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.

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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.

NaNoWriMo Success Stories

It’s that time of the year again: November. The time of year when Christmas paraphenalia is appearing in stores, the days are getting longer, the weather is settling into drier patterns… and the time of year when authors all over the world will be putting fingers to keyboards, or pens to paper, and scribbling out as many words as they can in a month, all with the same goal: 50,000 words in 30 days.

Yes, it’s NaNoWriMo time again, National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated.

I consider myself a NaNoWriMo veteran, I’ve participated in it more years than not since the earthquakes in 2010. My completion rate is pretty high (albeit that I’ve rehashed the same story so many times it’s starting to get tedious) and I’ve reaped various rewards from a free proof copy, to free copies of my published book (back when Createspace used to contribute to the rewards), a hardback version of Fellowship of the Ringtails (courtesy of Lulu, and possibly the only hardback copy in existence), and last year I purchased Scrivener.

But whilst I’ve had marginal success, selling maybe a couple of dozen copies of 2010’s Aroha’s Grand Adventure and even fewer of Fellowship of the Ringtails (the sequel is my never-ending Work-in-Progress), there are some authors that have gone on not only to finish their 50k manuscripts, but to polish them to the point where they were published – and became strong sellers.

Here’s a selection of some of my favourites:

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Enter the lyrical and haunting world of the Night Circus. It will draw you in, entrance you and whisk you away to a different time and place. With its evocative language, and gently flowing plot, it reminded me rather of “Jonathan Strange” and some of Neil Gaiman’s work. The descriptions are lush and vivid, the characters entrancing. It haunted me long after the final page. However, there is a blemish to every jewel and in this one it was the constantly shifting time periods – each chapter would jump back or forward some years, which left me feeling a little disorientated. It was to good purpose though, to aid the ebb and flow of the tale.

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoy this kind of book – it has characters I can relate to and situations I can identify with (even though they are now lost in my distant past). This book hooked me with its candid writing, appealing prose, witty dialogue and interludes to a fiction within a fiction.

Fanfiction has become a really big thing currently, and has had quite a bit of prevalence in the media – the taking of other people’s characters and worlds and creating your own stories, and different directions, is a real art. Rowell explores this in her novel, where introvert Cath must cope with going to college, meeting boys, her manic father, a twin sister who is seeking distance and the responsiblities and so-forth of her future life.

I also loved the fact that Levi is not your typical sexy hunk – his personality was a true delight and I enjoyed the descriptions of his gangly nature, receeding hairline and the smile that lit up the room. I rather wish I could meet him.

Wool by Hugh Howey

A science fiction/dystopian novel, set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the human race is confined to giant silos, whilst the world outside has been reduced to ruin. The first book is divided into four parts, and was initially released independently and individually, to great acclaim, before Howey received a publishing contract and they were bound up into one book. There are several follow-ups to the series, but I have only read the first one.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Set in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, this is the tale of a young man who runs away to join the circus – literally. Here he befriends the elephant, Rosie, and falls in love with one of the equestrian stars. Beautifully written, deeply compelling, it became a bestseller and was turned into a movie, staring Robert Pattinson. An absolutely wonderful read, and one I highly recommend.

Cinder by Melissa Meyer

A unique and unusual re-telling of Cinderella. Cinder is a cyborg mechanic, living in a futuristic, high tech city of New Beijing, where androids, humans and cyborgs crowd the streets. When her life becomes entwined with Prince Kai, she becomes caught up in an intergalactic  struggle. I listened to it on audio book and found it somewhat strange, but definitely different and very entertaining.

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Top Reading Picks for 2016

Last year, possibly due to my new-found addiction to Pokemon Go, or possibly my closer proximity to my workplace (thus reducing my reading-and-walking time down to approximately 10 minutes from 40 mins a day), I only managed to read 102 books in 2016, a distinct drop from the 160 of 2015. This year I aim to do better, without resorting to reading a lot of picture books!

Here are my Top Five Four* “Stand out” reads from the previous year – some ARE new, some will, however, be older titles that I have only just discovered.

kalanonKalanon’s Rising by Darian Smith
Darian Smith is a very talented writer, one whom I would – believe it or not – rate as highly as Brandon Sanderson and Peter V. Brett. His plots are engrossing, his settings highly developed and he has a real knack for immersing you fully into the world.”Kalanon’s Rising” is both a murder mystery and a powerful fantasy novel, and Smith displays a considerable amount of talent and imagination at penning both. There are red herrings, false leads, plenty of unexpected twists and illuminating discoveries. Plot holes are skillfully plugged, and tangled webs are woven. He doesn’t go light on the shock and brutality either. (Read More)
nevernightNevernight by Jay Kristoff
Intense. brutal. lyrical. beautiful.
Not for the faint of heart.
Loved it.
For fans of Laini Taylor and anyone who likes an evocative, richly detailed epic.
genestormGeneStorm: City in the Sky by Paul Kidd
A grand rollicking read, in the true spirit of Paul Kidd’s earlier works – rambunctious characters, a weird and quirky cast of mutant characters, over-the-top plot, non-stop action and explosions a plenty. This was a lot of fun to read.
I urge more people to read this series! Especially artists, as I would really, really love to see how others (including Kidd himself) interpret the stranger characters – Beau, the fox-pheasant, for example, is just begging to be drawn. And as for the floating plant guy…
Wickedly weird. I read it slowly, not because it was dull, but because I just wanted to enjoy the company of the characters for as long as possible.
magpiemurdersMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
A highly enjoyable mornings read! This is two stories combined into one – we begin with Alan Conway’s last Atticus Pund mystery: Magpie Murders. A manuscript delivered to our narrator, an editor but, frustratingly, missing the final chapters. Whodunnit? Who knows! What could be more irritating in a quaint English murder mystery than not knowing the reveal? Well, our narrator, Susan Ryeland, will not rest until she’s found those missing chapters for, not only does she need to know, but the continual existence of her publishing house could well depend on it. What it unravels, however, is a modern mystery all of its own – when the author commits suicide. Or does he? (Read More)

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* Not only have I not read many books this past year, there have been few that have truly hooked me.