Farmer, vet and mother Danielle Hawkins has added author to her job description. Cheyenne Nicholson reports.

Otorohonga is world famous as the gateway to the Waitomo caves. But the town has another claim to fame. Local woman Danielle Hawkins, who along with being a busy mum, farmer and vet is also a successful author.

Danielle and her husband Jarrod lease her parents’ 350-hectare effective farm and run sheep and beef. They run 1200 Coopworth ewes and 300 replacement lambs which are mated to lamb as hoggets.

“We finish as many lambs as we can, as early as we can. This year we sent 60% of the lambs to the works before weaning, but we would like to improve on that,” Danielle says.

They also do dairy grazing on a weight-gain scheme through NZ Grazing.

Danielle has been, as she puts it, practising writing since her daughter Katherine (11) was born with her first book, ‘Dinner at Roses’ published nine years ago.

“It was a long road to getting published. My first few efforts were really amateur and unpublishable

You have to write a lot before you stop writing obviously amateur stuff. “One of the lessons I learned was to delete almost all the adjectives and just call a spade a spade.”

She decided to submit her fourth book to a publisher and received mixed feedback. It came with mixed reviews.

“They wrote back that it was nicely written but not a good story, it was story about a dystopian New Zealand.”

The publishers suggested rural romance as a genre to try so that’s exactly what she did.

“They said there’s a market for it, so I got started and finished while I was pregnant with Blair.”

But how did a vet become a well-known author? She’s always been a bookworm and penned her first ‘book’ while at school and the love of the written word stayed with her as she grew up.

Avoiding the usual go-to plot of city girl moves to farm to save it from demise, Danielle likes to create a character who’s a bit like her and put her in a situation and see what happens.

“I’m more interested in characters than plots. I want to make my characters believable.”

She draws inspiration for characters and events from real life and will quite often store away something her kids have said to add to her stories.

“I don’t tend to copy whole people, just aspects of people, something they say or even the way they say or do things.”

Danielle says she’s a slow writer, taking 18 months to two years to complete her books but she says a lot of that is down to being ‘a little bit of a perfectionist’.

“I don’t like to bang out a rough draft and send it. I like to send in something where the publisher will only have to move a few commas around.”

Danielle works two days a week as a vet, and in theory writes on home days while the kids are at school and if she’s not needed onfarm. In practice, the writing often gets bumped for more urgent things like school trips, lame heifers and emergency trips to town for replacement tractor parts.

“I’ve found it’s good to get up at 5am and write for a couple of hours, then if I can’t get back to it later, at least I know I’ve accomplished something and I don’t get all bitter and resentful.”

With her fourth book released this past April, Danielle admits she still isn’t quite used to being recognised for her writing.

“It’s a bit weird when people I know read my books. It was especially hard with the first one. It was a real labour of love, and the idea of putting it out into the world for everyone to read was scary. But eventually you start to get over yourself and realise it’s only a big deal for you, not anyone else!”

When It Went to Custard, Danielle Hawkins ($35 RRP, HarperCollins available now wherever good books are sold).

Odds of saving marriage – slim. Farming expertise – patchy. Chances that it’ll all be okay in the end – actually pretty good. Bestselling author Danielle Hawkin’s fourth novel, When It All Went to Custard, is the story of the year after Jenny’s old life falls apart; of family and farming, pet lambs and geriatric dogs, choko-bearing tenants and Springsteen-esque neighbours. And of getting a second chance at happiness.