If you’re like me then the prelude to Christmas is a hectic blur of to-do lists, gift-wrap flapping, and sugar. Yes, I have started to hoe into the Christmas treats already but I need to keep my strength up.
But it’s good to know that after this last flurry of activity there will be a week or so of peace and relaxation (more or less, depending on your annual leave allowances).
And how do we relax? My favourite thing to do is a good solid block of book or magazine reading, or maybe some movie-watching. So while it’s important to have all your Christmas meal planning and gifting ducks in a row, do make sure to plan for the bit afterwards where you get to put your feet up or spend time with family.
Here are some ways we can help with that –
We are open – Not the public holidays mind you, but with only a couple of exceptions libraries will be open between Christmas and New Year. Some closing times may be different though so check our Holiday Hours for more information so you’ll know just when you can pop in with the kids, or on your own for a bit of soothing shelf-browsing.
So is the digital library – We have a heap of eResources you can access online. Ebooks, eMagazines, eAudiobooks and more. And these are available any time, including public holidays.
Recommendations – Too hard to choose? Don’t know what to pick? Our staff have selected their favourite books, music, movies and TV shows of the year into our Best of 2018 lists – sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction – whatever you’re into. Or just rock up to a library and ask a staff member what’s good!
Summertime Reading Challenge – Pick up a postcard at your local library or enter online for a chance to win some great prizes. Or keep and eye on our Facebook page for more opportunities to win.
As I write this, there are only 8 more sleeps till Christmas, and only two more weekend days but as usual, I have only just begun the annual tradition of making a Christmas gift each for Miss Missy and the Young Lad.
Of course I left deciding what to make till the last minute. For the Young Lad, I finally settled on a Batman cape and cowl. And some gauntlets. And a utility belt too. But when I asked Uncle Google for patterns, I just wasn’t happy with any of the suggestions. They seemed to be either waaaaay too complex (how to’s for making a latex full-face Batman mask) or didn’t really look like Batman (why do so many people think that a Zorro-style mask will do the trick?) or waaaay too simple (I’m talking something that looked like a pillowcase with a couple of eyeholes).
This simply wouldn’t do.
What is a librarian to do? Why, look for a book, of course!
And this is what I found:
Super Hero Sewing by Lane Huerta. Although there isn’t an actual Batman costume, I felt like these ones could easily be adapted to what I had in mind. There are lots of really cool costumes and accessories, including pirates, butterfly wings, and cute animals. And what do you know? the other day I came home to see the Young Lad wearing a Batman-T-shirt-Superman-cape combo, and Miss Missy told me he had said “I wish Mum could make me a Batman cape!” That’s the way to melt your mother’s heart, Young Lad!
I also found How to Make a Onesie by Janelle Fischer. I briefly considered switching from cape and cowl to a superhero onesie, but I think the Young Lad would rather look like real Batman, than like Batman-in-his-PJs.
Now, if it wasn’t enough to make all those costume items, I then decided that of course Batman would also need his sidekick, and that a Robin soft toy was going to be essential. Last year, right in time for handmade gift madness, I discovered Happy Quilts! by Antonie Alexander, and used the robot quilt applique blocks to make a cushion for the Young Lad. At the time, I was torn between that, and one of the co-ordinating toys.
So, naturally, this year a bedtime superhero toy is a must. Giving the pattern a Robin look has actually been quite easy, and it’s coming along amazingly quickly! Just the cape and mask to go now! The book is really easy to follow, and all the patterns are included on a disc, so you can just print them out instead of having to trace them off a pattern sheet.
Of course, I also have a gift for Miss Missy to make… maybe she’d like a little bag…?
… How many days did I say there are till Christmas?
It’s mid-December. That means there’s only a few more days before school breaks up, and Kiwi families start getting together to celebrate the holidays and ring in the New Year. Whether you spend Christmas holidays camping out in the bush or at the beach, meeting up with the whānau at the bach, or just hanging out at home playing backyard cricket or basketball, there are some things that just scream ‘Kiwi summer holidays!’
Heading over to the West Coast? Watch out for the tricky kea – they might try and attack your car! Going to stay at the bach in the country? Remember to check for daddy long legs in the outhouse! Taking the whānau to the beach for a picnic? Those seagulls will try and snatch your kai, so keep a good eye on your picnic basket!
It is these Kiwi classics that Peter Millett and Scott Tulloch draw on in their new book, More Classic Rhymes for Kiwi Kids (Bateman Publishing) where well-known rhymes like ‘I’m a little teapot’, ‘Old McDonald had a farm’, and ‘Wee Willie Winky’ get given a Kiwi twist. There are sheep, kiwi, and huhu grubs galore in this book, and because the pictures show typical everyday scenes, they are a great starting point for talking to children about family holidays you have taken together, sports you used to play when you were little, and about that squiggly, squirmy huhu grub you ate that one time when you were camping.
If you have whānau members coming from overseas, borrowing More Classic Rhymes for Kiwi Kids will introduce them to a side of New Zealand they might not get a chance to see. If you live here in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is a fun book to read and see characters just like you – playing rugby, mountain biking, and camping in the rain.
Several years ago now, I bought Mystic and the Midnight Ride by Stacy Gregg as a Christmas present for Miss Missy, my daughter. We read our way through all the Pony Club Secrets books as I (and other members of my family) bought them for her as Christmas and birthday presents. Miss Missy quickly become a huge Stacy Gregg fan (seriously, just the other day we were chatting about favourite authors, and Miss Missy said, “Jacqueline Wilson and J.K. Rowling are great of course, but Stacy Gregg is the author I’ve been the most obsessed with.”)
I even persuaded my twenty-something year old brother to get a signed copy when Stacy attended Storylines in Wellington. He willingly, if somewhat embarrassedly, stood in line with a crowd of young pony-mad girls to get her signature. Miss Missy was very excited when, a few years later, Stacy visited Christchurch Storylines, and willingly signed the rest of her entire collection of books (there are a lot!!) We sent Stacy a photo of Miss Missy’s dedicated Stacy Gregg shelf, which Stacy then shared on her blog—super cool!
So I sort of feel as though I’ve been with Stacy Gregg from the start. I’ve enjoyed all the books I’ve read (though I haven’t kept up with them all, I have to admit). I loved The Diamond Horse, and have just finished The Fire Stallion. I think it’s my favourite book so far, although I’m now reading The Princess and the Foal, which I didn’t read at the time when Santa gave it to Miss Missy — I think it might be my favourite too.
First of all, what gave you the idea of writing about Brunhilda? I was fascinated to learn a little about her, and about Viking girls. I’m curious: Did you like the story of Sleeping Beauty when you were little? What were your favourite fairytales?
I think my favourite fairytales were always the creepy ones. Hansel and Gretal hanging in a cage in the witch’s living room while she fattened them for the pot, wolves eating grandmothers whole, that kind of thing. The romantic ones left me cold. Brunhilda is all kinds of mythic and historic figures. Yes, she’s the origin story of the Sleeping Beauty myth, and she’s also the Queen of the Valkyries from Wagner’s Ring Cycle, and she’s the Icelandic Princess who is central to Snorri Sturluson’s Eddic poem. There are different versions of her throughout time – this is the update in which Bru reclaims her power and stops waiting for true love’s kiss to wake her. I don’t think girls have time for that anymore.
Brunhilda and her brother had some pretty serious sibling rivalry, and so did Anna Orlov and her brother. Do you have any brothers and sisters? If so, did you fight with them a lot?
I know! What’s my problem with siblings? You would swear I have a brother that I hate like poison. In fact I have just one sibling, a sister, and we get on famously – although we did fight like cat and dog when I was a kid so I do understand that complexity of being rivals I guess.
I was surprised by some of the things I read about the Vikings in your book. What was the most fascinating thing about Vikings that you learned while you were researching the book?
In the past I’ve written books with historical narratives anchored in the time of Empress Catherine the Great in Russia, Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus in Spain and the Italian Civil War, but this one with Vikings was definitely the most fun yet. They had such a brutal and noble way of viewing the world and their pantheon of gods is so nutty, so there’s a lot of Norse mythology in this book – Thor, Odin and Loki all make an appearance and I really enjoyed researching them. And of course travelling to Iceland and visiting Thingvellir – standing on the Law Rock where the Viking counsel held their AGM – that was very inspiring. The landscape of Thingvellir is spectacular – it’s the shooting location for everything “Beyond the Wall” in Game of Thrones – so dramatic and beautiful.
What did you enjoy most about Iceland? How cold was it when you were there? You’ve been to Russia too; do you enjoy the cold?
I had originally planned to go to Iceland in December until I realised that it would be too wintry – Iceland only has a couple of hours of daylight a day in that month. By the time I went it was spring – which meant minus five degrees during the day. I really feel the cold so I pretty much lived in a massive duvet-like Canada goose jacket the whole time I was there, sometimes teamed with fleece lined overalls. So no, I don’t theoretically like the cold, and yet I would say that Iceland and Russia are my two favourite places that I’ve ever been. Russia for the food (I know! Who would have thought?) and Iceland is just so outrageously beautiful. The next book is set in Berlin and Poland I’ve just been there on a research trip and it was freezing too! I need to start writing in warmer places.
What’s the weirdest things you’ve eaten in your travels? And what is your favourite food?
Fermented Greenland Shark is the iconic traditional food in Iceland. In my book Hilly explains how you take the shark, which is totally toxic if eaten fresh, and crush the poison out by burying the shark under boulders on the beach for a month. All of which is true. By all accounts it tastes disgusting. I never gave it a go because the Icelandic people told me it’s just for tourists now – the Vikings ate it out of necessity. Puffins are on the menu for tourists too – they catch them in giant butterfly nets and they taste a bit like muttonbird apparently. I didn’t eat them either on the grounds that they are too cute. I did eat reindeer carpaccio at an amazing hotel called the Ranga down on the southern coast which is the best place to see the Northern Lights. And in Russia my favourite meal was probably raw mince with raw quails eggs and pickles. I thought I was ordering a burger at the time but it turned out to be amazing.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve been able to do because of being an author?
I was incredibly lucky when I was working on The Princess and the Foal to be given full access by Princess Haya’s staff to do my research in Jordan. I spent time at the royal palace where she grew up and spoke to people who’d known her as a little girl. I visited the royal stables and rode Arabian horses in the desert and floated in the Dead Sea and ate amazing food and was made to feel so welcome. Afterwards, when the book was published in Arabic, I did a book tour in Beirut fell in love with the place. It’s a really liberal Middle Eastern society there, with a strong French influence to the food – again it’s all about the food!
I’m wading my way through various titles on Hitler – the new book is set partly in Berlin from 1939-45. I haven’t struck one book yet though that has gripped me. I try not to read when I’m writing as I’m a terrible mimic and I adopt other people’s styles too easily so I have to read in the gaps between writing. The last book I read was Paul Cleave’s The Cleaner and I’m onto the sequel – Joe Victim. Cleave is very dark and very funny and Joe is my favourite psychopath since Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.
Did you enjoy English when you were at school? What was your favourite subject?
I loved English. But I always tell kids that if they want to be writers it’s not all about getting the best marks in class because sometimes within the school system I’m not entirely sure being creative is rewarded. Passing exams is about ticking the boxes not thinking outside them. I also think that grammar skills don’t really get taught in English at school. I didn’t really learn how to use apostrophes until I was working on newspapers as a journalist. I learnt my writing skills being chastised by sub-editors. As a consequence I think my copy is very clean now and my editors don’t have to correct much. The most important thing you can do if you want to write is read, and think critically about the work you are reading and then try and utilise what you’ve learnt in your own writing.
Do you (as an adult) read pony books by other authors?
No. I read the “Jill” books by Ruby Ferguson as a girl. I don’t read any modern pony fiction and I guess now I don’t really consider my books to be pony fiction. I think of them more as far-flung epic action adventures that just happen to feature girls and horses.
Are there any authors that you’d recommend to girls who’ve read all your books and are wondering what to read next?
I think I’m more in the vein of adventure – I write for strong, brave independent-minded readers who aspire to be heroes. I’d probably be inclined to point them towards male authors who occupy similar terrain – like Rick Riordan or Michael Morpurgo. I’m not a girly writer, despite the glitter on the jackets.
Blaze from Pony Club Secrets always reminded me of another pony called Blaze from a picture book Billy and Blaze by C.W. Anderson which I loved as a child. How do you come up with all the names for the horses in your books?
Oh it was really hard to name the horses in the Pony Club Secrets series! That’s because the name of the horse features in the title. And often in real life a horse is given a human name – our horse for instance is called Cam, and he shares a paddock with a horse called Dennis. But you can’t really have a title like “Dennis and the Golden Trophy” because it gets confusing. Who is Dennis? Is he human or horse? So the horses have to have ‘horsey’ names like Blaze and Fortune and Storm.
Although Pony Club Secrets is set in New Zealand, when I was reading the books, I thought it seemed like a slightly English version of New Zealand. Did you do this on purpose?
Well the books were always intended for the UK market and my publishers HarperCollins are based in London so it kind of naturally evolved to be slightly a combination of the two countries which I think works.
Do you have a favourite horse colour?
I like a really bright bay or a very rich golden dun with black points. Although lately all the horse-protagonists in my books seem to wind up being grey for some reason.
Do you have a favourite character (girl and or horse!) from your books?
I am totally besotted with the two girls in my new book, The Fire Stallion. Especially my Viking princess Brunhilda (Bru for short). Bru is so sword-wielding and stoic and yet she’s still sensitive and devoted beyond all else to her horse. She’s a hero in the true mythic sense and she just sort of leapt onto the page right from the start and gripped me by the throat and said “let’s do this”. I want to be her.
Did you have a pony when you were young? Can you tell us about your first horse?
I had to beg my parents for years. They were convinced I was going through a phase. When I finally did get a pony (her name was Bonnie) they didn’t have a clue what to do. Neither did I although I was convinced I was a genius. I was very lucky that they enrolled me in pony club. My sister rode too and we competed every weekend but we never had starry ponies and we wore homemade jackets and jodhpurs held up with safety pins. My daughter was lucky to have a horsey mum I think, and also times have changed and everything is so much swisher now than it was back then – there’s so much gear to buy and the horses are so fancy now. Cam is actually my daughter’s horse but I’m lucky I get to ride him quite a lot at the moment as she’s busy working on Power Rangers!
Do you have a special place where you write your books?
The Fire Stallion is dedicated in part to the Sea Breeze Café in Westmere – which is where I am sitting right now answering these questions. I’ve just bought a new apartment and also a new desk in the hope that I can spend more time writing at home in future.
You were a journalist before you became an author. What did you like most about that job?
I loved the variety. I did everything from features and fashion so one day I’d be interviewing Donna Awatere Huata and the next I’d be down at Mount Ruapehu because it was erupting and then I’d be in Sydney for a Louis Vuitton launch eating fancy canapes and drinking champagne. Journalism taught me so many skills that I use all the time – I research in the same way now that I did back then and I’m pretty fearless about bowling up to people that I need to talk to and asking them the right questions. Plus I can hammer out a super-huge word count under time pressure. It’s also the reason today I like to work in a café – it reminds me of the buzz of the newsroom.
Did you always want to be an author?
Totally! I just didn’t think it was a realistic expectation. I mean riding horses and writing – it doesn’t sound like a real job does it?
What is the best thing about being an author?
Everything. I love the freedom of it, creating your own routines. The flipside is that it’s a very uncertain profession. You have to have a bit of steel in you to get through the phase when you’ve been working on a manuscript for three or four months and no one has seen it yet and you’ve hoping it’s as good as the last one and that you’ll be able to continue to pay the rent. That sort of existence is not for the faint hearted.
Do you think being a journalist has made you a better writer?
Absolutely – although I was always a “style writer”. I did features, not hard news reporting. I never actually went to journalism school – I don’t think I would have survived that environment of nuts and bolts reporting. I managed to pester my way into a job at More Magazine and I learnt from the editors I worked for – Lindsey Dawson, Warwick Roger, Paula Ryan, Donna Chisholm, Wendyl Nissen, Stephen Stratford, Steve Braunias. It was an education.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an author?
You need a back-up career – books are a slow business and even once I was getting published with Pony Club Secrets it took about three years for the royalties to begin coming in. The average author in the UK earns two thousand pounds a year. In New Zealand I’d think it’s probably about the same. If you are determined to do it, look at the market and do your research and think about your career as a big picture, not just one book. And then write. And rewrite. And get your manuscript into perfect shape before you approach agents to take you on – you’ll only get one chance to impress them so the work needs to be tight.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?
What? In my entire whole life? Like I’m going to tell you that! I am mortified by things all the time that I do and I have no memory of my victories but a long memory for all the times I’ve been a twit. My days as a fashion editor left me open to daily embarrassment. I was at the Viktor and Rolf show at the Tuileries in Paris and I was allocated a seat in Row Z but I was so busy chatting to my friend Lisa Armstrong who was front row I didn’t realise I was single-handedly holding up the runway show because Vogue editor Anna Wintour couldn’t get past me to get to her seat. Her people had to move me on. That was a bad moment.
Lastly, where did you get those amazing silver boots you wore to WORD? Do you have lots of shoes?
When the Sunday Star-Times first launched their magazine “Sunday” I was their fashion editor and I had a column called Shoe of the Week. So yeah, it was a work-related hazard that I developed a shoe obsession. The silver boots are Balenciaga and despite the fact that they look crazy to walk in they are super comfortable. They were also nose-bleed inducingly expensive. They have since been surpassed on my latest London/Berlin trip by a pair of black patent Prada stilettos and some furry Birkenstocks that make me look like an Ewok. I shall have to write a lot of books to pay for them….
The Fire Stallion by Stacy Gregg is available now ($24.99 RRP, HarperCollins)
The Fire Stallion
by Stacy Gregg
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
We are happy to announce the winner of the family pass to the Royal New Zealand Ballet production of the Nutcracker at the Isaac Theatre Royal! A huge congratulations to Alexander and Greta. The details on your entry were so well thought out and precisely executed. The moveable curtains on a mini-track and the LED lights along the stage line were an added extra. The detailed illustration on the paintings on the wall, the fireplace, the cut-out windows, tree etc are gorgeous. Thank you again – Enjoy the ballet!
Alexander and Greta’s winning entry (8 and 5 years old)
This was an extraordinarily difficult task to judge! All entries were outstanding, and we thank you all for sending through such special creations.
Highly Commended Entries
One prize was simply not enough, so we have rummaged around to find some extra prizes to gift a few of our Highly Commended entries. Each of these entries will receive a goodie bag.
Another piece of exciting news! See an exhibition of Nutcracker Dioramas
We are excited to be able to display the entries from our Nutcracker Diorama competition at Te Hāpua: Halswell Library from Friday 9 November to Tuesday 27 November. Come along and see these amazing creations including the winner and highly commended entries.
If you entered the competition and would like your artwork back immediately, and would prefer it not be in this exhibition, please contact Clare at LibraryEvents@ccc.govt.nz to organise pick up. We know how much wonderful work and effort went into making your creations – and we want to make sure they are kept safe.
Diwali Indian Festival of Lights in Cathedral Square – Saturday 3 November and Sunday 4 November, 2pm to 9pm
Stage performances start at 5pm
Celebrate the Indian festival of Diwali with fabulous food and fun, in the heart of Christchurch. There will be Indian arts and crafts stalls and colourful classical and modern stage performances. The most popular of all Hindu festivals, Diwali is dedicated to the goddess Kali in Bengal and to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, in the rest of India. As with several other festivals, Diwali is associated with one of the stories about the destruction of evil by God in one of his many manifestations. In Jainism, where the festival is also known as Mahavira Nirvana, Diwali celebrates the attainment of Nirvana by Lord Mahavira. Diwali also marks the start of the Hindu New Year; goddess Lakshmi is therefore thanked on this day and everyone prays for a good year ahead. In many parts of India, it is the homecoming of King Rama of Ayodhya after a 14-year exile in the forest. The people of his kingdom welcomed Rama by lighting rows (avali) of lamps (deepa), thus its name, Deepawali, simply shortened to Diwali.
Diwali concert and workshop at Tūranga – Sunday 11 November 11am to 12.30pm
Celebrate Diwali with acclaimed local group Revathi Performing Arts. Enjoy a demonstration of Bharathanatyam, the most popular South Indian Classical Dance, then participate in a workshop. Bharathanatyam originated in the temples of South India thousands of years ago. Started as part of daily worship of the temple deity, this art form has evolved over the years to its current form. Free, no bookings required. TSB Space, Hapori | Community, Level 1, Tūranga
What is Diwali?
Diwali or dīpāvali, the festival of lights, is traditionally celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs with the rising of the new moon at the end of the month, Ashvin. However, in a country as diverse as India, where people from many different faiths live side by side, the festival is not limited to one particular faith for it represents the victory of light over darkness and the triumph of wisdom over ignorance. Throughout cities and villages the darkness will be symbolically turned back. Clay lamps (diya) will be lit in homes and shops, fireworks will be released into the sky and the streets will be filled with music. Read more in Simon’s blog post about Diwali.
Not Just for kids, it could also be for nostalgic adults, especially if you were a fan of The Electric Company or Sesame Street. I fondly remember the start of The Electric Company theme tune “Hey you Guuyyys!” I was also a huge Count von Count fan.(Possibly due to the NZ band Head like a Hole’s song 12). I am definitely going check out some of the clips of Bert & Ernie as I am curious as to whether they are more than just best friends. Whilst checking out Sesame Street, I got to see Cookie Monster and Oscar the Grouch both very entertaining what kid wouldn’t love a cookie munching maniac and grouchy green thing that lives in a trash can. I also loved the Muppets when I was a child so the collection from the Jim Henson Company also appeals, it has two seasons of The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss.
It could be possible you want some time out, and your small person to be entertained for a bit with something educational. Just for kids has thousands of videos and interactive games covering a huge range of subjects – reading, science, arts and maths, ABCs and 123s. The website is a kid-safe environment, all content reviewed, vetted and ad-free. Easy to use, fully responsive and mobile friendly, you can entertain your tamariki on the go. If Sesame Street or The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss is not for your child, they may like Franklin the Turtle, The Berenstain Bears or Arthur.
Dear Donald Trump, I’m writing you a letter from my bedroom in New Zealand. Sadly, the room does not belong only to me. I have to share it with my big brother who exactly fits your description of an undesirable person.
I watched you on the TV news tonight and you said you were building a wall. It made me think that perhaps I need one too.
In the hands of another writer, this scenario could have been clunky and overstated, however Sophie Siers has created a delightful story of a young boy coming to grips with the concept of sharing, communicating and dealing with ‘undesirables’.
This book works – I loved the style of the retro illustrations which add to the story brilliantly, the message is a subtle, and the characters are charming. Donald Trump might be a bit disappointed to find that he doesn’t take centre stage, but the author has make great use of his policy so no doubt he could take some solace from that!
Funnyman Rhys Darby has teamed up with Scholastic in a fun new fiction series for kids. He talked to Christchurch City Libraries about his debut children’s book and reading interests, his passion for cryptozoology and his connections to Christchurch.
Darby joins other comedians like David Walliams and Australian Peter Helliar who have written children’s books. By Darby’s own admission, he has childlike sensibilities and this lends itself well to his writing.
“Loaded with unmistakably quirky and random Rhys humour, 12-year-old Buttons McGinty pens top secret scribbles in a collection of extraordinary notebooks, as he and his friends enter a universe unlike any they’ve seen before. Buttons has been shipped off to Ranktwerp Island Education Fortress for Gifted Lame Unruly Minors, a.k.a. R.I.E.F.G.L.U.M., a boarding school on a remote island, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Antarctica. His parents are missing under strange circumstances and there are bogus baddies and a burly bigfoot on the prowl.” (Scholastic press release)
Darby says the main character, a flame-haired 12-year-old, is a young spirited version of himself and that he used to dream about going on adventures as a kid but back then he could only go on such adventures in his head – lucky he had a big imagination. Darby’s three years spent in the army from the age of 17 also comes through in his children’s book with his use of Morse code and the military-like operations going on in the story. Darby describes the setting as like “an Alcatraz for kids.”
Who is the book for?
Darby kept his two young sons in mind (ages 8 and 12) when writing his book. He says he wrote it for anyone with a sense of humour. “It’s for reluctant readers or for fans of my work” and what’s more, he adds, “I wrote it to amuse myself – it had to be fun for me to do it.” It’s hard not to read the book without hearing his distinctive comedic voice in your head, making it feel as if he were reading it to you.
Aside from a bit of Morse code, the book is full of funny asides, drawings, lists, maps and speech bubbles. Darby says that breaking up writing like this makes reading easier and more appealing. The story is written with a sense of immediacy. Button’s journal writing addresses the reader and makes you feel as if you are there figuring out the mystery alongside him.
Rhys Darby’s interest in cryptozoology is evident in the book when a mysterious caged creature is snuck onto the island. He describes cryptozoology as “things unclassified by science that people don’t think exists – a pseudoscience.” “I’m a fan of the unknown,” he says and he co-hosts a long-running podcast on cryptozoology called The Cryptid Factor with the likes of wry Kiwi documentarian David Farrier.
Rhys, why cryptozoology? What sparked your interest and do you have any favourite creatures?
“You’re opening a can of worms asking about my interest in this but yes, ‘hairy humanoids’ like the Yeti, the Sasquatch and other upright walking things that seem to be human which aren’t human, like the Australian Yowie and also including human reptilian creatures and sea serpents like the Loch Ness monster.”
“I remember reading when I was a kid an Usborne book called Monsters, seeing that in the library – Pakuranga Library – and one of my favourites featured all the creatures that may exist and sparked my interest in the unknown. We haven’t solved all the things on the planet that need to be solved.”
What role did libraries play in your life?
“I was a big library goer, mum would let me choose 5 books – it was a ritual. It was a safe quiet place. I remember going to my school library at Elm Park Primary and getting obsessed with car magazines.”
When we spoke Rhys was planning to visit his old primary school to read to the kids there.
The Buttons character in your book is named after your mate Leon ‘Buttons’ Kirckbeck (from your projects the Cryptid Factor and Short Poppies)? Tell us more about the name ‘Buttons’ you chose?
“‘Buttons’ sort of alludes to someone who is very good at knowing how to push the buttons, being a bit of a tech whiz or having a knack for machinery – like in the movie Gravity when Sandra Bullock is trapped but just knows how to go in and tinker with things to save herself.”
Rhys, your children’s book is mainly available through Australasian distribution and there are a number of ‘down under’ references and slang in the book. You’ve got a great line in your book about Buttons trusting someone “as much as you trust a cheap pair of jandals.” What made you choose to ‘keep it local’ in your book?
“Since I have international pull I am in a position to keep and draw attention to our unique Kiwi ‘voice’ – like Taika Waititi does. Wouldn’t it be great if like, in the same way we accept the English world of Harry Potter, that we just accept things and it became like that on the other side of the world?”
Rhys has even managed to retain his kiwiness in the recent Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as the voice of a villain called Hypno-Potamus).
“I trust him about as much as I trust a cheap pair of jandals” – quote from Buttons McGinty.
(Rhys obviously loves jandals – so much so he wrote a song about them!)
What did you learn from writing your first children’s book?
“To keep the humour coming in and not so much fantasy or action and also to keep it light so it’s not too dark, like the territory that Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll get into.”
Obviously Book 2 is underway since Book 1 ends on a cliff-hanger and loose ends – and you hope to write up to 4-5 in the series once you see how this goes. What about a film adaptation?
“My dream would be that maybe the book series would get made into a movie and when I’m writing it I imagine it and am visualising it all.”
You’re so multi-talented… What drives you and motivates you?
“I have a creative brain and get bored easily if I’m not doing something creative and I enjoy entertaining.”
Is there nothing you won’t take up or try out? Conversely, what’s something you want to try your hand at – if you could wave a magic wand and just do it, what might it be?
“Nothing too dangerous like jumping out of a plane since I’ve got kids now and I don’t know when my luck will run out. I’ve had the opportunity to climb Mt Kilimanjaro – for charity – and ‘nearly died’. I was so sick so although I’ve since been asked to Everest, I’ve turned it down. But if I could wave a wand, I’d like to go back in time and be an explorer – like being in Cairo exploring tombs in the 1920s, just doing archaeological digs. And also I’d like to visit the Victorian days in England – like the gloomy time period of Jack the Ripper and perhaps solve the riddle of what happened.”
You’re already really interesting and diverse, but can you tell us something about yourself that we might not know?
Rhys (age 44): “Well, I like to skateboard. I have eight skateboards and got Tony Hawk to sign my son’s skateboard when I was working with him.”
What are you currently reading?
“I’m the sort of person with a stack of books on the bedside and read bits here and there but currently The Explorer’s Guildby Kevin Costner the actor (and Jon Baird) – it’s part novel/part graphic novel. It’s set around WWI and it’s a bit of a tome – it’s not an easy read but I like the idea of it. (A worthy but challenging read).
We know you like Spike Milligan and, as well as the non-fiction you’ve mentioned, what else did you read as a kid?
“I wasn’t a great reader when I was a kid but I did enjoy graphic novels like TinTin(because he was an adventurer) and Asterix – funny and involved time and I learnt about Romans ruling.”
You must be a fun dad! What are your children’s current favourite reads or things you like to read to them?
Rhys Darby spent some formative years living and studying in Christchurch. He attended the University of Canterbury, trained at Burnham Military Camp and did his early performances as a comedy duo in Lyttelton.
In your earlier autobiographical book This Way to Spaceship, you tell a funny story about being in the 1996 Christchurch Christmas Parade dressed as Mr. Blubby, a mascot to help advertise some sickly jelly concoction, but kids threw the jelly drinks at you and tipped you over. What other memories do you have from your time here?
“Christchurch was a time of awakening for me. I had my first girlfriend there, I had my first comedy gig there and went to Burnham Military Camp. I like going back to the places I remember and finding new places, visiting the park and visiting Canterbury University and also Lyttelton where I started with my friend Grant (Lobban) and my performing began (Rhysently Granted).”
Talking to Rhys Darby is a delight and a volley of conversation that can go in any direction. One thing that struck me was his way of thinking. “Just imagine” he says often or “I could imagine…” As you can imagine, he’s effusive and full of spark and creativity and his enthusiasm is refreshing and contagious. Rhys Darby certainly has cross-generational appeal. I have been looking forward to this book being published for a while, as both a children’s librarian and a parent of children in the target age group. I was already a fan of his comedy since his Flight of the Conchords days, but now I have children who enjoy his work too, in projects like Jumanji and Thunderbirds Are Go! With a children’s book in the mix, he’s growing a new fan base.
Darby’s first book is a winner! Borrow it, buy it, gift it! We look forward to finding out what happens next in Darby’s daring adventures in Book 2!