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Interview: Des O'Leary talks about Slice of Heaven

Des O’Leary’s novel Slice of Heaven is a finalist for the Best First Book Award at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

The judges found it a funny, moving and thoroughly realistic teen novel, which teems with the colourful variety of life that is South Auckland. A complex group of boys is thrown together in detention. When they join the school’s junior softball team, it’s the perfect set-up for the ensuing clash of cultures and personalities, insights into the boys’ lives, and the chance for some unlikely bonding and personal growth.

Tell us a little about your book

The story is about a group of Y10 students who are pressganged into making up a softball team. It is about how they learn to get on with each other and deal with their lives at home and school.

What inspired you to write this book?

I was looking to buy some new titles to use as novel studies for my classes. I had a selection which I gave to my students to read. One girl read all of them. She showed me the one she liked best and when I asked why her reply was “I like reading stories about people l like us.” The book she referred to was about adults working in London. What she liked was that the story was about living in a multi-cultural society. I looked around for novels about students in a multi-cultural school in New Zealand. At that time I couldn’t find any so I decided to write one myself.

What research was involved?

I lived in south Auckland and taught at Aorere College for over 12 years. In that time I did take some junior softball and rugby league teams. I also helped with the Samoan Culture Group preparing for Polyfest. I spoke and listened to students and as a teacher met their families and visited their homes.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

There wasn’t a routine. I wrote in patches, at weekends, in school holidays, when I could find the time. Once Makaro Press agreed to publish it, there was a lot of rewriting and editing to get it to publication standard.

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

Not a particular song but certainly recordings of the various Polyfest groups singing and the choirs and barbershop groups that Aorere College produces.

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

Young people like the characters themselves, young students from South Auckland.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this book?

The dialogue and the descriptions. South Auckland is such a buzz of energy, colour, humour and life. It is diverse and positive. There are problems, as there are everywhere but people have so much enthusiasm for life and wanting to do well.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Had a feed of fish and chips.

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

That is very difficult as I read a lot over a range of genres. If I have to choose one, then ‘Devils on Horses’ by Terry Kinloch it is about the NZ Mounted Rifles in WW1 which was a fascinating eye-opener for me – there’s room for some great fiction from that!

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Having one book published has been a huge incentive to focus and write and work on some more.

The winners of the New Zealand Books Awards for Children and Young Adults will be revealed at a ceremony in Wellington on 7 August. Full details of all the nominated books are available here (


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