Friday, June 24, 2016

Introducing Fifi Colston

Graduating in Wellington with a Diploma of Visual Communications Design, Fifi freelances with fingers in many creative pies. She is a published junior fiction novelist, children’s book illustrator of more than 30 titles and was a long standing television presenter of arts and crafts on firstly TVNZ’s ‘What Now’ and then ‘The Good Morning Show’. Fifi is a veteran of Wearable Arts; a finalist and award winner over 20 years with 22 entries in show. She has also worked with Weta Workshop, 3 Foot 7 Productions, Pukeko Pictures and The Production Shed in the New Zealand TV and film industry as a costumier, puppet maker and illustrator. When she has a moment, Fifi visits schools and community groups, inspires budding artists and writers and runs workshops in creative process.

All the answers relate to The Red Poppy

My husband’s grandfather Rothwell, wrote postcards to his fiancĂ© Hilda, from 1914-1918. Particularly poignant were two from France; they said simply “Am O.K” and “Keep smiling!” I was in the process of scanning and blogging these cards for the family when I read David’s story.  Jim’s letter home never mentioning the horrors of the trenches struck an immediate chord with me; those cheerful words from a young man, disguising the reality of his situation. Rothwell did come home from France to be a husband and father, but was far from ‘o.k’; dying just a few short years later from the cruel ravages of his war experience. Illustrating this book was a journey through his time for me. I visited the Army Museum in Waiouru (a must see- really great!) studied WW1 uniforms up close (collected by passionate people), grew red poppies, (harder than you'd think) photographed mud (outside our house) and rubbed chalk pastel until my fingers were raw. I learned much about pastel illustration technique, but more about the horror and sadness of war. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Introducing Anna Mackenzie

Anna Mackenzie lives on a farm in Hawke’s Bay, NZ, where she writes contemporary, speculative and historic fiction. Her nine titles have netted her seven Notable Book Awards, an NZ Post Honour Award, Sir Julius Vogel Award and other accolades. She wrote her first book when she was seven – and is very glad her mother kept it!

Anna says:
“My interest in WWI is based in family stories. I wanted to properly understand my grandfather’s and other family members’ experiences.

“A real high point of writing Evie’s War was having a writing residency in Belgium, which allowed me to thoroughly immerse myself in WWI history. I could walk battlefields, seek out buildings where hospitals had been based, study landscapes, weather, the day-to-day things our servicemen and women would have experienced. And of course, I wrote!

“Sometimes the research made me cry: standing at my great-uncle’s grave, listening to ‘The Last Post’ played beneath the Menin Gate in Ieper, walking around trenches and cemeteries – there was so much suffering and waste. It’s impossible not to feel saddened by it. But even during the very worst of it, our capacity for love and friendship – our humanity – shines through.
“I was surprised by how very real, and alive, those young men and women felt – and continue to feel – to me, and by how fascinated I’ve become by war and its aftermath. WWI isn’t yet ready to let me go.”

In addition to writing novels Mackenzie edits magazines, teaches creative writing, mentors beginning writers and travels ‘whenever it fits in’. She is Vice-President of the New Zealand Society of Authors.

Titles: High Tide (2003), Out on the Edge (2005), Shadow of the Mountain (2008); Sea-wreck Trilogy – The Sea-wreck Stranger (2007), Ebony Hill (2010), Finder’s Shore (2011); Elgard series – Cattra’s Legacy (2012), Donnel’s Promise (2013); WWI – Evie’s War (2015).

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.