Five on Friday with Vanda Symon – @vandasymon

Today I’m delighted to feature Vanda Symon the author of the Detective Sam Shephard crime fiction series along with the stand alone thriller Faceless. Vanda is a three time finalist for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Fiction novel, was shortlisted for the British CWA New Blood Dagger award, and has been nominated for the 2022 USA Barry Awards.

Vanda calls Dunedin, New Zealand home. As well as being a crime writer, she hosts a monthly radio show on Dunedin’s Otago Access Radio called Write On, where she interviews local writers, and catches the odd international super-star if they’re in town.

And just to prove that she is a tiger for punishment, she has recently completed a PhD at the University of Otago looking at the communication of science through crime fiction – the perfect subject for a science loving crime writer. She has an undergraduate degree in Pharmacy and enjoyed a career as a community pharmacist and palliative care pharmacist before concentrating on her writing career. She now works at Va’a o Tautai – Centre for Pacific Health at the University of Otago as a research fellow.

Vanda has been involved with the New Zealand Society of Authors Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa for many years, and is the National President. Vanda was also the Chair of Copyright Licensing New Zealand.

When she isn’t writing, Vanda can be found digging around in her garden in Dunedin, or on the business end of a fencing foil. She has fenced since high school and still competes in national and international competitions. As well as competing she coaches, and is heavily involved in her local club, Claymore Swords Club.

Vanda is a founding member of the Dunedin Crime Writers Association, whose raison d’etre is for its members to drink beer or wine and talk crime writing at their favourite pub.

Over to Vanda :

Which five pieces of music/songs would you include in the soundtrack to your life and why?

I tend to be an album kind of a listener, rather than individual songs. So for many of these I love the whole album, but have selected a favourite song from it.

Queen – A Night at the Opera. This was an album I bought when I left for university and to me it represented independence and escaping the restrictions of home and what I was allowed to listen to. Rock music was not allowed, so some tapes I bought (yes, we had tapes back then) had to be smuggled into the house and listened to when alone.

The song that really resonated with me was You’re My Best Friend.

Art Garfunkel – Angel Claire. I love the folksy, mournful and melancholic vibe of this album and he has such an incredible voice. I loved him with Paul Simon too, but this solo album is something else. I’ve had it since my early teens.

Favourite song – All I Know.

Jewel – Spirit. This is an album that I associate with our honeymoon. We went and saw her perform in Auckland as a honeymoon treat, and she was one of those rare artists whose albums are amazing, but they’re even better live. We played it endlessly on the car stereo in a summer haze of love driving the back roads of Nelson and Marlborough.

Favourite track – Hands

Alanis Morisette – Jagged Little Pill. The raw emotion of this album always captured me. So much anger, and love, and bitterness and irony all bundled into an incredible musical journey. Not only does Alanis have an outrageous set of pipes, the lyrics really dove into many of the issues I was internally processing at the time. It really spoke to me.

Track pic – Head Over Feet.

Mike Batt – Tarot Suite. Once again this album harks back to my university days and when a friend introduced me to the album it resonated on so many levels, I loved it’s orchestral nature, the way it told a story and took you on a journey. In a hard case way it was also a rebellion against my Christian upbringing, as Tarot was viewed as evil, so of course I had to listen to this! The album is lyrical and haunting.

Favourite song – Losing Your Way In The Rain

What five things (apart from family and friends) would you find it hard to live without.

Tea. I’m a tea addict, and also making a tea tray, complete with bone china tea set and flowers, is part of the ritual of writing for me.

My slippers – I’m a comfort kind of a gal. I always travel with them as they make me feel at home when I’m not at home.

A furry companion. I have always had pets, and they bring so much love and comfort into the world. They are part of the family (and yes, I know you said apart from family and friends)

Potato Crisps. I’m a savoury person, more than sweet, and there’s just something about chippies…

Notebooks. I have so many notebooks for different things, and I love them not just for the beauty of them as an object (helllooooo stationery addiction) but also for the potential they offer as receptacles of thoughts, ideas, lists, scribblings, musings, favourite quotes, dreams… you get the idea.

Give five pieces of advice to your younger self?

Say yes to opportunities, even the weird ones.

Don’t be afraid to say what you think. Your opinions matter.

Cherish time with family.

Learn all of the two letter Scrabble words.

Always be kind.

Tell us five things that most people don’t know about you

I’m the youngest of twelve.

My Dad was Fijian.

I’m a competitive fencer, and a fencing coach.

I own way too many fountain pens and bottles of ink.

I love jigsaw puzzles, especially the Wasgij ones, and I don’t look at the boxes when I do them (I like to make life hard on myself.)

Tell us five things you’d still like to do or achieve.

I’d like to learn welding so I can make sculptures – big metal sculptures.

I’d love to travel through Europe – I have only been to Amsterdam.

I want to learn to crochet so I can make cute little things and Amy’s rug from The Big Bang Theory.

I want to still be fencing in my 70s, and 80s. (Never give in, never surrender)

I’d love to publish a book of essays.

Many thanks for joining me today Vanda, it’s been lovely to discover more about you. Tea addicts are always welcome here, especially when proper tea cups are involved. Throw in pets, slippers, crisps and notebooks and we might be soulmates! Learning two letter scrabble words is genius advice, I could still do to follow that now. I’ll admit I had to ‘google’ what a Wasgij jigsaw is – wow, that is major league jigsawing! I’m also another would be crocheter and really need to sit myself down with YouTube and persevere. I’m sure your ‘never give in, never surrender’ mantra would come in handy. I hope you get to travel through Europe, then hopefully we might get to see you in the UK. Here’s to fencing in your 80’s that sounds a plan.

Vanda’s Books

(NB This post features Affiliate links from which I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases)

Overkill (Sam Shephard 1)

When the body of a young mother is found on the banks of New Zealand’s Mataura River, young female police constable Sam Shephard begins an investigation, with horrifying and very personal implications. 

When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide. But all is not what it seems.

Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town. To complicate the situation, the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover. When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duty, she must cast aside her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands.

To find the murderer … and clear her name.

The Ringmaster (Sam Shephard 2)

When a university student is murdered in Dunedin’s university district, newly transferred young female police officer Sam Shephard is drawn into the investigation … 

Death is stalking the South Island of New Zealand

Marginalised by previous antics, Sam Shephard, is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigation, when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens, and Sam soon discovers this is not an isolated incident. There is a chilling prospect of a predator loose in Dunedin, and a very strong possibility that the deaths are linked to a visiting circus…

Determined to find out who’s running the show, and to prove herself, Sam throws herself into an investigation that can have only one ending…

Containment (Sam Shephard 3)

Dunedin’s favourite young police officer Sam Shephard is drawn into a perplexing investigation when a series of shipping containers wash up on a sleepy New Zealand beach, and then a body is discovered…

Chaos reigns in the sleepy village of Aramoana on the New Zealand coast, when a series of shipping containers wash up on the beach and looting begins.

Detective Constable Sam Shephard experiences the desperation of the scavengers first-hand, and ends up in an ambulance, nursing her wounds and puzzling over an assault that left her assailant for dead.

What appears to be a clear-cut case of a cargo ship running aground soon takes a more sinister turn when a skull is found in the sand, and the body of a diver is pulled from the sea … a diver who didn’t die of drowning…

As first officer at the scene, Sam is handed the case, much to the displeasure of her superiors, and she must put together an increasingly confusing series of clues to get to the bottom of a mystery that may still have more victims…

Bound (Sam Shephard 4)

When the official investigation into the murder of a respectable local businessman fails to add up, and personal problems start to play havoc with her state of mind, New Zealand’s favourite young detective Sam Shephard turns vigilante…

The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters.

The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation.

And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.

Expectant (Sam Shephard 5)

A killer targeting pregnant women.

A detective expecting her first baby…

The shocking murder of a heavily pregnant woman throws the New Zealand city of Dunedin into a tailspin, and the devastating crime feels uncomfortably close to home for Detective Sam Shephard as she counts down the days to her own maternity leave.

Confined to a desk job in the department, Sam must find the missing link between this brutal crime and a string of cases involving mothers and children in the past. As the pieces start to come together and the realisation dawns that the killer’s actions are escalating, drastic measures must be taken to prevent more tragedy.

For Sam, the case becomes personal, when it becomes increasingly clear that no one is safe and the clock is ticking…


A stressed, middle-aged man picks up a teenage escort and commits an unspeakable crime, unaware that a homeless man – her only real friend – will do anything to find her. A shocking, race-against-the-clock, standalone thriller from the Queen of New Zealand Crime.

Worn down by a job he hates, and a stressful family life, middle-aged, middle-class Bradley picks up a teenage escort and commits an unspeakable crime. Now she’s tied up in his warehouse, and he doesn’t know what to do.

Max is homeless, eating from rubbish bins, sleeping rough and barely existing – known for cadging a cigarette from anyone passing, and occasionally even the footpath. Nobody really sees Max, but he has one friend, and she’s gone missing.

In order to find her, Max is going to have to call on some people from his past, and reopen wounds that have remained unhealed for a very long time, and the clock is ticking…


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.