Today we welcome author Anne Ashby to Booklover Book Reviews, to share with us why New Zealand is the setting for her latest romance novels.
How many of you have told, or been told when starting out in this industry, that you should write what you know? This suggestion is right up there with the ‘show don’t tell’ idiom as one of the most arguably essential pieces of advice for any budding writer. But perhaps it would be wiser to expand a little on that initial phrase and suggest a writer should write only what they have knowledge about. That does leave room for acquiring knowledge through research.
But I detract from my topic, which is why it’s wise to use our own countries as settings for our stories. And recognisable people from those countries as our characters.
I’m a contemporary romance writer. I don’t pretend or aspire to be some great literary author seeking awards or accolades from the literary world. I write what many see as escapism or fantasy and feel very comfortable in the niche I find myself.
Writing romance is fun, time consuming and yes, escapist. But that doesn’t mean stories shouldn’t be realistic and accurate.
In a romance the setting might not be considered of vital importance. A romance is the developing relationship between two characters. Yes, yes, we know that. But even in a romance, why shouldn’t a writer take some pride in providing a setting for the story which s/he knows intimately? Is there any reason why we can’t expand our readers’ knowledge a little or change their perceptions by adding descriptions or quirky insights of home? We might even find our writing is a catalyst to encourage foreigners to visit our shores.
Within the contemporary romance genre there appears to be a “fear” settings outside US, UK or romantic European spots will not have the same appeal. But many Australia and New Zealand romance writers have disproved this theory. So my question to any writer is, why wouldn’t you use your own backyard to set your stories?
Researching unfamiliar settings
Setting any story outside areas we know intimately is fraught with danger. One small mistake can destroy the writer’s credibility. And replacing that credibility is nigh on impossible. When a reader’s respect is lost, it’s unlikely they will pick up that writers next book.
If we have not lived and experienced life to the full in the setting we choose, should we assume we can adequately set a story in that location? Our reliance on movies and television, as well as Mr Google, becomes paramount to fooling our readers. Often these might provide all we need. But what about that little mistake which you’re not even aware is a mistake?
Before anyone who writes/reads historical romance gets up in arms and scrolls down to argue their point against my thoughts, I acknowledge much of this does not apply to historical works. An historical story usually has the setting dictated by the very essence of its time and place in history.
I was fortunate to live in Maryland USA for some time. My first story Worlds Apart was written while I discovered so many things I never knew about America. Things not displayed on TV or in the movies. Whether my discoveries were endemic to all US or just Maryland I don’t know, hence this story and its companion book Worlds Collide were set in Maryland/Washington DC (areas I knew very well) for fear of me making a mistake.
Working with an American editor while preparing those stories for publication, I’d still made numerous cultural and language mistakes. For example, I’d used some words offensive to Americans, eg. toilet and homely; I’d fenced a house’s front yard, I’d portrayed my American characters incorrectly while writing in their Points of View. I’d even had them eating hotdogs too often, much to the amusement of my editor.
My certainty I should write stories set in New Zealand not only came from my desire to showcase my country in some very small way, but my fear of making errors. I admit my inherent laziness probably also contributed, I didn’t want to spend long periods researching a story before writing it. Instead I can “look out my window” and write whatever is there.
Although the world has become a much smaller place thanks to technology, countries other than our own have laws, traditions, culture and heritage that we may not be privy to. Small factors are not always portrayed in the media or anywhere on-line. Even in the fantasy world produced in every romance story, there should still be authenticity.
My advice to any Kiwi writers
Use our beautiful country, find some amazing sight or location and then make that part of your story. Use New Zealand’s highlights in any small way you can.
And to all writers – don’t be afraid to set your story in your own backyard. Use your own eyes and local knowledge to ensure even the small details you describe are correct. And do put in plenty of those small details, it’ll make your story all the more unique.
Here are some photos I’ve taken in New Zealand which have helped inspire my writing.
Locations that inspired settings in Leath’s Legacy
Locations that inspired settings in Wilderness Liaison
My latest release, Return to Riversleigh is a sequel to my earlier The CEO Gets Her Man and is set in the area I grew up. I developed a fictional town but anyone who knows the region will quickly recognise Riversleigh as being the seaside town of Riverton. The benefit of a fictional place among real locations? If any local points out a discrepancy I can scoff and argue that Riversleigh isn’t supposed to be Riverton at all. Yeah right!
Return to Riversleigh Synopsis:
Shannon’s adrenaline-junkie husband gambled away their security and his life. She believes her twelve-year-old son’s memories border on hero worship. Shannon’s decisions, including leaving Auckland and returning to her hometown of Riversleigh, upset her son. The tension between them reaches the breaking point.
Carefree adventurer Luke returns to the farm he escaped from years ago to raise his deceased brother’s children. Developing an adventure park might restore something of his previous life. His friend, Jase McEwan, introduces him to Shannon who is in desperate need of employment and a place to stay.
Reluctant to associate with another risk-taker, Shannon finds Luke’s blasé attitude and claims of unlimited finances worrying. Even with Luke encouraging Thomas to escape Shannon’s “mollycoddling,” a friendship develops and soon deepens to something more. But will any chance of a lasting relationship be destroyed when Shannon discovers Luke is also a gambler?
* Anne Ashby writes clean (more suitable for 16+) contemporary romance
Return to Riversleigh is available from
About the Author, Anne Ashby
Anne Ashby grew up in a very small coastal town in Southland, New Zealand. An eagerness to see the world led her to join the Royal NZ Navy where she enjoyed a very satisfying career. She has travelled extensively and lived in Singapore and Maryland USA. When not reading or writing, Anne enjoys travelling anywhere and everywhere she can and hanging out with her family and old Navy friends. One day she promises she’ll catalogue all her genealogy notes. She and her husband live in Auckland, with children and grandchildren close by.