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Interview: Melinda Szymanik & Nikki Slade Robinson talk about Sharing with Wolf


What inspired you to write this book?

I've always wanted to write a picture book with a wolf as the central character. I grew up on fairytales which I adored and wolves crop up in them from time to time, usually as the villain. Real wolves strike me as quite noble, honest creatures and somewhat misunderstood, although they are still dangerous ...

And while I didn't really have a plot in mind when I got started, there was a lot in the news at the time about the housing crisis and the difficulties of finding affordable rental accommodation so the idea of a lamb wanting to share a house with a wolf and the problems that might present quickly took shape ...

What research was involved?

My Masters in Zoology finally came in handy :)

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

Lol, my routine is, I have no routine. Sometimes I start with a broad motivation like 'I want to write about ... (in this case a wolf)' and then it sits in my mind for a while as I go about my usual day to day tasks, until maybe days or weeks later I get a strong sense of an opening line or a key sentence and then I sit down and get a first draft out quite quickly. That's what happened with this book. Then over the next week or two, everytime I got the chance, I polished and massaged the words until they really shone and told the story the way I wanted them to. The polishing is usually the longest step and I can spend all day on fixing just one word - but it's worth it. And then I reached a point where I thought 'it's ready' and I sent it out before I changed my mind.

What did you do to celebrate finishing the book?

I don't actually have a habit of celebrating when I finish a manuscript. The proper celebration (bubbles and a nice meal with my family) happens if a story gets accepted, which is what we did in July 2018, when Scholastic said yes!

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

I just re-read The Bomb by Sacha Cotter and Josh Morgan, after finally buying myself my own copy. It's such a satisfying, quintessentially-kiwi story, perfectly told and illustrated. Picture book writers should always be reading other picture books - it really helps build your own story telling skills.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I have a few more picture books coming out next year so it would be nice to switch focus and work on some more short stories or perhaps a junior mystery.


Can you please tell us about what was involved with doing the illustrations?

Lots of fun for starters! First I sketched up character roughs for us to agree on. Once the look of the characters were decided on, I worked up a full set of line roughs for the whole book. After those were approved, I was able to revel in doing the final illustrations - yay! I used pencil to draw the wolf and lamb. I then scanned these and used digital collage to complete the illustrations.

How closely did you work with Melinda?

Quite closely. Melinda and I had been collaborating on a wolf-and-sheep ‘Sketchbook Exchange’ story for fun, and for me, the illustration side of 'Sharing with Wolf' grew out of that project. It’s much nicer illustrating a manuscript when there is the chance to have contact with the author right through the project. I think the end product is much stronger for that collaborative aspect. Melinda is great to work with, as is Scholastic!

What did you do to celebrate finishing the illustrations?

Well, a bit different to how I’d normally celebrate actually! I worked on this project while I was on chemotherapy for breast cancer. It wasn’t the easiest of times but to be able to lose myself in doing these illustrations really helped. Melinda’s story was just perfect with it’s slightly wicked humour. So finishing a stage of treatment and finishing the illustrations, well I guess it was a double celebration - I didn’t have energy to do much else at the time but be happy!

It’s also exciting when the printed book arrives in the mail, months after all the hard work :-) Yay!

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

I haven’t had my normal level of concentration (it’s coming back though!) but I have enjoyed reading copies of ‘Flow’ magazine. They are inspiring, uplifting, anc creative.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Oooo I am feeling like getting another writing project on the go! I have a box where I shove all my little bits of paper with ideas, so I’m rummaging through that. I also have some ongoing design and illustration work for commercial clients. Sharing with Wolf is published by Scholastic NZ


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