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Author Q&A: Nikki Slade Robinson

On 8 June, the finalists in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced, and among them is a longtime Scoop Review of Books reviewer, Nikki Slade Robinson, for her children’s picture book The Little Kiwi’s Matariki.

Photo by Neil Hutton.

Photo by Neil Hutton.

Following is a Q&A with Nikki about her life, inspiration and work:

Where were you born? Te Puke – though I only lived there until I was 1 month old.

N publicity shot 2016 cropWhere do you live now? In paradise, near Ōpōtiki.

Where did you go to school? Woodlands School and then Ōpōtiki College.

What were you like in school? I drew heaps. I have a maths report that says I should try not to draw quite so much in my maths book. (Don’t get me wrong, maths IS important, it’s just I understand it better when I turn it into pictures.)

What was your favourite book growing up? Tons! I loved helping unpack the cartons of books at school from the National Library Service. Miffy was the first book I remember getting hooked on. Some of our books at home had been in a school fire and they had smoke marks on the pages, and smelt smoky but I loved them just the same. Dr Seuss was utterly awesome. Then I got into Cricket magazine, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Tolkien, Harriet the Spy… there’s just too many to name.

Who is your favourite children’s author? Wah! How do I choose? There are wonderful NZ authors that would have to top the list – Margaret Mahy of course, Jack Lasenby, David Hill, Des Hunt, Joanna Orwin … there are just so many now writing such fantastic young adult books that to list them all would take ages. But they are all wonderful so hunt out kiwi authors next time you go to the library or bookshop!!

What is your favourite food/colour/movie? Food: well, food! Cheese is rather yummy Colours — I like yellow, blue and green. Movie – umm! I do like Labyrinth … I love the character design in that movie. And the songs!

Who inspired you to write/illustrate? My parents are both very creative, and let me be me. It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do utterly completely totally so I don’t think I had much choice but to be stubborn and follow my dream! It’s also interesting just how many creative people there further back in our family tree. I discovered this year that an ancestor who illustrated children’s books is also an ancestor of my publisher, David Ling, which really does make the world feel like a small place!

How did you get started? I just drew as soon as I could hold a crayon and move it over the paper. But it’s not just being creative with paper, I was always drawing with sticks in dirt, making creations out of leaves and lichen or sand and driftwood – just using whatever there was, where ever we happened to be. At College I took Art and Technical Drawing (I know, I know, they’ve changed the names of the subjects now), then I went on to do 3 years of commercial illustration at Wellington Polytechnic, which was fabulous.

How old were you? I graduated at 20 and illustrated my first book at 21.

Why did you want to be a writer/illustrator? It was just my dream, I had no choice! And I love that I’ve been able to realise that dream.

How do you think up ideas? 1. Don’t grow up properly, ever. 2. Let your imagination run riot. It’s like having an entire universe inside your head and it’s just always bubbling away, you never know quite what it’s going to brew up – I just wish at times I could plug a USB between my imagination and a printer as sometimes I can’t keep up with it. I never get bored. Often just something I see, or overhear, sparks the start of an idea and they grow – sometimes fast (yay!), sometimes slow (not so yay!) … Oh – don’t watch too much tv or get stuck on the internet. Go outside and take everything in.

Do you have a special place where you write/illustrate? I have a studio that looks towards the bush. Kereru sit in a cabbage tree just outside my window only a few metres away. The cats come and stand on my art sometimes or help me type. Lovely!

What is the best thing about being an author/illustrator? No routine, and you can, to an extent, choose where you want to go. And it’s so FUUUUUUNNNNNN, it’s not like work-work really. And it gives me greater flexibility to be a mum and do all those school thingies that mums do.

What do you do when you are not writing/illustrating? Most importantly, being a mum. Hunting and Gathering in the vege garden then bottling siege-like amounts of food. Enjoying life! Retrieving rats from the cats. Recycling! Going bush when we get a chance.

What would you have chosen to be if you were not an author/illustrator? Ooh. Um, maybe architecture (but I found physics a bit hard). Maybe something educational? Working for DoC? I don’t know. But I think whatever it was, I’d still be doodling away in my spare time.

Which famous person from the past would you like to talk to? Dr Seuss! And my ancestor who was also a children’s author in England a loooong time ago. But it would also be neat to meet some illustrators that aren’t in the past yet, like Quentin Blake, Trina Schwart-Hyman, Tony Ross…

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
Look after the world like Munkle Arvur! We’re doing our best so join in! Get all greenie! Aim for world peace! Look after dolphins (etc etc)! (Seriously) Enjoy!