No Fretful Sleeper: A Life of Bill Pearson

Paul Millar

‘Millar has researched assiduously and the book teems with people, wicked gossip and telling anecdote. It is written in plain English without a trace of academic-ese. This ranks with the likes of Michael King’s wonderful biographies of Sargeson and Frame.’ – Warwick Roger, North & South


‘There is no place in normal New Zealand society for the man who is different’, wrote William Harrison (Bill) Pearson. One of New Zealand’s most distinguished fiction writers and sharpest critics, Pearson’s life was also fraught with contradiction and secrecy, largely because of his homosexuality.

Born in Greymouth in 1922, he grew up in a society dominated by a rugged ideal of New Zealand manhood; not an easy childhood or adolescence for an unusually sensitive boy who preferred intellectual pursuits to sports. He went to university and Dunedin Training College, then taught at Blackball School – a period from which he drew the material for his celebrated novel, Coal Flat. After serving in the Second World War he received his PhD from the University of London – where distance gave him a clear critical perspective on this country of ‘fretful sleepers’ – then returned to New Zealand as a scholar and lecturer, writer and editor.

Bill Pearson’s life is emblematic of vital elements in twentieth-century New Zealand society: intellectual culture, left-wing politics and the growing acceptance of homosexual identity and Māori and Pacific Island culture. Drawing on Pearson’s own unpublished writing and extensive research, Millar has written an extraordinary biography of a courageous non-conformist, a man fully awake to the vulnerability of his society’s freedoms.


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Dr Paul Millar teaches English in the School of Humanities at the University of Canterbury. Millar was convening judge in the 2007 Montana New Zealand Book Awards and received a Copyright Licensing Limited Writers’ Award in 2003 to complete this biography. Millar is the editor of Selected Poems of James K. Baxter.


Shortlisted for NZ Post Book Awards: General Non-Fiction 2011.


April 2010, 240 x 170 mm, 432 pages, illustrations
Paperback, ISBN 9781869404192, $59.99