I’ve always loved to read and write since a very young age. When I was seven I would write my own stories on paper and then staple the pages together to make a book. At nine I wrote my first book and my mother decided to publish it as a reward and recognition for my passion for writing. The book was called ‘Weirdo’. Since then, I have written two other books - ‘The Magic Pencil’ and ‘The World of Greek Mythology’.
I’m now writing another book, which I plan to call ‘2020’. I've recently set up a website where you can find out more about my books:spiespubishing.co.nz. My goal is to inspire other children to read and write, and to follow their dreams, because if I can do it, you can too.
Mieke DiLouie (aged 10) – Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview for youngnzwriters! Congratulations on your new book SHE TAMED A DRAGON. What an amazing achievement.
Can you tell us about SHE TAMED A DRAGON without giving away the ending? We’re guessing it’s not about robots!
In SHE TAMED A DRAGON, Alex is a normal fourteen-year-old girl until her dad marries a woman who is a wizard. She figures out she has a rare ability called Fire. On Alex’s journey, she meets Emily, Jack, and Anna, who help her with her dangerous powers. Using them, she must stop her childhood best friend from taking over the world.
To do that, she must first learn to call the Dragon, and more important, how to tame it.
SHE TAMED A DRAGON is about a girl learning about her powers and how to be stronger. For me, writing it was like living Alex’s story. I feel like she’s a friend now. I hope people who read my book will see Alex as a true friend and feel like they’re in that world too.
What made you decide to tell this story? Don’t you like robots, then? Did you have a plot in mind, or did the ideas come to you while you were writing?
Hey, I like robots! I’ve always wanted to share my thoughts and feelings with everyone, and now I can with pieces of paper. I didn’t plot it too much. I just went with the flow. The ideas just came to me. My dad helped me with the plot points.
My dad showed me a book an 11-year-old boy wrote, which really inspired me. My dad challenged me if I worked hard enough and wrote my own story, I could achieve that same goal. I chose wizards to write about because I love worlds of magic. We don’t have magic in our world, just school and work and stuff. With magic, it opens up a totally different world. In a magical world, you can have fire growing out of your hand, you can do anything. I think it’s really fun and cool to imagine that.
Tell us about your research. If you’re writing about dragons, does that mean you have to read a lot of dragon books? Anything else you had to learn about?
No, I didn’t do any research. I did read a lot of Harry Potter, which showed me a world of magic that inspired me. From JK Rowling, I learned about describing, creating a world, writing in a simple way, and character building and arcs. She taught me you have to have a good character or you don’t have a good story. A good character is confident, funny, or we can relate to them.
What’s more important: having a good plot OR having a good character?
I would say character because the story can evolve as the character does. There’s nothing like a good character.
What about the title? Did you pick the title first, or did you do that at the end?
The title was hard to pick because at first I couldn’t think of one that would really fit. I just went with the theme. I like it because it’s unique, mysterious, and fits the story perfect.
10,000 words is a lot of writing! How long did it take you? Do you listen to music while you’re working? What’s your favourite writing snack?
It took me a whole school semester, but I worked really hard. My favourite writing snack is cold spaghetti and tea. It’s plain, something to munch on without caring while I’m working.
Which writer would you most like to have dinner with ‒ no, you’re not allowed to say your dad ‒ and why?
JK Rowling all the way! I love her so much and she partly inspired my magical side. We’d have homemade mac and cheese.
You’re on space shuttle bound for Neptune. It’s a long trip, but that’s okay because you’re allowed to bring five favourite books (sadly, there isn’t much space). Which books will you choose?
Harry Potter book 1, Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter book 7, Maximum Ride, any of the Dork Diaries.
Who did the amazing cover? Did you get to decide what would be on it?
My dad and I went through stock images and then I saw it. It was like the image was made specially for me! If you’re picking an image, try to find something that speaks to you. Ella Beaumont took the image and made the cover. I love it a lot. I feel like the touch of fire and font are really cool. Ella took my story and made it even better. I love her. She really went all in.
What was the hardest thing about writing a book?
The character evolution. I found it was hardest to develop Alex the most, because she needed to evolve into something still herself, but a little bit better.
Any advice for other kids who are planning on giving it a go?
I suggest making your story start off simple and not too far after that, start the conflict or the reader will get bored. Give the characters lots of personality, a person you can hate as well, and a good story board. At the end, give it a full go, with real impact. At the very end, make it simple and happy. Overall, just believe in yourself.
What’s your next project? Have you already started?
My next project is THE FIRE GATE, a sequel to SHE TAMED A DRAGON.
Best of luck for your very own book launch for SHE TAMED A DRAGON! We hope it’s an amazing success.
Thanks for coming on youngnzwriters, Beth!
Congratulations on your first ever book, a picture book called Kitty Stuck soon from A Spark in the Sand Publishing, which you collaborated on with your mum, Emma Pullar, author of the much-loved Curly from Shirley - The Christchurch Dog.
Tell us how it feels to be a published illustrator at age 12.
Exciting and a little weird. I illustrated the book when I was 12, but I’m 13 now.
What’s Kitty Stuck about? How did you come up with the idea?
It’s about our cat, Rupert. Rupert is super funny and gets stuck in all sorts of places and we always have to help him get down or pull him out from getting stuck in things or behind stuff. Sometimes he meows at the front door and when we open it he’s covered in muck and Mum has to clean him up. The book is all about him.
It’s a collaborative book, intended for children ages 0-7 years, written by your mum and with you as the illustrator! Amazing! How much influence did you have on the text of the story? Did your mum’s suggestions influence the images?
If I couldn’t think of what to draw, Mum gave me a few ideas and then I’d have a think and then do something totally different. Some of her suggestions and Dad’s, have been helpful. I did change a few words in the story to better suit my style of illustration. Some of the illustrations surprised Mum. She wasn’t expecting me to draw a flower pot for the “stuck in a pot” line. It was my idea to add the mouse, which is Rupert’s friend. Everyone loved that. We actually have a photo of Rupert playing with a mouse. I practise a lot on my phone and draw all sorts of things, so thinking up what to draw came naturally.
What media did you use? Were there any special tricks you needed to know, illustrating a picture book?
I used apps on a tablet and on my phone. The apps are called Sketch and Autodesk Sketchbook. Shading is something you need to think about, even with simple drawings, like the shine on the ball. I also had to use bright colours because they won’t be as bright once in print.
[Puts hand to mouth and speaks quietly] So how is it really, working with your mum? Is she the boss, or are you equal partners?
It was fun working with Mum, we laugh a lot. She does ask me do things again if they aren’t quite perfect which is a bit annoying but she says my work will be judged the same as the professionals and I should make sure every illustration is my best. I try to do that. I think we’re pretty equal.
You’re a Kiwi but you’re English too, currently living in England. So tell us, which do you prefer: Marmite or Bovril?
What the heck is Bovril? Dad has just told me it’s a type of spread/drink. I haven’t tried Bovril. I like NZ Marmite though and because we live in England at the moment, my grandparents bring three big jars of NZ Marmite over for us when they visit.
If you could be any picture book character, who would you be and why? What were your favourite picture books when you were younger?
I would be Wilbur the cat from Winnie the Witch because he just lies about all the time. I liked The Very Hungry Caterpillar when I was little and stories Mum and Poppy (my grandfather) would make up. Poppy still makes up stories for us and the last one was about a crocodile that lost his teeth.
Do you consider yourself more of an illustrator-artist or an author?
Illustrator, for sure. I’m not really an author. I only changed a few words in Kitty Stuck to suit my illustrations better. I like writing but it isn’t my passion. I wrote a really creepy story for a school project once and Mum thought it was great but my heart is in art.
Will there be more stories in the Kitty Stuck series? Will we be able to buy the book in New Zealand?
It’s a lot of hard work illustrating a book, school stuff has to come first. I’m hoping Whitcoulls might be able to stock Kitty Stuck like they did Mum’s first picture book Curly from Shirley. Not sure yet because A Spark in the Sand is a UK publisher and they have to work some things out. Kiwis will be able get it on Amazon though.
What book are you reading right now?
I’m reading Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. I picked it from my Mum’s bookshelf, she reads a lot of YA novels and loves dystopian stories. I’ll be studying dystopian literature at school in year nine. I like Japanese culture and horror games and so BR seemed like a good book to read. It’s fab so far.
Thanks for joining us, Beth, and we wish you all the best for the book release.
‘Summer Wigmore hails from Hamilton, loves Wellington and writes in the speculative fiction genre. Wigmore was twenty when her first book (The Wind City, brought forth into the world by Steam Press) was published, and eighteen when the manuscript was first accepted for publication.’
What's your book about, Summer?
The Wind City is about a lot of things! Cities, and stories, and themes of figuring out your life and discovering yourself. Sharp-eyed people in the shadows. At its truest of hearts, though, I think it’s mainly about connections between people: all the different kinds of love, familial and romantic and platonic, and why those are important.
This writing a book thing: how hard is it really? Can anyone do it?
Well ... not gonna lie, it’s pretty hard. Writing a book, completing a book, it takes a lot of work and time and determination. But yes. Anyone can. If you’re willing to do that work, if you have an idea that you love enough to stick with it through drafts and unexpected changes and times when you’re thoroughly sick of it, then you can. Writing a book is like, 95% determination.
I mean sometimes it flows free and easy, spills from your fingers like a magical thing. Or goes steady ad slow, which can be just as rewarding. A first draft might take three years to complete or it might take one very frantic week, but even if it’s that second one you are almost certainly gonna have to do more work on it. Basically just. Be committed, be doing something that you love. And you can do it.
What's more important spelling or plot?
Honestly, spelling is pretty important? If your work’s sparkling enough then people might be willing to overlook things like excessive typos (there’s always some typos) and errors – think of how a musician’s performance can be filled with mistakes, but still shine because of the amount of heart and personality in it.
But spelling is a pretty entry-level thing. If a publisher or reader glances at a work and sees it riddled with mistakes, there’s a more than good chance that they won’t stick around to see any other qualities it may have. If you don’t want people to dismiss your work out of hand, you’ll want to be good at that kind of thing. The idea is to give the reader as few stumbling-blocks as possible, so your writing can transport them!
Some of us don't like sharing our work. It's kind of personal. Do you share your work with other writers and ask for their comment?
I need to get into the habit of sharing my work with a wider variety of people – people who won’t like it, writers who work in different genres or don’t know me personally, that kind of thing. My work’d be stronger for it, I’m just kinda craven of criticism. Which is fair enough, I mean, you’re slicing out a bit of your soul and offering it on a platter for someone else’s opinion.
So I know that it can be kind of a raw thing, but it’s important. I was in an online writer’s forum when I was younger, and privileged enough to know many very wonderful people, some of whom are dear friends to this day. We and our writing kind of grew together. I definitely recommend spending time in some kind of community like that, if you can find one, online or off – writing groups are lovely, too. It’s just a great way to make writer friends and get better at critiquing and being critiqued. Sometimes you just really need an outside eye, even if it’s just to tell you things you didn’t know you knew.
There were witches and wizards, then vampires and werewolves. In your view what's the next big thing in stories?
I’ve heard some people say mermaids, merfolk. I loudly approve of this. Fae would be great too though! They’re already a pretty strong presence in fantasy and urban fantasy, but, y’know ... fae. They’re awesome.
If it is mermaids I hope it’s the properly dangerous kind. The world could use more tales of people unwisely loving sea-sharp folk who ride on the waves, in my opinion.
Can you tell us five things we don't know about you -stuff that isn't on your author page - because, well, we're nosy.
1. I’m – left-handed?
2. Um, um – my cat is named Sylvester because I was five when I got him. I
3. once had a canary named Shadowfax, because I was ... I don’t even know.
4. My dearest friend lives in cold lands across the sea, and one day I will fly to meet them, or they to me.
5. Did you know Burger Rings are like mad delicious
Some of us want to publish a book before we're ancient, too. What advice would you give to us?
Keep on keeping on! Getting published is a mix of hard work and luck. Ideally if you make good things, the best you can make them, then there’ll be someone, somewhere, who’ll take notice. If you like it then there will be other people, even if only a few, who will you like it. That means there’s a market. Don’t be afraid to get out there and find it! I mean with The Wind City I looked around for books like the one I wanted to read, and (at the time) no one was writing them, so I just did it myself. Look at people who print the kind of things you write or want to write, look at agents, look at companies, read up on everything you can.
Remember that no one but you can/could write the book that’s in your head. The world needs your book! (Egotism is a useful trait in a writer.)
What are you writing now?
At this particular moment I’m near starting a little gift story for a friend, because nothing says ‘happy holidays’ like stories about mobsters. Overall I have this book I’m working on – I mean to finish the first draft like a month ago, I got kind of lazy once my year's studies were done. I'm tentatively excited about it, though, it’s a cool little fantasy with an atypical protagonist and incidental terrorbirds, and is currently going by Godsblood.