Mansfield Questionnaire: Maria Gill
Maria Gill responds to our slightly irreverent literary questionnaire, inspired by Katherine Mansfield.
Write a prelude to your life in one sentence.
Nurse Yvonne saw builder Richard across the room and fell in love; after courting, they married and moved from Wellington to Auckland to start a family.
Would your father have accepted your plea for musical training?
Probably not. My mother loved playing the piano but always waited until my father was out because he didn’t like her wasting time. He preferred we played sports.
Do you speak French?
I started learning French at six years old, but for some reason I cannot remember, didn’t keep it up for long. It was a shame because when I travelled to China in 1984 my travelling companions were French and some couldn’t speak English. Back then in China no one spoke English or French so we used our trusty Lonely Planet’s Guide to get us around the country.
If you were to, at any stage, become a ghost who would you haunt?
If I could travel back in time as well, I’d haunt Gerald Durrell while his family lived in Greece or when setting up a zoo.
Do you keep ‘great complaining notebooks’ a.k.a. journals?
Yep, and when I have a writing block I’ll journal non-stop for three (A4) pages, and most of what comes out of my internal brain is a good bee-itch session. Once I’ve cleared that out, I write about what could be causing my block and often the answer materialises out of my pen. Quite useful.
Garden parties. Yes or no?
Now I’ve moved to Point Wells, quite probable. It’s so sunny here (move coincided with stretch of sunny weather) and we have a lovely lawn. Will be inviting writing friends soon.
Where have you had the best time of your life?
Wellington on Monday 8th August when the Non-fiction and Margaret Mahy Award winners were announced. Greece – I love the culture, the food, the history and the people. Matakana – it’s a great place to bring up kids and write in a peaceful environment.
Where have you had the worst time of your life?
Nearly got kidnapped in Calcutta, was in a cyclone in Madras and couldn’t find accommodation, and nearly died in Rajasthan. India was a tough trip but still very memorable.
If you were to use a nom de plume, what would it be?
Maria de La Blanc (or some other French or Spanish sounding surname) – it sounds so exotic.
Virginia Woolf wrote ‘I was jealous of her writing — the only writing I have ever been jealous of.’ Who are you most jealous of?
J.K. Rowling; now everyone thinks we earn as much as she does when the reality is most full-time authors earn a meager income for a lot of (enjoyable) work.
Where are you in the family birth order?
I’m the oldest. My brother Tony is a great cook and very funny, while my younger sister Katrina was always the animal lover (who can’t have animal pets because she is allergic to them).
You left home and then:
I travelled the world with my backpack and not much money. I travelled to Australia twice before saving enough to go to America en route to England, Europe, India and China. I worked as a barmaid, nanny, and grape picker to enable me to carry on travelling. When I came back to New Zealand I trained to be a teacher, then married and had children.
What is your favourite short story?
I’m going to cheat and say Margaret Mahy’s picture book story of The Man whose Mother was a Pirate. I love her description of the sea.
What was the last real letter you wrote?
Bus pass for my daughter at school. I often write cards but confess I haven’t written a letter in years.
What brings you bliss?
A really good book. A walk on Omaha Beach. Meeting kids who love books.
How would you like to die?
In my sleep; quietly and without any fuss, pain or mess.
‘There is no twilight in our New Zealand days, but a curious half-hour when everything appears grotesque—it frightens—as though the savage spirit of the country walked abroad and sneered at what it saw.’ What are your feelings on New Zealand twilight?
I think it is quite a magical time between night and day.
Has anyone ever said of you that you’re ‘a dangerous woman’?
Nope, I don’t think so. I’m often organising things and can get a little bossy when trying to get something done. That’s usually because I’m doing several things at once and haven’t got much time. But dangerous, no.
Have you ever had an X-ray?
A few over the years; I was run over at 14 months old, nearly lost my foot at four years old, and had my jippy stomach checked often.
Write a brief history of your eyesight:
Bright and sparkly when a toddler, enquiring when a teenager, inward-looking when an adult; resulting in a need for glasses. After many lost pairs of spectacles, my eyes are now long and short-sighted.
Is there ‘the taint of the pioneer’ in your blood?
A pioneer in the need to travel and meet people. Writers are always creating something new, too. I probably was one of the first New Zealand children’s writers (alongside Sandra Morris and others) to use creative non-fiction and other hooks to draw young readers into children’s non-fiction books.
‘I want to be REAL.’ True or false?
True. I was never the cool kid, the funny kid, or the sporty kid. I don’t follow trends. I pick and choose out of life. I’m just me.