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Interview: Des Hunt talks about Red Edge

Des Hunt lives on the Coromandel Peninsula. Some years ago he made the transition from writing textbooks for secondary students to novels for younger readers (shortlisted for NZ Post awards three times), while still maintaining his aims of fostering young peoples’ natural interest in the science of their surroundings. Des has authored 14 books in this genre. A widely respected figure in New Zealand educational circles, Des was a teacher for more than forty years before retiring from the classroom in 2006. Des talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Red Edge.

Red Edge involves a group of youngsters who suffered traumatic experiences during the Christchurch earthquakes ten years ago. Now they are in their last year of primary school, and still the earthquakes cast a shadow over their lives. Cassi Whelan, the lead character, joins the group when she and her dad finally move into a place of their own at the edge of the Red Zone. Next to their house is one that has never been repaired, and next to that is where a boy of Cassi’s age lives – Quinn Fordson. Cassi and Quinn soon discover that strange things are happening in the garage of the broken house. Their investigations quickly lead to conflict with two dodgy types who use the garage as a base for their criminal activities. Bringing the two criminals to justice is the main plotline of the story, but by doing so the two main characters find ways to cope with the trauma that has coloured their lives for so long.

What inspired you to write this book?

Over the last 10 years I’ve visited many schools in Christchurch doing presentations and workshops. In the workshops I ask children to write a short backstory of themselves. Almost every one of those in Christchurch featured the earthquakes, with particular emphasis on the number of houses they’d lived in, and the multiple schools attended. To me it was clear that growing up with instability in home and school was having an effect on these kids, especially their relationships with others. They would have had to make and break friends so regularly that it was sure to influence their dealings with others.

What research was involved?

I visited Christchurch on four different occasions over a period of three years: two to visit schools and two to do specific research such as visiting Riccarton Bush. I searched the suburbs that had been most affected looking for one that would best suit the ideas I was having for the story. I chose Avonside because I found several houses around there that hadn’t been repaired – the broken house in the story is based on a couple of those.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

Red Edge was written between November 2017 and May 2018. These are usually the months I use for first drafts as there’s not much demand for school visits at this time. I start writing around 7:30 each morning and finish at 10:30. I then do some gardening or other manual work which allows me to think about my writing. In the afternoons I edit the morning’s work and plan for the next bit of writing. At 3:00 our dog Puku insists I take him for a walk which can take up to two hours, usually along Matarangi Beach – walking is when I get my best ideas. In the evenings I read a novel which has nothing whatsoever to do with what I’m writing; something that’s easy to read. This cycle repeats seven days a week until the first draft is finished. I then leave it alone for several months before doing the final rewrites. This break allows me to view the story with fresh eyes, helping me to identify bits that need further work. Red Edge was sent to Scholastic in October 2018.

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

Eleanor Rigby by Lennon and McCartney; Stayin’ Alive by the BeeGees

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

Thomasin McKenzie as Cassi; Julian Dennison as Quinn

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

The challenge of writing a female lead character. At first I worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it work, but by the end I found I was enjoying the way her character was developing. Cassi is able to express her emotions more freely than any boy character I’ve ever written.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I’m not confident enough in my writing to celebrate the finishing of a book – not until it is accepted by a publisher. Then we go out for an evening in Whitianga; maybe a movie followed by a meal.

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

Camino Winds by John Grisham. I’ve been a fan of Grisham ever since reading The Pelican Brief in 1993. While I’ve always found his stories easy to read, it is only in recent years that I’ve discovered why: he’s very good at helping the reader remember characters. When a character reappears after an absence, he’ll mention some peculiar characteristic or recall an action that happened earlier. As I get older I have difficulty in keeping up with anything more than three characters – Grisham makes it easier.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

At present I’m working on a nonfiction title about climate change, targeted at ages 7 to 12. I do have a follow up story to Red Edge which was written last summer. Called Red Centre it has Quinn getting into strife in Australia when he’s over there visiting his dad. Cassi has to go over to rescue him. I’ll get back to it again soon to do the rewrites. If all goes well, I’m hoping for a third book using the same characters, perhaps one that involves Covid-19.

Red Edge is published by Scholastic NZ


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