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New Book like a Child

From the Hawkes Bay Today:  Linda Hall 2016

 

MARY-ANNE SCOTT’S first novel Snakes and Ladders,
 aimed at teenagers, particularly boys, is fantastic. It won the 2013 young adult category of the Children’s Choice award at the NZ Post Book Awards. It was also short listed for the 2013 LIANZA awards. However, the Havelock North-based author, mum and musician’s new novel Coming Home to Roost, also written from a young man’s perspective, is a whole lot better.

The story follows Elliot as his father sends him to a new city to start an apprenticeship, thereby taking him away from a “bad influence”. His new boss and housemate is a no-nonsense character named Arnie. As Elliot struggles with his new surroundings, his ex-girlfriend Lena is not done with him yet.

WHAT DID YOU LEARN AFTER PUBLISHING YOUR FIRST BOOK?

By the time Snakes and Ladders was published, I’d just completed a writing course at Whitireia. I’ve heard people say that you can’t learn to write but I don’t agree. I was your typical ‘adult nerd’ in the class, desperate for skills and I soaked up the knowledge like a sponge. I also learned that a new book is pretty much like a child — a lot of fuss and excitement to start with but eventually it has to find its own way in the world and it either sinks or swims.

COMING HOME TO ROOST HAS SOME FANTASTIC CHARACTERS. ARE ANY OF THEM BASED ON PEOPLE YOU KNOW?

Arnie has been the most commented on character in this book so far, and I did actually have a real person in mind. He’s the older brother of a very good friend of mine and over the years I’ve been amazed at how this particular man can say so much with so few words. I heard someone ask him once when his wife was due back from her overseas trip, and he said, ‘The calendar’s got ‘vacuum’ on the 29th so I’m thinking then’. My own boys said they could hear my voice coming through Elliot’s mother’s words occasionally . . .

WHAT FEEDBACK DID YOU GET FROM READERS?

You can spend years working on a book and it’s really appreciated when people say what they did, or didn’t like. The harshest criticism is sometimes the most beneficial. After Snakes and Ladders came out our esteemed local author, who’s now living in France, wrote to me and said, ‘I liked your book, I think you can write, but I couldn’t stand all the f…ing exclamation marks’ and then he went on to do a line of !!!!!!!!!!!

YOUR MUM IS JOY WATSON, AUTHOR OF THE FAMOUS GRANDPA SLIPPER CHILDREN’S BOOKS. DOES SHE HELP YOU WITH YOUR WRITING?

Mum and I share a love of books and words, but we don’t discuss my plot lines really. I’m quite spoilt because I have a sister, Jude, who’s an editor and we spend hours discussing every aspect of story, the dialogue, the plot, the characters and the themes. My mother’s stories are timeless and special. She has 28 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren who all love her books and it makes me realise what a legacy she leaves to our family.

WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING AN AUTHOR IN NEW ZEALAND?

There’s the standard answers about funding for the arts, or the dire state of publishing or the politics of the literary big guns, but I’m actually pretty happy to be writing here in NZ. Although my story situation is universal, the setting is uniquely Kiwi, and the characters are (mostly) the product of our culture.

HOW DOES IT FEEL SEEING YOUR BOOKS IN BOOKSHOPS?

It feels scary seeing my books in the local shops for some reason and buzzy when I find them in out-of-town shops. It seemed indecent to stare in the Havelock/Hastings area, when Coming Home to Roost came out a couple of weeks ago and it was fresh in the shop windows, so I snuck out at night and had a long look when no one was around.

It’s not that I’m afraid of Mice

As I unlocked the bach on a sizzling evening last week, I couldn’t have been happier; a week alone to write and read.

I turned the pump on and heard it fire up. But as I unpacked the car, I realised the pump was pumping for too long. Bugger. I hadn’t been here five minutes and I already needed help.

‘You’ll have to ring the plumber in Wairoa,’ my eldest son said.

The plumber gave me two options. Either I turn the pump on and off as required, or I could climb into the pump shed, find the switch, and tap it with a piece of wood to release the jammed mechanism.

Fine strands of cobweb had already brushed my arms inside the bach so the idea of climbing into the pump shed didn’t appeal.

The garage door lock was jammed. ‘You’ll need CRC,’ the same son told me. ‘It’s in the garage though so you’ll have to manhandle the lock first.’

Shit, I thought and went for a swim.

When I came back, I got the wooden spoon and marched out to deal to the pump switch. I wore rubber gloves as a spider guard, leaned right in and tapped the first thing I saw. The pump turned off immediately. Huh!

I swapped the rubber gloves for oven mitts so I could get maximum leverage and moved on to attack the garage door. I pulled and wriggled and swore and suddenly, the lock clicked open. Yes!

The next day, I cleaned the bach. There’s no need to elaborate on the work but needless to say I felt the approval of generations of female ancestors as I vacuumed every corner. That night I stared around in a satisfied way at the clean space. Something twitched under the bookcase, and there it was again, under the table.

‘The mouse traps are in the third drawer in the garage,’ my son told me.

How do I put the cheese in? I wanted to ask, and the ancestors approved when I kept quiet.

Traps aren’t easy to operate, especially when you’re wearing oven mitts. The next morning, the traps were empty of mice and cheese. A trail of mouse poo taunted me. So I used finely grated Parmesan, in a crafty, appetizing way. Huh.

I walked past the spare room and saw the dog had messed up a throw. You know your house is pristine when you adjust messed up accessories. No wonder she’d rearranged the damn thing. I washed, soaked and bleached the vomit off the blanket, the duvet, and the heavy white cover. Shit.

I decided to mow the lawns ……  I admit to having help starting the mower.

I see now why guys always mow in straight lines because I became very confused as to where I’d already been. I created my own spider’s web on the lawn.

‘How do I turn the mower off?’

‘You’re kidding me right?’ I’d tried a different son this time, and I got the two youngest boys together.

‘There’s no obvious switch,’ I shouted over the fearsome noise. ‘No ‘off’ button.’ They laughed. My tolerance was shot. The day was sweltering; the mower was hot enough to combust. I hung up.

‘Put me on video call’, one of them managed to say when he rang back, and even that took figuring out. ‘Now go up to the mower, and we’ll show you.’

I couldn’t hear them. ‘Get earplugs,’ they spluttered. I’d like to have given them earplugs.

I wandered up the deserted street. Every sensible man had dived for cover, but I found Two Bob tinkering under his car. No one gives Two Bob much credit, but he was very helpful once he’d stopped laughing. SHIT.

‘Let the mower cool down,’ he told me, when it finally shuddered into silence. I can’t bear to mention the garage door disaster as it finally crashed down for the day, and just missed the dog’s hind legs.

I went inside for a cold drink and there in the cupboard I found a poor, soft, little mouse in the trap. It’s becoming less pliable everyday.

 

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