In Praise of Aotearoa Authors

I came across this article the other day, from top Kiwi author, Felicity Price, and it saddened me greatly. If someone with the acclaim of Price is ready to retire from writing, what does it say for the rest of us, the undiscovered NZ authors?

I guess it says we need to try hard, strive beyond our shores and seek our success internationally instead. Indeed, Paul Cleave and Nalini Singh are two New Zealand authors who have achieved critical success offshore.

I work in retail, in a place that sells books, and I can report without shade of doubt that New Zealand authors really struggle, especially those writing for the mainstream market, unless they receive a reward or critical acclaim (like “The Luminaries”). The teen market is likewise all but impossible to crack – possibly because teenagers tend to follow the international trends displayed on social media (which is why we saw so many vlogger books coming out). However, I can confirm that NZ children’s books, from picture books to middle-grade, sell very well, and people will actively seek them out (especially for family living internationally with children).

Anyway, at the request of some of my online friends, I bring to you a list of mainstream authors from Aotearoa (in some cases, ex-Aotearoa) that I can whole-heartedly recommend. I hope that you will check them out.

If you like female driven narrative*, try Catherine Robertson

The Hiding PlacesThe Hiding Places by Catherine Robertson
I have previously enjoyed Catherine Robertson’s more chick-lit-styled titles, and thus eagerly snatched up her latest publication. It is not like the earlier ones, this is more of a foray into the merging of historic and contemporary, in a similar manner to Belinda Alexander and Kate Morton – two of my favourite authors. Two time-streams alternate here: the modern storyline, in which April Turner, a grieving mother, has sentenced herself to a life devoid of any beauty and colour and the historic. This follows the childhood of Sunny, Lady Day, whom April meets when she is drawn to Empyrean. The two are woven together skilfully.

April’s self-inflicted penance is tested sorely when she undertakes the responsibility of restorying Empyrean. Firstly, by Sunny, who as she approaches the age of 90, has no-nonsense, hands-on sensibilities and will do her darndest to lure April out of her shell. Then there is Oran, red-haired, impulsive and quick-witted (sometimes to his disadvantage), with a deep dedication to his errant and unfaithful wife. And lastly, Jack, the mysterious man who lives in the woods with his dog and brings with him the wisdom and the compassion that just might help save April from herself.

Wonderfully written, with engaging (albeit at times, also frustrating) characters, a light mystery and a heart-warming, enchanting plot. This is a delicious and comforting read, that will intrigue, engage and possibly even inspire.

If you like Jodi Picoult, try Charity Norman:

(Charity Norman was born in Ugana and studied/lived in the UK, before coming to live in NZ, but for that reason we’ll claim her as one of our own)

See You In SeptemberSee You In September by Charity Norman

It started as Cassy’s OE – a short trip from the UK to NZ before her best friend’s wedding. But when Cassy breaks up with her boyfriend, she accepts an invitation to stay in an idyllic farming collective. Set in a beautiful valley, the lifestyle seems perfect, and Justin, the community’s charismatic leader, is very persuasive. Before long, Cassy is convinced to stay longer, and becomes entrenched in the group’s rituals and beliefs. But can her parents bring her home, before Justin’s prophesied Last Day comes to pass?

Engrossing and extremely difficult to put down once I got started, I can highly recommend this book. Watching the way practical, scientifically-inclined Cassy was manipulated and seduced into the ways of the cult was quite frightening. Her family’s discovery, and the struggle to free her, at times heart-breaking but powerful.

Undeniably one of my Top #5 2017 reads.

If you like light and romantic, try Danielle Hawkins

The Pretty Delicious CafeThe Pretty Delicious Cafe by Danielle Hawkins
“Pretty Delicious,” is a light, sweet and tasty treat of a tale. The characters are endearing and interesting, and the setting – Northland, New Zealand – scenic. Our heroine is Lia, overworked and unlucky-in-love, struggling to keep her cafe running whilst also suffering the angst-ridden attentions of her why-won’t-he-just-go-away ex-boyfriend. Things change the night a sexy stranger turns up on her doorstep, first terrifying her out of her wits, then quietly sidling into her affections. But Jed comes with burdens of his own – not so much his 4-year old son, but more the weight of the emotionally-troubled ex-wife. Will Lia allow herself to follow her heart? Or will she allow insecurity to rule?

The story is relatively light fare, a quick and easy escapism. Liberally sprinkled with wry humour, witty dialogue and dusted with a touch of the bittersweet. There are some darker moments too, when one considers the nature of Jed’s previous relationship, and with the ex-boyfriend skulking in the background. The four-year old son is an absolute delight, charming his way into this cynical reader’s heart. “Pretty Delicious” is a story of determination, of love, of allowing oneself the freedom to follow their dreams rather than allow themselves to be restrained by self-doubt or burdened by that which they cannot control. It is a story of friendship – Lia and Anna – and the power of reconciliation and forgiveness. The characters, with their flaws and neuroses are heart-breakingly real, and thus easy to identify with.

Also includes some mouth-watering recipes, so if the descriptions of the food in the cafe make you hungry, then you can try some out for yourself!

If you like historic fiction, try Deborah Challinor

(Deborah Challinor lived in NZ, then moved to Australia and wrote books set in Australia, but I’m pretty sure she’s back in NZ now, so she’s one of ours – this one’s set in NZ anyway.)
Kitty (The Smuggler's Wife #1)Kitty by Deborah Challinor

After the death of her father in Norfolk, 1638, Kitty and her mother are left impoverished. When Kitty’s innocence is compromised by an unscrupulous adventurer, her reputation is torn to shreds, and she is exiled to live in the colonies with her missionary uncle and his long-suffering wife. Set in the Bay of Islands, in the period leading up to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Kitty first sets up a school, befriends some of the local Maori girls, and undertakes the occasional quiet rebellion. Then the handsome but aloof sea captain, Rian Farrell strolls into her life, and Kitty finds herself drawn to him. However, he’s not just a humble sea captain, he’s also a gun runner, and Kitty will find her loyalties torn and simple life torn asunder, as she is plunged into a lively adventure.

View all my reviews

I could probably share some more, but I think this post has gone on long enough for now! Sorry they’re all female authors – I’ve not read a lot of male NZ authors recently, and cannot recommend them as authoritatively as I would like.

* Traditionally called “women’s fiction” but I hate that term because it sounds prohibitive.

Tail of Two Scions – Chapter One

Forever re-writing it… how does this beginning sound? Not too much, too early?

I really wish I could find the other version I wrote when Aurelia made it to the Night Market and found Mijifajifa was there. Alas, it seems to have been swallowed by the ether and I cannot locate it on any of my multiple devices… there’s just a tiny handwritten bit in a notebook.

Vato is replacing the roles of Jacques and Riana in an earlier draft. Whether either will exist remains to be seen.


Eyes squeezed shut, Aurelia struggled to keep her breath slow and steady, even as butterfly-nerves tickled her belly. Her ears pricked, alert to the noises of the night and her sleeping companions. Lucie, in the hammock above her, breath soft and even, with the slightest whistle on the exhale. Constance, an arms length away, made odd lip-smacking noises, as though she were sucking on a berry. Maryse, whose hammock hung on the far side, snored like an overweight tenrec. Beyond the confines of the treehouse eyrie, crickets trilled and frogs grunted.
Another sound came, a rustle of leaves and the dull, muted thud of feet striking a branch. Aurelia’s heart jolted sharply, and her eyes shot open. Moonlight streamed through the eyrie’s woven walls, tracing a delicate filigree across the slumbering forms of her companions.
He had come then. She had not been sure he’d keep his word — had both hoped and feared he would. She eased herself from the hammock, lowering her feet to brush the floor with barely a whisper of sound. Her fingers closed on Maryse’s dark blue scholar robes — a crumpled heap where she had tossed them — and Aurelia wrapped them about her. They hung loosely on her small frame, but at least would offer her some camouflage. Beyond the walls of the eyrie, he fidgeted restlessly, she could hear his heart racing as frantic as hers.
What they were doing was forbidden, and Ophelia had made it quite clear that punishment would befall those who broke the stringent rules of the Karazana. Aurelia shrugged away her fears — what could Ophelia do that she hadn’t already suffered? — and tip-toed across the platform. A misplaced footstep, a misaligned floorboard, and a low, groaning creak split the night with sound. Lucie snorted sharply. Fear prickled the fur down Aurelia’s spine. She stood motionless. Waited to be caught, to be reprimanded. Nothing. Just a whistling sigh, and Lucie’s breathing returned to normal. Aurelia all but sagged in relief. But there was no time to relax. They could wake at any moment.
She reached the entrance to the eyrie, and eased over the edge, lowering herself onto the rope ladder.
He was beside her in a heartbeat, swift, silent and as dark as a shadow in the night. Aurelia felt her heart clench and a cold chill erupt through her veins. But it wasn’t Noir, the black-hearted hunter. It’s Vato, she reminded herself, drawing in a deep, shaky breath. Kind, steady Vato. Your friend. You’ve asked him to meet you here. Her breathing slowed, heart-rate settled.
Vato’s fingers brushed the fur of her arm, curled around gently. A finger pressed to her lips,  cautioning silence. She nodded her assent, and followed him along the rope bridge, away from the tear-drop shaped eyrie.
“Are you sure about this?” he whispered, his words rippling the fur around her ears.
She nodded mutely, and squeezed his elbow to reassure him; to reassure herself.
“The night market is no place for a novice,” he added.
“I’ll be all right,” Aurelia replied. “I’ve been through some pretty terrifying things, you know.”
He shook his head. “Terrifying isn’t the word for it,” he said. “Bewildering. Enchanting… well, you’ll see.” His golden eyes flicked sharply back to her. “Whatever you do, don’t lick the millipedes.”
Was that a joke? His scent betrayed nothing, nor did his tone. Vato’s nature was as solid as his name. “Millipedes?” she asked, but too late. Vato had slunk ahead, walking four-footed along the rope bridge, pausing to glance back at her. Aurelia cast one glance back at the eyrie, then hopped after him. The cloak moved oddly against her form; it made her balance less than steady. Above, the moon — plump and bright — had barely crested the long dark spires of sandstone, misshapen fingers against a tapestry of stars.
The valley was far from quiet, and in the darkness, any sound carried. Even at night, the Karazana did not sleep; now was the time of the nocturnals. Off in the distance, Aurelia’s pricked ears could pick out the sound of tiny tsidy, their voices high-pitched and excitable, and a tutor barked out instructions to his class.
Vato guided Aurelia around the outskirts off the orchard, away from the snuffling tenrecs,  gobbling up insects and fallen fruit. They stole beneath other eyries, some wrapped around the trunk of trees, others which dangled from the branches like enormous wicker mangoes. The ground fell away sharply into a deep gorge, within which the waters of the Olymanga river ran dark and deep, almost invisible but for the faint shimmer of starlight. Moonlight illuminated a stone bridge in pale, ghostly light.
Vato’s hand came to her shoulder, his fingers pressed to her muzzle, he motioned her to crouch down and pull the cloak over her face. They hunched together, against the trunk of the tree. Voices first, and footsteps, coming nearer.