The Mahy Questionnaire: Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Vanessa Hatley-Owen’s latest book is The Littlest Lifeguard, illustrated by Lisa Allen (Upstart Press). Vanessa has two previously published books, including Farewell Anahera which was a finalist in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. She lives in Auckland where she works as a school librarian.

1. Describe yourself in three words:

A bit fun
A good procrastinator
A kind person

(Ooops… that’s three lots of three. Sorry, maths isn’t really my thing)

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

Yes, it was. I didn’t go through an angsty, horrible teenager stage. At least, I don’t think I did… perhaps you had better ask my family…

3. Are you haunted by a particular memory? 

Happily, most of my memories are nice ones. Every now and then I do, however, shudder when recalling the utter humiliation of being yelled at by the deputy principal at high school. In front of EVERYONE. For a trivial thing. So utterly embarrassing.

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

What a fabulous way to put it. Yes, this is very true. When you write, you pull in all your experiences and observations to add interest and believability to your imaginings.

5. Have you ever owned a rattlebang car?

Not entirely… My first car was a 1971 Corolla. At least I think it was… not really a car type of person so it may not have been a Corolla; it was beige, I do remember that. In any case it was a very reliable, practical car. Not a great radio though, and the gear stick was weird, and it didn’t go very fast.

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

Minerva McGonagall; loyal, clever, wise, tough when she needs to be but with a soft, kind side too. Also she can transform into a cat, which is very cool.

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

Beautiful words for everyone I would say. Travelling is a wonderful opportunity to open your eyes, experience new things and see how life is for other people. And yes, also, to see all the beauty that surrounds us.

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

Meadows are just so much more interesting and pretty, aren’t they? Plus, I don’t have a broom cupboard big enough for even a small lion.

9. When have you been at your most discombobulated?

Can I just say what a wonderful word discombobulated is; it really should be used more often! Um… it was most likely to be on the sports field during a PE lesson in school.

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

Taking a wander up to our village for a coffee (and possibly a blueberry muffin) with my beloved, and our ridiculously cute doggo.

11. In what way might you be a trickster?

I’m not really a tricksy person but I suppose the closest thing would be endlessly quoting from Blackadder.

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

Sadly, no. The only things I seem to find are hairclips…(I have three daughters), lots of crumbs and the occasional sock!

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

As much as I admire the chutzpah of a woman breaking down the traditional gender bias of piracy; honestly, the idea of sailing around the ocean terrifies me! Give me some laughs and general merriment instead.

14.Would you babysit someone else’s shadow?

I think one should think very carefully before taking on someone else’s shadow. Our wee doggo… absolutely. Her shadow would simply lie on the couch all day. An Olympic sportsperson? No way… that shadow would be far too active!

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

Every now and then, yes it does (and by happy coincidence… I have recently signed up for a challenge to write a poem a day for 100 days). Turning that ‘want’ into a ‘do’ is another thing entirely…

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

Toast! So many possibilities as to what could go on top of it… eggs, baked beans, some melty cheese, mushrooms fried with just a wee bit of garlic. Most likely though it would be peanut butter. Yum! I’m quite hungry now actually…

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

Panic! No, stay calm! If you panic it might think you are a fun snack. Swim away! But swim calmly. Argh! You definitely should NOT look like a shark else it may fall in love with you.

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? 

Ooooo… what a good question. I completely understand Margaret’s point; anonymity enables the reader to read the story without any expectations or prejudging (good or otherwise). It’s kind of hard not to want to see your name on the cover though, am I right, fellow authors? As a librarian it would mean having to re-classify the entire library though, so, nope.

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

“Do you draw the pictures too?” And the answer to that is heck no! I can’t draw at all. Thank all the holies for amazing, talented illustrators!

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

Lewis Caroll’s Jabberwocky always, always delights me. Those fantastical words that make no sense, yet at the same time make perfect sense. I’m also partial to Edward Lear’s Jumblies and their adventuring in a sieve.

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

Sorry, but neither. The very thought of the enormity of space gives me the heebie-jeebies, and me up high on a trapeze? Forget it. Mountains. Gazing at mountains makes my heart sigh.

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

Giraffes, definitely. Crikey, hippos are one of the most dangerous animals in the world! I wouldn’t want them in my backyard. But a giraffe… so tall and elegant. And slightly awkward and gangly and gentle. Um, they are gentle… right?

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

Lol… those who know me well know exactly what kind of bubbles I always prefer!

Vanessa Hatley-Owen
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Vanessa was a daydreaming child whose nose was permanently stuck in a book. After trying various jobs she has found her true happy place - as a librarian in a primary school, which means she gets to talk about books all day!  She is passionate about literacy and the role libraries play in setting children up for success. In 2021 she completed a library qualification through Open PolyTech. She is also a children's author with published picture books and educational readers, and has been shortlisted for both the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon and Storylines Joy Cowley awards. As well as reading lots of books in her spare time, she also reviews books for Kids Books NZ, and is a member of the management committee of the Storylines Children's Literature Charitable Trust Te Whare Waituhi Tamariki o Aotearoa.