Author a busy man

Last updated 12:47 06/12/2013
Southland Times phot

Anabel McPhee buying a copy of Rustlers Rout! from proofreader Pamela Welch, author Neil Welch and illustrator Graham Radue.

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An adventure story with stock thieves and sea rescues set in The Catlins is the subject of a new work by Otago author Neil Welch.

His book Rustlers Rout! is part of a series of books for young adults and was launched in front of an audience of more than 40 people at the Owaka Museum on Saturday.

The book was dedicated to The Catlins Search and Rescue in memory of Rex Smitheram, one of a number of people who supported the Welches when they first arrived in the Tahakopa Valley 12 years ago, and Fraser Morris was happy to accept the 10 per cent of the profits offered to the organisation.

A special guest was Lorna Smitheram, Rex's widow, who accepted a presentation book.

The books in the series all feature the same group of cousins but each was set in a different part of the world such as England, the Comoros Islands, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

The idea for the story was sparked by seeing sheep in roadside paddocks and thinking anybody with a truck could steal them.

Mr Welch, who was born in Zimbabwe, arrived in New Zealand with his wife and children in 1997.

He left Zimbabwe when the country's ruler Robert Mugabe made life "just too difficult" for white people, Mr Welch said.

In 1973, he was living on a tea plantation when "Mugabe's terrorists" threw him off the land and killed 50 of his staff members, he said.

Mr Welch remained in Rhodesia, as it was then known, and spent six years in the army fighting Mugabe's forces.

Following the end of the war he started a building contracting business after teaching himself to design yachts by correspondence during quiet evenings on the plantation.

He described New Zealand and Zimbabwe as "chalk and cheese". "[New Zealand] is just delightful, delightful people, everyone you meet is a friend or on your side, the police are on your side."

Arriving in Christchurch, the family soon moved to Dunedin where Mr Welch started another building contracting business, and began to write.

He had worked as a reporter early in his career but left the industry to try his hand at writing a novel, but unfortunately his money and his parents' patience ran out and he returned to his tea growing roots, he said.

Mr Welch did not struggle for story ideas - the hardest part was "putting your backside in the chair", he said.

The locations of his stories were always central to the idea and the books contain maps to show readers exactly where they are set.

The grandson of a colleague recently read the book and then demanded to be taken to The Catlins so he could see exactly where the narrative took place, Mr Welch said.

Rustlers Rout! will be on sale for $18 at the Owaka Museum and can be found on

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- Clutha Leader


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