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Heather McQuillan is a writer of novels for young people, short fiction and poetry, a teacher of creative writing and former primary school teacher. Her first novel for young readers Mind Over Matter (Scholastic NZ), won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2005, and was a 2007 Storylines Notable Book. Her second, Nest of Lies (Scholastic NZ), was a Storylines Notable Book in 2012. In 2019, her third novel,Avis and the Promise of Dragons, (The Cuba Press) was released.
Heather is also an international award-winning writer of flash fiction. Her work has appeared in a number or anthologies including Best Small Fictions 2017 and 2019 and Best Microfiction 2019. Her first collection Where Oceans Meet (Reflex Press, UK) was published in 2019.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
McQuillan, Heather (1960 - ) is a writer of novels for young people, short fiction and poetry, a teacher of creative writing and former primary school deputy principal and teacher.
She was born in England, but has lived in New Zealand since she was one year old. In Christchurch, McQuillan’s family belonged to a drama group and performed together in annual pantomimes. She continued her involvement in theatre, as a Theatresports tutor from 1988-1995, the Court Theatre Education Liaison Office in 1995, and as a University of Canterbury’s Education Plus Dance and Drama Advisor in 2002.
McQuillan spent ten years developing her first novel for young people, Mind Over Matter (Scholastic NZ, 2006). It’s the story of a boy who is overwhelmed coming to terms with his father’s brain damage and with finding his place at a new school – until an alien creature complicates things even more and enlists his help in saving the world. McQuillan read the first part of it to her class, and their positive reaction encouraged her to enter the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award, which she won in 2005. Mind Over Matter was also a 2007 Storylines Notable Book.
“When writing for young people I usually start with a ‘What if?’ question,” she says. “What if an actor came from another universe? What if people believed birds were evil?”
That “What if?” question became the premise for McQuillan’s second novel for young people, Nest of Lies (Scholastic NZ, 2011), a modern day fairy story with a dark side. Reviewer Bob Docherty, said, “There is tension throughout the novel and the ending is action packed and ultimately hopeful. So it should be. Good should always triumph over evil.”
Nest of Lies was a Storylines Notable Book for 2012. It was included in Maryland University’s Environmentalist: Children and Young Adult Books from around the Globe programme, and the Salisbury University’s Read Green programme.
Her story Wopwops and Colliewobbles appeared in Pick-‘n’Mix: Assorted Kiwi Stories Volume 1 (Scholastic NZ, 2010). The story gives young readers a taste of the kiwi vernacular within a ‘blended family’ tale involving giant weta and an outdoor dunny.
Her most recent novel for young readers, Avis and the Promise of Dragons (The Cuba Press) was published in 2019. The story revolves around 11 year old Avis who ends up with more responsibility and secrets than she can manage alone. She faces the challenge of difficult ethical decisions about right and wrong and doesn’t always get it right.
Reviewer Rachel Moore of The Sapling said, "This is a fast-paced junior novel that does a lot more than meets the eye. On the surface this is a fantasy novel, about a young girl who takes on a pet-sitting job and ends up minding dragons. However, McQuillan has written a much more nuanced story than this."
McQuillan enjoys weaving social and scientific issues into her work for young people. “I’m very interested in factors that contribute to the resilience of my characters. And I get great satisfaction from guiding young people to value and share their own stories.”
McQuillan was also granted the NZSA mentorship award for a Young Adult novel in 2016. The resulting novel manuscript Even If Your Voice Shakes was a finalist in the 2018 Tessa Duder Awards. In 2015, she was awarded a CLNZ/NZSA Research Grant to work with migrant teenagers in post-earthquake Canterbury to share and develop their stories. In 2016 she was awarded the NZLA/Marie Clay Literacy Trust Travel Grant. Heather regularly speaks about young people’s writing at conferences and for teacher groups.
McQuillan works as a tutor and director with Write On School for Young Writers in Christchurch. She helps young writers to develop their ideas and writing skills, and find agency through publication. She also works with teachers to develop their understanding of the writing process and the teaching of writing.
In between writing for young people and teaching, McQuillan writes flash fiction and poetry. 2016 saw her win the New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day Competition for 'Trampolining in the Matukituki' and the New Zealand National Flash Fiction Micro Madness Competition for 'Two Milligrams and all is Silence'. She also received third place in the 2016 Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition for her short story 'An Epiphany of Gravity', later published in Takahē. ‘A Post-traumatic God’ won the Meniscus/ Australian Copyright Agency Ltd Best Prose Prize 2018. Her work has appeared in a number or anthologies including Best Small Fictions 2017 and 2019 and Best Microfiction 2019.
“Writing flash fiction and poetry has honed my skills as a writer – distilling ideas right back to their essence is hard work but very gratifying when it succeeds,” she says.
In 2018 McQuillan completed a Master of Creative Writing with distinction through Massey University. Her thesis collection Where Oceans Meet (Reflex Press, UK) was published in 2019.
Reviewer Amanda McLeod wrote, “Where Oceans Meet and Other Stories is a strong course in the art of exceptional flash writing. Heather McQuillan cements her place as a premier storyteller in this challenging genre, crafting pieces that stand up beautifully to subsequent readings and emotionally resonant but comforting stories of love and loss, and what we still yearn for in the deepest parts of ourselves.”
MEDIA LINKS AND CLIPS
- Storylines profile of Heather McQuillan
- Christchurch City Libraries interview with Heather McQuillan
- Heather McQuillan’s website
- Write On School for Young Writers website
Updated October 2017.