I’m in New Zealand, and have been for a few months. I’m spending much of my time here on creative writing pursuits, and it’s been wonderful.

I’m writing a new screenplay treatment (a romantic comedy horror), and have found that Scrivener is amazing for the task. There’s something wonderful about being able to use the corkboard facility to assemble all the beats, and then expand them in the text documents. Knowing I’ll be able to move scenes around without worrying about them is pretty great too. Can’t recommend it highly enough, frankly.

I also use Scrivener for writing novels and stories, and it’s the planning of a new novel that has consumed much of my time here. It is a comic magical realist piece (I need to find a better way of saying that), about three very different women. One of the women lives in New Zealand, and while I was here I took the opportunity to visit Dunedin for a research trip.

Dunedin is on the South Island, and back when the early European settlers came it was the largest city in the country. I became a bit obsessed with it many years ago, when working at an art gallery in Edinburgh which explored the sister-city connection. It’s now the fourth city in New Zealand, and is buzzing with culture, history and beautiful landscapes. It’s also another UNESCO City of Literature, just like Edinburgh, and I had the happy opportunity to connect with the Dunedin City of Lit people while I was down.

I hit this research trip hard, spending most of my time either chatting about writing and Dunedin or visiting museums, finding historic landmarks, revelling in the Scottish connections (it was a place for Scottish settlers, hence it taking modern Gaelic name for Edinburgh) exploring beautiful Otago by train and car, and generally photographing so much for inspiration that my camera stopped working for about 6 hours in protest. I also spent a good three hours in the Chinese Scholar’s Garden in the city centre, which was an utterly stunning and tranquil place that let me think and write in peace for a while, and which I found myself crying about when I had to leave.

It has propelled my plans for the story in loads of news ways, and I’ve been just letting the whole experience rest since I came back to see what else it might trigger.

I’m not one of those ‘write what you know’ people, generally. I love historical fiction, fantasy and SF too much to ever think it matters that you’ve been to a place or experienced a time period to write about it. I do think there’s a great power to be had in writing what you emotionally know, but then again it’s interesting and important to explore what you don’t emotionally understand, too. Personally, I believe that writing characters and a setting which feel true are vital.

However, there is something to be said for getting to physically explore a place you’re going to write about. Part of my novel is set in Scotland, and Scotland is in the marrow of my bones no matter where I am in the world. I felt that for this book it would be important to visit Dunedin so it could (potentially) have the same richness to it, the same believability, that I hope my Scottish elements will. I wasn’t there long and would love to go back, but the trip made such an impact and has inspired me in so many ways that I hope it does help the narrative.

Here are a few shots from beautiful Dunedin and Otago. I’m not even going to tell you how many hundreds I took while I was there…

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