Portrait from life. Ngaio Marsh

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D SERIES - Portrait from Life - Ngaio Marsh. This programme consists of narration and an edited interview with Ngaio Marsh. It includes: discussion of theatre versus the detective fiction, plot writing, technicalities of plot detail, her leisure reading, writing and editing process, detective writer's club in London, her first novel, Canterbury University Players, the need for state support of theatre, England and NewZealand. Produced by Jocelyn Holliss.

In July 1949 Penguin Books published millions of copies of Ngaio Marsh’s detective fiction which have been translated into several languages. Marsh has also written multiple plays for the New Zealand stage, productions later seen overseas.

She describes the process of her detective fiction writing; starting with characters before devising a plot and method of crime, whilst maintaining an overall written form and balance. Marsh compares the work of building material for a book over months and months to that of a barrister. She comments that her audience are largely male professionals who are ready to pull her up for any errors she may make.

Marsh doesn’t read detective novels preferring Elizabethan literature, Shakespearean plays commentary and modern novelists at bedtime. She states her fellow practitioners read and write learnedly about detective fiction. Marsh describes how Dorothy Sayers, famous for her writing rules and a member of the London based ‘Detection Club, invited her to one of their dinners which was followed by a very dramatic story about the inauguration of their new President, a Mr E.C. Bently.

During the early years of the depression when she moved to London and set-up an interior decorating shop with a friend, she also began writing travel articles for the associated press in New Zealand. At this time Marsh read her first detective novel and thought she would have a go herself.

The murder game was popular at parties in England during this period and inspired her to write ‘The Man Lay Dead’, her first book - of which she is not entirely proud. However after leaving the script with an agent and returning to New Zealand to look after her father, months later she was ”astounded” to learn it had been accepted for publication.

Marsh is better known in New Zealand for her theatrical productions. She describes how her relationship with the Canterbury University College Players began, when in 1944 when she agreed to produce a play for two young men on the stipulation the production would be ‘Hamlet’. It was followed by 'Othello' and following both plays' success, got picked up to tour New Zealand and then Australia.

Marsh explains the experience she gained working with the British Commonwealth Theatre Company, learning early on that unless a company can fill a theatre to capacity every night, it was virtually iimpossible to meet the vastly disproportionate costs of taking that performance elsewhere. Marsh explains the need for a national grant, in order to establish a flesh and blood theatre in New Zealand - as opposed to the repertory theatres, which are she believes more socially driven.

Theatre and Detective Fiction is what Ngaio Marsh is best known for. After school Marsh began art school all the while “frantic about the theatre” and during which time she wrote her first play, ‘The Medallion’. After reading the play, Alan Wilkie asked Marsh to join his Shakespeare company, which she did until they moved overseas. Promising her parents that she would not yet move overseas Marsh began producing musical shows for ‘Unlimited Charities’ that toured the country.

In 1928 Marsh went to England and has to-ed and fro-ed over the years ever since. After successfully selling goods with her friend, Nelly Rhodes for a Charity Bizarre and then for themselves on a short-term lease, the pair set-up shop in Brompton Road, London offering interior house decoration. Now, in 1954 she intends to return to England to brush up on what’s going on in the world.

Announcer Jocelyn Hollis concludes the programme with, “We’ve called this programme ‘A Portrait of Ngaio Marsh but it’s really ‘A Portrait of Ngaio Marsh at Work’ because you see Ngaio Marsh doesn’t talk about herself, she talks about what she does, not what she is, and that in itself gives you a portrait of Ngaio Marsh.”

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Year 1954

Reference number 32260

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Credits Marsh, Ngaio, 1895-1982, Speaker/Kaikōrero
Hollis, Jocelyn, Producer

Duration 00:29:05

Date 22 Aug 1954