Finalist interviews: The origin of Bugs, by Whiti Hereaka

If you have ever wondered where authorsWhiti Hereaka 2b get their ideas, this is your chance to find out. We have asked our fantastic finalists for the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults all about their work, and they have been very generous in their responses.

Bugs is a finalist in the young Adult fiction category of the awards. Read Sue Esterman’s review on our blog.

Thank you to author Whiti Hereaka for her responses:

  1. As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book?
    In a funny way, I sometimes think the book decided that I’d write it. I had an idea that I’d like to write a story based on the Uncle Remus story Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. I liked the idea of a character whose personality would get them in trouble and the same characteristicweb_Bugs_cove would get them out of trouble again.I tried to write my protagonist several times (with a variety of nicknames relating to rabbits) but just couldn’t “see” them. When I hit upon the name Bugs, the character came alive. Bugs wanted to be written in first person, had a life, friends and family…in a weird way I sometimes I felt like I was just along for the ride.The seed for this book was sown a year or so before my first novel The Graphologist’s Apprentice was published. I was back in Taupo – where I grew up – celebrating a significant birthday of a friend I’ve known since I was a teenager. At a BBQ, another friend from high school asked me what I was working on. I told him the plot for The Graphologist’s Apprentice and he made a face.“Why don’t you write about what it was like growing up in Taupo?” he said.

    Thanks to his prompt I wrote a play – For Johnny – that was about teenagers dealing with life, love and loss; based on my own experiences of grief as a teenager. I guess I wasn’t finished with Taupo because I think Bugs is as much about that place as it is about the teenagers that live there.

  2. Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
    Bugs was written as part of Te Papa Tupu, a programme run by the Maori Literature Trust to encourage emerging Maori writers. I was one of six writers chosen for 2012. The programme allowed the writers to concentrate on writing and it also paired the writers up with mentors who helped to shape the work.The biggest challenge was of my own making. Te Papa Tupu runs for six months. I had applied for the programme with a rough outline and 5000 words. My mentor was surprised (horrified?) that I didn’t have an actual draft to work on! I assured her that there would be at least a first draft by the mid-point of the programme and set to work.It was a very busy six months – but I managed to produce a first and second draft in that time (mostly by being a hermit and relying on caffeine to get me through the day).After the second draft, I submitted the manuscript to Huia Publishers. I was given feedback on the manuscript and spent a bit of time rewriting some of it.

    Once it was accepted for publication, most of the work was done by the publishers. I checked the proofs for any small changes, and gave feedback on the design choices for the cover artwork.

  3. Did you tailor this book to a particular audience – or did you find it found its own audience as it was written?
    When I’m writing I don’t really think about audience – it feels kind of presumptuous of me to think that other people would want to read my work! To me, the most important thing is the story. 

    I hope that if I’ve told the story that I want to tell, in the best possible way that it will be compelling to read.I think Bugs has found its own audience: I’ve had some lovely comments from people about the book. 

  4. Can you recommend any books that you love, that inspired or informed your book in any way?
    I enjoyed reading Uncle Remus stories and other “Trickster” stories from around the world when I was thinking about Bugs.I re-read Catcher in the Rye and found my response to it is still complicated (love the book, Holden… not so much).I also re-read 1984 and Brave New World, and read The Hunger Games trilogy.

    Television and music also inspired Bugs. I re-watched Skins and listened to Lana Del Ray, LMFAO, Tracey Chapman, The Smiths and some of the music I listened to as a teenager (for Nikki’s mix tape).

  5. Tell us about a time you’ve enjoyed relaxing and reading a book – at the bach, on holiday, what was the book?
    I’ve been reading poetry for pleasure lately. I’ve been dipping into collections of poets I met at the International Writing Program in Iowa last year. It is nice to be able to “hear” the voices of writers that I’ve come to call my friends.The books are made more precious to me because I exchanged copies of Bugs for the copies of Maiden Names (Martin Dyar) and A Reluctant Survivor (Sridala Swami) that now sit on my bedside table.
  6. What are your favourite things to do, when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
    I’m a textile addict – I like to knit, sew, crochet… but mostly I like to amass my “stash”. Talk to anyone that sews and knits and they’ll have a stash; we’re a bit like dragons in that way.While I get satisfaction from finishing things, the part I like most about sewing or knitting is before I start. Before I have cut my fabric or cast on my stitches the textile still has the potential to be anything. I think part of the reason that I have a stash is that that potential is quite intoxicating.Sometimes I don’t want to start a project because once I have that potential disappears and the future of that textile becomes somewhat fixed.

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