Monday, 28 April 2014

Interview with Des Hunt New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young People 2014

An interview with Des Hunt, Writer of
 Project Huia Scholastic NZ 2013

New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults

Junior Fiction finalist

Des Hunt and Puku on Matarangi Beach Image: Vaughan Grigsby
The following questions were composed by Sarah Forster, Booksellers NZ apart from the last one which I asked Des to ask himself and then answer!

As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book?
I first got the idea for a story based on the huia when, in the 1970’s, I read The Book of the Huia by W J Phillipps. Page 99 tells of a huia 1947 sighting in the Manawatu Gorge by a Mr Olivecrona and his family. The event stuck in my mind because I was born and educated in Palmerston North, and went to Palmerston North Boys’ High School with one of the Olivecrona boys. Furthermore, the Hunt family farm was up the Pohangina Valley, not far from the Manawatu Gorge. I spent many school holidays on that farm, and my Uncle Bill, who farmed it, once told me that he’d seen huia when he was young; that is certainly possible, because he was born in 1895 when the birds were definitely
in the area, and for the first decade of his life there were still many suitable habitats.

Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
This book was surprisingly easy to get published. Scholastic were looking to reprint an earlier book of mine called The Secret of Jelly Mountain. They asked me if I had a similar book that could be released at the same time. As I was close to finishing Project Huia, I offered them that. What followed was the shortest journey from manuscript to publication for any of my novels.

Did you tailor this book to a particular audience – or did you find it found its own audience as it was written?
From the beginning, I targeted this book at 10 to 13 year-olds. The story features a relationship between grandfather and grandson, that many of that age will be familiar with: an aging person sharing events of their youth with a grandchild.

Would you recommend any books that you love, that inspired or informed your book in any way?
My favourite book as a child was The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is not one of his Sherlock Holmes stories, but instead features a scientist call Professor Challenger who leads a party into a remote part of the Amazonian jungle looking for living dinosaurs. My book is also a journey looking for an animal that was considered extinct.

Tell us about a time you’ve enjoyed relaxing and reading a book – at the bach, on holiday, what was the book?
I was eighteen when I discovered a writer called Howard Spring. The book was These Lovers Fled Away. Although, as the title suggests, there is some romance in the story, it is mainly about life in the first half of last century. One of the characters became a nuclear physicist involved in building the atom bomb. Another became a famous writer. I read the book in the holidays before starting at university to study for a science degree, hence my interest in the physicist in the story. But it was the writer character that has had the greatest impact — he gave me the idea that maybe, sometime in the future I too could be a writer.

This is the well-known huia painting by Johannes Keulemans for the 2nd edition (1888) of Walter Buller's A History of the Birds of New Zealand
    What are your favourite things to do, when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
     I walk along the four kilometres of Matarangi Beach. Not only does it give me the exercise I need after sitting at a computer for much of the day, it allows me to think about my writing, what I have achieved and where it might go from there. I find that some of my best ideas are generated while walking by the sea.

     In Project Huia there is the suggestion that someday the huia may be brought back to life through cloning. Where did that idea come from?
In 1999 Hastings Boy’s High School held a conference to discuss the possibility of cloning a huia using huia DNA and a host bird such as the Australian Magpie. I borrowed their idea. See for more details.

(I did an interview with Des back in 2012 and I will put some parts of it on this Blog over the next week or so.)

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