Archive for March, 2012

Fast Five with Fleur Beale

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

It happened by accident really. Mum was always writing and telling her own stories and when I’d left home she sent me notes from a writing course she went to. I started writing very short stories for Grampa’s Place which was a radio programme for pre-schoolers. Once you start writing, you get hooked.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Being able to be boss of my own world. It’s also a good thing to be if you’re curious because you always want to know more, you want to find out why and how. I fear that I’m horribly curious.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

That’s a hard one! I love Rocco by Sherryl Jordan, The Changeover by Margaret Mahy, See Ya, Simon by David Hill, The Bridge by Jane Higgins, and I admire and adore Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary books. Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam by Juliette McIver is another favourite too. I’d better stop . . .

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

I spent a month in London over Christmas and although I greatly enjoyed it, it was wonderful to come home to bright days, green landscapes and space. Yesterday I would have said Wellington’s balmy, beautiful weather, but today there’s a gale force wind again so scrub that. I hugely enjoy being able to go into schools – that’s a real privilege. I love it that the people who write for young adults and children are a friendly and supportive bunch.

5. What book changed your life?

I can’t really claim to have a book that changed my life, although possibly getting my first book published did because it made me want to keep going, to make sure that it hadn’t just been a fluke.

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Living the dream!

So, here’s the thing: I decided I wanted to be a writer, like a proper full-on all-the-time story-type person, when I was 11. Weird. What’s weirder though is that I’m now actually doing it. The dream I had as to what I might do with my life is actually coming kind of true. It messes with your mind, that kind of stuff!

So, here’s the thing, right; if I can do it, think what you can do! It’s easy to dismiss the daft/insane/crazy/bonkers ideas we have, but often, these are the truest bits of ourselves yelling out to be noticed.

Someone once told me I was foolish to keep trying for this crazy writer-dream thing I had. Think how I’d feel if it never happened or if it went wrong or…

Exactly: OR. Because think what would happen if it all actually went right!

I’ve a book coming out (Doom, Rider, remember?) in a few months. The cover is astonishing. I’m utterly thrilled with the story itself (it almost wrote itself). And that simply wouldn’t be happening at all if I’d decided to give up on this whole dream. Yeah, failure is something we all have to deal with, but you know what? We don’t fail all the time, do we? No. We actually win through, as well.

Part of getting anywhere, of achieving anything, is taking a risk. But that’s half the reward. You risk losing or failing or whatever, but the flip side is that unbelievable feeling when everything goes right.

Take a risk. Try it. You might get to like it. After all, look what happened to me, right?

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Fast Five with Johanna Knox

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

When I was about 20, it dawned on me that it was the only thing I could truly spend hours on end doing, week after week, month after month – without getting too bored or frustrated.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

I especially like the thinking stages – where you dream stuff up before you get it down in writing. It feels exciting. I love research too, so I gravitate towards writing projects where I have to do some detective work, or learn about new things. Fun in a different way is going over and editing what I’ve already written. When it’s going well (which it isn’t always), it’s very satisfying.

The other great thing about being a writer is that you have a reason – that no one can argue with – to spend a lot of time reading. (Since everyone knows that to get better at writing you have to read a lot.)

3. What’s your favouriteNew Zealandbook?

It changes almost every day, but today it’s The Native Trees of New Zealand by JT Salmon. Every time I open it I go on a mini bush adventure without even leaving my seat.

4. What do you love aboutNew Zealand?

Lots of things. Most importantly, almost all my friends and family are here.

5. What book changed your life?

So many books have in different ways. I was upset and shocked reading books about World War 2 when I was 11 and 12. They changed the way I saw the world.

More happily, when I was younger, the books that coloured my outlook vividly and permanently were often books of fairytales, folk tales, and mythology … For example I adored my Mum’s books of Greek mythology. (She was a classical studies lecturer.)  When you read those ancient, great tales over and over again, you can’t help it – you start to see the themes and story-lines and character types popping up all over the place in your own real life.

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Fast Five with James Norcliffe

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

I discovered quite early on that not only was I able to write, but that I really enjoyed writing. It was one of the few things I was any good at, so a no brainer really.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

The best thing about being a children’s writer is that it allows you to go on playing long after most people have stopped.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Probably Maurice Gee’s Plumb.

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

Apart from the people I’m close to, the environment we haven’t managed to trash yet. Anywhere, probably near the sea, with trees and a sausage.

5. What book changed your life?

Just one? I’m so impressionable, usually the last book I’ve read has changed my life. The cute answer would be Janet and John because it started me on the reading road. In childhood Tom Sawyer or The Island in the Pines, adolescence it would probably have been The Catcher in the Rye, closely followed by Catch 22. After these, there would be a bit of a catalogue.

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Doom Rider

This year, I’ve got something new and exciting coming out: Doom Rider! With my Dead Trilogy done, I wanted to do something different, but stick with a dark, horror-esque story line. This actually started out as little more than a note at the end of an email to my editor. I didn’t really think anyone would take my idea seriously. A kid who’s been murdered a 1000 times and finds out he’s the first rider of the apocalypse with the power to destroy the world? Really?

From the off, I didn’t want to do something comic. The Apocalypse Riders are great fun to send up, but I wanted to do something serious. And I also wanted to play with the whole notion of free will verses destiny in a world where religion holds sway.

The blurb goes like this: Seth Crow has lived a thousand lives, and in each one he’s been murdered before he turns thirteen. And now he’s being hunted again. But this time it’s different … Enter Lily, who tells him of his fate: Seth is CONQUEST. The first of the four riders of the Apocalypse. And people want him dead, before he can fulfil his destiny. Seth’s only hope lies in finding the other riders – Strife, Famine and Death. Together the fate of the world will be in their hands. The Apocalypse is coming. And the only ones who can save the world, hold the power to destroy it.

Sounds a riot, doesn’t it? And it really is! When I do school visits I get asked, “What’s the best book you’ve written?” I always hope it’s the next one that’s out, as I’m always trying to improve what I do. So if you enjoyed my Dead Trilogy, trust me, you’re gonna just LOVE Doom Rider! It’s out in July so keep an eye on my website (www.davidgatward.com) as I’ll be keeping it up to date with news, perhaps even a competition or two…

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Fast Five with Amy Brown

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

My parents’ house has always had full bookshelves; there are piles of books next to each bed, and even beside the bath. The idea of being able and allowed to write the words in these important objects was thrilling. In Standard Two, I said that one day I wanted to write books for children. After school that day, I asked Mum what she thought I might be when I grew up. When she guessed that I would be a writer, I was delighted at her response. I still am.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

When I’ve been writing for quite a while – perhaps two hours non-stop – the words sometimes begin to come unexpectedly. The chapter unfolds almost as if I am reading rather than writing it myself. Rereading these pages later, I often forget having written parts of them.  This is an exciting feeling.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

I won’t choose a favourite, because it is too difficult. But, I will say that Maurice Gee’s O Trilogy has stayed with me since I first read it nearly twenty years ago. I still have dreams (nightmares?) about Susan Ferris meeting the Birdfolk. I also vividly remember Jack Lasenby’s Harry Wakatipu stories. If you haven’t read them, Harry Wakatipu is a surly talking packhorse who lives with a deer culler in the Ureweras and gets into all sorts of mischief. Recently, I tried to tell a friend the story of when Harry starts illegally tickling trout, but had to stop because I was crying with laughter.

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

I love that, in New Zealand, you’re never too far from the sea. I also love that you can walk barefoot without worrying about snakes or spiders biting you (I currently live in Australia).

5. What book changed your life?

Because I read it so often, and then later used it as a model for my own books, Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson probably changed my life. Its sense of humour, weird 1950s references to Bing Crosby, and brilliant line drawings have no doubt contributed to who I am today. I admit that it isn’t the best book in the world, but it has been important to me.
Amy Brown is the author of the Pony Tales series, including the latest book, Jade’s Summer of Horses.

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The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

The Hunger Games is the first book in a trilogy, set in a place in the middle of what used to be North America, called Panem. Panem consists of twelve districts, that surround a city called the Capitol. The Capitol is cruel, and has complete control over those who live in the districts.  They keep them from starting a rebellion by forcing each district to provide a boy and a girl from 12 to 18, who are all sent to the Capitol to take part in the Hunger Games, which is a fight to the death in a huge arena. The person who is left alive wins, and lives in glory, fame, and riches from then on. The others all die. The worst part? The districts are forced to celebrate it, and it is made into a television show.  Katniss Everdeen is sent to the Capitol from District 12, taking her sisters place in the games to protect her. She has escaped death before, and is skilled with a bow and arrow, but each of the 24 contestants are all fighting to survive. She will have to make hard decisions to live through the games.

The concept behind the Hunger Games was so original, and I turned the pages especially fast during the middle, when the Hunger Games were actually happening. The description was simple and brief, but the action and dialogue made up for that entirely.
My favourite character was probably Katniss, but I found that by the end of the book, to my greatest surprise, I had become rather fond of Haymitch, who is Katniss’s drunken mentor. I thought that Peeta, who is the boy from District 12, was a little weak, and Katniss was always protecting him, so in a way, he was a bit wimpy.

I am excited to find out what happens next, because by the end of the book Katniss is in quite a bit of trouble. I’m not telling you what happens, though, you’ll have to find that out yourself!

I think that kids from 12 to 15 would like this book the most (although my dad loves the book just as much as I do!). The Hunger Games is also being turned into what is going to be an epic movie.

By Tierney, age 12.

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The Damned

The Damned was a terrifying experience. But before I explain why, this is the blurb: “It’s not just the Dead who want to return to the Land of the Living, but the creatures of Hell itself. And only Lazarus, Stone, Keeper of the Dead, can stop them. But he’s on an insane rescue mission to save his best mate and his dad, with only the help of an undead priest and an angel with an alcohol problem. This isn’t just about saving the world, this is personal…”

So why so terrifying? Well, The Damned was the first time I’d ever experienced characters taking on a life of their own, controlling the story, and telling me what was going to happen next, where they were going to go, rather than the other way round. It was a bit disconcerting. I’m big on planning my books out. To me, it’s a bit like how I’d approach a piece of art (were I an artist, which I’m not, trust me!) First, I’d sketch it out, until I was happy with what I was doing, and then I’d add in the detail, the colour. And that’s much how I work – plan it out first, get happy with the structure of the story, then colour it in! However, half way through The Damned, the characters had other ideas as to what was going to happen. And I just had to hold on tight and hope they knew what they were doing, which it turns out they did!

The Damned is an epic conclusion to a crazy, dark, hellish journey. It draws on a lot of my love of horror movies and fiction, with plenty of nods to everything from Lovecraft to Fulci. The characters are still with me, the story still haunts me, and I hope that, once you survive your time with the Dead/Dark/Damned, you’ll be a little bit haunted by it, too!

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The Dark

And then came book 2… And what a blast it was! Having set up Lazarus with a pretty nasty beginning, this was where I could let things get really out of hand. so I did. This is the blurb: “Lazarus Stone has been killed, resurrected, and attacked by demons. He’s all that stands between our world and the Dead. But things are getting complicated: he’s alone in the land of the Dead, his best mate Craig is missing, and he’s no idea who – or what – tricked his dad into trying to bring back his long-dead mum. Oh, and he’s wearing a corpse’s clothes. Life, he might think, couldn’t get much worse. But it will…” Writing The Dark was a steep learning curve, as most books seem to be. Here though I was seeing just how far and dark I could go, but also wondering all the way if I could sustain Lazarus’s story not just for book 2, but on into book 3.

When I do my school visits I often explain that the best way to think about a story is this: in the first part, get your character into a tree, thus presenting them with a problem – how to get down again. Then, to make the story interesting, it’s my job as a writer to do everything I can to make their journey back to the ground as difficult as possible. So throw stones at them, spears, rockets, try to chop the tree down, burn it, kidnap their family, train a flock of flesh-eating crows to take up residence in the tree…

Essentially, what I’m saying is that to make a story interesting, I have to make sure it’s nigh on impossible for a character to achieve a purpose. So that’s what I do in The Dark: I throw everything I’ve got, and a little bit more, at Lazarus. And through it all he gets stronger, more determined, and we can’t help but want to keep turning the page to find out what happens next…

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Iris’s Ukulele by Kathy Taylor

Read me for NZ Book Month!

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a superstar?  Iris and her friend Sidney have.  Iris wants to be the best rapper and ukulele player in the whole of the entire universe.  Preferably with her best friend ever, and fellow Master of the Musical Universe, Sidney by her side.  Iris and Sidney have been working on their masterpiece, a rap musical about werewolves and vampires, and when they hear about the talent contest at their mall they know this is their big chance at stardom.  Then everything starts going wrong – Sidney decides he wants to write his own song, Iris doesn’t stand up for her best friend when he’s in trouble, and her mum starts ‘not exactly’ dating her ukulele teacher.  Will Iris ever become the Master of the Musical Universe?

Iris’s Ukulele is a story about friendship and reaching for your goals.  Both Iris and Sidney are unique and have their own sense of style that makes them stand out from the crowd.  Iris gets into some tricky situations but her Mum and her Gran help her out and point her in the right direction.  Her Gran is a pretty cool character and has a unique personality like Iris.  This is Kathy Taylor’s first book (she won the Tom Fitzgibbon Award for a previously unpublished writer) and sometimes I thought she was trying too hard to make Iris’s voice sound right, but overall the story was interesting.  Iris’s Ukulele is a great book for anyone who likes stories about friends and family.

Recommended for 9+        3 out of 5 stars 

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Win an Oh No, George! print

Thanks to Walker Books, the wonderful publisher of Chris Haughton’s Oh No, George! we have a limited edition print to give away to one lucky person.

All you have to do is enter your name, email address and phone number in the form below and we’ll draw a winner on Monday 19 March (NZ only).

This competition is now closed.  The winner of the print was Clare.

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Interview with Chris Haughton, creator of Oh No, George!

Chris Haughton is the author and illustrator of a very funny new picture book called Oh No, George!  It’s all about a naughty dog who keeps getting into trouble and the story will have you laughing out loud.  I was lucky to have the chance to ask Chris some questions about his new book and his quirky, colourful illustrations.

  • Did you have a dog when you were a kid? If so what was it’s name?

CH: I had 3! Tammy, Tessa and Milly. Tammy was the most like George in personality. She once ate all my Easter eggs.

  • What did you do as a kid that made your parents go, ‘Oh no, Chris!’?

CH: Probably annoying my sister. Maybe running after her around the room in a similar way to George and Cat.

  • While researching the book you watched lots of guilty dogs videos on the internet. What were some of the worst things that you saw dogs do?

CH: I think 90% of them had eaten something. I was just using google images to see their guilty faces so I could draw them but I noticed there was one dog in particular that kept coming up again and again. The guiltiest dog on the internet! I wondered to myself what on earth had this dog done to have deserved such a reputation and that’s when I discovered that video… (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=B8ISzf2pryI)

  • One of the reasons I love your picture books is because of your bright, bold illustrations. How do you decide what colour pallet to use for your illustrations?

CH: I just work on it as I’m going. I try to make the colours all work with each other and be bright and harmonious but be different enough to provide a bit of contrast and it just happens that it comes out like that. I ignore the ‘real’ colours of the animals and I just use colours in a way that best tells the story. For example the owl is the only thing black against the bright colours of the forest which helps define his shape. George fills so much of the book that he couldn’t be black, I wanted it to be a colourful book and for his shape to be easily recognised so I had him in one block colour which contrasted with the orange background and text. The whites of the eyes (which are the most important thing in every picture) are the only things that are ever white in any of the illustrations.

  • As well as being an author and illustrator you’re also a designer. How does your design work differ from your illustration work?

CH: There is a lot of overlap. A lot of the repeat pattern designs that I have done for dresses and clothes at People Tree have found their way into the forest and colours of A Bit Lost and Oh No, George! I think it’s nice to have a bit of variety between the different work I do because it all fuses together somewhere along the line and it helps keep it fresh in both directions.

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The Dead

Right, so, the next three blogs I’m going to do will just cover my Dead Trilogy (mwahahahahaha!) First up, book 1, The Dead. Which goes something like this: “Lazarus Stone is about to turn sixteen when, one night, his normal life is ripped to shreds by a skinless figure drenched in blood. He has a message: The Dead are coming. Now Lazarus is all that stands in their way. To fulfil his destiny, he must confront not only the dark past of his family, but horrors more gruesome than even Hell could invent. And it all begins with the reek of rotting flesh …”

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? And it is! The first book is the shortest and, from the outset, I wanted it, and the rest of Lazarus’s tale, to be a breathless one, something that would have you exhausted by the end of it, packed with cliff hangers and hideous monsters. And all of it drawing on not just my love of horror, but a little bit of biblical stuff, and also (if you know your horror movies and such like) have a fair few nods to some of the classics. I loved writing it, and being able to take the story through 200,000 words was fab. But book 1 is very special. It was the first one for me that got me started on this writing road, and Lazarus, Craig, Arielle and the rest will, I think, stay with me forever. Which is quite amazing, really, considering they’re imaginary! So grab a copy and have a read and don’t turn out out the light…

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Fast Five with Kyle Mewburn

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

I never really thought I “want to be a writer”. Mainly because I was always told being a writer wasn’t a “proper job”. Besides, I knew most writers never made much money, and for a long time I believed making money was very important. (Because that’s what nearly everybody said.) Writing has always been like a bloodhound on my trail. Over the years I tried all sorts of other jobs, trying to throw it off the scent, but I never quite managed it. In the end it caught up with me. Now I realise there are much more important things than making lots of money. Like doing something you love. Or bringing wild and crazy ideas to life.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Getting to hang out with other writers. They are such an entertaining bunch. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d probably have to become a stalker. Or a librarian.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

I didn’t grow up in New Zealand, so I don’t have any all-time favourite New Zealand books. It kind of changes every year. At the moment my favourite books are Northwood by Brian Falkner (which is just such an original thrilling story) and Stomp! by Ruth Paul (because it’s delightfully simple and beautiful).

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

I could say “that it’s next to Australia”. haha (I am, after all, originally from Brisbane.) Otherwise, I’d have to say its size. There’s so much variety packed into a small space. Two hours drive and I can be swimming in the ocean, skiing in the mountains or tramping in the wilderness. It’s unique and slightly magical. Though the flipside is you sometimes have to drive two hours to find like-minded people, too.

5. What book changed your life?

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It’s deservedly a classic. My Year 7 teacher gave me his copy on the last day of school and I’ve read it every year since. If, like me, you love word games and puns, there’s no better book on the planet. It set me off on a life-long quest to write (or invent) the perfect pun. I haven’t done it yet, but boy I’ve had enormous fun trying!!

Kyle Mewburn is the award-winning author of Kiss, Kiss, Yuck, Yuck, Old Hu-hu, Hill and Hole and the hilarious and disgusting Dinosaur Rescue series.

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Cool new book trailers

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Fast Five with Gavin Bishop

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

So I could be in complete control of the picture books that I wanted to illustrate.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Besides working at home in my own studio I enjoy talking to children and adults about my work.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

“The Three Legged Cat” by Margaret Mahy

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

Feeling as if I belong here.

5. What book changed your life?

“The Hobbit” by J. R. Tolkein

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Skulduggery Pleasant: The End of the World by Derek Landy

Everyone’s favourite skeleton detective is back in a mini-adventure.  The End of the World is a shorter story that Derek wrote for World Book Day in the UK and we’re also lucky enough to get it in New Zealand too.

The End of the World focuses on Ryan, an ordinary boy living in an ordinary world.

Or so he thought.

Ryan holds the key to a powerful weapon that could destroy the world.  He’s being pursued by a gang of insane sorcerers who will do anything to get a hold of the key.  His only chance for survival rests with Skulduggery Pleasant and his teenage partner, Valkyrie Cain, and we all know how things work out when Skulduggery gets involved.

This short Skuduggery adventure packs the same punch as the longer stories and is full of the magic, action and humour that you love about the Skulduggery books.  The coolest thing about this story is that it kicks off in a library.  Imagine, you’re choosing your books or reading quietly in a corner when fireballs start being thrown around, shelves go flying and Skulduggery and Valkyrie come storming into the library!  That would be the BEST DAY EVER!  As well as the main story, there’s also a bonus short story featuring the winners of the Australia/New Zealand character competition.

Derek Landy is coming to New Zealand in August so don’t forget to enter the competition to go in the draw to meet Derek in person.  Also, make sure you enter our Free Book Friday competition this week for the chance to win a copy of The End of the World.

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Join us for the Oh No, George! Blog Tour

On Thursday we’ll be joined by a great new author and illustrator called Chris Haughton.  Chris’s new picture book is called Oh No, George and it’s about a very naughty dog.  I got the chance to ask Chris some questions about his new book and his work as an author and illustrator.  You will even have the chance to win a print of one of the illustrations from the book.

Check out this fantastic book trailer for Oh No, George.

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Are you Skulduggery’s biggest fan?

If you answered yes to the question above you just might have the chance to meet Derek Landy, the creator of Skulduggery Pleasant, when he comes to New Zealand for his 2012 Down Under Tour in August.  If that isn’t enough, you’ll also get a complete set of Skulduggery books, signed by Derek.  All you have to do to have the chance to meet Derek Landy is go to his website and answer these two questions:

  1. Gordon Edgley is, amongst other things, a horror writer and uncle. He is also dead. Stephanie, his beloved niece, is saddened by this unexpected event. In the first Skulduggery Pleasant Book you are introduced to the rest of Gordon’s family. Name the other family members who make an appearance in the sample chapter on the website.
  2. Tell them in 25 words or less why it should be you meeting Derek Down Under.

What are you waiting for?  Go to www.skulduggerypleasant.co.uk to enter.  You can also listen to a FREE audio book of the very first Skulduggery Pleasant book on his website.

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Fast Five with Sharon Holt

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

I wanted to be a writer because I absolutely loved reading books and being in libraries. I wanted to help other children find the joy that I found between the pages of so many wonderful children’s books.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

There are many great things about being a writer, but the best thing for me is when children come up and say they love a story I wrote.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

My favourite NZ book is The Terrible Q by Tanya Batt.

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

The thing I love most about New Zealand is how easy it is to get to the sea. I love the feeling of looking out over the ocean and imagining what’s on the other side.

5. What book changed your life?

The book that changed my life was a picture book that I was reading at bed time to my two toddlers. I don’t know what the story was but it was probably something by Lynley Dodd. While reading it to the children, I suddenly realised that I had forgotten to be a children’s author! I was already 40 so I very quickly started writing stories and sending them to Learning Media. Before long I was a published author and I haven’t looked back since!

Sharon has been writing for 10 years and has had stories, poems, plays and articles published in the School Journal.  Her latest novels, Sabotage and No Survivors, are  in the New Zealand My Story series and tell the stories of two girls growing up in New Zealand at the time of the Rainbow Warrior bombing and the Erebus crash.  Sharon has also written her own joke book called It’s True! You can make your own jokes, because her son kept trying to make up terrible jokes.

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