My name is Eloïse M, and I am 11. I go to Balmoral School in Auckland. I love to read (I used to be told off by my teachers for reading books under my desk!) and I also play the piano.
picture credit to Geneva Alexander-Masters
A biography of Raewyn Alexander:
Raewyn Alexander has written novels, poetry, and non-fiction (guides co-written with Olwyn Stewart). Her writing has been featured in publications such as the NZ School Journal.
She has performed her poetry at literature events. Raewyn was born in Hamilton but currently lives in Auckland. I have seen some examples of Raewyn’s poems online and they’re wonderful.
I hear you go to Balmoral School. I am so pleased you study poetry and writing there. The study and writing of poetry is my life’s joy, while other writing compliments and feeds from that.
When I was 11, about your age, we had a school magazine and we could send in our writing to be published. I hope you also have one and send your writing in to the school magazine.
Now here are replies to your questions. I hope my answers are helpful and entertaining in some way.
1. Where do you get ideas for writing?
The late great Michael King said to say in answer to this question, “I go to the ideas tree and pick them off there.” He was joking of course, but in a way it is like that. Ideas are everywhere.
A good writer can write about anything at all. The ideas are not as important as the writing, the work itself. Practice makes a good writer great, so I hope you practise your writing, and read lots of books.
2. Have you always wanted to be an author/poet?
I have deeply loved language and stories since I can remember. My mother was an excellent story-teller, mainly with fascinating anecdotes from her everyday life. Such an eye for detail, and a great turn of phrase. Love for people also came out in what she said and gave her stories vitality. Then too, my paternal grandfather played with language all the time and gave us grandchildren nicknames. Mine was Topsyana Whizz Bang Pom-pom. He sang to us and told us stories, too. My dad would come home tired from work, but we’d press him for stories at the dinner table. He sometimes made us laugh and gasp, the work-world was so exotic to us.
I grew up pre-TV, in a rich oral culture, conversations everywhere. Listening to people talking together is still a delight. This is the kind of experience that made me want to work with language.
My first paid work was a letter of the week when I was about nine or ten, in the Weekly News, against racism. I received ten shillings, a lot of money at the time. It was so exciting to think I could get published, and be paid.
I told people I wanted to be a writer from about 14, but no one took any notice.
I just ploughed on anyway. It was rare to be a writer in NZ, then. Those of us who kept on trying are the ones who succeeded. Writing is always good, however, keeping on learning and mastering the form.
3. How hard was it to get first published?
Well, to be published as a letter of the week was easy in a way, it was the first time I’d sent a letter anywhere like that, (but I did write to relatives and pen pals, previously). Before that I had written lots of work at school, and writing at home in notebooks. I also told many stories I made up, or knew, to the little children in the neighbourhood, and read about four or five books to myself, a week. So lots of work went into becoming a writer, however it was a joy to take it on and simply feels great to do, even if it gets difficult. I call it ‘Exploring the infinite world within.’ I love how time expands, how I go into my own world, so good for my spirits.
For years in my twenties I wrote stories and sent them off, to places like Metro, The Listener… and got them rejected. Some rejection letters were encouraging, though. But I did often have letters to the editor published in The Herald. I also wrote many advertisements and press releases for our fashion business, Zephyr. (We are mentioned in The Dress Circle, A History of NZ Fashion). Then my various boyfriends were in bands and I helped write some song lyrics, and also, with inventing names for bands. Words and writing have many applications.
It took me many tries to get a poem in Poetry NZ, but I did get a few into smaller literary magazines before that, Printout, Spin, and so on. That also took a while to happen. I always looked at the poem again, thinking how to make it better, if it was rejected. Some editors sent me suggestions for reading and so on, so lucky. I just kept reading lots of books and magazines, and writing.
Then, I wrote six novels to see if I could produce one I liked. The seventh one I sent away and it was accepted, but I had to rewrite the whole thing. The publishers asked me to. It took three bottles of Twink to get that redone, no computer in those days.
The other novels I had tossed under the sofa, and when I found them one day spring cleaning, I realised they’d all helped me write the last, successful first novel, so they were not wasted.
4. What is your favourite genre to write in?
Mainly I write literary work, poetry, stories, essays, novels and plays. I prefer thoughtful work, up-to-date playful language, with a strong sub-text. I also like to bring in my political stance, and explore serious issues through placing characters in difficult circumstances then having them change their lives to be happier, and more successful in decent ways. For poetry I try all kinds of things as my fancy takes me. Now and then I write for a competition, essays, stories and so on, then the deadline forces hard work out of me. I believe we have to write what we love, in any case, as Ray Bradbury says, or don’t write, do something else.
5. What is it like getting published and seeing your name on books?
I always find it startling and pleasing to be published. I feel truly blessed to even be able to write, to get published is unbelievable.
It’s such a lovely surprise when people say they like something too, or have some comment to make. People love my latest novel, Glam Rock Boyfriends, for instance, they keep telling me they cried, or laughed, or love it. I am always amazed, then delighted. They often help me keep going with their support or criticism.
The hardest thing is when someone gets the wrong idea. I find some readers do not understand what I meant, but everyone has their own opinion, it’s just the way life is.
Usually once a book is out I am onto a new project, the finished product often helps me move on, and feel like I did do something substantial.
Thanks Eloïse , for asking me questions about writing, it’s helped me see what I am doing in a fresh light.
Note from Paula: What a great interview Eloïse and Raewyn. Thank you! Raewyn has a cool skipping poem in A Treasury of NZ Poetry for Children.