Author and graphic designer Enni has just released her fourth novel, a contemporary Cinderella romcom, Hidden Gem, in which charity worker Marnie falls for hotshot New Zealand politician Jason. It examines the pitfalls of working in politics alongside the fear of aging while beset with a chronic illness.
Can you please share the Hidden Gem book blurb?
A politician on the verge of a breakdown. A woman who’s given up on love. They may be just what the other needs if they find the courage to follow their hearts.
Nearly 40, burnt by divorce and newly diagnosed with chronic illness, Marnie has resigned herself to a lifetime of loneliness. Tea. Blankets. A remote cabin. The last thing on her mind is a whirlwind love affair amidst a political scandal.
Rising political superstar Jason is on a mission to fix New Zealand’s housing crisis. If only he could sleep. Haunted by guilt, he stares at the ceiling every night, his goals slipping away with his health and sanity. Until hope enters his life in the shape of a woman. She seems to remedy everything – his insomnia, career … and libido.
Then she vanishes.
Jason is prepared to scour New Zealand to find her. But as he falls for the woman of his dreams (pun intended), he discovers how much really stands in the way of their happily ever after.
Tough questions about ageing, illness and self-worth are examined in this steamy romantic comedy that will leave you with a warm glow.
In our previous interview, you talked about the challenge to fall in love with a property developer as a male lead. This time you chose a politician. How did you go?
Yes, that was a successful experiment. It’s always about bringing out the human side in the character. When you look behind the curtain, there’s a lot of passion that drives people to join politics. It might get beaten out of them in time, but that’s the part we relate to, that’s the connection point.
What inspired you to write a book about politics?
I’m still exploring the whole housing market and the issues New Zealand is facing –which are only getting worse – so it’s topical and close to my heart. If you’re not already on the property ladder, there’s no way in. This affects my life in a very practical way and gives our generation a stronger link to politics.
Your main character Marnie believes she’s ‘expired’. Do you think women have harder time with aging?
I do think it’s a lot easier for a man to feel relaxed about aging. For a woman, the aging process feels crueller. We don’t turn into silver foxes. My character Marnie is a divorcee at the end of her fertile years, whereas Jason is a childless bachelor. While she’s only four years older than him, society views them differently, creating a chasm that is magnified in Marnie’s mind as she deals with health issues.
A couple of years ago, I was 38 and still dreaming of another baby. My husband wasn’t exactly onboard with the idea, and I remember that feeling of time running out. I could almost hear my body clock ticking.
Miraculously, I fell pregnant again and had another baby just before turning 39. While it didn’t make me feel younger, I’m now more at peace with aging and my declining fertility. While I think we should be realistic about our physical limits, we shouldn’t confuse our fertility and health with our self-worth.
Jason is beset by insomnia. What made you choose that issue?
I have a friend who suffers severe insomnia, so he’s been my window into that world. I’ve also had my own experience with insomnia. After my first pregnancy, I had a thyroid condition that was misdiagnosed and led to me not sleeping for weeks. I couldn’t fall asleep without drugs. Insomnia is often depicted for comic relief, but in reality, it’s a horrifying condition that affects health and wellbeing. I didn’t want to make light of it.
There are some fabulous locations in Hidden Gem. Can you tell us a bit about them?
I have a friend in parliament, who gave us a private tour of the Beehive (New Zealand’s parliament building), and he let us peek into the offices and places where regular tours don’t reach. This sparked a few ideas for Marnie’s tour. In my view, the building is boring 60s architecture on the outside, but it’s fascinating inside – definitely worth a visit. The art and international gifts are amazing.
As with Nest or Invest, the first book in this series, Hamilton Lake (Lake Rotoroa) is in the picture with the imaginary co-housing community on one side and Jason’s house on the other. I feature the playground and the café.
On Airbnb, I discovered the only lighthouse accommodation in New Zealand. I joked about visiting, but they don’t allow kids. My friend suggested we go with two families and take it in turns for each couple to have a romantic escape at the lighthouse while the others stay with all the kids at another house. A few nights before we arrived, two dogs destroyed the other Airbnb, so the hosts offered us four hotel rooms at the airport Rydges with breakfast included and $600 to spend on dinner each night. We ended up having a grand time at the hotel while a storm raged outside. Our friends escaped to the lighthouse on the first night (it shook all night, they told us!) but our 2-year-old was still recovering from croup and a bit fussy, so we skipped our turn. Luckily, we ran into other friends who were also visiting Wellington and offered them the lighthouse for the second night – the perfect 20-year wedding anniversary gift. In the morning, we all gathered at the lighthouse to admire the views across the rocky coastline. It’s an amazing spot!
What is the heat level in Hidden Gem?
Marnie is a character who’s been hiding away and has a lot of unlived life. Body image, age and health are very much part of the storyline. This drove me to give her a little action in a few steamy scenes to allow her to rediscover that side of herself. I was worried how those scenes would be received, but my beta readers said it was fine. They wanted more.
What is your hesitation in writing sex scenes?
As a Christian, I sometimes think maybe it’s wrong to write these scenes, and I should only write closed door romance. But sex is part of the human experience. I don’t include it purely for entertainment; it has consequences – both good and bad. My characters aren’t Christians, I write about people who are trying to find their way in a secular world. Maybe one day I’ll tackle a character who is finding their way to God.
I find it interesting how people react to sex in novels, the perception of what’s acceptable. If you’re a romance reader, these scenes are nothing extraordinary. If not, they can be a surprise. For my husband it’s been an eye opener, but to my surprise, my mom wasn’t too shocked with my last book.
Some of my Christian friends struggle with what I write and have questioned whether readers will ‘get off’ reading my books. Honestly, I don’t mind if they do! I want readers to experience a breadth of emotions and sensations. Ultimately, it’s not the book, it’s their imagination that makes it possible, and that’s a beautiful thing.
What’s your next story?
I’m now working on the third of my New Zealand trilogy. Mac’s brother Izzy (Mac is the love interest in Nest or Invest) is a video editor who works with an indie musician. I’m going to take a Kiwi bloke and drop him in Finland. We’ve watched Kiwi friends survive in Finland, and there’s lots of potential for comedy.
I’m working on this project with my sister, who’s an indie musician in Finland. She’s creating songs to go with the story. I needed a change of pace, and it’s nice to work on a collaborative project with someone I know well and can bounce ideas around with. I can tap into her experience, ideas and frustrations as a musician, which will guide the story. I’ll start from the characters as I usually do.
I’m also writing a novella related to this series. This one centres around a homeless guy who lives in his Tesla. The housing crisis forces people to do desperate things, which I find fascinating. I plan to put this story out for free as an entry point to my work.
Through Brightside Story Studio, I have the pleasure of working with Enni on her New Zealand trilogy. For more about Enni’s background, read our first interview, Enni Amanda Tuomisalo on Self-Publishing.
Next time: Nore Hoogstad on Contemporary Historical Fiction and her debut novel Gunfire Lullabies.