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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: June Dooney talks about The Flying Teddy




June Dooney is an award-winning author, who has recently published The Flying Teddy. June initially relayed Tommy Teddy’s story to her five-year-old niece Pippa 40 years ago. Although long in incubation, its message of accepting and loving oneself is still relevant for today’s young readers. Along with a BA in English and BD from London University, June also has a postgraduate diploma in journalism and, for several years, hosted a radio interview program on Radio Rhema. She lives in Tauranga. June talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about The Flying Teddy

This story has been a long time in incubation—forty years in fact.  It was a story that I told to my niece Pippa when she was five.  At the time, I was living alone in Christchurch, and her family lived a few streets away.  We had a great relationship.  I can’t remember now what inspired the story.  The original version was rather long.

Pippa did some drawings (long since gone), and I went to her school and read the story to her classmates.  It was quite an event.


The original version languished in my filing cabinet for 40 years.  In the meantime, I moved away from Christchurch wrote my first book Tears of Intercession, which incidentally won the Christian Booksellers book of the year award in 1991 and in that same year I married at the age of 49. 


My husband and I did some travelling, and during that time I ghostwrote another book for German Swiss friend Rudy Lack.  It was titled Breakthrough--Taking the Gospel across Forbidden Borders.  Following our travels, we established a passionfruit orchard, so there was little time for writing.  It was only after we sold the orchard in 2017 that I got the urge to get back to writing.  I decided the easiest place to start was my children’s story and decided to enter the Joy Cowley Annual Storylines competition for first-time writers.  I didn’t win a place, but it was an excellent exercise in reducing my manuscript to 1000 words.


Aware that every book needs an editor, I submitted my manuscript to Janice Marriott who gave me some expert advice.  By now I’d written and rewritten the manuscript many times and felt I was ready to get an artist.


I approached a friend who had already illustrated a children’s book.  We agreed on a price, and he was about to walk out my door with the manuscript when I had a strong sense that it wasn’t the right time.  I’d been working on another manuscript (my story of getting married as an older single) and felt that book should take precedence.  It was only my book  Is Marriage For Me?  was completed and published in 2019, that I started to seriously look at how to publish my children’s book.


By now, my artist friendwas no longer working as an illustrator. I approached another acquaintance who had also successfully illustrated children’s books. We set up an appointment on Wednesday to sign a contract. That meeting never took place. The previous Sunday, he was out walking in the park when he died of a heart attack!


Finally early 2023 I approached Copy Press in Nelson.  They reviewed the book, accepted it for publication and also put me in touch with local Nelson artist Jess Twohill who I feel has done a magnificent job in bringing Tommy Teddy to life.


What did I enjoy the most in writing this book?

I can’t remember how the original idea came to me.  My father would make up bedtime stories with us as children and I followed the same practice with my niece and nephew and then later with my grandchildren. 


Story writing has long been a passion.  I majored in  English and in 1972 and completed a post graduate course in Journalism 1972.  My biggest challenge in writing a children’s story, was to reduce it in length and also get the right New Zealand flavour. For instance, I changed my original red breasted robin bird into a thrush when someone pointed out that there are no red breasted  robins in New Zealand. 


I think the most enjoyable part was working with Jess Twohill the artist.  I had definite ideas as to how the story should be depicted art wise.   Jess had the ability to bring those ideas to life.  She also introduced special touches of her own such as bird’s leader Trevor Thrush wearing spectacles. 

As important as the story is, it’s artwork that brings the story to life.   While my search for an artist went through a few setbacks, I believe that in Jess, I finally found the right artist.


What do you hope children will take away from reading?

My main hope is that they will not look at someone else and want to be like them, but they will be content to be the person and gender that they were born.


What did you do to celebrate the finishing of the book?

I didn’t do anything in particular.  After such a long journey, in bringing it to production, it was just a relief to get it finally published. 


What I did realise is that producing a book is only the first stage.  Marketing a book and getting it known  is almost the bigger challenge.  I’m really pleased with the book and my dream is that many children will love it as well.


My biggest reward is when a five-year-old came up and told me how much she loves my Flying Teddy book.


What’s next on my agenda?

I do have other books in mind, but I’m not ready to get started on them yet.  August, I’m heading off on a Mediterranean Cruise.

 

Copy Press

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