My Sort-of Story

It is no secret that I did not produce my first full length book until the age of forty. Mind you, I had published rather a lot before then, starting from the age of four, when I found out that children were supposed to give their mothers Christmas presents, and so I wrote and illustrated a story as a gift. Then, in my late teens, I wrote science fiction for American magazines, and short stories for the Maori magazine "Te Ao Hou" under the pen name "Jo Friday." And after that, being a travel junkie, I wrote travel stories for New Zealand magazines, under my own name. (It was incredible how many stories I sold about Sacramento, California, which seems to have huge editorial appeal.)

However, I was mostly involved in teaching biology and English literature, and raising our two sons, Lindsay and Alastair.

Then I was approached by a publisher with the idea of writing a book about the introduction of plants and animals to New Zealand -- how they were carried here in the sailing ship era, and how they failed or thrived. The result was Exotic Intruders. And it turned out to be a lot more fun than expected. Not only had I enjoyed writing the stories of the eccentric sailing ship captains and passengers who had carried such items as birds, fish eggs, racehorses, and deer through the tropics and southern ocean storms, but the book won a couple of prizes -- the Hubert Church Award and the PEN Award for Best First Book of Prose. All very encouraging.

Then, on one of my quests for a travel story, I fell into a hole on the tropical island of Rarotonga, found the long-lost grave of a whaling wife at the bottom, and a passion for researching the lives of captains' wives under sail was born. (You can read more about this in the page called "Reviews Past and Present.") A Fulbright Award sent me to New England and Hawaii, and so Abigail, She Was a Sister Sailor, and Petticoat Whalers were written, the second of these winning the prestigious John Lyman Award for Best Book of American Maritime History in 1992.

It also led to a novel about a young girl who was born on board ship and raised at sea, but was abruptly jerked out of her pleasant sea-going, Bay of Islands-based existence, to be sent to live with puritanical relatives in New Bedford. She did her best to conform, but got involved first, in the Women's Rights movement, then in a sensational murder trial, leading to her desperate escape from this increasingly hostile environment to Panama at the height of the Californian goldrush, and from there to South America, as part of a tortuous voyage back to New Zealand.

Her name was Abigail. So, with great imagination, the novel was called ABIGAIL. A German translation followed, then a paperback with a hilariously lurid jacket. It has since been republished in digital form, as A Love of Adventure. This started out as an experiment -- one that I documented as I went along, and became a blog called Kindle Publishing Hints, which thousands of people have found useful. (I know that, because they write me nice letters.)

This adventure also led to me joining a really fascinating small maritime press, founded by the amazing Rick Spilman (Old Salt Blog), and called Old Salt Press. Intrigued by the passion of Rick and his small stable of very talented authors, I contributed more books, including a fifth in the Wiki Coffin saga, The Beckoning Ice, The Elephant Voyage, Lady Castaways, and an edited journal with commentary, Eleanor's Odyssey. You can read more about these books on these pages.

But of course traditional publishing still has me in its thrall. There were books about women at sea under sail, and true crime on board a whaleship in the remote western Pacific, and a series of crime novels featuring a Maori detective, and then a book about castaways on a sub-Antarctic island that still sells and sells ... and sells.

And then I wrote Tupaia. It's the biography of one of the most fascinating men who ever lived, a Tahitian who was born on spectacular Raiatea, and who was the high priest of all Tahiti when the island was discovered in 1767 by Captain Samuel Wallis. Tupaia, a gifted linguist, learned enough English to communicate with the strangers, and therefore became the intermediary two years later, when Captain James Cook came along.

Beautifully illustrated with Tupaia's own artwork, the biography was published by Random House, and went on to win the New Zealand Post General Fiction Book Award, and to be featured at the Taipei International Book Fair.

And where will this adventure lead next? Who knows ....