UP and coming fiction author Anya Forest has been rewriting romance for New Zealand women.
Her latest novel A Southern Strait is the story of two strangers lost in a Stewart Island storm.
Reporter AMY JOHNSTONE asked Anya a few questions to find out more.
Tell us a bit more about the storyline of A Southern Strait.
Rebecca is at a crossroads after failed fertility treatment puts serious pressure on her marriage; Heath is mourning the loss of his wife and the disastrous choice he made to try and save her. When Rebecca is caught in a storm it is Heath who rescues her, but their return to civilisation is marred by legal consequences for Heath, and Rebecca is grappling with her infertility. A Southern Strait is based on the themes of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner – including albatrosses, the importance of respect of the natural world – and moving on from the ghosts of the past.
Why did you decide to set your story on Stewart Island?
I lived there for a time – and loved it. So many people say it’s New Zealand the way it used to be, and I certainly agree. Ever since I experienced life on the island I wanted to write about it – it really is one of New Zealand’s most unspoilt places, with incredible landscapes, wildlife and, of course, people.
Does the landscape play an important role in your writing?
Yes, definitely, and New Zealand wildlife, especially birds. There is scene set in Mason Bay – a raw and remote Stewart Island beach. It’s one of my favourite places, and I have always been lucky with the weather when I visit. Rebecca and Heath aren’t so lucky. I also decided to set a scene in Kaikoura, and wanted to incorporate the changes to Waiau and the Kaikoura area after the earthquake. I love the landscapes of New Zealand and hope that comes through in my writing.
Your novels include realistic storylines such as loss, mental health, environmental crimes and infertility. Why is this important to you?
I hope my stories strike a balance between escapism and reading about relatable characters that aren’t “perfect” but instead have real life struggles and challenges. The twists and turns of life are something that impact on all of us, or those we love. A story with unattainable, perfect characters could mean a story with no real tension or challenge. Instead, I try to create characters and stories that are grounded in real life.
What is it about romance fiction that you enjoy writing?
hopes, challenges and relationships. At their heart my novels are about men and women wanting fulfilling relationships where they are valued and understood – a need most of us can relate to. As well as the romance aspect of my novels they include social themes and an emphasis on community. Looking back at some of the romance novels I read years ago, they’re also a great way of showing changing social trends. I remember an old Mills & Boon from the 1960s where the heroine’s daring was illustrated by her braving her mother’s disapproval, wearing trousers, and driving by herself to catch the Dover Ferry. Times have changed. Christie, the heroine of my first book, A Southern Star, catches the Bluff ferry by herself without a care in the world, or so she thinks.
How did you get started as a writer?
I’ve always loved writing, but mainly short stories. One day I decided to see if I could write a novel. I set a goal of writing one chapter. Obviously things went well as I’m just starting my sixth book, A Southern Skipper
Aside from writing and reading, what are some of your own interests?
I spend a lot of time at the beach or out in the bush with my retriever dog – we both love the water, and exploring. I also enjoy travel, having recently visited Kakadu National Park and the Kimberley region, in Australia. I’ll definitely be going back, and also have a trip planned to Southland and Stewart Island over summer.
What’s next for you and your writing?
working on my sixth book, A Southern Skipper, and planning others, one set in the Maniototo and one on New Zealand’s West Coast. I’m also building my presence in New Zealand bookstores.