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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Danielle Hawkins talks about When It All Went to Custard

Bestselling NZ author Danielle Hawkins lives on a sheep and beef farm near Otorohanga with her husband and two children. She works part-time as a large animal vet, and writes when the kids are at school and she's not required for farming purposes. She is a keen gardener, an intermittently keen cook and an avid reader. Her other talents include memorising poetry, making bread and zapping flies with an electric fly swat. She tends to exaggerate to improve a story, with the result that her husband believes almost nothing she says. Danielle talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about When It All Went to Custard.

It’s the story of the year after Jenny Reynolds, part-time building control officer and full-time mum, finds out that her husband is even less satisfactory than she’d thought, and has been sleeping with the next door neighbour. Which is a bit of a blow, especially since without him she may not be able to keep leasing the family farm.

What inspired you to write this book?

It started as one of those ‘what if’ scenarios. What if I’d married a dickhead rather than a top bloke? (A mostly top bloke; he’s only middling in the yards). My husband’s the farmer and I help out as required – how on earth would I manage work and kids and farming without him?

What research was involved?

Very little! One lunchtime meeting with a building control officer, to ask him what building control officers actually do. That’s the beauty of writing something based on your own life – it saves such a lot of work.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

In theory I write three days a week while the kids are at school. In practice, writing days tend to get taken over by farm work and other random jobs, so I find that it stops me getting bitter and frustrated if I get up at five thirty or six and write for an hour while the house is quiet. I’m a polish-every-sentence-as-I-go writer rather than a knock-out-a-first-draft-and-then-fix-it-later writer, so I’m very slow – if I write five hundred words a day I’m really pleased with myself.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

I’m on Fire by Bruce Springsteen

Hymn to Her by The Pretenders

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

To be honest, I found writing this novel quite unenjoyable. I got breast cancer halfway through it, and although I plodded on with the story, it turns out that chemotherapy and mastectomies do nothing for the light-heartedness and sparkle of my prose. I had to do a lot of revising and rewriting to brighten it up, and big rewrites are really hard work. You delete bits, and add new bits, and then the bits in between don’t make sense any more, so they need altering too. It was a blow to my pride, because I’m not used to having to make major changes.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I went to Scotland with my dad for three weeks, shamelessly abandoning my family (although they had a lovely time without me, the rats), and we walked the West Highland Way. It was amazing.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Elinor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. It’s funny and quirky and touching and uplifting, which fulfils all my criteria for a great book.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m trying a book about the fifteen-year-old princess of a made-up kingdom, who’s kidnapped by a very inept group of revolutionaries – just for a complete change.

When It All Went to Custard, by Danielle Hawkins is out now, $35 RRP (HarperCollins). For details of Danielle’s speaking events and book signings click here (


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