Parker, John

Parker, John



In Brief

John Parker was a writer in a wide range of genres, principally children's literature but also journalism, radio scripts, and reviewing. Parker published almost 130 fiction and non-fiction books for children. Many of his poems, stories, articles, and plays appeared in the School Journal and other publications, and broadcast on Radio New Zealand and BBC School Radio. In 2006 he was nominated in the Non-Fiction section of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.


Parker, John (1939-2019) was a writer in a wide range of genres, primarily in children's literature but also journalism, radio scripts, and reviewing.

Born in Christchurch, he graduated from the University of Auckland in 1964 with degrees in English and History, before commencing a teaching and lecturing career in secondary schools, polytechnics and training colleges. He took a five-year break from education in the 1970s to sing in England and Europe as a professional singer in opera, oratorio, and recital, and left the teaching profession in 1990 to take up full-time writing.

John Parker published almost 130 fiction and non-fiction books for children. They include picture-books, junior readers, chapter books, novels for early teens, and a 4-volume history of New Zealand, Frontier of Dreams, The Story of New Zealand (Scholastic New Zealand, 2005) - the latter making the final of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, the shortlist for the Elsie Locke Award, and winning the Spectrum Print Book Design Award for Best Educational Book.

Around 100 of his poems, plays, articles, and stories appeared in the School Journal and other publications. Radio New Zealand and BBC School Radio broadcast a number of his children's stories and radio plays.

Among the picture titles are I Love Spiders (Scholastic NZ, 1987); Amanda, the Amazing Marino (Waiatarua, 1990); Pavlova and Presents (Scholastic NZ, 1996); and Poppa McPhee Gets the Eggs (Scholastic NZ, 2006).

Longer titles include TTs Terrible Tuesday, about a cat's encounter with a vet's dog (Scholastic NZ, 1995 and 2005); Dragonspell, about a young prince's battle with a dangerous dragon (Scholastic, 1994 and 2004), Storm Tide, about a boy being washed out to sea (Rigby Heinemann, 2001); Piddles, about a cat that steals golf balls (Penguin, 2004); and Sucked In, about a vertically-challenged teenager's attempts to be tall (Walker Books Australia, 2008).

In 1999, he was awarded a Creative New Zealand project grant to write a teenage novel.

Frontier of Dreams: The Story of New Zealand was listed as a 2006 Storylines Notable Non-Fiction Book. What Is On Top? (Scholastic New Zealand), written by John Parker with photographs by Glenn Jowitt, won the same award in the following year.

His adult work included around 400 pieces for varied magazines, many of these pieces on golf, tramping, travel, and skiing; book reviews for 'Nine to Noon' on Radio NZ National; and two series of stories, totalling 35 episodes, (which he also narrated) for Radio New Zealand National. He also wrote, edited and proofed for a number of businesses and educational institutes.

He was a sought-after author in the Book Council's Writers in Schools programme.

John Parker passed away in 2019.

Kapai: Kids' Authors’ Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
Beside a golf course on the North Shore in Takapuna, near Auckland. I sometimes get a golf-ball through the window – even when it’s shut!

What books do you read?
Anything and everything – from comics to long novels and most stuff in between.

Who is your favourite author?
Anyone who writes well – and is preferably funny as well. For some names, let’s start with J.K.Rowling, Joy Cowley, and Ursula le Guin – but there are many other writers I like, too.

How do you think up your ideas?
First, I jot down in my ideas book anything interesting that happens round me or that flies into my head. Second, I work on them, to make them interesting poems or plays or stories. That’s the hard bit!

What is the best thing about being an author?
Feeling good because you’ve turned an idea into something that children can read and enjoy and also sitting cosily in a study when other people have to go off to work in the pouring rain!

Some Questions from Primary School Students

What sort of pets do you have?
Just one – a dark grey cat called Mister. He and I have been talking to each other for over 20 years now, so we know each other well. He likes me most when I’m about to give him some food.

What is your favourite colour?
Green – for grass, leaves, and Granny Smith apples.

What is your favourite food?
It depends on the time and the place – but it’s always easy to eat a crisp juicy apple.

What is your favourite movie?
I like funny movies, so I enjoy animated films like Shrek and Chicken Run; and I always laugh when I watch movies starring the French actor Gerard Depardieu.

What is your favourite game?
Grabble – a made-up game my family plays using Scrabble pieces. On every turn any player can change and steal the other players’ words. It’s fast and it’s fun!

What is the most fun thing about being an author?
Giving myself holidays!

How do you make books?
I don’t! I write the words. Then the publishers do the rest by choosing wonderful illustrators, and putting the words and the pictures together by using clever computers.

Where do you go for your holidays?
Mostly I go skiing or tramping – to Ruapehu or places in the South Island. Sometimes I spend time at Piha, a surf beach near Auckland, to try and catch some waves with my boogie-board.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
Once in school I stuck my foot out in front of a boy who was returning to his desk just after being told off by the teacher. He didn’t notice my leg and tripped over it. Bang crash wallop! (I still feel mean about it)

Some Questions from Secondary School Students

How did you get started?
First, by discovering the world of words through reading when I began school. I read voraciously – Jaws in the library! Reading and writing go strongly together – like the right and the left hands in a good golf grip. Second, by realising a few months before my 40th birthday that if I was to take seriously my often-repeated wish to write, then I had better get cracking!

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
I have a younger brother who writes for newspapers and magazines. He was full of encouragement. Plus getting work accepted was inspiring. And getting paid was helpful, too! It meant writing was not just a hobby but something that would provide a living as well as satisfaction.

What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?
Be patient. Good writing takes time, so try to enjoy the process without being impatient at achieving the product. Writing is about discovering things – what you really mean about a character, what you really want to write about, how to finish a particular story, and so on. It can’t be done in a couple of minutes. Also read other authors. Their work will stimulate and improve your writing. And keep on keeping on! It’s only good writers who get rejection slips!

Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?

Yes - the New Zealand and Australian markets are small and publishers naturally are loath to take risks. Books sold in the United States make more money but it’s not easy breaking into that competitive market from our small country at the bottom of the world – even though our film-makers are showing the way.

What were you like as a teenager?
Gawky, easily embarrassed, lacking social skills, self-conscious, having a big gap between my dreams and reality, and generally with a lot of growing up to do. In other words, I guess I was about normal.

Is there anything else you could us about yourself?
I believe in being fair – so I didn’t mind if I was caned at secondary school for doing something that deserved it. But once I got whacked – along with the rest of the class – because the French teacher was tired of a small group of inattentive boys. He should have told them off and not whacked the rest of us. I still sometimes think about the teacher’s injustice. Maybe I could write a story about it.


Updated January 2017.