Can you briefly describe the type of writing work you do?
Fundamentally I’m a fiction writer, a novelist for young adults, however I also teach the novel at Whitireia as part of their degree in Creative Writing, plus I write non-fiction blog posts on various subjects including politics, write other fiction and non-fiction projects and educational resources, teach writing workshops for schools and other community organisations, mentor and assess others’ writing, speak at various events, and this year I am also the judge for the Ronald Hugh Morrieson Literary Awards.
How long have you been writing, and how did you get into life as a writer?
I feel as though I have been writing forever! It has always been the way I have best communicate how I am feeling. I wrote my first substantial piece of fiction at 13, however I first had a book published in 1995 – a picture book talking to kids about death and grief, following the death of my first husband and my realisation that there was a huge gap in the market for books that helped kids process loss and grief. Since then I have just doggedly stuck at it, and continued to take courses and upskill myself whenever possible, so far culminating in an MA in Creative Writing and several post-graduate masterclasses.
You write diverse books for young adult readers. Are there particular benefits or challenges in writing for this audience? Where have the main markets for your books been so far?
One of the reasons I like writing for a YA audience is that it covers such a wide range of readers – from early teens right through to a substantial audience of adult readers (a huge percentage of readers for YA novels are women in the 30+ age group). Because I write about issues that concern me, it gives me an opportunity to go into schools and talk to young people about the issues that affect them. I genuinely like young adults – I love their passion and enthusiasm, and I think they are often bad-mouthed for no reason. I don’t find any challenge with it – in the early days I would worry about content and language but now I just write the book that needs to be written and wrangle with publishers about bad language etc at the editorial phase! I’ve been lucky that my books have a fairly wide readership, and my trilogy has been published in the US, and another book (Dear Vincent) is currently being translated into Slovenian!
You are currently working on a novel that you started (or worked on) while you were a Katherine Mansfield scholar in Menton, France. Who is the audience for this book? How is it progressing?
I’m working on a novel for adults about the life of 12th century French nun Heloise d’Argenteuil – currently about 60,000 words in (roughly half way) – definitely the most complex thing I’ve written to date but slowly making progress!
You are also currently the Writer in Residence at Waikato University. What does this post involve? Is this a new experience for you?
Mainly the post just involves turning up and working on my novel (which is a real gift!) although I have given some guest lectures and done a bit of speaking in the Waikato region for various groups. I haven’t held a residency like this in New Zealand before and am very grateful for the chance to write without having to worry about finding extra work to keep us going.
It seems a large commitment to your craft to move around the country (and world) to have time to write. Where is home for you? Do you have to re-establish your writing routine every time you move?
I live in Raumati South, on the Kapiti Coast, on a rather unruly one acre of land! I can write anywhere, so that’s not really an issue, but with this current project I have so much source material and research to constantly integrate that whenever I travel I have to cart around huge suitcases full of books and papers! While it is a real gift not to have to worry about money for the year, I must admit I’m really missing my family and, after being away last year also, I look forward to settling back at home and going nowhere else for a very long time!
Chasing Heliose: Saturday 15 August 2015, 9.30am-10.30am in the Raglan Town Hall.