Newspapers were very popular in New Zealand in the late 1800s. It was a way to keep up to date with news from the homelands (albeit 3 months old by the time it reached our shores), and for more local information and advertising to be distributed to remote parts of the country. To start with, articles were just set into type in the order they were received, so you may find adverts next to death notices next to news from Britain!
Printing was a fairly easy, if laborious task, and if no printing press was available, a laundry mangle did the trick! Most communities had their own local ‘rag’, and some towns, like Nelson, had several competing with each other. The new daily papers like the Otago Daily Times which were printed in the main cities also produced a weekly summary that could be transported into the ‘back blocks’.
Marytown would likely have had some kind of broadsheet almost as soon as it became a community, and you would expect it to be Betsy Franks who produced it. After all, she had her finger on the pulse of the community as people called into her little village store each day.
So here is the first edition of the Marytown Messenger. I hope it gives you a taste of life in our small fictional community in the early 1850s, but if you would like to find out more, you can buy my books here
Today is Waitangi Day here in New Zealand. Our national day, commemorating the signing on 6 February 1840 of the Treaty of Waitangi. There are official ceremonies at Waitangi and around the country, but for most of us it is a day to remember our roots, and to cherish our family and friends.
It is a day when we are aware of the shared history we have with the Maori people, who had made a life in New Zealand long before the European settlers arrived. Our history together has not always gone smoothly, of course, but on the whole we rub along together pretty well these days!
In celebration of our multi-cultural country, I give you the words of the Mackenzie Memorial which stands at the spot where our hero, James is believed to have been captured and charged with stealing 1000 sheep. On one side we have the words in Maori, on the 2nd side in Gaelic and finally in English.
Of course, if you want to know what I believe happened to James after his capture, you will need to read The Applecross Saga
I’ve been thinking about inspiration today. I know exactly who inspired me to finally put pen to paper but I could have gone for a fantasy, a crime story, something dystopian or a murder mystery. Actually, maybe I’d sell more books in those popular genres!
But I make no excuses for The Wideawake Hat being unashamedly the beginning of a historical family saga, with Shepherd’s Delight following on and The Cedar Trees in the pipeline. I have joked that there may be 12 books – if I live that long…..
Who inspired me to go in that direction? I think I can thank two gentleman for that. Surprising that – one assumes it is a particularly feminine genre. But in both cases it is the quality of the writing that I value, as well as the strength of the characters and the memorable story content. Would that I can achieve such heights!
So here are my two heroes :-
Winston Graham, who wrote the 12 books of the Poldark series – so much better than the TV series, and
R.F. Delderfield, who wrote the Swann Saga – ‘God is an Englishman’, ‘Theirs Was the Kingdom’ and ‘Give Us This Day’ – terribly unfashionable titles these days, but still my all time favourite series of books. You can see in the photo above how dog-eared my copies have become from being read many times.
Thank you, gentleman, for giving me a chance to fall in love with your heroes and heroines. And thank you both for making your chosen period of history come to life.
The trouble with writing about the Victorian era is that they had so many babies!!
Sometimes it helps to have a diagram, and even I lose track of all those names, even though I have invented all the characters and know them very well indeed. What better than a family tree for keeping track?
If you’ve read book 1, The Wideawake Hat, you will recognise most of these people, but there are a few edits and additions in book 2, Shepherd’s Delight.
(Spoiler alert for those of you yet to read Shepherd’s Delight – and, if not, why not?)
By the time we get to book 3, The Cedar Trees, who knows? Will Nancy have more babies, more twins perhaps? Will there be another baby Mackenzie? And will Samuel find a new love to match that of his beloved Carrie? Will Guy Pender find a woman (or a man) to love? Will Hither House be filled once more with the sound of children?
PS – You may wonder how an author chooses names. In my case I dip into my own family tree to pick names of ancestors from the period.
Christmas 1861 – an excerpt from “Shepherd’s Delight” :-
The throng of guests mingled and mixed in the entrance hall of Hither House, although the room was somewhat restricted by the huge fir tree taking up a large piece of the space next to the grand staircase. Samuel had joined Noah and Dorcas Paget in adding ribbons and baubles to it the previous evening. The Christmas tree was a new idea to Samuel, and one that he determined to take back to Applecross. Back in England they would add candles, lit to shine into the dark evenings, but it seemed pointless to do so here with daylight lasting until it was time for bed.
The decorated tree was certainly admired by everyone. Under it there were parcels to be given out after luncheon. Most of the visitors carried their own parcels, which were added to the growing pile. The visitors had been asked to bring a gift for a child, marked male or female, to be distributed to the poor on the following day. James had found a wooden toy soldier for a boy, and Samuel, with little time to find a gift, had sacrificed a small brooch that he had bought for Betsy Franks. He hoped a small girl would like to wear it, although he wondered if she would perhaps prefer something to eat. He had some other small gifts in his bag, which he was sure Betsy Franks would like instead.
The servants were passing amongst the guests with silver trays of cool drinks while the children gathered on the stair, and under the direction of William Barber, broke into ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’. Samuel noticed Noah Paget put a hand on his wife’s shoulder as she wiped away a tear with a tiny white handkerchief. He had wondered whether they had children to fill this big house, but something told him that there was a sad story to be told there.
As the last verse came to a halt, the guests broke into a round of applause and Noah joined the singers on the stairs. “Welcome all to our house. And a Merry Christmas to you all,” he shouted loudly over the clapping. “Now, come, eat, and celebrate with us,” he added, with a wave of his arms in the direction of the dining hall.
I’m quite proud of myself. This year I have done every bit of my Christmas shopping locally. No trips to malls, no online purchases. It has been a pleasure to hunt for suitable items in the smaller shops where the person behind the counter has time to chat, time to help me choose, and in some cases has beautifully gift wrapped my purchases as well.
I could mention a few shops in Rangiora and Oxford, but I’m going to give a special plug to my new favourite shop, Emma’s at Oxford– and not only because you will find The Wideawake Hat and Shepherd’s Delight on the bookshelves, alongside a temptingly gorgeous array of other books, clothes and gifts.
If you ever get the chance, go to Oxford. Get a coffee at Cafe51 and then walk just next door to meet Emma and her team in the happy place that is her shop.
Things are hotting up in this year’s NZ Bird of the Year competition. We even got a mention in the UK Guardian yesterday. And, as usual, controversy rages over intervention from the Aussies (no surprises there, mate) and rigged voting.
At this stage it is nip and tuck between the Hoiho (Yellow Eyed Penguin) and the Kakapo at the top. Believe me, there is something very special about seeing a yellow eyed penguin coming out of the surf and climbing up into the dunes to feed his family. But then who can fail to adore our one and only smelly, sex-driven ground dwelling parrot?
Due to popular demand that ‘choosing only one bird is too hard’, this year we have gone to the Single Transferable Votes system and can select our top 5 birds. But even that is too hard. How can you leave out the Lightly Mantled Sooty Albatross or the Spotless Crake or the Otago Shag or the Chatham Island Mollymawk?
Me? Oh my top vote was for a bird that most people think is extinct, the South Island Kokako. But only yesterday there was another report of his song being heard in the bush. Sometime soon someone will snap a photograph of this beauty!
Go vote – do it now!!!
Voting closes at 5pm on Sunday 10th November.