Desna Wallace lived through the Canterbury Earthquakes, and it is no surprise that children from all over NZ voted her book Canterbury Quake, as one of their finalists in the Children’s Choice list. The book is part of Scholastic NZ’s ‘My New Zealand Story’ list, a series of fiction titles featuring notable NZ events. Desna Wallace is a school librarian in Christchurch who is passionate about children’s books. She has had a number of stories published in the School Journal, but Canterbury Quake is her first published novel. We wanted to know how it all came about.
- As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book in particular?
A friend kept telling me that I needed to write about Christchurch’s devastating earthquakes. At first I kept saying no but eventually one day while driving home from work, the character of Maddy popped into my head and by the time I got home, her whole family were in there too. It was a bit crowded in there so I just began writing and kept on writing. I felt that Maddy’s story would be best told in diary format so that readers could experience the daily life of a family living through a national disaster. Even though I lived through the earthquakes and life inside a broken city, I still had to do a heap of research to make sure everything was accurate. It needed to be exactly right as it is the story of one of New Zealand’s worst ever disasters. And I agree that it was a story that needed to be told and I feel so privileged that my Maddy, was the one to do the telling. I am so glad my friend had faith in me to give it a go.
- Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
I was incredibly lucky with my book being published. I had written stories, poems and plays for the School Journal and even had a Ready-to-Read book published but in terms of writing a novel I was completely inexperienced. I knew how it felt to be in the quakes, what it felt like to be scared and because I worked with children, I knew how they felt too so I guess my story was very real. I think this is why it was accepted; I was writing from true experience.
When it was accepted, everything happened very quickly which was a bit scary as I didn’t really know what I should be doing. I had deadlines to keep to and I was working my day jobs too, so there was a bit of pressure to do everything. I had kept my writing a secret until I knew it was going to be published, so that was a bit hard too. Then when it was accepted, I wanted to tell the whole world!
- How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?
This was the easiest thing to do. I knew I wanted a diary format and as I worked very closely with a group of ten and 11 year olds, I knew this was the group I wanted to write for. It was the age group of children I felt would understand Maddy best. Maddy was very real to me and I hoped that she would be real to children in this age group. Scholastic’s My New Zealand story format is very clear so I just followed their advice.
- Who have you dedicated this book to, and why?
I dedicated the book to my son, Calvin. After a divorce I raised him on my own from just a baby so it has always been just the two of us. He is my best friend and the most important person in my life, and I felt so proud to dedicate my book to him.
- Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book?
I would read any of the ‘My New Zealand Story’ books. There are so many important events in New Zealand’s history and reading the diaries is such a cool way to get to know about our past.
- What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
I love scrapbooking, and gardening. Both of these hobbies are relaxing and rewarding. I love the finished page with photos and embellishments. However, I really don’t like mowing my lawns. In fact I hate it! But I do like the way the lawns look after a cut and I love the smell of the grass after the lawn has been mowed. I have two cats and I love spending time with them in the garden. One of my cats (who is actually Dusty in my novel) loves climbing all over my keyboard when I type and in fact is doing it right now which makes typing very hard. It is a wonder I get anything finished.
Desna was the Christchurch Library Kids’ blogs star author in February 2014: https://christchurchkids.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/february-star-author-desna-wallace/ Scholastic NZ’s feature about Desna: http://www.scholastic.co.nz/publishing/author/pdfs/tileD.pdf
For a review of My New Zealand Story: Canterbury Quake, check out the Booksellers NZ blog here: https://booksellersnz.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/book-review-my-story-canterbury-quake-by-desna-wallace/
Friday’s feature was 1914: Riding into War, by Susan Brocker, both of whom were featured on Booknotes Unbound, www.booknotes-unbound.co.nz Tomorrow’s feature will be another junior fiction title, The Island of Lost Horses, by Stacy Gregg, which will be on Booksellers NZ’s blog here: https://booksellersnz.wordpress.com/.