When Rachel J. Fenton decided she wanted to move to New Zealand in 2007, she was told she would never be published.
But Fenton said “bobbins to that” and moved anyway.
“It’s only worth doing if it’s hard,” she said.
She had since been published, and short- and long-listed for several awards.
Fenton started writing in Auckland, penning flash fiction and short stories while caring for her infant son Reuben at home.
“I wrote a novel with him on my knee.”
After living there for 13 years with her children and former husband, the writer, artist and poet moved to Oamaru, where she lives with her partner Robert Sullivan, their son Turi (2) and Reuben, who is now 12.
Originally from a small town in Yorkshire, Fenton wanted to move to a smaller community where everyone knew one another.
On Tuesday, Fenton launched Beerstorming with Charlotte Bronte in New Yorkin Oamaru. It is a chap book – a small, paper cover pamphlet of literature or poetry, historically sold by a peddler.
There are only 60 of Fenton’s hand-stitched poetry books in circulation, some of which will be stored in the Harvard University Archives.
Fenton wrote the book while she was in New York, researching Mary Taylor and looking back through her archived correspondence and friendship with Charlotte Bronte.
As someone from York exploring “New” York, Fenton also saw the existing effects of colonialism, something reflected in her poetry.
Funded by Creative New Zealand, her research took place in the New York Public Library Berg Collection and the Sherman Fairchild Reading Room, where she examined Bronte and Taylor’s letters and the contents that were hidden between the lines.
Taylor was born in Yorkshire and was known as an influential businesswoman and feminist.
She moved to New Zealand in 1845 and lived in Wellington for 13 years before returning to Yorkshire.
The more Fenton researched Taylor, the more problematic she became, as her story was one of colonialism.
The research was necessary for a graphic novel she was writing and illustrating about Taylor, which she hoped to publish in the next year.
With a background in art, Fenton was hand-drawing the cover of the novel – rebelling against the often exclusive digital method of creating comics.
The comic world also tended to be dominated by male stories or female stories written by men, she said.
When it came to Taylor’s story, there were few public sources to draw from and even fewer that were not dry academic passages.
Coming from a working-class background, Fenton felt accessibility was important and something she appreciated as a writer.
“You can inhabit a power you don’t have in real life and make social change for the better,” she said.