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Interview: Janet Hunt talks about Three Kiwi Tales

We want to introduce you to some of the finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults. Janet Hunt is nominated for the Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction for Three Kiwi Tales.

Janet is one of New Zealand’s best known natural history writers, for adults and children. A former teacher, she lives in Taranaki, and is the chair of the Northern Taranaki Branch of Forest & Bird.

Tell us a little about your book.

Three Kiwi Tales first tells the story of Latitude, a North Island brown kiwi, whom we first meet when he is still inside an egg, and very definitely in trouble! The spotlight then moves south to focus on Raratoka, a rare female Haast tokoeka with a broken bill (you can imagine what that means for a kiwi) and finally, there’s the tale of Piwi, who would keep breaking his legs. None of these kiwi would have survived without the expertise of Wildlife hospital and the care and attention from dedicated kiwi lovers all over the country, including the workers at the Rainbow Springs hatchery in Rotorua. So Three Kiwi Tales is their story as well.

What inspired you to write this book?

I am a longtime member of Forest & Bird and through this, and through other books I have written, am keenly aware and in awe of the massive effort that goes into kiwi conservation by men, women and children across the country.

What research was involved?

Primary research was a visit to Wildbase to observe them at work with kiwi and another to Rainbow Springs for the same reason. I also contacted people who had been involved with the kiwi stars of these tales via email and by phone. Secondary research involved reading everything I could find about kiwi, online and in books.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

First, in consultation with Pauline Njiman from Wildbase and Emma Bean from Rainbow Springs, I selected the three kiwi characters Latitude, Raratoka and Piwi. I was looking for a range of locations, subspecies and case histories to best represent the stories of all other kiwi.

Then I read as much as I could and made the visits to Wildbase and Rainbow Springs, as well as talking to others who work with kiwi, taking notes and photographs and building a database of information to draw on when I started writing.

Once the writing was complete, I cross-checked with Pauline, Emma and my other contacts in order to ensure that I had everything correct.

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

There are undoubtedly others but I’ve always had a soft spot for The Fourmyula’s “Nature" (1969) so would find a spot for it somewhere!

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

Unfortunately I’m not sufficiently au fait with current actors to do a cast list! But the people would be incredibly handsome/beautiful and clever, and the kiwi would just play themselves.

What did you enjoy the most about writing (or illustrating) this book?

First, the privilege of seeing behind the scenes at Wildbase and at Rainbow Springs along with being in touch with so many others, such as the Kiwi Trust, who are working to protect and conserve kiwi. And second, translating that excitement and learning into a book format for others.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I went for a walk around Lake Rotokare. Rotokare Scenic Reserve Trust is a predator-fenced kiwi sanctuary in South Taranaki. Of course, it was daytime so I neither heard nor saw kiwi but the trust is doing such a great job that 30 kiwi are soon to be released to another reserve and their kiwi are helping to repopulate predator-free areas of Mt Taranaki.

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

One of my lockdown reads was Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear (Allen Lane, 2007). As a fellow nature nut with a rural background, I loved reading about her evolution as a person, illustrator and writer. I never read her books as a child and don’t really relate to the degree of anthropomorphism in them but she was such a talented illustrator and in her later life, landswoman. Brilliant.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I have some ideas but haven’t committed to anything this year, luckily, as it turns out with what has happened with Covid-19. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time sorting and clearing old files. Watch this space!

The winners of the New Zealand Books Awards for Children and Young Adults will be revealed via a virtual presentation on Wednesday 12 August. For a full list of the brilliant 2020 finalists click here:


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