Two Havelock North writers have drawn on their own family histories to write books that are now finalists in the 2022 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
Mary-Anne Scott’s novel, The Tomo, a finalist in the Junior Fiction Award, re-imagines a legendary story of her grandfather, while Cristina Sanders follows her Norwegian ancestors journey to New Zelaland in Displaced, a finalist in the Young Adult Fiction Award.
The 2022 winners will be announced on 10th August.
This the fourth time Mary-Anne Scott has been a finalist in the Awards and she jokes: “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.”
But reviewer David Hill has hailed The Tomo as “compellingly realistic and heart-thumpingly engrossing”. It is based on Mary-anne’s grandfather Phil Evans who in 1926, on a farm inland between Tairāwhiti and Wairoa on the East Coast, lost his beloved dog down a tomo (a deep shaft) when he was mustering sheep. Phil eventually bravely struggled down ninety seven feet, using plough rope to rescue his dog.
Visiting former Pōhaturoa Station where the incident happened, Mary-anne learnt about the limestone karst conditions that allow tomo to form and began to re-imagine her grandfather’s story in the modern-day.
“My protagnonist is a 15 year-old-boy who is entrusted with his father’s beloved dog, Blue, while his sick father undergoes treatment,” she says.
Blue tumbles down a tomo on the same location Mary-anne’s grandfather lost his dog and the subsequent story of Blue’s rescue by children forms the basis of her story.
Mary-anne’s success as a writer (she has published six books) is in part responsible for the launch of Cristina Sanders writing career. Cristina was working at a design agency in Hawke’s Bay when Mary-anne turned up needing a website.
“We got chatting about our love of books,” says Cristina, “and she told me about the creative writing diploma she had done at Whitiriea Polytechnic. I immediately wrote the first draft of Displaced as a sampler and was accepted onto the course.”
Displaced, which won the 2020 Storylines Tessa Duder Award, follows in the footsteps of Cristina’s Norwegian ancestors brought to New Zealand in 1872 as part of Vogel’s scheme to open up the country for roads and farms.
“I researched and imagined how they coped when their promised 40 acres turned out to be thickly forested wilderness.”
Cristina’s fictional heroine, Eloise Sansonnet, is on board a boat to New Zealand in 1872 with her Cornish family when she meets Lars, a Norwegian labourer (his family are travelling below decks) and their lives begin to entwine.
“Displaced is based on fact,“ says Cristina. “The setting and geography are real, as is the general history of Scandinavian and Cornish settlement in Hawkes Bay and the Manawatū.”
Since launching Displaced, Cristina has written for adults, publishing Jerningham in 2020 – the story of the wild-child of the Wakefield family that set up the New Zealand Company in colonial Wellington.
Her second historical novel Mrs Jewell and the wreck of the General Grant, evoking the enduring mystery of one of New Zealand’s early shipwrecks, will be published by Cuba Press in less than two weeks. Watch out for it!
For more on both writers: