Welcome to Lovecats, Rae and a congratulations on the fabulous reception your debut book Love at the End of the Road. Can you tell us a little about what it is about?
It’s the story of my life after meeting Rex Roadley, a beef and sheep farmer, through a dating service. After driving miles down a windy road, I found his historic home, Batley House, on the shores of the Kaipara Harbour in Northland, New Zealand. Rex was more difficult to find - he was out fishing!
The book is a memoir which it covers our lives together, farming, life at Batley before and after European settlement, the house and our community.
It’s a very honest, open account of your life. Was it hard to write about yourself so personally?
Very difficult, but I knew the story of our relationship and my life as I adapted to rural living would engage readers. I worked in an upstairs bedroom or the terrace overlooking the harbour.
Your book reminds me of Under the Tuscan Sun. Clearly you fell in love with the man, but it seems you also fell in love with the house and the area. Is that right?
I thought Batley House was big and cold, but was soon enchanted. In the late 1800s, it was the area’s social centre. The local people were welcoming and I soon got involved, even judging a Young Farmer of the Year event.
The book combines a love-story with re-inventing yourself, house renovations, the history of the Kaipara, and life on the farm and in a rural community. How did you achieve the balance with all these themes?
I wanted the story to be engaging and compelling. I wove other aspects through our personal story, aiming for light touch.
After several drafts, I went through the manuscript with highlighters: our story was red (for love); the farm story was green (for grass); history was orange; the house pink; gardening and fishing yellow
When I found ‘chunks’ of one colour, I shuffled text until the story was balanced. I was determined the history would be readable and worked hard to include it in a natural way.
Rex is gorgeous – archetypical Kiwi male all the way through - so how has he coped with suddenly becoming the hero of a book that’s leaping off the shelves?
He is gorgeous - I’m glad you spotted that. He’s been great, droll as ever. When Tessa Chrisp, the amazing photographer who did the cover shot, he knew what he wanted to wear while I dithered. He’s funny and relaxed which makes him a great character in the book, which he read as I wrote it.
During the Your Home and Garden photo shoot, he sat at the head of the dining table drinking coffee while the stylists fluffed around making it look fabulous for the Christmas issue.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of writing this book?
Penguin gave me the idea after I’d submitted some of my newspaper columns. As I wanted the book to be fun to read, I did an online course at NorthTec - I couldn’t back out.
As part of the course, I had a mentor and reviewed 10 books in my chosen genre, figuring what worked and what didn’t.
I reviewed books by Bill Bryson and James Herriott as well as Living with the Laird by Belinda Rathbone. NZ titles were Weather Permitting by Heather Heberley, and On the Wings of Mercury by Lorraine Moller.
Others worth reading are Susan Duncan’s, Salvation Creek (it’s Australian), plus The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary-Ann Shaffer, quirky, delightful fiction.
You’ve struck gold with your first book. Are you an overnight success?
The answer is no! I’ve worked in public relations and have a journalism qualification. I started creative writing in the 1980s and have belonged to writing organisations for years, among them Romance Writers of NZ.
Last year Penguin saw my book and wanted more, I was runner-up in a story contest, then my single-title novel rated in the Clendon Awards.
After the book launch, people contacted me to say they’d loved my book, that it had made then laugh and cry (don’t worry, I don’t think everyone cried). That’s when I finally relaxed.
Why do you think it’s hitting a chord with so many readers?
I think the issues I’ve faced resonate with people: my mum died when I was 19 and I lost my way in life and love - and found it again; after meeting Rex I took a plunge into a new life - and survived; the book shares heartbreaks and breakthroughs. It’s funny and honest. Several people at Penguin said it read like fiction, which, as you say, hits a chord with readers.
Thank you, Rae.
Please feel free to ask a question or leave a comment and be in to win a copy of this heart-warming book.
Rae can also be visited at her website: www.raeroadley.co.nz