P.D.R. Lindsay has all the makings of the main character of a good adventure novel, writes Ruby Heyward.
P.D.R. Lindsay has spent the past few decades bouncing around Europe, North America, and Asia – even braving a “hairy” Trans-Siberian train journey.
And a conversation with her is much like a journey as she buzzes through it with warmth and without pause.
Holding such a distain for her birth name that she would rather spell it out than verbalise it, she legally changed it to “P”.
Defying her leading lady qualities, Lindsay prefers to be on the other side of the page.
“I have been writing all my life,” she said.
For her, it was a “lovely escape” from a childhood made difficult by an unkind mother.
“I could create worlds and nice people that liked me. You can do all sorts of wonderful things with writing.”
Her love for the craft was as long-lived as it was wide-reaching; she made a career of teaching English and Shakespeare, and spends her present days as a writer and her free time surrounded by books as a library volunteer – she could not even hide in her brain from the urge to write if she wanted to.
“Ideas come in bits and snippets … they suddenly come in the back of your head,” Lindsay said.
“[They are] like beads. You know several important events and you thread them together to make a pretty necklace.”
She spent most of her career teaching English as a second language, but when she was diagnosed with cancer in the late ’90s, writing became a part-time fixture, and a great escape once again .
Lindsay has since released three short stories, 16 e-books, and four novels.
“You need to get rid of at least 2 million words from your head because you’ve got all sorts of bits … from your favourite authors you don’t realise are there.”
Once that was done, one could truly find their writer’s voice, she said.
But it wasn’t always her own voice she heard.
“You have a character nagging at you … I have a little quaker girl nagging at me right now.”
Writing about ordinary people living in historic times was what she enjoyed most – addressing racist and sexist attitudes in a way that modern settings did not allow.
And she held on to those characters protectively, denying pushy publishers who asked her to write about more prominent historical figures.
The latest character lives in her new book Wild Colonial Girl, that delves into a “women’s position” in the world.
But it is no cliche about a “stroppy female against the world”.
Instead, it is about the young Melisande who, at the whim of her brother and fiance, must move from a British colony in India to one in New Zealand, where her “scope” on the role of women is widened.
Much like Melisande, Lindsay saw the parameters put on women and questioned them.
When she started sending short stories out to publishers, Lindsay used the pen name P.D.R and carefully pieced cover letters to remove traces of her gender.
“It really influenced editors back then.
“Once I started doing that, I got far more stories sold than when it went out under my name.”
Lindsay met a turning point, when a novel of hers landed in the lap of one the top historical-fiction publishers in the United Kingdom.
Out of kindness rather than cruelty, he told her he could not publish it because she was too old and he needed to get 10 books out of her to earn an income.
He recommended she gather a group of writers to establish an independent publisher with the same standards.
So she did, co-creating Writer’s Choice and seeing its members shortlisted and long-listed for competitions, and winning international awards.
In 2008, Lindsay purchased an old homestead in Oamaru with dreams of starting a bed and breakfast with her husband. She planned to establish their home base while he continued working in Japan.
The couple chose Oamaru for its historic buildings, though they had a different definition of “historic” after wandering through 2000-year-old temples in Japan.
Unfortunately, like all main characters, Lindsay’s life was not without tragedy, and before their plans came to fruition Robert died.
But like the heroine she is, Lindsay pushed through adversity, carrying on the story in Oamaru for the two of them.
Though not running a bed and breakfast, she has lived in the North Otago town ever since, writing her own narrative.
Her latest novel, Wild Colonial Girl, is being launched at the Oamaru Public Library on May 19 at 6pm.
Though it was already out on e-pub, Amazon’s kindle, and PDF, this would be the launch of its physical form.