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Interview: Maria Gill talks about Kate Sheppard: Leading the Way for Women

Maria Gill has always recognised that she is a feminist and is proud of it. “To me, women’s suffrage is about equality for all humans. Who wouldn’t want that!” She is an acclaimed author of 58 non-fiction books. As well as winning the Non-fiction and Supreme Book of the Year award, in collaboration with illustrator Marco Ivančić and the Scholastic team for their book Anzac Heroes at the 2016 New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults, she’s won the Children’s Choice Award (non-fiction category), been shortlisted five times, and 10 books have been selected as Storylines Notable Books. Maria Gill writes full-time from a seaside village north of Auckland. She talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Kate Sheppard: Leading the Way for Women.

It’s an inspiring book about Kate Sheppard from when she was a young feisty girl through to being a spirited middle-aged woman battling to get women the vote. Kate wrote letters to newspapers, gave out pamphlets educating the public, and asked women throughout New Zealand to sign a petition. It includes her struggles and the ultimate achievement of getting the Electoral Bill changed to include women.

What inspired you to write this book? I knew in 2018 we were going to commemorate 125 years of female getting the vote and wanted to write a book honouring the women who made that happen in New Zealand.

What research was involved? I looked through the archives at the Canterbury museum and read books about Kate Sheppard and the Temperance movement.

What was your routine or process when writing this book? Lynette Evans, publishing manager at Scholastic asked if I had developed the idea further, late January. (I had originally pitched the idea in October.) I was so excited I researched and wrote a draft in seven days – in time for the Scholastic Acquisition’s meeting. For a month afterwards, I tweaked the story, wrote the back-matter, and worked with the editor Penny Scown to get it finished by the end of February. (That’s a record for me, usually books take considerably longer to get right.)

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include. I would include the Nashville Song Suffragettes ‘Time’s Up’ and the soundtrack for the Suffragette movie’s theme song ‘Suffragette’.

What was the process working with the illustrator Marco Ivancic? Marco had to finish the illustrations in a very short period of time and work at his other job so to help him meet the tight deadline, editor Penny Scown and myself provided him with all the photo referencing he would need. For each double page spread to be historically accurate everything on that page has to be researched. It was a collaborative approach. He drew up thumbnail sketches, then a mock-up and we’d furnish him with further photo references.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this book? I love writing creative non-fiction stories. They bring important historical stories to a young audience. This book in particular resonates with my inner self - that EVERYONE should be treated equal whatever gender, race, religion, etc.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Two book launches. I just did one at the WaiPRU Non-fiction Picture Book Seminar in Hamilton and have another on Wednesday 28th November (125 years to the day women first voted) at the Dorothy Butler Bookshop in Ponsonby, Auckland.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why? How to Bee’ by Bren MacDibble. It’s a beautiful story about how a young feisty girl overcomes the difficulties in her life, written by a New Zealand author (who lives in Australia). It won the New Zealand Book Awards CYA Junior Fiction award, CBCA Book of the Year award and was shortlisted for multiple awards around the world.

What’s next on the agenda for you? I’m about to do the final edits to ‘On the Brink’ a children’s non-fiction book about New Zealand’s most endangered animals – due out March 2019. When that’s finished, I’ll start a new book with Marco Ivancic.


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