Penny Griffith, author of Out of the Shadows – The Life of Millicent Baxter, tells us what we need to succeed at writing for a living.



In her large house overlooking Wellington’s south coast, I braved a fierce licking by her Schnoodle puppy to meet with author Penny Griffith. Originally from the UK, Penny moved to NZ in 1987 and began a new life as a freelance writer. I asked her about her career, her new book, and any pearls of wisdom she might have for aspiring writers.


Q. Penny, tell us about moving to NZ and your development as a writer.


A. I had quite a varied career before moving here. I worked in local government, for the Spastic Society, on large motorway projects. After I got married my husband and I went on a three-year working honeymoon and we travelled a lot. I wrote my first article about the island of Molokai and sold it to the Chicago Tribune in 1987. I loved the variety of writing as a career. After that I wrote for NZ South, The Listener, international flight magazines, various local papers; always freelance. I don’t do well working under other people!


Q. Where do you find the inspiration to write?


A. Well, you have to write about things you have an interest in or connect with. My book for example is about Millicent Baxter and her life. Her husband and son are famous figures in NZ history, but in fact she was just as amazing and a real trail blazer of a woman. I really wanted to bring her “out of the shadows” and see that she also got some recognition. I wanted the book to succeed not just for me but also for her and her reputation. You must have passion for your subject.


Q. Tell us more about getting your book published. Any tips or pitfalls to be avoided?


A. When the publisher I had lined up for Out of the Shadows – The Life of Millicent Baxter, fell through, I was initially really disappointed.  I’d just spent eight years on this book, so I decided to pursue it myself. It was actually the best thing that could have happened. The downside of self publishing is you have to pay for launches, printing and marketing yourself, but then you get to keep 100% of your profits. Amazon is excellent to publish through, you have no upfront costs but you do have to market the book yourself. My biggest tip is to get yourself a good editor; they will make such a difference.


Q. What advice would you give aspiring writers on how to succeed?


A. Well I would say you have to believe in yourself. There is going to be rejection, so you must have commitment. If you’re writing articles, you must really know before you start that it’s going to be good and it’s going to sell. Vary your tone to suit the publication, but figure out your unique style as a writer and don’t change that too much. Write the first draft as comes naturally to you, then rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. My book must have had 50 different drafts by the time I’d finished!

Although you are working for yourself, it’s good to have working hours and a routine. Some writers get up early and just write in the mornings. My book took almost eight years of working full time. The key is you have to enjoy it. You have to be committed.


Hyper links: If you would like to read more of Penny’s writing, head to or her website




Jess is an up-and-coming freelance writer. She is the author of the blog, which is based on her passion for ocean travel and adventures. When she isn’t writing, you can find her checking the catch on Korean fishing vessels in New Zealand, diving with sharks in South Africa or  volunteering at a turtle sanctuary in Malaysia. Staying in one place is not one of her strong points.