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Anna Mackenzie

Biography

Anna Mackenzie (1963) is one of the leading authors of fiction for young adults in New Zealand. All of the seven novels she has published met with acclaim from critics and readers alike. When not writing fiction, she works as an editor, teaches creative writing and coaches aspiring writers. Mackenzie was trained as a psychologist and lives on a farm in Hawke's Bay.

High Tide (2003), Mackenzie's debut was named a Notable Book by the Storylines Children's Literature Foundation. The Sea-wreck Stranger (2007), the first installment of a much acclaimed post-apocalyptic fantasy trilogy, won the 2008 Sir Julius Vogel Award and the NZ Post Honour Award, and was featured on the prestigious White Ravens' Outstanding New International Books for Children and Young Adults list. The second part, Ebony Hill (2010) was shortlisted for the NZ Post Children's Book Awards. The final book of the trilogy, Finder's Shore, was published in 2011. Other titles by Mackenzie are Out on the Edge (2005) and Shadow of the Mountain (2008). April 2013 saw the publication of Cattra's Legacy, a fantasy adventure story. Mackenzie's work has also been published in Australia and France.

During her residency, Anna Mackenzie finished Evie's War, the story of three New-Zealanders doing their service in Belgium during the First World War.

 

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Authors' text

Spillikens

The rain had turned to sleet. At the corner of No4 the duckboards were completely under water. Kate jumped but missed her footing, going down hard on one knee.

Christopher watched as she picked herself up. One side of her skirt was soaked and clung to her calf. That coat was useless in this weather. He threw his cigarette on the ground where it fizzled quickly against the sodden earth. The sky was brittle as old parchment, dark scribbles of cloud like smudged ink.

He closed the door of the hut, alone for once. Through the hollow years of childhood, of never quite fitting, he'd failed to understand how luxurious ‘alone' might come to feel. Gift of a malicious God: you had only to discover you wanted something, enjoyed something, to lose it.

He checked the time. Fifteen minutes: not worth trying to sleep. Kitteridge's letter was lying open on his bunk, the handwriting looping in broad purple curls that could only be written by a woman. Did anyone's mother write in purple ink? The words ‘can't see why you would think I' sprang out at him, and he turned his eyes away with a small lancing of guilt.

Kitteridge was all right really. Snored like a bloody freight train, but Christopher could sleep through anything now; he'd have long since gone mad otherwise. What he couldn't stand was the way Kit tapped his razor against the bowl. Tap-tippity-tap. Every stroke the same, very precise. Tap-tippity-tap. Too small a thing to warrant mentioning, and it wasn't as if his irritation was rational, it was just there, a furred edge along his teeth, a burr of tension rising through his torso. He made a point of leaving the hut whenever Kit was shaving; went to the latrines, checked the mail, Christ, he'd even visited the Chaplain once, startling the man near to death - and it wasn't as if he didn't have enough of that. Thankless bloody job. The Chaplain had counselled tolerance, and apparently failed to see the irony.

Christopher lay on his bunk and twisted his hips to either side, coaxing a trio of clicks from his lower spine. The rain against the tin blurred into a single continuous sound, like an engine running rough. A memory surfaced, of the first time he'd seen a motorcar. It had been in Rigden High Street; he must have been nine or ten. His Mam had gripped his hand and pulled him back into a shop doorway as if the thing was a beast that might leap the pavement and attack them. He'd tried to get free to see it properly but she'd been having none of that. As it passed it had farted out an enormous belch of blue smoke, putting him in mind of his Grandfather after Sunday lunch. Mam wouldn't have thanked him for that observation; it would have earned him a belt around the head.

That was the thing about being alone: your thoughts drifted off to God knew where. He checked his watch again - eight minutes. It was people who tethered you to the present. Closing his eyes he saw that looping handwriting on Kit's bed. He hadn't had a letter in six weeks, let alone one written in purple ink.

 

Kate pulled on a smock and checked her hair was pinned securely.  She'd dried off as best she could but her skirt hung clammy-cold against her legs.

"Raining cats and dogs." Olly gestured toward the door, ash falling from her cigarette.

"Yes," Kate agreed, testing her weight on her right leg. She'd taken a dozen steps before the twang in her knee had announced itself, but it had given no trouble since. "Better not keep him waiting."

Olly inhaled a final lungful and tamped the glowing tip in the sink where it gave a protesting hiss. Her smile was a sharp stretch of skin across cheekbones.

Eusol and chloroform assailed them as they entered the theatre. The other table was already prepping.

"If you please, ladies." Cotterel didn't like to fall behind. "Right leg, four inches above the knee; shrapnel secondaries; some pelvic damage."

At the end of the table Kate lifted the chloroform cone. It was easiest not to think of them as people till after. Bandaged, they returned to being men, incomplete often enough, but men nonetheless. Here they were meat: cuts and joints. Cotterel's scalpel made the first incision. Discard the ruined and make do. Her mother had made-over dresses the same way: snipping away the torn and tattered and trying to stretch what was left to make it more than it was.

 

Christopher found the primary source of bleeding and tied it off. His hands were slippery. "Take the clamp," he instructed. "Keep it firm."

Blood arced up.

"For God's sake, Oates."

Cotterel's back was to them but he was sure to have seen it. Once he had the bleeding under control Christopher risked a look, but it was the nurse who was watching, the one who'd fallen. He wondered, irrelevantly, whether she'd had time to change her skirt.

"Sorry," Oates muttered. "Thought I had it."

More likely it was the patient who'd had it. He kept the observation to himself.

Cotterel completed the amputation and moved on to the shrapnel. Kate had thought the innocuous little balls like marbles the first time she'd seen them, held out by a soldier proud of his mementoes even though they'd left him with fist-sized fissures in his thigh. This one's mementoes would be worse: chunks of flesh torn from his side, the ilium reduced to shards of bone like bloodied spillikens.

"Precious little we can do with that." Cotterel pincered them out before handing over. "Yours to close." Withdrawal from hostilities, she'd once heard him call it.

Kitteridge's hands lacked certainty. Kate watched him fumble a stitch, turned from his tippity-tap on the enamel bowl to lift the cone. The man's breathing was steady. Boy's, rather - the down on his cheeks was still wispy. She thought briefly of his mother and willed him fiercely to survive. She didn't always - sometimes they were better without that burden placed upon them - but it was harder when they were young; it always brought to mind her brothers.

As she turned to help Olly bandage, her knee shrieked a protest. She steadied herself on the table. Olly glanced up, misunderstanding. "Channel train for this one."

Kate forced a smile. "God willing."

"God willed him here. Apparently." Cotterel signalled the orderlies and they hefted the boy aside. He studied the next case. "Another hack job. We might save the left."

The orderly who had cut the boots away had placed the one with the foot still inside it on the stretcher beside his body - perhaps he'd thought they might re-attach it. Cotterel set it aside with surprising tenderness.

Kate pushed the hair from his face and lifted an eyelid. He'd been dosed with morphine. She reached for the tally but there was nothing noted down.

"We'll see how we go on," Cotterel said. "It might be enough." "Is it ever?" She heard the words as if someone else had spoken them, and blinked in surprise.

The shift around Cotterel's eyes almost suggested a smile. "Just so." 

 

© Anna Mackenzie 2013

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