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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Interview: Maria Gill talks about Remarkable Animal Stories

Maria Gill has written over 60 children’s books for the trade and educational markets. Many of her books have received awards, and in 2016, Anzac Heroes won the Margaret Mahy Children’s Book of the Year supreme award. A former primary school teacher, Maria trained as a journalist and now writes full time from her home in Point Wells. In 2020, Storylines awarded Maria Gill the prestigious Margaret Mahy Medal for services to children’s literature. Maria talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Remarkable Animal Stories.

It’s a collection of funny, heart-warming, and delightful true stories about 28 animals from New Zealand and Australia. There’s Nigel No-Mates, the lovesick gannet; Paddles, the PM’s cat with extra toes; Henry, the tuatara that became a first-time dad at 111 years old; Tumbles, the caring foster parent takahē; and from Australia: Migaloo, a rare white whale; Lulu, the kangaroo who prefers home comforts to being in the wild; Pebbles, the crazy, smooching wombat; and Einstein the cuddly camel. Animal lovers will treasure these tales that celebrate our furry, feathered, four-footed and fishy friends. Includes photos, quirky colourful illustrations, and fascinating facts about wildlife hospitals and sanctuaries.

What inspired you to write this book?

I had collected animal stories from around New Zealand for a while – looking for the right place for them to go. Then one morning, I woke up thinking – I should put them together, along with Australian animal stories.

What research was involved?

It required a lot of interviews over the phone, here and in Australia. I also researched animal behavioural habits, and checked with experts.

How did you work with the illustrator?

I sent Emma Huia Lovegrove some links, but she mostly worked by herself. Her father, Tim Lovegrove, was a keeper at Auckland Zoo so she has great contacts.

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

‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’ from the Cats Musical, and ‘Dark Horse’ by Kate Perry

What did you enjoy the most about writing these stories?

I really enjoyed talking to the handlers and keepers of these animals. They have so much passion, love and dedication for their animals. It was a joy to put their words into a story.

If you had to choose your favourite story, what would it be and why?

That’s a hard one because I love so many of these animals. If you were talking birds, it would have to be Tumbles the Takahē; but Kahurangi the talking kōkako is a close second – she’s so cheeky; if it’s an animal, it is the baby koalas with Izzy the twelve-year-old koala whisperer; BUT Flint – he’s so adorable; and if it is a marine animal, Chrystall, the waddling yellow-eyed penguin who bosses around the wildlife hospital staff … I could go on.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

The writing of it was disrupted because of the lockdowns so it took much longer to finish than we envisaged. So, we’re going to have three book launches: the first in Christchurch on Saturday 21st August at 2pm in the Great Hall at the Arts Centre; the second in Auckland at Kelly Tarlton’s Aquarium (now called Sea Life) on Friday 3rd September at 10.30am; and the third also in Auckland on Sunday 5th September 3.00pm at the Dorothy Butler Bookshop in Ponsonby.

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

The Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby. I kept highlighting passages – his use of imagery, how he described setting to go with the mood of the story, and his quirky characters need to be read more than once.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I’ve been awarded the Art Centre Residency in Christchurch with three other amazing artists/writers and will spend three months there from August to October. While in residence I’m writing a junior fiction book that pays homage to Sir Ernest Rutherford. I’ll also start researching information for another two books I plan to write next year (if I get the time – there’s so much to do in Christchurch).

Scholastic New Zealand


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