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Interview: Stacy Gregg talks about the Mini Whinny books

Stacy Gregg dreamed as a young girl of being both a horse rider and a writer when she grew up, and is now the internationally acclaimed author of 23 much-loved junior fiction titles – all about horses! Three of her books have won Children’s Choice at the NZ Book Awards and she has been widely published internationally. Her books are always about horses, and are frequently based on true stories set around the world in locations including Jordan, Russia, Spain and Iceland. Stacy lives in Auckland. She talks to NZ Booklovers about her Mini Winny picture books for younger readers.

Tell us a little about the Mini Whinny books.

They are so much fun to write! I was approached by Lynette Evans, the publisher at Scholastic, with the idea of a series that was younger than my usual readership. I’d never done a picture book before so it was a real learning curve. Luckily I managed to convince my incredibly talented friend Ruth Paul to team up with me. Ruth usually writes her own stuff and I was a huge fan. Her book The King’s Bubbles was one of my daughter’s favourites when she was little. We work really closely on the books. I like to think that I am Mini Whinny and she is Goody Four-Shoes!

What inspired you to write these books?

Childhood trauma! In Happy Birthday To Me! Mini Whinny wants a birthday all to herself. An entirely reasonable request if you ask me! When I was little, my younger sister would throw a tantrum if she didn’t get given a gift on my birthday, so I think that I always felt that my birthday was never entirely my own. And the new book Goody Four-Shoes is about thinking you’re special and shiny - only to have your position usurped when someone even more shiny comes along. Mini Whinny wants so badly to be a good pony but it’s just not in her DNA and in the end it is Goody Four-Shoes who has to change and become naughty so they can be friends. I was thinking of Danny and Sandy from Grease when I wrote it. You know, John Travolta tries to clean up his act, but in the end it’s Olivia Newton John who gets it over the line by becoming the bad girl.

What research was involved?

I always seem to have a mini pony causing trouble at every yard where I graze my horse! They are real characters - they totally think they can foot it with the big horses. My research mostly amounts to hanging out and watching them misbehave!

What was your routine or process when writing these books?

I find with picture books that the idea is percolating in my head for some time, but I often can’t see how it will work. And then suddenly the bits of the jigsaw fall into place and then the actual writing is reasonably quick. Once I have a rough draft I’ll run it past Ruth - she is very good at 'seeing story’.

Can you tell us about how you collaborated with the illustrator Ruth Paul.

We are very funny together - it’s almost like we share a brain. This morning I woke up with an idea for the third book which we are working on at the moment - although it won’t be out until next year. So its 7am and I message her “Hey I think in that scene on page 8 we should stick a unicorn horn on Goody Four-Shoes” and she messages me straight back to say “Hah! I’ve already done that!”. On a practical level, we wind up seeing each other every few months for various bookish reasons. She’s based in Wellington and I’m in Auckland, but thinking about it now, that's physically the closest working relationship that I have. My editor for my standalone novels is in London. My agent is in Pembrokeshire in Wales - I’m used to working through things creatively via skype and email.

What did you enjoy the most about writing the Mini Whinny books?

Hanging with Ruth! She is genuinely the kindest person. She makes me feel very shallow - I mean, she’s recently bought a tract of native bush and is aiming to set up a DOC-sanctioned kiwi reserve. She’s very clever and also desperately funny. Sometimes intentionally. Her brain is directly connected to her mouth so I am never left in any doubt as to what she is thinking.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Start writing the next one! I am almost permanently under the kosh at the moment. I’ve got a new standalone hardback, Prince of Ponies, out this month too, plus a big secret project that I am in the throes of - actually two big secret projects. I’d tell you more but they are, well, secret.

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

Nicky Pellegrino’s new manuscript. It won't be out until 2020 and I can't reveal the title yet. Nicky writes “up-lit” - which is the term for life affirming novels for women. In her case they are always set in Italy and resonate with food and love at their heart. It’s totally different to what I do, but we hang out together and write at the Sea Breeze Cafe in Westmere - bouncing ideas off each other over coffee. Like Ruth, Nicky is a master story crafter so if I get stuck I use her to kick problems around and find a solution. Writing can be a very solitary gig so I’m super-lucky to have such talented sounding boards at my disposal.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Those two secret projects - plus the next two books in the Mini Whinny series. I shall have to dig deep into my dusty brain box and find some more childhood trauma.


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