Melinda Szymanik is a writer for children and young adults, and has a Master of Science in Zoology. She has published a number of short stories, picture books and novels.
Her picture book, The Were-Nana won the Children’s Choice Award in the 2009 NZ Post Book Awards for Children and was listed as a Storylines Notable Children’s Book. Her novel A Winter’s Day in 1939 was a Junior Fiction Finalist in the NZ Post Book Awards.
The photo was taken at the WORD Festival (where they got to hear Melinda and loved it!) – Lily is the one sitting next to her teacher, Mrs Visser.
Lily Renwick is a Year 8 student at Russley School in Christchurch. Lily attended the WORD Festival’s Read Aloud Programme and heard Melinda Szymanik speak about writing. Lily had recently read A Winter’s Day in 1939 and really enjoyed listening to Melinda read from the novel and talk about her father’s experience in Poland, which inspired the book.
Hi Lily – thanks for the terrific questions. I hope you enjoy the answers.
- Have you always been interested in reading and writing or did you develop your interest later on in life?
Definitely early! I fell in love with books in primary school. They were endless fun and an exciting escape from every day life. I quickly became an avid reader. And after reading some amazing books like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Little Town on the Prairie, The Dark is Rising and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, (and many, many more) I started to dream about writing my own books. I first started working on my own stories when I was 9 or 10. I’m glad I started early too, it gave me the chance to do a lot of practice.
- Szymanik is difficult to pronounce; did your Polish surname ever cause you problems at school?
It sure did. I got mispronunciations like Zimanik, Zymanik and Shizmanic all the time (and still do). I got all sorts of weird variations – Sizematic, Shizzmatic and many more. Yet even though I got married and could have taken my husband’s name (which is very easy to spell and pronounce) I decided to stick with my own very tricky name. It’s my family name and I’m very proud of it J (and it’s pronounced Shi-manic).
- What age were you when your father told you about his childhood?
I remember hearing the stories way back when I was in primary school (maybe when I was around 9 or 10) so I think he always told us when we asked. But he never went into great detail about how awful it all was back then, just focusing instead on the journey his family took.
- What was your favourite book to write, and why?
Oh, that’s a very difficult question. For each book there have been fun moments, and satisfying moments, but also incredibly frustrating and difficult moments too. And I think I’ve learnt something different about writing from each book. Perhaps it’s not so much a particular book that has been my favourite to write, but rather the favourite moment of satisfaction on every book when I’ve finally managed to tie up all the loose ends, got everything just how I want it, and written The End.
- Do you have a favourite animal, and does it appear in your writing in any way?
I like animals in general, and find all of them fascinating (I studied Zoology at University). All sorts of different animals make appearances in my stories. I do like cats and dogs especially (I have one of each in real life) and have included them in my picture books and short stories. In fact I wrote one picture book about the relationship between an old cat and a Chihuahua called Tatty and Tremble, which I hope will be published in the next year or two. And the dog in my short story The Man with the Dog Eye (in Pick ‘n’ Mix: Volume One) is based on our own little Westie, Robbie.
Thanks Lily and Melinda for a terrific interview. Melinda has a poem in A Treasury of NZ Poems for Children called ‘Fancy.’ It has a delicious similes which leave delicious images in your mind. I am big fan of Melinda’s writing and especially love, A Winter’s Day. I also love The Song of Kauri.