Sunday, June 5, 2016

Introducing Philippa Werry

I was born in Christchurch and grew up in Wellington, Auckland and New Plymouth. As a child, I wrote stories and poems for the Children’s Page of the Evening Post newspaper. Checking on a Saturday night to see if any of my stories had been published was an established part of my childhood. The rest of the family used to check too, and I would get phone calls from my dear great-aunts if anything was in there. I still have the book that I pasted all my stories into, and I often take it along when I do school visits. 

Another big influence was Ida Gaskin, my wonderful English teacher at New Plymouth Girls’ High School. Ida treated me as a writer. She died in January 2016, aged 96.

After high school and university came overseas travel, an MA in English Literature, marriage, more study (library diploma) and more travel, including long overland trips through Asia and Europe. All this time I was writing letters and travel journals, but it wasn’t until I was at home with small children that I started to write again seriously. I read a newspaper article about the School Journal and thought that might be something I could do in the small pockets of time I had available.

My first stories, poems and plays were published in the School Journal in the 1990s. Later I became interested in non-fiction and covered many different topics for educational publishers. Scholastic has published five of my children’s novels, including Enemy at the gate, shortlisted for the 2009 NZ Post children’s book awards. New Holland has published three non-fiction titles and a picture book, Best mates, illustrated by Bob Kerr. Other work (both plays and short stories) has been published in anthologies.

In recent years, my interest in history has translated into writing historical fiction and non-fiction, with an emphasis (partly because of family history) on war-related stories. Anzac Day: the New Zealand story was shortlisted in the 2014 NZ Post children’s book awards, and Waitangi Day was shortlisted in the children’s choice section in 2015.   

Interview questions:

Positive (happy) you discovered while writing/illustrating the book.
One positive experience I had was getting in contact with lots of people all around the world who helped with my research or let me use their photos. I also found it very positive to be writing and thinking a lot about peace.

Sad (tragic) you discovered while writing/illustrating the book.
When researching by reading old diaries and letters, you come across many sad entries.  One of the most poignant that found its way into the book is the diary entry by Australian WW1 nurse Elsie Tranter, written on Armistice Day. Many soldiers had mixed feelings about celebrating on that day; of course they were relieved that the war was over but their reactions were often quiet and muted.  

But the nurses only got a few hours off to celebrate, if they were lucky. Men didn't stop dying just because the Armistice had been announced, and the nurses still had sick and wounded patients to look after.

Interesting (that surprised you) you discovered while writing/illustrating the book.

I was surprised and pleased that there are so many peace memorials in New Zealand. We often focus on the war memorials but actually there are a lot that commemorate peace, and they come in all sorts of different and interesting forms, such as peace poles, flames, bells, walks, plaques and buildings.  

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