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Interview: David Hill talks about Below


David Hill is a prolific and highly regarded New Zealand writer, playwright, poet, columnist and critic. Best known for his highly popular and award-winning body of work for young people, ranging from picture books to teenage fiction, his novels have been published all around the world and translated into several languages, and his short stories and plays for young people have been broadcast here and overseas. David talks to NZ Booklovers.


What inspired you to write this book?

The novel is called Below, and is about two kids trapped by the collapse of a huge tunnel: the race to find and rescue them before the tunnel floods or collapses further. I've long been fascinated by tunnels – the engineering; the fact that you can hear the mountains above them groaning; the huge machines used to bore through up to 40 km of rock. And I like writing about characters who are in extreme circumstances – danger, stress, crisis, etc. It's a great way (for me) of showing feelings and relationships.

What research was involved?

A great deal of reading re how tunnels are made (did you know all tunnel boring machines are given female names? There's one under Auckland called “Whina Cooper); rescue techniques; survival strategies, etc. I love the research; I go around boring my friends with facts from it.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

Same as usual. I plan each chapter with a rough list of events on paper. I write a chapter a day in longhand. I then put the novel on the computer. Then I revise and revise. And revise and revise some more. I read it aloud to myself, to get the sound and cadences I want. A novel for me is spread over 8 – 10 months.


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

A lot of tense orchestral music.


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

A couple of realistic, multi-ethnic NZ kids. Sorry, I don't know much about actors, so can't suggest specific names.


What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

That wonderful feeling as you approach the last chapters, and the story seems to lift itself up and hurtle towards the ending. It's always a great sensation. And as I've said, I enjoyed the research.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I slashed a diagonal line under the last sentence in my hand-written first draft. I shouted, “Yes!” in relief. Then I turned back to the first page and started finding all the mistakes I'd made.


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

Gavin Bishop's majestic Atua, his account of Maori myths and legends. It was THE book of the year, both in adult and NZ fields. Great format from Penguin Random; succinct lyrical text, dramatic and sometimes quirky illustrations. It's too good to feel jealous about.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I've been working on a YA novel about a boy who suffers a dreadful accident while tramping, and his life is utterly changed..... I'll say no more.

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