Otorohanga locals probably aren't aware there's a writer living among them who is creating a great deal of global buzz right now.

Tammy Robinson is relatively new in town but she's not new on the writing scene. She's been self-publishing through Amazon for years, attracting scores of five-star reviews for stories that are compared to the work of Nicholas Sparks and JoJo Moyes.

Now she's landed an international publishing deal with her seventh novel, Differently Normal.

"That was always the dream," says Robinson. "With self-publishing you hear these stories of agents and publishers seeing a book and taking the author on. I always had that hope but it never seemed to happen."


Robinson, who was born in the Bay of Plenty, was in her 20s when she had her first go at fiction.

"I was working in a shoe shop and in my lunchtimes wrote a book. It was based on fact — when I was 17 I got depression and bulimia — and was cathartic to write but I have no idea where it is now."

It wasn't until she had returned from a long OE, working on cruise ships and for Club Med, and settled down with her husband Karl that Robinson resumed writing.

"I had a vivid dream about a girl falling asleep in a bookshop and a guy waking her up. I wrote it down and kept writing every day."

Again real-life emotions and angst fuelled her storytelling. For her first novel, Charlie and Pearl, the loss of two close friends to bowel cancer shaped the plot. And her second book, When Stars Collide, is laced with the sadness she suffered at the death of her mother.

"She passed away very suddenly at the age of 58 and it was devastating because she was my very best friend."

But Robinson's stories have a wide audience because they're warm, lively and light-hearted as well as being emotionally charged. These are novels to make the reader laugh and cry.

Differently Normal

tells the story of a young woman called Maddy who's made big sacrifices to be able to help care for her autistic little sister, Bee. She's absolutely not looking for love but then meets Albert, a boy with troubles of his own, and romance sparks.

Robinson treads a careful line here, managing to find both humour and pathos in the autism strand of the story.

"You hear a lot about how difficult children with autism can make things. I wanted to show the joys they bring to life; that they're not just a burden," explains Robinson, who based the character of Bee on the daughter of an online friend, Lorraine Tipene, who contacted her initially to say how much she'd enjoyed reading Charlie and Pearl.

"She's become like a surrogate aunt; we message each other every morning and night, we're really close. Lorraine is one of the happiest, most positive people I know and she puts that down to her daughter, who makes her laugh every day."

Tipene did more than help with her research. She introduced Robinson to a secret book club on Facebook that numbers authors and book bloggers among its members. A loyal band of them read and loved Robinson's stories; the buzz began to grow louder.

Encouraged, Robinson submitted Differently Normal to New Zealand-based agent Vicki Marsdon, of Word Link. She took the book to the UK and negotiated a publishing contract.

"It was kind of one of those magical things that fall into place."

Admittedly it's been rather less magical meeting the publisher's deadline for her new book, Photos Of You. At 41, Robinson has three kids — Holly 5, Willow 3, and Leo 1 — and her husband has changed careers from graphic design to dairy farming. Life is busy.

"The more children I've had, the more it's got harder," she says. "By the time the kids are in bed I'm full of intentions to write but I'm tired. It's the hardest so far but I've got to the point where I sit down and it's pouring out."

With Differently Normal on sale in this country, the UK and Australia, and with foreign rights deals happening — it's sold to Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia already — Robinson is flying high. Still, no matter what happens next, she says she'll never stop writing.

"I love it. I've already got the next story in my head and the one after that. I get antsy if I don't write a book. When I finish one I always say I'll take a break but I never do. I'll be in the shower and have dialogue in my head and have to write it down."

By Tammy Robinson
(Hachette, $30)