Interview: Melinda Szymanik talks about BatKiwi
Melinda Szymanik is the author of a number of picture books, including The Song of Kauri (2015 Storylines Notable Book) and The Were-Nana (2009 Children’s Choice winner at the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards). She has also written junior novels, including A Winter’s Day in 1939 which was a finalist in the 2014 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. Melinda talks to NZ Booklovers about BatKiwi.
Tell us a little about BatKiwi.
There is something very noble, sweet, and yet also unassuming about our national bird, and I’ve always wanted to write a picture book about them. One day the word ‘Batkiwi’ popped into my head and straightaway I had a rough idea of what I wanted it to be about, although it took me a few years to figure out the story. And of course it’s the story of big-hearted Kiwi who wants to help others but is held back by his inability to fly, until he teams up with Bat …
What inspired you to write this book?
Our wonderful national bird, the Kiwi, and our native flora and fauna as a whole. Sometimes the plants and animals of other countries can seem much more exciting and interesting, but I think our indigenous bird and insect life are really rather amazing. It’s wonderful to celebrate them.
What research was involved?
I was most interested to know the relative sizes of bats and kiwis. Although a native bat might not actually be able to lift a kiwi off the ground, I wanted to write a story where it might seem possible. Female bats and kiwis are both bigger than their male counterparts so it worked best to have a female bat and a male kiwi.
I also found out that kiwis are good runners, and while they can’t fly, I wanted to know if they still had wings or at least the remnants of them. They do! And these are what Bat grabs hold of to lift Kiwi into the sky.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
With this story, it spent quite a bit of time in my head before I started writing it down. Once I decided how the Batkiwi concept was going to work, and understood Kiwi’s determination to be a hero, I went backwards and forwards writing towards that, until the story came together. When I’m writing a picture book I don’t tend to sit down at the same time every day until it’s finished. Instead I keep mulling it over in my mind and when I figure out the next bit I sit at my computer and write that down. Once the first draft is done I probably spend twice as long editing, revising and polishing.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Holding out for a Hero – Bonnie Tyler, Hero - Mariah Carey, Fly like an Eagle - Steve Miller Band
What did you enjoy the most about writing this picture book?
I loved finding a way to help Kiwi achieve his dreams. But the scene with the pig was the most fun to write with plenty of humour and word play in there (‘No one wants to be roasted.’ - lol).
What do you hope children will take away from the book?
That sometimes we need help to achieve our goals, and the answers can be found through teamwork. There are also a few environmental and science messages in there such as the threat of introduced animals to our bird life, the dangers of forest fires (and lit cigarettes), and that the sun rises in the East. I love sneaking in as much as possible into my stories.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I always celebrate finishing a manuscript with a little dancing on the inside and then sending it off to a publisher. If the manuscript gets accepted by the publisher I like to celebrate with dinner out with my family.
Will we see BatKiwi again in future books?
I would love to write more stories about BatKiwi. They are a very cool team with plenty of adventures ahead of them.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
My most recent favourite read was the second book in the Black Sand Beach middle grade graphic novel series by Richard Fairgray – Do You Remember the Summer Before? I love this weird, spooky series. The story is a wild blend of fantasy, horror, ghost, and monster story all in a contemporary coastal setting. The text is witty and downright laugh-out-loud in places, and the illustrations, in psychedelic colours, are terrific with great characterisation and plenty of energy and drama. I am hooked and keen for Book 3.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
I have a few picture books out on submission, a fantasy middle grade novel I am currently working on, and a young adult novel percolating in my mind. It’s all go.
Scholastic New Zealand