Finalist Interview: The origins of Dunger, by Joy Cowley

If you have ever wondered where Joy Cowley - Author Photo_smlauthors 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.

Dunger (Gecko Press) is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the awards. Read Tierney Reardon’s review on our blog.

Thank you to author Joy Cowley for her generous responses:

1. As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book?
A common theme in children’s books is the city kid having a holiday on a farm. When we lived in the Sounds, we lived this experience many times with children coming from an urban environment to a place where you caught or grew your food and piped water from a stream. But there had to be more to make a book, so I included something about the 1960s and the ‘flower power” hippie culture, something about sibling tension, plus some good old country DIY experiences.

2. Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?
cv_dungerThe process of creating a novel, can take several years. The initial idea takes root but also needs time to grow, and most writers tend to be strong with plot or strong with character. As a plot-driven person who enjoys creating “page-turners” I tend to have characters that are mere furnishings for the plot. This means I always have to spend a lot of time working on my characters until they are fully-formed and real. If they are not real to me then they won’t be real to the reader. Once the book is “whole” and is in my mind like a film I have seen, then I write it. Getting it down on the computer happens quickly – a couple of weeks. But the editing process is slow, at least three months of continual cutting and polishing.

3. Did you tailor this book to a particular audience – or did you find it found its own audience as it was written?
I always tailor a children’s book to a particular audience or age group. Sometimes, though, I am surprised by the way that changes in effect. It seems that all ages are reading Dunger − a woman told me her husband kept her awake with laughter while he read it in bed.

4. Can you recommend any books that you love, that inspired or informed your book in any way?
I can’t think of any children’s book that inspired this, but when I created the grandparents in the story, I had just reread Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, a delicious book about the hippie era.

5. Tell us about a time you’ve enjoyed relaxing and reading a book – at the bach, on holiday, what was the book?
Summer holidays were always “serial” time, the reading of a substantial book night after night. One summer when my children were young, it was Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. A generation later, I read the latest Harry Potter books each summer, to the grandsons.

6. What are your favourite things to do, when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?
Favourite things plural: wood-turning, gardening, spinning and knitting, painting, cooking and eating, listening to music.