First-time novelist Carol Garden urges other aspiring writers not to wait – just start writing. After winning a publishing contract with Scholastic, Carol’s book for young teens will be released next year. We had a chat to Carol about her inspiration, her writing process, and her characters, which include a billionaire baddie and a girl who can talk to fish.
Your occupation, job title, artistic discipline (or very brief description of what you do):
Writer/ teacher. I am working on my second novel in a series for young teens. I also tutor teenagers on how to improve their writing and navigate NCEA English.
What cities/towns have you lived in (or spent more than a few months in) beginning with the place of your birth?
Windsor (UK), Timaru, Wellsford, Auckland, Orange (NSW), London, Tauranga.
What are the earliest stories you remember hearing? The ones that told you about the world?
The World’s Best Fairy Tales was my favourite book as a child. Then I discovered NZ Myths and Legends and Maui was my hero for a while.
What’s your favourite Bay of Plenty landscape, park, building, location, suburb, or side street? Why?
McLaren Falls Park. When I first moved to Tauranga 17 years ago, I loved going rock-hopping along the river. Since then I’ve canoed up to see the glow worms at night and had many fun times in the park.
What’s an average day in your life at present?
I don’t really have average days, but I try to write 3000 words a week, squeezed in between tutoring students, baking, outings with my mum, visits with my new granddaughter in Rotorua and trying to walk lots.
You’re about to publish your first book! What inspired you to create the story? Who is your favourite character you’ve created?
Two years ago after treatment for breast cancer I couldn’t sleep. In those long wakeful nights I imagined a three level house inside a cliff, and who might live here. Greta Thunberg was very topical so giving a group of children the power to combat the robber barons of climate change seemed like a good fit. By setting it in 2080 I could paint a picture of a world where everyone was on board with keeping the planet healthy, and we were all thriving. I think children need to feel like a positive future is possible and that they are part of making it. And because I like stories with lots of action, I included a girl who can swim underwater and speak to fish, a billionaire baddie, a kidnap, an exciting rescue and a setting among the beautiful islands of Mercury Bay, where I have spent a lot of time sailing.
My book will be launched next year, hopefully to coincide with Children’s Literature Day.
Can you explain your creative process in under ten words?
I vaguely plot the story to get me started, then my characters tend to take over.
If you didn’t become a writer, what would you be doing?
My other dream job would be running a second hand bookstore with armchairs and a coffee machine, and hosting book clubs there.
What music was present and still memorable from your youth/adolescence?
My first album at 12 was the Bay City Rollers (groan…). At 14 I loved Blondie. At 16, I hit my hippie strides with Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, JJ Cale, Cat Stevens etc.
For you as a creative person, who are three influential artists or thinkers?
I am a huge reader of wide-ranging tastes so I have many favourite authors who’ve left their mark. I appreciate a beautiful sentence but I’m very story-driven. To Kill a Mockingbird was a big favourite for me, and The Bone People blew my mind back in my 20s. But I also rate Stephen King as a great writer and I love Janet Evanovich and Jennifer Cruisie for writing characters who make me laugh out loud.
If you went away from the Bay of Plenty for a long time and then came back, what are the first three things you would do or visit?
If I’d been away from home, it would be my parents, my friends and my chickens! The Art Gallery is a place I go regularly. The exhibitions always challenge me to think about things in a new way. Walking around the Mount on a wild and windy day is invigorating. And wandering around the Historic Village is always interesting.
Looking back at your teen-age self: what one sentence describes that person?
Reckless, curious and self-conscious – probably in equal parts.
In one sentence, can you define art?
Art is the way people share their souls with others. It helps to open minds and hearts and every society is immeasurably enriched by art.
What is missing or lacking from your Bay of Plenty community or environment?
I would love to see more art in our public spaces. Cities that showcase creativity in public always feel so interesting and vibrant. Aside from a few pockets and events we are sadly lacking thanks to a lack of foresight, funding and intelligence from our city leaders over many decades.
Name a few films that you consider profound, moving or extraordinary?
I loved ‘Lion’ and I have often taught students to analyse ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, but my all-time favourite movie is ‘Shrek’. I love the humour. I’m a big stand-up comedy fan and I’d often choose Live at the Apollo or 7 Days over watching a movie.
What was your first real job, second, third?
I left school at 16 to work at State Insurance as a cadet. Pointless paperwork and office politics nearly killed me. My second real job was as a cadet reporter for the Manukau Courier. Then I went to university and teachers’ college and got my first teaching job at Epsom Girls Grammar where I taught English and Journalism.
Where would you like to live, but have yet to?
Like many people, I visit a new place and think “I’d like to live here.” So far that list includes Wanaka, Whakatane, Edinburgh, Napier, Wellington and Great Barrier Island.
What word of advice would you offer an aspiring creative person?
Don’t wait, just do it. Otherwise it just nags at you. Having cancer made me realise I needed to get on with writing my own stories, time is not an infinite resource.
What’s the biggest problem about life in New Zealand? How you would solve it?
The widening divide between the wealthy and the poor and the impact on so many children absolutely breaks my heart. I would like to see a government tackle this with real commitment. Rent controls and less disparity between salaries and wages would be a good start. It is criminal that DHB executives earn three to five times what a nurse earns.
What is your dream of happiness?
To know that my books have given enjoyment to readers. To be healthy and loved, and to spend lots of time with the people who really matter to me, like my husband, my family and my friends. I think it is human nature to want to make a difference and hopefully be remembered for something good.