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Philippa Werry

Philippa Werry lives in Wellington and writes fiction, non-fiction and plays for children and young adults. Her interest in history has produced titles such as Anzac Day, Best Mates (illustrated by Bob Kerr), Armistice Day, Lighthouse Family, The New Zealand Wars and The Telegram. Her books have been shortlisted for awards and she is a frequent speaker at schools with the Writers in Schools programme.


What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?

Actually it’s more the other way around. I read through many of the “classics’ in my 20s, but I hardly ever read authors like Dickens and Hardy now. It’s not exactly that I dislike them, but I hardly ever read them any more.  (I do still read Jane Austen!) Every so often I think I should go back and reread them, but there’s always another book that gets in the way.


Do you try more to be original, or to deliver to readers what they want?

I just try to tell the story in my head, and I hope that’s what some readers will want.


How do you select the names of your characters?

I love choosing names for my characters. It‘s a special challenge for historical fiction. I spend a lot of time trawling sites of popular names by decade to work out what names would best fit the era, and if I’m writing about a family, I try to make sure their names go well together. 


What was the first book that you can remember taking out from the library?

Harriet the spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I was maybe eight, and I can remember standing at the issues desk looking up at the librarian who was telling me she thought the book was too old for me. I stood my ground and got to take the book home!


If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?

I wish I had understood the magic and power of editing sooner. I used to feel so discouraged when the story that sounded so good in my head looked so rubbish when I wrote it down on paper. Now I’m (almost!) used to my first draft looking like rubbish, but I know I can work on it and make it better.   


Have you Googled yourself? Did you find out anything interesting?

I would love to Google myself and find out something interesting!!!


Are there any secrets in your books that only a few people will find? Can you tell us one? Or give us any hints?

Sometimes I slip in bits of family history. One reason I set Enemy at the Gate in Lyall Bay, Wellington, was because that’s where my father grew up and went to school. I gave a boy in that book the paper run that my father used to have.


Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Why?

I once wrote under a pseudonym when I was working on some educational books in a series, and the publishers wanted to make it appear as if the series was written by more than one person. I had a lot of fun creating several new names.


How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I don’t even want to count them. But David Hill (a famous NZ children’s writer) says you should never throw any writing away because you might be able to use it sometime, so I think of them as my David Hill files.


Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I always think I should ignore reviews completely, but it’s very hard to resist clicking on them (online) or glancing over them (on paper). I’m grateful for any reviewer who has spent time with my book and seems to get what I was aiming at.

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