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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Jodie Shelley talks about A Thousand Paper Cups

Jodie Shelley is a Kiwi author who lives in Auckland with her husband and son. Shelley writes easy-to-read novels set in New Zealand. She released her debut novel, The Tui Has Landed, in 2023. It is an amusing tale of friendship, gambling and revenge, set against a backdrop of terrible dating disasters and horrible pickup lines. Yet, behind the lighter storyline, a grittier examination of problem gambling emerges as a mystery character makes her descent into a pit of addiction.

The Tui Has Landed was a finalist in the London-based Wishing Shelf Awards. Jodie talks to NZ Booklovers about her new novel, A Thousand Paper Cups.


Tell us a little about A Thousand Paper Cups

A Thousand Paper Cups is the story of a family facing a conundrum.  When Benjamin reveals to his family that he is gay, it resurfaces trauma from his father’s past. Finding Benjamin excluded from an inheritance, his brothers Liam and Will grapple with the path forward, do they challenge the will or respect the wishes of the departed?

Emma is a new teacher and wife to middle brother, Liam. She finds herself working for an over-achieving principal who decides that the faculty will increase the frequency of parent teacher interviews, Emma’s least favourite thing. She spends her time meeting a raft of peculiar parents and trying her best (but not always succeeding) to stay out of trouble with the high performing principal.

The novel touches on family harm, loss, and homophobia, however, elements of humour emerge in the cheeky banter between characters, the quirky parents attending sessions at the school and in the mangled idioms uttered by youngest brother, Benjamin.

The title of the book is derived from Benjamin and his adorable habit of getting his sayings wrong, for example, “the fruit of my groin” or “you’re as white as a sheep” and of course, “death by a thousand paper cups”.

What inspired you to write this book?

I listened to a podcast that was styled after the old ‘Agony Aunt’ type newspaper column of old.  People wrote in and had their issues dissected and solved during the podcast. One particular episode featured a young gay man who believed that he had been excluded from a will due to his sexuality. His family were dealing with the issue and it was unclear as to whether his siblings were prepared to resolve the matter in his favour. It struck me as a situation filled with pain for a family at a time of grieving.  That became a core element in this story.


What research was involved?

I researched a variety of subjects for this novel, from details about fatal strokes, to strangulation, to the Homosexual Law Reform and what life was like prior to this legislation being passed.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I write at night and proof in the morning over breakfast. I aim to write a minimum of 500 words when I am in writing mode. I often write more than that in one sitting, but I trick myself into getting started by committing to 500 words, and it works for me. A little bit, often, is how my books get written.


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

I’d like to include ‘Send Me On My Way’ – Guy Meets Girl. It sets the right tone for the novel. It is a story of resilience and this tune has an understated upbeat mood to it that works.  The Guy Meets Girl version, not the original Rusted Root version from the nineties!


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

That would be so fun! The fabulous Mark Hadlow could play the troubled father, Murray. 

Will could be played by Nico Evers-Swindlell, Liam by Antony Starr and Benjamin by Tom Sainsbury.  My Emma would definitely be Morgana O’Reilly, she’s ace.


What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

This novel is darker than my first. I enjoyed sitting in the discomfort of writing something confronting. While there are sensitive themes and some harrowing scenes, I managed to weave in some humour in places, I enjoy the lighter parts and the contrast between these two aspects of the novel.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I didn’t do much to celebrate finishing this book, because it overlapped with writing my third book, Zoe and Mila. But I suppose the book launch is the best celebration. That was held in a local sailing club one Sunday afternoon with a glass of bubbles, some pizza and a short speech.


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

I loved reading Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. The character of Elizabeth Zott is just delightful and the setting of the 1960s was so well-crafted, including the blatant disregard for equality by many of the males that surrounded her. It was inspiring and a page turning read.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m planning on releasing my third novel next year. It is called Zoe and Mila. It’s the story of two friends who get themselves tangled up in some gang-related trouble when they try to steal back the office foosball table that had been uplifted by an errant ex-employee.

And I’m halfway through my fourth novel which is centred on a crafty elderly gentleman based in a retirement village. He and the operations manager of the village have an ongoing feud, but the main character is the perfect balance of charming and mischievous, and he gets up to lots of brilliant antics.



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