Frequently Asked Questions

Special thanks to the University of Otago First Year Education Students who spent hours sweating blood and tears, just to write these questions.
(Okay, they spent at least five minutes. And those red marks looked like Ribena stains ... and it might've been tears of boredom, or possibly an allergic reaction to my perfume. But thanks, anyway.)

Where do you get your ideas from?
I literally just sit down with a piece of paper and brainstorm. For Super Finn I made a list of possible careers and put 'super hero' on the end. After all, it's what kids would love to be, if they could. It all went from there.
Brainstorming The Importance of Green, I simply had the idea - what if there was no green to make the cars go at traffic lights? The 'what if' formula is great for plotting, as well.

Is Finn based on a real person?
No, because I don't want to get sued.
Seriously, people ask to be put into stories and I say, 'No way, Hosea.' Real kids belong in the real world, not flattened between the pages of a book. Also interesting characters need faults – would you really want to see your faults in a book? I think not.
(Get the hint, Hosea. Stop asking.)

What else have you written?
A picture book called The Importance of Green and I have a short story in a Random House anthology called Showtime!

There were so many ideas in the novel, how did you know that the amount of ideas you had weren't going to be too much?
I didn't.
Sometimes you just hope for the best – there's only one way to find out if it works, and that's to write it. I will say that Junior Fiction is for ages 9-12, so what a nine year-old takes out of it differs from a twelve year-old. Talking to readers, I'd say the more complex emotional stuff gets missed by younger readers but they enjoy Finn's crazy ideas and and his habit of getting into trouble. Older kids take an interest in his emotional problems and family dynamic.

Who is Super Finn dedicated to?
My father who loves to write and my mother who loves to read.

How long did it take you to get into writing?
About ten years, but only two once I took it seriously. It takes a lot of time – never underestimate the need for rewriting.

Where was the book set and is there a reason you left out the setting?
Good question!
I didn't choose a location because I wanted the story to apply anywhere in New Zealand, although it's clearly not a rural setting. Having said that ... during the editing, I did a practicum at a particular Auckland school. I looked through the gates and realised that left, we had a wealthy area. Right, well ... not so much. This applied to Finn and Brain who come from very different backgrounds but are best mates at the same school. I remember looking through those red bars and thinking – bingo. This is it. That's when I added the part about Finn living five minutes away from Brain, but where everything was different, including the pavement.

When you were a kid, did you want to be an author?
No but I wrote heaps, ever since I could string words into a sentence. I remember making a book as a kid and thinking, this is fun! That's what I remember, like some people played sports but I liked to write. (Pity it never got me out of P.E.)
I had this fantasy that someone would one day find my stories and publish them. At ten I remember pouring over book spines, trying to decide whether to call myself L.S. Agnew or Leonie Agnew, or Leonie Sara Agnew. It was a big decision.

Can you describe your writing process?
I sit down and write, mostly on weekends and school holidays. I'm also a primary school teacher so I don't get home until after five – I'm usually tired. Hats off to those who write at night after a full day's work. You are my heroes.

How much about the author is true?
Oh dear.
I get asked this a lot. No, I don't write in invisible ink and I never submitted blank pages to the Tom Fitzgibbon Award.
See, publishers ask authors to write their own biographies. Referring to yourself in third person is embarrassing and, let's face it, I'm not that interesting. So ... I make stuff up. No one is supposed to believe me; I'm a fiction writer.

Did anyone inspire you to become an author?
No not really. But it did help that Dad was a journalist who wrote nonfiction books. I grew up knowing that publishing was a reality, not just a dream.

Was the first draft very different?
Yes and no. I tend to have key scenes in mind and write fast. The second draft is when I pad out the story. That's different to most people who lose words in the second draft, whereas mine nearly triples!
Then I start editing. Whole chapters have been brutally murdered by my own hands. It's too terrible to talk about.

What advice do you give to aspiring authors?
Read everything. Don't give up. Get good feedback. If you're very serious, join organisations like NZSA, Storylines and Kiwi Write4Kids. Also attend workshops and look online for writing tips – that's how I learnt stuff like 'show don't tell.'
Last, and this is for people like me who trawl writer's websites looking for advice they haven't hear a million times – try to be original. I'm not saying I succeeded, but I did try. This comes from my advertising background where there's only so many brands in the market, and you have to make yours stand out. Copying another person's ads, or even having accidental similarities, was a huge no-no. Every ad agency in the country would laugh into their sleeves, or at least their Country Road handkerchiefs.

Boy in a Balloon The Importance of Green Super Finn

Books About Leonie