A Foxton Beach writer has managed to bring to life the story of a New Zealand woman she met in jail.
It would be a stretch to say Carol Markwell "met" her subject Blanche Baughan. But rather she became aware of Baughan's extraordinary life and felt compelled to learn more.
The result of that research is a new book, Enough Horizon: the life and work of Blanche Baughan, the story of a New Zealand poet, journalist, conservationist and prison reformer.
Markwell first "encountered" Blanche when she went inside a Christchurch prison conducting research for an earlier book she was writing called Alice, what have you done!
Alice Parkinson was jailed for life in Addington Reformatory in Christchurch for the murder of her ex-boyfriend Walter West.
During the writing of that book Markwell discovered that Blanche Baughan had regularly visited Parkinson in prison.
"I thought - what's she doing here visiting Alice? I was fascinated as to why she was there," she said.
"I was impressed with and intrigued by Blanche."
Blanche Baughan was born in England in 1870. She came to New Zealand at the turn of the century when she was 30 and would become one of New Zealand's first poets and travel writers.
Markwell said Blanche loved New Zealand from the minute she arrived. She settled in Sumner and Banks Peninsula and formed friendships with poets Jessie Mackay and Ursula Bethell.
Her poems were praised for their New Zealand vernacular and her travel writing introduced people here and overseas to our walks and wilderness areas.
That interest in the environment and her advocacy for the vulnerable in society flourished. She became a botanist, conservationist and prison reformer.
Markwell received a grant from the History Research Fund of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to write the biography.
She travelled to the United Kingdom, and also to Christchurch and Akaroa, to study more of her life.
"There was a lot to discover and I never tired of learning about her. She's one of our most interesting early writers, and also a bush walker, social reformer and conservationist," she said.
"She was ahead of her time."
With either subject Markwell was keen to play it straight and not breach the conditions of her editorial licence. They are readable biographies rather than fanciful novels.
"I thought, no, I'll keep true to the facts. It wouldn't be fair to her, or her memory," she said.
"It's been really interesting. It's been absorbing ... it's good to see it in book form. It's really good to bring her out to the world."
Markwell even travelled to Akaroa and met people who had known Blanche when they themselves were children, and remembered her.
One interesting "find" was learning that Blanche walked the Milford Track in her dress and hiking boots not long after it was first cut.
She produced an essay for The Spectator in London where she called it a "fine walk". By the time it made it to print, the headline had it "the finest walk in the world".
The Milford Track is still referred to as "The Finest Walk in the World".
Carol Markwell grew up in Palmerston North. She is a playwright with a lifelong interest in drama, poetry and history.
In 2011 her story Telling Tales won the Kapiti Coast District Libraries Creative Writing Competition.
In 2013 she graduated with a master's degree in Creative Writing from Massey University. Her play Smoke and Mirrors, written as part of that degree, was a prizewinner in the Playwrights Association of NZ play competition for 2011.
She lives and writes at her Foxton Beach home and spends a lot of time walking around the Manawatū River estuary.
Enough Horizon is published by Cuba Press and will be in bookshops from July 12. It was already gaining favourable reviews.
"Carol Markwell's meticulous and thoughtful biography is a tour de force."
"Enough Horizon will be welcomed by literary readers, by feminists, by admirers of the Victorian and Edwardian 'lady travellers', and by anyone interested in our early 20th-century cultural history."