Today on my blog, I have the very lovely Zana Bell, author of Close to the Wind.
Zana 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 genre but has a particular fondness for all things historical.
I really enjoyed Zana’s novel and found myself falling in love with the amazingly well drawn out characters. I managed to grab a little interview with Zana – here’s what she had to say…
Hello Zana, how lovely to have you here. Close to the Wind was an absolute pleasure to read, where did the initial idea for the story come from?
I’m so glad you enjoyed the book, Lucie.
The idea came out of a yen to write a NZ historical despite repeated advice from editors and agents to write either Regency or Scottish romances. But the gold rush beckoned – just as it had in 1860s. The rush was a particularly lively time down here, with thousands of people from all walks of life and from around the world flooding into the country. Small towns mushroomed everywhere; hotels, bars, theatres, gambling dens, fortunes discovered and lost. Of course these adventurers were in search of gold but many soon discovered that NZ offered them opportunities undreamed of in Victorian drawing rooms. As an immigrant myself, I wanted a book to reflect some of that huge energy and exuberance that comes from moving to a new country.
However, actually getting the characters from England to NZ turned out to take longer than expected as I became entranced with the different locations en route so it’s less NZ historical than I’d initially planned.
Georgiana is a refreshing character, a girl who knows what she wants and who isn’t afraid to go and get it. She must have been a lot of fun to write. Do you tend to start with the story and sculpt the characters around that, or were Harry and Georgiana already firmly in your mind?
The story was very much driven by Georgiana and Harry and you are right – they were both enormous fun to write. Once I got them onto the high seas, they pretty much took over. My job then became to throw obstacles at them to see how they coped.
You certainly did that! 🙂 The characters in this story do a lot of travelling so I imagine a lot of research went into writing Close to the Wind. Which part of the book was the most enjoyable to research?
The road trip round the South Island to revisit locations was a huge pleasure. Oamaru still retains a few old cobbled streets and beautiful buildings from the 1860s – which is old by NZ standards! I stayed in Christchurch just before the earthquake and had a glorious time walking around Hagley Park and visiting the wonderful museum there.
I also enjoyed reading countless diaries and travel memoirs written in the 1860s. Most of them are lively and very humorous, the writers remaining undaunted despite considerable challenges and hardships.
It all sounds very interesting. Did you always have the ending clear in your mind, or did it change as the story progressed?
I always knew that Georgiana and Harry would want to stay in NZ but I hadn’t realised quite how much Georgiana would grow into herself over the course of the book – a process that was both a part of, and completely separate from, her relationship with Harry.
Could you ever imagine yourself as a character in the book? If so, which would you most like to have played and would you have made the same decisions as they did?
I would love to have Georgiana’s physical courage and trapeze skills but I’m not nearly as impetuous as she is – though at her age, I probably was.
Georgiana has a love for acting, is this a passion you share?
No alas, I have no acting ability but I do think actors have fascinating and varied lives, always exploring different personalities, different settings etc. Hang on – that’s what writers also do – plus we get to control the script.
If you could liken Harry to a celebrity, or a combination of two, who would best describe him?
Hmm. Tricky. Young Hugh Jackman (especially the humour) crossed with Euan McGregor (especially from his Long Way Round adventures) with a big splash of Chris Hemsworth.
Oooh, he sound’s gorgeous! You obviously have a love for New Zealand, this is clearly apparent by the beautiful way in which you write about it. Where would you recommend people to visit on a trip there?
The amazing thing about New Zealand is that everywhere is beautiful. Truly. Road trips are the way to go because the scenery changes radically every couple of hours. The South Island is particularly spectacular. My special favourites are Wanaka (stunning snow-capped mountains, brilliant blue lake) and the West Coast with its rugged, wild beaches. However, I’m a Northlander (the skinny bit right at the top) and think everyone should see the Bay of Islands at least once in their lives. There’s nothing to equal being out on the water on a hot summer’s day and spying a pod of dolphin. Pure magic.
What other genres do you enjoy to write?
I love them all but anything historical has a particular attraction. The historical research is always fascinating and it provides such a good excuse to visit glorious locations. Mind you, my contemporaries have been a lot of fun to research, too. I learned all about big wave surfing, endangered birds and motorbike stunt riding. I’m also probably one of the very few people who, on arriving in Houston, immediately begged for a tour of trailer parks. And very interesting it was too.
Where do you do most of your writing? Do you have a specific space dedicated for it?
I have a little office in the back garden, overlooked by a mountain so it’s very peaceful. However, I also like mixing things around so if I’m home alone, I’ll work in different rooms. A change of scenery is a good way to overcome writer’s block.
That’s a great tip. So what’s next in store for you – what can we come to expect from your next novel?
Next year I have another 1860s NZ adventure coming out. Lady Guinevere Stanhope arrives alone in the South Island armed with little more than a passion for photography and her determination to save her family home. She is catapulted into adventures which include crossing paths and swords with Finn O’Donnell, an Irish doctor who has his own very clear goals – none of which include a young woman from the English aristocracy. I hope you’ll enjoy that one too, Lucie.
I’m sure I will. I’m looking forward to it already!
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Zana, I wish you all the very best of luck with the book. But I am sure you don’t need luck – it’s a fantastic novel.
And a big thank you for interviewing me.
Close to the Wind is available now to purchase both as a paperback and on Kindle. Click the image to be taken to Amazon.
Zana is published by ChocLit Publishing.