10 Strange Things I Found When I Moved To New Zealand


I moved to New Zealand when I was ten years old. Before that I lived in a small town in England, so while moving to New Zealand wasn’t a total shock to the system, there were still some things I found strange. Here’s a list of ten:

1) Houses without stairs

family-home-153089_640As someone who grew up surrounded by tall, narrow houses with pitiful gardens, the fact that New Zealand’s houses are mostly single-storied and set apart from one another threw me at first. The ten-year-old me actually started missing stairs. I was delighted to find that one of my new Kiwi friends lived in a multi-storied house! Of course, this was in a small town in New Zealand. The new houses going up around Auckland all have stairs, being built tall and narrow to save space.

2) People going around barefoot

pedicure-297792_640No one goes around barefoot in England, except at the beach. In New Zealand – or, at least, in small towns in New Zealand – people go to school barefoot, and down the high street, and round the supermarket… Kiwis found the ten-year-old me strange because I hadn’t got toughened, hobbit-like soles. People laughed at my inability to go barefoot, but I haven’t really gotten any better at it in the last fourteen years.

3) Ferns the size of trees

fern-159715_640Well, actually, they are trees. The tree fern is the most iconic plant in New Zealand. They’re everywhere. In England, ferns are low-growing plants you don’t take much notice of. In New Zealand, they tower over you. The ten-year-old me used to expect dinosaurs to come crashing out of them! Today, whenever I return from overseas and see tree ferns at the side of the road, I know I’m home.

4) Primary schools without uniforms

boy-310099_640There are probably a lot of New Zealand primary schools that have uniforms, but no uniform seems to be more common. The ten-year-old me was delighted to find I no longer had to wear a uniform. In England, our primary school uniform had ties and everything – even for girls! And, if you were a girl, you were only just allowed to wear trousers in winter. Being forced to wear a skirt in an English winter is just cruel.

5) Warm winters

girl-162122_640In England, hot weather is rare. When it does get hot, however, it gets hotter than New Zealand. That’s too hot. New Zealand gets almost too hot in summer, but is nice the rest of the year. What I found strange when I first moved here was how warm the winters are. Often, New Zealand in winter is warmer than England summer. (And, don’t forget, it’s happening at the same time. Relatives on the phone get so jealous!)

6) Houses without radiators

stove-575997_640New Zealand houses aren’t built with radiators. Instead, they have wood-burning stoves. When me, my mum and my seven-year-old sister first arrived in New Zealand, my dad picked us up from the airport and took us to the one-storied house he’d rented. As soon as my little sister set foot in our new lounge, she flopped down in front of the wood-burner and let out a disappointed wail: “That’s a really small television!” I should point out that, immediately to the left, was a big television.

7) People talking funny

sheep-303453_640When we first moved to New Zealand, the ten-year-old me sometimes found it quite difficult to understand what people were saying. The Kiwi accent is like a less stressed version of Australian. For example, to me, the word ‘ten’ sounded like ‘tin’, and the word ‘deck’ sounded like… a story I’ve told again and again for the last fourteen years. Being told by a fellow ten-year-old to go and sit on the dick… anyway.

8) Mosquitoes

insect-158565_640I got bit so much my first year in New Zealand! I started to dread summer, because it meant the arrival of the mosquitoes. I would bath myself in repellent yet, somehow, still end up with itchy splotches that drove me insane. The last few years, though, it hasn’t been so bad. Maybe you get used to them? People often have citronella lamps in their gardens here, so you can sit outside during the long summer evenings and not be bothered by them so much.

9) Streets with grass verges

grass-309733_640Where I lived in England, there were no grass verges. The narrow, terrace-lined streets were grey from edge to edge. Half the pavement was taken up with cars parked nose-to-tail down both sides. It was effectively a one-lane road, as you had to drive carefully down the centreline to get to your house. When I moved to New Zealand, I was struck by how wide and pretty the streets were. And everyone has garages, so you don’t have the street parking problem.

10) Beaches with black sand

The ten-year-old me had never even heard of black sand! The first time I felt it I just luxuriated in it. It was like velvet. It gets really hot, of course, but my first New Zealand beach visit was in winter. I remember my dad explaining how the sand was volcanic, which just made it seem more exotic and wonderful! When I lived in England, beach visits were a rare treat, and the beaches were always crowded and tacky. In New Zealand, the beaches are just beautiful.

Bethells Beach

Bethells Beach, Auckland

Concerning Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy

Bilbo's Gate

“Just one song? We could do three. Or we could do one long one and split it into three. I’ll tell you what, it’ll be worth it.”

Peter Jackson, Team Ball Player Thing *

When it was announced that The Hobbit was going to be made into a trilogy, I was actually excited. Yes, the stretching out of a children’s book far shorter than even the first instalment of The Lord of the Rings would mean a lot of padding, but I didn’t mind that. I love The Lord of the Rings. I just wanted more in whatever way I could have it. I’m one of those people who could watch the extended versions forever!

And I really liked The Hobbit trilogy – until three quarters of the way through the second film, that is.

The first film, An Unexpected Journey, was brilliant. I have read The Hobbit many times, and seeing the scene with all the dwarves bursting into Bilbo’s cosy hobbit hole brought to life was, for me, exhilarating. And that singing – it gave me the chills! The film continued to be brilliant, even with the introduction of Azog following the party. In fact, the film did a better job of making me care about the characters that weren’t Bilbo than the book ever did.

I simply adored the portrayals of Thorin, Fili, Kili and Balin. Thorin was beautifully deep and brooding. Fili and Kili were more than adequate Merry and Pippin replacements – they were actually given characters, something seriously lacking in the book! And Balin was perfect. As for the other dwarves, there wasn’t much they could have done even with all the padding. Bombur, for example, serves exactly the same function as in the book – he’s the butt of fat jokes.

First Hobbit Hole

Another Hobbit Hole (from my visit to the Hobbiton Movie Set)

The scenes with all the dwarves at Rivendell are wonderfully funny, especially in the extended version. The whole trilogy was far more light-hearted than The Lord of the Rings, which threw a lot of people. I didn’t mind the film’s self-indulgence here in the slightest. Also, I don’t agree with the argument that the White Council scenes were unnecessary. They were in the book; they just happened off-stage. Besides, Gandalf randomly buggers off in the book and doesn’t return for ages – they couldn’t have gotten away with that in a film without showing where he’d gone.

And as for the addition of Radagast, I found that utterly delightful.

Tongariro Crossing

My little sister in Tongariro National Park, a.k.a. Mordor

Now, the bit with the goblins singing… that did feel uncomfortably childish, even more so than that bit with the trolls, but it’s in the book, dammit! Finding the correct balance between the childishness of the book and keeping the film consistent with The Lord of the Rings was always going to be difficult, given the source material, but The Hobbit trilogy… did not find it. Ah well. At least that computer game-like goblin escape was good fun.

Undoubtedly, the best bit of the first film – and, indeed, of the entire trilogy – was the Riddles in the Dark scene. In fact, I’d say the entire trilogy was worth it just for that! Shame it had to be in the first film, really. The second-best scene of the film, I’d say, is what came after: the bit where they all climb the trees on the edge of the cliff to escape from the orcs. That was beautifully done – suitably tense – and the music was amazing. Re-using the Black Riders’ theme from Fellowship to create the mood for Thorin’s charge made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Wellington Airport Eagle Gandalf

Gandalf riding the Lord of the Eagles at Wellington Airport (from my trip to Wellington)

Then the eagles.


The eagles showed up in the book too – they’re not just a deus ex machina exploited by the films. But the thing is they’re actually explained in the book. They can talk. Here’s an extract from The Hobbit book, from after they’ve just been rescued by the eagles and set down:

     It seemed that Bilbo was not going to be eaten after all. The wizard and the eagle-lord appeared to know one another slightly, and even to be on friendly terms. As a matter of fact Gandalf, who had often been in the mountains, had once rendered a service to the eagles and healed their lord from an arrow-wound… He was discussing plans with the Great Eagle for carrying the dwarves and himself and Bilbo far away and setting them down well on their journey across the plains below.

     The Lord of the Eagles would not take them anywhere near where men lived. “They would shoot at us with their great bows of yew,” he said, “for they would think we were after their sheep. And at other times they would be right. No! we are glad to cheat the goblins of their sport, and glad to repay our thanks to you, but we will not risk ourselves for dwarves in the southward plains.”

Lake Pukaki

Lake Pukaki, a.k.a. Long Lake with the Lonely Mountain in the background (from my South Island campervan trip)

I hope that stops a few of you ‘why didn’t the eagles just take them there?’ complainers! I think this should have been the opening of the second Hobbit film, The Desolation of Smaug. It would have provided a useful explanation (for non-readers) for the eagles in The Lord of the Rings too.

Dwarf Statue

One of the dwarven statues on display at Auckland International Airport

So anyway – the first Hobbit film – VERY GOOD. The second film is where things get iffy. I was still onboard for it. The only thing I really didn’t like was the just-too-ridiculous action scene at the end, when the dwarves flush the dragon out of the mountain. You know, the whole molten gold bit. I was onboard for Legolas. (He would have been there.) I was onboard for the barrel ride. (Over-the-top, but FUN.) I was onboard for Stephen Fry in Lake-town. (It was Stephen Fry!) I was even onboard for the unnecessary addition of Tauriel. (The inclusion of a bad-ass elf chick – or even any female character at all – was most welcome.)

As for the Tauriel-Kili flirtation, I was fine with it. It was funny. It developed their characters. Kili’s character needed developing. (His death in the book is literally just ‘oh, and by the way, Kili and Fili died too’.) Even when the flirtation developed into a somewhat forced love story, I gave it the benefit of the doubt. I would wait to see how it turned out in the next film before I would condemn it. Maybe it would even make the audience care about Kili’s death. (Never mind Fili, eh?)

The Wizard's Vale

They’re taking the hobbits to… guess where (from my South Island campervan trip)

But then came the third film. The Tauriel-Kili love story was AWFUL. If anything, it detracted from the emotional impact of Kili’s death. It would have been far better to show Fili and Kili fall defending Thorin ‘with shield and body’. Instead, we got those nauseating lines delivered by Tauriel and Thranduil. For me, four words destroyed the entire film: “Because it was real.” UCK. SPLURG. ICK. In the cinema, I was left wanting to shout, “I GAVE YOU THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT, DAMMIT! THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT!

Not the actual hobbit hiding place, but close

Not actually where the hobbits hid from the Black Rider, but close (from my trip to Wellington)

I mean the third film did have some fine moments. The surprise Billy Connolly cameo, for example, was a stroke of genius, but where THE FUCK did those giant goats come from? And why THE FUCK does the CGI look worse than it does in The Lord of the Rings, which came out over ten years before The Battle of the Five Armies? It makes the film look – ironically – rushed.

At the end of the day, though, the entire Hobbit trilogy is beautiful. Every shot looks like a painting. It’s artfully acted, (if not always artfully written,) and it really delves into the wider world of Middle-earth. And even The Battle of the Five Armies is a lot better than some of the movies that come out today. I just hope that people watch The Lord of the Rings first. The Hobbit is a bit of beautiful fun; The Lord of the Rings is a towering landmark in the history of cinema. (And both are very expensive New Zealand tourism commercials.)

* Team Ball Player Thing is a New Zealand charity/All Blacks support music video in which many local celebrities make fun of themselves. Watch it here for a great example of Kiwi humour:


The Problem with Possums


Welcome to New Zealand, where killing small, furry animals is a sign of patriotism! Especially possums. Possums are evil, habitat-destroying, bird-eating, Australian bastards. If you see a possum on the road, you run the little f***er over. If you see one in the bush, you get your gun and you turn it into nipple warmers.

Possum fur nipple warmers are a big thing in New Zealand. They’re in all the souvenir shops, along with possum fur scarves and gloves and the like. My little sister bought a cuddly possum made with real possum fur. (Not just a stuffed possum – that would be creepy, even for her.) She used to love stroking it.

Possum fur is unbelievably soft. I had a friend who’d go out hunting possums with his dad, and they used to get quite a bit of money from the fur. The trick, he told me, was to pull it all off whilst the body was still warm. They’d get bags of it. He asked me if I wanted to come along once. I declined. Not that I’m against hunting possums. If there’s such a thing as ethical fur, it’s possum fur.

possum-246778_640Possums really are a menace to New Zealand’s native flora and fauna. Some European idiots brought them over from Australia in 1837, to establish a fur trade, and they quickly multiplied at the expense of the existing creatures. Not only do they eat the leaves, buds, fruit and bark of trees, decimating canopies and depriving endangered birds of food, they eat the eggs and chicks of those birds too.

New Zealand’s native birds evolved in an environment devoid of mammals. (The only native New Zealand land mammals are bats.) The introduction of possums and other mammals such as rats, stoats, dogs and cats was something they simply weren’t equipped to deal with. Possums have been seen actually flushing kiwi birds out of their burrows in order to feast on the contents of their nests.

It’s no wonder they’re so hated. In New Zealand, small, furry animals are bad; small, feathery animals are good. Still, the national enthusiasm for running possums over is one of the things that shocked me when I first arrived here, aged ten. I remember shaking my head, incredulous at the sheer number of flattened possums on the road into our town. People actually swerve to hit them.


The flattened possum with a tyre track across it is one of the many symbols of New Zealand. I have met one Kiwi, though, who couldn’t understand the possum-hate. (I’m talking about the human inhabitants of New Zealand now, not the iconic birds.) She was an old cat lady, only one of her cats… wasn’t a cat.

Now she was a lovely lady, and I fully walked into the conversation about all the cats she’d ever owned, having fully accepted the fact that I am, myself, a crazy cat lady and destined to die surrounded by them. I don’t think I’ll ever cover my entire lounge in pictures of them, however. I don’t think I’ll ever have cat cushions and cat throws and cat tea trays. It was like a cat cyclone!

The walls and mantelpiece were covered in pictures of long-dead cats and, as I sat stroking a live one, I noticed that one of the pictures was different. I had to ask her if it was real. Oh yes, she said, it was real. It had even appeared in the local paper back in – I think – the 1970’s. I asked if I could take a photo of the photo. She was happy to let me and this is that photo:

Pet Possum

Just in case you don’t believe your eyes, that is a possum sitting in a highchair with a bib around its neck, eating its food from a bowl with a spoon like a human. She trained it to do that. It would sit on the couch like a human, too, when it wasn’t curled up on her lap like a cat. They make fantastic pets, she told me. She simply couldn’t see why people wanted to kill them.

Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten most of the details of the story, (I know – I should have written it down at the time!) but there’s one detail I’ll remember ’til I die: she castrated the possum herself. She sat him down on her lap, lulled him into a false sense of security and snap went the rubber band. At first he was too shocked to do anything, but then he began to shake and whimper.

I laughed in sympathy as the old woman did her impression of the traumatised possum. I wish I could do it for you now. Apparently, he didn’t run away; just sat there shaking and whimpering for a very long time. Imagine the awful, confused sense of betrayal he must have felt! He was completely fine afterwards, though.

I googled “pet possum New Zealand” earlier, but couldn’t find any trace of this woman’s story – it must be too old. Most of the results seemed to be along the lines of using possums as pet food. I did find this cute story, though: http://www.3news.co.nz/nznews/its-possible-to-love-a-possum-2015052518#axzz3mLKGmyXD… and this, uh, not so cute one:

I don’t know – is getting a load of children to dress up a series of dead possums really that bad? Is it any worse than turning them into pet food, nipple warmers and cuddly toy versions of themselves? Possums have been demonised in New Zealand, but for good reason. They’re not just pests; they threaten the very survival of what makes New Zealand environmentally unique.

Yet it’s not their fault.

Read: Fantastic New Zealand Beasts and Where to Find Them

The New Zealand Identity Crisis


What is a New Zealander?

Warning SheepAccording to the television, it’s a tough, stubby-wearing, beer-swilling, rugby-mad sheep farmer with the emotional capacity of a teaspoon, (except in the event of All Black victory/defeat,) that subsists on Weet-Bix, Wattie’s, pies and Pineapple Lumps.

New Zealand television is scary. I don’t know about other countries – not even England, as I was ten years old when I left – but, in New Zealand, a great deal of advertising seems to be along the lines of ‘you’re not a true Kiwi if you don’t consume this product’.

The news is no better. We’re constantly being told what we should be, as though there’s a national identity paranoia. You’re unpatriotic if you’re not passionate about rugby. If you’re a girl, you have to play netball.

mountain-310155_640Certain enforced stereotypes do hold true. Lots of Kiwis are, for example, friendly and laidback. Kiwis love the great outdoors because, let’s be honest, the great outdoors is the best thing New Zealand’s got going for it. As for the rest, it’s hard to find someone who actually fits this supposed ideal.

It’s scary that such an ‘unintellectual’ image is constantly put forward as the paragon to aspire to. It makes people afraid of standing out. Fourteen years of living here has made me fearful, in certain situations, of enunciating words properly! (There’s a danger of people thinking that you think you’re better them. This danger is made more dangerous by having an English accent.)

new-zealand-654980_640Why am I rambling about this now? The flag, of course! The bloody farce that is the ongoing saga of New Zealand’s new flag vote. Debates on the nature of the New Zealand identity are raging, and what’s become clear is that the rugby-mad sheep farmer is no longer in vogue, except for comedy purposes.

Yet a completely democratic panel, from the thousands of flag designs submitted, came up with a final four that included three silver ferns, (two exactly the same except for a different colour in one of the panels,) and a koru that, instead of looking like the Maori symbol of new life that it’s supposed to be, resembles a sinister, hypnotic spiral. Kiwi actor Sam Neill, (the main guy from Jurassic Park,) tweeted, “New NZ flag designs? Three look like logos for a new sportswear franchise. And one – a tidal wave of despair. Let’s just forget it now…”

Pretty much sums up my entire Facebook wall.

I’m not actually against a flag change. But not like this. Not like this.

kiwi-309620_640Kiwis are about more than just rugby, something that the media and the Prime Minister apparently fail to grasp. I mean yes, when I first moved to New Zealand I was shocked at just how much of a national obsession rugby is, but just because someone loves a sport, that doesn’t have to be their defining characteristic.

The New Zealand character is diverse. We have Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Island, British, Indian, Chinese, South African – people and cultures from all over the world. We aren’t just sheep farmers, we’re dairy farmers too!

big-wave-helloBut seriously.

I think my point is that we shouldn’t let the media, or John Key, tell us who we should be. We should be who we want to be and – who knows? – maybe New Zealand will forge new symbols of collective identity.

10 Things I Don’t Miss About Britain


Living in New Zealand, there are lots of things I miss about Britain. This sort of thing, for example:


Roche Abbey, near my childhood home

New Zealand doesn’t have anything like that.

Expat bloggers always write about what they miss from their home countries. (Here’s an article I wrote called Top 20 Things a Brit in New Zealand Misses.) But what about the things we DON’T miss?

Below, I’ve compiled a list of ten things I don’t miss about Britain. See what you think.

1) Stinging nettles

stinging-nettle-141508_640My British childhood was blighted by these buggers. The alley behind our house was overgrown with them. You often had to sidle along the wall with your stomach drawn in to avoid their touch. Then there was that time when I was three years old, riding my bike and wearing nothing but a thin leotard, (because it was summer and I was on my way to a dancing lesson,) and next-door’s enormous dog chased me and knocked me off into a towering patch of them! Every inch of my skin was stung!

When I was seventeen, when I’d been living in New Zealand for seven years, I went on a school trip back to England with some Kiwi classmates. One girl, who’d never seen a stinging nettle before, brushed past a clump thinking they were ordinary plants… I was too late to warn her and could only watch in horror. Unfortunately, I’d been away from England long enough to forget what dock leaves looked like, so I couldn’t do anything to help the pain. I remembered rubbing a dock leaf on my stung knee many golden summers ago, just like my friend Becky showed me…

2) The rain

rain-122691_640Obviously. It rains a lot in New Zealand too, but really not as much. And it’s not the grey, relentless, oppressive rain you get in Britain. And I haven’t experienced any sleet since moving to New Zealand. Or had to wade through any of that awful, brown slush you get up the streets in winter. New Zealand’s weather is just better.

3) Dog shit

There’s hardly any on the streets in New Zealand. When I went back to Britain last year, I had to re-train myself to watch out for it.

4) Chavs

CHAVEverywhere has groups of young people from rough backgrounds trying to have a good time in ways that many would perceive as misguided, and New Zealand is no exception. The Kiwi equivalent of the British chav – the bogan – seems nowhere near as crass, however. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that New Zealanders as a whole are more laidback than Brits.

5) Everyone moaning all the time

complaining-154204_640It’s common for Brits to communicate in complaints. The shared sense of disgruntlement creates a warm camaraderie that other nationalities often don’t quite understand. It can be difficult to take when you’re not used to it. When I went back to Britain last year, after thirteen years of living in New Zealand, I actually felt a bit oppressed by the constant moaning. Everyone was bringing everything down all the time. I mean can’t you just appreciate the good things and not let the bad things worry you? They’re not that important anyway. That’s the Kiwi way – the “she’ll be right” attitude – and to those that criticize it for creating a nation of complacent people, I say it’s better than the miserable alternative. No wonder Kiwis call us ‘whinging poms’!

6) The traffic

Only Auckland’s traffic comes close to the nightmare that is Britain’s. You actually can’t blame ’em for complaining about that.

7) Those trashy tabloid newspapers

yyycatch-people-biz-male-sadNew Zealand has a few fatuous celebrity gossip magazines, but it doesn’t have anything like The Sun or the Daily Mirror! Returning to Britain last year and having endless headlines like ‘ROYAL SEX SCANDAL SCOOP’ and ‘CELEBRITY SNORTS COCAINE OFF OWN TITS’ blasted in my face really made me despair for the state of the nation.

8) People so xenophobic they won’t even try spaghetti Bolognese

Perhaps because New Zealand is a country of immigrants, everyone’s just more open-minded.

9) Tories

Not even Tories, just snobbishness in general. New Zealand has more of an egalitarian attitude than Britain does.

10) Pavements black with chewing gum

You get splotches of gum on the pavement in New Zealand too, but it wasn’t until I went back to Britain that I realised just how bad British streets are. In the centre of my home town, there was more gum than pavement! It was revolting. (Chewing gum’s just one of my pet hates. Grr.)

Any fellow British expats have anything to add? What about my readers currently living in Britain – what wouldn’t you miss about it?

Why New Zealand Made Me Write


I’ve nearly finished my novel. (For real this time.) And I’m terrified. This world and these characters have been consuming my life for nearly two decades. (I’m only twenty-four.) They’ve been my reason for living – my only reason until I met Tim. But the novel might never have happened if my family hadn’t moved to New Zealand.

When I was a little kid, living in England, I never dreamed of being a writer. My parents were teachers, so I wanted to be a teacher. I went to dance lessons, so I wanted to be a ballerina. I went to violin lessons, so I wanted to be Vanessa-Mae. Then, when I was six, my nana gave a notebook. It was a very ordinary-looking notebook, but it had a hardcover. That made all the difference.

Books with hardcovers, my six-year-old brain thought, are for Very Special Stories. So I sat down and I wrote a Very Special Story with a Carefully Drawn Front Cover and Everything. The story was called Sarah and Anne. (It was supposed to be Sarah and Annie, but on my Carefully Drawn Front Cover I’d accidentally missed out the ‘i’ and no, Mum, I couldn’t just squeeze one in – that would ruin it!)

book-730479_640It wasn’t a novel.

It was simply a piece of meandering prose about the daily lives of a girl and her favourite doll, who could talk. (I’d recently seen Toy Story.) It was finished when I reached the last page of the notebook. Nevertheless it was a masterpiece.

I presented it to my mum and, without really thinking about it, went to the local and stationer’s and bought a second notebook.

Soon I was staying up long into the night, hastily flicking my bedside light off whenever I heard my parents’ footsteps on the stairs, filling notebook after notebook with the adventures of Sarah and Anne. I still didn’t dream of being a writer. I just had a story in my head that wouldn’t stop and needed exorcising.

fairy-tales-671406_640As the years went by, my stories – well, one continuous story, really – took on the influences of what I was reading. It had the children-from-our-world-entering-a-magical-world of Narnia, the fantastic castle of Harry Potter, the enchanted forest of The Magic Faraway Tree… It was also part-diary: the mundane things that happened to me/Sarah at school side-by-side with the fantasy.

But something was about to happen to me that wasn’t so mundane.

When I was nine years old, my parents told me that we were moving to New Zealand. My world was shattered. Everything was gone: my best friend, my grandma, my dance lessons, my violin lessons… because the small town we moved to in New Zealand didn’t have any dance schools or violin teachers. I was lonely. I was just so, so lonely. And bored.

book-2869_640Boredom was the thing, really. I was sitting around one day, no friends to hang out with; no dances or violin tunes to be practising, and I thought to myself: what can I do? Well I’d obviously found writing enjoyable enough. Why not do that? But PROPERLY this time. I’d write a novel. A proper novel. How hard could it be? It was just something to pass the time; it’d be finished by Christmas.

But a novel about what? Try as I might, I couldn’t think of anything. Then I felt a little tug on the back of the T-shirt of my mind. “I’m still here,” Anne said.

“Yes, but you’re a doll,” I told her. “I’m too old for stories about talking toys now. They’re stupid.”

“But I’m not a toy,” she said. “None of us are. We’re shape-shifting magical folk. And we’re here to protect you.”

“From what?” I asked… and the novel was born.

Creepy Porcelain Doll

My own picture, (the rest in this article are off pixabay.com) featuring the inspiration for Anne, my porcelain Alice in Wonderland doll

Despite the fantasy elements, it was still largely autobiographical. Sarah was an English girl whose family had moved to a small town in New Zealand. Although her father’s reasons for shifting the family had been rather different to mine. Sarah’s route to school and the school itself were the same as mine. Then there were her friends…

I must admit, loneliness drove me to use the names and basic looks of some of the friends I’d had in England. By writing about them, I felt like I was still interacting with them. Of course, they soon developed into their own characters, separate from the people they were based on, but I wouldn’t blame the people they were based on if they felt a little freaked out.

Years later, I reconnected with some of them on social media. It was a weird experience for me. I didn’t tell them, but I almost expected them to be like my characters. They weren’t. It was worse meeting one of them in person – I didn’t see England again until I was seventeen, so the differences were quite staggering.

The characters have all grownup with me, you see. When I finished the first version of that first novel, I was older, wiser and had better taste in writing, so I had to write it again, better. Then, when I finished the second version, I was older, wiser and had better taste in writing… so… you get the idea. Each time I finished it, I was completely embarrassed by the juvenile crap that the younger me had written.

mortality-401222_640But in-between all the re-writes of the first novel, I wrote sequels to it. The characters aged as I did. It got out of control. The world grew and grew. It got darker. Writing was no longer my hobby, it was my life. I didn’t choose where the stories went, they ran ahead of me, dragging me in the dirt behind them, scraped and buffeted by self-criticism, but unable to stop.

This is the final version of my first novel. I’m nearly finished. Maybe, someday soon, I can regain some sanity. And by ‘sanity’ I mean ‘mental health’, because writers should be a little insane. It’s got to the point now where I couldn’t do anything else with my life if I tried. Writing is the only thing I’m good at.

I often wonder what my life would have been like if we’d stayed in England. Would writing have become my life’s passion if I’d still had my other hobbies? Would I have been bullied in the same way, forced to spend high school lunchtimes hiding in the library, where it was natural to read and write? Life might have been easier if my self-esteem wasn’t so wrapped up in writing.

Kuirau Park

One of my pictures from Kuirau Park in Rotorua

I also think about how much New Zealand, the country itself, has influenced the world of my novel. Have the attitudes of my characters changed? The landscape of the world? I know that there’s somewhere in my second novel that was very consciously inspired by the magical glowworm caves of Waitomo. And another place inspired by the volcanic terrains of Rotorua, Taupo and White Island.

I haven’t used any of the magical creatures from Maori folklore so far, although at some point there is an old woman with removable fingers of fire, obviously inspired by Mahuika from the Maui legends. I remember that story from a Year Eight art class, and I wish I’d been told more about Maori folklore years ago.

One of my favourite fantasy writers, Juliet Marillier, is from New Zealand, but she mainly writes novels inspired by Celtic folklore. I suppose I take my influences from lots of different places, though there’s a certain amount of, as Terry Pratchett put it, re-arranging the furniture in Tolkien’s attic. But then all fantasy is.

(To set my nana’s mind at rest, my book also has a firm basis in the real world. Not that what happens in the fantasy world isn’t real – you just ask Neil Gaiman. I mean that one of its most significant settings is a small town in New Zealand. (My nana thinks fantasy is a waste of time because none of the things happening are real. It took long enough to convince her that ‘writer’ is a respectable career prospect, but ‘fantasy writer’ may need more work!))


How I Adopted My Kiwi Identity and Never Looked Back – A Guest Post by Matt Hetherington


In September 1995, at the mere age of 5 years old, I left my country of birth, England. A country I would to this day never set eyes on again. My parents had decided it was time for a fresh start, we left our life and our family behind and ventured to what seemed like the end of the world.

Before long my accent was gone, I began school and I started my life in New Zealand. Memories of the UK fell into the distant past and I quickly began to discover that New Zealand wasn’t a bad place at all.

Probably most fortunate of all was where my parents decided to settle. After a year in Auckland and it’s traffic and average weather, we relocated to Tauranga.

To this day Tauranga has remained to be one of my favourite places. It’s just incredibly peaceful and pleasant. There are around 2400 hours of sunshine in a year and enough sand and surf for any keen beachgoer. Summer in Tauranga made me quickly adopt the city as my home, and despite not having lived there for some time now, I still see it as my favourite place in New Zealand. I enjoyed walking on the beach in the summer and hiking up The Mount, especially when I had friends from other cities and places with me.


View from Mount Maunganui / Matt Hetherington

So What Is It I Love About New Zealand?

Geographic Diversity

It’s really a unique place. It seems like a small country but the terrain is forever changing. In 2012 when I moved for 6 months from Hamilton (North Island) to Christchurch (South Island), I almost felt like I had moved countries again. Within one small pair of islands there is a horizon full of bush/forests, snowy alps, volcanoes on land, volcanoes at sea, hills, surf beaches, peaceful bays, glaciers and more.

I think one of the nicest things is that everywhere is so close to the sea or a large body of water. Sometimes surf and bays can be separated by a small spit of land like in Bowentown, Waihi Beach or Mount Maunganui. We used to spend the early afternoon swimming in the bay in the calm water and then after lunch head over to the surf beach with the camping ground square in the middle of both. It was perfect.


Foodstore DessertIt is as diverse as it’s population. Now on my trips home I usually reside in Auckland, one thing I enjoy there is the food. Now spending so much time in the USA I can say that the food culture in New Zealand is amazing. The large Asian population in Auckland city provides a really good standard of Asian cuisine, actually I would rate the Dim Sum in Auckland among some of the best I have ever had. The cafe culture here is just awesome, I think what I really like is the quality of the food. Even our fast food seems to have much better standards than other places.

The agriculture in New Zealand means that fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy and seafood are all really great quality and that makes the food outstanding!

The People

Native KiwiGenerally speaking I have enjoyed growing up with the people in this country and have, for a long time, identified as one of them, a kiwi. I became a NZ Citizen very late, in 2008 in fact, a long time after moving to New Zealand. I think New Zealanders have a sense of ‘chill’, they are laid back to the point of probably being seen as lazy by foreigners. The lifestyle is easy going, they are creative and fun people.

New Zealand was more than a home to me, it really is a beautiful country. Although I have spread my wings again and am basing myself in the USA very soon, I will be visiting home frequently (probably in the summer). I think one of the only disadvantages for travellers is that it is so far away and can cost a lot to travel to, but for me it’s coming home so it’s a necessary expense!

The more I heard about the UK and how it was changing the less compelled I felt to make a trip home, my family went on numerous occasions but I never took the opportunity to go with them. Perhaps someday soon I will make the trip but I don’t think it will change the fact that I’m a kiwi at heart :)

kiwi-309620_640Matt Hetherington is a 25-year-old travelling professional table tennis athlete from New Zealand. Born in the UK and now residing in the United States he operates two blogs, www.mhtabletennis.com for his table tennis fans and a new blog about his travel experiences, www.pongventure.com. He identifies as a kiwi and has represented New Zealand for his entire playing and coaching career.