The Treasury Interviews: Jamie interviews Helen Jacobs


About me

My name is Jamie O’Keefe. I go to Roydvale School (an awesome school).

I am 8 years old and I love rugby, sushi and swimming.

My favourite type of writing is to write about something really frightening which then turns out to be a dream or nightmare. I like to surprise whoever is reading it.

My favourite place to read is high up in my spectacular climbing tree.

My favourite books to read are Beast Quest, Hank Zipster, Willard Price adventure stories and the 13 Story Tree House series.


photo poetry reading

About Helen Jacobs (this is her pen name)

Helen Jacobs was born in Patea 1929. She came to live in Lowry Bay in 1954 and lived there and in Eastbourne for 36 years. Since 1984 six collections of her poetry have been published, the most recent being Dried Figs in 2012.  Her work has been published in many magazines and anthologies including Yellow Pencils (1988), Oxford Anthology of Love Poems (2000), Essential NZ Poems (2001), Essential New Zealand Poems (2014), My Garden, My Paradise (2003), This Earth’s Deep Breathing (2007), Our Own Kind (2009), Eastbourne An Anthology (2013) and in numerous Canterbury anthologies.

Following involvement in community activities and environmental issues she was elected Mayor of Eastbourne in 1980 and appointed to the Planning Tribunal in 1986. She retired to Christchurch in 1994 where she has been active in croquet, voluntary activities, the poetry community and the Canterbury Poets Collective.


The Interview

1   How old when you wrote your first poem?

That is a bit difficult to remember, Jamie. I am 85 so it is a long time ago. I remember making up bits of rhymes at primary school but nothing was written down.   I wrote poems in my last two years at secondary school for the school magazine but haven’t copies of them. I seem to remember they were a bit gloomy. I really started to write when I was in middle age and have been writing ever since. I don’t publish everything. One of my first poems published was in Landfall 124, 1977 and was called ‘A Garden Place’.

2   How many poems have you written?

Hundreds. About seven hundred I think.

3   What is your longest poem?

Most of my poems don’t go beyond a page but of the few that do, probably ‘Burnt Hills’ is one of the longest. This was in my first collection and also in the recent anthology Eastbourne: An Anthology 2013.

4   Your favourite subject?

The subjects of my poems are quite varied so I can’t say I write about any one topic for preference although I do seem to write a lot about gardens and the environment.

5   How do you  get ideas?

From what is happening around me.  From issues that I am interested in.   I use poems sometimes to think through matters. I often write poems for friends and to record enjoyable times and I have written some poems in memory of friends. Sometimes I write for fun.

6   Your smallest poem?

This one that I wrote for my twin grandsons when they two years of age.   My friend Keith was accident prone and my grandsons thought this was hilarious.

Chip chop loppity-dee

Keith fell out of the willow tree.

Swish swash flippity-flop

Keith fell off the chimney pot.


  1. Your favourite style?

That is another difficult question. It depends on what the subject matter is what arrangement and choice of words says best what you mean.   But I don’t like poems that are obscure.

I like both rhyming and non-rhyming poems.   In non-rhyming poems there is always an underlying rhythm that is not obvious.

I am glad you like reading in a tree, Jamie.   In our garden when my children were young there was an oak tree which my daughter liked to climb into with her book.   We called it the reading tree.

Best wishes for your writing.

Elaine Jakobsson

Elaine has a terrific poem in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children called ‘Monsters.’ She wrote it for her grandchildren.

The Treasury Interviews: Jack P interviews John Parker — find that everyday things and activities have imaginative possibilities


John Parker is a very well published New Zealand author who writes a huge variety of children’s books, adult fiction, sporting and radio articles. I think he is a hilarious author because he makes the characters and story lines in his books really funny. I am so glad to have got John Parker as my given author.

He is Christchurch born and has degrees in English and History. He has also been a teacher and an opera singer before taking up full time writing. John loves golf, tramping, travel and skiing.

I have also read two of his books, Sucked In and Sucked Out, which I highly recommend for ages 7-10.


jack may 2014

Hi, my name is Jack. I am a 10 year old writer, who loves writing poetry and using technology.
I go to Fendalton School in Christchurch. I enjoy swimming, football, tennis, French, cubs and I am a tech wizard at school. I enjoy reading poems on Poetry Box and I have sent in a few of mine. I also belong to book club at school and have enjoyed researching my author John Parker and creating questions for him.

The Interview:

What primary school did you go to? I went to two Auckland schools: Royal Oak Primary and Remuera Primary. My teacher at Remuera, Miss Adams, was stern and scary!
How many books a year do you publish? It depends on how hard-working I am, whether publishers like what I write, whether the books I’m writing are short or long and other factors, including the state of the economy. One year I published 13 books; some years I’ve published none. My average is around 4-5 a year.

Do you remember how you felt when you first piece got published? Elated! It was a play, called ‘The Giants’ Attack,’ published by The School Journal in 1980.

Out of all your poems which is your favorite and why? I can’t answer that question, sorry! I find that a poem is itself, and seems to resist grading or an order of merit.

Many of your poems and stories are humorous where do you get the ideas from? From life. I find that everyday things and activities have imaginative possibilities. And my mind seems to work in ridiculous ways, at times. Can’t help it! Many poems come from a little jolt in my brain-cells – that something relates to something in a way I didn’t think of before. For example, a handful of wool might have the shape of a starry galaxy, or that a bumble-bee and a postie are similar in that one goes form flower to flower and one goes from letter-box to letterbox.

What is your first step you take when you are writing poetry? It depends. I sometimes write down thoughts, knowing or hoping that some words will stick for me and develop into something bigger. Sometimes I get a line flying into my mind that arrives fully formed and perfect and I build the poem around that.

In Sucked In and Sucked Out where did you get the idea for the character Zainey? I read that a school class in USA was asked to think of ways they might like their bodies changed. One kid, who was possibly short, wanted an eye on the top of his finger so he could see over crowds. Once I thought about that, Zainey started.

I would like to write a poem in 10 or 12 words about my sister and how she is addicted to macaroni. What would you write?? It’s your poem, but ‘macaroni’ is such a nice word to say and look at. So I might make up words like ‘macaroniac’ or ‘macaronly’ – stuff like that.  Or maybe change her name in a macaroni way? And you could do things with your own name, too. After all, ‘Jack’ rhymes with ‘macaroniac’. Wish you luck!


What a fabulous interview Jack and John. John writes terrific poems for children. There are 7 of them in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children and lots more in The School Journals.

9781877404276 9780958260060 1877404268 9781877471162sucked+in


The Treasury Interviews: Henry interviews James Norcliffe

2013-10-30 19.56.31   cd54f6a5743ca181ffff80dfffffd502 thumb_160160226234240Loblolly boy

James Norcliffe was born and educated in Greymouth. His family moved to Christchurch when he was still quite young and he has lived there since, apart from brief stays in China and Borneo. He is a well-known author, having published numerous poems and novels. As well as being a writer, James is also a teacher and editor. He has received a number of prizes, as well as important fellowships. He currently lives in Church Bay, Lyttelton, with his wife Joan. His novels for children, The Loblolly Boy, The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcrer and his new novel, Felix and the Red Rats, have all been shorted listed for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. He recently published a collection of poetry for children called Packing Your Bag for Mars. James often works with children.



My name is Henry Eglinton and I am eleven years old. I was born in Christchurch and lived there for most of my life with my mum Devonie, my dad Tim and my two brothers. I am currently in Year 7 at Medbury School. Outside of school my passions are cricket, tennis, football and reading.


The Interview:

1. Where do you get your ideas from for your books and poems?

From all over the place. I do live a lot in my imagination – I think I might have the storyteller gene – and finding a story and plotting it with characters and incident is such fun. I sometimes say it’s a way of allowing me to play as an adult. Poems, too, although these are often sparked by a word, or an image or by something somebody says to me. Here it’s more playing with words – their shapes, meanings and sounds and the way all these things pattern together.

2. How old were you when you decided you would be a poet?

I was quite young. I remember telling some older cousins on the West Coast when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up that I wanted to be a pote. I was so young I neither knew how to spell it nor pronounce it.

3. What would you be if you weren’t a poet?

Well, I’m not just a poet. I’m already a lot of other things. Possibly, if I had the skill, a musician or perhaps a restaurant critic.

4. What is your favourite all-time book?

So many. As a child it was either Treasure Island or The Island in the Pines (by Elleston Trevor) a fantasy about English animals (squirrels mainly) living on an island and at war with ferrets, stoats and weasels. Now I see this book as an allegory about the 2nd World War, but that never occurred to me as a child. As a grown up, I regularly return every few years to Jane Austen and any of her delicious books. More recently the books of a Japanese writer Murakami and/or A.S.Byatt – The Children’s Book. Just great.

5. Who is your favourite poet?

Again, so many. Often somebody I’ve been reading recently who makes me look at things in a new way. Recently I’ve been thinking about prose poems and looking at James Tate, an American I heard read a few years ago, and an English poet Simon Armitage. Both of these guys write prose poems that set off crackers in your head.
6. How long does it usually take you to write a poem?

Sometimes a few minutes, usually much longer. Some poems never seem to get finished and you revisit them and tinker or reshape for months.

7. What do you like to do in your spare time?

Spend time with friends and family, go for walks and talks with Joan, read, write, try to turn my garden into a poem, listen to music, puzzle with really difficult cryptic crosswords, follow half a dozen blogs… Oh, did I mention food and drink?

Thanks James and Henry for a great interview. James has several poems in A Treasury Of NZ Poems including ‘Packing a Bag for Mars.’


Nelson where I meet the oldest poet in the book for lunch

Lovely day yesterday in picturesque Nelson. The sun was shining and the hills were gleaming green as I drove out to Mahana School. I didn’t know that Shirley Gawith lived opposite with her daughter and son-in-law but they found out I was coming and invited me for lunch. Such a special time. Yummy food and good conversation Shirley was a delight and at 91 she has a sparkling wit. A great sense of hour. She didn’t want to talk about herself she wanted to talk about me but I managed to ask a few questions and will post an interview when I get home. She had a stack of poems for me to read. So it was a very special lunch.

Then off to Mahana School which is tucked in a gorgeous country spot. The whole school (75) just bubbled with poetry. Friendly teachers, warm atmosphere. I didn’t know when I organised the visit that it was the school my mum went to. So very special.

A visit to Page & Blackmore Bookshop to finish off. I had never heard Rachel Bush and Melanie Drewery read before and that was a treat. Some students from St Joseph’s read poems and they were terrific. A wonderful occasion.

Thank you for a lovely visit.

I am now at the airport about to fly to Christchurch. Exciting!

The Treasury Interviews: Lottie interviews Sue Wootton

Hi, I’m Lottie. I like music and Harry Potter. I am 12 years old and I
play football and do competitive swimming. I am in Year 8 and go to Mahana School in Nelson.


Sue Wootton is an experienced poet and short story writer. She also is
an editor and creative writing tutor. She has written short stories
and poems for school journals which are widely read in New Zealand

The Interview:

Do you do much research when you write?

Hi Lottie. Thank you for your questions.  The answer to this is “yes”, but sometimes I don’t even know I’ve been doing research until much later – sometimes months or years later! Those are the times I’m daydreaming or night-dreaming or watching the world or taking the bus or talking to friends or reading a book. Other times I deliberately set out to discover as much as I can about a subject. Either way, it all turns out to have been research in the end.

What has your biggest achievement in life been?

When I was 16 I went on the Spirit of Adventure (now it’s called the Spirit of New Zealand), and even though I am absolutely terrified of heights, I climbed up the main mast to the crow’s nest – not just once – but every single day of the trip. It was a challenge I set for myself, to prove to myself that I can do difficult things, as long as (a) I want to, (b) I learn the rules and techniques and (c) I take it one step at a time.

How do you choose the names of characters in your writing do they have
any meaning to you or are they random?

It’s not random. In fact it’s something I agonise over! I have pages and pages of my writing notebook filled up with names, and I read the births and deaths columns to collect new ones. When I’m writing a character I search for the name that suits him or her best… this can be pretty difficult, and sometimes I have to change the name a few times until it feels right. Sometimes I might want to have a name that anyone can relate to, and sometimes something more unique. In my picture book, Cloudcatcher, the main character is called Mr Bellavista because it rhymes, and also because bella vista means “beautiful view”, and that’s important for the story. In the novel I’m writing now there is a young girl called Fleur, which isn’t a common name for children these days. I’ve tried to change it several times, but nothing else fits her: she seems to like being Fleur, so Fleur she is.

Do you have any strange writing habits?

Do you count walking around the room talking out loud to myself?  I have a favourite fountain pen and I get in a bad mood when I lose it. It’s not so much that I write with it – although I do, quite often – it’s more that I doodle with it while I’m thinking, until the doodles turn into words.


Do you have a day job?

I used to be a physiotherapist, but since I’ve been a writer my day jobs have revolved around combinations of editing, researching and teaching.  But this year I am studying for a Masters Degree in Creative Writing, and writing a novel, so that’s my day job at the moment.


How long does it take to write a poem/story?

It depends but most of the time things have to go through multiple drafts before they are ready to be published. It’s sort of like sculpting in that you whittle away until you get the best shape. In my workshop an awful lot of words land up on the floor, get swept up and thrown away. There always seems to be poems or stories that go quickly, and others that are problematic and time-consuming. I am a pretty slow writer though, overall.


Do you ever have a writer’s block? How do you get rid of it?

Yes, but I try not to let the idea of writer’s block get lodged in my head. I tell myself I need a break, and then I go and rest my brain by using my body – a swim or a walk is good for unblocking things, and so is meeting friends, talking about something completely different, and thinking about their problems instead of your own. And laughter usually works – a giggle a day keeps boring at bay. Also (see above) I doodle!


What a marvellous interview Sue and Lottie. Lots of good tips for writing hiding her. Sue has four poems in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children. I love the way Sue brings the real world into her poems with a touch of imagination and a very musical ear.


The Treasury Interviews: Lucy interviews Rachel Bush


Photo credit: Martin de Ruyter

Rachel Bush was born in 1941. She has published 7 collections of poetry, her first was called The Hungry Woman and was published in 1997. She currently lives in Nelson.

The Interviewer: My name is Lucy and I am 11 years old. I like to write poems and LOVE to read. I go to Mahana school and I am in Year 7.

 The Interview:

Have you always loved to write and from what age?

I have always enjoyed writing, but I don’t know that I have always ‘loved’ it. When I was a bit younger than you, I was a very keen reader of Enid Blyton books and I wrote two rather pallid imitations of her books. In both of them there were four central characters called George, Kath, Alice and Anne – which names are very like those of some of the characters in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. I was starting to grow my hair at this time and all four characters had long plaits.

At first I wrote more stories than poems. Poems seemed to be what i wanted to write as I got older. I still write stories occasionally.

I kept a diary from when I was thirteen. I don’t exactly keep a diary any more, though sometimes I will write about particular things that have just happened but I do always have at least one notebook on the go and I write something in it most days.

What advice would you give to a writer wanting to publish a book?

I’d encourage anyone who wants to do this to go ahead. There are more opportunities now for publishing than there were when I was a young writer.

I sometimes think publishing is a gradation. At one end is someone whose poems/novels/short stories are hidden away deep in a computer file. When I was younger the equivalent was having them hidden in a bottom drawer, and at the other end is a big fat book like The Luminaries with lots of publicity for the author. A first step to publication might be sharing your writing with another person. Probably the first time I had a poem published was when I had a poem in the school magazine when I was in Year 12.

Computer software make it possible to publish your own work and have it looking very smart and stylish. A poet whose a friend of mine sends out a stylish looking card on his birthday. It’s folded in three and on five sides there’s at least one poem. On the sixth side there’s a little note about it being his birthday. (He also has a book published and has work published in magazines.) Or you can go online and publish your work there.

If you want to have a book published, I suppose you try to get some sort of publishing record first of all – maybe sending things to magazines for instance. This involves a bit of research because you need to be familiar with what sort of thing that particular magazine publishes. What sort of length are the pieces they publish? Are they prose and/or poetry?

If I had a book ready to go I would look hard at different publishing firms and what sorts of things they like to publish. I’d be trying to decide whether my book would fit in with the sort of thing they seem to want to publish.

I’d want to make a manuscript look good with no typos, a good clear plain font, double spaced with wide margin space. It would be easy to find information about this sort of thing online. Some publishers don’t want a hard copy, but prefer to be sent a computer file. Again you need to do some research. So this aspect of writing is more like being your own Personal Assistant and being business-like about trying to get work published.

What is your favourite genre to read?

I don’t have a favourite genre. I try to ready widely.

There’s almost always a book of poems that I’m reading and I keep it by my bed or in my handbag if the book is skinny enough. At present I am still reading Essential New Zealand Poems and I am also reading Horse with Hat by Marty Smith. I’ve also read some of Milton’s poetry, particular a verse drama called Samson Agonistes that for some reason I never got round to reading when I studied Milton as a university student. (Paula — these books aren’t children’s books in case you think they are.

I’m reading a novel too – it’s called Concluding by Henry Green. It first came out when I was 6 years old but of course I didn’t know anything about him then. He was talked about a bit when I was at university but was never in any of the English papers I did.

I love Victorian novels. I read and reread Dickens, Trollope and George Eliot’s books for instance.

I’m enjoying biographies more as I get older.

I’ve read several books from the Old Testament this year.

I like reading good short stories and this year I discovered an excellent writer, Lydia Davis. I also found out that nearly everyone except me had known of her work for years!

So it seems that I can’t really answer this question about my favourite genre but have just meandered around it

If you want to write in a particular genre it’s likely you’ll read that genre. At the same time I sometimes find that the books that really get me writing are a surprise. It’s not necessarily books of modern poetry that make me want to write poems.

Where does your inspiration come from?

I don’t often feel inspired. I try to keep writing and sometimes something unexpected happens and I find I’m writing more easily and confidently than usual. It’s wonderful when that happens.

Things that make me want to write vary.

What I read is often helpful. Sometimes first lines of very good writers make me want to write my own poem almost as a response to theirs. Janet Frame and Anne Carson have done that for me.

Sometimes being under a particular pressure makes me write easily. Which seems strange. Pressure might be a time constraint, like to write something in 20 minutes. Or it might be a set of ‘rules’, like ‘Write a poem that consists entirely of untrue statements’. I think the hardest thing to do is probably to be told to take as long as you need to write the best poem you possibly can about whatever you think is important. If there are constraints you can always blame them if your poem isn’t as terrific as you would have liked it to be.

Walking helps me to write. I’m pretty sure Fiona Farrell has written about how how walking helps her to write.

Glenn Colquhoun says something somewhere (I’m sorry I can’t be more precise), about writing being best when you write about those things you see out of the corner of your eyes. I like that idea. Sometimes it helps to sit with and discover what I’m really preoccupied with and use that in my writing, rather than write what I think I ought to write about.

Do you ever take a break from writing a poem and come back to it?

Yes, I almost always do this.

I mentioned earlier that I always have a notebook. Usually this is where I draft poems and then maybe weeks later I read back over this notebook. Some things I’ve written look a bit feeble but often there’s something I can use and develop further.

After a gap of time, I can often look at a poem a bit more objectively and see what needs doing to it. I would hardly ever send a poem I’ve just written away to a literary magazine because I am so likely to see things I want to change if I look at it after a few weeks.

Do you ever get writers block, if you do how can you get rid of it?

Yes, I suppose sometimes I do feel the opposite from inspired and can’t think how to begin or continue anything.

Sometimes I find that to think of it as being like having a bit of a headache is useful. Okay, it’s there, and I can either retire to bed feeling sorry for myself or just go on doing what I do as best I can. But if I decide I am suffering from Writer’s Block and stop writing then there is no chance of my writing well.

Michael Harlow once said at a workshop that if you write a word another flies to it. That’s mostly true for me. So if I can find a word or a phrase from anywhere and write it down then there is a chance some writing will happen. It may not be very good, but at least its writing.

If I was feeling flat about my writing, I used to return to a book called Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and it helped me to forgive myself for often writing rubbishy, dull stuff. (And it also has some really good suggestions, about daily writing practice that I found useful.)

What is the hardest thing about writing?

I don’t think I can answer this very well. There’s no single thing that is particularly hard for me.

I have learned to accept that alternating between thinking I have just written a Truly Terrific Poem and thinking that I am an Embarrassing Disaster of a Writer who will never manage an even halfway decent poem doesn’t help me at all. I’m gradually realising that nothing I write will change the world and knock its little cotton socks off, but also I’ve come to realise that there’s no need to be ashamed of what I write.

Just keeping going, I guess, is hard. There are lots of other wonderful things to do. How do you balance these different aspects of your life? I’m busy, as most people are busy. I don’t write as much as I would like to write. I also need to work on regularly finishing poems and sending them away to literary magazines.

Sometimes writing can seem a bit lonely. But having a group of people you trust and with whom you can share your writing helps.

Nobody has to be a writer. But when it’s going well it’s good fun and satisfying.

Thanks for a wonderful interview Lucy and Rachel. Rachel has given us all kinds of tips about writing and has shown us the wide range of books she reads as an adult. To be a good writer you do need to keep reading and trying out things as you write — no matter what age you are! Rachel has a lovely poem in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children called ‘Early.’