Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in Auckland and live in Howick, on the outskirts of Auckland city.
Where did you go to school?
My family moved from Auckland to Waipu after my first term at Avondale Primary. The school bus didn’t go anywhere near our farm, and for the next school term we could not go to school. Eventually the school bus came closer, and along with my two brothers and two sisters I attended Waipu District High School (Years 1–13 ).
What were you like in school?
I enjoyed school, but also liked times when the river flooded so that we couldn’t catch the school bus. We stayed home and read books. At secondary school my favourite subject was French. In my last year at school I was the only one in the class, and studied most subjects through the Correspondence School.
What was the most outrageous thing you did there?
Looking back, I think I was a bit of a goody-goody. Boring! However, as I didn’t have a teacher or classroom, for much of the year I worked in the staffroom. When the bell had sent the teachers back to face their classes I helped myself to their cheese crackers.
What was your favourite book growing up?
I don’t know what it was called, but it was a book of poems with a New Zealand flavour.
Most books at the time were about life in England. My favourite poem was about Marmite.
I remember the line ‘I just want a piece of bread with Marmite on!’ I could relate to that book, and am still looking for a copy.
Who is your favourite children’s author?
I like Joy Cowley’s humour, and Margaret Mahy’s imagination and use of fun words. As both author and illustrator, I think Michael Foreman’s War Boy is a wonderful book.
What is your favourite food / colour?
My favourite foods are fruit, particularly nectarines, home-made bread and eggs. My friend Louise has free range hens, and when we meet at a local café she gives me half a dozen eggs in exchange for a cup of coffee. I think I get the best deal. My favourite colour is blue.
Who inspired you to write?
My parents, who both loved books and art, and valued education. My mother helped run the local library which only opened on Saturdays.
How did you get started?
My parents would draw and paint when they had time. They borrowed many books from the library, and discussed them with us. When I was quite young they would let me use their oil paints. As children we made up and acted our own plays, and wrote stories.
How old were you when you first started writing?
When I was about eight, I wrote a small book of poems, which I still have. They are NOT GOOD.
Why did you want to be a writer?
It wasn’t a definite plan – I just loved creating pictures and stories, especially when I had my own children and could make books for them. It is the combination of art and words that are special to me. That is why I love writing picture books.
How do you think up ideas?
Most of my books are inspired by everyday happenings, people I admire and topics that interest me. I especially like to write stories that have a New Zealand background.
Do you have a special place where you write?
When I first have an idea for a story I have to scribble it down on whatever piece of paper I can find – an old envelope, a bill or the back of my shopping list. Otherwise I might forget it, like a dream. When I get back home, or have more time, I do most of my writing on a computer in my study. I usually do many, many drafts.
What is the best thing about being an author?
There’s heaps! These include working with the illustrator and editor, seeing an initial idea come to life as a finished book, meeting wonderful librarians and teachers, visiting schools, seeing great classrooms and meeting readers. I enjoy and admire creativity in many forms.
Have you had a funny or embarrassing moment as an author?
Embarrassing, yes. When visiting one school, I was unable to find the Office and kept ending up in the toilet block. My advice: Never enter a school by a side gate, or ask directions from junior students in uniforms two sizes too big.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I enjoy travel, walking, reading, painting with watercolours and family events. I also have to do some housework, which I don’t enjoy very much.
What would you have chosen to be if you were not an author?
I wish I could have studied art and become an illustrator as well as a writer.
Which famous person from the past would you like to talk to?
Leonardo da Vinci from the past, because of his creativity, and David Attenborough from the present, because of his wide knowledge of the natural world.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
I think I’ve written enough, and it’s time for a cup of tea, and a piece of bread with Marmite on…