The Mahy Questionnaire: Kathryn van Beek

Another month, another Mahy Questionnaire! This time we’re featuring successful playwright and award-winning author-illustrator Kathryn van Beek. Her most recent picture book Bruce Goes Outside, sequel to the much-loved Bruce Finds a Home, is out now! Read on to find out her takes on changeovers, discombobulation and shark encounters.

A spread from Bruce Goes Outside, by Kathryn van Beek, Mary Egan Publishing.

1. Describe yourself in three words

Ninety percent coffee.

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

I was certainly not as poised as Laura Chant.

3. Are you haunted by a particular memory?

I woke up screaming one night in my Arch Hill flat. We later learned that it had been the residence of one Edwin Fuller, who in 1886 murdered his next-door neighbour Emily Keeling. 10,000 people, about one-third of the population of Auckland at the time, lined the streets for Emily’s funeral procession.

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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?

On one hand, I can’t see how it could not be. On the other hand — what is reality?

5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?

My first vehicle was a rattlebang scooter, RIP.

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

Clumsy young Mildred Hubble from the delightful Worst Witch children’s book series.

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

Appreciating the beauty that surrounds us might just save us. However, dancing all around the world (unless via reading) is not recommended at this time.

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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?

I don’t have a lion, but I do have two mini panthers. One would choose the cupboard, the other would choose the meadow.

9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?

All year — beginning on New Year’s Day, when I woke to skies orange with bushfire ash.

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

Stroll along the Dunedin seaside, exclaiming, ‘I’m only wearing one layer of wool!’

11. In what way might you be a trickster?

Tricksters don’t reveal their tricks.

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

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

We just got a ‘new to us’ second hand lounge suite… I’ll have to see if it’s come with any treasure.

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

I have a jester for a father, and I think I’ll keep him on.

14. Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?

Certainly not. It would be far too easy to lose it.

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?

Well, now that I know the secret word…

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

Scraps from the fridge.

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

Kiss 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?

What a loaded question!

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

‘How do I go about publishing the story I’ve written about my cat?’

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

Writer Emma Neale’s Twitter feed.

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

Having your heart anchored to the trapeze is not good for your health. I keep mine between the stars these days.

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?

Hippos. I could lead them down to the park and they could stomp about in the sea.

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

I’d prefer bath bubbles please.

Kathryn van Beek

Kathryn van Beek grew up in Christchurch and has an MA Creative Writing from Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters. She won the MiNDFOOD Short Story Competition 2019 and the Headland Short Story Prize 2015. Kathryn’s story ‘The Nor’Wester’ was highly commended for The Sargeson Prizeand is about to be published in short story collection PET Stories. Kathryn is a successful playwright, who has lived and worked all over New Zealand, including stints in Auckland, Wellington and the Wairarapa. She now resides in Dunedin where is studying for her doctorate. Find out more about her work at