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Interview: Donna Blaber talks about Just Remember

Donna Blaber spent most of her childhood with her nose in a book, reading everything she could get her hands on. She grew up in a small town with a miniature library run by volunteer librarians with huge hearts. Every week they added recommendations to her book bag. A former journalist, Donna has a Masters degree in Creative Writing, and writes stories set in New Zealand. She lives north-east of Whāngārei, with her husband, and two daughters. Donna talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about your novel.

Just Remember is a heartfelt novel about a young girl, who, after the traumatic death of her father, finds solace and a future from within his past. It’s a soft YA novel for 12-14 year olds but is also suitable for readers aged 10 plus. The main character, Em, experiences a series of life changing events following her first after-school detention, and she blames herself for everything that goes wrong. Dad dies tragically on his way to pick her up, and Mum has a nervous breakdown; if she’d known this would happen, she never would have talked in class. After losing friends, confidence, and hope, Em moves north to stay with Nan and finds a future with the help of new friends, a mermaid, and a magic rock.

What inspired you to write this book?

My passion lies with soft YA books that have the ability to reach down to younger audiences. This is what drives me. Just Remember was inspired by many things but the element that stands out the most, is the belief that literature touching on mental illness and human fragility reminds us that we’re not alone. We need this reassurance, no matter what age we are. And for young people the burden of unnecessary guilt is a heavy load.

What research was involved?

I always read a lot in the genre, both work published in New Zealand and beyond. This particular novel required interviews with professionals, and a lot of fact checking.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

At first, when I was getting down the bones, I immersed myself into it fully. The skeleton came out in three weeks; it was terrible of course, but it’s a key part of my process, getting all the ideas out of my head and onto the page in some semblence of order. After that it was rewriting, rewriting, rewriting, fact checking, interviewing, and then rewriting again and again until I was happy with the result.

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

That’s something I haven’t considered before but I’d definitely give parts to Amanda Billing and Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne. I think Amanda would make a great mum for Em, and Tioreore would be perfect at playing Mia, one of Em’s friends.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

I always get the most enjoyment from the meditative state of writing, which I find soothing as I am not a very relaxed person. Calm and uncluttered, it’s a great place to hang out, and anything can happen!

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Celebrating books is not a thing I do well. I’d like to be better at it but I have a magazine mentality whereupon once something I’ve written is published, I’m already thinking about the next thing I’m going to write. However, as sad as that sounds, I do get a lot of pleasure from putting a big tick in my diary, and focusing on the next book.

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

I’ve just finished reading The Liminal Space by Jacquie McRae. I loved the depth of her characters, the setting, and sense of community her story evokes. Her first novel The Scent of Apples, is also one of my favourites.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I currently have a series of random threads wafting around in my consciousness. A new character is beginning to emerge and I know I need to spend time absorbing the setting, so she will fully materialise. I also find it useful to have an anchor. Something solid and grounding. In the case of Just Remember, it was a nikau palm on a steep track used by hikers. Its trunk is worn smooth from years of people grasping it, so it is as glossy as a well oiled bannister. When I saw it I knew I was going to have to write about it. So finding my next anchor is also on my to-do list. Aside from that, I’ve accumulated a large stack of books in my reading pile, so that will happily fill in any spare time!


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