The Mahy Questionnaire: Helen V. Fletcher

Here’s a fresh instalment of the Margaret Mahy Questionnaire, featuring author, playwright, poet and creative writing tutor Helen Vivienne Fletcher! Read on for her takes on discombobulation, changeovers and sonsense nongs!

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1. Describe yourself in three words

Breathing. Persevering. Laughing.

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

I struggled very badly with severe depression and anxiety as a teenager, so adolescence was a difficult time. It led me to where I am today though and has certainly given me much inspiration for my YA fiction, so in that sense it was a good changeover.

3. Are you haunted by a particular memory?

Many. Mostly memories of moments that didn’t happen but maybe should have!

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The Haunting by Margaret Mahy (J.M. Dent, 1982)

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

Definitely. Let daydreams work their magic.

5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?

I have never owned a car full stop, but I suspect if I did, it would be a rattlebang one.

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

Sophie Hatter, from Howl’s Moving Castle. I love all of Diana Wynne Jones’ witches, but Sophie and her feisty magic use will always be my favourite. I like to imagine my walking stick is a magic wand like Sophie’s.

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

Both. The romantic and the mindful have a lot to learn from each other.

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The Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams (F. Watts, 1989)

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

Being a cat, I imagine whichever I choose, the lion would prefer to sit halfway through the doorway of the broom closet and lick a paw while deciding whether to go in or out.

9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?

Oh gosh – I find myself discombobulated on a regular basis!

The delightful joy of living in a body that doesn’t work properly is that you will always have boundless entertainment at your own ridiculousness. It’s only the days when I find myself upside down in a bush, while wearing a fairy costume, and trying to entertain a baby whose mother I can’t locate, that I begin to worry.

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

There is a big hammock type swing at my local park, and I love lying in it looking up at the sky through the leaves of the trees above.

11. In what way might you be a trickster?

I am a surprisingly good liar, and I love making up interesting ‘facts’. I also quite like giving silly answers when people ask why I have a walking stick/assistance dog, like ‘I got bitten by a mountain goat’. I always admit soon after that I was just tricking, but I do enjoy seeing what people will believe if you say it confidently enough.

The Tricksters by Margaret Mahy (J.M. Dent, 1986)

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

I found a giant wētā down the back of a chair once… not sure if that was a reward or a punishment!

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

I had a feisty mother who wore red when she wanted to feel confident, and yellow when she wanted to feel happy. She wasn’t a pirate, but I think she would have fit in well sailing over the seven seas.

14. Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?

I think the better question might be, would someone trust me with their shadow?

The Boy With Two Shadows by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jenny Williams (J.M. Dent, 1971)

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

Poetry seems to be the most elusive of the things I write. Sometimes poems have taken years to come out. Fiction is slightly more compliant.

16. What I like for dinner when I am on my own is…

Tear-water tea, Turkish delight and snozzcumbers, all eaten with a runcible spoon.

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

Tickle it.

The Great White Man-Eating Shark by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Jonathan Allen (J.M. Dent, 1982)

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?

I’ve considered it for true-life stories several times. Hard to be completely anonymous in the age of the internet, I think, though I do love the concept of Post Secret and the anonymous stories that come out of that.

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

It used to be ‘Would I know any of your books?’ but now I’m starting to get ‘Do you have children?’ or ‘How old are your kids?’ It’s very tempting to give an answer in dog years.

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

The performers at Poetry in Motion are always a pretty good bet for some linguistic pyrotechnics and quick and tricky rhymes.

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

Between the stars sounds like a good place to be.

The Wind Between the Stars by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Brian Frood (J.M. Dent, 1976)

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

Could we have an army of miniature giraffes riding hippos?

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

Snap, Crackle and Pop, I love me some rice bubbles.

girl wearing blue dress with golden retriever
Helen Vivienne Fletcher
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Helen Vivienne Fletcher is a widely published children’s and young adult author, storyteller and award-winning playwright. She has written an impressive collection of work for everyone from preschoolers to adult readers. Spanning a variety of subjects, Helen’s writing doesn’t shy away from the gritty parts of life. Diving into the depths of disability, the gravitas of grief or the thrill of the mysterious, her stories are sublimely suspenseful whether on the page or stage. Connecting the real world with flights of fantasy, she creates fast-paced fiction to delight and draw in readers and audiences across Aotearoa.