Launching The Treasury Interviews: Gemma interviews Joy Cowley

To celebrate A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children, I invited children and classes to interview authors in the book. I have nearly sixty interviews to post between now and November 8th. I am trying to coincide some of the interviews with where I am on tour. So on Oct 13th and 14th, I will post interviews by Gisborne children when I am in Gisborne!

I decided to launch the series with Gemma’s interview with one of our most beloved children’s authors.


Joy Cowley was born in 1936, and now might be New Zealand’s most famous author of children’s books. She lives in Featherston with her husband Terry. Joy helps lots of New Zealanders to be interested in creative writing. Storylines made the Joy Cowley Award in her honour. Joy is an amazing, generous person who is an inspiration to us all. She has published lots of children’s books, including several poetry collections.

Gemma 1  543821_10151842884706995_332408721_n

Gemma Lovewell lives in Wellington with her parents and younger brother, in a house filled with books. She goes to Adventure School, and loves to try everything life has to offer. Gemma wrote her first poem when she was 3 years old, and has since then has had articles, stories and poems published in magazines, newspapers and on websites. With the help of Joy Cowley, she also published a book called The Big Box when she was five.

The Interview

Q: I know that you have had a lot of pets, can speak Spanish, and learned to fly a plane. What are three little known facts about Joy Cowley that you could share?


  1. When I was nineteen. I used to ride motor cycles in cross country races.
  2. My grandchildren and I used to have mud fights and then go into the sea with our clothes on, to wash it off.
  3. I have a diploma in wood-turning.


Q: Us kiwi kids have been lucky to grow up with you and your stories. Who was the Joy Cowley when you were a child?

A: I was a shy child and a slow learner. I didn’t become a fluent reader until I was nearly ten. But I loved stories and made up stories to tell my sisters, almost every night.


Q: How do you come up with the names for characters? Do you use the names of people you know? And how do you come up with the funny names like Mrs Wishy Washy, Greedy Cat and The Meanies?

A: I like the sound of words and try to choose appropriate names. My next book “Ratenburg” is about a family of rats that go on a long journey. Since rats’ names are chosen according to their environment, the father who was born on a boat is called Spinnaker Rat. His four children, born at the back of a Greek restaurant and called Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta, and their mother is Retsina.


Q: Your new book The Speed of Light has a lot of maths in it (I love maths!). How did you find out so much about maths?

A: I don’t know a lot about math, but I’m very interested in Quantum Theory and the history of Numerology. I did research for the book and tried to find chapter headings that somehow echoed what was happening in the chapter.


Q: You have written hundreds of books. Just One More is still my favourite (Note from Paula– It is one of my favourites too! Along with the poetry books). Do you have any particular favourites?

A: My favourite is always the last one I wrote. After a while I fall out of love with it and go on to the next thing.


Q: I have read that poetry was something you enjoyed when you were at high school. What did you like most about it then, and what do you like about it now?

A: My love of poetry began in Primary School, thanks to teachers who were enthusiastic about poetry. We didn’t have books at home, but poetry was easy to remember, so I had (and still have) a whole library of poetry in my head that I could recall any time of the day or night.


Q: Do you use poetic techniques like similies, metaphors and onomatopoeia in your writing?

A: Yes, I do. It happens automatically. Composing a story is like composing music – the pace and sound should indicate what is happening in the story, and should convey more than the literal meaning of the words.


Q: You have said that you get many ideas for your stories from children. How do you bring your stories to life?

A: I listen to children, the way they use language and sometimes invent words. It is always inspiring. Once I visited a school in America, where a lot of children were away with the flu. A 7 years old girl told me in a loud, confident voice. “All the kids in this school are sick. If you saw one kid who was healthy, there’d be something wrong with her!”

What brings stories to life? Detail! I asked a 6 years old boy what they ate when they went to McDonald’s. Actually, he didn’t tell me. He answered with a story that I’ve tried to remember: ” My sister got a strawberry milkshake but she squeezed it and it went over the floor and I trod in it. Dad got lettuce in his teeth. Mum said, “You got lettuce.” So Dad makes this face to show the green lettuce in his teeth, and Mum says, “Ooh! Get rid of it!” And Dad said, “No, I’m saving it for a snack.”


Q: You do so much writing as a job… do you ever write just for yourself, for fun?

A: All writing is fun. Most of my writing is answering letters from young friends. I get heaps of mail and that takes 5 or 6 hours each day. (Note from Paula: This is what makes Joy such a special author. Not only does she write wonderful books that are part of our taonga but she opens her arms wide to young readers and she listens.)

Gemma: Thank you for being such an inspiring author!

Joy Cowley: Thanks for some very interesting questions, Gemma.

Paula Green: This was such a fascinating interview to read. Thank you Gemma and Joy. I think writing a poem is a bit like composing music too. Some of Joy’s poetry books are out of print but I managed to interloan them all through the library. I loved the book of cat poems. There are six of Joy’s poems in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children and they all have a pinch of imagination stirred through a litre of wonderful sounds.





Just One More hires

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