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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Jennifer Beck talks about Bits of String Too Short to Use

A former teacher and psychologist, Jennifer Beck has written a large number of educational children’s books, translated and sold internationally. She is also the author of many much–loved children’s picture books, most of which have won awards. Jennifer talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Bits of String too Short to Use.

After many years of writing mainly for children, I wanted to write more for adults. Although this story will interest all ages, it is particularly relevant to those involved in collecting, downsizing, writing and experiencing the rewards and challenges of a longer life.

What inspired you to write this book?

Speaking with a friend who needed to sort out her elderly mother’s lifetime of possessions. She told me of finding a jar labelled Bits of String too Short to Use. At the time, we both laughed. Who would keep items like that? Now, thirty or so years later, as I try to downsize after years of accumulating and collecting, the tables are turned. I look at some of the items I have kept, wonder why, and also, what will I do with them?

What research was involved?

Many of my books have been about people who lived in earlier times. Research should have been easier for this book, as it was about my life, present as well as past, and the material was all around me. The trouble was, due to nostalgia and a reluctance to ‘toss thing out’ it was often hard to find the material that I wanted.

What was your routine or process when writing and choosing photographs for this book?

Routine? Not my strong point, but I managed by getting up very early in the morning and writing and sorting through photographs before beginning the usual activities of the day.

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

‘Don’t Fence Me In’ sung by Bing Crosby was a favourite of my father. He often sang it in the car, and perhaps the words related to his decision to leave suburban life in Auckland and move to a farm in Northland. Also the music of Dvorak’s Humoresque, which brings back memories of the good time I spent in Dunedin on a Children’s Writing Fellowship, working with Robyn Belton on one of our favourite books, The Anzac Violin.

What did you enjoy the most about writing Bits of String too Short to Use?

Recording in writing special memories, incidents, conversations and experiences never forgotten. Wondering why those times stood out, when so much more that happened did not leave a lasting impression. Writing about some significant events brought laughter, and others, tears.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

After the book was published we enjoyed a celebration at Poppies, at a local bookshop. This was arranged by friends from Storylines, an organisation which has been very supportive to writers such as myself over the years.

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

Re-reading Jock’s CountryA celebration of rural New Zealand. Published by Bateman in 2018, the cartoons and paintings of David Henshaw are a beautifully presented combination of humour and delicate watercolour paintings. I met David Henshaw later in his life, and not until reading this book fully realised what an exceptionally gifted person he had been.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I admired the title of a book by Helen Wilson - My First Eighty Years, published in 1950. I can’t say what is on the agenda for me, except that it won’t be another eighty years ...

Mary Egan Publishing


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