State Highway One is a deeply emotional journey through the stunning landscape of New Zealand, illustrated from the perspective of a troubled young mind, filled with overwhelming grief and confusion at the sudden loss of his parents.
It's been years since Alex was in New Zealand, and years since he spent any one-on-one time with his twin sister, Amy. When they lose their parents in a shock accident it seems like the perfect time to reconnect as siblings. To reconnect with this country they call 'home'. As they journey the length of State Highway One, they will scratch at wounds that have never healed - and Alex will be forced to reckon with what coming home really means.
State Highway One is a work of fiction that will resonate with readers of all ages – it deals beautifully with themes of grief, the meaning of 'home', sexuality and family dynamics, all while steeping us in the beautiful surroundings of the NZ landscape. Each town, road and landmark of Alex's road trip imprints your mind with searing beauty and devastating sadness. Tense, heartbreaking and beautifully written, State Highway One has the makings of a contemporary classic.
About the author:
Sam Coley's two favourite things in the world are taking photos and dancing. Most nights, however, he can be found at his desk with a pen and a legal pad and a bottle of wine. He has called New Zealand, Australia and the UK all home at some point, and probably still would. His debut novel, State Highway One, was the winner of the 2017 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers.
State Highway One
Author: Sam Coley
Question: What originally inspired the idea of State Highway One?
Sam Coley: I'd been living in London for five years and was missing home (New Zealand). I've always loved road trips, and I was thinking about returning for summer to drive down the country. I started to fictionalise that journey, and realised I was writing a book in my head. So then I wrote it on paper!
Question: Are the characters based on anyone you know, in real life?
Sam Coley: Not really. I definitely took aspects of my own personality and projected them onto both the twins. I'm very shy when I meet people but open up quickly - so Alex makes decisions that shy Sam would make, and Amy is more like old friends, two wines in, dancing in fountains Sam.
Question: How much of your inspiration comes from real life and real people?
Sam Coley: I took a lot of inspiration from a roadtrip I did in 2017/18 - like the rough ferry crossing, or the clouds at the dark sky park. I also almost died in an accident on the River Road, which I knew would end up in the book. People not so much, but a few of my friends have cameos.
Question: What's the main message you hope readers take from State Highway One?
Sam Coley: That 'home' doesn't have to be just one place, and you can't really ever run away. That family is important, and you might not have as much time as you think, so if you have things to say, sooner is better than later. And don't drink and drive!
Question: What is the best thing about creating a character like Alex and Amy?
Sam Coley: The way they talk to each other. I based their speech on the way my siblings talk, rapidly and cutting each other off. Writing their conversations was really fun. And because they're twins there's no older/younger dynamic, so I liked that neither of them had that card to play.
Question: What advice do you have for aspiring writers or artists?
Sam Coley: Write as much as you can, and don't do it in front of the TV. Be patient - I started writing State Highway One five years ago and while I never got full writer's block, I got significantly stuck in a few sections. The middle section went through about 25 drafts - so keep working!
Question: What or who inspired your love of reading/writing?
Sam Coley: My parents are responsible for the reading, they encouraged books and trips to the library when I was a kid. I started writing as a teen - everything was so dramatic and felt like the end of the world, so writing was my outlet. In terms of authors, I admire writers who break convention.
Question: What book are you reading, right now?
Sam Coley: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin. It's a classic SF work. I've never read her before, but I'd always heard she was a genius writer. I can see why people said that, the book is amazing - it totally does away with genre, and she crafts incredible sentences.
Question: What's next, for you?
Sam Coley: Onto the next book! It's in the early stages - I wanted to take a break after SH1, and corona is not helping. It's about a couple who move to the beach to run a juice bar and get away from city life. It's a portrait of their relationship as it crumbles slowly.
Interview by Gwen van Montfort