fiona farrell


In addition to articles and reviews for a variety of periodicals,
Fiona has written three non-fiction books.

‘The Broken Book’ is a collection of essays and poems.

'The Quake Year' is a collection of interviews
in collaboration with photographer Juliet Nicholas.

'The Villa at the Edge of the Empire' is the factual half of a two-volume work examining the rebuilding of a city through the twinned lenses of non-fiction and fiction.

'The Villa at the Edge of the Empire'

was published in June 2015
by Penguin Random House New Zealand.


The Villa at the Edge of the Empire


The Broken Book


The Broken Book

Auckland University Press 2011

2012 New Zealand Post Non-fiction Award

2012 Nielsen New Zealand Booksellers Choice Award


Fiona Farrell’s meandering travel book shows how an earthquake can change everything in a flash: the book you were writing, the house you were living in, the thoughts that preoccupied you.
The Broken Book consists of four essays about life and walking, bookended by a preamble and an afterword, and interrupted by 21 poems about the Christchurch earthquakes and their aftermath. The poems jolt into the essays like aftershocks, like cracks in the text; they make you pause and reconsider.
The Broken Book is funny, timely, deeply personal but never self-indulgent - it shows Fiona’s talents as a writer and warmth as a human being. (AUP website)

I have been so moved by this book with its beautiful poetry and prose and the insight the author provides into the experiences of the residents of Christchurch over the past 12 months and also of course by way of contrast the great joy to be experienced on walking holidays........
Graham Beattie - Beattie's Book Blog - unofficial homepage of the NZ book community

Listener review - Sally Blundell

Sunday Star Times review - Anne Else

Saturday morning with Paul Diamond - The Broken Book


The Quake Year


The Quake Year

Canterbury University Press 2012



Everyone in Christchurch has their own story of the earthquakes.

There are heroic and brave stories related to the events themselves, and also longer narratives of endurance over months of aftershocks. No one will ever forget this year.

In 'The Quake Year' Fiona Farrell interviews people trying to live ordinary lives in extraordinary times. Their stories are moving, poignant, revealing and healing.

This unique book takes the reader beyond the physical damage straight into the hearts of survivors, in stories that will touch a chord with every reader.



There are quake books and quake books. Then there is this, quite the best to send to folk overseas. The matching of text and pictures, despair and hope, humanity against nature, makes it a treasure. Fiona Farrell has engaged her talent as a fiction writer to the shaping of stories from interviews with Canterbury people. Through them, the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 are brought to mind, but the terror is subsumed in the emotions of the testimonies of "men and women next door". The choice of photos and the skill in their taking ensures readers will want to pore over them. Just when the reader thinks no more evocative or heartfelt account of an earthquake could have been written, along comes the next, and the next. On second thoughts - don't send this book abroad. It is one to keep and savour.
Mike Crean. Christchurch Press. 16th June, 2012

Fiona's text is enhanced by beautiful photographs by acclaimed Christchurch photographer Juliet Nicholas who has been recording the life and culture of New Zealand for over 20 years. Her work has featured in hundreds of publications. She has also collaborated in the production of several books, including Fine Cheese (1995) and Old Fashioned and David Austin Roses (2004), as well as Islands, an oral documentary exhibition of Stewart Island and its people.

Interviews with
Tusiata Avia, Chris Moore, Karen Duncan, Amy Gregory and James Allen, Lyn Fossey, Sally Blundell, Bev Prout and Quentin Wilson, Heidi and Rick and Erik Cassells Brown, Helen Webby, Siene de Vries, Jaimini Shurety, Jenny Glue, Juliet Neill, Diana Madgin, Pip Watson, Martin Aspinwall, Natalya Pitama, Patsy Turner, John Wilson.



The Villa at the Edge of the Empire

Penguin Random House New Zealand 2015

Order or download now


A provocative and insightful exploration of rebuilding our homes, communities and cities after their devastation.

Where are we?
How did we get here?
Where do we go now?

From nineteenth-century attempts to create Utopias to America's rustbelt, from Darwin's study of worms to China's phantom cities, this work ranges widely through history and around the world. It examines the evolution of cities and of Christchurch in particular, looking at its swampy origins and its present reconstruction following the recent destructive earthquakes. And it takes us to L'Aquila in Italy to observe another shaken city.

Farrell writes as a citizen caught up in a devastated city in an era when political ideology has transformed the citizen to ‘an asset, the raw material on which . . . empire makes its profit'. In a hundred tiny pieces, she comments on contentious issues, such as the fate of a cathedral, the closure of schools, the role of insurers, the plans for civic venues. Through personal observation, conversations with friends, a close reading of everything from the daily newspaper to records of other upheavals in Pompeii and Berlin, this dazzling book explores community, the love of place and, ultimately, regeneration and renewal.


"The research is prodigious but laid lightly upon the page with something wonderful in every chapter and, as often, something terrible. Sometimes Farrell lets herself go in sentences that drip scorn for the grandiosity and futility of the officially sanctioned plans for her city. For the most part, she is well aware of the power of understatement and uses it to elicit in the reader mixed emotions of anger, sorrow and pride.
This is the book those of us outside Christchurch, watching from afar in ill-informed horror, have been waiting for. It confirms all our worst suspicions. And for those who have lived through the disaster, it will provide a coherent account of events they must at times have struggled to believe were actually happening....

With the 'Villa at the Edge of the Empire', the quakes have produced their first indispensable [book]."

Paul Little
North & South, August 2015

Christchurch Rebuild, Welcome to Brownleegrad
Christchurch Press - Philip Matthews

Aftershock: Fiona Farrell's white-hot response to the Christchurch earthquake
Sunday Star Times - Nicholas Reid


Midwinter, 2012. 

The dark heart of the year.

But in the city, a new sun is rising.

There is music, a swelling of violins, a sonorous chorus of male voices. It could be the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings, that moment where Bilbo catches sight of Mordor, when all chaos and pain will pass and order will be restored to Middle Earth.

There is an image of a wide green plain. There's a ring at its centre. From above it looks a bit like Stonehenge, some ancient site of ritual worship, but is more likely the circle left by an irrigator, rendering the stony soil fit for pasturing a thousand thousand dairy cows. Then there's a little jetboat racing upstream between beds of shingle, heading somewhere and heading there fast, and the music swells and a voice-over announces "an unprecedented opportunity in the South Island of New Zealand". A couple spin by on a tandem, a white boy on the front, a brown girl behind, both pedalling unsteadily through green trees, both laughing with delight at the prospect of their opportunity. Earthquakes have destroyed their beautiful city, 70 per cent of its major buildings have been or are about to be demolished. But 106,000 of the city's residents have risen to the call! They have submitted their vision for a new city and here is the synthesis of their dreams, a "flyover of their hopes".

The music changes to something more percussive, the tempo accelerates and we begin to fly. We swoop over the city like supermen, up one street and down another. Over a Green Frame that will sweep away the vestiges of a Victorian mercantile past beneath 21st-century grass and trees. Over the blue and yellow rectangles that are to be new precincts. Health will be dispensed from a Medical Precinct around the existing hospital, justice from a Legal Precinct a little further east, just past a Sports Precinct, whose facilities will cater for all ages and levels of ability. We fly north and there's the Performing Arts Precinct and a Cultural Centre and next to them, dwarfing all else, a Convention Centre, "purpose-built", "state of the art", the city's throbbing cultural heart.

We fly above it all. It's so easy. Like those dreams of flight that are supposed to be something to do with sex. Weightless, effortless. The city lies beneath us in its shining geometry. There's the tiny brown rectangle that will be the new public library, there's the oval that is to be a new cricket ground, making proper, profitable use of the Victorians' dull and undeveloped city park.

We wheel unnoticed over the heads of all the people gathered to party in the Entertainment Precinct before a vast screen broadcasting a rugby match. Tracers of light race and dazzle, and what is that, rising in the east? That vast illuminated pleasure dome? Why, it's a new Rugby Stadium, miraculously teleported here from its previous location on the light industrial periphery and come to rest like some alien spacecraft at the city's core. And the voice repeats the invitation. Come! Be part of this opportunity! This vision that will inspire the world! It's achievable! It's affordable! And it's ready to fly! The blueprint flashes across the television screen, three minutes and 22 seconds of glittering promise, product of 100 days (well, 103, actually) of frantic planning. It's a video game with all its glitter and zing. Like some Deus Ex 3 vision of the city as futuristic wonderland, ablaze with light. Some bitchin' imagery of a home fit for heroes blessed with heavy stubble, curious anatomies that are part flesh, part nano-tech augmentation, and in possession of a wide range of imaginative weaponry. 

Except that this is a design for the distinctly unaugmented. It is a plan for a small city on the edge of a narrow island at the foot of the Pacific. A blueprint for concrete, tarmac and cement. A map to an everyday future. 


Reproduced with permission from The Villa at the Edge of the Empire: One Hundred Ways to Read a City by Fiona Farrell. Published by Vintage, Penguin Random House NZ. RRP $40.00. Text copyright © Fiona Farrell, 2015.