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Interview: Jodie Shelley talks about The Tui has Landed

Jodie Shelley is an author who lives in Auckland with her husband and young son. She writes easy-to-read and fun novels, which also explore grittier themes such as problem gambling and family harm. Jodie talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about The Tui Has Landed?

The Tui Has Landed is a kiwi fiction. Set in Auckland, it follows the fortunes of two lead characters, Becky and Anahera. Their paths cross and strangers become friends. Then when Anahera's life gets turned upside down, the young women recruit their resourceful friends to avenge a wrong and secure the return of a ring that belongs to Anahera's beloved koro.

It's a lively story. There is adventure, humour, terrible dating disasters (as Becky attempts to find love) and horrible pick-up lines. It’s a fun, light read, and it’s been described as a ‘smart, contemporary romance’; however, intertwined through the story is a grittier theme. A mysterious character emerges and begins a descent into the murky world of problem gambling.

What inspired you to write this book? We hear it has something to do with Marian Keyes; is that correct?

Yes. That's right. I was in a busy corporate role, and I felt like there wasn't a lot of time for me outside of the corporate version of myself. I'd work all day, then come home for dinner, put my wee boy to bed and work into the night, then rinse and repeat.

I asked my husband what I would actually do if I had spare time. Did I have any hobbies anymore? He gave me the quintessential kiwi bloke answer, Yeah, Nah. You have no hobbies.

And right about that time, the amazing Irish author Marian Keyes was delivering an Instagram live series on How to write a novel.

For an hour a week for four weeks, she answered questions and shared her knowledge and experience from her hugely successful writing career. All in her delightful Irish accent. It was a joy.

In the first week, Marian set us all a task. We had to pick from a set of sentences that she provided us and then just write 500 words following that sentence. The sentence I chose was: The doughnuts had failed to de-escalate the situation.

When we came back together the next week, Marian said if you enjoyed that process of writing the 500 words, just keep going! So I did, and that sentence was the nexus of The Tui Has Landed.

What research was involved?

Oh dear, I’d hate to review the search history on my laptop of all the dubious things I researched for this book, everything from crazy outfits someone might wear to a sex party in the suburbs to outlandish deviant bedroom practices. Let's just say I'm glad I wasn't working on a work computer. There would have been some serious questions asked.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I would sit down at night and commit to writing a minimum of 500 words. Of course, that was just a trick to get myself started because once I started, I often would write more when I got into that delicious ‘flow’ state. A practice that worked well for me was writing at night and then proofing what I’d written in the morning over breakfast. I also created a spreadsheet that helped me to mark off the progress that I was making. I’d have a starting word count for the day, and I’d insert a finishing word count at the end of the session, and the formula would work out what percentage of the book was written and what percentage was left to write.

Of course, the word count doesn’t matter nearly as much as the plot, so I would also have a map of the plot sketched out as it was forming and it would be colour coded based on characters. I created a timeline to ensure that the events, ages of characters, seasons, etc, lined up.

I spent time creating my characters outside of the story, too. I sat down and recorded a minimum of twenty interesting aspects of each character. Some of those things were included in the book, and some were not, but it enabled me to create very different characters. As Marian says ‘don’t write an ‘every woman’ type character’ and ‘make sure they all have a different voice’. I hope I managed to avoid that.

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

Well, it’s a kiwi story so they’d have to be kiwi tunes. ‘You oughta be in love’ by the legendary Dave Dobbyn would be one, to represent Becky’s journey to find her soul mate and her many disastrous dates. And, ‘Not Many’ by Scribe would be a great soundtrack for the late-night adventure the friends embark on. It has that sense of excitement and fear and building energy.

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

Becky could be played by the fabulous Kimberly Crossman. And Anahera could be played by the equally fabulous Shavaughn Ruakere.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

I enjoyed tormenting my husband by insisting he listened to me reading him the humorous parts of the book. But also the process of writing, being immersed in something I love to do. And funnily enough, editing. I love editing, going through the book again and again, knowing that every change just makes the end product better.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I think when it was sent off to the designer to work on the layout and the cover, I might have done a little celebratory dance in my lounge, but also I had a little launch party with friends and family in a bar in Auckland.

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

Ruby Tui’s book, Straight Up. I loved reading about her story, her strength and her character. She is awe-inspiring.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I have written a second book. I’m in the process of having it copy-edited. The working title is ‘A Thousand Paper Cups’, and I would be delighted if I were able to release it this time next year. Again, it’s set in NZ, and it has a balance of humour and more serious themes, in this case, family harm and homophobia. And I’ve begun writing a third book.

The Copy Press


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