Karen McMillan is the author of 20 diverse books, from bestselling novels, The Paris of the East, The Paris of the West and Brushstrokes of Memory, to non-fiction books that inspire and help others: Everyday Strength and Unbreakable Spirit, and now the popular Elastic Island Adventures series for children. Karen talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about Elastic Island Adventures: Rarotonga.
For people who don’t know about the series, four Kiwi kids travel the ‘elastic island’ in each book to fabulous destinations in the South Pacific. Each book is a different adventure, where they have to work together to get out of trouble or danger or problem-solve before returning home. They are fun fast-paced adventures with creativity and literacy at their heart and are great for children aged 7 to 12 years of age.
In the latest adventure, the children travel to beautiful Rarotonga. They are expecting to relax in the sun, but it’s not long until they run into problems. Mighty Moko, the resident grumpy gecko who lives in their room, is determined to get rid of them, no matter what! But his annoying antics are quickly surpassed when all the black pearls on the island are stolen in a brazen heist, the thief leaving clues scattered around the island. The children are determined to solve the clues, but even with the help of the wise Mana Tiaki, will they be successful? Will the people of Rarotonga ever see their precious black pearls again?
What inspired you to write these books?
Milla, the then 10-year-old in the family, kept asking me when I was going to write a children’s book, so I originally wrote the books as something she would enjoy. She continues to inspire me, as do the many children I meet when doing school events. The Elastic Island Adventures books encourage the ‘theatre of the mind’ in children, and I love that the series is set in our part of the world, the South Pacific!
In my previous books, the adventures have been set in made-up South Pacific islands, but I had the wonderful opportunity to go to Rarotonga, thanks to the Pacific Resort Hotel this time around. I’m so delighted that this book is set in the real-life Rarotonga and that young readers will get to learn about Cook Islands’ history and culture in a fun way.
What research was involved?
I did a lot of reading before my research trip to Rarotonga, and then I hit the ground running with a list of places to visit in person. The Pacific Resort Hotel answered my numerous questions, and Cook Island Tourism also read and checked the final manuscript. I got to meet local artists Pania and Ivon Lee while in Rarotonga, and they created the gorgeous cover illustration. It was a real joy to have so many people from Rarotonga involved in the book’s production.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
My process for this book was a lot of reading, then a highly enjoyable but intensive week of research in Rarotonga and then I wrote the book when I returned home to New Zealand quickly so that all the sights and sounds of this fabulous location were still firmly in my mind.
If a soundtrack were made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
There are so many talented local Cook Island musicians, so the soundtrack would be by locals and include music that makes you want to get up and dance and get your hips swaying!
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
All the books in the Elastic Island Adventures series are optioned to be made into movies. The talented Josh Thomson is already picked to be Mr Jollybowler, but it would be great to see some up-and-coming young actors in the children’s roles.
What did you enjoy the most about writing Elastic Island Adventures: Rarotonga?
I loved my stay at the Pacific Resort on Muri Beach in Rarotonga. It’s a stunning location, the resort is all you could wish for and more, and the staff are so friendly. It was unforgettable to be able to research this book in this way. And I loved taking my fictional children on a fun adventure around the island, and I learnt so much in the process.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I read about 250 books a year, so that’s a hard question to choose just one. But I loved, loved, loved El Flamingo by Nick Davies. It’s a debut sunset-noir novel plot with the perfect blend of action, intrigue and romance, all with an exotic Latin-American vibe.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I have another book out soon, The Quokka Logic and Baking Book for children. So it is something completely different from anything else I have done before, but another fun addition to the Elastic Island Adventures world.