Author Tanya Moir reveals her alter ego

Love story. For years Tanya Moir has been leading a romantic double life.

Love story. For years Tanya Moir has been leading a romantic double life.

Tanya Moir shares her life with an alter ego.

The author has been leading a double life for years - as a serious writer of historical fiction under her real name - and as Holly Ford, romance novelist. 

The twain has never before met - partly to keep readers in the dark about one another and partly so that elderly relatives didn't get a shock when they got to the steamer passages in her Holly Ford books.

Author Tanya Moir, who also writes under the pseudonym Holly Ford, on her Duvauchelle property.

Author Tanya Moir, who also writes under the pseudonym Holly Ford, on her Duvauchelle property.

So hold onto your knickers great aunties, the cat is out of the bag. 

* Destiny be damned
* The double life of romance authors
* Insatiable demand for romance fiction


Finally, after three romance novels (and three serious tomes) Holly Ford is coming clean.

Author Tanya Moir, who writes as her alter ego Holly Ford, grew up in the hill country that forms the backdrop of her ...

Author Tanya Moir, who writes as her alter ego Holly Ford, grew up in the hill country that forms the backdrop of her romantic novels.

The whole double life thing was getting a bit tricky and downright exhausting, Moir says from her home in Banks Peninsula.

Only her publishers and her family have been privy to her secret pseudonym. She has never promoted her romance novels, though now that secret is out, she's looking forward to a promo tour and taking credit for The Last McAdam. The great aunts will just have to cope.

It's pretty good fun having a double personality, says Moir, who even communicates with her publishers as her alter ego when she's corresponding about her Holly Ford books.

Holly Ford's The Last McAdam is published on February 25.

Holly Ford's The Last McAdam is published on February 25.

She even acts differently when writing romance. She's more fun, she admits.

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Her husband, Ian, is heartily amused by the whole thing. 

But it got too difficult to keep Holly a secret. 

"It got really hard to explain to people how I was spending my time. I either had to invent an imaginary day job or fess up to what I was doing."

It all started decades ago when Moir was 21 and working as a PR.

It was around the time of the early 1990s recession and she suddenly found herself without a job. The silver lining was a small redundancy package.

"Being 21, my solution was to write a bestseller. I spent almost my entire redundancy payout on a huge computer the size of a desk and started writing this 'airport blockbuster' in the style of Jilly Cooper (her heroine, read ever word she ever wrote) and I called it Blackpeak Station.

"I started it in a bungalow in St Albans and finished it ten years later in a hotel room in Cairo. I had worked on it in gaps between jobs but I never did anything with it."

Meantime, Moir had produced work under her real name, first with historical novel La Rochelle's Road followed by Anticipation and later The Legend of Winstone Blackhat.

It was while chatting to her publisher that the first Blackpeak novel came up in conversation.

"She asked to see it and I didn't think I still even had it. Ian eventually found it out in a storage container by the quad bike in the garage typed out on dot matrix paper."

With a little updating and rewriting it became her first Holly Ford book.

"It was a bit of an experiment and I wasn't sure how it was going to work. I liked the idea of a bit of protection a pseudonym gives you, that bit of freedom." 

As it turned out, she says, romance is a profitable old business.

Sales are well above those books she writes under her own name. There's a big market for romance and for rural fiction, she says.

"Romance is a form of escapism and that's really important thing. There's a time to take a good hard look at things and ask the hard questions but there's a time when you want to push back and say 'all this shit will be here tomorrow - I'm talking a couple of hours out.'

The rural backdrop to a story is about going back to our roots, she says.

"It's a nice world, a safe world and you know nothing terribly bad is going to happen in that world. People want to immerse themselves there. There's going to be drama. There's going to be ups and downs but at the end of the day we all know we're heading for a happy ending." 

Her latest offering takes the reader to Central Otago and into the world of Tess, who's been sent to turn around the fortunes of a remote sheep and cattle station, and Nate, a handsome, tanned and infinitely charismatic rural stud who is, of course, the love interest. 

Moir had a rollicking time conjuring up her characters and writing their story.

"I just loved writing it. I would get up in the morning and I couldn't wait to get back to Broken Creek - [where the book is set] and the characters who live there. Not much else got done around the house for about four months while I was writing this one.

"There was one morning, when I was on my last couple of chapters, where I got up to make a cup of tea and I realised I had my jersey on backwards, my shirt was inside-out and I had put the milk in the oven."

Writing a romance is a bit like reading one, she says. "You sort of get swept up in it and you forget about everything else for a while. Even though you are in control of what happens you are feeling their emotions, living their story with them."

Moir's own story began in the hill country where many of her novels are set. 

Growing up in the foothills of Hokonui in Dipton north of Invercargill, she spent a lot of time in Central Otago.

She and her siblings - a brother (the late Jon Gadsby) and sister Sharon, a former journalist - had an idyllic childhood. Their father was an engineer and their mother a teacher who taught them all at the local country school.

"We had a lot of freedom. We had two dogs, a cat and a pony. We would all go out in a convoy across the paddocks together and as long as we were back by teatime, we were free to roam."

As a child she was a big reader and a keen writer of stories.

In her teens she was a big fan of Jilly Cooper binge reading her entire stable of books.

"It's like a chocolate cake, you don't want to eat just one."

Moir started out as a radio copywriter in Hamilton followed by a stint on The Press in Christchurch. After a brief foray into PR she ended up working for CTV as a copywriter and later as a director.

She and Ian moved to Rome and later London where they spent a dozen years before returning to New Zealand ten years ago.

These days she and Ian can be found in the hills in the middle of nowhere above Duvauchelle near Akaroa. They live in the middle of a paddock, their nearest neighbours half a kilometre away.

It was only on her return to New Zealand that she started writing in earnest.

But there are no regrets on that score, she says.

Starting later in life gave her more to give to her characters. 

"You need experiences to put into a book. I spent a big chunk of my life, when the most interesting things were happening to me, not thinking of them as a writer, just living in the moment and experiencing them normally rather than thinking 'What am I getting out of this? How would I write this?'

Right now she's living the moment as Holly Ford the romance writer. And life as Holly Ford is far too much fun to go back to being Tanya Moir.

The Last McAdam (Allen & Unwin, $33) is out now.

 - Stuff

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