Interview with Jean Anderson

Name: Jean Anderson

Date of birth: 6 July 1945

Place of birth: Birmingham, England

Now living in: Tauranga

What is your favourite food?

Anything vegetarian and seafood.

Do you have a nickname and if so what is it?

Not now. I was once called ‘Fuzzy-wuzzy’ because I have curly hair.

What was your most embarrassing moment?

Being stopped at a routine checkpoint and breathalysed. I stumbled over my own name and address! I think the Police Officer thought I was nuts. And, no, I had not been drinking.

How do you relax?

I spend time with our three grown-up girls and our three grandchildren aged 12, 4 and 2. I love to be by water and to spend time in the bush. I like listening to classical music and traditional jazz. I love books, and I read and read and read. Writing is relaxing - my bliss. I become utterly lost in it.

Who inspired you when you were little?

I was a bookworm, reading by torchlight under the bedclothes at night, reading every spare minute, but really, I have just always written stories.

What were you like at school?

I was quiet, shy and studious. I really liked learning new stuff and I was pretty well an all-rounder subject-wise. I also liked sports. I played for the school netball team, and joined in almost everything going from tennis to running to high jump. I was also a good swimmer, but didn’t swim competitively. A horrible thing at school was that I was absolutely terrified of having to stand up and speak to the class or assembly. And because I was chosen to be Deputy Head Girl I had to do that. It was mortifying! Now I often speak to large groups of people and I have learned that it isn’t so hard after all.

What was your favourite/most hated subject at school?

I did not really have a most hated subject, although I found French difficult. But speaking in public, I dreaded that!

What was the book you most loved as a child?

There is not really one book. I read books about far-away places like Tibet or the Amazon Jungle. I read stories about famous sea adventurers and explorations. I particularly enjoyed stories in which the characters had to use their wits and strengths and imagination, and overcome difficulties, sort out puzzles. I liked stories that were sort of scary, but - Phew! - worked out okay in the end. I read all the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton, The Children of the New Forest by Frederick Marryat, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (which I’ve read again several times as an adult), the Tales of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (brilliant!), Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner, Jamaica Inn and Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier. I could go on and on! As an adult I also enjoy spy-thrillers and who-dunnits.

Which person from the past would you most like to meet?

Mahatma Ghandi, and living today, the Dalai Lama: they both did/do so much for peace. And there is a man who lived hundreds of years ago called Asoka (A shock-a [both a's are said like in ‘cat’, ‘mat’ and ‘bat’]) who ruled part of India. After a really bloodthirsty start, he put aside war and turned his country into a peaceful nation that really looked after its people.

Who is your favourite author/children’s author?

There are so many! I really enjoy our New Zealand children’s writers; we have so many wonderfully talented people. I also read L.M. MontgomeryLeon GarfieldSusan CooperT.H. White - it’s a long list! As an adult I enjoy writers like Jefferson ParkerIan RankinQuintin JardineCaroline GrahamJonathan Kellerman, and many more. I just love reading and always have a pile of books by my bedside and chair.

Why did you want to be a writer?

I have always written. It is my bliss. I cannot imagine not writing.

Do you have a special place where you write your books?

I have an office, but I can write anywhere, even where it’s noisy if I’m struck by an idea. I just focus on it and get it down on paper. I always have a notebook and pen in my bag, but I’ve been known to write the bones of a story on a paper napkin and on the inside of a chocolate wrapper.

What’s the best thing and worst thing about being a writer?

The best thing is seeing your faces when I read stories aloud. Because I love writing, I don’t mind the routine things or the disappointments. It is all part of being a writer, learning and getting better. It isn’t the worst thing, but the hardest thing is finding a title!

If you weren’t a writer, what would you like to be?

I’ve done several things, like being a full-time mum, a teacher and a businesswoman. The most important was being a full-time mum, but I loved and learned things from them all. Right now, I work for an organization called Physicians and Scientists for Responsible Genetics (PSRG). This is a voluntary job, but it is often a full time one. It is something that I feel is very important because I’d like to think that we grown-ups will leave this planet better off for all of you. I write things like information sheets and newsletters. I also search out information, and that’s a bit like solving fascinating puzzles.

I have helped my husband - who is a (retired) scientist - write several books on things that affect the environment and we humans. We both also write for grown-up magazines. We are clicking and clacking at our keyboards almost all day.

I am the writer who started Tauranga Writers for Children. This is a group of people who just love writing for, and sharing that love with children. We work in local schools and with the local paper. For four years, the paper organised a free phone-in story line that had a new story to listen to every week. We provided all the stories and read them into the recorder. For several years now, we’ve been writing stories for the paper’s Summer Holiday Programme.

TWC has published six books. The latest is called The Book with No Name. Local children chose the title from a long list of ideas that came from lots of people. The children said it was the book that they would absolutely want to read.

Writing stories for children is something I do when I can. Often, I wake up really early and do it before I even get out of bed!

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read and read and read. Write and write and write. It is a really good idea to read what you have written out loud. You pick up on mistakes and things that don’t work much more easily if you read aloud. And do not worry about the mistakes, all writers make them.

This interview is from 2002.

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