Where's the Flavor? by Jane Beckenham

Put more flavor into it.  That was the request of one of my publishers early on in my writing career.  Trouble was I didn’t want it to sound like a tourist blurb, or basic info dump, so what was I to do? 

You see, the reason they wanted it was that many of my books are set in New Zealand where I live, and from what I can gather, you guys up there in the Northern Hemisphere think we’re exotic.   

I remember a penpal I had about 40 years ago wrote that she thought I ran around in a grass skirt and lived in a hut.  Well, hate to disappoint you, but I’m not THAT exotic. 

So how do I figure out what is exotic about my world, (or read that as you figuring out for your own environs) when to me it’s just plain old ordinary. 

Firstly I suppose the different thing about us is that we’re upside down…we have summer in Christmas for a start.  Actually, you can always tell who the immigrants are. They’re the ones at the beach on Christmas day.  It’s old hat to us, so we don’t do it, we’re stuck inside doing the turkey and fake snow, a left over from our English forbears. 

Friends arrived from Vancouver one Christmas and their comments were how different are plants are.  We’ve a flowering Christmas tree called a pohutukawa, then of course our famous kiwi – and no not the fruit, but the wingless bird which is our national bird.  And another point of difference was that he noticed how different our ocean was, the colors so different, more aqua.  

So how do you bring this into your books?

In my book Always A Bridesmaid, my heroine was driving through the bush (read that as hilly/mountain ranges covered in native bush).  She notes the dangling moss, a sign that the air is pure, and of course there is the history of the lake in Rotorua (a city she just left) where legend told us about Hinemoa and Tutanekai ancient star-crossed lovers. 

And that’s another way to bring in flavor. In NZ we have an indigenous language, often plants, places, etc are named in Maori, so by using the language I was able to bring the color of my country. 

But what about if you’re writing an historical.  Again, temper the urge to make everyone know you’ve researched till the cows came home (or in my case in a country with 60 million sheep) until the sheep come home. Just a hint is enough.  Mention the lady’s reticule, the man’s cane, or the carriage they’ve arrived in will certainly lend an air of the times.  Then of course there is the politics of the time?  Waterloo maybe about to be fought.  Or in the case of my recently contracted time travel/historical Love In Waiting, Henry the 8th was in the background, and so too was the Tower of London, with descriptions of barges, and fish markets.  All researched.  But only a smidgen of what was researched ever reached the books.

 A quick list of the type of things that I’ve used for flavor of setting.

Auckland                            Known as the City of Sails

Harbor Bridge                 Known as the Coat Hanger

Sydney Opera house    We have the Sky Tower 

What is typical of the month in your particular place?  Season/holidays/plants in bloom. 

Language of the times/country.  Only a hint mind you.  Too much and your reader won’t understand a word.  And with language too, what about particular sayings.    For example.  G’day mate!  Very typical kiwi-speak   

So research plenty, and write a little and she’ll be right! (that’s another dose of kiwi-speak for ya!). 

Happy reading and writing

Jane Beckenham   

13 Responses to Where's the Flavor? by Jane Beckenham

  1. Melodie Pollard


  2. Jane Beckenham

    Good point Amelia.
    Glad you liked my hero. Actually, it was funny, I was lunching with authors Melody Knight and Yvonne Summers the other day and Cade Harper my hero drove up in his bright red mustang and parked right beside me….oh how my heart fluttered.
    And the guy was exactly how i’d pictured my hero from He’s THe One, too.

    Jane Beckenham

  3. Jane Beckenham

    LOL Danette, had to chuckle with that too.
    Maybe its because we’re both on islands.
    Jane Beckenham

  4. Amelia

    Great information and super looking hot hunk on the book cover. Yes, it is easy tp put in everything you learn by doing research, and so hard to cut out the excess. I always have a hard time deciding what to leave and what to take out. But then, one can always use the information in another book. So really, it never goes to waste.


  5. danette

    Hi Jane,
    I had to laugh because I live in Hawaii and one of my Uncle’s came to visit and he thought that he was going to get off the plane and see a whole bunch of “islanders” natively dressed.
    Hugs, Danette

  6. Jane Beckenham

    Isn’t that fun Shelly, bringing all the bits and pieces that make our home unique. When i wrote Woman of Valor – set in Israel, it was wonderful to bring all my memories back of 1st impressions and be able to impart that into a story. Loved it.


  7. Jane Beckenham

    Thanks Karen,
    Yes, HTO is a hot cover, but then so is Hiring Cupid too, that’s another of my books through http://www.lindenbayromance.com

    Many thanks

  8. Shelley Munro

    Hi Jane – I enjoy the research part of writing and it is tempting to load every interesting fact into our stories. I’ve set quite a few of my books in New Zealand. We have such great scenery I can’t help but want to share it with the rest of the world. Gradually I’m introducing readers to things like weta (big insects) and pikelets (treat for afternoon tea).

    I know I puzzle my editor sometimes by using an expression I think everyone knows. Sometimes I have to remove the reference but often I can reword and explain a bit more so the meaning is obvious.

  9. Karen H in NC

    Hi Jane,

    Great article. Cover of your book is totally hot,,,I love it.

  10. Jane Beckenham

    Hi Serena
    Hiring Cupid was fun. It’s lovely to try and think how to describe my own setting, as perhaps others would see it.


  11. Jane Beckenham

    Thanks Anita. Glad you liked it.
    Yeah, having to pull the reins on research is like pulling a tooth!


  12. Serena

    Hi Jane,
    Great article. Sometimes it’s difficult to know when to add more or cut back, but I’ve read your Cupid (Wonderful book!) and that has just the right hint. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  13. Anita Davison

    A great blog, Jane, from someone who also finds it hard to temper all the fascinating research I do for my historical novels. I discover so many fascinating things when I delve into ancient London, it’s too tempting to find a home for it. I simply assume everyone must be as fascinated as me – its a disappointment when my editor says they aren’t and I don’t need it.

    The best of luck with ‘He’s The One’


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