An interview with Frances Plumpton, author of Tide’s Out Tai Timu

Frances Plumpton has had a long career in the world of children’s books. She has been a children’s librarian, a literary agent, and is a dedicated advocate for children’s literature. She has now turned her hand to writing. Missbeecrafty chatted with her about her new book, Tides Out Tai Timu, and what it’s like working on the other side of the fence.

Missbeecrafty: You’ve been influential in the world of children’s literature for many years. Can you tell me how you started out on this path?

My family valued reading and we were always given much anticipated books for Christmas and birthdays. We lived in Northland, and it wasn’t until I was ten and we moved to Whangarei that I discovered the local library and immediately began borrowing armloads of books a week. When we moved to Auckland, I started haunting Grey Lynn Library and was offered a job working Friday nights and school holidays. My career chose me!

MBC: I believe you’ve been a judge for a variety of different awards. Do you enjoy judging? Do you have any stories to share, maybe an author or book you “discovered” from judging unpublished manuscripts?

Judging is an honour with a high level of responsibility and over the years I’ve judged or convened panels for both the LIANZA and New Zealand Post Awards. It’s fascinating how sometimes a book that seems a certainty when you first start the process falls apart after 4-5 readings. I have always really appreciated the perspectives of fellow judges. Book awards are generally for books published in the previous year and one that became contentious was Paula Boock’s superb Dare Truth or Promise (Longacre) winning the 1998 New Zealand Post Senior Book Award and the overall 1998 New Zealand Post Book of the Year Award. This was challenged by The Christian Heritage Party and Leighton Smith on talk back radio, featured on Morning Report and Paul Holmes’ TV programme. John McIntyre and Mary Whaanga were the other judges and we never wavered on our decision.

Two previously unpublished writers who I picked up while working for Ray Richards Literary Agency are Juliette MacIver and Kimberly Andrews.

What were your favourite books or authors when you were a child?

We always loved our Christmas Annuals and I read a lot of Enid Blyton as her books were the only ones readily available in the post war years.  I refused to read my older sister’s L M Montgomery titles, which I would have adored! At Whangarei Library I discovered Lucy Fitch Perkins' twin series, Noel Streatfeild, Pamela Brown, and Kate Seredy’s The Good Master.  I used to choose books for my four sisters and read all these as well.

What sort of books do you like reading now?

I really like to keep up with NZ children’s and young adult titles, try to read a range of US and UK children’s and young adult books as well, but also enjoy NZ adult fiction.

This is the first book you’ve written, but you’ve been involved in the publishing world for many years. What is it like to work on a book from the author’s side of things?

It’s quite a juxtaposition and I’m having plenty of ‘pinch me’ moments.

Do you have any plans to write more books?

This has been eighteen years to come to fruition! Nothing planned right now.

I believe you initially wrote this book for your grandchildren? How is this published version different, and what has remained the same?

It was initially a photographic record of our beach jaunts, and I had 2 copies printed. In the years since, I have taken plenty of photos but none of them really satisfied me. A couple of publishers had turned it down as being ‘too specific’ to Huia, but when I took the text to a SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators) retreat in Sydney pre-pandemic, Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, a well-regarded Australian illustrator suggested investigating water colour.

Have your grandchildren seen the new version? What do they think of it?

I didn’t tell them until it was well underway, and they’ve been really pleased with it.

What prompted you to share the book more widely?

I decided that I’d self-publish via Mary Egan Publishing and once I’d seen Stephanie Thatcher’s superb roughs, I realised that this would have a more extensive audience than the local Huia community. Stephanie suggested te reo Māori and I contacted Darryn Joseph, certain that he would tell me if it was inappropriate, and to my delight, he agreed to translate it.

Stephanie Thatcher’s watercolour illustrations give the book a beautiful quality. How did you find working with Stephanie? How much involvement did you have in the illustrations?

Stephanie lives at Foster Bay Huia so was the ideal illustrator for a ‘local’ book. We have a bach at Huia and have spent the last fifty summers there. I gave her a copy of the photographic book, but no specific instructions and was really touched when she used the same format for Tide’s Out Tai Timu.

I’m sure you must have spent a lot of time beach-combing. Have you ever found anything really unusual? What excites you the most to find on the beach?

Huia is very tidal, and we’ve always enjoyed wandering out to where the tide turns and seeing if we can see scallops which are likely to take off as you approach. One year we found a couple of seahorses swimming at the tidal edge. It’s always fascinating to see what attracts the attention of the accompanying kids.

Tide’s Out Tai Timu, written by Frances Plumpton, illustrated by Stephanie Thatcher, translated by Darryn Joseph. Published by Mary Egan Publishing; RRP: $20.00 OUT NOW