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Todd, Penelope
Writer's File

Penelope Todd

Otago - Ōtākou
Todd, Penelope
In brief
Penelope Todd is primarily a writer of fiction. Her first book was a finalist in the Junior Fiction section of the 2000 New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, and since then several of her books have been nominated for the Young Adult Fiction category of the awards. Todd participated in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2007, a three-month residency awarded by Creative New Zealand.
  • Primary publisher
    Longacre Press Ltd, from 2010 Random House Ltd
  • Rights enquiries
  • Publicity enquiries
    as above


Todd, Penelope (1958- ) spent her first thirty years in Christchurch, and now lives in Dunedin. She works freelance as a manuscript consultant and editor.

Her first book, Three's a Crowd (1999) was a finalist in the junior fiction category at the 2000 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Todd was Writer in Residence at Dunedin College of Education in 2001.

Peri, was published in 2001 — a young adult novel told in the alternate voices of Peri, 16, and her brother Luke, 11, in the months following a sudden move to Christchurch. 'A unique approach for young adult writing; lifting it out of the ordinary… Todd has a quick, lean writing style … Theres wit and plenty of energy, and its entertaining to read.' (Susan Paris, New Zealand Books) Peri was also included in the Storylines Notable Book List for 2002.

Thirteen-year-old Hilary is intrigued by the boy moving in next door. But why is he unpacking the removal van on his own? Where are his parents? Boy Next Door (2002) 'sensitively deals with death and coming to terms with loss and family secrets.' Booknotes. The work was listed as a 2003 Storylines Notable Senior Fiction Book.

Watermark (2003) is a powerful and compelling story of one young womans awakening to questions of life, death and her own reason for being. 'A very rewarding novel. There are some standout passages ... which virtually electrify the page. A novel which combines the wonder of the child with the self-confidence of adulthood.' Otago Daily Times. Watermark was a finalist in the young adult fiction category at the 2004 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and was listed as a 2004 Storylines Notable Young Adult Fiction Book.

Dark (Longacre Press, 2004) is a stand-alone sequel to the acclaimed novel Watermark. Its been a year since Zillah visited Roimata, the place on the West Coast which changed her life last summer. Now shes back, expecting to meet up with Joss and Hep, the brother and sister who both challenged and bewitched her those strange, magical and sometimes terrifying few days. Dark was a finalist in the young adult fiction category at the 2005 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and was listed as a 2005 Storylines Notable Young Adult Fiction Book.

Box (2005) is a science fiction novel for 12-15-year-olds. Box was selected for the prestigious White Ravens 2006 — the annual selection of ‘outstanding international books for children and young people’, by the Internationale Jugend Bibiothek in Munich.

Penelope Todd has been awarded a three-month residency between August and November 2007 by Creative New Zealand to participate in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. Todd has written several novels for young adults and plans to use the residency to continue her writing of general fiction. 'We have plenty to learn by getting together with people from other nationalities and cultures and New Zealanders also have a lot to share with our unique antipodean perspective,' Penelope Todd said.

Zillah (Longacre, 2007) is the final in the Watermark trilogy. Zillah returns to her summer retreat in the heart of the West Coast bush, hoping to find her lover of two summers once again. But things have changed, and she is forced once again to travel inside herself to find the answers she needs. Zillah was nominated in the young adult fiction category for the 2008 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, and was listed as a 2008 Storylines Notable Young Adult Fiction Book.

Digging to Spain: A Writer's Journey ( Longacre Press, 2008) is a personal memoir of Todd's experience while living at a writer's residence just outside of Barcelona, interwoven with reflections on her midlife transition as a writer, a mother and an individual. 'I envied her clariy of thought and her fine prose ... a vivid and compelling portrait of a complex and deep thinking writer.' (Linda Niccol, NZ Writers' Ezine)

In August 2009, assisted by a CNZ grant, she travelled to Argentina in order to complete the writing, translation and adaptation of a bilingual novel with Argentinian writer Elena Bossi.

Todd's most recent work is Island, forthcoming from Penguin New Zealand. Her first novel for adults is full of brilliantly drawn characters and a narrative which sweeps the reader along with its power. Some on the island are too sick to live. Others flame with life. The island is cradle and crucible... This is literary fiction of the highest quality, and an intensely romantic page-turner. Island is due for release in May 2010.


Penelope Todd is available to visit schools as part of the Writers in Schools programme. She is happy to discuss any topic pertaining to writing. She prefers to speak to students of intermediate age and above, and is flexible with class sizes depending on the aim of the visit. She is prepared to run workshops by prior arrangement.


Where do you live?

What kinds of books do you like to read?
Anything that is written better than I could write it, that fascinates me, and that stretches my thinking, feeling or imagination.

How do you think up your ideas?
They seem to come to meet me but never before I need them. They start with a situation or character that makes me curious.

What is the best thing about being an author?
Thinking about this life and what it’s about. Thats what I'm exploring when I write stories. In a roundabout way!

Primary School Students

Do you have any pets?
Biddy - a bratty cat who looks prim and cute but bites and raids the pantry. A dog called Polly who follows me everywhere she can.

Do you have a favourite colour?
I'm glad there are thousands

Do you have a favourite food?
Food my daughters have prepared.

Do you have a favourite movie?
Maybe Magnolia.

Do you play and sports or games?
I'll play Scrabble any time.

Whats the most fun thing about being an author?
Those rare magic writing moments (a lot of it feels like hard work) when everything falls into place.

Where do you go for holidays?
To the mountains or the sea.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
Not my speciality I'm sorry to say. But I went skiing during Year 13 exams and got found out because I had a bi-coloured face the next day.

Secondary School Students

How did you get started as a writer?
Bit by bit, starting years ago with evening classes and writing groups, trying out everything.

Did anyone inspire you when you were getting started?
Local writer Liz Pulford told me early on, 'You have to believe in yourself/your writing.' Once you do that, theres no stopping you.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Keep doing it, a bit every day. Look and listen and trust your own experience, inner and outer.

Is it hard to make a living writing in NZ?
With your own fiction alone, YES. But there are other ways to earn money with writing skills. And grants now and then if you're lucky.