Havelock North musician and author Mary-Anne Scott is a finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for her second book, Coming Home to Roost.
She chats to Mark Story about the introspection required to write.
What's Coming home to Roost about?
It's about dealing with stuff. My character's non-action in the face of impending doom is central to the story but it's also about family relationships, racism and young love. Elliot Barnard, aka Rooster, is an ordinary boy, not a wizard or superhero, not the highest achieving sibling in his family and certainly not a demon-slaying girl. It's his ordinariness that makes him endearing. He has an unlikely ally in Arnie, his boss, who's old and grumpy and dismayed by Elliot, but ultimately, there for him.
What's the biggest obstacle to successful writing in this country?
I can't answer for other writers, but the biggest obstacle in my situation is not geographical, but me. By this I mean the sheer mental baggage I can bring to my desk: self-doubt, perfectionism, distractions, discipline and a desire to keep things under-wraps. It took four years to write Coming Home to Roost and that was plenty of time to let all those negative feelings rotate, frequently.
Janet Frame once said the only honest form of publication these days is posthumous publication. Do you agree?
I think Janet Frame is inferring that real honesty in writing is only possible when the writer has died. I often want to protect my privacy when I'm writing but quite often, it's at the expense of gritty stories. If I trust myself and put down the hard stuff that I've learned or experienced whilst raising four sons, then I can feel the difference in the quality of story. I have better connections with readers as well because they feel more inclined to tell me their hard stuff.
Who do you write for?
My books are marketed as Young Adult but I feel as if I'm writing for parents and teachers too. Perhaps my years of mothering sons and teaching teenagers' guitar, have given me an insight into the cogs and workings (and non-workings) of teenage boys' brains. I began writing from a position of fear and in some ways loneliness - it seemed as if everyone was doing a better job parenting than me. Making up imaginary boys helped clear my head - and the fictional mothers survived the journey.
If you had to name your favourite NZ author, who would that be?
This is a tough one because I read so much. I'm really enjoying the creative non-fiction that's being published today and Adam Dudding's My Father's Island is a good example. There are also some brave bloggers calling out the truth on every aspect of life and I love the shape of a well written column. I've noticed that I'm reading more short non-fiction than ever before. But you're probably referring to long fiction and often what I love most is dependent on what I'm reading when I'm asked. Right now, I'm reading Mandy Hager's novel Heloise and she's transported me back to France in the 12th century. It's a really well written book. My favourite all time NZ writer though would have to be my mother, Joy Watson, who wrote the Grandpa's Slippers series. Did you really think I could say anyone else?