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Travel with Tom B to Masterton, Paper Cage

  • Submitted: 14th February 2024

Author Tom B takes readers to Masterton, New Zealand

The Children May Be Missing, but the Roast Beef is Easy to Find

Tom Baragwanath I started writing my novel Paper Cage as an exercise in fighting homesickness. I’d been living in Paris for a number of years, and while I love the City of Light, there’s something special about Masterton: a combination of open space, clear skies, and an eerie sense of quiet that seems like something is listening in.

Map of locations in Paper Cage

I wanted to capture the tight (and occasionally suffocating) sense of community you can find in small-town Aotearoa / New Zealand, and a noir tale of missing children, patronising Pākehā (New Zealanders of European descent), and deceitful friendships offered the right outlet.

And, of course, Masterton is home for me. I lived there (or more accurately, a half-hour drive away on our family farm in Wainuioru) up until my university years when I trekked over the hill to Wellington, and my family still relays enough stories to keep the place alive in my mind.

Map of locations in Paper Cage

Masterton, New Zealand

Masterton, New Zealand

Map of locations in Paper Cage

When the time came to send Lorraine, my protagonist, out into the streets of Masterton, I didn’t have to struggle to imagine the landscape. I knew exactly how it might feel to cut through the park on a warm evening, or how busy the petrol stations would be on a Saturday morning before rugby. And more importantly, I knew which locations would serve as touchpoints for the story.

Dixon Street, Masterton

Map of locations in Paper Cage

Since Paper Cage came out, I’ve had some gratifying feedback from locals about the book’s sense of place. So, in that spirit, here are five of my favourite locations featured in Paper Cage, and why they mean so much to me, and to my story.

Map of locations in Paper Cage

Masterton Roast 

As our story kicks off, Lorraine is picking up her dinner at Value Roast, a stand-in for Masterton Roast on Queen Street, near the cinema. The real roast shop is nothing like the hub for sketchy types I made it out to be in the book, but I liked the idea of some local heavies talking shop over roast beef end pieces and gravy. You can get a roast meal for two for about $15 NZD, which with inflation these days is unbeatable.

masterton map

Map of locations in Paper Cage

Mataikona (in red)

My family makes annual trips to Castlepoint, a beach just to the north of Mataikona, so this is another special spot for me. There’s something so haunting about the rows and rows of pine trees overlooking the beach, and the gravel road out here gets quite twisty. I’ve always thought it would be a great spot for a chase scene, so I wrote one there.

Gull Petrol Station

The single most valuable piece of feedback I’ve received on the novel came from a friend of mine who lived in Masterton and couldn’t believe I’d revealed one of the town’s hidden gems: A petrol station offering 50% off all fried chicken after midnight. This is something I enjoyed many times as a teenager, and it was another detail I knew I had to find a place for.

Map of locations in Paper Cage

Greytown

Papawai Marae

A few minutes’ drive out of Greytown, west of Masterton, Papawai Marae has played a crucial role as a hub for the local Wairarapa Māori community. It’s a gorgeous physical location, and the wharenui (meeting house) is a truly inspiring construction. I can’t get into the role of the marae in the story without revealing too many details, so I’ll just say there’s a scene there of great importance to some of the characters.

Map of locations in Paper Cage

Map of locations in Paper Cage

Martinborough

Martinborough is another location with special meaning for me: When my father arrived in New Zealand from his native England in the late seventies, Martinborough was one of his first ports of call. Back then it was a bit of a rough spot, with some less than friendly locals; today, it’s a hot spot for winemaking and artisanal goods. I wanted to find a place to represent the changes in the Wairarapa more generally over that time.

 

Many thanks Tom for such a brilliant tour around the settings of your book Paper Cage!

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass: Paper Cage

Twitter: @TBaragwanath

Instagram:@politecurmudgeon/

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