Priestley, Dinah

Priestley, Dinah


Rights enquiries
Publicity enquiries
Same as above

In Brief

Dinah Priestley writes for adults and children. She is also an artist, an actor, oral historian, and independent writer and producer for Radio New Zealand. Her local history titles include Old Thorndon (1988), and The Premier's House (1989). She has written and illustrated books for children, including Oscar, Star of the Opera (2004). Priestley has created a mask of Oscar, the star character in this book, which she uses when she visits schools as part of the Writers in Schools programme.


Priestley, Dinah (1938 - ) is a writer, artist, actor and oral historian who has published books for adults and children.

Her two historical titles focus on the inner-city Wellington suburb of Thorndon, one of the city's most historic areas. They are Old Thorndon (1988) and The Premier's House (1989).

She has written and illustrated children's books including, Hector the Bully (1988), which has also been published in Finland as Hirmuinen Hektor, and That's Not Cricket (1994). The later is a humorous book about cricket as likely to appeal to cricket-mad adults as children. Priestley's other projects include the 'Wellingtonic' series of cards, featuring colourful batik illustrations of Wellington's nightlife.

Oscar, Star of the Opera was published by Scholastic in 2004. Dinah Priestley has created a mask of Oscar, the star character in this book, which she uses in her Writers in Schools visits.

Oscar, Star of the Opera and That's Not Cricket are now available through the author at Anchorage Studio, 31 Patanga Cres, Thorndon, Wellington, or Email:

Priestley acts from time to time for television. She also scripts, voices and produces programmes for Radio New Zealand. She lives in Wellington.


Dinah Priestley is available to visit schools as part of the Writers in Schools programme. She is able to speak to students aged 5 years and over, and prefers to take 30 students per session with a maximum of 100. She is able to talk about being a picture book writer/illustrator, a storyteller and a non-fiction writer. She is prepared to travel out of town for visits.

KAPAI Children’s questions for writers

Where do you live?
In an old sea captain’s house in a wild and rather rambly garden in Thorndon, Wellington

What books do you read?
All sorts of books. Children’s books, especially picture books, biographies, novels.

Who is your favourite writer and why?
I can’t decide on any one. At the moment I love Kate De Goldi’s books because they’re full of fresh new ideas. But I’m also very fond of Sebastian Faulks, who wrote Bird Song and Human Traces. I have long loved Mary Kingsley’s Travels in West Africa.

How do you think up your ideas?
I don’t actually think them up. From time to time they seem to fly into my head or two completely different ideas collide in your head and something new pops up. It’s a good idea to be confident that ideas will arrive. It also helps to carry with you a little sketch book and sketch or note down any images or words you see or hear that appeal to you.

What is the best thing about being a writer?
The freedom it gives you to do what you like when you like.

Primary School Students
What sort of pets do you have?
I did have a pet lame seagull named Mary Kingsley. She lived with us for ten years. She’s dead now and so is our old Border Collie Murphy. Both were much loved…just part of the family.

What is your favourite colour?
This often changes with me but at the moment I like all the shades of turquoise from palest whitey-turquoise to the deepest darkest bluey-greeny turquoise.

What is your favourite food- why?
Avocado and marmalade…but not together.

What is your favourite movie?
The Jack Bull and Master and Commander and Scorchers and Fanny and Alexander.

What is your favourite game?
Squash and Mah Jong

How do you make books?
I tend to make a mock up of how a children’s book will look with text and rough pictures as I want them to look and sometimes I even send such a book with better pictures in to the publisher I hope will publish it. I’m quite bossy about how I want the book to look.

Where do you go for your holidays?
Sometimes overseas to India or England, or to Pacific Islands. Sometimes we tour round lovely New Zealand. And sometimes we stay at home and pretend we are at our beach bach. My husband loves gardening and cricket so his beach bach has a big TV screen and lots of plants to look after. Mine has an old piano to plonk away on and lots of sketch books and books to read and whenever the sun shines I go down with a friend to the beach to swim.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
I didn’t speak up for Mark Hornblow who got the cane. I should have got it. We were both shoving and pushing in line. But I started it and I was the worst pusher and shover.

Secondary School Students

How did you get started?
I have always drawn but I wrote my first children’s book Hector the Bully in an attempt to make a little friend of mine laugh about a fierce English Bull Terrier called Hector who lived in our street. Huia was five and terrified of the dog.

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
Margaret Mahy and in fact she allowed me to send my first book to her agent in London.

What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?

Be bold. Don’t lose heart when someone rejects your work. Keep your eyes and ears open and watch your dreams for new ideas and write them down as soon as they crop up.

Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?
Yes, you never make much money as a writer unless you have great luck and talent but at least you’re doing what you want to do. It’s a good idea to have other things you can do as well. I also paint and cartoon and record oral histories for the Turnbull Library. And I act a bit for TV and occasionally make radio programmes for Radio NZ. It perhaps means I spread myself rather thin but all the things I do relate to each other. Acting and painting and making radio programmes also require intelligent editing out of non-essentials.

I also organise a group that is reforesting an area close to our home with native trees and creating a park up there. That makes no money at all. But it’s a delight!

What were you like as a teenager? Tell us a story!

I was rather pretentious. I used to sit with my boyfriend in coffee bars and strum my guitar and sing in this high wispy French voice and hope that people would think I was French. Also, because I had learned how to do Indian dancing (I was the white freak in a wonderful Indian dance troupe in Malaya where I lived between 1952 and 1954), I hoped that people would find me rather exotic. I wasn’t. I was just plain me.

Updated January 2017.