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Shadbolt was born in Auckland, and was the eldest of three children. He had a younger brother and sister, Peter and Julia. Shadbolt was educated at Te Kuiti High School, Avondale College and Auckland University College. In total, Shadbolt wrote 11 novels, four collections of short stories, two autobiographies, a war history, and a volume of journalism, as well as plays. His first collection of short stories, The New Zealanders, won publication in the United Kingdom, as well as New Zealand.
Shadbolt suffered from what was thought to be Alzheimer's disease, which during his autopsy was revealed to be Lewy body dementia. On his death on 10 October 2004, in his rest home in Taumarunui, he was surrounded by his children. Shadbolt had five children: Sean, Brendan, and twins Tui and Daniel from his first marriage to journalist and author Gillian Heming. His second daughter Brigid was from his second marriage to television presenter, Barbara Magner. Shadbolt was also married to actress Bridget Armstrong. His cousin Tim Shadbolt is Mayor of Invercargill.
His works were often published in the UK and United States as well as in New Zealand, sometimes in different years. Dates are for the first appearance.
- New Zealanders: a Sequence of Stories (1959).
- Western Samoa: The Pacific's Newest Nation (1962).
- Summer Fires and Winter Country (short stories, 1963).
- New Zealand: Gift of the Sea (1963, revised 1973).
- Among the Cinders (1965, revised 1984). A film version was released in 1983.
- The Presence of Music: Three Novellas (1967).
- New Zealand's Cook Islands: Paradise in Search of a Future (1967).
- The Shell Guide to New Zealand (1968, revised 1973).
- Isles of the South Pacific (1968).
- This Summer's Dolphin (1969). Short novel inspired by the story of Opo the dolphin.
- An Ear of the Dragon (1971). Fictional novel based on the life of Renato Amato.
- Strangers and Journeys (1972).
- A Touch of Clay (1974). Part one of a projected trilogy.
- Danger Zone (1975). Part two of the unfinished trilogy.
- Love and legend: Some 20th century New Zealanders (1976).
- Figures in Light: Selected Stories (1979).
- The Lovelock Version (1980).
- Season of the Jew (1986). Part one of the New Zealand Wars trilogy.
- Guide to New Zealand (1988).
- Voices of Galipoli (television documentary, 1988).
- Monday's Warriors (1990). Part two of the New Zealand Wars trilogy.
- Once on Chunuk Bair (1982), a play. A film version Chunuk Bair was released in 1991.
- The House of Strife (1993). Part three of the New Zealand Wars trilogy.
- One of Ben's: A New Zealand Medley (autobiography, 1993).
- Ending the Silences: Critical Essays (1994)
- Dove on the Waters (novellas, 1996).
- Selected Stories of Maurice Shadbolt, edited by Ralph Crane (1998).
- From the Edge of the Sky: A Memoir (1999).
- Robinson and Wattie 1998
- "Obituary: Maurice Shadbolt". The New Zealand Herald. 11 October 2004. Retrieved 15 March 2009.
- "Shadbolt, Maurice". New Zealand Book Council. Retrieved 10 October 2011.
- London Gazette (supplement), No. 51580, 30 December 1988. Retrieved 12 January 2013.