The painting on the cover of Bleak City is called Cashel Street, and its by local artist Liam Dangerfield. It shows the Bridge of Remembrance on the Avon River, which lies at the end of Christchurch’s main shopping drag, Cashel Mall. The first time I saw the painting was the opening night of Liam’s first solo show in April 2016, while I was in the middle of writing the last half of Bleak City. The works in his show were all about Christchurch, the ruins of its buildings and its changing cityscape.
My husband and I were both overwhelmed by the multiple meanings we saw in Liam’s works. I couldn’t make up my mind over which one I liked best and kept bouncing between ones that kept prompting memories from my thirty years living in Christchurch. But my husband kept going back to Cashel Street. We purchased the painting and hung it in our lounge, and during the revision stage, I kept coming back to it, asking myself why it had such strong appeal. I folded the answers to that question back into the story. Liam’s art fed the revision process.
The heart of the reason I started writing Bleak City was because of the incredible sadness I felt over what had happened to the people of Christchurch in the quakes and following. People died and that, first and foremost, should never be forgotten. The people who loved them have been changed, and that there has been no justice for those deaths that resulted because of bureaucratic error and neglect says something unpleasant about how our little country at the bottom of the Pacific works. Tens of thousands more have been changed by the insurance process. Many of these people are the walking dead.
I am not a reader of horror or supernatural fiction and related TV shows don’t appeal to me, but yes, I do know there is a TV show called The Walking Dead. My disinterest in that particular stream of fiction is that I find far more terrifying what people actually do to one another, and by that I don’t mean the criminal predators who are the fodder for other fiction genres. Who needs monsters when profit-driven, uncaring, inept bureaucracies are perfectly capable of killing people and destroying their lives?