Twenty-four years ago I resigned from my IT job, and went back to university to learn more about something that was closest to my heart: natural history. I was an enthusiast, but craved to know the science behind the wonderful life of New Zealand and elsewhere. Four years later I graduated with a Master of Science, majoring in botany. The course was an education in evolutionary biology, ecology and entomology and a wealth of other disciplines that inform us as to how life on Earth is ordered.
My thesis came from the lab, a cycle of DNA extraction, PCR and sheets of DNA sequencing data. It was an unforgettable time of stimulation and learning for me, yet at the end of it I knew in my heart that a career in research was not for me.
I knew where my heart lay. Some years earlier, in my previous life in information systems, I had used my annual leave to attend a couple of week-long courses to learn about adult education at the former Christchurch School of Education. One of the first things I did after completing my masters was to attend a short writing course. Then I did a stint as a hiking guide to share with others my love of the New Zealand wilderness, and to open their eyes to New Zealand’s animal and plant world.
All of these were strands in my development as a communicator of New Zealand’s natural world. I struggled for focus, but eventually my wanderings coalesced into a grand idea. Beautifully-written stories about all aspects of New Zealand’s native life abounded, but there was no all-encompassing narrative about how it all came to be. In the end I resolved to do it myself.
Early in 2005 I scribbled out the first chapter outlines of what was to become The Lonely Islands. There were only nine chapters then. I started to research and commenced my first chapter.
Then, distracted by the need to develop my new guiding business, I stopped and packed my notes away. Four years later I faced a reckoning: knowing that this would be a huge project, it was now or never. I unpacked my notes, resurrected my computer files, and resumed note-taking and writing. Ten years of stop-start labour were in store before I finally sent my manuscript (now with 15 chapters) to New Holland Publishing in October 2019.
Such is timing. Four months later the most disruptive global pandemic in history upset the publishing world. Amid the uncertainty, progress on the book was delayed for months. Then, one day in late November last year the edits came through, the momentum resumed, and now at last I look forward to the imminent release of The Lonely Islands.