The Kiwi author Hollywood moviemakers can’t get enough of.

June 1, 2022

Speakeasy Christine Leunens Plain Square 2

Christine Leunens was born in Hartford, Connecticut, to an Italian mother and a Belgian father. As a teenager, she moved to Paris, where she had a close relationship with her grandfather, Guillaume Leunens, the Flemish painter and sculptor. She funded her study and early writing by modelling in Europe.

Her novels have been translated into over twenty languages.

Her debut novel,  Primordial Soup, published in the UK in 1999, was a critical success, receiving praise in The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, and Publishers Weekly.

Since its first publication in 2004, Caging Skies has become an international bestseller, translated into over twenty languages. In 2007 the French translation was nominated for the Prix Médicis Étranger and the Prix du Roman FNAC.

A Can of Sunshine was selected as ‘Best Books of the Year 2013’ in English worldwide by the NZ Herald.

She went on to earn a Master of Liberal Arts in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University in 2005 and a PhD at Victoria University of Wellington in 2012.

Hollywood moviemakers also love Leunens books. In Amber’s Wake, her latest book is the second novel to be turned into a film in recent years.
Set to be filmed in New Zealand by Mimi Polk Gitlin, the producer of the Academy Award-winning film Thelma & Louise, In Amber Wake is a powerful and passionate story about the staggering lengths some people will go for those they love that is set in New Zealand during the fast-changing, tumultuous 1980s era of the anti-nuclear movement, Springbok rugby tour protests, and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior.
Christine’s earlier book, Caging Skies, was adapted to both stage and film. The Taika Waititi film adaptation, Jojo Rabbit, was nominated in 2020 for two Golden Globes, six BAFTAS, and six Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

Christine currently lives with her family in New Zealand. She gave us some insight into her award-winning career and a taste of what to expect when she joins us for the SPEAKEASY Writers Fest.

Q & A with Christine Leunens 

How long have you been writing, or when did you start?

In my young twenties, my first writing was in the form of letters, written to people whom I was close to, letters a dozen pages or more in length. Then I wrote my first play, and within the year, I started writing film scripts – the first writing work I was paid for. After several years, I gave my first novel ago and decided to stick with the book form once it was taken for publication. When In Amber’s Wake was taken for film adaptation, I understood both forms and could write the screenplay myself.

When did you first call yourself a writer?

When I signed my first contract and received my first cheque, that gave me some kind of validation that I could do this and write professionally.

What risks have you taken with your writing that has paid off? 

I wrote Caging Skies at a war museum for five years, with no idea if it would ever be published or not. My husband and I rode our bicycles there every day – he was on a small museum salary, and I was putting all my faith into this book. I still remember the shared Tupperware of plain rice for lunch, sometimes squirting the museum cafeteria mayonnaise to fill out stomachs more. I wish I could have known back then when publication didn’t come so quickly at first, that one day this book would be published in over twenty languages and adapted to film, that one day I would see its front cover on the big screen at the Oscars.

What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?

Don’t try to guess what others might or might not like, write something you want to write, the way you want to write it. When you reread it, keep what you feel is best and trim away what isn’t as good. Follow your instinct and create your content and unique world, out of which your distinct style will arise, and then see how this book of yours fares in the publishing world.


In Amber’s Wake 
‘The relationship with Stuart was not likely to last ― it was infatuation, not love. Hers sprang from the need to feel like an adult; his from a need to feel young again after the death of his wife. In no time the cracks would start to show. She’d want to do things young people do (dance like crazy, talk extensively about every little thing), and he’d want to do things older people do (not dance like crazy, not talk extensively about every little thing). Add to that the tension from two out of three of his grown-up children not accepting her. Yup. I gave them about a month, give or take a week.’ Excerpt of In Amber’s Wake


“This is a powerful tale of love, loss, obsession, and destructive choices, interwoven with seismic political events. And, like Leunens’ previous novel, there is enough here to suggest it could well become another acclaimed movie.”
The New Zealand Listener


Christine Leunens will be at SPEAKEASY Writers Fest 

10 JULY – 12 pm 

Book your tickets from  4th Wall Theatre HERE >>>

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