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.


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