Zana Bell’s latest novel Close to the Wind is a playful romp that takes its characters across the world, from Britain to New Zealand. It’s fun, funny and meticulously researched – I know this because a while back Zana was querying how long it would take to travel by horseback from Christchurch to Dunedin, in New Zealand’s South Island.
Zana is the first and only Kiwi author to be published by UK-based ChocLit. And you don’t need me to tell you Zana writes well – that this is her fifth novel by an international publisher is proof of that.
Hi Zana – thanks for agreeing to be part of my blog.
Hello Rae – many thanks for hosting me.
My first burning question is this: what made you pitch your novel to UK-based publisher ChocLit? I hadn’t heard of them till I read your book – how did you learn about them?
My Scottish friend sent me a book published by ChocLit and I was immediately taken by the fact that it was an historical set in Japan. So many publishers will only consider Britain or America as settings for historicals – as I found to my cost when trying to pitch two NZ historicals I’d written. When I emailed them to ask if they’d consider a book from the Antipodes they responded very warmly.
Your characters traipse across the world – what inspired you to make them do that – or were they in charge and did you just go along for the ride? (This is also a question about how you write – although you’ve surely noticed that.)
Again it comes back to the unusual setting. One historical writer had set most of her book in France but the opening chapter was set in England. Her advice was that if you start a book in Britain and hook your readers in the first pages, they’ll follow you anywhere. Of course, it is far quicker to get a character to France than NZ so it turned into a sort of historical road trip. I loved writing about the different settings, having visited Madeira when I was five and having been to university in Cape Town, it was a glorious way of revisiting them – albeit in the virtual sense.
And yes, I was very much along for the ride. It was the first time I’d tried writing a romantic adventure and it turned out to be tremendous fun – and harder than I thought. I have a profound admiration for PD James, Anne Perry etc. now. It’s tricky to lay clues, make motives convincing etc.
The cover tells us to expect ‘love, passion and adventure in 1860s New Zealand’. But while some readers might be anticipating, say, hot sex, the passion in Close to the Wind is of a different flavour. Tell us more.
Oh well spotted. Reader warning: adventures focus on swashbuckling action rather than bedroom antics. I would hate to set up false expectations. I can assure you no bodices were ripped in the writing of this book.
I know you’re from Zimbabwe, but what brought you to New Zealand?
My sister and brother-in-law had immigrated to New Zealand and when I was twenty
I came over to visit them. Keen to explore, I hitch-hiked from Auckland to Invercargill and back and during this time I fell in love with both the land and the people. A few years later, I landed up immigrating too.
Where do the ideas for books come from?
New Zealand is always my inspiration, particularly its history. As an immigrant, I use the research as a way to weave myself into the land.
Where can people can buy the book – is it available in hard copy and as an ebook?
Whitcoulls, The Warehouse and PaperPlus all stock the book and yes it’s also available as an ebook from Amazon and Fishpond. Links are on my website http://www.zanabell.com/
If you had a word of advice for a writer, what would it be? And what about for someone who wants to have their work published?
The road is long; never give up. Don’t keep your book in the bottom drawer. Send it off. You never know what might happen. And if it returns, send it off again. And again. And again.
Those other novels – a word or two about them?
I wrote two Harlequin contemporary novels set in Northland. They were fun to write as Northland has a hold on my heart and in Tempting the Negotiator (again, not nearly as ‘hot’ as the title would suggest!) I was able to explore Northland themes like the endangered fairy tern and overseas land ownership and development.
My historical Forbidden Frontier is based on the life and times of Charlotte Badger; convict, pirate and NZ’s first known English woman migrant. She stole a ship and sailed to the Bay of Islands in 1806. Ah, those were the days!
And what’s next on your agenda?
I have another NZ historical adventure coming out towards the end of next year set in Hokitika and Christchurch. Thank you Eleanor Catton for putting Hokitika on the world’s radar.
I’m guessing you’re an avid reader – who’s your favourite author and why?
Oh, isn’t that the hardest question. I’ve loved Penelope Lively’s writing for many years – I think Moontiger is one of the finest books I’ve read. I love the way she weaves notions of history into her books and her characters are sharply drawn.
Many thanks for hosting me today, Rae.
Pleasure – and I knew Zana would steer us towards a great read.
(Big thanks to Zana who gave away a copy of her book to one of the lucky people who dropped by and made a comment.)