Saturday, 28 June 2014

Where Time no longer justifies Cost.

How much is too much for an eBook? It’s the million dollar question.

Surely it’s a lot like anything else, the worth is in how much someone else is willing to pay for it.

That goes for property, services and goods of all description. If you happen to be in IT and charge a rate-per-hour, but the guy down the road is cheaper, it’s up to the customer to decide if your reputation warrants the extra cost, or whether the cheaper guy wearing a Jackaroo hat who rides into town on a horse is going to do a better job. You know he won’t, he’s a total cowboy but they don’t and might be willing to risk it. It would be the same if you were a painter, printer or plumber (or anything else not beginning with P.)

It’s no different with books. I’ve paid up to $30 hard cash for a print copy of an author I really like and I’ve also forked out $17 for a Kindle book for the same reason - and been horribly disappointed. But I’ve also downloaded a freebie from an indie author and been absolutely hooked on their work for life and been willing to pay for subsequent works!

I’ve had conversations with people who have read most of my eBook offerings and made the comment, ‘You should charge more for them.’

That’s really heartening, but I can’t. I’m a relative unknown not long out of the gate and if I hiked my prices, who would be willing to give me a punt? Somebody, nobody - it’s a terrific gamble.

I’ve also had conversations with people who know that I’m an Amazon bestseller on all of my 11 novels and mistakenly think that my longsuffering husband drives the white Audi R8 outside of his dreams and I use a hand rake to make my earnings into a neat pile every month. I wish!

The sad reality is that I, like many other authors are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Many of my novels are a whopping, fortune making 99c, because amongst the millions of other writers out there, I am a nobody. The sad irony is that of the 99c which a reader pays for my novel, I get a royalty of 35% and out of that royalty, the American taxman helps himself to a gleeful 30%. It doesn’t leave much. If I sell 20 books at 99c, I walk away with a swag bag containing just over $4. That wouldn’t get the fictitious R8 to the end of the street and back, but it might buy me a coffee. Actually, scrap that, it wouldn’t buy me a coffee. I take soy and decaf. It would get me coffee dregs or a sniff of the barista’s apron. Sigh. 

The debate about price rages on in every forum that I visit. At some point, somebody will have produced graphs and diagrams about what the optimum price is and how that might look for an indie author. I love looking at those. I don’t have a mathematical bone in my body, but I like the science of it. I know that $1.99 has been proven as ‘dead zone’ but, unfortunately, can’t remember why. I just know that I have to avoid that list price.

I followed a post recently from Google+ about price and was interested to see that readers had weighed into this one. It put a whole different slant on things, because the people whom the graphs and studies are done about, were actually there having their say.

I was astounded.

It came across loud and clear that readers view print books and eBooks completely differently. They actually believe they are paying for the cover, the physical print and the gloss. Hence they would pay for a print book, but not for an eBook.


Well as I watched the feed, the comments racked up. It seems that the author’s time, their personal investment in hours, sweat, blood and tears is worthless. It has no value to the reader. One comment made by a reader was that an eBook, 'costs the author nothing,' and they expect that 'nothing' cost to be passed on to them. All they see is the end product as though the book content happens by magic. They will stump up for an editor or an eye-catching cover because these are tangible things, but digital things are somehow ‘not real.’

Because so much on the internet is free, readers have been lulled into thinking that digital = free. You nip to the local shop to buy a newspaper and part with actual money, but if you want to read the news online, you just Google it and up it comes for free. You visit a shop to buy clothes and understand that the cost of the items you purchase include a supplement for the shop assistant’s wages and other overheads because they have a physical presence in the marketplace. When you shop online it’s cheaper and we have subliminally convinced ourselves that internet retailers don’t have the same overheads when in reality, of course they do. They have a warehouse, phone or computer operators, personnel stocktaking and posting out orders, but the illusion is that it all happens by magic.

That’s the trap that indie eBook authors are in.

We wouldn’t engage an editor and only pay them for the changes they make in our work. We have to pay for their time reading and working on our behalf. In the same way, when you take your car to the garage, who doesn’t look at the cost of the $20 part and have a conniption at the $200 of labour that it took to find and change said part? We hand over our credit card with an expression that reads, ‘paid under protest’ and decide that next time, we’ll have a go ourselves. But we don’t, do we? Because deep down we know that we’re paying them for their expertise and the time spent when the $20 part was actually stuck somewhere deep inside the engine that took three mechanics to fix; one to hold the part, one to dangle inside the bonnet and one to hold his feet.

Time in this century has become irrelevant. We take calls at home which land us with work problems at the weekend, for which we are not paid or thanked. If we want to continue to draw a salary - it’s expected. We all work extra hours for nothing and those people who wander in at dead on 8am and ping out the doors again at 5pm are not viewed well in today’s society. Militants, everyone whispers behind their hands, whilst wishing they had the courage to do that.

In New Zealand, there is what is referred to as the ‘kiwi-half-hour’ which basically means that someone can turn up at least half an hour late. I hate it. I’m English and it’s tantamount to rudeness, but I’ve had to get used to it. When you turn up late to meet me, you are telling me that my wasted time is of no value to you. You don’t care about me.

My family and I once turned up for dinner with NZ people we didn’t know, dead on the dot of 7pm. The home owner greeted us at the front door with, ‘You must either be English or Swedish.’

So if our time is irrelevant and nobody is willing to pay for it, is it any wonder that our hours of writing, editing, re-writing and publishing are seen the same way?

I don’t have an answer. It’s a worldwide issue about time generally, but the backlash hits anyone who works even more outside the box than the rest of society. Housewives and mothers have never felt valued.
‘What do you do all day?’

It’s just that the rot has spread and now impacts more of us.

In addition to being a novelist, I’m also an artist. A prospective purchaser is paying for my name and the cost of replenishing my store of equipment. Ultimately they will buy my work because it speaks to them and they like it. I can charge a fortune and price myself out of the market, or I can be realistic and understand that at the moment, nobody cares that it took me 3 weeks to make. If I price too high, they walk away.

We can only price our novels at what someone is willing to pay for them. Perhaps at the moment it’s not very much, but there’s always the hope that one day, it could be more. It’s not right and it’s definitely not fair, but it is unfortunately the way it is.

I’m not convinced that we can change the way a reader thinks about us personally, or views our contribution to the work in their hands - unless we can change the view of those around us - that time is not a free commodity. It costs somebody - me.

Respect me, respect my work.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

I’m really pleased to have been tagged to take part in this tour by Regina Joseph, author of the Alterran Legacy Series in the sci-fi genre. She is an author whose work I have very much enjoyed. If you want to see more of Regina Joseph, her author page can be found at,

So, here are some insights into what makes me tick as a writer. I wish my answers didn’t make me look so haphazard, but we are what we are I guess. I could have lied and made stuff up, but I didn’t. Promise. 

What am I working on?

At the moment, I am re-editing About Hana for the millionth time because I am obsessive about novels being ‘clean.' I can’t stand editing errors. It had been my intention to have a break from writing and tidy up some of my older works, but I now have another storyline which is growing in my head by the day. It sometimes happens like that, but this one is definitely not going to go away so I need to get it written down. 

Writing is a treat for me and so I can use it as a reward if I do enough editing. Oh, that’s in between the family and the day job. 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I guess that I write what I want. I don’t sit down and decide that this book is going to be a romance or this one is a mystery - I just write it. I have been known to get stuck after the novel is complete and fully ready to go with its wee cover on and sit there wondering which genre to put it in. Sometimes it really is a question of, ‘Mmnn, what are you?’ at the eleventh hour. I seem to cross genres quite a lot within one piece of work. 

Artifact is intrinsically a romance but is intercontinental, crossing from New Zealand to England. It also contains some scenes from English history with references to the English Civil War and that’s always difficult to place. I guess that’s why my work is so different, because it meanders across acceptable genre lines without worrying. 

The Hana Mysteries are essentially that - mysteries, but are bound up in the deeply entrenched Maori family that Hana marries into. There is family intrigue within that dynamic which is culturally interesting and then underneath, there is always an external issue that causes danger or disaster for Hana. Yet my favourite aspect of the Hana series is the romance between her and Logan because it is so complicated and undulating.

So again, what are those books? Mystery, romance, New Zealand culture, family. They are a myriad of things all rolled into one.

Why do I write what I do?

Ultimately, I write the kind of stories that I would like to read. If I’m paying good money for a book, what would it have to be or contain? 

Writing for me, is easily as fulfilling as reading and I think that is a factor in what I produce. I have lead female characters because I am one. I could write from a male perspective but can get far more psychologically in depth with another female. My Hana character has a few hallmarks belonging to me and I am comfortable with her. She is a frustrating over-thinker who worries about silly things (me) and yet at other times she can be dogged and stubborn with enough pluck to be gutsy and interesting (probably not me.) If she was a real person, I would spend half my life wanting to have coffee with her and the other half being driven mad by her. 

I love my secondary male characters (perhaps a little too much sometimes) and am fascinated by how they grow and become shaped by the storylines, often without much input from me. Logan Du Rose began as a mysterious Maori with an intense attraction for Hana. At first it seemed incongruous and they were so poorly matched but as the series progressed, I fell in love with him myself. He has become this Godfather figure, this all powerful bad-boy in cowboy boots who masquerades as a highly intelligent school teacher. He did that himself. 

My teen novels fill a gap I think. Again, I don’t plan them. I sit down at my computer and out they come. Blaming the Child began harmlessly, as a story about two teenagers who lived next door to each other. In fact the working title was ‘Bad Neighbours’. Nobody was more surprised than me when the novel began dealing with issues such as self-harm, rape, teenage sex, runaways and parenting issues. Experience is different for everyone but I know that my writing has been cathartic for me personally. I think that the only rule in writing is to stick to what you know. 

Demons On Her Shoulder began as a book about a counsellor and went on from there. I don’t think that you can convincingly write about sexual abuse in a detached way. Readers aren’t stupid - they know when something is based purely on research and it doesn’t convince them. So in that way, there’s a real vulnerability in producing novels that deal with this issue. It’s a huge risk but I have had some lovely emails, especially about Demons, even though it was never meant to be a self-help book at all.

How does my writing process work?

I would love to give a really intelligent answer to that question. Unfortunately, there is no rhyme or reason for what I write or when I write it. Shakespeare wrote a lot about his ‘muse’ and I know that artists talk about this concept as though it’s an ethereal being. But it feels exactly like that sometimes, like this thing has occupied your brain and put all these plot lines and story arcs in there. You literally can’t relax until they’re all out. 

If you imagine a woolly jumper that someone’s unpicking, they pull on the end and the whole thing eventually collapses and disappears in front of your eyes. It’s a lot like that. You pull the thread and it unravels inside you only sometimes it gets a knot which needs undoing. The end result has to be a neatly rolled ball of wool even if there was once a whole lot of messy strands on the floor in front of you. Some days it’s a flowing thing and other times a wrenching one, but it has to come out entirely for the author to feel satiated. 

I wrote One Heartbeat like that. I was like a crazed madwoman. I remember it being winter and I went through the motions of going to work and sorting out the family, but I have no memories of anything about that time in my life. It’s as though I wasn’t really here, I was up in the mountains above Port Waikato at the hotel sharing Hana’s trials. For me it can act as a huge abdication from life, which isn’t really fair on my family. When I wrote that particular book, we had a lot going wrong for us and it helped me to rise above it actually. I would have normally got depressed, in fact I should have got depressed with all that was going on, but nothing seemed to touch me. I was particularly cruel to Hana at the end though and when I look back, I think I was trying to sever the connection and make her let go of me so that I could come back to the real world. 

I wish I could offer up some carefully coiffed plan for that question, which made me look really wonderful. If I was looking for a name to call my own personal writing process, it would have to be ‘The Headless Chicken Writing Process.’ The definition of that would be - no pattern, no direction, just running around blindly and getting surprisingly far whilst being observed with interest. 

If writer’s block is like creative constipation, then I am blessedly at the other end of the digestive scale right now and very thankful for it. My father always said that I had verbal diarrhoea... 

So, who have I tagged to be next on the blog hop?

The next author that I am going to tag on this blog tour is actually one of my favourites.

Terry Maggert is probably the next DH Lawrence and I read his first novel, The Forest Bull in awe of him. His writing has a real intelligence to it and if I could have given more than five stars in my review, I definitely would have. Terry is an author whose coat tails the rest of us can only dream of holding onto. He is definitely a writer who is going places fast.


Terry’s biography

Born in 1968, I discovered fishing shortly after walking, a boon, considering I lived in South Florida. After a brief move to Kentucky, my family trekked back to the Sunshine State. I had the good fortune to attend high school in idyllic upstate New York, where I learned about a mythical substance known as "snow". 

After two or three failed attempts at college, I bought a bar. That was fun because I love beer, but, then, I eventually met someone smarter than me (a common event), and, in this case, she married me and convinced me to go back to school--which I did, with enthusiasm. I earned a Master's Degree in History and rediscovered my love for writing.
 My novels explore dark fantasy, immortality, and the nature of love as we know it. 

I live near Nashville, Tennessee, with the aforementioned wife, son, and herd, and, when I'm not writing, I teach history, grow wildly enthusiastic tomato plants, and restore my 1967 Mustang.

Links to Terry Maggert, author - well worth a look.

 My next author to nominate is:

CB Pratt

 CB Pratt is an author whose work I have happily reviewed. I love her Eno the Thracian novels with her dashing, tongue-in-cheek hero who makes me laugh.

C.B. Pratt has lived all over the United States, including California, New York and many stops in between. Having been a professional writer for over twenty years, she is ill-suited to any normal work and hopes to continue writing for the rest of her life. Independent publishing has allowed her to write the things she has always wanted to, including fantasy and steampunk. She is the author of numerous traditionally published books, as well as the Eno the Thracian fantasy-adventure series. RIVERS OF SAND will be released late summer, 2014.  
Sample or purchase Book 1 in the series: Web site:

And last but not least, an author for whom I have a great deal of respect:

Venkatesh Iyer 

Venky and I chat often on the Book Review Depot, from where I know all of the three authors I have tagged. He has a wicked sense of humour and always has something useful to add. I find his blogs about writing immensely useful and am looking forward to his collection of short stories.

General Manager in a big trading concern at a young age, bank executive thereafter, before becoming an entrepreneur in the third stage of my working life: that was me before I decided I had had enough of the world of commerce (my businesses died a lingering death because of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal). I moved to Chennai, and finally, late in life, took up something I was born for, and unfortunately, knowingly blind to: writing.

I am at the computer all day, writing for my blog, for LinkedIn (I recently received publishing rights) and most of all, on my book of short stories, most based on real life, and all to do with a scheming but bumbling politician who would be Caesar. I intend to publish it as my first fiction book, in both digital and print versions. I have published three non-fiction works, all in the digital form.

I do freelance editing jobs, all for publishers of non-fiction, like Oxford Printing Press.
I am interested in current news, movies, reading and music (in which my tastes go back to the
60s, 70s, and 80s).

I believe in social media, because I believe in social participation.

I believe in myself, once again, after years of self-rejection.

I blog at: and

Links to Terry Maggert, author - well worth a look. 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Ocean's Gift by Demelza Carlton

I liked Water and Fire, but I loved Ocean’s Gift. It was fascinating seeing Belinda in her mermaid setting, as I had got to know her in the first novel even though I knew little of her background. But in this novel, I adored the character of Vanessa. She had an innocence and yet a matriarchal power that was really enticing. I felt as though there was an opportunity to really get to know her. Demelza Carlton has struck the perfect balance between the archetypal view of mermaids and that of the sirens of old, blending the two to make a tender and yet dangerous species of females.

The storyline is awesome and frighteningly plausible. The earth is dying and nature will have seen the tell-tale signs long before man pulls his head out of the TV and realises it.

Joe is a decent man in a world full of typically bawdy males. He is solid and honourable and bashful without losing any of his sex appeal. He is reassuringly male without the unappealing baseness of the other fishermen, which is probably why Vanessa picks him. The mermaid race seeks liaison with men as a duty, but Vanessa is different. She has previously known love and it presents a vulnerability within an otherwise fearsome character portrayal.

I love how truly Australian this novel is. It has all the raw beauty of a stunning corner of the world. I appreciated the descriptions of the geography and the oceans; they were colourful and well-drawn and made the reader feel as though they were taking part in the novel. I was there in Joe’s hut and Vanessa’s boat. I liked this novel enough to read it in one sitting, not wanting to put it down and miss anything. It had enough of a hold on me, to keep me from doing the myriad other things that I actually should have been doing and I felt sad when the last page had been finished and savoured. I would have felt more devastated, had I not known that there were other books in the series to pick up.

It was incredibly well written and refreshing clean editorially - not a single distracting flaw to spoil the reading experience. I would definitely recommend it.

Get your own copy of Demelza's awesome book on Amazon:

Sunday, 15 June 2014

All Authors Blog Blitz

This is my first blog tour and it’s incredible to have been paired with Stevie Turner, author of A House Without Windows. Although I now live in New Zealand, my father is from East Anglia in the UK which is where Stevie lives and I spent the first few years of my life living behind the Norwich City Football ground. It just goes to show what a small world it really is!

Stevie Turner is a medical secretary by day, typing clinic letters dictated by doctors. At all other times when she is not typing women's fiction she will be wandering along the country footpaths of her village in picturesque East Anglia, UK. Stevie is married with two children and three grandchildren.

Synopsis of A House Without Windows

'A House Without Windows' is from the suspense/romance genre.

Newly pregnant Dr Beth Nichols is stalked by crazed ex-patient Edwin Evans and held captive in his basement for 10 years. Escaping with her daughter Amy, Beth finds a whole new world outside captivity and when the Press get hold of the story, Beth and Amy find their photographs splashed across the world news. Beth's ex-fiancée, Dr Liam Darrah, believed that Beth had been murdered years before. He is forced to make the difficult choice between staying in Canada with his new partner Patty and their son Toby, or seeking out his first love, Beth in the UK.

This novel careful crafts multiple perspectives together, offering the reader a panoramic view of the ripples which spread out from one man’s crime, to create innocent victims of others.

One of those victims is Joss, Beth’s son. Feeling unloved and lost, he reaches out to his natural father in the secure mental hospital, finding a man who is still obsessed with Beth. Disappointed and confused, Joss inadvertently gives away the location of the little family, unleashing fresh horrors on a group of people, who had worked hard to rebuild their lives.

Joss begins to understand what fatherhood really is and that love is more than genetics, as danger
once again stalks his family.

Sample of A House Without Windows


Thanks again to Libbie Grant for the cover, and my gratitude goes to Enid Blyton for writing the Island of Adventure and starting me out on my love of reading all those years ago.
Dedicated to all those rescued from captivity.

All names and characters are fictitious. Any similarity to persons living or deceased is purely coincidental.


The unprepossessing exterior of the suburban 1930’s end-of-terrace house was giving nothing away.  Inspector John Hatton pushed past the usual group of ghouls and rubberneckers, dipped his slightly overweight body under the cordon, and opened the gate leading to the tidy pocket-handkerchief front garden.

“Morning Ford.”
“Morning Sir.”
“You get all the best jobs don’t you? Anyone in or out?”
“Not as far as I know, Sir.”
“Have you had a word with the neighbours?”
“The ones I’ve spoken to say he was always a bit of a loner; kept himself to himself.  They don’t really know much about him.”

Stamping his feet as he sheltered from the January chill in the half–enclosed front porch, Ford looked to Hatton as though he was freezing his arse off.  Hatton let a faint smile play around his lips as he realised that yes, this morning there was actually somebody worse off than him.

He curbed the impulse to wipe his feet on the welcome mat just inside the front door.  Grimacing at the irony, he put on plastic overshoes and gloves and continued down the hallway into the kitchen. 

Everything was still in its place, modern and clean.  The door to the dishwasher was open as though it had been in the process of being emptied; there were still clean plates, bowls, and pots and pans stacked neatly.  Knives, forks and spoons filled the cutlery compartment, all with their handles facing the same way.  Hatton noticed the five large plastic containers still standing side by side above the dishwasher on the worktop, each full to the brim with a different breakfast cereal.

He could imagine guests (if there had ever been any) popping into the kitchen for a drink of water and wondering why somebody living on his own would have wanted to buy so many containers of cereal, and why they would have required such a huge American walk-in fridge.  He opened the fridge door that stood next to the dishwasher; there were seven pints of full-fat milk in the storage space in the door, three large portions of raw fillet steak on the bottom shelf, and numerous types of vegetables, salad stuff and fruits filling the middle two.  Various yoghurts sat on the top shelf in regimented lines, segregated into flavours, with the ones nearest their sell-by date at the front. Twelve raw eggs sat in holders slightly too small for them in the door above the milk.

Hatton took one last glance at the food that would soon begin to spoil; he could have just eaten that fillet steak with some chips, mushrooms and peas. 

Walking around the central table he noticed the dishcloth folded neatly on the draining board, not just thrown down as he would have done.  He opened the cupboards underneath the sink; bleach, Dettol, and washing-up liquid stood one behind the other on the left side, next to two large packets of sanitary towels on the right.

The guests would have really begun to wonder at the sight of those…..

He sighed and closed the cupboard and looked around some more.  Adjacent to the sink stood a washing machine still full of damp women’s clothing, and on the far wall was a long clean-looking worktop with cupboards underneath containing sweets and crisps, and what looked like a pantry just outside the kitchen door.  Hatton checked inside and found shelves overflowing with rice, spaghetti, pasta, potatoes, more tinned food, and the door to what resembled yet another American type of walk-in-fridge, silver in colour, but built into a recess with a bolt on the outside.  The bolt was pulled back into the open position, and the door was slightly ajar.  He walked towards it, opened the door fully, and trod carefully down the narrow flight of steps.

He had to see it just once more, before the house was bulldozed and razed to the ground.



Mummy wonders if it will be Christmas soon, but I don’t know what she means.  She says that when she was a little girl she would get lots of presents on Christmas Day, and there would be a big tree in her house with lots of twinkling fairy lights on the branches and shiny baubles that she could see her reflection in.  I’ve never seen a tree, so Mummy drew one for me in my colouring book and showed me.  I don’t understand why there was a tree in her house.

My name is Amy, and Mummy thinks I could be seven, eight or nine years old because my big front teeth are growing in.  I have long blonde hair like Mummy that I can sit on.  Mummy puts it in a plait and she showed me how to plait hers, and she taught me how to read.  She says I can read and write really well, and I like writing stories.  I write everything down in a secret diary and keep it under the mattress. Mummy writes things down too. The Man brings us paper, pencils, exercise books, and colouring books for me, but he doesn’t speak much.  Mummy tells me to keep out of his way, so I run to the toilet when he comes.  Sometimes he finds me and smiles, and says that I’m getting a big girl.  I don’t like him.  He’s nearly as tall as the ceiling and he has hair all over his face.  Mummy told me his name is Edwin, but I don’t like him so I call him The Man.

Our house is small and dark.  There’s a light bulb hanging from the ceiling that stays on all the time, even when we go to sleep.  It’s too dark without the light on, and I get frightened.  I get in bed with Mummy because there’s nowhere else to sleep.  When I lay in bed I can see all the rest of the house except the toilet and sink, which is around a little corner and out of the way.  All the walls are greenish-grey, and Mummy says they’re made out of concrete.  When I touch them they’re cold. 

Mummy sticks my pictures on the walls with something called Blu-tack, and she says they brighten things up a bit.  My best picture is the one of Prince, a ginger cat that sometimes follows behind The Man when he brings our food.  I’m allowed to stroke Prince until he goes back out, but then Mummy says I have to wash my hands before I eat anything. 

Last week The Man brought me a reading book. I’d never had a reading book before.  He said I had to look after it because he’d kept it safe for years since he was a little boy.  It’s got thick pages, large letters, and a sort of yellowy cardboard cover. I’ve started to read it.  A lady called Enid Blyton wrote it, and it’s called The Island of Adventure. It begins where a boy called Philip who loves animals is at some sort of summer school and is bored as he sits under a tree doing something called algebra (I asked Mummy what algebra is, and she said it’s a different kind of maths).  He hears a strange voice telling him to blow his nose and wipe his feet.  It turns out the voice comes from a parrot sitting in a tree nearby, and he follows it as it flies off down the hillside back towards his school. That’s the only bit I’ve read so far.

I asked Mummy what a parrot is, and why I can’t sit under a tree.  She told me a parrot is a colourful bird that flies around in hot countries, but that some people in this country keep them in cages as pets.  I think that’s cruel.  If I had a parrot I’d let it fly about.

I had to ask her again why I can’t sit under a tree.  Mummy sighed and told me that trees grew outside, and we weren’t allowed to go outside.  When I asked her why, she said that The Man doesn’t want us to. 

It’s boring in our house.  I do maths with Mummy like Philip had to do at school.  I know how to add up lots of numbers in my head and come up with the right answer, and Mummy says not many eight year olds can do that.  She always asks me to spell words and read even longer words.  She helps me with the ones I can’t do, because she’s a doctor and she’s cleverer than me.  When my felt tips run out I have to wait for The Man to bring more. There’s no parrots flying around to look at, and I want to sit under a tree.  One day I will get outside, but I’m not sure yet how I’ll go about doing it.



Monday, 9 June 2014

KEEPING IT REAL - Giving the reader the benefit of your real-life experience.

I read a novel once which contained a foreword by the author and referred to a week that she had spent in the bush doing research. I sat back and began reading, excited to see her experiences drifting through the pages at me. I was severely disappointed. By the end of the book, her lead male had made a fire without matches and built a small bush hut. That was it. She had literally spent a week living rough for a few lines about how delightful it was and how clever her man could be.

Whilst writing my latest work, I sent my two main characters into the New Zealand bush, on Mount Pirongia to be exact. I was keen not to make the same mistake and so I used my own experience to hopefully put the reader into that situation. The bush is beautiful and challenging and utterly terrifying. It is not the kind of place that you can afford to disrespect. I hope that I have managed to get that across.

The first night I ever spent in the bush was up in the Kaimai Ranges in the middle of a wintry July. It was a Youth Search and Rescue event and I was accompanying my fourteen year old daughter on a Parent Camp, having drawn a very short straw.

Let’s make this clear. I am a 5* hotel kind of girl. I don’t do camping.

Yet there I was, waking up in a tent packed with snoring adults of both genders, fervently telling myself that I didn’t need the toilet. Unfortunately, I did and let me tell you, once you’re out of the tent, there ain’t no point trying to crawl back in again. It was freezing cold and into the minus figures and the promise of home and bed felt like the Holy Grail. We had camped next to an elderly scout hut with a toilet and freezing cold running water, but that, I am reliably informed, was a luxury.

My daughter had joined this motley band of crazies a few weeks after her fourteenth birthday and they trained rigorously every second weekend on any of the mountain ranges surrounding Hamilton. Over a period of three years, she morphed from an outdoor loving teenager into a finely honed machine, able to survive alone in the bush for days, navigate anywhere with an ordinance survey map and compass, track and find, administer first aid to and rescue unfortunates who found themselves lost. By the age of sixteen, she was carrying a pager and responded to search calls, even leaving school to do so. As parents, we were so proud. But then in the middle of each year...there was Parent Camp.

The first year, I went off on a ‘tramp’ with an older boy and another parent. We chose a short track, because I am not a fan of deeply wooded areas and as we discovered half way around, the other poor mother was three months pregnant and but for her husband being called away, shouldn’t have been crawling, knee deep in vines and bush matter anyway. We had radios and a GPS, not that we were allowed to cheat, tempting as it was and we were being monitored back at base by a group of third years which must have found our weaving coloured line absolutely hilarious.

All of the parents were loaded up with rucksacks containing emergency clothing and a small survival kit, food and water to last us should we get hideously lost and need to camp out. Good grief! Surely that should have told us what we were in for but no, off we went like innocent lambs to the slaughter.

There is a moment in my latest novel, Blaming the Child, when Callister is forced to tramp off track through deep bush. She is scratched by the hooky thorns of bush lawyer and constantly tripped up by supplejack, spending most of the time on her hands and knees. That was me! I have truly never felt so helpless. For as far as I could see in every direction, it all looked the same. I could see how easy it was to get lost. Over five awful hours, I learned to navigate using a compass and also saw how simple it could be to trust your own judgement about where you were headed and topple off a ridge or into a water course. I got to use the radio and call in our coordinates, feeling a total fool when I got the lingo wrong and had to be straightened out by a teenager. It was both humbling and humiliating.

The second year, I had the privilege to be led on a tramp by my own daughter. She had suffered a dreadful head injury at the end of the previous year, being caught in a rock fall and received a bravery award. Miles from help, her head had been kept from falling apart using a handkerchief and a bright orange Search and Rescue baseball cap for an incredible twenty four hours. Then she walked 6km carrying her own pack, to civilisation, a horrified mother and hospital. She recovered and apart from the scar on her forehead and a wariness of scree slopes, she lost none of her passion for the bush and rescuing other people from its clutches.

Unfortunately by the end of our master class, my beautiful daughter declared me to be a ‘liability.’ I have a tendency to wander off after butterflies and pretty plants and she spent half an hour searching for me and the other parent whom I had inadvertently led astray. I have no idea how we ended up on the other side of that stream as neither of us adults remembered crossing it. I also disgraced myself by eating particularly poorly. While everyone else unwrapped hearty sandwiches and sensible energy bars, I created a stir by whipping out a tin of English mushy peas which I had lumped around in my rucksack. Having produced a tin opener and a dessert spoon, I horrified my poor daughter by eating the little green darlings cold, washed out the tin in the stream and carried it back to the scout hut, clanking loudly all the way.

Needless to say in her third year, she didn’t press me to attend with quite the same degree of excitement.

My character, Callister Rhodes, is a lot like me. She is surrounded by beauty but would rather not be. The New Zealand bush is both fascinating and terrifying and she doesn’t cope well with its isolation. It makes her feel powerless and causes her to question her own significance against the benchmark of its magnificence. If it weren’t for the competence of her companion, Declan Harris, she would not have survived.

Declan is like many of the young men and women whom I encountered on those weekends. He is infinitely capable and very much at home in his surroundings. Unlike Calli, he would be perfectly happy to live indefinitely in the bush. He has been well trained by a bush loving father, who taught him everything he knew, before dying prematurely.

I have been careful not to over-egg the pudding. My characters could have hunted for their food, surviving on rabbit or eel, but I wanted it to be realistic. It wouldn’t matter how hungry I got, I would never be able to stomach a slime covered eel, no matter how well you washed it and my daughter informed me knowledgeably, that rabbits would not be found on the upper slopes of the mountain, only in the lower farmland areas. Declan provides food for Calli, made up of dehydrated mince and powdered mashed potato. I may be criticised for this but can assure you, that my daughter and her companions survived happily on such ingredients for each of her weekends and the ten day trips which they did every New Year. I should know. I was in charge of firing up the dehydrator and the smell of it running overnight was pretty disgusting. But she required enough meals to last for ten days and that was my contribution. There is almost nothing that can’t be dehydrated and some things are more successful than others. Tinned fruit mushed up and spread over the shelves of the dehydrator comes out like fruit bar - bet you didn’t know that!

Above all, I truly hope that my novel has realism. The last thing I want is someone to slam the book down and declare that the author has clearly never experienced the bush. I want you, the reader to know that I have, I did and I really don’t want to again.