The Mahy Questionnaire: Gillian Torckler

Gillian Torckler has many beautiful books under her belt, the latest being Dinner with Grandpa, illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson (Duck Creek Press). She gives us her answers to our world-famous-in-New Zealand (okay maybe just semi-famous on The Sapling) Margaret Mahy Quiz!

1. Describe yourself in three words:

Positive, bubbly, tenacious.

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

Mostly yes. I was struggling with wanting to be one of the cool kids when I was mostly a nerd. I tried to walk with a foot in both camps. It was messy.

3. Are you haunted by a particular memory? 

Not haunted at all, I don’t hold onto bad things.

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

Totally. Everything I have written started with some experience: a few words spoken; an event witnessed; or a memory. I then mix up ideas, memories, events, so they are not identifiable. But everything has its genesis in my own life experience. 

5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?

My first car was a 1964 Hilman Imp, it was 1984, and my car was as old as me!  It was old, but in great condition as the ‘one careful lady owner’ had looked after it. It wasn’t a rattlebang car, but it was a Nana car.

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

The goddess known as Medusa, although maybe technically not a witch, has appeared in many novels I have read. I love the fascination around her and the way she has been woven into stories such as I, Coriander by Sally Gardner.

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

Both. I think you need to dance around the world to appreciate it. Seeing is believing, Believing leads to caring. Caring invokes protective feelings. It’s hard to protect something you don’t value.

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

In the meadow – alive and running free in the sunshine.

9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?

In bed, after waking from a crazy, nonsensical dream in a hotel room, in a new city, in a different time zone.

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

Swim in the ocean.

11. In what way might you be a trickster?

I’m not really. Pretty straight up and pragmatic.

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

Oh yes! As well as the usual coins, I often find misplaced sewing needles and the long-lost partner of my favourite knitting needles.

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

Oh, difficult decision. A strong female role model is essential in a parent, but humour makes the world a better place and extends your life! I had both.

14.Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?

Why not? How hard can it be? (laughs nervously)

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

I wish it was as simple. For me, ideas swish around in my head for weeks, maybe months, and then finally I sit down and write them. The words that flow through my keyboard are a surprise to me as much as anyone.

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

Molten tasty cheese sizzling over sliced onions layered on vegemite-smeared toast. 

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

Enjoy the moment. That’s a dream come true for me! 

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? 

Totally. In fact, I suspect many readers read books somewhat anonymously. They certainly remember, and talk about, the title, but less so the author. Unless the authors are famous. But there must be so much pressure on big name authors to produce, to not disappoint, to not stray from their audience. Anonymity is a protective shield.

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

Stranger: “Have I read any of your books?”

Me: “I don’t know.” (How could I know?).

Stranger: “Tell me some titles.”

Me: xxx, xxx, xxx

Stranger: “No, no, no. Will you ever write a real book … like a novel for adults?”

Me: sighs in despair.

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

Margaret Mahy

Sally Sutton

Julia Donaldson

June Factor

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

Anchored to the trapeze. I want to soar safely.

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

Hippos, I could look into their goofy faces.

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

Bubble gum, it has so many uses.

Gillian Torckler
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Gillian Torckler is the author of 19 books. Her latest children’s books include My Name Is Henry Fanshaw, a historical fiction sophisticated picture book, and 24 Hours on the Kiwi Seashore and 24 Hours in the Kiwi Bush, two nonfiction books she wrote with her photographer husband, Darryl. When she is not exploring the seas around Aotearoa or writing, she works as a medical researcher/professor at the Otago School of Medicine in Dunedin.