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Interview: Tania Sickling talks about Grandpa versus Swing


Tania Sickling grew up with her siblings on a farm near Morrinsville where she had plenty of time and space for creative play, to venture into any world she cared to imagine, to draw, to write or to read about. She studied literature and linguistics at the University of Auckland and was the winner of the 2020 Storylines Joy Cowley Award for Grandpa Versus Swing. Tania talks to NZ Booklovers.


What was it like winning the 2020 Storylines Joy Cowley Award for your debut picture book?

t was a wonderful surprise to win the award, and it is still difficult to believe at times! All of a sudden my manuscript was in the hands of people who love children's literature, and who care deeply about the words we use and the stories we tell for children. Because writing is a very solitary endeavour for me, this has been a strange and encouraging journey. It has also been fantastic fun to get a close-up glimpse into the publishing process.


Tell us a little about Grandpa versus Swing.

Grandpa versus Swing is about the kind of adventure children might have with playful grandparents, where something goes awry and becomes family legend in the retelling. There is teamwork, there is rescue, and there is lots of warm-hearted laughter.

What inspired you to write this book?

I have never lost my love of playground swings. If there is an empty swing when I'm at the playground with my children, I ask myself both "Would I fit into it?" and "Would I get out of it again?" So far, I have not got stuck! The story came from the idea that I might misjudge things one day, and need rescuing.


What was your routine or process when writing this book, and how did you work with the illustrator, Lael Chisholm?

I wrote the book over several months, on my phone in the dark, in the middle of the night. With young children I don't have a lot of quiet time to myself! I use a basic notes app, and I would build on the text or rewrite it every time I came back to it, then email backups to myself. I would also read it aloud - quietly! - to keep the wording and rhythm as natural as possible. Reading aloud is a very important part of the process to me.


I didn't work directly with the illustrator. The publishing team at Scholastic NZ sent me her artwork at various stages, so we could discuss nitty gritty details such as the kind of swing Grandpa might find himself stuck in. Lael captured the energy and humour of the story from the very beginning. It was always fun and exciting to see what she had come up with!


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

I can imagine Grandpa's misadventure set to some kind of playful ragtime piano tune, as in old silent comedy movies.


I would play something heroic for Grandma's entrance, like the theme to Knight Rider or Indiana Jones.


What did you enjoy the most about writing this picture book?

Now and again, amongst all the thinking and editing, a nice rhyme or a fun string of words seemed to turn up out of nowhere and move the plot along. It was fun when Grandpa got the giggles, and that really drew the children into the story. I also loved it when Grandma appeared, toolkit in hand, ready for whatever she might find.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Printing the manuscript out and putting it in an envelope to enter the competition felt like celebration to me! I left the post office with a spring in my step.


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

I have been reading lots of picture books lately, particularly by New Zealand authors. It is very hard to pick a favourite, but there are two that come straight to mind.


I really enjoyed Rush! Rush! by Elena de Roo, both for its beautiful sounds and for the memories of running through the countryside that it evoked for me.


I also enjoyed Made With Love by Melinda Szymanik. It is a beautiful story with a real energy and edge to it, bittersweet but heartwarming.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I jot down notes and ideas all the time, and I have another picture book manuscript almost ready for submission. I would like to try writing for older children, developing characters and stories over the length of a chapter book. I loved growing into chapter books when I was a child, and I think writing one would be a fun challenge.


Scholastic New Zealand