Interview with Tracey Savage

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
The land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa New Zealand in a small town called Raumati. A seaside town with many beach visits, friday night fish and chips, weekend sports and a great deal of bull rush and go home stay home was played. Murder in the dark was a cold weekend favourite. A small community where everyone knew everyone, and a great deal of support offered if needed. Every friend was less than a five minute raleigh twenty ride away. We played tennis on the streets, we sold hokey pokey the corner and we simply came home when it was dark, in time for dinner - meat and three vege the staple diet. Although we had a wonderful natural environment we had limited access to activities. Less parks, movies, McDonald's, museums, indoor play areas were all an hours drive away in Wellington city. We had to use our imaginations, conjuring up home performances, writing or relaying stories for our friends and relatives. Such was our commitment my friend Jane and I once spent twenty minutes lying on a kitchen floor clutching sharp knives covered in tomato sauce awaiting her mothers return so as to look like a believable murder scene.

Aside from our dramatic antics I can recall the terror and marvel instilled from an early age from my father reading classics from Enid Blyton, A.A Milne, Beatrix Potter and the likes. My overactive imagination taking flights of fancy of the often horrifying dark kind. I received a signed certificate from Roald Dahl following a drawing competition when I was ten for my depiction of the BFG. I loved the dark stories and being scared out of my wits. I also loved the alternative reality possibilities. I was a Star Wars child, Indiana Jones, and later Nightmare on Elm Street, The Fly and other grotesque tales. My father was an excellent story teller, his brothers too, perhaps inherited from a dramatic mother and comedic father gave us all a predilection for the scary stuff.

Funnily enough thus far I've been writing 'nice' 'classic' work for Dream Wonderland. A happy place without horror to help calm and settle children before bedtime so there is an MO to follow.

My separate series, Hihi and Watji is also underway and due for release in 2017. This is a comedic set of circumstances for my characters Hihi, a New Zealand Stitchbird, and Watji, an Australian Blue Fairy Wren.

Following this work, once I've spent enough time in the 'light' I might get some of those dark scary stories out and begin conjuring those for a new generation. It's in my blood and no doubt I'll go there at some stage.

I think it's all shaping what I write today, in the sense of creating a world, a full escape and memorable characters be they nice or not!
What is your writing process?
Funnily enough it depends on what I'm writing and when I've written it. When I was younger it was all about scriblings in my diary. Truly meant for me alone as an audience, they, I hope, will be burnt when I pass. They should not be falling into the wrong hands. Note taking, scribblings on bits of paper stuffed into my respective bag at the time, some lost, some sticking despite loosing the original note. I find it's the ideas that stick no matter where the original piece of paper went. The ones that don't go away, the ones that need to be told that knock on the door of my brain until I release them on paper. These days it's on my computer. I spent many years in Sydney and unfortunately due to a computer glitch I lost 99% of the stuff I wrote there, never to be returned / resurrected. Although at the time I was upset I think perhaps it was the universe's way of saying 'hey that should not be published, but keep going.' I had a big break for the last five years whilst I got married, had a child, moved countries, focused on documentary work but now fully reinsconced in my native country I've felt the calling once more. I find it hard to have a regular writing time, I have a toddler to care for. But something about becoming a mother makes the time I do have at the computer more streamlined, less fluffy and indulgent and more target focussed. I'll mull ideas about in my head for some time before committing them to computer chip. Once I've sat down to write a story or character I've already re written it five or six times in my head. I use my big mac in our spare room, I put on the heater and go away to my happy place. Where time passes without my knowing it, until a doorbell rings, a daughter calls or I realise I've been sitting for the past two hours in desparate need of a toilet stop but unable to leave the keyboard. It's a very cathartic process for me. I try and write without stopping. Just 'go' and then come back later for editing, fact checking. But it does depend on the story. For my original Hihi and Watji play I did the fact checking on the way, natural environment facts and species information feeding into the way I write those characters so that I don't go too far off track with tangents that don't make scientific sense. With Dream Wonderland however I'm writing characters that 'already exist' within the Dream Wonderland lullabies. So to become connected to those characters I write a full background, association, fact list, characteristics etc before I start to write about them. I need to 'get in touch' with them before I start.

Writing blogs, and web content is a similar process, I write without stopping and see where it takes me then I go back and edit although I have a specific question or topic I'm answering. I then send to a handful of trusted beta / copy editor friends and genuinely take on board the feedback. I'm too old to take things personally, and I believe it makes you a better writer if you are able to release your baby to a trusted few to give the feedback you need to improve a draft.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Enid Blyton's The Far Away Tree. This probably has the most influence on the children's stories I write today in the classic form. My father read it to me night after night until I was old enough to read it myself and I read it front to back and then would start all over again. I loved the world, the characters and the escapism. I loved the language too. I was dissapointed to find that Dick and Fanny have been replaced with more PC names though in the latest prints.

When I was a little bit older, Flowers in the Attick, Adrian Mole and other coming of age stories lead my reading list. I also loved and still remember clearly Witi Ihimaera's Big Brother Little Sister and Roald Dahl's evocative Lamb to the Slaughter. Once I hit around 15/16 I discovered Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams and other Sci Fi writers.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale. I'm a bit of a fan of a dystopian novel and I really enjoy her style of speculative fiction and the way she creates a very complete world through her characters.

Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist about a shepherd boy named Santiago and his prophetic dreams. I read this book prior to any travel. It gave me a travel bug, and I fancied myself a bit of a dream believer and risk taker too. I was in my early twenties when I read this book.

The complete works of Shakespeare due to his absolute grasp of language, how to manipulate it, the complete creation of a style and absolutely believable character conjuring. The original master of human values and conditions.

The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak. Written from the POV of 'Death' who has a wonderfully evocative and intimate take on the life of a nine year old German girl Leisel during WWII. I could not put this book down. A book I'll never forget.

The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. This has always been and remains my favourite book of all time. It opened up my imagination as a child and continues to do so now. I wanted to be in that tree badly!
What do you read for pleasure?
I read all manor of things but I do have a soft spot for post apocalyptic / dystopian novels based on simple concepts. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson is one of my all time favourites. Simply, the earth slows it's rotation and the impacts this has on earth's inhabitants is so realistic it's unputdownable. Sci Fi in general I do like but so long as there aren't too many characters and a simple concept at the heart of the story, books such as On the Beach by Nevil Shute, The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey.

Romance does not and has never tickled my fancy, the only time I've read it was back in my younger days with limited access to what was available aside from what was on my mothers bookshelf which consisted largely of Mills and Boon. I'm not a big fan of a book series, unless each book can be happily consumed as a stand alone.

I do enjoy having two or three books on the go. Jodi Picoult and Bryce Courtenay for surefire easy reads pre bedtime. Vivid and witty style in both prose and poetry from writers like Margaret Atwood when I wake in the night needing an escape. The odd true story such as Rusty Young's Marching Powder. And classics from John Steinbeck, the language, setting, characters have so much impact I need to read him during the day when I have a few more braincells in action to fully appreciate his incredible style.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
My I-pad two has become my favourite, although recently I did purchase a Nook. It's a little lighter. At a pinch I'll use my little android phone, I don't have to have as much arm sticking out from under the blankets on a cold night!
Describe your desk
My nana gifted me a beautiful little oak dinner table from the sixties era. It has flaps that pop up each side but otherwise the perfect size for my Mac 21 inch screen, wireless keyboard and mouse. I have a little footstool and a heater nearby and sometimes random notes and bits of paper scattered around the desk and on the floor after my cat or daughter have made a visit.
When did you first start writing?
In earnest probably in my twenties. I actually saw a psychic around this time (well respected and now famous Sue Nicholson) who picked up that I enjoyed writing. She said it would be my 'thing' and that she could see me in another era sitting with a quill and paper scratching out many stories that it was in my blood. Ironically I wrote less after that reading; I wanted to defy this premonition for some reason. But again now 15 years later I'm back in the zone. I hope she's right.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
A combination of being a mother, working from home is my best option right now, the fact that I'm back in a zone where writing is foremost in my mind, that new technologies mean more control and access to distribution platforms and the possibilities associated with that.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Time becomes irrelevant. I am transported somewhere else. My mind feels fully engaged, I dissapear into the process.
What do your fans mean to you?
Let me know when I have one and I'll tell you.
What are you working on next?
After the Dream Wonderland series, which I’m producing with Abigail Hatherley, I will be concentrating on my series Hihi and Watji. Aimed at 5 - 12 year olds, Hihi and Watji explores the natural environments these birds live in within their coastal habitats of Australia and New Zealand.

Hihi is a New Zealand stitchbird, a small honeyeater-like bird. He has a dark velvety cap and short white ear tufts, which can be raised somewhat away from the head. A yellow band across the chest separates the black head from the rest of the body, which is grey. The bill is rather thin and somewhat curved, and the tongue is long with a brush at the end for collecting nectar. Thin whiskers project out and slightly forward from the base of the bill.

Hihi is very active and makes calls all the time. His most common call is a tzit tzit sound. He also has a high-pitched whistle and an alarm call which is a nasal pek like a bellbird. He gives a piercing three-note whistle.

Hihi’s main food is nectar, but one of his favourite foods is tree fuchsia and the odd insect. He nests in a hole up in an old tree and stays out of the way of larger birds like the Tui. His species is classed as vulnerable due to the very small range and population so he’s a bit neurotic about catching bird flue. (At one point the Stitchbird in NZ was extinct on the mainland). But in 2005 Hihi along with 59 other birds were released from Karori Wildlife Sanctuary and he’s flown the coup and settled on the Kapiti Coast in a hole atop a 600-year-old Pohutukawa tree. Hihi is polygynandrous (look it up).

Watji means ‘husband’ in the Western Desert language of Australia. Watji is a Superb Fairy Wren - common along the southeastern edge of Australia. He is in ‘breeding season’ and has a striking blue forehead, ear coverts, mantle and tail with a black mask and dark blue throat.

He is very social, flirty, cheeky, not afraid to take risks and fight for what he believes in. He’s a bit of a leader. A ‘big guy’ about the sky (with little wings). He is a daredevil.

He is known for his peculiar behaviour. He is socially monogamous (hangs out with the same friends) but has several girlfriends and wives he moves between (he’s a bit promiscuous). He and his friends always assist their various wives and girlfriends with raising their young even though he’s a complete cad. He plucks yellow petals to give to his wives and girlfriends. He likes popping into domestic gardens along the east coast of NSW to visit his various partners and friends. He eats insects and seeds and has a liking for classical ‘feathery’ music. It helps him get the girls.

Both birds share similarities and the series explores their respective lives, friends, challenges, ups and downs. They also meet after a particularly bad storm where the Australian / New Zealand rivalry is explored. These are fun characters to write. I love them.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My daughter, the beautiful place where I live on the western coast of the north island of New Zealand, my friends, family and of course my imagination.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Aquarobics, reading, walking, running about after Audrey, mosaicing, making crafty things for friends and family.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Good reads has become my go to for new book discovery. I'm always encouraging new friends to join so I can see what they are reading.
Published 2016-06-03.
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