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Great Great-Granddad Cobley's House, Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand

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​Page 91

150 Year Celebrations - Sun Live
150 Years of Gold Fever
   Featuring The Shotover

NZ Herald - Interview

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and read the two-page spread
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Thames Genealogy & History
The Shotover Book Launch
by Althea Barker
Historian, Author, Publisher - Thames



Previous Interview Questions

Did you always want to be a writer?
I remember sending the first few chapters of a manuscript to a publisher when I was thirteen. They were very encouraging, telling me to keep writing and keep them updated. But then high school took over and I got too distracted to try further. Books have always been a big part of my life, especially novels. I love the feeling of being swept away on adventures I'd be too scared to try myself and taken to places I've never seen, all from the safety and comfort of my Lazy Boy chair. That's what I love to create, it's my passion now and it's what keeps me going through the editing phase.
When did you decide to start writing?
I was on a research trip in hunt of information on my ancestors when we visited the Thames Mining Museum. My great-great-grandparents' portraits were hanging on the wall and when the curator learned I was a direct descendant he told me “If you write a book we’ll sell it for you.” My reply was, “O.K. I’ve never written a book before, but I’ll give it a try.” That day changed my life. But I had no idea what I was in for. It's the hardest thing I've ever done.
Tell us about the Ashmore. How did you come across the doctor's diary?
Seven years ago, I found it on the Auckland War Memorial Museum website. It was going to cost an arm and leg to get a scanned copy of it, so one weekend, I travelled the three hours north to the museum and turned up, accidentally on purpose, hoping to catch a break. And that's what I got!
It was the librarian's first day on the job. She picked up the phone and asked someone to go down into the archives and bring the diary out of its box into the viewing room. Before she went back to the front desk she told me I could take pictures as long as I didn't use a flash (to stop the ancient pages from fading). I worked at warp-speed before anyone else could come along and stop me. I left with a big grin on my face. That smile still breaks out on my face from time to time.

The Ashmore became my first priority after finding the diary. I devoured the faded pages, researching the phraseology and nautical terminology. You know what they say about doctors' writing; it wasn't an easy read, especially because of its age - no cover, in a bad state and faded. The old English spelling made it an incredible challenge. But each page was a treasure hunt, and treasure I did find. It felt like a priceless gift being able to see back in time and learn all they faced on their 103-day journey. The story hidden inside was so incredible, I couldn't help but share it with the world.

Why write a novel, not a non-fiction book?
I wanted people to experience the journey and learn how our ancestors and pioneers of our country lived, and the risks they took so we could have a better life. The story I found was too awesome to keep hidden. It had to be told. The Ashmore is set in the era when New Zealand was the youngest colony in the world and I've spent over nine years researching the history of that time. Photos, family trees and statistics would not do this story justice.

Where have you been doing most of your research over the past 9 years?
Papers Past has been an incredible help. They have uploaded every newspaper clipping since newspapers started in New Zealand. I would never have found so many juicy and humorous secrets hidden without them.
I've also spent a lot of time in museums, libraries, and interviewing the surviving children of Ashmore and Gertrude.
Your first book Ashmore is a true story, but how much liberty have you taken so you can engage your readers?
The doctor wrote in his diary every evening before bed, so I know what happened each day of the journey. The details of their adventures and high jinks were so entertaining it needed little embellishment. But to explain the story in detail, how they felt and what they suffered, I needed to add dialogue and introspection. 

Whose Point of View do you tell the story from?
I chose my great-aunt Mary Elizabeth Curtis. She was 15 at the time and travelling with her large family in steerage class. Her mother was also named Mary, so I chose to use my heroine's second name and formed the nickname used back in the 1800s. You will be taking the 103-day journey with Lillie.

Is there anything in the diary you haven't put in the Ashmore?
There’s a lot I haven’t added in. I could write a dozen books from this one diary so I had to make some hard decisions. If anyone wants a copy of the diary it will be made available on the website shortly. 
What is your second book in the series about?
It's set in 1867 and tells the true story of William Cobley (my great-great-granddad) and the gold he found in the Coromandel. The gold rush that started after he and his three friends struck it rich was how Thames was formed and within three short weeks most of the Auckland population emptied out to try their luck. The Shotover mine gold strike is believed to have saved Auckland, so the newspapers say. He then bought Devonport in Auckland. He had an incredible life and it was his daughter Gertrude who married Ashmore Curtis. That's how the two stories tie together
What do you do in your spare time?
I don’t have much of that anymore. I am working as a ghostwriter on a non-fiction book as well, which is based in the present and a completely different ball game. But I’m loving every second. When there is time in the evenings, anyone who knows me, knows I love movies and t.v. series. It’s how I switch off and give my brain a much-needed rest. But I always read until I fall asleep each night. I love music so Spotify is always playing in the background. I come alive at the beach so I take long walks in the winter and splash around with friends in the summer. I prefer a double lilo (air mattress) in the whitewash to surfing these days
. My home is open to my friends who tend to migrate to my place after a hard week. S
itting on low-level beach chairs on the edge of the water while the tide is coming in, has been my favourite thing to do these past few years. I love it when the waves hit and their legs fly up over their heads. It's definitely entertaining. 
What do you like to read?
I have to read for research, whether it’s a book on board a sailing ship or non-fiction books on how to write/edit/market and publish your own books. So I always have at least three books open beside my bed and numerous books half read on my iPad. I’ve always loved the smell of books so hard copies are my favourite. I love to spend time in second-hand bookstores with my daughter. For fun, my favourite genre would be Young Adult fiction. I loved the Hunger Games and the Divergent Series, but I love Karen Kingsbury, Diana Gabaldon, Deborah Challinor because she's a Kiwi and Francine Rivers too. I don’t read horror novels or depressing love stories, because I prefer to avoid nightmares and I intentionally live a positive life. After getting sea-sick writing about the first squall that hit the Ashmore, it made me wonder how Stephen King sleeps at night. 
What will you do differently when writing the second book in the series?
 The second time you do anything is easier, and I already have most of the research completed. My plotting - I love that word - will be more intentional and I will cut corners that I wasted time on with the Ashmore. My writing style has changed since I first started. I've found my voice now and am less precious about what others think. It's who I am and I'm O.K. with that. I won't please everyone and that's all right too. 

Where can the press download your press-kit?
Click the Press Kit button above.


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William Cobley on left with a light-coloured jacket and black hat
The Shotover - 1868