Author Jane Bloomfield talks about her latest work of junior fiction, blogging and what encouraged her to make a late-life career change at the age of 51.

1 Why did you include a character with dementia in your Lily Max books?

My Nana had dementia, my uncle died of it and then my father got it too, so I've had that experience. I've always had grandparents in my books. I want to show that sense of family because I think it's an important part of life for children.

I grew up with all my grandparents around and I treasure those memories. Nana was a very sweet and sociable lady and that continued. We didn't call it dementia or senility - that would never have been mentioned. She just started doing batty things.


2 Was dementia a difficult subject to tackle?

With junior fiction you're in that age of innocence so I've always treated it in an affectionate way. There's a scene where Tilda Button thinks she's in France so the whole family gets involved in the theatrics of that; pretending to get snails out of the garden and cook them up.

There is a scary moment where Tilda goes missing in a snowstorm but it turns out she's at the local pizzeria. My children were so sweet with Dad. I've tried to show that absolute empathy children feel in the books.

3 Your dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2012. When did you realise that you'd lost the father you once knew?

Dad was a naval commander and very much a product of his upbringing. He'd never been emotionally demonstrative and a close father-daughter relationship was beyond him. But when Dad 'turned' I felt nothing but utter sadness for him; seeing him stumble, his confusion, going over and over the same things.

4 Was it hard for your family to make the decision to move your dad to a rest home?

Yes. What happened was he fell off a 30m cliff at his home in Leigh. He would've been throwing some leaves off the edge.

He was winched to safety but he'd broken vertebrae in his neck, been knocked unconscious, had broken ribs and was covered in lacerations. He deteriorated quite quickly and needed professional care. I found the rest home really quite depressing.


5 Was your dad still able to get some enjoyment in life near the end?

Yes mostly. He still enjoyed a joke. Some of his one-liners have ended up in the books. Like when we've have a picnic in the day room he'd think we were in a cafe. "Are we the only table?" he'd say.

He also played a decent game of Scrabble. Sometimes he'd switch to French words because he lived in France half his life. Once when he was on painkillers after breaking his pelvis falling out of bed he thought we were at the airport going back to France. Suddenly we were airborne. He said, "I say, I've never been on such a quiet aircraft". I was going, "It's great, isn't it dad?"

He saw the fruit on the table and said, "We'd better leave those on board. I don't think customs will like those."

6 You've written about your Dad's dementia in your blog Truth is Stranger Than Fiction. Why did you start a non-fiction blog for grownups?

I started blogging as a way of going public with my writing. I'd write things, hit post and then run and hide because honestly you feel like you've revealed a bit of yourself each time.

I had a dream that maybe I'd become this fantastic mummy blogger or a publication would ask me to write a column, but that hasn't happened. I've been surprised to get about a hundred readers a day from around the world.

I wrote about washing my feet at a temple in Abu Dhabi and now I get a lot of readers who google Iranian feet. They must have some odd fetish.

Author Jane Bloomfield came late to writing. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Author Jane Bloomfield came late to writing. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

7 One of your blogs was about a woman in the rest home who had the hots for your dad. Did that experience take you by surprise?

Apparently it's quite common. She called him Vic and thought he was her husband. I was bringing dad into the home one day when she came up and said, "I'm going to give you a kiss". Dad was like, "He, he, he" so I thought, "That's quite cute. He's getting a bit of affection" but then once she tried to sit on his lap I was like, "Oh no, no. I can't do this." I had to call a carer to help.

8 You grew up in Bayswater on the North Shore and the Hawke's Bay. Why do you live in Queenstown?

My husband was working for AJ Hackett when we married so we moved there and never left. Our three children are teenagers now.

I'd been in marketing but decided to do something completely different so started growing flowers commercially. Initially it was sunflowers. Now I just grow peonies.

9 You were 51 when you published your first book, Lily Max: Satin, Scissors, Frock. What sparked the late life career change?

My eldest daughter Lily used to write her own picture books at age four which is probably what got me started. Reading to the children, I'd often think, "I could write a better book than this." I wanted to create a feisty heroine because I thought the world needs more of them.

I created the Lily Max character 12 years ago and had various goes at getting published. Lily Max talked to me constantly so I wrote her blog each week to keep her voice alive until Steve Braunius offered to publish. I stole the name from my daughter but when Lily read the book she said, "Oh Mum, she nothing like me at all," which is true.

10 Why did you decide Lily Max would make her own clothes out of op shop gear?

Partly in retaliation against all that peer pressure my daughters faced of wanting the latest top from the nasty old House of G. I grew up around sewing.

Mum sewed haute couture gowns at home in the 1960s. My younger sister works in film costume departments. I wanted to make Lily a bit punk because I was into punk when I lived in London in the 80s. I'd shave small strips above my ears and tease out the front.

11 Why does Lily Max go to the sea in the just released third book, Lily Max; Sun, Surf, Action?

The first two books were set in Queenstown winters. I wanted the third to be a Kiwi beach holiday seen through fresh eyes. Taking Lily Max out of her home town meant I had to find a new antagonist.

Enter Ryder, the cute surfer boy who becomes the annoying third wheel in Lily Max's longed for summer reunion with her BFF Greer. Lily Max has been 12 in all three books but now undergoes a subtle coming-of-age.

12 You've dedicated this book to your mum and your dad. Why?

I wasn't sure a dedication would mean anything to Dad but I decided to anyway. He died two weeks ago. The last time I saw him, I told him I'd dedicated this book to him because it had the sea, a salty old seadog and a shipwreck in it. He said, "Well, well, well. So there we are ..." He often said that.