Thursday, November 4, 2021

Meet Kaewa the penguin

Kaewa the Kororā by Rachel Haydon & Illustrated by Pippa Keel (Massey University Press)

Who doesn't love penguins? They're cute, endangered, and need our help. New Zealand is lucky to have several species and if you know where to look, you can see one in New Zealand. So it's lovely to read a children's book about penguins - here's Kaewa's story:

One day Kaewa is hit by a big wave that dumps her onto her side on the seafloor, injuring her flipper. Lucky for her, kind hands pick her up and take her to an aquarium where she makes penguin friends. They teach her how to mend including kind old Captain. But someone keeps tripping her up - who is it and why are they doing it? 

A creative nonfiction story from the point of view of the penguin. We meet the real penguins on the back two pages. I particularly like the artwork, with its distinctive black ink lines and bright colouring. Teachers will want to use it as a lead in for a social studies unit on endangered animals. Would make a great read aloud, too, in class or bedtime.

ISBN: 978-0-9951-431-5-9

RRP $24.99

Reviewed by Maria Gill

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Last Post

Telling Tales Bookshop
In the last week of the Arts Centre Residency in Christchurch I signed books at the wonderful new children's bookshop called Telling Tales, I gave a writing workshop at the Arts Centre, had a farewell dinner at the wonderful Hannah Wilson's (Arts Centre organiser) place, saw the latest James Bond movie on the big screen, did my last school visit (at Shirley Intermediate), gave a talk about writing Sir Ernest Rutherford biography for teens, and had a photo shoot with the Arts Centre residents. Busy. But the last of those engagements for the year. I was heading back to Auckland and Alert Level 3 on Wednesday 20th October. 

Arts Centre

I said my goodbyes to the Art's residents. I enjoyed getting to know them. Nathan, the playwright and poet, for his humour and exuberance. A.J. the science fiction writer for her kindness (she baked!) and her fierce work ethic. And Matilda, the artist, for her wit and daily Gildermesh (cat) updates.

On Wednesday, my good friend Fifi Colston joined me on the car ride north. We stopped for a garden tour and coffee at Jenny Cooper's (illustrator) place. Then carried on up the coast, past seals lounging on jagged rocks. We had a coffee and customary cheese scone in a small town. Reversed back when we saw Nim's Seafood place, just past Kaikoura, and had fresh fish and chips. Waited in the queue to get on the Interislander in Picton. Then carried on working on board the ship. Fifi was designing a birthday card for her husband. I was tweaking my junior fiction novel. 

That night we stayed in Wellington at Fifi's place and celebrated her husband's birthday. Her son, Rory, cooked us a feast and we washed it down with bubbly.

The next day we drove to Taupo, topped up with cheese scones and coffee, and then had a swim at the hot pools. It was divine. I dropped Fifi off at her mother's place and stopped the night at a hotel. (I had to cancel so many hotel and air bnb bookings that I had been going to share with my family. By the time I got to the Taupo booking, I thought, why not spoil myself - my last night before I go back into lockdown.) If only ...

The next day, ten minutes before I was supposed to pick up Fifi and take her to the bus station so she could get home, my husband called me with terrible news. He had had a meeting with his boss on Wednesday (outside), and now his boss was experiencing Covid symptoms. They were both off to get tested. I couldn't come home. 

I think I was in shock when I dropped off Fifi. "Stay another night," suggested Fifi. So after much deliberation of what I should do, I did that. For twenty-four hours I thought I was going to be homeless for two weeks if his boss tested positive. After half a day of moping and indecision, I went for a walk around Taupo coast and then a swim in the hotel pool. 

The next morning, I received the good news that they were both negative. I could come home and spend my birthday with my family after all. There were no troubles on the trip back to north Auckland apart from a long detour (was that to avoid a Covid infected town?) and a road block to have my papers checked. Five hours later I arrived home. That night we toasted my 60th with my Auckland family bubble.

It is weird being back in lockdown. I keep thinking I can just pop down the shops to get something but apart from the supermarket, I have to click and collect. But I'd rather be safe than worrying about catching Covid (I am double vaxed).

My hopes for the rest of the year ... The country gets to 90 percent vaxed. I send my junior fiction biography off to a publisher and they like it. My latest book 'The King's Medal' gets plenty of reviews and sells well. And I get to spend Christmas and the summer holidays with my family.

Huge thanks to the following people who made my Christchurch residency possible:  Fifi Colston, Hannah Wilson and the Arts Centre team, Creative New Zealand, Ruth Parkyn, and the three other residents: Nathan, A.J. and Matilda.

Take care everyone!


Maria Gill

Monday, October 11, 2021

Penultant week of the Arts Centre Residency

11 October 2021

At the beginning of the residency, three months seemed a long time, especially when we went into lockdown. But that time, with no distractions, proved to be great for my writing. I set a goal of how many chapters I wanted to complete in a week and I kept writing until I achieved my target. Sometimes the writing stumbled along, sometimes it was rushed with too much telling, and sometimes it flowed from my fingers. But I have reached my goal of finishing my first draft before I finished the residency. 

I had several things I wanted to achieve over the residency; the first being to write a junior fiction novel about Sir Ernest Rutherford; the second, using the opportunity while in Christchurch to visit schools and promote my books. A Covid-19 lockdown stymied that for a while, but I did do six author talks over the time (with one to do next week). Also, participation in the Word festival, which was cancelled, and then postponed to a date in November (but I'll be home then). And a book launch cancelled twice! The bookseller had ordered a box of 'Remarkable Animal Stories' and so to help sell them, we decided to do a book signing at the new Telling Tales bookshop on Saturday 16th October from 11.00-1.00pm. Please come along if you're in town.

The third thing I wanted to achieve was to get to know Christchurch more and I did. I biked around Hagley Park daily past the daffodils and jonquils, under the cherry trees, and over the bridges with ducks and swans swimming underneath. I also swam at the hot pools every weekend, not counting four weeks of lockdown and then maintenance. I drove to Black Diamond Harbour, Sumner, Amberley and Akaroa. At the latter I discovered the Giant's House, saw seals on a Black Cat boat (we had hoped to see Hector dolphins but were out of luck), and had a drink overlooking the water. We were very fortunate to have splendid weather that weekend.

Over the school holidays, I taught Write Like an Author workshops to 8-14 year old students in Dunedin and Christchurch. Both groups had kids that loved to read and write, which made them a pleasure to teach. Lots of talent in the rooms, too.

With only a nine days to go, I'm now looking forward to going home and seeing the family. I've missed them terribly. I had planned to fly back, one month after I had arrived here, for the weekend. My husband was also going to join me for a weekend away at Hamner Springs (it would have been our first time there), and my family were going to fly to Nelson to celebrate my birthday on my way back. All those plans were scuppered. But I can't complain, I've had freedoms that I wouldn't have been able to enjoy if I had been home in Auckland.

So, with my thoughts on leaving, I realised it has been a real privilege to stay in the Arts Centre with its century old stone buildings. Our bedrooms overlook the Botanical Gardens and I often hear laughter and music. I've seen a group of middle-aged women practicing their cultural dance, families picnicking on the grass verge, and hundreds of people walking or biking along the pavement every day. Plus I've been served a dawn religious rant from the Prophet each morning. It's given me a new perspective on living in the city.

Hannah Wilson, the Arts Centre creative residencies coordinator, has helped make our stay here very comfortable and she's been very supportive of our varying careers in the arts. She's arranged a photographer to take professional photos that we can use going forward. Plus met us fortnightly for coffee breaks to check we've got everything we need and we're surviving psychologically in this Covid world. She's also spent time in the weekend administrating our workshops. Chris, Shelley and others at the Arts Centre have also been very supportive.

Things I'll miss when I leave: my friend Lorraine Orman who's been great company, Ruth Parkyn - a dear 92-year-old who has been incredibly generous sharing meals and looking after my car (no parking at the Arts Centre), my cousin Mark Buckley who has taken me out to dinner several times, catching up with Jenny Cooper - the stunning illustrator from Amberley, the cinema - four steps downstairs from our apartment, the park at my doorstep, Rutherford's den, and those fortnightly meetings with Hannah and the three other Arts residents: Nathan, A.J., and Tilly. And I can't forget Fifi Colston, my traveling buddy, who helped me drive all the way down from Auckland to Christchurch and is going back up to Taupo with me as well (I'll continue the trip to Auckland on my own, going through two Covid borders).

Stay safe!

Maria Gill


Fifi and I at the Giant's House, Akaroa





Fifi and Ruth
Seals in Akaroa Harbour

View from our accommodation


Blossoms in Akaroa

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Week 8 at the Arts Centre

26 September 2021

I can't believe I've only got 3.5 weeks to go! Time has suddenly rushed past.

This week I had a half-day at Mairehau School. They've got a major building project happening and it won't finish until year some time. A huge upheaval for the school but they seem to be coping.

On Tuesday I had a haircut at Amala Hair Care, specialists in cutting curly hair. The hairdresser cut it dry. She said it was like trimming a hedge. It turned out much shorter than I expected but I've got used to it now. 

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I worked on my chapter book and now only have one more chapter to write. It suddenly flowed from my fingers. I had to take off my editing hat and just write it. I'll be making a lot of changes, though, when I do a structural edit. 

On Thursday I spent time in Rutherford's den. I wrote down the senses in the lecture theatre and the den. Plus famous quotes from the scientist that I might be able to use in the story. I also contacted Canterbury University archive library to see if they had Ernest Rutherford's personal letters. 

I feel like I'm making up a lot of dialogue and inner thoughts and I want to make sure they have the right tone. And that has been one of the dilemma's I've had while writing the story. Will people object that the dialogue/thoughts are made-up? Will they say it isn't historically accurate? For the story to be interesting for young people I need to 'show' what is happening and what the main character is thinking. I'll need to put a disclaimer at the front of the book saying that the events are correct but the dialogue/thoughts are made-up.

After sitting at a desk all day, I had neck and lower back problems, so I had a swim at Te Puna Taimoana hot pools in New Brighton. It's so relaxing!

Today I walked through the colourful Botanical Gardens and had lunch at Ilex Cafe, overlooking their fern glasshouse. I did covet a few of their plants. Luckily they sold some in the gift shop and I bought one. Hopefully it won't get damaged in the car journey back home in 3.5 weeks' time.

I also drove to Diamond Harbour. I had driven that way quite a few years ago to do a school visit and vowed to return. Unfortunately, it was cloudy so I didn't see it at its best. But it was still stunning. Next time, I'll catch the ferry from Lyttleton - much quicker!

Tomorrow I have another school visit. I'm also preparing for Write Like an Author workshops in the school holidays. In week one I'm teaching it at Otago Girls Highschool. In week two, I'm at St Margaret's College. There's plenty of spaces if you have children who love to write. Go here for information. Fifi Colston is also teaching Draw Like an Artist at St Margaret's College in the second week too. If you want more information go here.

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens


Botanical Gardens


Botanical Gardens


Botanical Gardens


Diamond Harbour

Charteris Bay


Diamond Harbour


Charteris Bay


Diamond Harbour


Diamond Harbour




Take care!


Maria Gill