For Alexandra author Sophie Rogers, seeing her debut novel Nightshades and Paperwhites on the shelves of the local Paper Plus is “quite surreal”.
A labor of love, the book has been eight years in the making, inspired by a high school New Zealand history project looking at the experiences of Chinese goldminers in Otago.
“Some of the stuff I found, I was really gobsmacked and and thought ‘I have to do something with this’,” she said.
She went on to study history at the University of Otago and quickly realized she wanted to dig deeper into stories.
“I wanted to tell a story that everyday people could understand. I really hate when people say history is boring because it’s not.
“One of my big purposes in life is to help people love history.”
She started writing and had her first draft completed within two months.
What followed was years of learning as she went – editing, and a post-graduate diploma in creative writing.
“The writing was fun – the editing was not,” Ms Rogers said.
“I had some local mentors – poet Michael Harlow who won the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement for poetry, and Jillian Sullivan, a local writer from Oturehua.
“I would never have finished the book if it wasn’t for them.”
Publishing the book was a dream, she said. “It was a big relief – it was really exciting and really quite surreal at the same time.”
Set in Alexandra after the gold rush years, Nightshades and Paperwhites draws from Ms Rogers’ passion for history. It tells the tale of a forbidden love when Chinese miners arrive to rework old claims.
Her advice for budding authors?
“Write something you want to read because you’re going to read it a lot.”
Nightshades and Paperwhites is available at Paper Plus in Alexandra and Cromwell, and online.