It’s not common in New Zealand society to wear the word “poor” proudly on your sleeve. To conjure prose from your poverty. To draw on your turmoils and shitty food and old things and create literature that speaks proudly of your roots. Yet Dominic Hoey, aka Tourettes, has built his career on being the underdog.
In his recently-released first novel, Iceland, 39-year-old Hoey remembers the streets of his youth in Grey Lynn, depicts a romance and ruminates on the world, youth and society.
Organising our interview, I suggest Grey Lynn cafe Kokako, a vegetarian spot I imagined Hoey, a vegan, would jump at. But no. “It sounds silly but I try not to go to Kokako since they replaced the post office and bank,” he emails me. “They” is a term he often uses to refer to the status quo, a structure that never favoured him or his friends.
We settle for Occam near the top of Williamson Ave, a couple of streets away from where he grew up on Firth Rd. When I arrive, I find him staring across the road, his phone sitting unused on the table. He’s heavily tattooed, wearing baggy jeans and multiple layers, grey hoodie on top.
I ask him about his reservations about Kokako. “It’s not Kokako’s fault, but that was actually the post office, that was a thing people were fighting against, the closing of that, because there’s still heaps of poor people and old people who live down that hill and that was their bank and their post office. I feel like if you have to live under capitalism, you may as well do some kind of voting for your money.”
Hoey’s passionate distaste for capitalism has fuelled his spoken-word poetry for years, and now his political and social views have trickled into his novel, a romance with a heavily political undertone.
Iceland was written in 2012, after Hoey broke up with a long-term girlfriend and, when drunk one evening, applied for an artist residency in SkagastrÖnd, Iceland.
The book, written in Iceland and a work-in-progress for the past five years, was inspired by how Hoey’s youth in Grey Lynn shaped who he is today. He wanted to make heroes out of the marginalised, the underdogs, so the story follows protagonists Hamish and Zlata: drug-users, musicians, dreamers and artists in the punk scene in Auckland.
“Under capitalism, there has to be an underclass, and if you’re in that it doesn’t mean you’re stupid or your parents are stupid or there’s anything wrong with you,” says Hoey.
The novel presents a rose-tinted view of the past, before gentrification forced Hoey and his friends out of the central-city fringe. “It’s that feeling of being forced out because of the rents, you know, and people who didn’t grow up here just buying everything and being like, ‘fuck off’. There was something where they were doing some redevelopment and they literally said they were going to bring a better caste of people here. It’s so blatant, you know? That kind of class divide.”
Now, Hoey, who is about to move from Sandringham to Titirangi, feels no affinity to the area where he grew up. “Every other month, someone’s getting kicked out of their flat and getting forced further and further out of the city. When I left home, it was still really shit but at least you could get a place, but now I don’t know where the fuck people live.”
Hoey created Hamish and Zlata and their love story as a tribute to his friends, feeling that he didn’t ever see heroes made out of the people existing at the edges of neoliberal societies.
“I don’t normally talk like this, but I felt like this was something that I had to write, and not that this book’s going to change anything, but I just kept on coming back to the story over and over again,” he says.
“My friends who grew up here and lived lives similar to the characters in the book, those are the people that it has really resonated with, and it just meant so much when they read it.”
Iceland, By Dominic Hoey (Steele Roberts, $34.99).
This is published in the July- August 2017 issue of Metro.