The story

Throughout my childhood and teenage years in New Zealand, I heard stories of Volrath, my Norwegian great-grandfather. Besides being amused by his outlandish and dramatic name, I was enthralled by his adventures. He’d left his homeland as a young man in the early 1900s to seek his fortune in the New World. Being born into a well-to-do and up-standing family he was not driven, like many emigrants, by poverty or necessity of any kind but went into the unknown purely by choice.

In hearing stories of his son, my grandfather Anton Vogt, I memorized his catch-phrase about his heritage: conceived in Argentina, born in Norway, educated in England, France and South Africa, a New Zealander by choice. Later on in middle age, after co-raising six New Zealand children, he traveled once more and lived and worked in Australia, Lebanon and Canada, finally retiring to the south of France. My uncles and aunts and parents all traveled too and many lived in other countries, so that by the time I was 14 I just assumed I would do the same: travel and live all around the world.

Lately, I have wondered about the women in the original story. Volrath’s mother, sister, wife, daughter. Were they stalwart supporters behind the scenes of their men? Were they co-creators, co-conspirators? Or perhaps even the drivers of changes? Or maybe unwilling participants with little say? Margot, Volrath’s wife, who accompanied him in most of his adventures; what was her story? How did she experience the adventures – with equal passion, gracious acceptance, or resentful bitterness (or a combination of all three)?! What did it take to choose a man living in a faraway land, to follow him from here to there?

And then it dawned on me, this story sounded familiar. It was eerily like my own. I too have lived in several countries; I too have followed a man to a distant land. How much of my decision was me being co-conspirator, how well have I balanced acceptance and resentment? I was born and made in New Zealand, have been resident since of England and Australia, and now USA. Is this simply a repetition of generations of behavior? A wanderlust in my genes? Is it a need to find home, or a recognition that home is in many places? Is it a sign of seeking something missing, or an acknowledgment that wholeness is found in the pieces of self found in a variety of places? Is it about places at all, or rather about the people who reside there? Is mine a story of a woman following her man or following her muse? Have I been self-determining? Was Margot?

Certainly two things are clear: the story starts with my great-grandparents Volrath and Margot leaving their home country of Norway; and now their descendants, the 4th and 5th generations: myself, my siblings, my cousins and their children, are spread around the world.


Editing explained

When it comes to books, what I do mostly is referred to as copyediting. This entails reviewing and amending a manuscript for readability, sentence structure, tense, usage, grammar, spelling and punctuation. Inevitably though, some developmental or line editing becomes part of my process. This involves looking at general flow and clarity: querying order of events, points of confusion, tense used, suggesting small re-writes or additions/subtractions of certain areas of text for clarification or to lessen repetition of favorite phrases.

As a copyeditor, I can ensure an author’s story is the best possible version of what is written; that it is grammatically correct, it flows, is consistent and there are no typos; and that it is in the best shape possible either for an agent to see, or to publish through one of the pay-to-publish companies or yourself.

I provide some developmental editing in the broadest sense, providing comment on general flow and clarity and will question inconsistencies of characters, plot or language, but it is more at a paragraph and sentence level than chapter or overall. If you want a full developmental edit (review of overall book, character development, arc of story etc.) which you would use to then re-draft your manuscript, there are editors who specialize in this and this comes before a copyedit. But if you want a blend of the two main types of editing then my services might be perfect for your needs.

So, in a nutshell, from me you will receive a review and critique for general flow and clarity of your manuscript while (always, always) maintaining your voice and style, and assistance with the nitty-gritty detail.

I don’t ghost write in part or whole, meaning I edit what you have written and if I feel that a chapter could do with a section of dialogue to break up a large amount of description (or vice versa), or something needs adding to link two ideas, I may write a sentence as an example, or simply note “needs more description” and then its back to you.

You may or may not agree with what I suggest, and that is ok. It is your book and I, as both reader and copy-editor, can only highlight my thoughts and it is your choice what to do with that advice.

Who I work with, what I work with

I mostly work with writers looking to self-publish or pay-to-publish, and also with those seeking agents. Often my clients are first-time authors. I work in both fiction and non-fiction.

Genres I love—and have experience in copyediting—include family history/genealogy, romance, middle-grade fantasy, self-help and spirituality. I also have a knack for helping people for whom English is a second language to share tales from their homelands. I would love to work more with historical fiction and memoir and am open to most other genres. I will not edit books with horror or a high content of violence. No judgment, simply not what I want to read and there are other editors out there for that.

I’m neither an expert on any particular genre nor up to speed with the latest on what sells and what does not sell; that is the role of an agent and/or a book publicist.

But copyediting; that I am good at. Check out these books I’ve edited


So NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Last year I used it to actually start getting down some writing for my book for the first time, with the aim of meeting the 50,000 word challenge and most importantly, dare to say to myself and the world that I was writing a book! The fact that I wasn’t sure if my book would in fact be a novel (as opposed to some kind of memoir/historical fiction/non-fiction hybrid thingy) seemed immaterial…the idea was simply to get some writing done. I took part in a couple of “write-ins” at my local library, which is a kind of weird experience where a bunch of writers get together, sit in a room and quietly go about typing or writing without chatting. I loved it…I was a writer writing and being writerly with other writers! I came just shy of 50,000 words by the end of the month, and since then added another 25,000. Which goes to show you that having a target and a group doing it with you really does help get things done.

This year’s challenge in the month of November has come at a good time for me. After a few months over summer grappling with a fairly serious health issue I wasn’t quite ready to get back into the full swing of my copyediting work. So, after negotiating “sugar daddy” status for my husband, I decided to focus solely on my book for the entire month of November.

We’re over halfway through and already I have gained so much. First of all, on their website NaNoWriMo  I had to write a synopsis of my book. Now, I reckon this is about the hardest part of the whole thing…and good practice for when I have to put it on the back of the book cover and on bookseller’s websites. What I came up with is now the content for my webpage Book and I’m sure it will change many times before publication day (which is barely a flicker of my imagination at this stage as I really am still in the midst of the first “dirty draft”). The process though, has helped me see more clearly what my book is about.

Secondly, I went to an event held at the local library where four recently published authors spoke of their route to publishing. It was well attended and I got a gem of knowledge from each of the authors. Synchronistically, two of the authors had written historical fiction, and one had even written specifically about her own family. Gold! One of those authors has published many books actually, Lucia St Clair Robson, and my favorite thing she told us was that when you’re trying to figure out what in her books is fiction and what is fact, then invariably the most outlandish, unlikely things were the facts and the more mundane details were the fiction! I am already finding this in writing my story…the truth really is stranger than fiction. And the fiction is necessary to bind it all together.

The other author, Jennifer Bort Yacovissi, was kind to chat with me afterwards and it was wonderful to compare notes on such things as privacy and using real names. I love that she did keep her family’s actual names and appreciated good tips about how to keep family informed along the journey of the writing.

Thirdly, of course, is the actual writing I’m doing. Every. Day. I free write (a writing mentor many moons ago in Australia said she wrote all her first drafts this way). What that means is I just grab on an idea that I have about a particular episode of the story, set a timer for say 20 minutes, and off I go! The trick is to not stop, not edit, not ponder, just go until the time goes off. Keyboard or pen, whatever works. It’s amazing what comes out! Generally, I might end up with a gem of a sentence or the thrust of a theme or outline of the scene has come to light. I might end up with a lot of questions to then research further, but that’s progress forward too. It does mean that I tend to have written some scenes a few times over, but I figure that will all come together further along in the process.

I recommend anyone writing a book, or thinking about writing a book, to sign up to this next year at NaNoWriMo. It’s a great way to get things moving!

Finding clues at home

I am so excited to be back in my homeland New Zealand after four years away. My mother and sister, brother-in-law and nieces all live in Australia, where I also lived for 12 years before I moved to the US, and also where my husband tends to get work, so trips home up to now have been there.

But recently I have had aching homesickness for the original home, the land I was born and made in, where my aunts and uncles and step-grandmother live, none of whom I’ve seen for at least eight years. Perhaps it is all this family research I am doing, this writing I am doing, about family. Perhaps it is a feeling of time passing, of stories held in the heads and memories of people who won’t be around forever. No perhaps really…these are the main points!

So here I am in Auckland, staying with cousins, visiting uncle and aunt. I am asking a gazzillion questions and photographing frantically: photos each has, and family heirlooms too, with the stories each holds. Each story gives a new light to the story I am writing, each remembrance a gem. The family legends have crinkled at the edges with each piece of fact I have found in archives, but now each memory softens and rounds out the reality.

At my cousin’s place I see for the very first time pictures of our great-great-grandmother, her namesake, Abigael, and husband Hersleb, and I find her more aloof than I imagined and him more warm. It might be the magnificent handlebar mustache that gets me. I know he is the patriarch, the judge/lawyer/politician involved in the split of Norway from Sweden in 1905. It is a fine upstanding family that our Volrath was descended from. I photograph belongings of Abigael’s: an antique sewing table, writing desk and music sheets bound in a book with her name embossed on the cover. All wonderful tangible clues to what an upper class lady of the day spent her time on.

Cousin Jackson brings out the source of even greater excitement: Volrath’s pocket watch! I hold it and imagine Volrath holding it. It is a BIG watch. I research it online from the brand name John Pound of London and find it was called the Goliath. It amuses me because I know he once had a business called Titan and I think it was in the same timeframe of the watch – both based in England.

Uncle John shows me round his hallway walls: the family crest, the portraits of ancestors apparently stolen by my grandfather when back in Norway, a fantastic school portrait of Volrath when he was just seven years old, and a picture of Volrath and Margot striding elegantly down the main street of Wellington in the 1930s. He pulls out some of the family silver; a teapot, salt and pepper shakers, a fish slice, a pair of scissors apparently just for snipping grapes.

He drives me past the house he thinks Volrath and Margot lived in for a while, and I have another address for them too. I walk along the beach I have walked along before, but this time knowing they would once have walked there too.


Google is my friend

Yes, some of the archive files I’ve found through have been amazing for my family research. It is thrilling to do a search on someone and have various options come up…a shipping record here, electoral roll there. But I have found other, free, sites that have been equally if not more useful for the particular countries of interest for my book: New Zealand and Norway particularly.

Sites like the wonderful Norwegian digital archives that include parish records which have been an invaluable source of information, and the National Library of New Zealand’s site of past newspapers searchable by name: New Zealand newspapers. Also, New Zealand Ship Passenger Lists showing more shipping records of ships coming into and out of New Zealand than come up on, and good old births, deaths and marriages New Zealand.

And then there is simply good old-fashioned Google. When I did a search simply on Margot Herlofsen I scrolled down and came across an obscure article written in Spanish about the launch of a book called the Petersen Five. What’s that got to do with Margot I thought? Turns out, her very own sister is mentioned: Laura Herlofsen. Laura married Haakon Petersen, and it is her whose baby daughter Margot ventured to visit in 1909. Oh my goodness, what did it mean?! Via somewhat dodgy Google Translated English I was able to ascertain that Laura’s granddaughter, also Laura, had compiled letters from Laura & her family home to Norway in the 1920s into a book translated into Spanish…because Laura’s descendants were still in South America, now based in Paraguay! Huge excitement…I had found an arm of the family we didn’t even know about…we have “cousins” in Paraguay. I realized I didn’t know anything about Paraguay and read up on it all. It’s landlocked, it borders Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil. It is where yerba mate tea and stevia come from.

Then I thought, how do I get in touch with this woman?? I googled her name and found nothing but the original article…she wasn’t on Facebook or Linked In…I figured she’d likely be in her 70s and maybe social media wasn’t her thing. But then Google helped me again…I came across an article written about the book on a university website…the grand-daughter of Laura the second, Marian, had written it! I then searched on her name and found this young woman on Linked In! Exciting. So I sent her a message, somewhat excitable but garbled, basically saying hey, I think we’re related!

And then I waited. And waited. Figured I must have got it wrong. Then a month later I got a response…she didn’t use Linked In much but how great to hear from me and she would put me on to her grandmother, who did use email and would be delighted to hear from me. Before I knew it I was not only emailing with her grandmother but coordinating my cousins in Auckland, New Zealand to meet with her and her fiancé on their honeymoon – it just so happened that they were already booked to go there!

It’s starting to feel like I’m being divinely guided in my search!