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Interview: Heather Haylock talks about Granny McFlitter: The Knit Before Christmas

Heather Haylock talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about your book.

In Granny McFlitter: The Knit Before Christmas, disaster strikes when all the zoo animals’ Christmas stockings go missing on Christmas Eve. It’s the third book in the Granny McFlitter series – Granny McFlitter has previously helped chilly penguins by knitting them jumpers, and saved the A&P show from a rampaging bull using her knitting skills.

The story is written in rhyme, and is illustrated by the very talented Lael Chisholm, who won the 2017 Storylines Gavin Bishop Award which gave her the opportunity to illustrate the first book in the series, Granny McFlitter the Champion Knitter. I love that Lael has managed to sneak one of the penguins and the bull from the previous books, into the illustrations for The Knit Before Christmas. See if you can spot them when you read the book!

What inspired you to write this book?

Our cat, Katie, always has her own Christmas stocking. It is put up beside our kids’ stockings, and she always finds some treats and gifts in it come Christmas morning. One year, we couldn’t find her Christmas stocking to hang up. What a feline fuss! What a furry flurry! It got me to thinking about what would happen if all the animals’ stockings went missing on Christmas Eve.

I’ve always wondered, too, what happens to the odd socks that seem to disappear when I do the laundry. This story provides one possible answer to that age-old conundrum.

What research was involved?

This is a great question. I always carry out background research for my stories, even the fictional ones. For Granny McFlitter:A Knit Before Christmas, I spent a lot of time analysing the rhythm and rhyme of the original poem, A Night Before Christmas, by Clement C. Moore. I decided to replicate a few of the verses from that poem, where it seemed appropriate, in the zoo setting with Granny McFlitter.

I also spent time researching what exotic animals can eat, and what some of them might consider to be treats. I reached out to some zookeepers and veterinarians. I wanted to ensure that none of the foods I put in the book would be toxic to those animals. The last thing I’d want to be responsible for is the death of an animal if children read this book and tried to feed animals in a zoo, things that would be harmful. (Please, please, don’t feed the zoo animals, people!) I found out that giraffes enjoy the occasional strawberry as a treat, and that while camels might enjoy an occasional handful of sultanas, they are quite high in sugar and toxic to dogs. I also learned that in the USA, tigers in zoos are sometimes given sausages specially made of ground-up animal carcasses, so as not to upset the viewing public with the sight of a carcass being torn to pieces by a tiger.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I love to write in rhyme. It is a peculiar form of mental gymnastics. When I write, I write aloud. I constantly speak the words to see if they rhyme and if the rhythm of the lines is consistent. My daughter appeared, bleary-eyed from sleep one night, saying she thought the house was haunted as she could hear mumbling. I assured her it was just me, staying up late one night to meet a deadline!

One of the things I find most helpful when writing stories, is to let my subconscious brain take over sometimes. If I’m stuck in a particular place with a story, I will often leave it alone and go for a walk. Over and over again, once my conscious brain moves over and gets out of the way, my subconscious will magically come up with the answer while I’m doing something other than writing – walking, weeding the vegetable garden, or clearing all the gunk out of the dishwasher filter. (The glamorous life of an author!)

One more extremely important thing about my writing process is getting as many people as I can, to read my manuscript out loud to me before I send it away to a publisher. It’s a good way to see if I have the rhythm right. Different people read aloud differently, and when I’m really familiar with a text, I want to make sure that I’m not twisting the way I say words to make sure they fit. Having other people read my work aloud, sight unseen, helps me identify any problem spots where people might trip over and get tangled up in the words.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this book?

I loved writing about the rare Tufted Tweetlebird. It was a fun species to come up with, it’s fun to say, and I was excited to see how Lael (the fabulous illustrator of the Granny McFlitter series) would bring such a bird to life on the page.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I treated myself to a trip to the zoo!

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

I have just finished reading, again, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I read it every couple of years and it is one of my favourite books, ever. It is an encouragement for anyone trying to create things – whether that be in words or another form.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’ve been working with Lael on a new Granny McFlitter story – watch this space! I have Koro Wēta and the Gumboot Battle due for release in 2024 – it is the text for this year’s Storylines Gavin Bishop Award for a previously unpublished illustrator. I’ve also been working recently on a story about a dinosaur, so have been busy researching dinosaurs! I am editing my first chapter book manuscript at the moment as well. I enjoy trying to stretch my creativity by having a go with different genres.


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