Tanya Moir might not think of her­self as par­tic­u­larly ro­man­tic but she’s liv­ing an en­vi­able life off the pro­ceeds of many a love story


THE LAND­SCAPE AROUND Du­vauchelle on the Banks Penin­sula has a Jekyll and Hyde qual­ity. On fine days the land shows all its cards; cookie dough-coloured hills and cyan wa­ter. But on the murky morn­ings when heavy fog swal­lows the cliffs, it be­comes a land of se­crets – mak­ing it a fit­ting home for a woman lead­ing a dou­ble life. Passers-by have been known to take deep in­takes at the sight of Tanya Moir and her dog Spike strid­ing out along the slopes on a morn­ing walk. Spike is too diminu­tive a name for the dev­il­ish-grey ir­ish wolfhound. The mon­strous 75-kilo­gram beast, standing al­most as tall as Tanya, has made small chil­dren cry, “Mummy, a were­wolf”.

But it’s good to make a dra­matic first im­pres­sion in fic­tion as well as life. Tanya’s morn­ing treks through the pad­docks near her home, 10 kilo­me­tres from Akaroa, are part of her work rou­tine. The au­thor of La Rochelle’s Road, An­tic­i­pa­tion and The Leg­end of Win­stone Black­hat has plot­ted fam­ily his­to­ries, bro­ken hearts and helped Euro­pean set­tlers pitch their tents in the colonies all with that dog’s lead in hand. And for such plot twists and turns Tanya has won a bunch of writ­ing awards in­clud­ing the Todd New Writer’s Bur­sary in 2012, a Bud­dle Find­lay Sarge­son Fel­low­ship in 2013 and has been long-listed for a hand­ful of other lit­er­ary awards.

But like all good hero­ines, she has a se­cret. In March she re­vealed she is also Holly Ford, a pseu­do­nym un­der which she writes ro­mance nov­els – by the se­ries. She’s had four pub­lished over the past four years, in­clud­ing the pop­u­lar Black­peak Sta­tion tril­ogy. “I’m re­ally en­joy­ing writ­ing these Holly Ford books – why not have a bit of fun with your work? There’s a de­gree of elitism in the book pub­lish­ing world but the re­ac­tion has, on the whole, been quite pos­i­tive. Most peo­ple think it’s a hoot,” she says.

While the ro­mance genre is a de­par­ture from her more lit­er­ary work, the Holly Ford se­ries is not of the bodice-rip­per faint­ing­maid­ens style. The sto­ries are set in high-coun­try sta­tions of Cen­tral Otago and her mod­ern damsels are of the ute-driv­ing va­ri­ety, com­ing to the res­cue of a hunky he­li­copter pi­lot – well, at least in her lat­est novel The Last McA­dam. The Holly Ford pseu­do­nym was cre­ated to avoid the pos­si­bil­ity that read­ers might be­come con­fused by the two very dif­fer­ent writ­ing styles. Only Tanya, her hus­band Ian and a hand­ful of oth­ers knew the se­cret. The cover worked well for a while un­til the dou­ble life got a bit con­vo­luted.

“We’d have peo­ple around, and we couldn’t re­mem­ber who knew about Holly and who didn’t. I got my­self in a mud­dle,” says Ian.

“Part of the rea­son I de­cided to ’fess up to writ­ing them was it got a bit sus­pi­cious. I had all this time un­ac­counted for,” says Tanya. “Peo­ple would ask me what I was work­ing on and I’d have to say, ’um… noth­ing.”

By au­thor stan­dards Tanya has been pro­lific, with seven books pub­lished in six years. She puts her pro­duc­tiv­ity in part down to the view from their house. Boy, that view. The cou­ple’s home is all about sweep­ing vis­tas, with all rooms gaz­ing down on Akaroa Har­bour.

“I find the view quite med­i­ta­tive. Some­times I find my­self star­ing at it, and I don’t seem to see it. It’s good for the thought process,” she says.

It’s their dream lo­ca­tion but they al­most missed out on own­ing it. Ian and Tanya were liv­ing in Lon­don in 2000 when Tanya spot­ted the sec­tion for sale on­line. She would have bought the land then and there, sight un­seen, but Ian very sen­si­bly thought they ought to take a look in per­son first. Be­fore they could book tick­ets home, the land had sold. “You can imag­ine how pop­u­lar I was,” says Ian. A few months down the track the real es­tate agent rang back and said the sale had fallen through and asked if they were still in­ter­ested. Yes, very much. The deal was done, and on their re­turn to New Zealand the next year they were talk­ing de­signs with ar­chi­tect An­drew Pat­ter­son over a pic­nic in the empty pad­dock.

It would be a mis­take to think that this ro­mance writer is a hope­less ro­man­tic. Tanya says she’s not a “frilly per­son” although she does get a bit teary watch­ing a good film. “At 47 what doesn’t make me weepy?” Her char­ac­ters are forth­right and strong-willed but never look­ing for love to com­plete them. “I don’t buy into that idea that ro­man­tic love is nec­es­sar­ily what is go­ing to make you happy. Some of my sin­gle friends are the hap­pi­est peo­ple I know.”

Her own love story is very much a tale of hap­pily-ever-af­ter though. Ian and Tanya met at the Christchurch Me­dia Club when they were in their 20s – she an ad­ver­to­rial writer for The Press and Ian, a tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor at TVNZ. The pair then worked to­gether at CTV, keep­ing their ro­mance on the down low un­til ac­ci­den­tally broad­cast­ing it to their work­mates.

“We were hav­ing an ar­gu­ment, and we re­al­ized the mi­cro­phone was on. Most of the graph­ics de­part­ment heard two peo­ple hav­ing quite a heated spat,” says Ian. They then spent more than 10 years liv­ing overseas; work­ing in tele­vi­sion in Lon­don and Rome with stints in Cairo and Hong Kong. Their life in Rome, pro­duc­ing pro­mo­tional trail­ers for a tele­vi­sion com­pany broad­cast­ing western tele­vi­sion into the Mid­dle East, was stranger than fic­tion.

“One of the Saudi princes fan­cied some­thing to watch on telly, and so he set up a vast com­pany to beam in Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion. We were send­ing Sex and the City to the Mid­dle East. It was just mad,” says Tanya.

She started the first Holly Ford book Black­peak Sta­tion when she was 21 and trav­el­ing. Parts were writ­ten in a ho­tel room in Cairo and parts in a small apart­ment in Hong Kong. How­ever, she shelved the man­u­script for sev­eral decades be­cause she didn’t think there was an au­di­ence for a ro­mance set in the New Zealand back coun­try. It took a lot of con­vinc­ing from her pub­lisher to dust off the copy. “It needed so much up­dat­ing be­cause it was out of date as I’d writ­ten it be­fore we even had cell phones.”

The pen name Holly Ford comes from the Hol­ly­ford Val­ley in Fiord­land. Tanya, sis­ter Sharon and brother Jon (the late co­me­dian Jon Gadsby) grew up in Dip­ton, South­land, and hol­i­dayed reg­u­larly at Gunn’s Camp in the Hol­ly­ford. Tanya is well and truly the baby of the fam­ily – 16 years younger than her brother and 15 than her sis­ter.

“I was like an only child with a re­ally young, groovy sec­ond set of par­ents. They both worked as ra­dio copy­writ­ers in Dunedin, and I spent weeks in the school hol­i­days hang­ing out in the copy room at the ra­dio sta­tion and be­ing carted around to par­ties. It was great.”

Tanya cred­its her school­teacher mother with the fam­ily’s cre­ative streak. Jon was one of the coun­try’s most tal­ented com­edy writ­ers, satirists and ac­tors ( A Week of It, McPhail and Gadsby, Let­ter to Blanchy), and sis­ter Sharon is a now-re­tired jour­nal­ist who founded Christchurch’s Av­enues mag­a­zine. The fam­ily shares a dark sense of hu­mour but no one could match Jon, who died of can­cer in 2015, aged 62. “He was just re­ally, re­ally funny and hugely en­ter­tain­ing. I was al­ways far too scared to tell a joke be­cause I knew who the com­pe­ti­tion was,” Tanya says.

While she didn’t grow up in Cen­tral Otago, the fam­ily of­ten trav­eled through that part of the coun­try when on hol­i­day and it still res­onates deeply, ap­pear­ing in most of her fic­tion work. It’s nice to fi­nally be able to claim own­er­ship of the Holly Ford books, says Tanya. She slips be­tween first per­son and third per­son while talk­ing about Holly’s work and an­swers emails from a Holly Ford email ad­dress. She’s cur­rently writ­ing the fol­low-up to The Last McA­dam, which will tell the story of he­li­copter pi­lot Mitch.

And, some­where in the back of her mind, is a se­ries about In­dian Premier League crick­eters – think Jilly Cooper’s Rid­ers in In­dia. “I have a soft spot for cricket play­ers; they must get up to all sorts of mis­chief in the IPL.”

Liv­ing with Tanya Moir and Holly Ford is not like liv­ing with two dif­fer­ent women, says Ian, but he ob­serves that Tanya does seem to be a bit more care­free when writ­ing as Holly. She agrees. “There’s less of that angsty, navel-gaz­ing stuff and I’m not ques­tion­ing my­self the whole time. Holly’s work is full steam ahead and good fun.”

THESE PAGES, CLOCK­WISE: Tanya’s love of cook­ing comes from her mother; although Ian is a bet­ter swim­mer, Tanya says her child­hood in South­land has given her cold- wa­ter fortitude - she toughs it out in the lap pool well into au­tumn; the view from the...

THESE PAGES, CLOCK­WISE: When de­sign­ing the cou­ple’s house, Tanya made a mood book for ar­chi­tect An­drew Pat­ter­son that in­cluded old Cen­tral Otago gold­min­ers’ huts and agri­cul­tural sheds. An­drew came up with the con­cept of a light cor­ru­gated iron and...

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