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McQuillan, Heather
Writer's File

Heather McQuillan

Canterbury, Christchurch, Canterbury
McQuillan, Heather
In brief
Heather McQuillan is a writer of novels for young people, short fiction and poetry, a teacher of creative writing and former primary school deputy principal. Her first young adult novel, 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 2015, she won the Flash Frontier Summer Writer’s award for her short fiction and was nominated for the 2016 Pushcart Prize for In the weekend we went to the beach. In 2016, McQuillan began her Masters in Creative Writing, Massey University
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    Scholastic NZ
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MCQUILLAN, Heather (1960 - ) is a writer of novels for young people, short fiction and poetry, a teacher of creative writing and former primary school teacher and deputy principal.

She was born in England, but has lived in Christchurch since she was a 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,” says McQuillan. “What if an actor came from another universe? What if people believed birds were evil?”

The last “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.

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.”

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. This work is currently in progress.

In between writing for young people, McQuillan writes flash fiction and poetry. In 2014, she was long-listed for the National Flash Fiction Day NZ competition. Her stories have been published in Flash Frontier, Headland and Pure Slush. She was a finalist in the 2015 Micro Madness competition for National Flash Fiction Day NZ, 2015, and was awarded the 2015 Flash Frontier Summer Writer Award. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee for 2016 for In the weekend we went to the beach.

McQuillan’s poetry has been published in Poems for Peace 2014, We Society Poetry Anthology 2015, Printable Reality 2015, Scattered Feathers (NZ Poetry Society, 2015) and Leaving the Red Zone: Things the Earthquake Taught Us, 2016.

“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.

McQuillan is a tutor with the School for Young Writers in Christchurch and works with teachers to develop their understanding of the writing process and the teaching of writing.

In 2016, she embarks on a Masters of Creative Writing from Massey University.