A former provincial newspaper journalist is hoping to enlist zombies in the fight to improve teen literacy.

Paul Charman, who reported for newspapers in Taranaki, King Country, Rangitikei, Auckland and Northland, says his new book "The Real Taranaki Zombies – Part 1" was inspired by Stratford folk hero Errol Clince (1953-2014).

"Back in 1974, when I was a cadet reporter at a Taranaki newspaper, Errol discovered the remains of a crashed World War II plane, which had lain undetected in the bush for more than 30 years. This set my imagination on fire, and eventually led me to write my zombie novel for young readers."

Paul says although the story was inspired by Errol's discovery, he has not fictionalised Errol or the plane he discovered in any way. The zombies he has imagined crash in an entirely different plane.

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Errol Clince discovered the remains of a plane many years after it crashed.
Errol Clince discovered the remains of a plane many years after it crashed.

Paul says he hopes the book will appeal to teenage boys in particular, who he says often stop reading for pleasure.

"Primarily it aims to engage the interest of boys aged around 14 years and over, with plenty of pictures and references to motorcycles, guns, military aircraft, old forgotten tunnels and war mysteries.

"According to the latest research we really do need to reach boys in this age group, as many in the segment say they no longer read for enjoyment, but only when they need to."

Paul has spent time volunteering at special reading camps which target young men struggling with literacy and learning, and says it was this experience that encouraged him to start work on his book.

"I was inspired to write my story after volunteering at half a dozen of the reading camps run by the late Graham Crawshaw, on his farm at Arapohue, near Dargaville.

"Graham, who died in 2012, was a great character who combined phonics-based literacy lessons with bushcraft, offering an alternative learning programme for boys left totally marginalised by the mainstream education system.

"I'm not a gifted children's worker like Graham was, but I can write stories, so my contribution to the cause will be to write adventure stories based on experiences I've had over 40-plus years as a country journalist."

Paul says his "zombies" story combines strange but true events he experienced during a "fairly chequered career", including the discovery of the aircraft, and seeing the remains of a 1940s secret weapons programme run at the Whangaparaoa Military Camp.

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"The military camp is a pretty impressive place to this day, as it has deep tunnels which once housed a coastal artillery base. During World War II Kiwi scientists also developed a "tsunami weapon" there.

"I put the plane and the secret weapons programme together to create a zombie story whose heroes are motorbike-riding teenagers. There's lots of historic information about the Pacific War, which impacted New Zealand in a massive way during the 1940s."

The cover of 'The Real Taranaki Zombies - Part 1' was designed by NZ Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson.
The cover of 'The Real Taranaki Zombies - Part 1' was designed by NZ Herald cartoonist Rod Emmerson.

Paul has dedicated the book to Graham Crawshaw, and others who feel strongly about getting youngsters reading.

"We mustn't be sanguine about a generation of children choosing not to read. Love of reading will open the door for them to succeed in life -- poor literacy will simply hold them back."

The Stratford Press has a couple of copies of Paul's book to give away to some lucky readers. To enter the draw to win one of the copies, please email editor@stratfordpress.co.nz with the name and age of the teenage reader you are entering for, and an address for us to send the prize out to along with a contact phone number. Like our Facebook page and keep an eye on that for more chances to win.
Competition closes at noon on December 30.