Telling the neighbours down the road at Dreamview Creamery her funny stories about shifting from an urban to a rural life has led former Raglan librarian Merren Tait to pen her first novel ‘The Year of the Fox’, which will be launched in a fortnight.
The self-described “fulltime milkmaid, part-time writer” is relishing a change of lifestyle that sees her bottling fresh milk and delivering it around town – in a Friesian cow-coloured van – while busily plotting a few follow-up literary (mis)adventures.
Her first book about Nancy Myers, a go-it-alone protagonist on a journey of self-reliance, is the beginning of a series of stand-alone novels about the good life, Merren told the Chronicle. “I’ve already started writing book two – and have book three in my head.”
Merren’s abrupt about-turn came roughly three years ago when she traded the comforts of suburban living in Lorenzen Bay for a plot of land off the gravelly end of Te Hutewai Road where the view of Mt Karioi dominates, her chickens roam free and a few sheep graze.
She rented an old bus and lived on the land for a year before the writing bug really took hold. “It was pretty basic living … no running water, no electricity for many months.”
She’d go shower and do her washing one minute away on the Dreamview dairy farm in exchange for cooked meals, and built up quite a rapport with the family. “They encouraged me to write my stories down, so I started recording them and realised I had the basis for a book.
“I wrote the first draft feverishly in about three months,” she laughs. “But the first draft is always rubbish and I had a steep learning curve ahead of me.”
It was actually 18 months of very hard work writing the story to get it to a point where she felt happy with it. “I wanted readers to enjoy it and not be pulled out of the narrative by (my) clumsiness.”
The draft was sent to a manuscript assessor – a sort of developmental editor, she says – who made various suggestions. It was a “brutal” process and Merren ended up doing three re-writes before self-publishing.
Now this 41-year-old fledgling novelist is excited to finally have on hand a small print run of 150 copies for the local market. While essentially about female empowerment, her novel is not autobiographical, she insists. “Though definitely a few stories have come off this property.”
‘The Year of the Fox’ is a light-hearted look at the good life, says Merren, and includes some of those funny stories about the rural lifestyle that first got her writing.
She has progressed during that time from rented bus to new build – in fact two new builds, as her small home on the one-hectare property has been duplicated for her mother who’s moved down from Auckland.
And the book’s had good feedback, she says, from men as well as women.
Some copies have already been sold at Raglan Creative Market where they will continue to be available. And Zinnia downtown in Raglan will stock it after the upcoming launch.
‘The Year of the Fox’, subtitled ‘A Good Life Novel’, will be launched on Thursday August 8 from 5.30 to 7pm at the library. All welcome.