Sir James McNeish, novelist, playwright, journalist, broadcaster and biographer, is the author of nine novels, 14 works of fiction, four plays and numerous articles and essays. He has travelled extensively in Europe and Israel and lived in London, Sicily and Berlin, and his work is reflective of his knowledge of many lands. In 1958 he travelled to the UK as a deckhand on a Norwegian freighter. He worked with Joan Littlewood in the Theatre Royal in the East End of London, and her spirit of socially committed drama left an impression not only on his plays but also on his novels. As a freelance journalist he also worked for the BBC, the Guardian and the Observer. Best known for Lovelock (nominated for the 1986 Booker Prize), Mackenzie (1970), Dance of the Peacocks and his psychological investigation of the Bain murders, The Mask of Sanity (1997). His work has received acclaim both in New Zealand and internationally.
In 1973 McNeish received the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship and in 2010 he received the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement in Non-Fiction and was appointed Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order for services to literature in 2011. The New Zealand Listener noted that McNeish’s standing is ‘perhaps unique among New Zealand writers in the facility with which he has moved back and forth between fiction and non-fiction’, while The New Zealand Herald has identified him as ‘A major figure in New Zealand literature . . . His writing is masterful, his attention to detail and his ear for long-ago conversations extraordinary. Most of all, he writes with an emotion that touches the spirit.’
Sir James lived in Wellington, New Zealand, with his wife, Helen, Lady McNeish. He passed away aged 85, several days after submitting his final manuscript, Breaking Ranks, to HarperCollins for publication in April 2017.