Thursday, November 15, 2012

Celebrating with the Earnslaw

History of the Earnslaw

October 1912 was the centennial of the steamship TSS Earnslaw's service on Lake Wakatipu in New Zealand's South Island. To mark the occasion a weekend of celebrations took place, and we were fortunate enough to be there for part of it.

This is a lovely part of the country, and it's always a treat to see the Remarkables, especially with a dusting of snow:

Before the road along the Queenstown side of the lake was completed, the Earnslaw provided a vital link between Queenstown and Glenorchy, as well as the farms along the lakeshore. These days the Earnslaw mainly serves visitors wishing to experience the area from the water, but for this special weekend a renactment of those earlier voyages was made, all the way to Glenorchy and stopping at Walter Peak and Mount Nicholas stations on the way.

The trip took the whole day, and was quite an occasion. A good number of passengers (including us) dressed up for the occasion, and a band played on the upper deck. Many of those on the voyage had used this service years ago when they lived in the area. We met a lady who had been the cook at Mount Nicholas station a fair few decades ago, and was making her first return visit in quite some years.

What looked like the entire population of Glenorchy, along with several hundred visitors, turned out to greet the Earnslaw on her first visit in years. The locals went on a short cruise while we wandered around on shore. Here's the Earnslaw on her way back into Glenorchy:

It was a privilege to be part of this wonderful day.

I rather expect the Earnslaw to make an appearance in a future book. It's a fine way to travel, and has been so for a century now.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Down in the Archives

In early September we spent a week in our capital city, Wellington. Wellington's a great city to visit: compact, set against a stunning harbour, and well-endowed with good caf├ęs. But the main reason for our visit was that it's the home of National Archives.

Archives New Zealand provides excellent facilities for researchers, and the staff are helpful and knowledgeable. Most of the records are stored underground, and fetched to the reading room when ordered by a researcher; anything from the thin, old pages of a handwritten will through to huge volumes that must be nestled on bean bag-type cushions to protect the fragile bindings. But one entire room is devoted to land title records, with all the volumes on open shelves. Here's a small part of the collection:

The land records have a complex indexing system that leads from one hand-written volume to another, then another, and sometimes even further. Having a well-muscled and patient research assistant was a definite asset!

Archives require careful tending, and the atmosphere in the reading rooms was so dry that I'm sure the hours spent there contributed to the bronchitis I came down with soon after our return home. But poring through the records was a fascinating experience, especially when I encountered the signatures (or perhaps a shaky "X") of some of the people I'm researching.

Which leads to a confession: I'm currently writing two books at once. My main project is the sequel to Daisy's War, but at the same time I'm working on a non-fiction book that's unrelated to my novels, other than taking place in New Zealand at a similar period. I've found myself caught up in this real-life story, and in the desire to do it justice.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Book Club Discussion of "Sentence of Marriage"

During August I'm leading a book club discussion of Sentence of Marriage on the ClubNook discussion boards. This is a small and friendly group, founded by people who use Barnes & Noble's Nook eReaders but very welcoming to all, with or without Nooks. Please feel free to drop in, either just to lurk or to sign up and join in the discussions. Sentence of Marriage discussion thread.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"Daisy's War" is here

It's sometimes disconcerting just how clearly characters can make their feelings known (as the mere author, I'm frequently not in charge), and Amy has made it very clear that she would much prefer a quieter life from now on, content to have a role in the lives of her grandchildren. While she is still an important presence in Daisy's War, the main focus has shifted from her, and I've had the pleasure of getting to know Daisy and Eddie much better.

Writing Daisy's War has held a new experience for me in how much this book's plot is shaped by a single historical event: the Great War of 1914-1918. In the earlier books events such as the Tarawera eruption, the baby-farming scandal and the struggle for women's suffrage affected my characters in varying degrees, but in this book their lives become increasingly intertwined with the War, as it grows from a shadowy threat to a very real one.

More than 100,000 New Zealanders served overseas in the Great War, and over 18,000 died; this in a country with a population of barely one million. The War must have had an effect on every household in New Zealand; it certainly touches everyone in my little valley.

Daisy's War is available now on and Amazon UK. It should appear at Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other retailers within the next few weeks.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

New Zealand horses in the Great War

Between 1914 and 1918, New Zealand sent more than 10,000 horses to Europe to serve in the Great War. Only four of those horses ever returned to New Zealand, and of that group only one served with New Zealand forces for the whole of the war, in the Middle East and later in Western Europe: Colonel Guy Powles’ horse Bess. Bess stayed with Colonel Powles for the rest of her life, eventually dying quite peacefully in 1934 while out for a ride with the Colonel.

Horses were also sent to South Africa with New Zealand troopers in the Anglo-Boer War (I send an imaginary trooper with his horse in Settling the Account), and at least one of those horses is known to have made it home.

More on the New Zealand warhorses, including photographs of Bess, here (warning: sad accounts of the fate of most of them).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sailing on the "Jane Gifford"

Until well into the twentieth century, the most convenient and reliable form of transport around much of New Zealand was on the water. Roads, especially in the North Island, were frequently little better than muddy bogs, and rail reached only the larger centres. The coastal steamers that characters often use in my books provided much of the passenger service, but the great workhorses for transporting freight and stock were the flat-bottomed scows, which needed little draught and could travel up rivers as well as hugging the coast. Only one fully rigged scow survives from the fleet that once served New Zealand: the Jane Gifford, which after a long and eventful life has now come home to Warkworth. The volunteers who have restored her are still getting her to the point of being able to take passengers under sail, but they do offer regular cruises using the boat's engines. We recently went for a short cruise along the Mahurangi River, and despite the weather it was a thoroughly enjoyable outing.

More on the Jane Gifford's history here.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Coming Soon: Daisy's War

In 1914, Daisy lives in the quiet New Zealand valley where her family has farmed for generations. A cherished only child with an adored older cousin, and surrounded by a sprawling extended family, her world seems a warm and safe one.

But the Great War is casting its long shadow over New Zealand. Daisy watches in growing fear as more and more of the men leave to fight in Europe, and the War strikes ever closer to the heart of her family.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Faithful Hound

Among the accounts of human suffering I've come across while researching my current work-in-progress, I stumbled upon something rather different: this tale of a faithful dog.

From the Bay of Plenty Times, February 1917:

The story of the faithful devotion of a sheep dog comes from Whakatane. Two years ago the master of the animal left Whakatane for the front, leaving it to be cared for by friends. Every day since, the faithful beast has gone to meet the Opotiki coach in a vain search for his absent master. The daily journey of the dog is a source of great interest to the residents of the town and to visitors.

Unfortunately the master's name is not given, so I've been unable to search the records to find out whether or not he survived to return home. I'd like to think that he did, and to a rapturous welcome.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

An Interview

I was recently interviewed by journalist David Weir, which was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The interview is here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

An Extraordinary Cycle Ride

To modern eyes, a penny farthing bicycle is anything but "ordinary". But these eye-catching cycles were indeed called "ordinaries" in the late 19th Century, in contrast to the new-fangled safety bicycles, and in Victorian Oamaru the club devoted to these and other vintage cycles is known as The Oamaru Ordinary Cycle Club.

Oamaru is a charming town in New Zealand's South Island, with a wealth of surviving Victorian buildings, so it's highly appropriate that penny farthings find a home here. Each November Oamaru holds a Victorian Heritage festival, which I've been fortunate to attend in the last two years. Here are a few of the penny farthings taking part in the festival's street parade:

The Cycle Club Captain, David Wilson, has just completed an extraordinary journey: he has cycled the length of New Zealand on a replica 1882 penny farthing made in Oamaru. He started the ride last November, and three months later has reached the top of the North Island. This is not an easy country to cycle in, with all our hills, and with our ample wind and rain. The journey would be challenging enough on a modern cycle, but to complete it on one that has no gears, no chain and no brakes is quite a staggering achievement.To add to the challenge, as well as the authenticity, David wore tailor-made Victorian-style clothing for the 2,000 kilometre ride.

Oamaru Ordinary Cycle Club.
The send-off in November.
In one of the many towns visited along the way.

Congratulations, David, on a tremendous achievement.