The Year of Falling: Q & A with Janis Freegard

Rosa Mira Books announces the launch today of the ebook edition of Janis Freegard’s smart and touching novel, The Year of Falling, published recently by Mākaro Press. Here Janis talks about its genesis and her writing in general.

Would you say a little about writing The Year of Falling? — how it came about, any places/people/anecdotes associated?

I started writing The Year of Falling about six years ago. Smith, the older sister, was a character I’d written about many years ago when I was trying to write a novel, but unfortunately I didn’t make it past chapter 3. I really liked her as a character, though, so I put her into The Year of Falling.

Year of falling front copy

I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I had several false starts before taking Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel-writing class at the IIML at Victoria University of Wellington in 2007 — a six-week, two-mornings-a-week class, that really helped me to keep up the momentum and finally finish something. When I couldn’t find a publisher for that first novel, I started on the next, which became The Year of Falling.

I wrote TYOF like a patchwork quilt — I’d write a few sections at the start, then I’d do a bit towards the end, then something in the middle. It emerged gradually and there was a lot of rewriting — informed by helpful advice from Norman Bilbrough (my mentor through the New Zealand Society of Authors) and the writing group I belong to. Several characters and  plot-lines and an entire lyrical sequence involving Norse mythology didn’t make it into the draft I eventually sent to Mākaro Press. They were the first and only publisher I sent it to and I was delighted when Mary phoned to say she’d like to take it on.

Selina’s flat is based on a flat I used to live in, although in my case I had the downstairs flat of a two-storey house rather than a stand-alone place at the bottom of a long garden. And there was no absinthe-sipping elderly landlady who used to be a magician’s assistant.

A number of the details are real — the ostrich performing his territorial dance is a real ostrich who lives in the hills of Brooklyn and some of the sections set in Iceland and the UK draw on holidays I’ve taken with Peter (my partner). We both loved Iceland and some of our experiences — staying at Hotel Vik, the ferry trip to Viðey Island, the visit to an ice lagoon — I used for the novel. We also visited the remarkable Barter Books in Alnwick (in England) which also made its way in, and a friend recognised her mum’s house in Holloway Road from the description in the book. So places are often real, but characters and events are imaginary.internet res-8540

Are there writers whose work or way-of-being you draw/have drawn on recently for encouragement or inspiration?

I’m inspired by anyone who manages to write a book! One of my favourite writers is Jean Watson, who died late last year. I remember, back in the eighties, reading one of her books outside the public library and thinking I’d like to be like her.

Reading books by writer friends I’ve met through courses or writing groups is also inspiring — like Bianca Zander’s The Predictions, Sarah Laing’s The Fall of Light, Anna Jackson’s I Clodia and Mary Cresswell’s Fish Stories. I also find poet/novelists inspiring, like the wonderful Anne Kennedy.

What are your current writing challenges?

I generally work on poetry and fiction at the same time, switching between the two. I’m currently working on another novel (again, it’s contemporary New Zealand fiction) and two long poem sequences that, together, could form a book. I have every second Friday off work as my writing day, so I use that (and usually part of the weekend) to keep chipping away at my writing projects.

nick's bday


Fits and starts

I suppose as long as the blog keeps having them (fits and starts, especially starts) all is well, even if they arrive weeks apart. Next week (probably) I’ll add the digital version of Peace Warriors to Rosa Mira’s bookshelf-shop. One day last summer, while the author Raymond Huber was galloping around the lawn with grandson and super-soaker, my brother Hugh was inspired to snatch up his drawing pen …

Peace Warrior

The lower limbs are uncannily ‘correct’ and have been replicated in miniature on the latest grandson. And of course the ‘super-soaker’ is a replica in miniature of the one that was applied to Dunedin this week.

Meanwhile, ‘What a valuable little book!’ a recent reader exclaimed.

More soon.


A bit of a family affair

I launched this new version of the Rosa Mira Books site while off in the Blue Mountains — with the help of my brother Hugh Todd, who also designed the new header. Then I went pretty much offline, without telling you what’s (almost) up. As soon as the author is back in his home town, we’ll launch the digital version of Peace Warriors. My mother read it last week. ‘I wish we’d had a book like this when I was young,’ she said, reflecting that little was said in her school or household about fighting or its alternatives, even though her father fought in the Somme and came to hate war. It’ll be a terrific resource in schools and adults I know who’ve read it have been moved (some to tears) by the potent accounts of those who’ve gone against the grain of their cultures and waged peace.

At the risk of turning this into Family Pages (yes, I did marry the abovementioned author, too), below is a representation of Can Serrat in Catalonia by our daughter Alex Huber, which is being worked into the cover image for a digital reprint of my memoir Digging for Spain, a writer’s journey,  for which I’ve had many grateful responses over the years. (Hard copies are still available via the link above.)


I like to think there’s a story already sealed within each of us. Some of us take a long time to uncover, decipher and assent to it. We start our search when we find that the stories we’ve attached ourselves to prove no longer accurate, their themes too limited … I’m talking about the midlife  quest we’re invited on when all we’ve abandoned or ignored of our earlier impulses towards life begin to clamour for attention. … I knew I was in some kind of trouble the day my finger started jumping.

But honestly, (almost) all the other books published this year by Rosa Mira will be extrafamilial.

Welcome to our new website

When Rosa Mira Books began four years ago, our list and website needs were modest. That list has grown and so has Rosa Mira’s modus operandi.

Ebooks: we’re still primarily about publishing exceptional writing in stylishly presented ebooks. We intend to go on filling our bookshelf with carefully selected ebooks for sale on this website and elsewhere.

Publishing: we’re creating a model that combines the best of both traditional and self-publishing approaches: while manuscripts are still carefully hand-picked, publisher and author are partners, sharing resources, expertise and marketing as well as income from sales.

We will sometimes collaborate with hard copy publishers such as Mākaro Press, sometimes republish out-of-print books in digital format — and we’re open to new ways of working. Talk to us about your ideas.

We have some exciting writing lined up for this year. The likely order of appearance keeps changing but four novels are in the wings, each showcasing the power and the promise of its author. A digital copy of Raymond Huber’s  Peace Warriors will appear this month, the first of several collaborations with Mākaro Press, and we’ll reprint four previously published works as ebooks.

We also offer writing services: from help with your manuscript to the possibility of publication, check out our menu for writers.

I’m waiting to see how often the rat will show up for the PR this year. He may have had his day and retire to the dim, cool, fairy armadillo burrows of Patagonia. We might need a critter that’s simpler to draw. A worm, perhaps, who will, anyway, resemble Ratty’s tail.

Meanwhile, pōhutukawa leaves.

2 leaves