write crime fiction, and my occasional blog, but I’ve recently begun accumulating material and plotting a new series and character which will have a slightly different flavour to the Cal Nyx series.

I don’t write for trade journals but maybe I should serialise something for a hot-rod or native plant magazine. I don’t really have huge expertise in those areas, just passion and enthusiasm.

In what ways is Cal a bit like you? I can imagine you being mates: you’d have lots of shared interests: love of the natural world, of automotives (and possibly stealth camper projects). Who could play her in a screen adaptation?

Cal’s taller and braver and better looking than me but we definitely have shared interests. I’d love a mate like her when I falter with a project or need another pair of hands or know-how.

A screen adaptation would be fun. I guess an actor’s job is to play any character, but naturally I would love to see a queer actor play Cal. It’s so rare to see queer actors playing queer characters. Blew my mind in the Netflix series Ratched, the onscreen kiss between Sarah Paulson and Cynthia Nixon. Shouldn’t be a big deal, but after 63 years on this planet, it was a first for me, it’s not something I take for granted.

I’d love to see Cal played by someone with lived experience. Cal is butch and working class. It would be great to run through a list of actors who could more easily slip into that role, but sadly, there are very few examples that come to mind. I can’t help but wonder, seeing some of Clea Duvall’s older work, if she stepped off the Hollywood red carpet and was given a roughed up make-over, we might see a pretty good approximation of Cal.

You refer to eco-fiction in your twitter profile. What does eco-fiction mean to you and in your writing?

I take it to mean that the ‘natural environment’ is very much to the forefront in my stories. I’ve been told that the landscape appears like another character in my work. Cal is attuned to her surrounds and the critters and plants that live there. I try not to be heavy handed, but the bushland is very present in my stories.

hut
The studio Kim built

You’re amazingly productive. What fuels you?

I’m fuelled by my environment, by peaceful surrounds and creatures. I’m also fuelled by other freaks and creatives, seeing them do their thing, being unique, just getting on and doing stuff no matter what impediments stand in their way. Doing things with few resources forces you to be creative. It’s hard graft but it’s intensly satisfying.

You live on the Kapiti Coast, where there are many other hardworking accomplished writers like Renée and Mandy Hager and lots of artists. Does that environment support your writing practice?

Well, I love this part of the world. I was born at Makara on Wellington’s south coast. A wild, windswept and rocky place with rugged towering hills. Stunning, broody and magical. I could never live far from the sea. Hills and mountains, I don’t feel hemmed in by them, in fact, I feel claustro if I’m on the flat. I also live surrounded by native trees I planted years ago to bring the birds, so I’m very much fed by those things. I love a gritty urban environment, it energises me in a different way. But I wouldn’t survive very well away from trees and birds and insects.

I had some amazing peers in Aus and I miss them. But I have friends here who’re creatives and my partner Biz is also a creative. I get that mentality. And Otaki is an amazing wee town. It’s pretty chill, and there’s so much going on in the community with the Te Wānanga o Raukawa tertiary institution and the Māoriland Hub and alternative energy stuff.

book

First published in Spiral Collectives