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Interview: Katie Furze talks about Tuatara: A Living Treasure

Katie Furze writes children’s fiction and non-fiction, including picture books, short stories, articles, plays, readers, and novels. This is her first non-fiction picture book with Scholastic. Katie has a master’s degree in creative writing and is fascinated by science and nature. When she’s not reading or writing, she enjoys the outdoors, tramping, yoga, travelling and scuba diving. Katie talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Tuatara: A Living Treasure.

A sprinkling of tiny islands off the coast of Aotearoa are home to the unique and beloved reptile known as the tuatara. Tuatara: A Living Treasure is a narrative nonfiction picture book that follows the life of a tuatara on an offshore island, showing her ongoing struggle to survive, and explains why tuatara can be considered a living treasure.

What inspired you to write this book?

Recent scientific research tells us tuatara are even more unusual and special than previously thought. As I started working on the book, the more I found out about tuatara, the more excited I became, because they are simply incredible creatures that are different to any other animals alive today! I wanted to share this knowledge with young people, and at the same time help tuatara, by writing a picture book that would bring them to the attention of a wide audience.

What research was involved?

First, I searched for every piece of information I could find about tuatara. This included books, scientific papers, articles, podcasts, interviews, videos, and websites. Then I read, watched, or listened to all of these. Some sources are more accurate and more useful than others, and it was important to check every fact that made it into the final book. The part of the research I enjoyed the most was visiting places where tuatara live, such as Tiritiri Matangi Island, Orokonui and Zealandia ecosanctuaries. Once I had a completed manuscript, I contacted experts to ask specific questions and to check the accuracy of what I had written.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

When writing non-fiction, I start by researching the topic as widely and thoroughly as I can, taking notes by hand, because this helps me to process the information. Usually as I research, I get a ‘feeling’ about the form and shape of the piece I am going to write. When that feeling is strong enough, I start the first draft – always with pen on paper – sometimes I begin with a few lines of story, other times I start with a scribbled plan. This often leads to more focussed research. It is a messy and playful process, but it works for me. Once I have a first draft that I quite like, I type it up. After that, I revise the story with help from critique partners – there are usually many drafts over a few months, sometimes years.

How did you work with the illustrator Ned Barraud?

Finding out Ned Barraud would be the illustrator was a very exciting moment. I’m a big fan of Ned’s books and I knew that he would bring Tuatara to life in the most amazing way!

In most cases, the illustrator and author of a picture book work separately. This is important to allow the illustrator time and space to develop their creative vision (which might be quite different to the author’s). How publishers manage this process varies. My publisher sent the illustration roughs and the first colour spread to me for comment, and later the final illustrations and layout, which was wonderful.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this book?

Surprisingly, the part I most enjoyed came after the writing – I most enjoyed being a member of a collaborative team with different skills, working together to make a beautiful book. With a picture book this is where the magic happens.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

When Tuatara was sent to print, I felt happy, relieved, and grateful to everyone involved. I’ll be celebrating at the end of July with a book launch at the Dorothy Butler Bookshop in Auckland.

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

I loved Remember Me by Charity Norman – it is a mystery steeped in atmosphere and strong emotions, with a distinctly local setting and characters.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’m excited to share that I have a second book on the way with Ned Barraud and Scholastic New Zealand! Like Tuatara, A Living Treasure it is a narrative nonfiction picture book about a very special native animal and it will be released in 2024.

Also, I’m always writing new stories and articles for The School Magazine in Australia and working on one or two larger projects.

Scholastic New Zealand


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