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Interview: Claire Aramakutu talks about Koro's Star

Claire Aramakutu’s passion for writing began with a love of reading. From the age of ten, with a torch in hand, Claire would hide under her bedcovers and read in secret, late into the night. In her late twenties, she decided to take writing seriously. During her subsequent time at Massey University, she won seven excellence awards, completing Graduate Diplomas in Media Studies & Creative Writing. In 2023, Claire won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award for an original junior novel manuscript. Claire talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Koro’s Star.

Koro’s Star is a story about friendship, resilience and growing up. 10-year-old Atama and his family arrive at their new home inside an Army camp days before Dad must depart for Vietnam. Before leaving, Dad gives Atama the responsibility of looking after Koro’s Star medal in hopes that it will give him the courage to make new friends. Soon Atama is introduced to the FEAR CRUSHERS and to join the club, he must complete a terrifying initiation. For previous generations, this little story set in the ‘60s will provide some lovely nostalgia, and for our young ones, there are some fun scary moments to make the hairs on their arms stand tall!

What inspired you to write this book?

My husband is in the NZDF and we live in an army camp! Before moving here, we lived in a regular suburban street where our children played behind our big fence and invited their friends over for play dates (painstakingly organised to fit into everyone’s busy schedules). Now, kids rock on up on their bikes, come in and play! We have a trampoline that is a ‘free for all’ and someone put up a swing in the tree at the end of the cul-de-sac some time ago. The childhood that my children are experiencing has strong parallels to how children grew up in the ’60s. One New Year’s Eve, a friend of mine (thank you, Emma) mentioned something about underground tunnels, and my imagination went wild. A few weeks later I had mapped out an entire plot in my head!  

What research was involved?

To start writing I had to get a solid grip on what it was like growing up in the ‘60s. Most importantly, the language. Dialogue is tricky (especially children’s voices) so, I wanted to start with a strong foundation of vocabulary and slang. The general research about that era was really fun to do. Next, I had the task of getting the military elements correct. Names of battalions, wars, dates, locations etc. I found this research to be emotionally difficult. It was a challenge to write about such a terrible time in history in a way that was educational and appropriate for my audience. Thankfully, I got there.  

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I am a very methodical writer. It starts with a notebook where I write down my main idea and then I spend a few weeks scribbling down anything that comes to mind. Next comes the big cork display board, loose papers, a black pen and a bunch of highlighters! Characters, timeline and plot have their places on the board. The visual display helps me move from chapter to chapter. I research a bit during the notebook scribble phase but most of it happens during the writing stage. I find the fresh information better to write with; the image or scene is clearer. Once I write those final words of the draft, I like to edit with a hard copy. I staple each chapter separately and work with one at a time, carrying it around the house and reading over it whenever I get the chance. They get pretty messy with red pen marks from top to bottom! When I get to the ‘never want to read this again’ stage, I send it to someone way better at editing than I am and apologise in advance for any silly mistakes or small plot holes that I’m oblivious to! It’s always exciting to get a clean story back to start the publishing process.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Types in ‘music kids listened to in the ‘60s’. Well, that was an entertaining hour…and hello to my new YouTube Music Algorithm! The Monkees – Daydream Believer which is fun and upbeat! Creedence Clearwater Revival - Bad Moon Rising fits the vibe! I listened to The Archies – Sugar Sugar and immediately thought of a scene in the book where Atama meets his new neighbour Eden at the milk bar. This ‘Bubble gum anthem’ fits with the crush his sister thinks he has on Eden.  

If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

Definitely Kiwi actors! I’d love to see some kids from a local theatre group embrace The Fear Crushers!

What did you enjoy the most about writing Koro’s Star?

The scary parts were the most exciting bits to write. I grew up reading Goosebumps and I enjoy all things supernatural and mythical. My favourite thing (is that’s the right word…) to write about is ZOMBIES! Unfortunately, no zombies make an appearance in this one.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I’d say my family celebrated more than I did! I think the frequent ‘talking to myself’ and ‘zoning out’ moments take its toll on my husband who is never quite sure where my mind is, ha-ha. When I arrived through the door after winning the Tom Fitzgibbon Award at the Storylines Margaret Mahy National Awards Day, my children popped poppers and my husband handed me a big bunch of flowers. I’m living quite the fairytale.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

My daughter is four months old this week so I have to admit, I have done little reading this year. I started the year with the heart-breaking book The Boy Who Followed His Father into Auschwitz, and I currently have Siege and Storm (the second book of the Shadow and Bone series) waiting on my nightstand.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Two years ago, I took my husband to my old summer stomping ground, Mārahau. We kayaked around the bays and spent a lovely time walking along the beach collecting pipi to cook up for dinner. To no one’s surprise, I came home with a rough book plot taking up every inch of spare brain space! No spoilers here but I’m on track to have the first draft of a new middle-grade novel completed by mid-year. Watch this space!

Scholastic NZ


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