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It is no secret that I did not produce my first full length book until the age of forty. Mind you, I had published rather a lot before then, starting from my late teens, when I wrote science fiction for American magazines, and short stories for the Maori magazine "Te Ao Hou" under the pen name "Jo Friday," and then travel stories for New Zealand magazines, under my own name. However, I was mostly involved in teaching biology and English literature, and raising our two sons, Lindsay and Alastair.
Then I was approached by a publisher with the idea of writing a book about the introduction of plants and animals to New Zealand -- how they were carried here in the sailing ship era, and how they failed or thrived. The result was "Exotic Intruders." Not only had I enjoyed writing the stories of the eccentric sailing ship captains and passengers who had carried such items as birds, fish eggs, racehorses, and deer through the tropics and southern ocean storms, but the book won a couple of prizes -- the Hubert Church Award and the PEN Award for Best First Book of Prose. All very encouraging.
Then, on one of my quests for a travel story, I fell into a hole on the tropical island of Rarotonga, found the longlost grave of a whaling wife at the bottom, and a passion for researching the lives of captains' wives under sail was born. A Fulbright Award sent me to New England and Hawaii, and so "Abigail," "She Was a Sister Sailor," and "Petticoat Whalers" were written, the second of these winning the prestigious John Lyman Award for Best Book of American Maritime History in 1992.
Since then, I have become equally fascinated with the stories of the adventurous Polynesians who shipped on board sailing ships--American whaling ships, in particular. I so I came to the story of Tupaia, the astonishing Tahitian who sailed with Captain James Cook and the naturalist, Joseph Banks ... and to my fictional half-Maori sleuth, the inimitable Wiki Coffin.