Writing is often seen as a solitary endeavour, but Taranaki author John Sargeant has a village to help him pen his books.
A dozen friends read and critique each chapter, experts in history help him get the details right, and some make the lattes that fuel his work.
Sargeant has written the first draft of each book in his historical fiction series The Colour of Our Country in various cafes.
The ninth book in his “trilogy of trilogies” will be published in May.
Although he’s usually deep in another world with his head filled with story characters, Sargeant enjoys the atmosphere of cafes as well as the coffee.
“There’s a creative energy in cafes, from the people around you. I don’t always want to communicate, but I like to be around people,” he said.
“If it gets busy, I just pack up and go, I’m aware that tables in a cafe are their income so I don’t outstay my welcome.”
The series of stories are mainly set in Taranaki, starting at a settlement called Middle River on the Mōkau River and following generations of one family, spanning 140 years.
While the stories and characters remain loyal to Taranaki, they soon spread across the world “on the wings of love and war”.
Sargeant said about 80% of the time he spent on each book was doing research. He covers a lot of topics.
He’s studied World War I and II, read up on the treatment of Chinese immigrants in the 1880s New Zealand, learned about the intricacies of flying from an aero club expert and about growing grapes from a vintner near Martinborough.
He worked on his first book at weekends for two years before he retired 8 years ago and, since then, has treated his passion like a part-time job.
Sargeant said he was initially “fairly belligerent” about self-publishing, but chose it after spending five years trying to find a publisher or agent in New Zealand.
So far, he’s sold about 300 books.
“While this is not a high number, it does represent the series selling continuously on Amazon every month for the last two years, holding its own against the 32 million other titles Amazon holds,” he said.
Sales to libraries are also increasing, with the books proving quite popular at Puke Ariki, he said.
And there’s more to come, as he is already planning a new series.