The Mahy Questionnaire: Elena de Roo

Another month, another Mahy Questionnaire! This time we’re featuring former librarian and award-winning writer and poet Elena de Roo. Her latest title Ring Ting Tūī—a cheeky rhyming counting book—is out now! Read on to find out Elena’s takes on rollercoaster-like changeovers, cannibalistic witches and frozen bubbles.

Author photo (left) sourced from Penguin’s website.

1. Describe yourself in three words:

Curious, quirky, quietly confident?

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

Up and down like a roller coaster—my early twenties were much better—independence, infinite possibility and not nearly so much angst! 

3. Are you haunted by a particular memory? 

As a child I used to be haunted by bad dreams then they suddenly stopped when I turned twelve—it was a great relief!

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

Yes, I’d agree with that. An imaginative idea is always more believable when it follows some kind of internal logic or is based on something real.   

5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?

Yes! The first car my husband and I owned was a Peugeot 403 manufactured the same year I was born! It had patchwork paint, slipped out of second gear and rust holes in the floor you could see the road through. It took us all around the North Island—you just had to remember to top up the leaky radiator regularly or it was a long wait for it to cool down half way up a hill!

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

I always found the witch in Hansel and Gretel with her weak sight and penchant for roasting and eating children very scary.

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


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

A lion in the meadow—I feel like it’d be more at home in a meadow than a broom cupboard 

9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?

Just recently I tripped and hit my head and was very discombobulated for an hour or two. It was the strangest feeling waiting for the pieces of my memory to fall back into place.

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

A walk, and/or a swim, and then brunch or second breakfast with family or friends!

11. In what way might you be a trickster?

When I write a poem I feel like I’m being a trickster with words.

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

The back of the couch used to be a reliable source of extra pocket money when I was younger. Nowadays it’s mainly dusty old crumbs but I’m always hopeful!

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

A pirate for a mother—jesters are scary!

14.Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?

It probably wouldn’t be wise, but after spending my childhood wishing magic was real, I don’t think I’d be able to resist the adventure of it!

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

Sometimes and sometimes it’s horrakapotchkin-not!

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

Fried rice with lots of garlic, chilli, peas and mushrooms; or mashed potato, chilli beans and salad! Or if I don’t feel like cooking—a takeaway pizza and chips! 

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

Look big, maintain eye contact and back away! Or is that a bear? Poke it in the gills? I’d advise to research that one properly and not take my word for it. It’s the reason I like swimming in lakes better than the sea.

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? 

That’s a tricky question and I’m a Libra! I consulted the Magic 8 Ball and it said ‘Ask again later’.

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

It usually goes like this:

“So you mean like J K Rowling?” 

“Sort of”  

“Would I know anything you’d written?”

“Probably not.” 

Then we move onto my other job sniffing sewerage smells for Watercare!

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

Paula Green.

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

Definitely between the stars!

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

I googled it and hippos just squeak into the top ten deadliest animals/creatures to humans and giraffes don’t feature. Turns out mosquitoes are the deadliest—I’ve learnt a lot doing this questionnaire! That decided it for me. A gentle giraffe or two in the garden would be kind of cool! Do they eat the pōhutukawa leaves? Another thing to research later.

23. Never mind a baby in the bubble. Would you rather—rice bubbles, bubble gum, Bubble O’Bill ice cream or Michael Bublé?

Not so keen on rice bubbles but a Bubble-o-Buble frozen novelty sounds like a great idea! There’s not much beats an ice cream followed by blowing a gigantic bubble gum bubble so long as it doesn’t pop and get in your hair!

Elena de Roo
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Elena de Roo is a children’s writer and poet who lives with her family in Tāmaki Makaurau. Sometimes it feels like there is a door to Narnia in her tiny overgrown garden because the back gate leads straight out onto the slowly rewilding slopes of Maungakiekie and fields of Cornwall Park. There is nothing Elena loves better than to go exploring on the maunga, making up a poem or story as she walks. In 2010 Elena was awarded the Todd New Writer’s Bursary. Since then her work has been published in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and USA. A number of her books have received Storylines Notable Book Awards and she was the Children’s Writer in Residence at Otago University in 2020. Elena is a former librarian. Deep down, she has never given up believing in magic worlds and the power of words to take you there.