The Mahy Questionnaire: Sarina Dickson

Writer, artist, and educator Sarina Dickson has two picture books coming out next month, A Stick and a Stone, illustrated by Hilary Jean Tapper, and The Fairies’ Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Sarah Greig. She completes our Mahy Questionnaire.

1. Describe yourself in three words

Quirky, anxious, determined.

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

I wouldn’t want to relive the changeover bit but the run-up to it was worth it.

3. Are you haunted by a particular memory?

Yes, all of them. Usually at 3am involving all the things I could have said instead.

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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?

Yes, but I also think the reverse is equally true.

5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?

None have been particularly flash, but I did have a $200 red Mirage when I came back from my OE that I loved.

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

I remember being pretty desperate to be a witch. I kept waiting for my coven to find me and give me my magic powers. I expected that that would probably happen on my birthday which is the 13th. My favourite story witch was Bad Jelly, read by Spike Milligan himself via Sunday morning radio.

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

Surely a bit of both. We’ll have to make do with travelling via stories for a while yet I think.

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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?

At my feet under my writing desk could be comforting I think.

9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?

I think it’s my natural state, but it peaked in early, new motherhood.

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

Walking on the beach with my husband, kids and coffee, often along what I think might be the same track as in that most gorgeous book.

11. In what way might you be a trickster?

One of my hobbies is telling complex lies to my kids, in secret collaboration with their Dad.

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

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

No, but the things I’ve cleaned out from down the back of the car seats would put you off having kids…

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

My mother arrived on a boat to NZ, so there may be something she’s hiding from me…

14. Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?

Yes! I’d love to try on someone else’s dark side, as long as I could give the shadow and the consequences back to its owner afterwards.

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?

Yes and no. I always quite fancy writing but it requires a lot more time thinking than actually writing for me to get a story. Usually I can see it long before I can hear it so I often have to wait impatiently for the narrator to appear.

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

Three kids means it’s been a while since I had dinner on my own but the last time was delish Thai takeaway, carrot cake and a feijoa cider. Superb!

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

Have a chat to them about their PR, it’s not working for them. Maybe suggest an insta account.

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?”

Yes, and if I write about my children I always try to make sure my name is left off.

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

I’m just getting used to telling people I write for children. I’m not sure how many books makes you feel like a ‘real writer’. When you’ve dreamed of being something for so long it almost feels like you could break the spell by naming it to other people.

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

I’m a bit obsessed by internal rhyme at the moment, how to do it, and how it works well. My current favourite wordsmiths are Leonard Cohen, Reb Fountain, Daisy Speaks, Ray Shipley, Tom Scott, and Tusiata Avia, listened to while walking.

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

I’m working on letting go of the trapeze, with an eye on the stars.

“He hadn’t dreamed of the BIGNESS of the sea. He hadn’t dreamed of the blueness of it. He hadn’t thought it would roll like kettledrums, and swish itself on to the beach. He opened his mouth, and the drift and the dream of it, the weave and wave of it, the fume and foam of it never left him again…” (from The Man whose Mother was a Pirate)

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

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

I don’t think I could outrun either but I think a hippo might be a more obliging ride home.

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

I’m feeling very grateful for my L4 bubble right now but I’m dreaming of Lindauer, preferably in the sun on Christmas day, with maybe some Buble in the background.

Sarina Dickson
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Sarina Dickson has worked alongside families and children with emotional and behavioural special needs in the UK, USA and NZ as a classroom teacher, mentor and advocate since graduating from Canterbury University and Christchurch College of Education in 1999. She has worked in the Family Violence field with women and children in assessing needs, co-ordinating services and developing programs. Sarina is the author of 'Wishes and Worries' (2015) and 'Rising Tide' (2016) and is the Teacher Notes Author for Hachette, and previously Scholastic NZ. She has two picture books out this month, A Stick and a Stone, illustrated by Hilary Jean Tapper (Hachette, NZ) and The Fairies' Night Before Christmas, illustrated by Sarah Greig (Hachette, NZ).