Gareth Ward, Graduate at The Writers College

NZ Writers College is proud to showcase one of its Novel Course graduates, Gareth Ward.

Gareth’s debut novel, The Traitor and the Thief, has been described by readers as a “Cracker!” and “A story for all ages.”

The steampunk adventure novel won him the 2016 Storylines Tessa Duder Award, the 2018 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Youth Novel, a 2018 Storylines Notable Book Award as well as being a finalist in two categories at The New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

KYLA CLOETE tracked down this imaginative adventurer and took notes on his recipe for success.


Q: You own two book stores in Hawke’s Bay, NZ. Is it here, surrounded by words and stories that you found the urge to write your own book?

A: I’ve written stories since I was a child. I think the book shops inspired me to take my writing more seriously and that was when I decided to embark on the NZ Writers College Write a Novel Course. Being surrounded by books also helped with my story because I wandered through the shop and thought, ‘which series do I wish I’d written?’ and used that as an inspiration.

Q: How did the Write a Novel Course impact the process of writing for you? Had you already begun writing your book before signing up with The Writers College?

A: I only had a vague idea for my novel before I started the course. I think the course made me think more about my writing and take a more professional approach. Also, because I would be sending chapters to my mentor, it encouraged me to really get stuck into completing the novel.

Q: Mentoring is an integral part of the Writers College tutoring process. How did you benefit being under Alex Smith’s mentorship?

A: For me, the mentoring was the most beneficial side of the course. Alex was brilliant and insightful in making suggestions for every aspect of my writing. Hand on heart, there is no way I would have been published without Alex’s guidance.

You don’t know what you don’t know, and having an expert fill in the gaps in your knowledge that are specific to you was fantastic. I would absolutely recommend Alex as a mentor; in fact, I have done on several occasions.

I also feel that working through my manuscript and rewriting with respect to the suggestions made was excellent preparation for working with the editors at Walker books.

Q: On behalf of your dedicated readership, when is your sequel being published?

A: I have just signed the contract with Walker Books Australia and I am about half way through the structural edit; it should be out August 2019.

Q: According to your bio at, you’ve had an array of interesting careers, as a magician and Royal Marine Commando, to mention only a few. Has this variety of experience been a useful resource for your writing?

A: The variety has given me practical knowledge in various aspects of life, but I think more importantly it gives me emotional experience. I have dealt with death, loss, violence, grief, love, and been in situations where I’ve feared for my life and that sort of thing sticks with you.

Gareth Ward, The Traitor and the Thief

Q: And finally, for other aspiring novelists, what are the most valuable lessons you have learnt on this journey towards publication?

A: I think you need three things to be a publishing success: perseverance, craft and luck. You only have control over the first two of those aspects.

You have to be able to accept feedback on your writing and trust the judgement of others. There were a couple of parts of my novel that Alex suggested I change and I didn’t. Later my editor made the same suggestions.

Nothing you write is wasted. I have three unpublished novels which at the time I thought were good enough; now I realise that they weren’t but my writing got better with every single one.

Don’t expect to get rich or even make a living from your first novel, or indeed possibly ever from your writing.

When things don’t go well, when you get rejections, take a deep breath, try and understand why and what you can do to improve, then keep on writing.

Most importantly, write because you enjoy it, then anything else is a bonus.

Read about The Traitor and the Thief.

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