By Jodi Bryant
A semi-retired Whangarei teacher has drawn upon her extensive background in education to fulfil a lifelong dream of writing her first novel, conjuring up magical memories of the sixties along the way.
Trish Fenton recently undertook the Northtec Diploma in Advanced Applied Writing and subsequently created Beyond the Rimu Grove, a locally-produced novel.
Set during the conflicting values of the sixties, Beyond the Rimu Grove is the story of Ellie, a young woman assigned her first teaching position in an isolated North Island farming community. Although Ellie is welcomed into the fold of this tightknit community, she soon discovers that things aren't what they seem. Vulnerable and inexperienced, yet curious to understand her new community with its rich cultural and historical background, she begins unlocking the secrets to the valley and its people… gaining quite the education herself. Her time in the valley will change her forever.
Trish says the book was the result of many years of ideas she had been longing to put together.
"Often, when I couldn't sleep, I'd close my eyes and formulate episodes of this story about a young teacher beginning her career in the sixties. Escapism, I guess – and the kind of story I would enjoy as a novel or movie."
She says that, although Ellie's story is not her own and the place names within New Zealand are fictional, she based it around the stories of people she knew and places she lived in.
"The fictional location of 'Ngarimu Valley' draws on the farming community of Te Wharau in the Wairarapa, where my sister and I lived with relatives after our mother died." Other places were based on her memories of Masterton and the Hokianga. Whangarei, however, where Trish has lived for around 30 years and, with husband and fellow teacher Bill, raised four children, does get a mention.
"From the moment I arrived in Whangarei, I loved it and still do," says the grandmother of four. Throughout the years that we lived overseas, we enjoyed our adventures but always knew we would come home."
After spending her first teaching year at Opononi Area School, Trish taught at Onerahi Primary School for over a decade before embarking on overseas adventures in education with Bill, which included the International Baccalaureate, for which Trish still facilitates online workshops as an external consultant.
Back in New Zealand, and wanting to try a new career direction, Trish joined the NZ Society of Authors conference held at Maungatapere School. There, she learned about the NorthTec Applied Writing course. The following year, she took home an enrolment form from a NorthTec stand at the Home Show and things fell into place from there.
Trish says, although the novel took over her life for a while, it didn't require much self-discipline.
"I love writing and get a great deal of satisfaction out of it. Even self-editing and polishing, it's all enjoyable. I've always been very good at taking regular breaks though – a walk around Barge Park does wonders. Sometimes, I'd work through the day, then in the evening when I'd intended to relax, I'd find myself going back to get down a scenario, re-phrase something… and it would be 11pm!"
As a fan of romantic novels, she was always going to include a love scene in her own book.
"Romance is a beautiful part of life and I enjoy books that have tender love scenes so I was always going to include these. I find so many modern novels sad and dysfunctional.
It did require a lot of fine-tuning to feel comfortable with what I'd written. I was fortunate to have a fellow NorthTec student who was writing a romance - historical bodice-ripper - that was quite a lot steamier, so we were able to critique each other."
Once complete, she decided to go down the self-publishing avenue.
"Thanks to the NorthTec hui and the NZSA Northland conference I attended around the time I graduated, I had a good insight into issues involved with publishing. Many of the traditional trade publishers no longer operate in New Zealand and those that do only offer one or two contracts a year – very rarely to first-time writers. Partnership publishers (where the author pays for their services) are more accessible and the first one I approached was prepared to offer me a contract but when I analysed the costs, it made more sense to manage the process myself, using local services.
As a result, Beyond the Rimu Grove is a 100 per cent local production with Maungatapere's Lesley Marshall of Editonline editing the novel.
Says Trish: "We are fortunate to have on our doorstep, a top-class editor with many years' experience working for national and international writers."
Printed in Whangarei by Jeff Oliver Print,
the layout and cover design are the work of local designer and Trish's daughter, Tania Fenton of Full Circle Creative, with Fran Lawrence from JOP formatting the e-book version.
Once her novel was complete, Trish says it was 'lovely' to hold the published version in her hands.
"But the reality is, it's only a step along the way. There's so much more to be done in terms of getting it out there in the world. Soon after it was published, we travelled overseas, so it wasn't until December 2019 that I got the digital version published."
The novel contributed to her achievement of the Northland Branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors' Excellence Award and has been well-received by readers and reviewers with Jenny Haworth, author of The Undone Years, New Zealand Then and Now and Hobson's Choice, describing the novel as 'a page-turner'.
"It captures the time very effectively. I was back in the 1960s in a remote North Island setting," she described.
Says Trish: "One of the things I was looking forward to was seeing it on the shelf in the New Zealand section of the Whangarei library. Even though there are now two copies, it's taken a long while for just one of them to make it back to the shelf as it's been out, with holds on it since July.
"The feedback from readers has been heart-warming. I feel as though I've achieved what I set out to – an escape back to the sixties. In many ways, simpler, more innocent times but certainly not without challenges."
She chose the sixties for the magical memories they conjure up.
"I love the music, the fashions, the pop-culture. For mature readers, I was aiming for nostalgia – capturing the times, but I also wanted the younger generation to understand how things were back then – the social stigma of becoming pregnant before marriage, the tendency for Pakeha girls to be sent off to homes for unmarried mothers and their babies adopted, while the babies of Maori girls were more likely to be brought up by the whanau. The cultural divide was much more significant back then. Ellie has grown up in a Pakeha world with very little knowledge of Maori language and traditions."
Trish is currently using lockdown to work on her second novel, which she is hoping to publish this year. War Bride is a fictionalised account based on the real-life story of her late mother-in-law, Prudence Fenton, who grew up in the valleys of South Wales and came to New Zealand as a war bride. While holidaying in the UK last year, she researched records in Cirencester where her parents-in-law married in 1942, and visited her mother-in-law's birth place.
Meanwhile, print copies of Beyond the Rimu Grove are available from local bookshops and as an e-book from Smashwords (free until the end of May). For further information, go to Lit-links.nz or email: email@example.com