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.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Introducing Peter Millett

Peter Millett loves writing humorous stories that the whole family can enjoy. His most popular NZ books are The Anzac Biscuit Man, Humpty Rugby and Moa's Ark, and his most well-known overseas titles are the Boy Zero Wannabe Hero and Johnny Danger series. His picture book The Anzac Puppy won the Children's Choice award at the 2015 NZ Book Awards.

I asked Peter Millett to tell us something positive, sad and interesting that occurred when writing the book.

1.       Positive (happy) you discovered while writing/illustrating the book.

The people of Cannock Chase hold Kiwis in the highest regard and go out of their way to honour our WW1 contribution.

2.       Sad (tragic) you discovered while writing/illustrating the book.

 The tragic case of soldiers who died on the transport ships getting to the UK before seeing any action or training.

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

 Contacting a retired UK journalist who vividly remembered interviewing Fred Smith in 1965. Fred's excellent research helped inspire my book. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Auckland Central Library 'What Lies Beneath' display

Auckland Public Library has the 'What Lies Beneath' display for all of April. Opening Night is on Tuesday 19th April 5.00 pm - 7.00pm. If you'd like to come, please RSVP to ( at the library. Panellists include:

  • Jennifer Beck - author of 'The Bantam & the Soldier'
  • Maria Gill - author of 'Anzac Heroes'
  • Marco Ivancic - illustrator of 'Anzac Heroes'
  • Di Menefy - author of '1915: Wounds of War'
  • Peter Millett - author of 'The Anzac Puppy'
  • Melinda Szymanik - author of 'A Winter's day in 1939'
We're talking about writing and illustrating children's war books for young readers. You'll also see sneak peaks of new books from the above panellists and a book launch of 'Anzac Heroes'.

John Graham has books for sale! Lots of posters and bookmarks to takeaway! We look forward to seeing you.

Here's some pics of the display to tempt you:

Some more information here.