Thursday, April 21, 2016

Introducing Jennifer Beck

Jennifer Beck – Background

I grew up on a farm in North Auckland, as one of five children. We didn’t have many toys, which meant we had to use our imagination and make up ways of entertaining ourselves.  Both my parents loved books, and reading books was a favourite pastime.  We often played ‘word games’ around the kitchen table. Art was also important in our family, and we were encouraged to draw and paint. Later, as the parent of young children I was involved in Playcentre, and was influenced by several very creative friends.  I think these experiences helped me become a writer.

I trained as a teacher and later as an educational psychologist, and later combined writing books while working in these occupations. Although I’ve written many educational school readers, a love of art as well as writing has lead to my specialising in picture books, many of which have won awards.  These include five books which deal with war, a topic which I believe requires special sensitivity when written for children. As well as enjoying collaborating with skilled illustrators such as Robyn
Belton, Lindy Fisher and Fifi Colston, I have also illustrated one of my own books.  Although I have always valued the work of illustrators, the experience of illustrating a book myself was an extra reminder of how difficult and time-consuming this role can be!

I live on the outskirts of Auckland with my husband Peter, and enjoy family and community events, reading, watercolour painting and travel, particularly around New Zealand.

Interview Questions:  I asked Jennifer Beck if anything positive, sad or interesting happened while writing the two books. Jennifer answered:

Positive:  The Anzac Violin

For years Robyn Belton and I had talked about writing the story of Alexander Aitken. He was a Dunedin soldier who carried a violin ashore at Gallipoli, and at times managed to play it to his comrades during the campaign.  A very special experience for me was visiting Otago Boys’ High School in 2011 and being able to hold that same violin which is now a treasured memento on display at his old school.  Returning to Dunedin in 2015 as Children’s Writer in Residence at the University of Otago, with the opportunity to write the story, was a wonderful follow-up experience.  
Sad:  The Bantam and the Soldier
Robyn Belton and I wrote this picture book over twenty years ago, and it is great to have it still in print.  Although the story relates to many New Zealand families, it is also very personal for both of us, and I must confess that when reading it I get a bit emotional at times, just as I did when writing it.

Research for these two books and other war stories has led to meeting many interesting people, travelling to places I would never have otherwise visited, and sometimes making surprise discoveries and links that have enhanced the original story.  Research may sound a bit dull, but it can lead to exciting discoveries such as seemingly astonishing coincidences.  

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