Most of Marshall's life has been spent in the South Island towns of Blenheim, Oamaru and Timaru, although he was born in Te Kuiti in 1941. He grew up part of a family in which the world of literature and that of physical experience were equally valued. His father, a Methodist minister, passed on a love of books and an enthusiasm for nature and landscape.
After graduating MA (Hons) in History from the University of Canterbury, he became a full-time secondary school teacher. He was deputy and acting Rector at Waitaki Boys' High School, and deputy principal at Craighead Diocesan School. In the early nineties, after being the University of Canterbury's Writer in Residence and holding the Robert Burns Fellowship at the University of Otago, he resigned from full-time teaching in order to concentrate on his writing. Since then most of his time has been devoted to writing, although he also lectured at Canterbury, where he was awarded an honorary D Litt in 2002, and appointed an adjunct professor in 2005.
Marshall also held the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Fellowship in Menton, France in 1996 and won the Deutz Medal for Fiction at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2000 for his novel Harlequin Rex. In 2000 he received the ONZM for Services to Literature in the New Year Honours and the CNZM in the Queen's Birthday Honours of 2012. He received the Prime Minister's Award for Fiction in 2013.
He has published or edited almost 30 books, including novels, short stories and poetry. He lives in Timaru with his wife, Jackie, and they have two adult daughters. Despite the visual and naturalistic elements sometimes remarked on in his writing, he is more of an impressionist than a strict realist, and the psychological landscapes of his fellow New Zealanders are his fundamental concern. His interest is in mood and character more than plot and action, and a search to capture the fragrance of experience, rather than experience itself. What he looks for in all the arts, is some insight into the business of living.
- Adult Fiction
- Short Stories
The Larnachs (2011)
William James Mudie Larnach's name resonates in New Zealand history - the politician and self-made man who built the famous 'castle' on Otago Peninsula. In 1891, after the death of his first two wives, he married the much younger Constance de Bathe Brandon. But the marriage that began with such happiness was to end in tragedy. The story of the growing relationship between Conny and William's younger son, Dougie, lies at the heart of this subtle and compelling novel. The socially restrictive world of late nineteenth-century Dunedin and Wellington springs vividly to life as Marshall traces the deepening love between stepmother and stepson, and the slow disintegration of the domineering yet vulnerable figure of Larnach himself. Can love ever really be its own world, free of morality and judgement and scandal?
Carnival Sky (2014)
Sheff is disillusioned with journalism and, with plans to travel overseas, chucks in his job. But first he goes south to Alexandra, where his father is dying. He becomes caught up with his family in the agonising inertia of waiting for approaching death. Slowly he comes to terms with suppressed issues of loss, love, resentment and commitment, and acknowledges he must reach out for new relationships. Sheff’s gradual transformation — sometimes darkly humorous, sometimes disconcerting — is handled with insight and subtlety and is totally convincing. Beautifully written, brilliantly observed and ultimately optimistic, this novel powerfully captures the phase in our lives when little seems to happen while things are changing all the same.
A graveyard is all that's left of the remote Central Otago settlement of Drybread, which miners, often hungry and disappointed, once searched for gold. It is to an old cottage nearby that Penny Maine-King flees with her young son, defying a Californian court order awarding custody of the child to her estranged husband. And seeking her in this austere, burnt country is journalist Theo Esler. He is after a story, but he discovers something far more personal and significant. Drybread, Owen Marshall's third novel, is a moving study of love and disappointment, of the harm we do to each other, knowingly and unknowingly, of the power and significance of landscape in our lives. Rich and subtle, it is a compelling book from one of this country's finest writers. 'Marshall is held in uncommon affection by New Zealand readers - generally we admire and respect rather than love our writers.' - Peter Simpson, New Zealand Listener 'I'm an admirer of Owen Marshall's literature, with my favourite stories, chapters, etc.' - Janet Frame 'Among active New Zealand writers only Maurice Gee writes with comparable - and equally unfashionable - moral and psychological weight.'- Lawrence Jones 'I find myself exclaiming over and again with delight at the precision, the beauty, the near perfection of his writing.' - Fiona Kidman, The Dominion.