Whillis, Sharon

Whillis, Sharon

Information

residence
Canterbury

In Brief

Sharron Whillis writes books for children. She has worked variously as an accounts clerk, gardener, and childcare worker, and her first picture book, To the Dump, illustrated by Bob Darroch, was published in 2001. Like her subsequent books, To the Dump embraces iconic Kiwi themes. Whillis is willing to talk to any age group as part of the Writers in Schools programme.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Whillis, Sharon (1963-) is a children’s book writer.

Whillis was born in Darfield, and has since lived in Christchurch, Hamilton and Rotorua. She has worked as an accounts clerk, gardener, administrator and childcare worker.

Whillis’ first picture book To the Dump (2001) was illustrated by Bob Darroch. Her second, The Boxing Day Test (2002) was illustrated by John Bennett. Whillis’ books embrace iconic Kiwi themes and are widely supported by schools and parents alike.

Whillis' latest children's book is Old Scores (Scholastic, 2005).

Sharon Whillis lives in Christchurch and participates in the Writers in Schools programme.

WRITERS IN SCHOOLS INFORMATION

Whillis is willing to talk to any age group, but prefers 7-year-olds and older. She is happy to visit schools in the Rotorua area. She is happy to talk about writing and how books are published, her kidney transplant, and music. She is Director of Rotorua Music School. She aims to disprove the idea that writing is something ‘other people’ do. She prefers classes of 10-30 students, and is available for workshops by prior arrangement.

KAPAI: Kids' Authors Pictures and Information

General Questions

Where do you live?
Rotorua

What sorts of books do you like to read?
At the moment I mainly read teen fiction, mostly by New Zealand authors, in part because it’s the age group I’m writing for at the moment, but also because there are so many great stories out there.

Who is your favourite author?
This is a really hard question for me because it changes all the time. At the moment I’m really enjoying David Hill’s and William Taylor’s stories. Spider by William Taylor would have to be the best story I’ve read recently.

How do you think up ideas?
My ideas come from all over the place – things I’ve seen, read, overheard, have happened to me, might have happened if situations had been slightly different, feelings, conversations… anything really. Usually it’s just a spark of a feeling or thought that interests me. Once I’ve sorted out the characters in a story they sort of take over.

What is the best thing about being an author?
Being able to justify my hours spent people watching and eavesdropping on their conversations, writing and rewriting and then writing again a sentence or phrase that doesn’t say exactly what you want it to and then finally getting it right. That and hearing people talk about my characters like they are real people.

Some Questions from Primary School Students

Do you have any pets?
One cat called Anfield, after Liverpool Football Clubs home ground. She is grey and fluffy and meows a lot – especially around 7am and 5pm, which are her meal times. I think she works on the theory that one day we may just forget to feed her although in her 12 years it hasn’t happened yet. Until recently we also had another cat called Sophie. She was 15 when she died and we all still miss her very much.

What is your favourite colour?
This is really making me think hard…probably what I call stained glass colours – you know, deep reds, greens, yellows.

Do you have a favourite food?
I just love food really, but if I had to choose right now it would be a slice of Lime Polenta cake and a cappuccino from my favourite care in town, Capers.

Do you have a favourite movie?
Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet

Do you have a favourite game?
Soccer, I love it!
You know, the moment I wrote these down I wanted to change them all. I wonder what that says about me?

What is the most fun thing about being an author?
Hearing people laugh over funny things I’ve written, hearing people talk about my characters like they are real people, and being able to ask all the dumb questions you were always to scared to ask before because you are now ‘researching’ a book.

How do you make books?
Lots of people think that I make the books myself, but I don’t. I write the words, something that takes a fair bit of time as I like to make sure they say exactly what I want them to. Then I send them away to a publisher who hopefully likes them. Then the publisher finds an illustrator if it is to be a picture book. So really it is the publisher who does all that sort of stuff – they put the pictures and the words together, get the books printed and made up and out 0into the bookshops.

Where do you like to go on holiday?
Often we go to Christchurch because that is where we are from and where most of our family are. It’s always great to catch up with everyone and see how much all my nieces and nephews have grown.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
I was actually a very good, quiet girl at school. The one thing I can remember is waiting to go into my primary school’s brand new library one lunch time. On the footpath was a row of clods of earth and I slowly went along crunch, crunch, crunching each one under my feet; down the path, around the corner and bang! right into Mr Watson, our headmaster. He was digging over what was to be the flower garden. I was sure he was going to growl at me, but instead he thanked me for helping him break up the dirt for the garden. He then got out a broom for me to sweep up the mess, and told me what a helpful person I was. I felt very guilty because I didn’t do it to be helpful at all, but looking back I think Mr Watson knew that all along.

Some Questions from Secondary School Students

How did you get started?
I always liked writing but never considered becoming a writer – I thought that was something ordinary people couldn’t do. Then in 1998 I was waiting for a kidney transplant. One of the side effects of having kidneys that don’t work properly is being incredibly tired all the time but not being able to sleep, well that’s what it was like for me anyway. Instead of worrying about everything or waking my family, I would get up and wander around the house. One night I just picked up a pen and started writing. I started with funny poems and it grew from there.

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
I’m very lucky with the people I have around me. My family are great. They listen to everything I write – over and over and over… They are encouraging when I rant about not being able to write properly and tell me to stop wallowing in self-pity if I get too silly.
My girlfriend Joss is my proof-reader – she can spot a misspelled word, wayward comma or jumbled sentence from a mile away – well from Christchurch actually.

These people believed in my writing from the beginning (much more than I believed in myself) and still do.

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?
Be yourself, make your words your own words and not clichés. Don’t listen to all those people who tell you they would write if only they weren’t so busy. Just do it!

Is it hard to make a living as writer in New Zealand?
There are people that are doing it so I guess it is achievable. I’d love to be able to do it one day.

What were you like as a teenager?
At school I was pretty quiet, one of the crowd, and my reports always said I was conscientious. At home I was pretty angry a lot of the time, like a lot of teenagers. I think looking back that I just wanted to be like everyone else. The hardest thing for me was not being able to show you didn’t understand things, because I believed that if you had to ask questions you looked stupid. Now I make up for it and ask about anything and everything, which is a huge embarrassment to my children.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your life?
In 1999 I had a kidney transplant which changed a lot about me – the way I look at life, what I want out of life, and what I think is important.

Updated January 2017.