Bestselling author Natalie King has turned her pen from lovers' clinches to a mystery for young adults. She invites Beck Eleven into her inner sanctum.
Natalie King writes her novels from a garden shed. It may not be the most salubrious of surroundings, but it's a lot more comfortable than any of her previous writer's hideaways.
The 40-year-old eternal optimist, author and mother-of-four has always made do with whatever quiet space she could find to write in. Over the past eight years, this has included her car, the laundry, cafes and a hospital bed.
These days, every word is written from her more permanent writing space, "The Plotting Shed", a kitset garden shed put together by her husband. It sits on a corner of their Christchurch property, reachable only by walking a plank across a storm culvert.
This turnaround from "making do" with whatever writing space she could find has coincided with a bit of a turnaround in style. To date, King's novels have been romances. However, her latest book, Awakening, is a young adult novel set in Tekapo.
Writing under her maiden name of Anderson, she is better known for penning romances - the saucy kind with flushed cheeks and sensitive nubs. One of them, Ruthless Boss, Royal Mistress made the USA Today bestseller list. "That was a real thrill."
She is currently writing her 24th Mills & Boon. Titles include All Night With the Boss, Blame It On The Bikini, Whose Bed Is It Anyway? and The Right Mr Wrong.
The author met her own Mr Right (real name David King) 14 years ago while they were in London on their OE. They moved home, married and had their first child, Kathleen. Then came Henry - he was a particularly sleepless baby. "And that was when I found NaNoWriMo, " she says.
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an initiative that challenges people to write like the blazes for the month of November, connecting through an online site.
"I had this lovely big 10lb baby boy who woke every two hours. So instead of sitting, feeding in a nursing chair and wishing I was back in bed, I could sit there and plot my writing. It was fun, it was brill. It was an escape.
"Your aim is to complete 50,000 words in the month. That's something like 1668 words a day, and if I'm thinking and planning through the night, I can hit the keyboard and get writing straight away.
"The whole point is to finish. You keep going, you might not like what you've written and halfway through, have a better idea, but you write that idea down and stick it in a drawer and get finishing what you're already working on. That first one never saw the light of day and it never will, but I did have other ideas."
Over four or five months, King kept up the pace and ended up with a handful of rough drafts. She took one of those, worked it into three complete chapters and sent it to Mills & Boon's British publisher, Harlequin.
King's submission was accepted. She was pregnant again, this time with twins, but filed the revisions for her first full book in September of 2006.
The following month Evelyn and Sylvie, now 7, arrived prematurely by caesarean section and were whisked to the neo-natal ward. The next day, David returned to hospital with an email from Harlequin saying if she could turn around some final revisions within a week, they could make a date for the bookshelves.
And so, propped up by pillows, she was hooked to a laptop (and a drip), writing about romance in the most unusual of "offices".
With four children under five, finding time to meet deadlines meant being creative. When the children were younger, husband David would take them out for a few hours to give Natalie peace. If they were home, she would park her car overlooking the beach, or in the Botanic Gardens. "It helps to see something green or watery, I think."
After almost three years living in Timaru, where David was the editor of The Timaru Herald, the family returned to their Christchurch home and King felt she needed somewhere more private to write. An open storm culvert or, more romantically, a creek runs through their front yard. Now, on the far side of the culvert, sits this wooden shed that looks something like a mini Swiss chalet amongst the matagouri and lancewood.
It's the perfect writing space. Small, tidy, quiet and just far enough from the house that it cannot pick up the wireless internet. Furnishings are sparse. There's a desk with a heater, a couple of bookshelves and, on one of the walls, an array of colourful Post-It notes scrawled with snatches of ideas. "Oh, the ideas come with no rhyme or reason, and as for the colour scheme, I know some writers keep certain characters certain colours, but I just think it looks pretty."
She has been growing a topiary elephant outside the shed for about a year (unsuccessfully) and the latest addition to the area is a drawbridge across the culvert - well, it's more of a draw-plank but it means they can winch the plank to safety when the stream floods. "We'll never be House & Garden but Dave is great. He just embraces the madness."
It was while living in Timaru and spending time in and around Tekapo that she thought about writing a story in the young adult genre.
Around the same time, the local newspaper published a story headlined: "Why Tekapo keeps its dead" a story about the lake being so cold that bodies sink and are rarely recovered. It crystalised the plot in her head.
Awakening tells the story of Zelie, a newcomer to the small town, who pulls a lost necklace out of the lake and starts hearing a voice in her head. It has a "teeny weeny bit of romance".
"I wanted the kids to be able to walk into the bookshop and say 'that's my mum', for it to be a book my kids could read in the next 10 years as opposed to the next 20."
The two oldest children - Kathleen, 11, and Henry, 9 - have both read Awakening. Henry went to his room and read it in one sitting, Kathleen found a couple of spelling errors in the proof.
Awakening is published by Penguin in New Zealand, which means King now has an American e-publisher and her publisher in Britain.
She has already begun a sequel to Awakening and continues to write like the blazes.
"My first draft is probably what most people would call pre-writing. It's some frenzied manner. Sometimes I don't finish paragraphs. But then I go back and slow down.
"Every writer is different. I think you have a creative self and an editorial self. If you allow your editorial self out in the beginning you'll never get there, so you have to give creative free reign. I think that's why so many people don't finish."
At her most frenzied, she writes about 4000 to 5000 words a day, but in the fixing-up stage, she might "only get 100 or so, even into the negatives some days".
And, as long as the storm culvert doesn't flood and wash away the plank, King will continue to plot from her shed.
Natalie King will be signing copies of Awakening at the Merivale Paper Plus today from 11.30am to noon.
- The Press