The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. - Dolly Parton
I was born in South Africa and lived there until 1997 when my husband and I emigrated to New Zealand. We now live in a small village under the protective arm of a beautiful mountain called Te Aroha. In the Maori language that means 'beloved'. Two of my earlier books are now, sadly, out of print. In the day both were bestsellers. They are: Debbie's Story A New Life in New Zealand
So-o-o boring! Yes, that is me but I'm so much more than that. Aren't we all! I was a wife, mother and general dog's-body for more years than I care to recall. I don't know if lurking in the background was a writer-in-waiting just ready to be born. But I do remember as a child writing and producing 'magazines' with my cousin, Cynthia. She went on to do the the 'real' writing long before I even thought of it. She was a newspaper editor who was tragically killed in 1996 by a hippo in the Okavango Swamps. I'm so sorry she never lived to see me become the writer she thought was there. On looking back, my first foray into writing was a truly preposterous scheme thought up by a neighbour. "Let's write a book about women's sexual fantasies", she said. "You do the writing and we'll share the profits." Yeah, right. I should have realised living in a very constrained, conservative world that was South Africa in the mid-1900s we would never get enough material for a short story, let alone a book. Never mind, the seed was sown and when later a friend I'd met while volunteering at LifeLine asked me to write her story I jumped at the opportunity. It probably surprised us both that the book, Debbie's Story, became a bestseller. It was only much later I realised what a damaged soul she was and I wondered how much of her story was real or what she imagined had happened to her. No matter, it helped a lot of women and that's a success in itself. I left South Africa in 1997 as the hoopla reached a peak. Debbie enjoyed an Indian Summer of 'fame' which gave her the impetus to do good things for victims of rape and abuse. In 2004 Debbie committed suicide, no longer able to bear the pain of early abuse. In New Zealand I began writing again, thinking of the ease with which my first book became a bestseller. This is going to be easy, I thought. Yeah, right.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day? Coffee! No, really. The rich aroma of good coffee and I'm out of bed in a flash. Otherwise I tend to drift on in a dreamy state doing nothing, thinking nothing. In any event, I'm pretty dozy until about 10 o'clock. But coffee helps.
What is your favourite book from childhood? Tell me about it. My favourite children’s book has to be Wind in the Willows. Such a tender book filled with gentle stories of friendship and adventure. Written by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by E H Shepard and published in 1908, this book is timeless, a long-gone pastoral England with characters one comes to love; Mole, Rat and the irrepressible, conceited Mr Toad.
What are you currently reading? Tell me about it. I'm not a book snob. I haven’t read The Luminaries and probably won’t. My research at the moment is sombre; the Holocaust, so I need light reading to centre me. I have belatedly found Susan Hill’s crime novels, a nice balance of whodunit with complex inviting characters. Her ghost stories are excellent too and, I suspect, will become the inspiration for my own paranormal stories. There are no vampires or zombies. No one’s scared of those! They don’t make you look over your shoulder or double-lock your door at night. But a subtle story; a ghostly hand clutching yours, an indent on the bed when you know you’re alone, a shadow across the windowsill – now that’s the stuff of real fear.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? Why does it stick in your memory? The first story I wrote was a book, Debbie’s Story. It was a bestseller and that’s probably why I remember it. It was a biography of childhood sexual abuse and it came out at just the right time and right place for a dialogue to begin about what some children are put through by evil adults. Radio, television, magazine and newspaper reviews – all heady stuff. I wondered if writing and publishing was always going to be that easy. I came down with a crash.
What’s the best thing about being a writer? Ian Rankin said; ‘I think most writers are just kids who refuse to grow up. We’re still playing imaginary games with our imaginary friends’. Bam! Kerplat! Take that, you scoundrel! Saddle up, Tonto, we’re outta here! It’s wonderful to create characters and to live with them for as long as it takes to complete the book. There is a kind of childlike pretension about writing and about slipping into the ‘skin’ of someone else, even if that someone is made up.
What is your writing process? I try to write for at least an hour a day and I keep a record of the number of words I manage in a writing session. Sometimes it’s a thousand and that feels very good. Sometimes it’s only a page or 300 words – not so good. I don’t have any superstitions about writing, although I have a little stuffed frog on the computer whose black eyes stare at me and remind me to ‘get going, already’.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time? I read a lot and I play classical guitar. I'm not only a double dipper (two books going at a time), I usually triple-dip, meaning that I will have one non-fiction book I'm reading for research and then two, at least two, novels. I might even have a ‘how-to’ book on the sidelines, something like Solutions for Writers by Sol Stein or Plot by Ansen Dibell, two oldies but greaties. When I get stuck those sorts of books become my butt-kickers.
What are you currently working on? Explain. I have just published Out of Poland : when surviving is the best revenge. It's the story of a Jewish family in Poland. One survived and ended up in New Zealand. This book has been very well received (see http://www.flaxroots.com/flaxflower/archives/08-2017). I'm now on the cusp of another story about Jews in Poland. The Bender family of Lodz.
Do you belong to a group? I belong to a small but very effective group in Te Aroha. We meet once fortnightly for critique. Even though I've been writing for twenty years I find I am still learning.