Today is publication day for Zana Bell's latest book Close to the Wind, her first for Choc Lit UK, so I'm delighted to welcome her to my blog.
Zana Bell grew up in Harare, Zimbabwe and studied English Literature at the University of Cape Town. After travelling for several years doing a wide range of jobs, she immigrated to New Zealand where she now lives with her family and cats in a small harbourside community.
She began writing, just for the fun of seeing whether she could actually complete a novel and immediately became hooked. Research is her primary love and writing gives her an excellent excuse to be obsessive or just plain nosey. She enjoys writing in a variety of genres but has a particular fondness for all things historical.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book Close to the Wind? Where did the inspiration come from?
It’s Georgette Heyer meets Romancing the Stone in 1860s New Zealand.
I’m a huge Heyer fan but instead of regencies, I had a yen to write a NZ historical based on the 1860s gold-rush. Within months of the first discovery of gold, colourful characters were pouring in from all over the world, risking all in a crazy gamble. Small towns were hastily thrown up as fortunes were made and lost overnight. There were hotels and bars – lots of bars! – theatres, brothels etc. I wanted to capture some of that exuberant energy.
How much research did you have to do to enable you to write this story?
Oh lots! Research is the most fun part of writing. I lovely primary sources so I’ve read countless diaries, letters, memoirs etc. The voices of those early adventurers are as lively and fresh as if they’d been written yesterday. Remember, most of them were young risk-takers – both men and women - in search of fortune and adventure. Many were also idealists, wanting to create a new society free from the stranglehold of the European class systems.
Visiting the locations is always a pleasure. The South Island is breathtakingly beautiful. I came to New Zealand in my twenties, was immediately smitten and it’s turned into a lifelong love affair.
You’ve previously written YA time-travel, a historical novel and contemporary romance and now historical romantic adventure. Why the change of genre?
I love writing in a range of genre – each presents a different challenge and is a way of keeping my writing fresh. Historicals, however, tug most persistently at the heartstrings. Close to the Wind was enormous fun to write, combining history, romance and adventure.
Being a writer appears to be such a solitary lifestyle, especially when you’re in the midst of writing, so do you consider the influence of social Media, Facebook and Twitter, a blessing or a hinderance?
I think social media gives both writers and readers wonderful opportunities to connect. However, time is very tight as I juggle job, family, writing and study so I confess I’m not a great FBer or twitterer!
Do you have a set daily writing routine?
I wish! I go through good disciplined phases and then harum-scarum ones where I don’t write for a few months. I usually have to get up at 5am if I want to fit writing into my life. Alas, I do not like early risings!
I’m also very good at doing tons of research and calling it writing when deep down, I know I’m just procrastinating.
If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?
The road is long: never give up. Write from the heart.
Oh, that’s two pieces. As my children will point out, I’m full of unsolicited advice!
If you could invite any three authors, alive or dead, to a dinner party who would you choose and why?
George Sand would be top of the list. She dressed as a man, wrote “scandalous” novels and had many affairs including a relationship with Chopin that lasted years. She used to lie under the piano while he played, claiming that was the best place to really hear his music.
Penelope Lively would be there, too. She’s one of my all-time favourite writers. And then I’d have to pull a name out of a hat: Bill Bryson, Roddy Doyle or Nick Hornby. I think they are all superb writers.
Are there any books you’ve read that you wish you’d written?
Waaaay too many to count. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Possession, Moontiger, Brideshead Revisited, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice spring immediately to mind. I also think James Mitchener must have had a lot of fun writing his blockbuster novels about so many different countries.
Where would be your idyllic location for a writing retreat?
Actually, I have it right here in New Zealand. The sea is across the road from my tiny house so I love writing in the morning and going for a swim or kayak in the afternoon. My office looks out onto a mystical mountain and I have forest walks five minutes away, following the beautiful coastline.
I’m very spoilt, I know! That’s why I want to share New Zealand in my books.