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Interview: Sally Sutton talks about Miniwings: Moonlight the Unicorn's High Tea Hiccup

Sally Sutton is a popular children’s book author of junior fiction and picture books, most recognised for her award-winning Roadworks, Demolition and Construction, published by Walker Books. Sally enjoys writing for different age groups, but tries to bring the same qualities to all her writing: a strong plot, lively language, and a big dose of fun. She lives in Birkenhead, Auckland, with her husband and two daughters.

Sally talks to NZ Booklovers about Miniwings: Moonlight the Unicorn's High Tea Hiccup, published by Scholastic NZ.

Tell us a little about Miniwings: Moonlight the Unicorn’s High Tea Hiccup.

This is the sixth book in Scholastic's Miniwings junior fiction series about two sisters and their herd of toy horses which come to life when the grown-ups aren't looking. Sophia and Clara are thrilled when they're invited to their Honorary Great-Auntie's High Tea and create some spectacular hats for the occasion. Little do they know, these are a perfect hiding place for the Miniwings. Things are bound to get messy. Very messy! Especially when it comes to Moonlight, who is the greediest Miniwing of the lot...

What inspired you to write this book?

I have two daughters whose favourite game used to be playing with their plastic Schleich horses while talking with strange American accents. These games were extremely long and boring and mostly involved the horses eating hay and wearing pretty saddle cloths and galloping through meadows. Then, one day, one of my girls yelled out: "Oh NO! The stable's on fire!" and I thought: hallelujah! A story! It occurred to me there was potential for drama in these little plastic animals after all. What if they could fly? And speak a secret language which I could include in a dictionary at the back of the book? And what if they were really, really naughty? The Miniwings were born.

The idea for the High Tea was inspired by a real High Tea given by the girls' Honorary Great-Aunt Jocelyn. That event went swimmingly, unlike my fictional one!

What research was involved?

I had to eat a great deal of cake and little triangle sandwiches, it was very stressful.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

Because this is the sixth book in the series, the process was very familiar to me: I knew more or less in which chapter the Miniwings needed to burst into song, in which chapter they needed to misbehave, in which chapter things would seem beyond redemption.... It was the most enjoyable book in the series to write: because I'd already hammered out the structure, I could concentrate on the humour, and just having fun. And I did!

What was the process like working with the illustrator, Kirsten Richards?

Writers don't usually get to collaborate with an illustrator - we provide the manuscript, and mostly get to see the pictures only once they are complete. But because the Miniwings is a series, I got to know Kirsten's style quite well, and was in the very happy position of being able to 'plant' things for her in my text. I'd write something cheeky - for example that Honorary Great-Auntie Mavis is tall and bent-over and splotchy, like a banana that's sat too long in your lunchbox - and then I'd sit back and wait to see if Kirsten would pick it up and run with it. And of course, she nearly always did! Personal favourites include Great-Auntie Mavis blowing out her dentures, Sophia's human hedgehog haircut, a flattened small intestine big enough to play tennis on and a diagram of Fashion in the Future including detachable daytime noses and Santa eyebrows. Kirsten Richards is a genius!

What did you enjoy the most about writing this book?

I loved getting the horses to talk in Miniwingese, their secret language. And I loved dreaming about how the pictures might turn out - and then seeing they were even better than anything I'd imagined!

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I can't remember, it's all a blur...

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

I loved Ian McEwan's Machines Like Me. So rich and disturbing and delicious!

What’s next on the agenda for you?

I'm happy to report that the Miniwings will be back for a Christmas special, Miniwings: Christmas Ballet Tinsel Tangle which is due for release in October 2020. Otherwise, I always have several projects on the go at once because I get bored very easily: I'm working on new potential picture books, junior fiction series and also a young adult novel. No chance of boredom there!


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