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  • Published: 4 April 2023
  • ISBN: 9780143777618
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $40.00

Laughing at the Dark

a memoir

‘My own first memory is the cupboard door, and laughing, erupting with laughter’ - a memoir about finding an identity, a voice and laughter.

From the best-selling and acclaimed author Barbara Else, Laughing at the Dark is a funny, moving memoir about how she rebelled against being a ‘good girl’.

By the time she was in her forties, Barbara was married to a globally recognised academic physician and had two beautiful teenage daughters. As her writing career developed, her husband became angry at the prospect of her being anything but a housewife. In a moment of madness — or realisation — she packed her car and took off to live with the man who would become her second husband.

With her trademark wit and humour, Barbara poignantly describes her transformation from a shy but stubborn child into a fulfilled and successful adult.

‘I laughed and laughed, and I cried and cried. It’s got everything in it except a murder.’ — Lesley Graham, soprano (and totally unbiased sister)

  • Published: 4 April 2023
  • ISBN: 9780143777618
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $40.00

About the author

Barbara Else

Barbara Else is an acclaimed writer and editor whose writing is distinguished by its acerbic wit and sharp observation and is often concerned with ‘bringing women out of the shadows’. In a career spanning three decades, she has written plays, short stories, novels for adults, children’s novels and a non-fiction work, and has edited collections of stories for children. She has held a number of fellowships and residencies: the Victoria University of Wellington’s Writer’s Fellowship 1999; the Creative New Zealand Scholarship in Letters 2004 and the University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence 2016. She was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2005. Through her work as a literary agent and assessor, she has discovered and mentored a number of emerging New Zealand writers, many of whom are now award-winning writers in their own right, and she was instrumental in setting up the New Zealand Association of Literary Agents and New Zealand Association of Manuscript Assessors. She has won multiple awards in New Zealand for her children’s books, including Storylines Notable Book Awards, Honour Awards and the Esther Glen Medal, and has been internationally recognised at Bologna with a White Raven. In 2016 Barbara received the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal in recognition of her services to children’s literature.

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Praise for Laughing at the Dark

It's really visceral . . . it's darkly funny . . . it's just fantastic. The style is quite unique . . . really pacey, it's energy filled . . . in this memoir she really efficiently describes the patriarchy and its impact on her. . . seeing it laid bare is really powerful . . . not a note out, it's absolutely bang on.

Sonja de Friez, Nine to noon, Radio NZ

This intoxicating memoir by a New Zealand novelist and children's writer is a portrait of so much more than one woman's life, though it does much to argue the value that should be placed on one woman's life. . . . This book is gorgeous, full of love and laughter; it is incredibly moving and a vivid portrait of how the feminism of the 1970s rose out of domestic necessity.

Jane Arthur, The Dominion Post

I loved reading this book, I feel completely wrapped in its unfolding disclosures, the fluent writing, the accumulation of personal connections. . . . This is a memoir of “becoming”, of becoming mother, writer, lover, woman. It is written in the present tense, an intricate and satisfying layering that renders each scene so much more powerfully. . . . More than anything, the memoir affects me along the intricate threads and resonances of women “becoming”. . . . Barbara’s story touches upon the stories of how many women have undone the shackles of thinking and being defined by men. This is her unique story but it will resonate with many readers. It is a story of rebellion and courage, of listening to one’s inner voice and finding ways to make the interior dream a physical and intellectual reality. It is a story of empathy and connection. . . . This is a gift of a book, and I am so grateful to have read it.

Paula Green, NZ Poetry Shelf

Else's writing is crisp, honest and teeming with moments that women of all ages will relate to. Her descriptions of the writing process are particularly fascinating - not to mention the juicy titbits about NZ publishing! With her trademark wit and humour, Barbara poignantly describes the inspiring metamorphosis of a (so-called) ordinary life.

Bel Moneypenny, Weekend Press

Else writes with utter honesty as she navigates the many paths and threads her life has taken. Rather than a linear, past to present movement, the writing is thematic, reflective. Some of the chapters begin with moments at the hospital or at the oncologist’s office where she waits for news or contemplates the details of her illness. She does not hold back on her grief, there is no “bottling up.” There is the horrifying news that the chemo has not worked but then hope; she has been selected for trial drug treatment. But always, as throughout the memoir, Else brings her own wry humour to the situations she must confront. I am of Barbara Else’s generation, also brought up with the strictures and rules of the time, also a writer. I nodded, smiled, sometimes wept as I read this enthralling, moving and elegantly written memoir. Else takes the reader on a passage through her own life which is also the lives of so many women of her generation who have been able to slip the mores which bound our destinations and destinies and find our best lives.

Paddy Richardson, NZ Booklovers

Laughing at the Dark is the book I have wanted to read for a long time. For a kid growing up in the 1960s and 70s, it chronicles a life I hoped was unfolding for women – a true tale of independence and grit which could just as easily (though less lyrically) have been titled “Escape from the Patriarchy”. . . . Many stories – like Else never knowing how much her husband earned, he just put money into a joint account for housekeeping and the rest was a mystery – will either sound shocking or familiar to readers, depending. . . . We are never asked to think of Jim as a monster – there are kind and loving stories of a man who wanted to be a good husband and father. As much as anyone, he is a victim of the times, of family and societal expectations, of the patriarchy – a word Jim would likely have not allowed in his house, along with any copies of feminist magazine Broadsheet.

Michele A'Court, The Spinoff

I was absolutely engrossed, so beautifully written, so amazingly well structured . . . I think Laughing at the Dark is also a really important record of what life was like for women in the 60s and 70s,

Catherine Robertson, National Radio

Barbara Else is recognised as one of our most delightful novelists after publishing The Warrior Queen. This is her memoir, and it's glorious. It's more than just a memoir, it's a humorous and rebellious story of her life, battling the patriarchy and avoiding being a handmaiden. . . . Her memoir is funny, truthful, unsparing and real.

Linda Thompson, Bay of Plenty Times

a galloping good read . . .

Fiona Kidman, newsroom

Feminism and women's sensibility flow lightly throughout New Zealand writer, editor, and playwright Barbara Else's entertaining and enlightening memoir, Laughing at the Dark. Else's carefully structured story is personable, conversational even, in tone. There are no linguistic fireworks but the writing is all the more engaging for it. . . . Else's growth as a writer, her insights into advancing and structuring a story into a novel, creating characters, as well as the literary agency and manuscript assessment service she and Chris grew, is fascinating.

Mark Peters, Gisbourne Herald

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