It’s been an eventful few months recently, in terms of looking back over a career of thirty years in journalism and celebrating some of the big events of those years. Like being founding editor of NZ House & Garden magazine and becoming the first woman editor of the NZ Listener.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Firstly, I was stunned when I was recognized with a 2018 Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Magazine Publisher’s
Left image: With Life & Leisure editor (and good friend) Kate Coughlan at the MPA awards
Clare de Lore interviewed me at my Beach Haven (Auckland) home late last year. Perhaps like many journalists, I never feel particularly comfortable talking about myself for publication! However Clare quickly dispelled any fears I might have had of being ‘ambushed’ into saying something controversial. When you’re talking about a decade of turbulent management there are always things you might have done differently second time around, but it’s all ancient history now. (And no, I can’t really think of any, anyway!)
Larsen (left) and editor-at-large (and long-time friend and colleague) Donna Chisholm.
Living in ‘interesting’ times
I lived through very volatile times in the 80’s and 90’s as journalism changed forever, moving from the printed page to the digital age. Newspapers – like the evening daily the Auckland Star where I was features editor and then Sunday Star editor for six and a half years – closed around us, leaving only a weekly where there had once been both a daily and weekly.
We had to make major changes in approach and staffing to meet the new challenges, and not everyone likes change. For me three periods stand out in high relief: my years at the Auckland and then Sunday Stars – which weren’t relevant for the award of course – but to me were important because they were my first experience of heading a publication. Before this I had only been Auckland Star features editor. The Sunday Star established itself as an permanent feature of New Zealander’s weekends under my editorship, and remains today as a force in weekly journalism as the Sunday Star/Times.
Creating something beautiful
Then came my “secret assignment” for the same news organisation . . launching a “shelter” magazine, as they were dubbed then. I cannot take any credit for the idea. In fact when INL manager Rick Neville asked me if I would be interested in the job, I asked what made him think there was room in the market for another house and garden magazine. To my untutored eye there seemed to be plenty of house and garden publications on the magazine shelves.
The thing was, they were nearly all overseas titles, and INL very rightly decided Kiwis were ready for a local title. We began as a bi-monthly, sold out the first issue within two weeks and had to into immediate reprint. There’s no nicer way to launch a magazine. The rest as they say is history. It was a joy to create something beautiful after the grimy world of daily news. And the magazine is still going strongly today with much the same content template as when we launched. Much more swept up and professional of course, but the same branding package. Somehow from Day One we managed to give it a strong identity which has lasted, and we did it with a tiny team, Annabelle White as an amazingly versatile writer, foodie, and stylist was our all round go-to girl. Together with her, contracted contributors and myself filled the first few issues. (Annabelle had worked with me at the Sunday Star and I’ve always had tremendous admiration for her talent and capabilities)
And then – the third phase – I moved on to the NZ Listener. I loved working with the topline talent the magazine was home to, but we were all facing a big wave of hot competition from the ‘new journalism’ magazines like Metro – so much more hip and glossy – and North & South. It was another period of challenge and change. As if to prove the circularity of life, these days I do short monthly book reviews for the International Books section in North & South.
And now – podcaster and author
By the time I’d finished at the NZ Listener I was ready for a change. I wanted to set up my own business, establish a retirement fund, and give myself a rest from company politics and having my days dominated by the 24 hour news cycle. More than 20 years later, I’m so fully engaged in my new venture – writing historical fiction – that I rarely think about my time as a journalist, though the skills I acquired during those years still are remarkably useful. I doubt I would have got to 70 episodes of my Joys of Binge Reading podcast without them. I’m proud today of my growing library of podcast interviews focused on genre authors in historical, mystery, crime and thriller and romance categories. Every week I talk to someone new and get their recommendations for great “binge reading” books.
This blog post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the work I’m devoting most of my energy and stamina to now – and that’s building a strong historical mystery series set in Gold Rush and Gilded Age California.
I published four books in the Of Gold & Blood series in 2018 and I’m aiming to do a few more in 2019 – I’m currently writing Book Five. I’m discovering that what dual time line novelist Kathryn Hughes says in a recent podcast chat – “it doesn’t get any easier” no matter how many books you write – is very true!
Where to find the books
If you any interest in historical mysteries or California, check them out! Poisoned Legacy, Book One in the series, is available as a free E Book or as a freight-free paperback from Book Depository. And the Californians don’t have it all their own way! For Aussie and New Zealand readers, I’ve cheated by adding characters from Down Under to the line up!
If all of this has convinced you to stay in touch, why not follow me on Facebook, or subscribe to the weekly podcast, so you don’t miss any episodes.