What got you started writing?
A family mystery. As part of a Creative Writing course at University some fifteen or so years ago, I began to write about the founding father of our New Zealand family and discovered his was a story worth telling. The Disenchanted Soldier chronicles the twists and turns of his life in a dual-timeline narrative between mid-1860s and the mid-1920s.
What challenges did you face when you first started writing?
Dialogue. My narrative was too academic and structured to allow for dialogue and I had to learn how to write active fiction. I was given the best advice by the oldest member of the writing group I belonged to – and that was to write a whole chapter in dialogue. It changed my thinking completely. I did turn some of that dialogue back into narrative but from then on I understood how dialogue worked, and how it is so totally different to narrative.
Do you ever get the opportunity to travel for your writing? Either to market or to research.
I have travelled a lot and often use my knowledge of the places I’ve visited as background to my stories. The Cornish Knot, for example, is partly set in Cornwall which I knew very well when I was a child, partly in areas of France I’ve visited, and partly in Florence, Italy where I spent a couple of enchanting weeks. Prior to writing my first novel, The Disenchanted Soldier, I did travel to England to research the family tree and all the information I gathered while on that trip went into that book, but the family tree came before the book. I have extended family in Wales and have travelled throughout the country, and have done a camper van tour of Ireland, so, when I’m writing about a character from these places such as Brigid The Girl from County Clare and Gwenna The Welsh Confectioner, I already had a feel for their culture, which they brought with them when they emigrated.
In the end, all of my novels are based in New Zealand, mostly in Auckland but I haven’t travelled specifically to do book research or to market. Maybe sometime in the future.
Who in your life is your greatest cheerleader or support in your writing?
My wonderful husband, without doubt. He is so supportive and gives me the freedom I need to write, or drift off into my own world as I think about the story, or bury myself in the research. He brings me coffee or wine, depending on the time of day, and knows not to interrupt when I’m in the zone. He is also very good at telling people about my books and growls at me when I don’t.
What is it like writing in New Zealand that would be different if you lived anywhere else?
From a historical settlement viewpoint, New Zealand has a shorter time-frame in which to set the stories than England or Europe. But this country’s unique “she’ll be right” and “better get on with it, then” approach to getting established gave immigrants a chance to show their worth and do something with their lives that they might not have had in older civilisations. For that reason, my women characters could behave differently than say in Ireland or Wales or elsewhere at the same time.
Where do you get your ideas? Is there anything about New Zealand that has inspired you to write?
I am a genealogists and go digging into all sorts of records and newspapers looking for stories. Often a job, a location or uncovering a family secret will spark an idea. Six children all born on the same day to the same mother was a good start. Reading about a long lost painting by a Cornish artist led to the plot of The Cornish Knot. An Irish lace maker, a Welsh sugar boiler and a costumier for an opera house all got to play their part.
Sooner or later all of the stories are based in New Zealand. I arrived by ship as a 12-year-old and loved Auckland and the harbour the minute I saw it. I still do. I love the landscape. The fact you can go from beach to mountain to rivers all in a matters of hours is unique and special. I love writing about New Zealand settings.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you handle the good and the bad ones?
I do look at them from time to time as reviews are important to an author’s profile and to engage new readers, but no author will please all their readers all the time. It’s important not to take a bad review to heart, but accept that a reader may have been having a bad day or just didn’t like the writing style. I never engage, but I will share the good ones I think have captured the essence of the story the way I see it.
How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have any secrets to productivity?
At best, I only write one book a year. I don’t rush my stories. I need to do a lot of research to make sure of my facts and that I’ve got the right feel for the story. I write every day when I’m writing and then during the editing phase get into the marketing.
I am particularly fussy about the editing process, using several beta readers with different skills who look for plot holes, grammar, time jumps or any confusing passages. I then go through all their comments and re-edit the manuscript before it goes to my editor for her eagle-eye to pick up what everyone else missed. A perfectly clean and polished manuscript always comes back covered in red and questions marks. Only after a final edit, does the reader get to see it.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I’m a pantser. So, I start at the beginning with a vague idea and keep going until I get to the end. Having said that, there are lots of stopping off points along the way as I wonder where I’m heading with a story line. Sometimes, a walk while muttering to myself about the problem will help sort out my issues, other times, the characters themselves tell me what should happen next.
I have my own writing space and love my antique drop-front writing desk that is home to my laptop. I do a lot of in-the-moment research, checking facts or a map to make sure I can go that way or travel that far within a time frame, but otherwise I let the story take me where it will. It’s a lot of fun some days.
How important do you think marketing is for authors today?
Marketing is vital and it is the most difficult, time-consuming and often disheartening aspect of producing a book. I don’t know any authors who enjoy the marketing phase, but we all do it.
So, any help from readers who tell other readers about our books, bloggers who host interviews (like this one) and share our work with their audiences, and book reviewers who take the time to read and review books are so much appreciated. Thank you, thank you and thank you all, again.
Where did you get the idea for your latest book?
I read about a true-life costumier on Trove, the Australian Archived newspaper website similar to the NZ National Library Papers Past, and knew I had a story. Emily Nathan was based in Melbourne, but I chose the Auckland Opera House as the setting for Jane’s work.
Tell us about your latest novel or project:
Due for release in late May, The Costumier’s Gift is my sixth book and the dual-timeline sequel continuing the family sagas of Brigid The Girl from County Clare and Gwenna The Welsh Confectioner.
The lead historical character, Jane, was a child in Brigid The Girl from County Clare when they emigrated from Ireland, first to Australia and then to New Zealand. Meanwhile, Charlie, the mischievous younger brother of Gwenna The Welsh Confectioner has grown up and the two families are brought together through love and war.
Why does a stranger hold the key to unlocking Katie’s family secrets?
1903 – Jane is the talented principal costumier at Auckland’s Opera House in its Edwardian heyday. She thrives in this place where she can hide from her pain and keep her skeletons to herself – until the past comes back to haunt her. Brigid, her beloved foster mother, and her best friend Gwenna are anchors in her solitary yet rewarding life. As the decades go by, the burden of carrying secrets becomes too great, and Jane must pass on the hidden truths.
Today – Katie seeks refuge from her crumbling personal life with her grandmother, who lives in past with the people in her cherished photographs. All too soon, Katie learns she must identify the people behind the gentle smiles – including the Edwardian woman to whom she bears a remarkable resemblance – and reveal generations of secrets before she can claim her inheritance. She meets the intriguing Jared, who stirs her interest, but she’s not ready for any sort of romance, so is shocked when she learns that he holds the key to discovering her past.
The e-book is on pre-order now.