If about now 2019 feels a lot like 2018 which felt a lot like 2017 which felt a lot like ... it might be time for a new interest.

This needn't be as demanding as walking the Te Araroa Trail like the couple I met trudging under heavy packs on Uretiti Beach on Monday.

It needn't require fancy equipment, despite people with electric bikes who effortlessly ride with panting and puffing friends and family on conventional bicycles seeming to enjoy a special kind of glee.

This new interest could simply involve being bookish with the bonuses of getting out into the world and meeting new people who will be flattered by your attention.


The idea came from a charming English couple who stayed in our cabin here on the Kaipara Harbour. They'd contacted us saying they had a copy of my book about life in this neck of rural Northland and would be grateful if I'd sign it.

To say the ice was broken rather understates it. This author was flattered, and is far from the only one. It helped that Clive and Valerie turned out to be very good company indeed.

I'm one of many authors who've been the subject of their literary hobby which involves buying books, mostly memoirs, then tracking down said author and asking them to sign a copy.

This interest has given them rare access to people all over the world and enabled them to meet international celebrities as well as everyday folk such as myself.

They had a copy of my book about life in rural Northland and would be grateful if I'd sign it.
They had a copy of my book about life in rural Northland and would be grateful if I'd sign it.

In their homeland and clutching a copy of Denis Healey's Yorkshire Dales, they gathered signatures through Sussex, Yorkshire, Lancashire and County Durham.

Known as "the best prime minister the UK never had" the uber-talented Healey, an MP for 40 years, former Labour leader, Chancellor of the Exchequer and more, penned a book which celebrates life in the dales and tells stories of local characters, many of whom Clive and Valerie tracked down. Healey signed as well.

Other big-name UK authors the couple have met are fashion model Twiggy and cricket fast bowler Freddie Trueman.

A trip to Africa took them to Thula Thula Game Reserve, established in Zululand by author and conservationist Lawrence Anthony. He signed Clive's copy of The Elephant Whisperer which tells the extraordinary and moving story (I've read it and recommend it) of his battle to save a herd.


His work in a wartime zoo rescue in Baghdad and saving rhinos spawned two more bestsellers.

Getting access to the celebrated presenter of rural telly programmes, Paul Heiney, to sign George Soper's Horses proved challenging, but Clive and Valerie were up to the task. The book, about English working horses, joined their growing collection.

Heiney also owns and champions Suffolk punches, which Clive describes as a "great, thick-set little horse" of which, at the time, there were only 300 in the UK.

Among the Kiwi books signed are Jane Hunter: Growing a legacy about Hunter's Wines and Marlborough's wine industry, and The Road to Castle Hill: A High Country Love Story by Christine Fernyhough who left city life for a remote South Island station.

Naturally, the couple know the genre well and when I mentioned a book being penned by a former Northlander who had clydesdales for years, they felt sure it would be a success.

Nick and Jill van der Sande's six-strong team, the Pirongia Clydesdales, has now been sold, but their adventures and Nick's years farming near Dargaville will live on in his book.

Maybe collectors Clive and Valerie will arrange for Nick to sign a copy on their next visit Downunder.