The Mahy Questionnaire: Sally Sutton

For the second instalment of our shiny new Mahy Questionnaire, we thought we had better select an author who we knew would construct some brilliant answers. So we went to none other than famed Roadworks author Sally Sutton. Sally’s latest book, The Cat From Muzzle, is out now – and her latest online words and witticisms are below!

1. Describe yourself in three words

What? Wow! Impossible.

2. During the height of adolescence, was it good changeover?

I’m a late developer. I’ll let you know.

3. Are you haunted by a particular memory?

Only the memory of things I haven’t done.

4. MM: “Imagination is the creative use of reality.” Is this true for you?

Yes, definitely. I always seem to start with something real, then twist it to suit my purposes. I guess it’s all about trying to explore and make sense of real life, to celebrate its joys and come to terms with its sadnesses, to figure out why people act the way they do. It must be pretty annoying for my long-suffering family and friends, though, to have their most embarrassing moments, their cucumber allergies and flamingo costumes and obsessions with big machines plundered and twisted and written up in a story!

5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?

I still do! Last time I paid to have it serviced, it cost nearly as much as a new car and I did wonder if it wasn’t time to replace it… But I’m fond of the poetic, screechy rumble in the front wheel and the families of moths which hatch out from time to time and flutter around to keep me company while I drive… It’s also quite handy if you happen to back into a rock because dents in a rattlebang car are like wrinkles on an old face: part of its character, and the sign of a life well lived. Don’t contradict me please.

6. Which witch? Identify a favourite one from literature.

The poison-apple witch from Snow White. Did you know!! – the witch in the original Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale was not actually Snow White’s stepmother, it was her birth mother? The Grimms changed her to a stepmother to appease the real mothers who demanded a more ‘politically correct’ version – now, of course, the evil stepmother is the one who’s not P.C. How much juicier to have your real mother, and not a stranger, as the villain who wants to eat your lungs and liver!

The Witch in the Cherry Tree, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams (J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1974)

7. Come dance all around the world. And see all the beauty that surrounds us. Words for a romantic or just being mindful?

Words for a romantic! But be mindful that only the romantics can save the world.

8. A lion in the broom cupboard or a lion in the meadow?

Both! One for wet weather days, and one for sunshine. You can never have too many lions.

9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?

I am discombobulated on a daily basis but I try not to compare the severity of my discombobulations because it is just too discombobulating.

10. What is your most favourite thing to do on a summery Saturday morning?

Take a dip in the sparkling blue sea. Glory! Glory! There’s the salt!

11. In what way might you be a trickster?

All writers are tricksters. We pretend to be invisible or deeply involved in studying our cellphones on the bus, when really our ears are flapping and we are secretly transcribing overheard conversations and memorising interesting character traits to use in our books.

12. Have you ever been rewarded when looking down the back of the chair?

I’m always rewarded when looking down the back of the chair. Not because of what I find there (hairy raisins, mostly) but because a line or two of MM’s poem always springs to mind, which brings on a fit of wild imagining and a sudden impulse to rhyme and the next thing I know, I’m working on another story…

13. A pirate for a mother or a jester for a father?

A pirate for a mother! Those pirate breakfasts!! Oh my goodness!! Yummy.

14. Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?

It depends if it’s potty-trained.

15. What I like for dinner when I am on my own is… (entertain us)

Something with some spice!A curry might be nice.But I’m boring when I’m home,And super-lazy on my own,So what I like the mostIs a nice quick piece of toast.

The Christmas Tree Tangle, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Sarah Davis (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1994)

16. “Horrakapotchkin,” said the cat. “I want to write a poem.” Is that how it works for you?

Not usually! My rhyming picture books mostly start with a tiny piece of rhyme or even just a rhythm that arrives in my head like a fragment of a song. Often I don’t even know what the book will be about; it starts with the sound of the words, and the meaning and story will come later.

17. If you find yourself nose to nose with a shark, the only thing to do is to…

Ask if it has honorable intentions. If not, tell it to behave itself, or you will put it in a book!

18. MM: ‘If things were fair, all stories would be anonymous…set free from the faults that go with its author’s name.’ Would you set your stories free in the name of anonymity?

No way, I’m much too possessive. My stories might be faulty, but they’re MINE. They’re part of me, they’re how I express myself. I love it when they go out into the world and have adventures … but I always need them to come back home. One day, when I’m old, I might be wise enough to set them free. But not yet.

19. You’re at a party and someone finds out what you do. What is the question they invariably ask?

If I’m forced to go to a party I’ll usually wear a paper bag over my head to avoid attracting attention. But if someone does find out what I do, they will always ask: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ I mostly use Dave Gunson’s witty reply: ‘I go to’ (They take notes.) Or else I say: ‘I get my ideas from people like you,’ and smile kindly.

20. Who do you go to be entertained by linguistic pyrotechnics? Or entertained by songsense nongs?

My husband. My girls. A couple of lovely friends. And books, of course!

21. Which way does your heart lie: between the stars or anchored to the trapeze?

Between the stars!

The Wind Between the Stars, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Brian Froud (J M Dent & Sons Ltd, 1976)

22. Would you rather be followed home by hippos or giraffes?

Giraffes! I love giraffes. Also, a hippo is quite close to a rhino, and a rampaging rhino is what killed the mum and dad in James and the Giant Peach, so you can never be too careful.

23. Never mind a baby in the bubble. Would you rather – rice bubbles, bubble gum, bubble ‘o’ bill icecream or Michael Bublé?

Well now, gum’s a lot of trouble. As for rice, it doesn’t bubble;So much yummy, gummy trouble in a snap-crack-poppish way,Whereas icecream’s creamy-dreamy, Michael Bublé makes me screamy.

I’ve got class! I’ll take a glass of Bublé’s bubbles any day!

Sally Sutton

Sally Sutton is an award-winning writer best known for her rambunctious rhymes and playful language. Her books include theRoadworkspicture book series illustrated by Brian Lovelock and the junior fiction series Miniwings,illustrated by Kirsten Richards. Latest to hit the shelves is The Cat From Muzzlewith Scott Tulloch. Sally lives in Auckland with her husband, daughters, and too many cats.