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.
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.
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
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