Interview: Dawn McMillan talks about Sir Singlet and There's a Weta on My Sweater
Former teacher Dawn McMillan is an internationally recognised writer of children’s books who lives north of Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula. Her books have been translated into at least five languages and her BUM series titles have become bestsellers in the US and United Kingdom, as well as New Zealand. She talks to NZ Booklovers about her latest two picture books, Sir Singlet, illustrated by regular collaborator Ross Kinnaird, and the next in her billingual nature-related picture book series, There’s a Weta on my Sweater, illustrated by Stephanie Thatcher with Maōri translation by Ngaere Roberts. Both are published by Oratia Books.
Tell us a little about your latest books.
I have two new ones just released – Sir Singlet and There’s a Weta on my Sweater/He Wētā kei runga i tōku Paraka. The books are so different. Sir Singlet is fantasy story of a medieval knight with a talent for sewing, with some interesting results. There’s a Weta on my Sweater/He Wētā kei runga i tōku Paraka is nature based, featuring many of the small creatures we have here in New Zealand.
What inspired you to write these books?
The title Sir Singlet was inspired by my son-in-law who posed for a photograph in a knight ‘cut out’ at the Pop-up Globe performance of MacBeth. The idea of a new range of Knightwear just happened. I think at some stage of my life I must have read about the dreadful undies that knights wore in medieval times.
There’s a Weta on my Sweater seemed a natural follow up to the earlier There’s a Tui in our Teapot.
What research was involved?
Research was needed for both books. In the case of Sir Singlet, lots of reading and looking at images for underwear, armour, castles of the time. Even if a book is pure fantasy you need to have the settings right.
For There’s a Weta on my Sweater behaviours and habitats had to be researched. This book includes a ‘Bits and Bugs’ double page of scientific and fun information for each of the creatures, with a special focus on New Zealand weta.
What was your routine or process when writing these books?
I don’t have a set routine for writing. I write when I can. I write the first draft in what I call a Rapid Write. A Rapid Write doesn’t give my inner judge a chance to criticise or discourage. Sometimes only a part of a story appears and I have to fill the gaps later. With There’s a Weta on my Sweater I researched suitable creatures before I let the story start.
If your books were made into a movies, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
My son-in-law David would have to play Sir Singlet.
What did you enjoy the most about writing these books?
Seeing the characters come to life with the brilliant illustrations by Ross Kinnaird (in the case of Sir Singlet) and Stephanie Thatcher (for There’s a Weta on my Sweater).
What did you do to celebrate finishing these books?
On each occasion my husband and I had a delicious lunch over the road at the Waiomu Beach Café. And a glass or two of bubbles. For my books with Ross, we have an annual tradition of a long summer lunch with the Oratia team, to celebrate the successes of the year gone, and brainstorm new ideas over a few glasses and happy conversation!
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. It’s an inspiring true story, and the writing is magical.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
My next book with Ross and Oratia has already gone off to print. My Bum is SO NOISY! will release simultaneously in North America, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand at the start of 2021, and my publishers tell me the first print run will be over 120,000 copies globally. Wow! Then there is another title in the nature series in development. And after that … who knows what might happen!