Speed Date a Poet in Dunedin

On Friday, schools from as far away as Queenstown came to The NZ Book Council Speed Date event. Oamaru. Balclutha. Maniototo. It was fast and fun. I did poems making music and in sessions of 25 mins, I gave ten tips, read some poems and we made up two together. I loved the way students pitched into making chords and editing with their ears. We did a playful poem on rain after Cilla McQueen’s ‘Dog Wobble. ‘ And then a poem on Dunedin. I was amazed at how different the poems were. When some views clashed with others on specific details of place, we used what poets like to call poetic licence.

Thanks indeed to the NZ Book Council for bringing David Eggleton, Sue Wootton, Bill Nagelkerke and David Elliot together for a fabulous day.

Here are our playful drafts







The Treasury Interviews: Emily interviews Emma Neale

Hello my name is Emily M. I am 11 years old and I attend Cornwall Park District School. I wrote my first ‘published’ piece when I was in Year 1, about a tree outside my house. I have been writing ever since. I prefer to write short snappy pieces such as poems or cameos because they can take any form, whether creative or a masterpiece worthy of Roald Dahl.

Emma Neale


Photo credit: Graham Warman

Emma Neale was born in Dunedin and raised in Christchurch, San Diego and Wellington. She writes lots of poems for adults, but an elk is suitable for all ages. Her primary publishers are Random House NZ and Steele Roberts. She has published a range of books, and is the winner of the Todd New Writer’s Bursary.

I like Emma’s poem ‘Elk’* because an elk is an animal unfamiliar to most children, therefore this poem is educating as well as quirky and creative. It morphs from topic to topic as smoothly as butter melts into liquid. Emma has her own NZ book council page.

* This is the poem that Emma has in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children. It plays with language beautifully.


The Interview:

What advice would you give a budding author?

Read as widely as you can; share your draft work with other people whose critical opinions you trust; be prepared to rewrite in order for your work to really say what you mean it to say.

What is your favourite flavour of ice cream?

Only one?!?! Anything chocolatey and crunchy at at once – preferably covered in chocolate dip, too, oh and why not chocolate sprinkles, and a chocolate flake stuck in like a flag claiming the edible moon?

What is your favourite piece you have written?

I still really love the main male character from the novel Fosterling. There are passages in that book that feel to me as if they really happened – the passages where Bu’s mother, Lillian, recalls raising her small, disfigured boy in necessary isolation. They feel to me as if they came from some presence outside my own small and quiet life.

Who was your favourite author as a child?

Childhood has so many seasons,so there were different favourite authors for different phases. I loved the My Naughty Little Sister books when I first started school; then Judy Blume, Noel Streatfield, Madeleine L’Engle, John Wyndham, Penelope Farmer, poems by Eleanor Farjeon and John Masefield and AA Milne…. it’s a bit like ice cream. Very hard to choose just one flavour of book.

If you couldn’t become an author what occupation would you like?

An editor. I’m lucky enough to work as an editor part time at the moment: and it means I am involved in the creative process and getting my hands sticky with language even when I’m not writing my own work. I love it.

What inspired you to write?

Having fantastic English teachers, a house full of books, an imaginative mother, a father and mother who both listened and encouraged me to ask difficult questions, a sister who shared imaginary play with me, and just being immersed in the world of books from an early age. I think now that perhaps also having a mother who was a good actor helped: she read aloud to us from when we were tinier than the candlestick that Jack jumped over – and she has a wonderful sense of dramatic timing. So hearing her read was like sitting in on a private theatrical performance. I’m sure that this must have deeply embedded story as a sensuous experience as well as an intellectual one.

What a wonderful interview Emma and Emily. Inspired questions and inspiring answers. Thank you!

The Treasury Interviews: Grace interviews Feana Tu’akoi


Feana Tu’akoi

Do you really know what a fish is? Or a mammal? A reptile?

Before you answer, why don’t you look over Feana Tu ‘akoi’s prized books, following fascinating facts about most unusual creatures! But if you are sure you know all their is to know about amphibians and birds or have read her books till all the pages are dog-eared and the spines have frayed, then you may want to check out her other book Lest We Forget, which is about war and reveling over commemorating the ones who sacrificed themselves for the good of their country.

Feana lives in Hamilton with her Tongan husband and children. To her the world is an open book and if she has the ability to write anything, you could too.

Do you really know what a fish is? Or a mammal? A reptile?

Before you answer, why don’t you look over Ms Tu’ akoi prized books, following fascinating facts about most unusual creatures! But if you are sure you know all their is to know about amphibians and birds or have read her books till all the pages are dog-eared and the spines have frayed, then you may want to check out her other book Lest We Forget, which is about war and reveling over commemorating the ones who sacrificed themselves for the good of their country.


The Interview:

Lest we forget must have taken months of writing and editing to reach its exceptional standard. This book was very different to your short “What is a…” books and must have taken a lot to carry out the story. What did you do to keep yourself motivated?

I wrote Lest We Forget  very quickly – in one sitting, in fact – although I did spend a lot of time editing and re-editing, until I was happy with it. I didn’t need to do any research, as it was a mixture of all the thoughts I’d ever had about ANZAC Day parades. The understanding that Tyson comes to during afternoon tea is the understanding I came to, after studying NZ history at university.

When I was a kid, war horrified me. I didn’t want any part of it and I definitely didn’t want to celebrate it. But after talking to people who were involved in World War II, I realised that things weren’t as black and white as I’d thought.

And when I finally went to another Dawn Parade, I was shocked. Nobody talked about how glorious war was, or even that it was the right thing to do. They just talked about how important it was for us to remember, so that we could all continue to live in peace.

That was when I realised. We weren’t there to celebrate war. We were there to remember, so that we wouldn’t have to go through that again. Lest We Forget is just me putting those ideas and feelings on paper.


What was going through your head when you decided to write the “What is a…” series of children fact books?

The What Is A…? books on the other hand, took months of research, writing and rewriting. Scientific knowledge is always changing, as new discoveries are made. I had to check that all my information was up-to-date at the time of writing. I even read scientific papers! Every time you see the word ‘most’ in one of those books, you know that I found an exception to whatever statement I was making. Then it took many, many redrafts to make the books appear simple and straightforward, so that even young children could understand them.

And all of this started because I read somewhere that every animal with feathers was a bird. It seems obvious, but I’d never really thought about it before. And it got me wondering if I could come up with the same sort of classification statement for the other vertebrate animal groups.


Did you have a collection of random objects, a picture or spin wheel of genres for inspiration for a story? What gave you that juicy idea that sparked inspiration? 

I don’t tend to use random objects, pictures or spin wheels to spark ideas. I just write about stuff that interests me. If I’m interested, chances are that other people will be interested, too.


Do you have a routine or method? (I am a writer myself who finds it difficult to stick to one story).

As for routine or method – I am very disciplined and I just sit down and stay there until I’m done. I procrastinate before I start, but once I’m writing, I keep slogging away. And I’m happy to rewrite as many times as it takes for me to be happy with it. I would never send something out unless it was the best I could make it.

When I think a piece is finished, I always read it out loud. I have this theory that if it sounds wrong, it is. So, anything that sounds clunky or forced is taken out.


What do you like about writing poems?

I love to write poems. I like reworking the words until I find the essence of what I want to say. My two favourite ingredients are humour and visual images – although I don’t always put both in at once. I especially like poems that make people think, so that’s what I try to do with mine. I love it when my poems make someone smile, or make them see something a little bit differently.


Do you have future plan for the rest of your career? What do you have in store for us next? 

As for the rest of my career. I just want to keep writing about things that interest me. And if I can keep being paid for it, even better!


Thanks for a fascinating interview Gracie and Feana. You can see Gracie’s poem-bio below. Feana has three poems in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children. You can see she likes striking images and good sound.

9781869439514 9781877404740-2 9781869438050-1 9781775430216-1 9781775430124


Gracie Scragg has written her bio in the form of a poem.

I am 13

And I live on the cusp of 4-D’s last breath

I live in a word where watching infomercials is a sport.

I live in a place where we learn about

Body image and careers in the Botox division

Where authors

Believe in the writer’s block but it

Doesn’t really exist

Where all movies are classified NA and so are you.

I live in a world where dancing is prohibited

And dirt is the only words we sing

Where people die but come breathing because

You know there’s a second book.

Where being fat is an excuse

And your face determines your shoe size.

Where the seven thinking hats measure our beings

Where cancer is common and so are 10-inch heels

Where being yourself

Makes you a despicable, deceitful outlaw.

In this world spots are in and stripes are out

But I want to wear zebra design and write my own songs

I want to believe there is no such thing as writing block

I want to live with the invention of the words

Lament and Expository

Where we can write as dark and gruesome as we want

Without life peering over our shoulders.

Where king’s thrones can be occupied by any ordinary

Where judgment is kept is kept under the hat

And we can attend our own funerals

With dignity.

Waking early in Dunedin

Yesterday I was welcomed so warmly to East-Taieri School where Adam read his poem in the Treasury to the school. To meet word-rich children and share poems and make up poems together continues to be a treat. Thank you for a terrific visit.

I woke at 4 am this morning and the view from my motel was eerie. Streets glistening in the wet dark. Empty.

Today I am doing Speed Date a Poet with the NZ Book Council.

Tomorrow I am at Otago UBS at 1.30pm with local poets and children. Do come! My Dunedin Poetry event.




The Christchurch event was wonderful

Just as well we changed venues as around 200 plus turned up. Russley School was a perfect substitute. Lots of great poems read by local poets and children. I was especially thrilled with the performance of poems from both The Letterbox Cat and The Treasury by Russley School and Fendalton School. Great costumes and props. Not complicated but such fun. The final act was a performance of Apirana Taylor’s ‘haka. ‘ The strength in the performers as the poem rose in them was magnificent. Gavin Bishop, Bill Nagelkirke, Doc Drumheller, James Norcliffe and Helen Jacobs read and switched some onto poetry for the first time. (with apologies from Fiona Farrell) I didn’t get many photos as I was on stage mostly but here a few. It was a very special night.

Great to have young poets, Skye, Henry, Alex and Caleb, read their poems from the Treasury and Monica and Ewen read their poems at the back of The Letterbox Cat. Special!
Thanks so much to hard working Melanie Koster and Russley School for hosting the event and to all the teachers and pupils who worked so creatively getting the performances and poems shining. Extra work in your busy busy school lives. Thanks to Amy from Fendalton who got her students performing poems that were an utter delight and to Dean from Russley School who did the exact same.

I salute you all.





The Treasury Interviews: Ashlee interviews Elizabeth Pulford


Ashlee Shum is 8 years old, and attends Redwood School in Tawa, Wellington.  She lives with her mother, father and younger sister.  Ashlee fills her life with netball, gymnastics, tennis, badminton and swimming.  She loves to learn, loves reading, and also loves playing the piano.

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Elizabeth Pulford was born in Canada and her father was from Ukraine. Her mother brought her, and her two brothers and sister, on a war boat to NZ when her father died. Elizabeth has published all kinds of books: picture books, junior chapter books, novels for young adults and adult novels. She has had poems published in School Journals. You can find these all on her web site.


The Interview
How do you get ideas to write poetry, especially with those interesting rhyming words? My ideas for poems come from everywhere.  It can be the sound of the wind or waves of a beach.  It can be the sight of a leaf falling from a tree.  It can be a reflection in water.  Whatever that image is it will set off connecting thoughts which end up as a poem.  Even someone in a bad mood.  Usually a line falls into my head.  Not always the first line, but one that belongs to the poem.  Of course this usually happens when I don’t have a pen and a piece of paper so I have to keep repeating the one line in my head until I can write it down.
Rhyming poems I find hard to write.  I have bits of paper all over the house trying out different rhyming words until I am happy with the sound and rhyme.

What are your favourite kinds of poems you like to write? I like to write with nature, that has an underlying meaning.  If I wrote about about frost on the lawn, it might also mean that I woke up in a frosty mood.
I love the sound of nature and the weather.  Even on the stillest day in the garden there is always some sound.  A bee, a fly, a distant dog barking.

Do you like reading detective or mystery books? I love detective novels.  My favourites are mystery murders and trying to guess who ‘committed the crime.’  At the moment I am reading a lot of these.  It’s fun trying out all different kinds of crime novels to see which I like best.  The ones I don’t like have too much violence, blood and gore…ugh!

Does listening to music give you ideas in writing? Listening to music doesn’t really give me ideas in my writing.  Instead it helps me relax and stops me thinking about things such as what am I going to cook for dinner.  It keeps me focused.  After a while, if I am writing well I don’t even hear the music, but turn it off and I know it is missing!  Strange, eh?

What are your favourite instrument and type of music? I adore classical ballet music.  There is just something about the rhythm that suits me.  I don’t listen to anything with words, because I would end up singing along.

Do you write more during the day time or anytime in particular? I usually write in the mornings which can sometimes flow over to the early afternoon.

Do you travel around the world to find fun writing ideas, or do you get most of your ideas from time in your garden? I’d love to travel more to capture ideas, but most of mine come from when I am working in the garden and walking.  Usually an idea will come out of the blue.  And it is often when I am knee-deep in writing another book.  If the idea is strong enough it will keep at me until I jot down the idea.  The garden and walking are relaxing for me (well not so much when I am mowing the grass) so my mind is open to receiving ideas which is when they pop in and seed themselves.

I have read all of your Lily books!  What is your favourite book that you have written?
I had such a good time writing the Lily books and it’s great to know you have read them.  My favourite book is usually the one that is about to be published.  Next year Scholastic are publishing a trilogy of mine, called The Bloodtree Chronicles.  The first book is Sanspell.  It is a mixture of fantasy, fairytale and realism.  The idea for this just kept nagging at me until I did something about it, and I am glad I did.

Thanks Ashlee for asking such great questions.  I have loved answering them.

Note from Paula: Thanks for a wonderful interview Elizabeth and Aslee. You both put a lot of thought into this. thank you! Elizabeth has a beautiful poem in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children called ‘Sun Sonata.’

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