After reading this book, I contacted Linda Hansen to ask if she would mind answering some questions about the process of writing it. I liked the way she showed us Matt grappling with his problems and working out how to solve them for himself, and the way in which she has interwoven the two stories (Archie's and Matt's) and shown the themes connecting them, as well as building up a real sense of tension as the climax of the book approaches.
- In the teaching notes, you say that you wrote this book because "New Zealanders hear so little about pacifism, yet Archie Baxter and other New Zealand conscientious objectors are celebrated worldwide". How did the idea for the book sprout?
I work as a Storyteller and a couple of years ago, was developing a story to tell at the Storyteller’s Café in Wellington around ANZAC Day. I decided to test my theory that not many adults knew about James K Baxter’s father, Archie. So I told his story in the form of a mystery, not identifying the Hero, much as Matt does in my book.
Only one person in the audience was able to name him.
After that I felt that it was time New Zealand children had an example of a genuine Kiwi alternative to the seeming ‘inevitability’ of war, especially at this time when war publicity is at its height.
- Did you know much about Archie Baxter beforehand? How did you go about finding out what else you needed to know?
I hadn't known about Archie Baxter until my middle years, and certainly never heard of him during my formal education. I read his book ‘We Shall Not Cease’ around twelve years ago and was very moved… found it particularly poignant to be teaching at the N.Z. International Campus at Trentham around that time, right next to where he was tortured and imprisoned.
I’ve been a writer and researcher all my working life, so found my material ‘by all possible means’, as researchers do.
- You're a storyteller as well as a writer. How do the two roles interact with each other?
Writing is a gift to my storytelling and it works the other way around as well. I write all of my stories myself, even if they are adapted from another source. I also write them down, as this gets them into my long-term memory. Then I speak them aloud and find where sentences are clumsy, spaces are needed, sounds collide and so on. It’s a lovely process.
- Can you tell us about the process of publishing the book? CreateBooks has several other books that deal with the topic of bullying, is that coincidental?
I did submit the manuscript to several New Zealand publishers according to their requirements – a sample chapter, a Synopsis and so on. It was No thanks or nothing from them, even after promises to get back to me with two months. Only Scholastic Australia, no longer in New Zealand, replied with a very encouraging response.
Ann Neville of CreateBooks Publishing validated my original feeling, as she had only just learned about Archie Baxter herself when my offer and Synopsis arrived. She immediately asked for the full M/S and within a day or two, accepted it virtually without alteration. I didn’t then know about the company’s other books, so the Bullying theme was coincidental.
- Do you want to tell us anything about the process of writing this book - or about the next novel you're working on?
I tend to write to a topic first and build up the characters and settings later. Although I already feel I know the characters and their situations well before I begin, it takes time to make them real to readers.
Being a life-long writer, I am very ‘picky’ about writing clearly. Lots of adjectives and adverbs might go in but they don’t last long.
My next novel is currently out for review with some teenage critics. Perhaps it will be controversial, perhaps not.
The main character is a hobby photographer in her sixteenth year.
It’s her journey through some current real-life issues that inspire her into courageous actions, resulting in the police visiting her college. She’s a bold, spirited young hero, we need more of them!