Friday, August 10, 2012

Setting a story in New Zealand...

Are you affected by where a book is set? For instance if you're reading a story that could be set anywhere (read: America) but is set in another country that you don't know much about (read: New Zealand), would you still be interested in reading the book?

When it comes to my writing, I always have to think really hard about where my book is going to be set. Ideally I'd love to set my book in New Zealand, which is my home country. It's a truly beautiful place and has so many different areas where you could set a novel.... see....


Now I'm no professional photographer so those pictures really aren't doing it justice BUT they more or less illustrate my point that there are plenty of great places to set a story in New Zealand.  (Sorry, I don't have any of those great epic pictures of lakes and mountains on me right now.... but click here and you'll see the more professional epic photos of New Zealand)

The only problem is, so many people don't know where New Zealand is, what kind of country it is.... When I was living in New York I had a conversation with a woman that went something like this....

American - Oooh I love your accent!
Me - oh, thanks ha
American - is it British?
Me - ah no it's....
American - wait, English?
Me - Uh that's the same thing, no it's not from the UK
American - oh.... Denmark? Ukraine? wait.... Russia?
Me - no it's from New Zealand
American - Oh wow! That's far! That's in Asia isn't it?
Me - Uh kind of in the South Pacific, by Australia
American - Australia now that's.... by Thailand isn't it?
Me - o_o

Obviously not everyone is like that, at all. In fact I met many people who had been to New Zealand, had family in New Zealand or were even considering living there themselves. But that conversation got me thinking, if I'm writing a young adult book that I would ideally love to be read and published all around the world, wouldn't it be better to set it in a place that's familiar to a larger proportion of the readers?

Let's face it, the population of New Zealand is around 4 million. New York alone has more than twice the entire population of my country. So how many people outside of New Zealand are going to enjoy reading about a country that's really just a far away fantasy land? A place that a good portion of them won't have been to, and due to it's serious isolation may not have any desire to go to.

I'm actually curious about this - would you enjoy reading and be able to connect with a novel set in New Zealand, even if you didn't really know much about the country to start with? Or would you prefer that same story was set in a place more recognisable, like America, Canada, London or Paris?

The MS I'm working on now is set in the middle of America - for the purpose of the story it fits better being set in a country that has a large landmass to begin with. But for future novels, I'd really love to be able to use the country I know so well as a platform for a story.

Obviously a character who is raised in New Zealand would go through the same growing up experiences as teenagers all over the world - they have friends, first loves, heartbreak, school, sports teams, arts, films.... so character wise, there would be traits others can relate to. But there are also some parts that are strictly New Zealand - the Maori customs and phrases that work their way into our lives - "Kia ora, you wanna have some kai with the whanau?" - this is literally saying 'Hello, do you want to have some food with the family' - but little things like that have worked their way into our lives in New Zealand without us really knowing. How would others relate to that?

What if the character was, like me, obsessed with the number one hit song Poi E? (Check it out it's really awesome). Who else would understand the background of that (okay really I just wanted to put Poi E into this post....)

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I don't want to be an American writer, but I also don't want to be a New Zealand writer. I want to be a global writer that can tell stories to everyone. That I can share these people in my brain with and no matter the setting or the character's background, people can relate. 

Ultimately when it comes down to it I believe everyone would be able to relate on some level. Just like I was able to relate to Hermione in her English magic boarding school, and Fiona in her 1889 East London neighbourhood, and Katniss in her futuristic dystopian society and little Hugo in the French railway station. It's the story that shines through .... but I have also been guilty of putting down a book that's set in a location that is too unfamiliar to me. Places I'd love to go, but haven't yet and don't know enough about.

So what would you do? If you picked up a story that was set in New Zealand, would you find it hard to connect? Would you persevere or would you move on and find something easier to relate to?

 Have some more pictures of New Zealand - i've gotten all patriotic and whatnot now...


  1. Those are some gorgeous pictures. Now I want to go there :)

    Personally, I think if the story fits in New Zealand, I'd like to read it. People like hearing about different places and customs. Not that all your stories have to be there, like you said, you want to write for everybody. But I think if you had one or more set here, it would be a great world to build a story around.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment!! Maybe I will have to consider setting my next novel in New Zealand. It'd have to be the right story and the right idea. My current ideas or my current WIP wouldn't fit in New Zealand in the slightest... but maybe one day!

      As for visiting - you definitely should, at least once in your life! It's a beautiful place - 100% isolated, but a beautiful place nonetheless!