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Interview: Kirsty Wadsworth talks about Īhaka and the Unexpected Visitor


Kirsty Wadsworth was born in Slough in the United Kingdom and moved with her parents to New Zealand when she was 18 months old. Kirsty was home-schooled from the age of 10, and later home-schooled her younger siblings. She's been a primary school teacher for 7 years now and lives in Levin with her husband, Manu, and son, Matthew. Kirsty talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about Īhaka and the Unexpected Visitor.

Īhaka is a little bit adventurous and loves all the visitors that come over. When Tāwhirimatea becomes one of his visitors, he recognises him immediately. Īhaka is quick to offer his help when Tāwhirimatea tells him that he’s lost his raincloud. Together, the two of them search for the cloud by asking the other guardians if they’ve seen it. The book introduces the guardians – Tāwhirimatea, Tane, Tangaroa and Ruaumoko – in a way that will hopefully help young readers to remember what they are in charge of. Ultimately, Īhaka is the one who comes up with the solution to find the cloud, by asking his mum, which can remind children that they always have something of value to contribute.

What inspired this book?

As a school teacher, I read books to my class all the time. My first book, ‘The Promise of Puanga’ was one of my students’ favourites, and they particularly liked the character of Tāwhirimatea. Whenever it was windy outside, they would say, “Oh, Tāwhirimatea is here! Hi Tāwhirimatea!” I loved that they now knew who he was and spoke about him in the right context. I decided I wanted them to know about the other guardians, as well. We ended up creating fact sheets on each guardian, and they enjoyed this activity so much, I knew that I wanted to write a book that included Tangaroa, Tane and Ruaumoko and, of course, Tāwhirimatea again. I also wanted to have each of them interact with a real boy, so that children could maybe see a little bit of themselves in the story.

What research was involved?

When I knew I wanted to include various Māori guardians, I researched what they were in charge of and looked after and knew I had to be specific. For example, Tangaroa is known as the guardian of the sea but he also looks after the rivers, lakes and creatures within. I also had a little trouble coming up with a name for my main character, so I decided to find out what my brother, Isaac’s name is in Māori and ‘Īhaka’ was born!

What was the process with with the illustrator, Zak Waipara?

Zak’s illustrations are stunning, and I feel very lucky to have worked with someone so talented. Zak sent some initial sketches to start with so I could get a feel for his work and the style he envisioned for the book. The style was quite fluid, using watercolours, which meant we could have both soft and bold colours, and I thought this was an ideal match for the story. Zak was so kind to put in some small touches that made the illustrations more personal to me. For example, the German Shepherd on the last page and the taonga that Mum and Īhaka are wearing are special tributes to my son and our dog. Once he had sent through the initial layouts, the whole process went quite quickly, and it was so fun seeing the progression of the illustrations as they were transformed into the final product.

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

I would include ‘Ngoi Ngoi’ by the Pātea Māori Club, as this is an upbeat, cheery and slightly adventurous song that I feel matches Īhaka’s character quite well. I would also include Tangaroa Whakamautai by Maisey Rika. This song has a beautiful, ethereal quality to it that I feel suits the guardians and their poetic language.

What did you enjoy the most about writing Īhaka and the Unexpected Visitor?

I really enjoyed exploring the different characters of Īhaka, Tāwhirimatea and the other guardians. It was fun coming up with what the guardians might say when they told Tāwhirimatea they hadn’t seen his cloud and making their language almost poetic. I also liked giving Tāwhirimatea more of a personality as guardian of the wind and adding some humour. For example, Tāwhirimatea doesn’t just talk, he ‘hollers’ or ‘bellows’ or rumbles’. His sighs nearly blow Īhaka away and his loud laugh terrifies the cat!

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

My family like to go out for a special meal to celebrate our achievements. Once the book was finished, my husband, my little son and I went to our local restaurant for a yummy dinner together. Much later, when the book was published, we celebrated with a book launch at the local library.

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

It’s so hard to choose just one, but I loved reading ‘The Lighthouse Princess’ by Susan Wardell and illustrated by Rose Northey. The story is like a modern fairy tale, and I particularly liked the twist in the plot, where the princess is quite happy living alone in her lighthouse and doesn’t need rescuing. The beautiful, flowing illustrations compliment the story perfectly.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I have a few stories on the go, but I would like to write about more of Īhaka’s adventures with the other Maori guardians. It would be great for him to visit Tangaroa down by the sea or have an adventure with Ruaumoko and his volcanoes. I have some ideas for this, which I am working on at the moment. I also have a short story I wrote for the 7-11 age group, which I am currently adapting into a novel.


Scholastic NZ

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