Fifi Colston is a straight-up creative with her fingers in many arty pies. She is an award-winning junior-fiction novelist and illustrator of more than 30 children’s books including the bestselling Marvellous Marvin by Nadia Lim and the Little Yellow Digger stories by Peter Gilderdale. Fifi talks to NZ Booklovers.
Congratulations on being shortlisted in the NZ Booklovers Awards 2023. Can you tell us a little about your shortlisted book?
Masher is a junior fiction novel about a barking mad glove puppet accidentally created by 12 year old Freddie Foxworthy.
What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve made a lot of puppets for TV shows and as I was walking along one day I thought, what if a puppet became alive and got their owner into a whole lot of trouble. Freddie is a gentle kind of kid and Staffy Terriers have a reputation (mostly misinformed) as the exact opposite. If you put the two together, who would be the master and would they become good friends? Even if one is made from papier mache.
What research was involved?
I was fortunate enough to get a Writer’s residency at The Otago University College of Education for 6 months. I was actually researching something else at the time but Masher came into my brain in the last month of my time there. Some of my google history includes ‘Can a dog die from eating flour and water paste?’ and ‘Staffordshire Terrier puppy’ images searches.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
Once I had the germ of the idea I couldn’t wait to start. I had reached the point on my other WIP where I needed some time to think and reflect and maybe rewrite everything! So Masher was like a holiday from writing, by writing. Each morning I walked through the Otago Campus thinking about what might happen next to Freddie and Masher, then plonked myself down at the Polytech Café (the best cheese rolls were there) and scrawled the next chapter in long hand. It was messy! I’d then go back to my office across the road at the University College of Education and type up what I’d written in a Word Doc, revising, adding and correcting as I went. By the time I got through this process, I was pretty much at almost at second draft by the time I wrote ‘The End’ two days before the residency finished.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
‘Werewolves of London’ by Warren Zevon mostly so we could sing ‘Ah-hoo!!!’ because Masher would love that and feel that werewolves might generally be misunderstood.
And of course ‘Who Let the Dogs out’ by Baha Men!
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
Freddie would have to be played by New Plymouth actor, Tom Kerr from Sweet Tooth. I think he’s amazing and he’d could be Freddie to a T. His sister Dahlia would be played by Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie and Axl by any one of the Aotearoa thrash metal Band, Alien Weaponry.
Masher would be played by the actual glove puppet that I made, though maybe a bit of CGI would be fun on his facial expressions.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
Everything! Every day made me smile and there is nothing like being on a roll with writing. My three previous junior fiction novels were the same, they just poured out of me. Other things I’ve written have been hard slog and they haven’t been picked up for publishing and I think it’s because my sweat and angst shows too much.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
Dinner at Fleur’s Place in Moeraki on the way back to Wellington from finishing the residency 2 days later.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
‘Mrs Jewell and the Wreck of the General Grant’ by Cristina Sanders. It’s a fascinating story and so well written, you can’t put it down. I see you’ve also shortlisted it - great choice! I was at school with Cristina and Cuba Press her publisher is run by another school mate, Mary McCallum. It must have been a good year for writers, although my English teacher tore her hair out about my general attitude- spoiler alert, I wasn’t a model student!
What’s next on the agenda for you?
Ongoing educational illustration, another picture book in the wings, some wearable art, facilitating some workshops and then just see what the rest of the year turns up. Right now I’m having a much needed holiday after being the Production Designer for a TV series ‘Little Apocalypse’ for all of my summer, so I’m reading the big stack of books next to my bed!