I say fiction is an act of courage and humility, a protest against our mortality, and we, the authors, don’t matter.
There 's a condensed bio on Slideshare. Or this, the longer version...
In 1962, my parents emigrated from England to New Zealand. Dad says it was the second best decision he ever made after marrying mum. Dad was in the merchant navy working as navigator. He came here by ship to build a house for his young family. Mum came over a year later bringing my two older sisters, who were five and seven.
Dad left the navy and he worked three jobs to get established in the new country. Then he joined the New Zealand Post Office, sorting mail, eventually working his way up through the ranks to become the manager. My mother worked in the Post Office also, as a bank teller.
I was born in 1964, my brother two years later. We were raised Catholic. Dad worked all the overtime he could get to put us through private schools. I remember the keen disappointment we kids felt many times to find that dad would be working on Christmas day.
As a child, Mum tells me, I had a vivid imagination. She would hear me playing with my dolls using a different voice for each character, so deeply involved in a world of my own making she didn't disturb me. I remember I never felt alone. And I remember sliding easily between worlds, the real one and the worlds of my imagination.
My brother and I shared a small bedroom. The curtains in our room displayed a variety of animals and toys. A favourite game was to take turns with my brother, to pick an image from the curtains and make up a story. It was easy to conjure tales about magic trains, fairy rings, soldiers trying to find their way home and dolls becoming humans.
With regards the writing rules, the author Lee Child said, "We are not story showers, we’re story tellers." I relate to that primarily because I know that’s how I started out. Before I knew how to write and had taken on the rigid undergarments of the writing rules, as a three-year-old, I started out telling stories to my brother.
From the age of seven, I could read and write. In class each time the teacher asked us to write a story, I remember being gripped with a spirit of joy. In the absolutely powerless world of the child, I had something I was good at.
Growing up, I was a tomboy. I spent my days outdoors, barefoot and shirtless - there was a sense of limitlessness then. That state is what I crave to return to in my books.
We kids spent half the year exploring the forest and backyards. We played Bulrush, cowboys and Indians, raided the old orchard for peaches and stole strawberries from the market gardens. We picnicked in the bush and rode our bikes. The other half of the year we spent exploring the countryside around the family land in the Coromandel. We camped and fished with dad off the beach. We cooked the fish on the fire for dinner. We swam in clear water and climbed the rocks, we explored the mountain and raced down vertical hillsides on cardboard. We made tunnels and caves in the waist-high bracken.
Back at home in the city, I'd open the window wide at night when it was raining. I liked the sound of the rain on the leaves. And if it was really stormy - unbeknown to my parents - I would let myself out the bedroom window and run around outside in the rain. This is the true story behind one of my earliest hand-written hand-drawn "books", which I wrote in my late teens. It's my mother's favourite, The Unsightly Wet Nightie. But that’s the way things were when I was young. We were wild and free. My parents had worked hard to create a stable home environment for us and I always felt safe.
When I entered high school at Carmel College, I started hanging with a new group of friends. I passed my exams and kept up my marks, however the years of teenage rebellion had begun.
At sixteen-years-old, I left Carmel College with U.E accredited and pregnant with my first child. I moved in with my boyfriend. We started our life together. Eleven months later my boyfriend and I split up. I was eighteen.
I remained in town sharing houses with flatmates and friends. For the first three years of my son’s life, I studied fashion design part time. I worked a number of jobs. I worked in a café, as a bartender, a cleaner, a phone salesperson and a shop assistant. I studied photography, art and writing part-time. And in my leisure hours, I wrote short stories and children’s stories. The short stories were forced. The children’s stories came naturally. That was where I began to feel the pleasure, the ease of storytelling I’d had from when I was very little start to return.
I began to develop characters along mythical storylines, The Survivors and The Great Adventures of Splat the Wonder Dog. I spent years illustrating them by hand. Every time I showed them to a publisher, I was told the same thing, ‘fantasy doesn’t sell’, ‘there is no market for fantasy’.
In 1983 after attending a live band, I wrote about the show, and the article appeared in the Auckland University newspaper, Bifim. Later, I landed my first job as a freelance journalist for the Inner City News. During the rest of that decade, I wrote articles, interviews and even restaurant reviews for all the inner city papers, the City of Sails, the Harbour News, the Sunday News and Fifty Plus. But it was the feature articles I enjoyed writing the most. These were published in Auckland’s Metro Magazine. I enjoyed them because they were the most like fiction. They were the most like telling story.
In 1990, I submitted the children’s stories I’d been working on to publishers, rewrites of classic myths and fairy tales. I also sent in my original stories. Anything but the fantasy genre. I attempted stories about boys and girls in regular settings, The Best Day Ever, Scooter’s Hooter, Free Wally! and Roy Malone's Lost Cave.
In those years, I went to work as a full-time nanny. I took on the daily care of my nephew from the time he was three weeks old up to the age of seven years. This helped me to stay in touch with my target audience and with what children were reading.
I married again in my mid-thirties and had two children with my second husband. Our first child, a boy, was born with Down Syndrome. For more go here, Down Syndrome.
Our second child together and my third son was born with a hole in his heart. He had open heart surgery at the tender age of five. For more go here, heart kid.
He made a full recovery. After ten years together, my husband and I separated. I became a single parent again.
My youngest sons and I live together in the house I grew up in. It is the same house my father built when he came to New Zealand. I like the fact that the family history is here. Recently, I found the gumboot I lost when I was three wedged in the debris at the base of a tree. Sometimes when I'm gardening, I dig up relics of our childhood like old knives and forks. One time I found a rusted horseshoe presumably left behind by one of the horses that used to graze in the fields next door. And one day, I’ll pass this property on to my three boys.
My oldest son travelled the world and has been busy ticking off his bucket list all the places he wants to see.
I like to share stories with my youngest boys. They’re avid readers and reading together is part of our daily ritual. My youngest wrote me a Mother’s Day poem this year that included the words, I like it when mum reads me stories. The day I heard my son's teacher say he was the best reader in class was a proud day for me.
I think it’s with the American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne whom I feel the greatest kinship. We share many similarities and I relate so much to his narrative. Of him, his close school friend said, Hawthorne lived 'in a mysterious world of imagination which he never permits me to enter'. Upon graduation, Hawthorne retreated to his home in Salem to become a writer. He spent a full twelve years in solitude writing.
Like Hawthorne, I spent most of my twenties and early thirties at home with my parents, in seclusion writing. I lived with most of the members of my family at some stage. Everyone offered a hand and helped me live on the sniff of an oily rag while I kept pursuing the dream of publication. All I wanted to do was to write and to keep learning the craft. I have been very fortunate to have had the family I have. They’ve supported me.
Nathaniel Hawthorne married and had children. However, he spent up to nine hours every day writing. He maintained his reclusive ways often ‘running into the woods to hide behind the house when a visitor approached’ - something I myself have done! Hawthorne died in 1864 yet his work endures. The Scarlet Letter, his most famous book is still famous.
In 1842, Edgar Allen Poe said of him, "The style is purity itself. Force abounds. High imagination gleams from every page."
These days, I no longer try to chain down the dragon. I no longer try to wear the girdle of what publishers or the market might be looking for. It’s the motifs of my Catholic upbringing that abound in the archetypes and the formulas of mythology that interest me. That’s where I naturally gravitate to be. I like the rites of passage, the rituals, the seasons, the larger than life characters, the anything-can-happen freedom of mythology. That forms my core. I must write what I am drawn to write because there will only ever be one of me. I must ‘circle my bone’ as Kate de Goldi put it to us once in class. Only I can be true to what is true to my essence. Therefore, I believe if and when the time is right there will be a market for the type of children's fantasy adventure I like to write. And if not, I’m doing it anyway.
Why do I write for children? As the inimitable Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne put it so eloquently in 1853, Children are now the only representatives of the men and women of that happy era (the golden age) and therefore it is that we must raise the intellect and fancy to the level of childhood, in order to recreate the original myths.
I hope that one day someone will say of my book(s) what Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said of Hawthorne’s Twice-told Tales... “Live ever, sweet, sweet book.”
To read more about what makes me tick as a writer, go here for Sources of Inspiration. Go here to read about my favourite authors. Go here for the story of my grandmother.