The Talented Chris Maclean

Books really saved my life. Chris Maclean on why moving from the health dangers of stained glass production to writing was highly beneficial

From stained glass to tramping and writing

By Roger Childs

It was a pleasure to hear Chris taking about his latest book A Way with Words. Appropriately it was held in the meeting room at Paraparaumu Library, organised by the Friends of the Kapiti Libraries.

The book details Chris’s journey through life and especially the challenges and rewards of writing on topics he loves.

Some of the books, notably the two Waikanae volumes, were completed with the considerably assistance on his mother who was descendant of the Whitcombes of Whitcombe and Tombs fame.

First book on stained glass

Chris came out of university with a history degree but took up stained glass windows, both creation and repair, as a craft.

Many of the best examples of his work can be found in Wellington and Christchurch, and he came to specialise in abstract designs, some of which presented geographic features with appropriate colours.

This craft plus his friendship with historian Jock Phillips led to his first book: Stained Glass Windows in New Zealand Houses. They travelled around the country and sussed out homes with the decorative glass, often at night, and next day did the door knocking!

A string of publications

Waikanae was done in collaboration with mother Joan. They published it themselves in 1988. The history was naturally a key feature, and they tapped into the knowledge of older locals such as Daisy who grew up in Reikorangi.

The Sorrow and the Pride saw the Phillips – Maclean combination re-emerge. There was more travelling round New Zealand tracking down war memorials. After World War I there was spree of erecting these tributes to the fallen and most of the “soldiers” were made of Italian marble. However a few were carved in this country.

 Tararua was Chris’s first solo production and he received plenty of excellent advice from tramping legends Ian Powell and Mavis Davidson. Again it was self published (1994), and there was great interst. All of the first run was sold out in under a year.

Kapiti was the outcome of two years research on the island which included kayaking round the considerable length of coastline including ventures into coves a the northern end. The initial print run of 5000 copies sold well.

John Pascoe was his first venture into biography. John had died in 1972 and his widow asked Chris to undertake the project. Fortunately the famous tramper, photographer and correspondent had kept all his letters, both copies of one’s he wrote, plus those he received. This time it was marketed in Paper Plus alongside the biography of Kapiti rugby legend Christian Cullen!

Wellington Telling Tales was commissioned by the Museum of City and Sea, and required Chris to write 100 stories in 100 days with a 200 word max.

Waikanae redux was a revamp of the earlier volume and came out in 2010. This was the time when the Internet had taken off and the book was hard to market. In the end Chris was able to persuade the owner of Woolworths in Waikanae to sell it in it the supermarket and this saved the day!

Stag Spooner: Wild Man From the Bush was about a carver and illustrator from the pre World War II era and through the war and beyond.

He was also a deer culler in the Tararuas and down the West Coast.

One of his memorable skills was crafting illustrated envelopes sometimes with the address stretched out along the bottom.

Tramping A New Zealand History saw Chris combine with Shaun Barrett in looking at this popular pastime starting with Maori and early New Zealand Settlers.

A Way with Words traces Chris’s fascinating experience writing and marketing all of the above, and is available in all good bookshops.


(The Friends of the Library’s next session features Mandy Hager launching her latest young adult book “Ash Arising”.  Paraparaumu Library, Monday 25 June at 7.00pm)



I’d love to get in touch with Chris. We were tramping buddies from the late seventies but haven’t caught up for years.
Would love to get his number or email,

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