The Mahy Questionnaire: Lani Wendt Young

You know it, you love it – it’s the Mahy Questionnaire! This month we are very lucky to be able to feature Lani Wendt Young, who as we publish this piece, is on the Storylines Story Tour in Auckland. Lani was the ACP Poet Laureate in 2018, and has many novels to her name and some not to her name, most recently the Telesā series of books, of which the fourth book is out in September from OneTree House.

1. Describe yourself in three words

Fiapoto x 3.

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

My mum will tell you my adolescence was awful. Everyone was glad when I grew up. (Or did I…#evilLaugh).

3. Are you haunted by a particular memory?

Tasting Turkish Delight for the first time. Yuck. A crushing disappointment after reading about it in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It was supposed to be the most divine food on earth. Or in all the possible wardrobe worlds. My first time betrayed by a book. YOU LIED C.S LEWIS!! HOW COULD YOU?!

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by Margaret Mahy

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

Yes. Just about everything I experience or that I faikakala observe – makes its way into a story somehow. Not in its original format of course. It may be repainted, turned upside down, sung backwards, or even set on fire with the ashes scattered to the wind, but it’s in there. I have family who freak out that I’m writing about them and most of the time their fears are well-founded. But I say, don’t worry, I’ve creatively reimagined you. The only one who will know its you, is you!

5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?

Yes. When I was 10yrs old. It was flash, fast and loud. Everyone could hear it coming! You can have one too. All you need is some pieces of wood (or sturdy branches of a hibiscus bush), corned beef pisupo cans for the wheels, and a few nails. To really WOW people, get some coconut husk to burn in an attached elegi can, for a fiery smoke effect as you push your car down the road. Assemble with colorful string, adorn with flags and you’ll have the greatest rattlebang car in the neighborhood.

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

It would have to be Telesā of course! Who else invokes fear and awe with the mere mention of her name? Cover the mirrors at night, don’t wear your hair down, wearing a red flower in your ear will taunt her, pollute her forest or river and suffer her wrath… Hauntingly beautiful, alluring, fiercely protective of her domain and quick to punish any who dare to challenge her power. The original environmental warrior, she was fighting against climate change, man’s greed and ignorance – long before it was cool.

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 an impractical romantic who doesn’t dance. When dancing, one doesn’t have the presence of mind to see the beauty around you. I can dance for hours and I’m always far too caught up in executing my #moves to ever notice anything around me.

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

No broom cupboards or meadows here. We do have dogs who chase cars and people, and bite quite viciously. And buses that blast IRON LIKE A LION IN ZION. So I would get a salu from my imaginary broom cupboard, and use it to scare away bitey dogs. Then bus ride with Marley. #likeALion .

9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?

While trying to answer this questionnaire.

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

Read a book. Sometimes from foreign places where they actually have summer and winter.

A Summery Saturday Morning by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Selina Young (Puffin, 1998)

11. In what way might you be a trickster?

Every time I trick my children into believing that I know what I’m doing.

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

I found a centipede once. Does that count?

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

A jester father. Life’s adventures and trials are always more bearable when there’s laughter.

14. Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?

Never. You can’t trust other people’s shadows. I barely trust my own. Who knows what it’s doing when I’m not looking?! Slippery, sly things.

The Boy With Two Shadows by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams (F. Watts, 1971)

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

I never write poetry. But my Cat frequently tells me what he wants and what he expects of me. If he ever dictates a poem to me, I would be a diligent minion and write down every word.

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

If I were my great grandfather who was a fisherman, I would say – Hook it with a sinnet rope to the side of my canoe and then club it to death. But I’m not him. I’m Lani the tryhard triathlete who is ALWAYS afraid of sharks when I’m swimming. So the only thing to do is shut my eyes tight, tap my heels three times and say, ‘There’s no place like home’. Wish me luck.

17. 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?

When you are Samoan, you are never just yourself. You are your parents, grandparents and beyond, cousins, aunties and uncles, your pastor and church congregation, your village and even the school you used to attend as a child! All those influences combined in my cultural heritage add richness to my writing and I’m blessed to have that. But sometimes it can be tough to write with so many at your shoulder. Most of my writing has my name on it, but I also have “anonymous” books out there which were somewhat freeing to write.

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

‘You should write a book about my life. Here let me tell you all about it…’ It should be no surprise then, that I hate parties and avoid them at all costs.

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

My children. There’s five of them and unfortunately they’ve become far too skilful with words. I’m no longer the automatic winner of the dinner table debates and I am frequently scrambling to keep up with their linguistic wizardry. It’s quite frustrating!

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

Between the stars. And anchored on the earth that gives us life. My ancestors navigated the vast oceans with those stars. Eyes lifted up to the heavens, hands in the water to feel the current, feet firmly planted on the va’a deck, your aiga all around you.

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

It depends. Which is better and faster at eating grass? My garden is a jungle and my lawn desperately needs a hungry creature to graze on it.

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

Rice Bubbles. Snap, crackle, pop.

I am daniel tahi

By Lani Wendt Young

Published by OneTree House

RRP: $22.00

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Lani Wendt Young
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Lani Wendt Young is an award-winning writer. She has written a popular series of young adult novels set in Samoa, the Telesā series, as well as Afakasi Woman: A Collection of Short Fiction (Pasifika Books, 2012). Her work has been published in journals such as JAAM, New Zealand School Journal and the Samoan school journal Folauga. She has a new book out called I am Daniel Tasi in September 2019 with OneTree House.