Books make the best presents - four authors explain why those they received as children were gifts that changed their lives
Andrew Crowe: A plug for non-fiction
In school reading lessons, I was mediocre. I was a "reluctant reader", it seems, so was force-fed with the task of getting through Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. I was assured that it would be "good" for me.
But when I look back now, I realise that the books that had the greatest influence on my life were all non-fiction. At 11, I discovered photography books and through them quickly learnt how to set up a darkroom to process the family photographs. I was also given a set of children's encyclopaedias. The Wonderland of Knowledge I think they were called.
Anyway, they had dark blue covers embossed with gold lettering and had a smell and feel that would regularly take me into another world – the world of discovery. Much of the magic of these 12 volumes lay in the black and white photographs on every page. If one caught my eye, the text was simple enough that I could quickly discover the story behind it – no force-feeding required. A picture of a Chinese kite-flying festival and the fascinating story behind it had me searching for materials to design and build a kite of my own, one so enormous that I could use it to lift a bag off the ground containing a complete set of London telephone directories. The resulting escapades fostered a love of books that surely contributed to my present career as a writer. Like many boys, it seems, I was drawn more to non-fiction. I had been incorrectly classified as a reluctant reader; I was just a "dormant reader".
Andrew Crowe is recipient of the Margaret Mahy Medal. His latest book, Pathway of the Birds, won the New Zealand Heritage Book Award (Non-Fiction) this year and received a Storylines Notable Book Award.
Stephanie Parkyn: Who wouldn't want to be a storyteller?
When I think of my favourite childhood stories I think of the imagery of Roald Dahl's hideous Mr Twit and the hairy jungle around his mouth that captured all his food, or Astrid Lindgren's fierce Pippi Longstocking with her red braids who lived alone with a horse on her porch (didn't we all wanted to be her?). But those beloved storybooks I found in my school library and not under the Christmas tree.
The book I want to write about was given to me when I was 9 years old, and it was carefully inscribed in ink, in flowing handwriting by my parents to their dear daughter Stephanie. This book was a big book, an adult-sized book, with a dust jacket and gold lettering, virtually a scholarly tome. The Complete Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales gathered together and passed down through the years and across oceans to be given to me on a sunny Christmas morning in a suburban cul-de-sac.
This was a suitcase of a book, a carrier of words and worlds and it entranced me. The Ugly Duckling, Thumbelina, the poor little match-girl shivering on her snowy street while my mum roasted the chicken before the Christchurch nor-wester made the day too hot.
And from that time I began to write my own stories, making images out of words. I wanted to take people on adventures and show them all the sad, mad, bad and wondrous things of the world, and I wanted my stories to be loved and shared just like Hans Christian Andersen. I knew I had things to say and I hoped someone would listen. What a magical thing that one person's thoughts can travel through time and space to touch another. Who wouldn't want to be an imaginator, a storyteller?
Picked as one to watch after the 2017 publication of her first novel, Into the World, Stephanie Parkyn trained as an environmental scientist before becoming a writer. Josephine's Garden (Allen & Unwin, $33) is her second novel.
Catherine Robertson: My mother bought me and my brother books year-round – yes, we were lucky
I'm embarrassed to say I can't remember which books I received as childhood Christmas presents. In my defence, it was a really long time ago and my mother bought me and my brother books year-round. Yes, we were very lucky. But the book gifts that stand out in my rubbish memory are Finnish author Tove Jansson's Moomintroll novels, the 1960s English language editions of Moominvalley in November, A Comet in Moominland and Moominland Midwinter. Some stories are gentle and joyful; some dark and introspective. Adult me admires the philosophical depth; adult me has a tattoo of my favorite character, Little My. "When you're angry, then you're angry," thought Little My, peeling her potato with her teeth…"Every little creature has a right to get angry."
Then there were my Magic Roundabout books, written by Eric Thompson (father of actress Emma), who adapted the original French TV series. The books are more sophisticated than the series and very funny, especially the banter between Dougal the pompous dog and Brian the snail, who winds up his "hairy chum" relentlessly. Adult me spotted a joke that child me certainly did not: Dylan the hippie rabbit meets his mate Fred at a magic show, where Zebedee makes Ermintrude the cow disappear. "What was it like?" asked Frances. "It was rather like floating, dear," said Ermintrude. "We know the feeling," said Dylan and Fred. Eric Thompson, you hero.
If I look at what else I was given – Asterix books, Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, the Earthsea trilogy, The Incredible Journey, Mary Poppins and many more – I see humour, adventure, exceptional storytelling and hints of subversion. These books sit in the back of my mind when I write, an ever-present aspirational standard of quality. And I still possess every finger-smudged, creaky-spined one of them.
Novelist Catherine Robertson is the Victoria University of Wellington International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) and Creative New Zealand Writer in Residence for 2020. All six of her novels, which include The Hiding Places, Gabriel's Bay, and What You Wish For, have reached No.1 on the NZ bestseller list while several have been published in Europe.
Nalini Singh: in praise of libraries
My choice is a library book – or at least, a series. I was such a voracious reader as a child that most of my discoveries were made in the library. I was born in Fiji where there was a much smaller library system but the book bus would come and I would always feel very excited. When I came to New Zealand, there were these big libraries and they were like a treasure box to me. I always wanted to go into the library and get out the maximum number of books and read and read. Wandering around the stacks looking for books was something I loved.
Anne McCaffrey's The Dragonriders of Pern was a series that a friend recommended; I would have been in my teens. It was an amazing series, partly because of the world-building. I remember being so utterly absorbed in the world and being totally taken there; it was the first time I had been so immersed in a world and it showed me how you can build worlds on the pages of a book. All these years later, the books are still in circulation with new editions coming out. When Anne McCaffrey died [in 2011], it was the first time I felt like I had lost someone even though I hadn't met them.
I remain a huge fan of libraries. When I quit being a lawyer to concentrate more on writing, I got a part-time job at the Mt Roskill Library – where I had spent so much time as a child.
Nalini Singh is the best-selling author of Psy-Changeling and Guild Hunter Paranormal romance series and also writes contemporary romance novels. She has just published her first crime fiction book, A Madness of Sunshine.
Auckland Libraries Great Summer Read is on now until January 31 while school holiday programmes and activities run at libraries across the region.