The University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence - Previous Recipients

Photo of Fifi Colston

Fifi Colston

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2019

Fifi Colston is an award-winning junior fiction novelist, children’s book illustrator, and non-fiction author.

Many will know her from her time as arts and crafts presenter on TVNZ’s What Now and The Good Morning Show. Her talent has also seen her work with Richard Taylor’s Weta Workshop, Peter Jackson’s Stone Street Studios, Pukeko Pictures and The Production Shed as a costumier, puppet maker, illustrator and crafts expert.

She feels “incredibly honoured” by her appointment and is ready to embrace the opportunity it presents.

The Fellowship will enable her to work on a young-adult book “with an illustrated difference”.

“I have been playing with an idea for some time that encompasses the main strands of my creative career; writing, illustration and wearable art. I find I cannot comfortably forsake one passion for another and neither can my protagonist,” she says.

Along with providing the “absolute luxury” of being able to create a major work without having to worry about how to pay the bills, she is looking forward to getting to know the Otago area, and accessing relevant research which is only available at the University.

Fifi Colston reflects on her time as the University of Otago College of Education / Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence 2019:

Photo of Fifi Colston at her desk

There are significant times in your life that you can look back on as having furthered your growth. One of these for me will be this residency. It starts when you apply, and so 6 months really is 12, as you prepare for a change in geography and circumstance. I moved from Wellington to a city I’d spent no more than 2 days in before. People warned me I might fall in love with it, and I did. Feeling at home in a place is largely dependent on the support you have, the mahi you do and the friends you make. I was generously gifted all of these during my time, an experience I will never forget.

From the cosy Robert Lord Cottage base in Titan St, I explored Dunedin, Central Otago and Stewart Island. I have written and illustrated 2 children’s picture books (due for publication by Pukeko Pictures later this year) the first draft of a junior fiction novel and half of a YA Graphic novel (still a WIP). I’ve visited schools, given lectures and been involved in the [UNESCO City of Literature] events of Dunedin.

My room at the College of Education was a wonderful central point where I had full support from the wonderful staff and made full use of the office space whilst I went about my business as being Writer in Residence. Having a place to go each day was both a new experience as a home based creative, and one I really enjoyed. Walking through the University grounds never failed to fill me with happiness, even on a cold day.

Read Fifi’s blog that she kept during her time here

Photo of Raymond Huber

Raymond Huber

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2018

Raymond Huber is an author and freelance editor, with a wealth of experience as a teacher, editor, and a writer of fiction and non-fiction. He has received numerous awards and shortlisting in prestigious Children’s Book Awards, nationally and internationally. He has a story in the Te Papa children’s book Curioseum (2014) and was the McGonagall poetry prize winner in 2005.

At the core of his productivity is Raymond’s ability to merge a love of children’s literature with science. His children's novels, Sting and Wings, are science-based fantasy; his picture books, Flight of the Honey Bee and Gecko, are published internationally; and Peace Warriors, is a YA book about non-violent resistance. Raymond has also written many educational workbooks, school readers and radio plays.

Raymond lives with author/publisher Penelope Todd on the Otago Peninsula; they have three children and two grandsons.

“I'm very grateful for this Fellowship – what a privilege to be able to devote six months to imagination and writing in a place where people value reading and literature. I’ll be working on a children's book about trees; celebrating the science of trees and telling the stories of people who loved trees.”

Photo of Mere Whaanga

Mere Whaanga

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2017

Dr Mere Whaanga’s knowledge of Māori land lore complemented her studies into Māori land law; she has worked as a professional historian, researcher and project manager on the Treaty of Waitangi claims of the Wairoa area. Amongst her extensive list of publications are four children’s picture books, which she wrote and illustrated, with a fifth due for publication in early 2017.

Mere affiliates to Ngāti Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Kahungunu and Ngāti Pahauwera iwi.

She is thrilled to be awarded the residency, and says she plans to write a fantasy novel for a young adult readership.

“I am looking forward to the six months of dedicated writing time, especially as I will be based in the College of Education. I am feeling challenged to have committed to so much time away from my home in Mahia, but the sense of being out of my comfort zone is well-balanced by the excited anticipation of being in an academic environment with access to superb facilities such as the University library.”

Productive time for Children’s Writer in Residence

Thanks to the Otago Bulletin Board where this article was featured, August 2017

Academic, writer and illustrator Mere Whaanga has spent six fruitful months at Otago, completing the first novel in a trilogy for young adults. The Otago Bulletin Board spoke with her about the residency, her Treaty work and the Māori world view she shares through her books.

Photo of Mere Whaanga August 2017

Mere Whaanga arrived in Dunedin in February with a manuscript for a young adult novel, which had languished in a drawer for 15 years.

On her third day as the 2017 University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence she had binned that draft, rewritten the structure, and decided to make it a trilogy.

“After that the writing just took off,” she says.

Dr Whaanga will complete her six-month residency on 18 August. Her time has been incredibly productive. The draft for the first book in The Prophecy trilogy is already with her agent Frances Plumpton, and she has started on the second book.

“It’s been amazing how much I’ve got done,” she says. “I’ve been treating it like a job and doing 40 hours per week. Without the residency it would probably have taken me years.”

Cover of The Singing Dolphin

Alongside this productivity, her latest picture book The Singing Dolphin / Te Aihe i Waiata (launched in Dunedin at the end of March 2017) was shortlisted in the 2017 NZ Children’s and Young Adults Book Awards.

“I’m just so pleased to be a finalist,” she says. “I’d been away from children’s literature for 12 years and I really enjoyed writing and illustrating this book. Being a finalist is an affirmation of one form of my writing that I think is very important.”

Dr Whaanga is of Ngāti Rongomaiwahine and Ngāti Kahungunu descent, and is normally based in Mahia, near Gisborne. As well as being a writer and illustrator, she is also an academic – who received her PhD in Māori Land Law and Lore from Waikato University in 2014.

During her career, she has worked as a contract historian, and brings this knowledge and mātauranga Māori – Māori world view – to her writing.

"Being a finalist is an affirmation of one form of my writing that I think is very important."

Her work on Treaty claims has influenced her current trilogy – and she hopes that the books will help educate her readers about these claims, and the years of work which go into them.

“I’m aware of how Treaty settlements are viewed in the media, and actually our own people also have a lot to learn about the Treaty process.

“One kaumātua I worked with on the Wairoa claim had spent 30 years researching it in his spare time. One died while we were working on it; another was in his 80s by the time we were ready to sign, and was too sick to attend the signing. These claims take their toll on people.”

While the trilogy as a whole follows three teenagers during the time between finishing secondary school and beginning University and deals broadly with the problem of finding a solution to the effects of global warming, the first book The Turehu Seer features a father working on a Treaty claim.

“I hope it will help people see these claims in a different light.”

Dr Whaanga says her time in Dunedin has had a big impact.

“Dunedin is very different from Mahia. At home there is a 60 per cent Māori population, but it looks more like 95 per cent. Here it is 8 per cent, and not an obvious 8 per cent.

“There are not many people in Mahia with higher degrees, and there can be a suspicion among our people of higher education. It has been interesting being in an academic environment where it is considered normal and desirable to have a PhD.”

Dr Whaanga says working in this environment has been wonderful. Another highlight has been meeting other children’s writers and illustrators.

While she has illustrated all of her own picture books, she has never had any formal training as an artist. “I just decided to give it a bash.”

She says she has a great library of books on water colour painting, and has learned her techniques from them, but is particularly interested in seeing other illustrators’ studios and learning more about their working process.

“Trish Brooking took Robyn Belton and I out for lunch last week, and afterwards we went back to Robyn’s house.

“To actually be in her studio was such a treat, so exciting!”

Dr Whaanga will soon return to Mahia. But she says she will always be grateful for her time in Dunedin, on the University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residency.

“It’s been a very precious gift.”

Photo of Barbara Else

Barbara Else

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2016

Barbara Else is the author of six novels for children and six for adults starting with her best-selling adult novel The Warrior Queen. Books in her children’s series Tales of Fontania have won several awards including the Esther Glen Medal and prestigious IBBY and White Raven Awards. She has also written short stories and plays for children, and has edited several much-loved children’s anthologies. She is co-director of a Wellington literary agency and manuscript assessment service and was Chief Judge for the 2014 NZ Post Children’s and Young Adult Book Awards. In 1999 she was the Victoria University of Wellington Writer in Residence and has been awarded an MNZM for Services to Literature.

“My reaction to the news was hours of speechlessness. This honour is a fabulous opportunity. I’m very proud of being a graduate of Otago and want to contribute what I can to the university community,” she says.

Barbara is working on a new children’s novel for middle grade readers. The story begins in ancient times and moves to a contemporary New Zealand sea-side settlement.

“It’s a challenge that will extend my range and have direct relevance to New Zealand children.”


December 2016

It has been an incredibly busy year. The novel for which I gained the Fellowship proved more difficult than I’d imagined, probably because it addresses darker material than I have tried before for children. It has been tricky to find a way into and through it that will keep children engaged with the protagonist and even laugh at the Were-mother character. At this stage I expect to finish it early in 2017.

I’ve also worked on a picture book text and have a story in the Gecko Annual. I’ve worked on speeches and articles about writing, including one on the Academy of New Zealand Literature website. And I’ve made several school visits as well as giving workshops to show children techniques to help them complete stories, not just begin them with a bang then fizzle out.

In November my historical novel for adults, Wild Latitudes (Vintage 2007), set in and around Otago in 1864, was published in the UK by Endeavour Press. That was unexpected. It is also timely, for my next project is another historical novel, a move back to writing for adults for a while at least. It will focus on women inventors and entrepreneurs, how they pushed society forward while often being disregarded background figures. Some of that research will also inform an historical novel I’m beginning to think about for the junior readership.

In May 2016 I was awarded the Margaret Mahy Medal for Services to Children's Literature, a great honour that led to various speaking engagements and considerable media attention. I used all this to emphasise the importance of this particular Fellowship at Otago University.  It gave good opportunities to stress how important it is for our children to engage with local writing, realistic or fantasy. In fact fantasy has little-considered advantages for children when you realise young readers of any race can identify with the main character.

During this year I’ve often been asked how I manage to write for children and adults. It’s something I have always done and it isn’t easy to articulate any differences between the stories and audiences. But when you write for children I think you need rather more awareness of what the story will mean for the audience. And I am sure about this: encouraging young people to read, respond and think for themselves, is more significant than ever in this modern world.

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Robyn Belton and Jennifer Beck

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writers in Residence 2015


A joint project will see children’s writers Jennifer Beck, from Auckland, and Robyn Belton, from Dunedin, take up the six-month University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence from 2 February – to 31 July, with Jennifer staying at the Robert Lord Writer’s Cottage for her three-month portion of the residency.

Robyn and Jennifer are planning to jointly produce a picture book set in WW1. With its beginning and ending in Dunedin, the story is based on a former Otago Boys High School student, Alexander Aitken, who fought in that war. Alexander was a gifted young man who brought solace to his comrades by playing the violin, even in seemingly impossible conditions such as the trenches of Gallipoli and The Somme.

From JenniferPhoto of Jennifer Beck

April 2015 (towards the end of her three months in Dunedin)

'I began writing in the 1980s which was a time when children's publishing in New Zealand was flourishing. More good fortune came my way when Robyn Belton was asked by our mutual agent, the late Ray Richards, to illustrate my first hard cover picture book, The Choosing Day.

Although we have both worked with other award winning writers and illustrators, such as Joy Cowley and Lindy Fisher, our current joint Fellowship project will become the fifth book we have created together, while enjoying many years of friendship. As with The Bantam and the Soldier, this is a WW1 story, but is particularly relevant because it is about a Dunedin soldier and his Otago comrades.

I have greatly appreciated the Fellowship and Residency, have had a wonderful and productive time in Dunedin, and thank everyone who has helped make this opportunity possible.'

From Robyn, February 2016Photo of Robyn Belton

From the very beginning of the year, 2015 was going to be an Adventure .

Being awarded the Fellowship was a wonderful vote of confidence in our project. Jennifer Beck arrived in Dunedin and her delight at being in the Robert Lord Cottage and her response to being so warmly welcomed to Dunedin was lovely to see.

Dunedin was the perfect place and the perfect time for this story.
It was a great start.

I became totally immersed in our project- the story of Alexander Aitken and his violin.
Each morning I walked up the hill before my day's work to look down the Harbour to the Peninsula. And there, like a beacon, stood the Soldier monument…. a timely reminder of the task in hand.

Sketch 1 Anzac Violin small

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Although the first three months of the Residency was Jennifer's, our collaboration on this book meant that we wanted to spend as much time together as we could.

So, together we began our research.
We spent long hours at The Hocken, finding more treasures than we had ever hoped for.
Being able to see Alexander's handwritten notebooks brought an immediacy that is unforgettable. And it felt a huge privilege to be able to read his own letters. (We learnt too, that the Soldier monument on the Otago Peninsula, was built by Andrew Aitken, Alexander's relative.)

Much time was spent at Toitū Settlers Museum with it's excellent Gallipoli display. We made several field trips out to the Otago Peninsula, the place that meant so much to Alexander Aitken.

Sketch 2 Anzac Violin small

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Meeting his relatives has been wonderful, all have been so generous with their enthusiasm for the book, offering to share photos and family history. They invited us to the Anzac Day service held at the Portobello Museum where the address was given by one of his descendants living on the Peninsula.

One of the highlights has been been meeting Peter Fenton, (Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at the University). He wrote the memoir of Alexander Aitken- “To Catch the Spirit” and this has become an invaluable resource for our work.

Meetings with Vincent O’Sullivan, Poet Laureate, have also been richly rewarding. Listening to his Notes from the Front and Requiem for the Fallen (Ross Harris and Vincent O’Sullivan) has been timely and most moving. As has Anthony Ritchie's Gallipoli Voices, performed at Marama Hall.

Sketch 3 Anzac Violin small

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During the course of the year we presented sessions to University of Otago College of Education students at both the Dunedin and the Southland Campus, were guest presenters at the Dunedin Storylines Festival and were invited to visit schools.

We have been invited by The Settlers Museum, to hold an event for the Book Launch next year, and I have been invited by Southland Museum and Art Gallery to present an Exhibition of the working studies and research for the book.

On May 1st 2015, Jennifer returned to Auckland and I took over the writer's office at the College of Education. As winter drew in, I felt fortunate to have such a warm place to work! Trish Brooking and her team were so welcoming and I had generous technical support from Chris Keach.

Sketch 4 Anzac Violin small

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I want to make special mention here of Trish Brooking. Her encouragement and generosity has been a great support. Her passion for Children's Literature informs everything she does so it is a great joy to learn that she has received the Betty Gilderdale Award for her outstanding work in this field. A fitting tribute which she richly deserves.

The project gained good momentum from our time at the College and the fact that Jennifer was resident here in Dunedin enabled us to have a greater collaboration than ever before. As we had a shared space on Campus, at the Writer's cottage as well as my workroom, our daily contact meant we were able to keep the focus.

Having the Residency also enabled me to make a journey to Wellington specifically to see Te Papa's “The Scale of our War” and the Dominion Museum Gallipoli display in Buckle Street. Both outstanding, and of immeasurable value to me in my search for images. As well, I was able to meet the designer for the book, Vida Kelly. Things I wouldn't have been able to do without the support of the residency.

Sketch 5 Anzac Violin small

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“To Catch the Spirit” has become my theme, my whole task.

One man with a violin
Who gave so much to so many.

As this story has its beginning and its ending in Dunedin, it has made having this residency all the more rewarding.

For me, a deepening and enriching experience.

Sketch 6 Anzac Violin small

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And as my part of the work continues - creating the illustrations for this book, I can only say how much it has meant having the support of this residency.

This residency in Dunedin nurtures it's writers and artists and I value that.

I am so grateful to the University of Otago College of Education and Creative New Zealand for this opportunity. I have loved my time being the children's writer in residence.

It has been a real privilege and a pleasure.


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Photo of Melinda Szymanik

Melinda Szymanik

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2014

March 2014

It’s a bit like winning lotto. One of a writer’s biggest challenges is finding a coffee cup big enough to meet their needs the time to actually sit down and write. There are always distractions, other demands on our time and all too often the need to do crazy things like earn enough money to pay the bills. This residency provides the greatest gift of all for a children’s writer – the freedom to concentrate solely on their craft.

And even more than this; an acknowledgement that what we do is important from people who understand the considerable value of children’s literature. I am still pinching myself that I am the recipient of this year’s residency. It may take me six months to finally believe it is really happening to me.

During my residency I will be exploring a slice of New Zealand history that has special personal relevance: an historical novel for nine to 13 year olds about the arrival of World War II Polish refugee children in Pahiatua in 1944. This year is the 70th anniversary of the children’s arrival, so it’s a timely thing to write about.

The project follows publication of A Winter’s Day in 1939 (Scholastic, 2013), a fictionalised account of my father’s experiences as a young teen in eastern Europe after being displaced from his home in Poland at the outset of World War II.

I have been writing children’s fiction for some 14 years, and have had picture books, short stories, intermediate fiction and young adult fiction published. I won the Children’s Choice Award at the 2009 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards with my picture book The Were-Nana (Scholastic 2008). I have twice been a finalist for the Joy Cowley Award (2003 and 2006).

Visit my blog 'I should be writing but...'

(During her residency Melinda will utilise rent-free accommodation provided courtesy of the Robert Lord Trust.)

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Author finds the fun in words

'"Writing springs out of being fascinated by things and wanting to share that fascination with other people", Melinda Szymanik ... tells Charmian Smith.'

Read this feature article by Charmian Smith, Otago Daily Times, Thursday 10 July, 2014

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Launch of The Song of Kauri, August 1, 2014

song of kauri full cover

"Once upon a time when the land was new, and time and memory were just beginning, a giant began to grow out of the rich earth..." Cloaked in mist, warmed by the sun and stirred by a whirling wind, Kauri grows tall and wise through passing years and changing times. This is his song.

song of kauri front cover

'The Song of Kauri is a stunning picture book. It's a creative non-fiction story about a kauri seedling growing until its a giant - a kaumatua of the forest. From its great height it sees the changes around it - good and bad. Written in lyrical text - its a mythical and timeless tale. It will encourage children to be empathetic towards these gentle giants, which are in danger of Kauri die-back...The Song of Kauri is highly recommended for Primary (Year 2 upwards) and Intermediate schools, and for lovers of beautiful books.' - review KidsBooksNZ

song of kauri back cover

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The Song of Kauri, a musical interpretation with narration

  • Written and read by Melinda Szymanik
  • Music by Jeremy Mayall
  • Illustrated by Dominique Ford
  • Published by Scholastic New Zealan

Narration recorded at the University of Otago Albany Street Studios, with the support of Stephen Stedman and the University of Otago Department of Music.

Narration and music

Narration, music and images

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It has been a wild ride

September 2014

Well the days just galloped past and before I could yell, 'Whoa Nelly,' the residency came to an end. It has been a wild ride.

I wrote. I have spent time with the coolest people. Teachers, and teachers of teachers. Fellow fellows. Students: undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD. Primary, intermediate and secondary too. Librarians, booksellers, writers: for adults and children (and everyone in-between), illustrators and old friends. And I wrote. I have flown backwards and forwards. And then backwards again. I know that the airbus is the A320 and that D is not a window seat, except when you are on the ar72. I never put my carry-on in the overhead lockers. I have a fair idea what ice on the pavement looks like and know not to cross the road until you are sure the cars are going to be able to stop. I have admired the gentle behaviour of flakes of snow slowly drifting down. Stone buildings are way cool. And I wrote.

I have been busy. Not all of the events I have been involved in resulted from my being the Children's Writer in Residence. Some came about because of other things – mostly as a result of things that happened with my 2013 junior novel ‘A Winter’s Day in 1939’. And some events were the love children of the residency and other things coming together.  The word 'organic' took on a whole new meaning this year. In a different year I think the residency would have had a very different flavour. 2014's flavour was 'wild ride'.  It came chocolate dipped with 100s and 1000s, and a flake. 

But now the adventure is over and soon normal transmission will resume. My Significant Other said at the beginning of the residency that it would change me and I scoffed back then at the suggestion. But now I think he's right. It has. And I am different. Hopefully, on the whole, for the better. If you think you might like to do the residency, I recommend it. If you are not sure how you will manage it, find a way. The benefits are real; the experience life changing.

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Photo of Leonie Agnew

Leonie Agnew

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2013

Leonie Agnew says the residency is important to help her complete her writing projects.

“It’s difficult to place a value on mental space, the freedom to write when and where I feel like it. I’m extremely pleased,” she says.She is looking forward to what will be her first visit to Dunedin, and to living in a place which has its own chocolate factory.

“Everyone who's lived there keeps telling me the people are friendly and I'm looking forward to that. I've also been told by many people that it's quite an atmospheric place, especially in winter, and that it could add an extra layer of inspiration to my writing,” she says.

Leonie is fresh from success at the NZ Post Book Awards, where she won the Junior Fiction Prize, the Best New Book award and the Children's Choice Award for the Junior Fiction section with her book Super Finn. This children’s book also won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award.

Prolific six months for resident children’s writer, July 2013

Leonie Agnew has discovered you can’t “fly under the radar” when you are the University of Otago College of Education/Creative NZ Children’s writer in residence.

Read the Otago Bulletin article.

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Photo of James Norcliffe

James Norcliffe

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2012


Looking back, December 2012

This has been a magical time, quite appropriate really for a writer of fantasy.

I came to Dunedin with three projects in the forefront: a fantasy story in the form of a book within a book I think then provisionally titled Into Axillaris; the story of the very first loblolly boy to follow my two loblolly boy books (this would necessarily be set in the 1740’s and involve life at sea during the War of Jenkin’s Ear thus involving quite a lot of research) to be titled The Loblolly Boy and the Astrolabe; and finally to finish the editing of a collection of poems for an anthology aimed at younger readers with background material and writing prompts.

These three projects consumed the first few weeks and all went very well. The first novel (50,000 words) title settled as Felix and the Red Rats was actually completed before my first month was up and then I managed to complete the 70,000 words of The Loblolly Boy and the Astrolabe within another two months. Meanwhile the required editing of the poetry was finished as well in this timeframe and that book Packing a Bag for Mars was published before the end of the year. With time now to spare and my guilt chest empty I conceived another book, a ghost story set on the west coast (Moana / Lake Brunner) which was fun as it was intricately plotted and I’ve managed to complete its 50,000 words as well. This is called The Crate. I’m currently well into a 5th project perhaps born of Christchurch’s woes, a darker fantasy called The Lost City and I’m 40,000 words into that.

One of the great pleasures of the residency has been the opportunity to talk to schools and to older groups and to conduct writing workshops. My novel the Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer was short listed for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards this year and so I was involved in many school visits associated with children’s book week a number of these being further south as the NZ Book Council asked whether they could exploit the fact that I was in the neighbourhood as it were. Accordingly, at that time I spoke to groups in Otago and Southland, and visited about 14 schools in the area.

I had two visits to Invercargill to run junior workshops for the Dan Davin Foundation and was involved with the Storylines Children’s Family Day at the library.

For grownups I have spoken at the New Zealand Society of Authors, at the Meet the Fellows Session, and I have featured at the Circadian Rhythm Poetry Readings and the Love Poetry readings at the Dunedin Public Library. I have been interviewed on local TV, and on community radio both here and in Invercargill, and on Lynn Freeman’s programme on national radio. I have been interviewed by the university journalists and by ODT, D Scene, and Gore Ensign.

Some of my time had to be devoted to two books published this year: The Enchanted Flute (Longacre Random) which was released in May and a poetry collection Shadow Play (Proverse). The latter, published in November, came with a CD of the entire book and I thank the college for facilitating this recording at the studios on Union Street.

So. I have been busy, and this perhaps explains how the time has flown. I cannot repeat often enough how friendly and helpful the college staff have been. I have been made to feel special and valued and I’m going to miss this fellowship and warmth tremendously.

Writing is a fraught business and in these straitened times it is not easy for creative work to gel with commercial realities. However, I am confident that some of the work I have completed will eventually see publication*. No blame should be attached to the residency if it isn’t but all thanks to the residency and to the College if it is.

*Update: Felix and the Red Rats will be published by Longacre/Random in May 2013

May 2012

On my computer at home I had two barely developed ideas for novels for my target audience of bright young readers of all ages. One was the concept of a book within a book, a story in which intersecting chapters loosely related at first but which would become inextricably bound together. I wanted it to be funny, quirky and full of surprises.

The other was a book I’d more or less been challenged to write. When my Loblolly Boy was reviewed in NZ Books, Diane Hebley, as many people have, looked up the meaning of the original loblolly boy (an assistant to a ship’s surgeon in Royal Navy warships in the 18th and 19th centuries) and wondered whether there was a connection. In his review of The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer also in NZ Books, Geoffrey Miles was even more explicit and suggested a book set in the 18th century on a ship of the line or some such would be a good idea.

A couple of years ago, I’d been invited to a poetry festival in Medellin and while in Colombia visited the beautifully preserved fort city of Cartagena de Indias the scene of a famous naval encounter between the British and the Spanish in the 1740’s.

Thus I had a setting and a prompt for one book, and another intriguing idea for another, but alas no time. I had nibbled at outlines and written perhaps four or five pages of text for each piece but they remained stalled. My day job at Lincoln University keeps me busy and I’m the sort of writer who needs paddocks of time to work on a book. Work? I mean live, breathe, sleep and dream a book.

The news then that I had been offered the Writer in Residence at the Otago University College of Education was a consummation devoutly to be etc. I was overjoyed. It was perfect. I would have the time, I would have the accommodation, and I would have Dunedin again, a city and university I have such fond memories of.

The reality has more than exceeded the anticipation. The Robert Lord Cottage has proved to be convenient and cosy and the trustees so helpful. Part of the helpfulness has been a complete refurbishment including heating, insulation and a magical skylight. Trish Brooking and the team at the College of Education have been equally warm and welcoming. The wider writing community of Dunedin including former fellows has drawn me in as well. The walk between the cottage and the college is lovely although I am probably a danger to traffic as it’s also a time of pondering, wondering and creativity.

More pertinently, I have the office in the tower block and untrammelled (largely) time, so much so that in the first few weeks I have laid down thousands and thousands of words to cut and polish, and time to chase across the fields after new ideas and fancies.

The stay has coincided with my Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer’s being a finalist in the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards and this in turn has allowed me to visit schools and colleges around Dunedin and all around Southland. My diary includes further visits as well and this role as an ambassador for children’s writing has been an enjoyable by-product of my time here so far.
I am so grateful for this time and these opportunities. I am at the more or less half way stage of the fellowship and I trust the second will be as productive and stimulating.

James's website

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Photo of Kyle Mewburn

Kyle Mewburn

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2011

The call came on a cold Friday morning in July.

“Congratulations, dude! You have been chosen to be the OUCOE/CNZ Children’s writer-in-residence for 2011. Isn’t that like totally awesome, or what?”  (Okay, that may not quite be what Kim said, but that’s kind of how it sounded in my head.)

“Jolly good show, old chap,” I effused. Then hung up with a hearty: “Cheerio!” (Allowing a small degree of artistic license.) 

I’d been at my desk working on the second episode of my Dinosaur Rescue series, wrestling with the unexpected intricacies of my latest sophisticated poo joke. There was a deadline looming. I needed to get it done and dusted asap. I couldn’t afford to be distracted ...

Yeah, right.

Book cover of Dinosaur Rescue

I let out a fulsome cheer then raced up to my wife’s studio to tell her the news. All the way I couldn’t stop singing: “For I’m a jolly good fellow!” I just assumed that’s what every new Fellow did when informed of such joyous news. But I may be wrong.

We moved to Dunedin at the beginning of February and I quickly settled into an urban lifestyle in the cosy Robert Lord Cottage in Titan street. A fifteen minute morning stroll through the University to my office at the College. Write until mid-afternoon. A return stroll to Titan street, detouring via UBS and/or Meenans. A cold drink in the cottage courtyard followed by a walk to/through the Gardens. Another drink in the courtyard. Then the daily debate. Cook dinner, go to a restaurant or get takeaways? Go to a movie or rent a dvd? Decisions, decisions. It was almost too much for quiet country folk like us. How do city people manage?

My writing project for the duration of the residency was to finish my first Young Adult novel. It had already been over a year in the planning and drafting. With no looming deadlines and six months in which to focus solely on my project, I’d polish it off in no time.

Ahhh, the best laid plans of mice and writers ...

I did manage to make steady progress – for a while. But my Dinosaur Rescue series was proving popular, so the publishers asked if I might care to write (I guess ‘demanded’ is a tad harsh) two more episodes. ASAP!

A month living in the mind of an 8-year-old evolved Neanderthal boy later, and I could once again turn my attentions to the travails of my 17-year-old contemporary YA hero. I realise there may not appear to be much difference between an evolved Neanderthal and a contemporary teenager, but it proved to be quite a struggle flipping between mindsets.

I had just begun to make some serious progress when disaster struck! My picture book Hill & Hole made the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finals. There’s nothing quite distracting as good news. Very hard to focus on the task at hand when your mind’s whirring with grandiose visions of what might be. The downside of having an over-active imagination, I guess.

Book cover of Hill and Hole

A mini NZ Post tour of the West Coast and a glittering awards ceremony in Auckland followed. Sadly my Hill & Hole was pipped at the post (the NZ Post, haha!) by Margaret Mahy and David Elliot’s book The moon and Farmer McPhee. Oh well, there’s always next year.

In the meantime, back to my novel.

Progress was further stalled by the joint launch of my picture book Hester & Lester and my junior novel DO NOT PUSH! , which the College so graciously hosted. Then there were the various edits and re-writes which result from having nine titles published in a single year. Not to mention the hours spent lingering in the Staff Room chatting to the ever-interesting staff. 
Before I knew it, it was August. My residency was at an end. I was back on the street … or at least the creative equivalent. You rather get used to the notion of being handsomely, and regularly, paid for doing what you’d be doing anyway. It’s a shame you can only be a Fellow once.

So here it is, five months later, with this enriching, rewarding, engaging and utterly memorable year drawing to a close. My YA is nearing completion, at last. Barring any major interruptions, I’m hoping to finish it by Christmas. The first draft, at least.

Next year promises to be another big year for me, with ten more titles already due for release, two international promotional tours in the pipeline and, hopefully, my first YA novel accepted. Exciting stuff.

Yet I know already it can’t top this year. And when I recall 2011 (which I undoubtedly will a lot in the years ahead), it will be the wonderful new people I met who will most stick in my mind.

It was a jolly good year.

And so say all of us!

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Karen Trebilcock

Karen Trebilcock

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2010

Explaining to friends and family exactly what it means to me to have this residency has been a tricky, but at times hilarious, task. Many keep on referring to it as a job as in “when do you start your new job?” and others ask “but what are you going to do there?” The comment “and you’re going to get paid for that!” also pops up fairly frequently. I have consoled myself that maybe the general public have yet to realise writing fiction for children is important and yes, should be paid. It is not a job, but a craft – a creative process – and gives stories to our children and teenagers that encourages them to extend their reading skills, explore other ideas and worlds, and of course, to dream.

Maybe I just need new friends. My family, I know, I’m stuck with. They’ll get it eventually.

For the record, during the residency I will be writing a teen thriller I’ve called Absorbed which will be set in Dunedin and Australia. I’ll be aiming for between 50,000 and 60,000 words so yes, for the six months of the residency, it will keep me very busy. The novel is about global warming and how teenagers could react to having to reduce their carbon footprints to save their way of life. (Imagine a teenager without a set of wheels!) I also will be writing a blog about the creative process as part of having the residency is to teach and inspire children to read and to write their own stories.

I promise I will not get sidetracked by film or stage scripts or anything else I usually write. Well, I sort of promise.

Please visit my blog, which is under my pen name 'Ella West', at

End of Fellowship words, August 2010

It’s been six months of an office, a computer and a view over the Leith before it flows into the harbour.  I’ve written a book, started another and written a play.  The pile of paper in the corner has risen steadily higher – I print out everything I write not only for the feeling of safety it gives me (just in case anything happens to the computer file) but also to proofread.  After six months of writing, the pile measured more than 40cm high.  Waiting for the printer to do its thing in the stationery room, I got to watch from the window the stadium for next year’s rugby world cup slowly being built.  The giant roof trusses were lifted into place as I dumped the pile of paper into the shredding and recycling bin next to the printer from where it came, the residency over. 

It has also been six months of morning teas with university staff, catching up with the other arts fellows and the odd lunch.  At the end of July I got to talk to the many English classes at the College of Education, both at its Dunedin campus and the one in Invercargill, hopefully dispelling a few myths about writers and their books (really – it’s not that hard to write a book!).  The first-year students were required to read my first novel Thieves as part of their course and luckily (for them) most had enjoyed it although several were annoyed they had to read the other two books in the trilogy to find out what happens.  “We are trying to get children to read,” I tried to explain to them.  “If a teenager picks up Thieves then they end up reading hopefully not one book but three.  As teachers and writers isn’t that what we want?”

While I have worried and written and worked, the Leith has flooded and gone down, the leaves have left the trees and the students have tramped past my office door in search of their lecturers and explanations for their marks.  It has been a strange environment to write a book in, even though it was a book set partly here at the university.  I would have to shake myself free of whatever predicament my characters had found themselves in and walk through the corridors to the staff room for morning tea and to discuss electricity prices or baking or the latest antics of children, grandchildren, partners and pets.  To be invited into other people’s workplace so warmly, and to share their lives, has been a humbling experience and I have promised I will visit regularly now the fellowship is over.

The future?  I’m now writing full time from home, a publisher is reading my book and the play has been entered into a competition.  My half-written adult novel must be finished and the young adult novel I started during the fellowship needs to be developed further.  There are lots of other projects to dream about too.  The fellowship has changed me from a part-time writer to a fulltime one and for that, I am very thankful.

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Joanna Orwin

Joanna Orwin

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2009


Profile, April 2009

Writing is a solitary and self-absorbed occupation, and it’s often hard not to feel defensive when people ask – as they still do – ‘but what is your real job?’ It doesn’t help that most New Zealand writers still do have a ‘real job’ in addition to writing, simply because starving in the garret would become a reality without some more reliable income than that provided by publishing a book every year or so. The downside is that it’s easy, and sometimes essential, to give the paid work priority over the writing, so both time and creative energy are soon swallowed up. Being awarded Otago’s Children’s Writer in Residence is therefore akin to being given the keys to the kingdom. Not only am I formally contracted to work on a creative writing project for 6 glorious months – and therefore required to give it priority over everything else, I am also provided with an office in a stimulating environment where everyone around me believes in the value of writing for children. That and the kudos of joining the list of writers awarded this Fellowship is great affirmation to someone easily besieged by self-doubt.

While I’m in Dunedin, I have the privilege and pleasure of living in the Robert Lord Cottage, immersed in the history of its 100 years , Robert’s palpable presence, and the challenge of mastering a coal range. The cottage is within 10 minutes of the Ross Creek tracks, giving me respite from sitting at my desk. Landscape forms an integral part of my work and is often the trigger for new story ideas. Exploring Otago’ s natural surroundings with a local tramping group as well as relishing the city’s rich cultural opportunities are bound to feed into future projects.

The project I’m working on is a three-part story for teenagers set in a time several hundred years after cataclysmic volcanic eruptions on the Pacific Rim have destroyed life as we know it. Isolated small societies have developed in different environments and with different structures and cultures. I’m loosely basing my story on pre-history Polynesian life styles and mythologies, using them to explore what leads isolated societies to failure and the role of religious and political power in that process – Easter Island history being the trigger idea for this book. My characters will experience adventure and hardship, romance and sacrifice, and become leading players in a self-destructing society.

Front cover of book Collision

Launch of book Collision in September 2009

The University Book Shop is very pleased to have held the launch for Collision by award-winning New Zealand writer, Joanna Orwin.

Published by HarperCollins, Collision is about the violent impact of opposing forces; the clash of two different world views and cultures.

In 1772 a disastrous collision in the Southern Ocean saw French expedition leader, Monsieur Marc Joseph Marion du Fresne, bring the tall ships Marquis de Castries and Mascarin into the Bay of Islands, northern New Zealand, seeking fresh water and new spars.

Through the eyes of André Tallec, a young ensign, and his counterpart, Te Kape, favoured protégée of local chief Te Kuri, the events of the next two months unfold with harrowing tension and a sense of impending doom.

Blinded by the apparent goodwill of the Naturals and his belief in French superiority, Marion misunderstands their interactions with local Maori. Each day, the French unwittingly transgress further. With gathering frustration, the local chiefs find their mana increasingly compromised and their spiritual wellbeing threatened. Te Kuri and his fellow chiefs try every means at their disposal to encourage these strange tipua from the sea to leave them in peace, until only one course of honourable action remains. In a superb retelling of a collision of cultures doomed to end in tragedy, Joanna Orwin cleverly interweaves Maori and European perspectives, providing a vivid and compelling tale of loyalty, friendship, bloodshed and revenge from the age of encounter - when European and Polynesian first measured each other face to face.

Closing report, Joanna Orwin

Grey skies, wind and rain through most of a bitterly cold May, June and July – some say this has been the worst winter on record (and not just in Dunedin). Despite donning merino long johns, cranking up the coal range, and still struggling to keep warm enough in the 100-year-old Robert Lord Writers Cottage, when I look back on my 6 months in Dunedin, I’ll remember only warmth – the warmth of the welcome I’ve received and the friendship of the people I’ve met.

My time here has been productive beyond all my expectations of what I might accomplish. With such easy access to the wonderful University library and printing/photocopying facilities, I have completed all the research I planned for the project I’ve been working on – a three-part post-apocalyptic story for teenagers set several hundred years after cataclysmic volcanic eruptions on the Pacific Rim. During the 6 months of the Residency, I have also finished writing the first part of this story – the fastest I’ve ever written a 62,000-word novel. This has now been submitted to my publisher.

This in itself is a measure of the benefits of holding a Writer’s Residency. Despite indulging in Dunedin’s many delightful diversions of cafes, theatre, bookshops, and long day walks with a local tramping group, the real focus of my time here has been writing. Having financial freedom and continuity of time and effort to spend on one project has meant my writing has progressed without any disruptive setbacks (apart from my usual need to rewrite several times the first five or six chapters while I found my way into the story and developed the characters). As a result, although normally when I’m revising, my scientific editing background gives me a ruthless eye and a trigger finger on the delete button, the completed draft needed fine-tuning only.

As well as being able to focus on my own writing, I’ve contributed in small ways to programmes at the College of Education and the wider University and have enjoyed the sessions talking to the public, students, and staff. I also had the pleasure of launching my latest novel Collision in Dunedin towards the end of the Residency, a successful and well-attended event at the University Book Shop.

I’ll miss Dunedin, its environment and the people I’ve met here, but will go home to Christchurch feeling I’ve made the most of the opportunities provided by being awarded the 2009 Children’s Writer in Residence.

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Bill O'Brien

Bill O’Brien

University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2008

The obvious advantage of being appointed Children's Writer in Residence is that it affirms that I am now a serious and credible writer of quality material. There is also a degree of personal satisfaction one can take in being on the list of recipients for this Fellowship. A less obvious advantage is being able to work on a project in a totally different atmosphere to what I am used to. For most writers, particularly those writing more or less full time, it can be a rather solitary existence. Being able to work in a university setting is refreshing. There is a 'buzz' about the place that is absent when working from home. While this can be mildly distracting to the creative writing process it is outweighed by the benefits of working among professionals for whom writing/reading/language is a passion. Here there is an opportunity to explore other ideas and points of view - like minds working together is a welcome change from working alone.

The project I am working on during the residency is an adventure novel set in 1903. It tells the story of two close friends who detest their life in a remote coal mining town on the West Coast. They have made a firm commitment to each other that at the first available opportunity they will escape their existence rather than be faced with a lifetime of working in the mines as their fathers have done. Just when it looks like they might achieve their dreams tragedy strikes. One of the boys has to make a choice whether to remain behind to support his family or abandon his responsibilities to pursue his ambition. The situation is resolved, but not before a dramatic event occurs that throws the two friends into a life and death situation and a stern test of their friendship. The time and setting lends itself perfectly to heighten drama and tension.

I deliberately chose the particular West Coast town following a visit there to research some family history. As with other books I have written for children I am also mindful of the need to try and attract the attention of reluctant boy readers.

Bill O Brien, March 2009

My six month Fellowship was over very quickly. I must say I did enjoy the Residency and managed to complete the task I set myself to write a children's novel. However, like any creative work there is much polishing to do once the draft is finished and I am still working on the project. Because it was written as part of a University Fellowship I want it to be just right.

For me, working at the College of Education had many other benefits, not the least being communication with staff and students. I was fortunate in being able to take about 20 hours of lecturing in creative writing and the interchange with young minds was refreshingly challenging. Similarly interaction with staff over the broad spectrum of teaching disciplines was invaluable. It would be self evident that writing is, by and large, a somewhat solitary occupation and it had been almost a decade since I was in the mainstream work force. Having a chance to daily hear other points of view was quite stimulating. I feel that I too was able to contribute to the daily life of the College and able to bring experiences and another viewpoint to discussions. I hope so anyway.

Personally I met some wonderful people and had experiences that were far removed from just sitting in a University office and writing all day. I am certainly better for having had this chance and am indeed grateful for the opportunity.

Otago Fellows University of Otago