This month’s instalment of the Margaret Mahy Questionnaire features your favourite author of pony fiction, Stacy Gregg! Read on to find out her takes on changeovers, rattlebang cars, and being a trickster. Once you’re done, be sure to pick up her enchanting new series Spellbound Ponies, which came out this April. There are two fantastic titles: Magic and Mischief, and Sugar and Spice, to dig into already so don’t miss out!
1. Describe yourself in three words
This made me cringe to do myself so I asked my daughter and she said: courageous, funny, An Intellectual.
2. During the height of adolescence, was it good changeover?
Hah! Does anyone ever say yes to this question? Looking back I think there were those kids at school who had shiny adolescences – all I can say is they obviously peaked too soon and their life was an exercise in mediocrity from there on in. Adolescence should be miserable like a Smiths song or you are simply not doing it right.
3. Are you haunted by a particular memory?
When I was four years old my best friend was a mud heap in the back yard all gnarled up with tangled tree roots to create a mound big enough for me to sit on while we chatted. His name was Fish Willopy and he was a brilliant conversationalist. When we moved house he obviously couldn’t come too and it was a very tearful goodbye. I would really like to go back to the house to see if he’s still there but I fear that if he’d been done away with I wouldn’t cope.
4. MM: ‘Imagination is the creative use of reality.’ Is this true for you?
5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?
A guy called Rex Visible bought a car for me. He was the lead signer in a band called NRA (Not Really Anything) and that was his side hustle, buying people cars. I met him in a café on K Road with $1500 in cash in an envelope. It was like doing a drug deal. He said ‘I only buy one kind of car. It’s a Toyota Corolla. Are you ok with that?’ I said I was and gave him the money. He turned up at my flat with a brown Toyota Corolla a couple of days later. It was the worst car. It leaked when it rained so all the carpets rotted and stank. I gave my friend Kate Sylvester a lift one time and she gagged so bad she had her head out the window the entire time and made me pull over to let her out before we reached the destination. I left it unlocked in the hope it would get stolen but it never did.
6. Which witch? Identify a favourite one from literature.
The Pemberley Witch in Spellbound Ponies – it is her cruel magic that keeps the ponies trapped in time, each pony cursed to be naughty in their own way. I’m just working on book six in the series right now and the witch is about to tango onto the pages in a high-stakes dance-off.
7. ‘Come dance all around the world. And see all the beauty that surrounds us.’ Words for a romantic or just being mindful?
Just a bit sappy.
8. A lion in the broom cupboard or a lion in the meadow?
I loved, loved, loved the Lion in the Meadow.
9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?
It puts me in a right state when the kids are incessantly on Tiktok. It’s so mindless it drives me to distraction watching them jerk and twitch pointlessly while glued to their screens. Argh!
10. What is your most favourite thing to do on a summery Saturday morning?
Ride the horse through Woodhill forest with Nicky Pellegrino looking for wild deer.
11. In what way might you be a trickster?
In a way that is hidden in this questionnaire.
12. Have you ever been rewarded when looking down the back of the chair?
Kyle Mewburn once told me that the difference between a Joy Cowley book and a Margaret Mahy book was that if Joy Cowley stuck her hand down the back of the sofa she’d pull out coins whereas Margaret Mahy would pull out a giraffe. I like to pull out giraffes.
13. A pirate for a mother or a jester for a father?
Pirate Mum all the way. I adore swashbuckling.
14. Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?
What’s the pay like? Is it better than writing children’s fiction? I bet it is.
15. ‘Horrakapotchkin,’ said the cat. ‘I want to write a poem.’ Is that how it works for you?
I wrote poems all the time as a kid but Spellbound Ponies is the first time I’ve ever had to write rhyming verse in a book. The ponies are trapped in time by this magical curse carved into the stone on the stable:
The deepest magic binds these stables
Unless two brave girls can turn the tables
The curse on each horse must be found
Then break their spell to be unbound.
I was a little anxious, having never put a poem in print before so I ran it past one of my dearest friends Anna Jackson who is a poet and associate professor of English at Victoria University, which, looking back, was ridiculous – like David Walliams asking Dostoevsky for tips on character development.
16. What I like for dinner when I am on my own is…
I love going out for dinner on my own when I am on book tours or when I travel to research books. My best meal was either the crayfish and chips in Kaikoura when I was working on The Thunderbolt Pony or reindeer carpaccio in Reykjavik for The Fire Stallion.
17. If you find yourself nose to nose with a shark, the only thing to do is to…
Draw a pencil moustache on him to give him an air of je ne sais quoi.
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 already done this. Can you guess what other pen name I’ve written under?
19. You’re at a party and someone finds out what you do. What is the question they invariably ask?
Do they always have horses in them?
20. Who do you go to be entertained by linguistic pyrotechnics? Or entertained by sonsense nongs?
Hilaire Belloc. I loved his Cautionary Tales for Children – and this one about Jim was my favourite:
There was a Boy whose name was Jim; His Friends were very good to him. They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam, And slices of delicious Ham, And Chocolate with pink inside. And little Tricycles to ride, And read him Stories through and through, And even took him to the Zoo—But there it was the dreadful Fate Befell him, which I now relate. You know—or at least you ought to know, For I have often told you so—That Children never are allowed To leave their Nurses in a Crowd; Now this was Jim’s especial Foible, He ran away when he was able, And on this inauspicious day He slipped his hand and ran away! He hadn’t gone a yard when—Bang! With open Jaws, a lion sprang, And hungrily began to eat The Boy: beginning at his feet. Now, just imagine how it feels When first your toes and then your heels, And then by gradual degrees, Your shins and ankles, calves and knees, Are slowly eaten, bit by bit. No wonder Jim detested it! No wonder that he shouted ‘Hi!’ The Honest Keeper heard his cry, Though very fat he almost ran To help the little gentleman. ‘Ponto!” he ordered as he came (For Ponto was the Lion’s name), ‘Ponto!’ he cried, with angry Frown, ‘Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down! ‘The Lion made a sudden stop, He let the Dainty Morsel drop, And slunk reluctant to his Cage, Snarling with Disappointed Rage. But when he bent him over Jim, The Honest Keeper’s Eyes were dim. The Lion having reached his Head, The Miserable Boy was dead! When Nurse informed his Parents, they Were more Concerned than I can say:—His Mother, as She dried her eyes, Said, ‘Well—it gives me no surprise, He would not do as he was told!’ His Father, who was self-controlled, Bade all the children round attend To James’s miserable end, And always keep a-hold of Nurse For fear of finding something worse.
21. Which way does your heart lie: between the stars or anchored to the trapeze?
I really don’t like heights so neither for me. My heart lies on the back of a horse. Or as the Arabic proverb puts it ‘The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears’.
22. Would you rather be followed home by hippos or giraffes?
Oh the Giraffes are back again? Definitely the giraffes! Don’t let hippos follow you! They have a deservedly fearsome reputation – they are aggressive, unpredictable and among the most dangerous animals in the world.
23. Never mind a baby in the bubble. Would you rather – rice bubbles, bubble gum, bubble ‘o’ bill ice cream or Michael Bublé?
I will concur with Steve Coogan on his reply when he was asked ‘Where do you stand on Michael Buble?’
*The answer to the trickster question is #18. I don’t have a pen name.
Stacy Gregg (Ngāti Mahuta) began writing fictional novels about horses for children in 2007, with Mystic and the Midnight Ride the first in her ‘Pony Club Secrets’ series. Gregg has since written a number of books in the ‘Pony Club Secrets’ series, set in the imagined Chevalier Point Pony club in New Zealand. She is a three-time winner of the Children's Choice Junior Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for her novels: The Princess and the Foal (2014), The Island of Lost Horses (2015), The Girl Who Rode the Wind (2016).