Obituary — Dianne Ruth Pettis

Dianne Ruth Pettis  (1955-2008)

Dianne Ruth Pettis was a fiction writer and poet, who published under the name Ruth Pettis. She was born in Waipawa in Hawke’s Bay and worked as a journalist, a script writer for the Natural History Unit and a communications manager. Her poetry and short fiction were published in Landfall, Sport and Takahe, and broadcast on Radio New Zealand. Dianne’s work featured in anthologies, such as Under Flagstaff – the Dunedin poetry collection – and more recently Swings and Roundabouts, an anthology of poetry on the subject of parenting, edited by Emma Neale.

In 2004, her first novel, Like Small Bones, was published by Hazard Press and later shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Reviewing the novel in New Zealand Books (December, 2004), Joan Rosier-Jones wrote that “Like Small Bones is remarkable; sure-footed and slow-moving, but never sluggish… .”

Her second novel, The First Touch of Light, was completed about the same time. She was awarded the Robert Burns Fellowship in 2006 to work on a third novel set in New Zealand and the Aran Islands.

The First Touch of Light will be published by Penguin in March next year. Like her first novel, its story centres on family relationships and the need of one generation to understand the other. In this case, Beth in the year 2000 is retracing the steps her father took through Italy in 1943 and 1944 as a soldier with New Zealand forces. The novel describes both journeys.

Dianne lived on the Otago Peninsula with husband Pete and four children Chloe, Tess, Gabe and Rose. She died on May 13. Dianne was a perceptive reader, a generous friend to many writers in Dunedin and will be greatly missed.

Christine Johnston

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