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Interview: Melinda Szymanik talks about Time Machine and Other Stories

We want to introduce you to some of the finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children & Young Adults. Melinda Szymanik is nominated for the Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction with Time Machine and Other Stories.

Melinda writes picture books, stories and novels for children, with several named as Storylines Notable Books. Fuzzy Doodle and A Winter’s Day in 1939 were finalists in the New Zealand Children’s Book Awards and The Were-Nana was a Children’s Choice winner. A Winter’s Day in 1939 also won Librarian’s Choice at the LIANZA Awards and Fuzzy Doodle was selected by the International Youth Library in Munich as one of its White Raven books. When she is not writing, Melinda likes reading, baking, going to the movies and travelling with her family. She has three grown-up children, a cat and a husband, and lives in Mt Eden in a house with a view of the mountain.

Tell us a little about your book.

Time Machine & Other Stories is a collection of eighteen short stories and a novella: some of them fantastical, some funny, some sad, some wild, and hopefully all of them a bit surprising. Each story is different and stands alone, and yet there are connections too, like Easter eggs, to reward the observant reader.

What inspired you to write this book?

A short story, (Last Summer) was the first thing I ever had accepted for publication back in 2002, and the feedback I received from the editor was hugely encouraging, making an important difference to me at a crucial time in my writing career. Since then I’ve written a lot of short stories and they’ve appeared in all sorts of publications, including the School Journal, and several anthologies. And I had this novella which I was very proud of, which was too long to be a short story, too short to be a novel, and not quite right to be an early reader. How cool it would be, I thought, to have them all in one book.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

The short stories in this book were written over many years. Ideas would just turn up, mostly unexpectedly, and I would just run with it and see where the idea led me. Because they are quicker to write they can be fitted in around other projects and sometimes I would just sit myself down, no matter what time or day it was, and get the bones of the story down. And the lovely thing is that I think the energy and spontaneity and joy of the short form, and this organic kind of process, comes through when you read them.

What did you enjoy the most about writing (or illustrating) this book?

Some of these stories were written some years earlier (and previously edited) and it was lovely to revisit them all during the editing process, helping them work together as a whole which they previously hadn’t had to do, and polishing them all up till they really shone for a whole new audience. I fell in love with each story all over again.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I am not in the habit of celebrating finishing a book, but I really do think I need to remedy this. Every part of a story’s life should be celebrated.

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

One of my recent favourites was Afakasi Woman by Lani Wendt Young (published by One Tree House), also a collection of short stories, but this one is for an older audience, set in Samoa. It was surprising and moving and a terrific insight into Samoan life, especially for women.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

More short stories I hope, but I’m also keen to try writing a junior mystery.

The winners of the New Zealand Books Awards for Children and Young Adults will be revealed via a virtual presentation on Wednesday 12 August. For a full list of the brilliant 2020 finalists click here:


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