Welcome to Lee Murray’s New Zealand Speculative Fiction Show, an interview series featuring star acts from NZ’s science fiction, fantasy and horror community, including news, insights, and sneak-peeks of their latest performances.
Today’s guest is Linda Dawley, author of The Toothfairy’s Mistake series, and the fabulous speculative middle grade title Wee Mac. Welcome, Linda!
I like to think of your work as ‘feel good’ stories. Is that a fair assessment?
Lee, when you first described my work with ‘feel good factor’, I admit I was a bit deflated, thought that meant sub-par work. Upon reflection, I am enormously flattered with that description. Who doesn’t like to feel good – particularly in our unsettled world? If that is the result of my work, I am truly grateful.
Tell us about the Tooth Fairy series. What inspired you to write it? When can we expect the next release and what exactly is a ‘peace rose’?
The Tooth Fairy’s Mistake is the result of a time when I was exhausted and heartbroken at the loss of my dear friend. I was writing an adult level novel and struggling – and in my mind’s eye I saw a tired wee fairy with a yellow bag over her shoulder, slumped on the steps of a huge building. The Tooth Fairy, with TGF, (tooth gathering fatigue) emerged, and I told her story. She made a big mistake, learned the purpose of mistakes, and grew from the experience. Incidentally, the young girl, Molly who became friends with the Tooth Fairy, had her own story to tell and that became the second book, The Tooth Fairy’s Assistant. The nature of story is such that there is always something to discover, and ‘Fairyland Secrets’ helps explain all that has gone before. The ‘Peace Rose’ was introduced to North America at the end of WWII and is used as a symbol of love and peace. In the final story in the series, Molly uses the rose to reunite her estranged family – just how that happens is revealed in the book. Suffice to say, love is the strongest bond in the world and outlasts everything.
Maple Syrup or mānuka honey? Are you are a Canadian writer, a New Zealand writer, or something else?
You do ask curly questions, don’t you, Lee? As a person I will always be a Canadian but have become part of New Zealand as well. I am a writer and do not like to think I have been pigeon-holed by place of birth or residence. Guess I am something else!
Wee Mac tells the story of twelve year old Jane, who travels to Scotland after the death of her mother. Mute, Jane forms an unexpected attachment to a small dog, a meeting which leads to her recovery. In this story, selkies are a key element. Why the fascination with these mythological creatures? Can we expect to see some New Zealand mythology appearing in any future stories?
Jane has lost her mother unexpectedly, is now mute, and in a foreign country with strangers and strangeness all around her. She communicates with a small dog telepathically, and she hears stories about mythical creatures that the locals swear are real. She has a burning need to talk to her mother, to tell her things she didn’t get a chance to. It is only logical to me that she would want to enlist the help of anything or anyone who could help her. She is a brave child and needs to find a way through her pain and sorrow. In her mind, a selkie can help. I love a bit of magic and every life needs a sprinkle of it daily, in my opinion.
Father Christmas, The Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny: What is the value of fantasy characters like these for children? Do they still have a place in today’s world?
Stories are used in every culture to pass on traditions, teach us how to behave, stimulate our imagination. What would life be without story and magic? A dull, difficult, uphill climb, I think. Life is a continuum – without unhappy we can’t experience happy, without sadness we wouldn’t know joy. Today, more than ever we need stories that feed our imagination, stories of hardship overcome, ways to find our own feet in the world and shape us as hopeful, kind, caring people.
Can you describe your writing process? Do you have to work at your ideas, or do they come to you fully formed? And what’s all this about buttons?
I am a ‘pantser’ and most often have an idea/word/phrase or even see a scene in my mind and that starts a new story that needs to be told. Until recently, I would just sit and write the story and then have to spend time re-writing and polishing.
Buttons! Where that came from I have no idea but they have meant a great deal of work for me. I didn’t know much about buttons prior to this except that I love them and have several special ones myself.
My latest WIP involves a mid-western farmer with a major button interest that he has turned into an international business. Unfortunately he is found dead – was he murdered for a valuable button? Who knows? But he appears regularly to his niece to encourage her to solve his murder.
You write middle grade speculative fiction, cosy mysteries, and also women’s fiction. Is this something to do with that old saying a girl is allowed to change her mind? Should a writer stick to one genre? Why, or why not?
I guess I am just that kind of a girl – don’t like to be seen as only one thing. I think anyone can write whatever they like and why should we have rules about that? Or do we? I suppose some prefer to stick to one genre and that’s okay, too. Why not? Who says we have to be the same all the time? Variety is the spice of life so why not add flavour to the writing by changing genres? Surely, what we learn in one genre can help or enhance another genre, perhaps it will improve the work, perhaps not. Nothing ventured nothing gained.
Anyone who knows me, particularly in North America, knows I never left home without a full tank of petrol. I never knew where I would end up even when going somewhere I had been several times before, I generally got lost. I can’t read a map and rely on signs to get me where I am going. Sometimes, the sign that was there previously was gone on my next pass through. I never worried about it as generally I got where I was headed, and usually on time. Often I would have met someone new on the way or found a lovely new shop, or had some sort of adventure and most often it was pleasant, not frightening. Switching writing genres is somewhat like that in my mind – a new adventure.
Writing test! Please write a paragraph using the following words. Make it any genre you like.
Stove, shoes, crumpets, dust.
The dust swirling around her shoes was in danger of smothering her. Even worse, it was covering the hot crumpets she just took from the oven. Living in the outback was fine but did have its limitations. The only stove was a campfire and lack of rain allowed the dust storm to rage unchecked.
Describe your ideal writing spot.
Any place I happen to be with a pen/paper/computer and some time.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I love meeting friends for coffee and chatting, sharing jokes, or swimming in the ocean, I say ‘swimming’ but I more or less paddle around and look at the clouds. I also love puzzles, knitting, reading, sewing, hanging out with my lovely friends is the best thing in the world.
Which Mother Goose character, if any, best describes you and why?
This is most likely the hardest question of them all, Lee. Could be “Little Bo-Peep” because I am always trying to get my flock looking right. There are several others I could be, but I suspect the best thing would be to ask someone else who sees more than I do. :)
Any burning question I should have asked you?
I think you’ve asked enough!
Thanks for stopping by Linda, and best of luck for the next step in your writing career.
My pleasure, Lee, thank you for the opportunity.