You can contact me through my publisher. Either...
HarperCollins Publishers (Australia)
Level 13, 201 Elizabeth Street
(PO Box A565, NSW, 1235)
Sydney NSW 2000
HarperCollins Publishers (New Zealand)
PO Box 1, Shortland Street
Not specifically, though I was always quite good at stringing a sentence together. I sort of fell into it and it grew from there. See below.
Yes, just about anyone (within reason) can learn the craft of writing, and I think it is a craft rather than an art. I learned most of my craft through Romance Writers of NZ, and Romance Writers of Australia, though I don’t write romance. But, in my opinion, to write books that people really want to read, you also need to know what makes a good story and have the ability to create characters readers truly care about. I don’t know where that particular knack comes from and that's what makes the difference between a mediocre book and a really good one.
Actually, no. I was in the right place at the right time. In 1997 when I was writing up my Ph.D. thesis about New Zealand Vietnam veterans, my supervisor suggested I send some chapters off to publishers. HodderMoaBeckett made me an offer – probably, I think, because ‘Parade 98’, the unofficial welcome home for Vietnam veterans, was coming up in June 1998, which meant guaranteed sales for the book, which was called Grey Ghosts. It sold well and got to number 4 on the bestseller list.
After that I was approached by HarperCollins NZ who wanted someone to co-write a book about the impact of Agent Orange on the children of some New Zealand Vietnam veterans. That book was called Who’ll Stop the Rain.
While I was writing that, I was also working at the Waikato Times as their librarian (I’m not a trained librarian – the job was filing newspapers and updating the story database) and I ended up writing a regular opinion column and some feature articles, though I’m not a trained journalist either. I also started writing Tamar, my first novel, which was accepted by HarperCollins NZ. I’ve written for HarperCollins NZ, and now HarperCollins Australia, ever since. But times have changed. I'd hate to be an emerging writer trying to find a publisher now.
I get asked this question a lot and it surprises me because I always assume all people are full of ideas, but perhaps they aren’t. Mine come from things I see and hear and think and read and imagine – everywhere, really. Mind you, being a history person I tend to look backwards, not forwards, so I'm unlikely to write much science fiction. Mostly I think about what it might have been like for ordinary people to have live during a particular event or time period, and it goes from there. So the skeleton of the story is always real history, and the flesh that fills it out is fiction, to use a slightly gross metaphor.
Unlikely. History is full of, well, history, and every single person lived it a slightly different way. There are endless events, experiences and perspectives.
Yes, because the storylines depend on it. But being a history person I thoroughly enjoy the research, so it’s hardly a problem or a chore. I use sources like maps, newspapers, photos, site visits, various documents and some personal accounts, though these days I'm relying less on primary sources like letters, diaries and oral testimony. The older I get the more I realise how unreliable people's memories are, including mine, and how much of an agenda people have when they commit thoughts, memories or experiences to paper or film. It's a tricky thing, interpreting the past, but endlessly fascinating.
Yes but very occasionally I do get something wrong and if I do I'll try to fix it before the next edition comes out. Once or twice I’ve deliberately changed things a bit to suit the story – but if I do that I’ll always say so in the author notes.
Not always. While I do have days when the ideas and words fly out faster than I can type, they happen less than I’d like. Some days I have to push myself to write anything, which is odd, as I really do enjoy writing. At the end of every day I make notes about what I’ll be writing the following day, which helps, but sometimes it’s extremely difficult to get my bum to stay on my office chair. It’s a momentum thing, I think. When I’m on a roll, it’s great, but if I have to stop for anything, I find it hard to get started again. And, believe me, in life there are often things that have to be stopped for. Treating writing like a normal job helps – working from eight till five, at least five and even six days a week, and knowing I won’t get paid if I don’t.
Sort of, but in an outline, not my head. I'll spend a good month or two preparing a detailed outline of my story, or more likely outlines of a complete series, before I start writing. This is to make sure everything fits and works, and to give me a guide when I get lost or run out of motivation. I’ve tried storyboarding, and file cards, and coloured sticky notes and all the rest of it, but writing boring old outlines seems to work best for me.
UK crime novels, hardly any literary prize winners, and no New Zealand fiction in case I get accused of plagiarism. Actually I don't read much fiction at all. Mostly I read non-fiction – economics, sociology, politics, history, biographies. You'd be surprised how much that sort of thing can inform fiction writing.
It depends on where you sell your books. If you can sell a decent number overseas you can do reasonably well and, yes, make a living. If you only sell in New Zealand you’ll make less money even if they sell well, because the market is much smaller. A writer who only sells in New Zealand probably couldn’t afford to live off their income.
It’s not that I don’t like the following question, it just baffles me. It’s when someone discovers I’m a writer and they say; ‘Would I have read anything you’ve written?’ How would I know what someone’s read?
Several things I am a bit over is when I'm asked to talk during an interview about my latest romance, or ‘bodice-ripper’, or my ‘feisty’ heroine. I usually get asked this by people who haven’t actually read the book. For a start, I don’t write romance. I write historical fiction. Bodice-rippers are stories about heroines who get raped by the heroes, and I don’t write about that, either. The word ‘feisty’ originally meant either a small, angry dog, or a fart. I do occasionally write about small angry dogs, and more often about farts, but neither of those have ever played central or pivotal roles in any of my books.
The first is to actually write something. Don’t sit staring at a blank computer screen, too nervous to start. Just bash it out then go back and play around with it and get it right later. You can pay someone else to do a final edit. In fact, you should.
The second is to join a writers’ association, for example, Romance Writers of New Zealand – even if you don’t write romance – or the New Zealand Society of Authors. Any group in which you can talk to other writers and learn about the craft and the industry. I really do recommend this. It’s hard going being a writer by yourself.