One of the most prolific and successful New Zealand novelists ever was a Christchurch-born minister's wife called Essie Summers. She sold close to 20 million books in 105 countries, published in 25 languages.
But if you're not in her target market you probably haven't heard of her. The same goes for a dozen or so other successful New Zealand authors who've bypassed our tiny local publishing market and headed straight out into the world.
They're genre writers who've hit the right niche with the right stories at the right time - the ones who have us all berating ourselves: "Oh why didn't I think 10 years ago to write vampire romances/boy wizard adventures/Christchurch crime thrillers ... "
Summers was a pioneer among these local word exporters. When she died in 1998, aged 86, she'd written more than 50 novels for Mills and Boon and was known as New Zealand's Queen of Romance.
So who are some of these blazingly successful New Zealand authors you've (probably) never heard of?
It sounds like an unlikely recipe for success: a series of serial-killer thrillers set in ... Christchurch. But, hey, whatever works. And it's definitely working for Cantabrian Paul Cleave. His first book, The Cleaner, which he wrote in his mid-twenties, sold more than a quarter of a million copies in its first year and was the number one bestselling crime novel on Amazon in Germany in 2007, for starters. He's now published in France, Australia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Russia, Poland, Japan, Turkey, Brazil, the UK and the USA - but until recently his books weren't even on the shelves in Christchurch. His fifth novel, Collecting Cooper (Penguin), came out this week - and should be very easy to find in New Zealand bookstores. Read an excerpt here.
A former student of Mt Roskill Grammar, Nalini Singh started writing paranormal romance shortly before Stephanie Meyer published her first Twilight novel and Charlaine Harris sold the television rights to her Southern Vampire series (renamed True Blood for the telly). The genre took off, and Singh has repeatedly ridden the wave to the New York Times bestseller lists, with stories of love between shapeshifters, psychics, angels, vampire hunters and, occasionally, regular old humans. Like Cleave, Singh was a publishing success overseas long before her work started appearing in mainstream bookshops in New Zealand. These days her books are translated into about a dozen languages, including French, Thai, Indonesian, Hungarian and Japanese. Her latest book, Tangle of Need, will get a mainstream release here on June 12 (Hachette).
While working as a fashion journalist, Aucklander Stacy Gregg got it into her head to write a book for pre-teens about a horse-mad Auckland girl and her friends. She sent it off to Harper Collins in London, and it was rejected. Five years later, an editor rang back to say they'd changed their minds. She's since sold more than a million copies of her 17 pony club books, in two series - Pony Club Secrets, and the more grown-up Pony Club Rivals. Both have been optioned for TV and film.
Daphne Clair and Robyn Donald
The rightful heirs to Essie Summers, this Northland pair have each written more than 70 romance novels for international markets. They've also, jointly, written the book about romance writing, Writing the Romantic Novel. Donald's latest book, Stepping out of the Shadows, is released this month by Harlequin. (Incidentally, if you fancy yourself as the next Essie Summers, Romance Writers of New Zealand is inviting budding romance writers to apply for the Sandra Hyde Memorial Scholarship, which will get you into the association's three-day August conference in Auckland for free. Applications close on Friday. Click here for details.)
Dunedin-born Juliet Marillier published her first fantasy novel at age 50, after emigrating to Australia. It was published in Australia, the US and the UK, translated into several languages, and won a sought-after American Library Association award. She gave up her day job in the public service in 2003 and now has more than a dozen books to her name, both adult and YA, which combine historical fiction, folkloric fantasy, romance and family drama. She is even a member of the druid order OBOD (The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids).
Hawera-born Sheryl Jordan is what you might call persistent. Her first published novel, Rocco, was the 13th she'd written. Since then more than a dozen of her fantasy books for children and young adults have been published in New Zealand, as well as Australia, the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Denmark. She's also written and/or illustrated a pile of children's picture books.