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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Lauren Keenan talks about Amorangi and Millie’s Trip through Time


Lauren Keenan (Te Āti Awa ki Taranaki) is a writer of creative non-fiction, novels, short stories and popular psychology. Lauren was a winner at the 2017 Pikihuia Awards for Māori writers and a finalist in the 2019 awards. She was also a participant in Te Papa Tupu mentoring programme. Her short stories have appeared in Huia Short Stories collections in 2015, 2017 and 2019, and in 2020 her book The 52 Week Project was published. Lauren has a Master of Arts in History. Lauren talks to NZ Booklovers about Amorangi and Millie’s Trip through Time.

Congratulations on winning the NZ Booklovers Best Junior Fiction Award 2023! Can you tell us a little about Amorangi and Millie’s Trip through Time?

Thank you! I'm just delighted. It's a book about two children who travel through time to meet their ancestors to find their lost mum and experience some key points in New Zealand's history on the way. It spans from when I was a kid, all the way back to the Musket Wars.


What inspired you to write this book?

Both of my grandmothers died before I was born, so I never got to meet either of them. For as long as I can remember, I've had this wee fantasy of travelling back in time to spend time with them to see what they were like. That's where the first seed of this idea came from: a longing to meet those who walked before me.


The water that caused this seed to flourish, however, was a life-long belief in the importance of showing New Zealand tamariki just how exciting and relevant New Zealand history can be. That, as well as wanting to tell stories of colonisation in an accessible way.


What research was involved?

I actually have a Master of Arts in New Zealand history specialising in Taranaki Maori history, so that laid the groundwork for my research. Although I did have to look into lots of other specific aspects of the past as well, so went back to some of the books that had been gathering dust since I'd written my thesis, as well as reading a number of old newspapers. I'm also extremely lucky that my best friend is an excellent social historian, who was absolutely invaluable when testing those little historical details that can so often trip an author up when writing about the past.


What was your routine or process when writing this novel?

I wrote the first draft during the COVID-19 lockdown - I was living in the USA at the time, and we were in lockdown for almost a year. I then put it aside for a few months before looking coming back to it once I'd had a little more space from the thing. I find the most important part of writing isn't the first draft. It's the editing, where all of the raw ingredients are wrestled and pummeled into something resembling a book.


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

I would LOVE a soundtrack - especially of New Zealand music. I couldn't go past Counting the Beat for the part set in the 1980s, Ten Guitars for the part set in World War Two, and there are so many options for the 1960s section I'd struggle to choose. Then, something more instrumental for the parts set in the Nineteenth Century. Ideally composed by Hans Zimmer.


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

I think that because of how the story is structured, it would be best to have relative unknowns play the kids, surrounding by well-known actors to play the adults. In the perfect world I'd have Cate Blanchet as the woman with red hair, Taika Waititi as an ironic take on Mr Salisbury, and Rena Owen as Ria's mother.


What did you enjoy the most about writing Amorangi and Millie’s Trip through Time?

I don't want to give any of the plot away, but there was one part that just didn't work for the first two drafts, and I didn't know how to improve it. One day I was driving through the hills near my house and my mind was wandering, and it just clicked into place. It was an awesome feeling. Sub-conscious processing for the win!


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

Definitely the novel Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. It was my Christmas book from my husband and kids, and I just loved it on so many levels. Mostly because it was a rare fiction book where I felt like I knew the characters in real life - so much so, I was sad when it was over.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I'm almost finished the third book in the Amorangi and Millie series. The second one is with Huia and will hopefully be out soon. I'm also editing two adult novels at present: one historical fiction, and one crime fiction. After that, who knows? I have about five or six other ideas for books sitting in my notebooks, so the challenge will be deciding which one to focus on next.


Huia Publishers

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