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March 4, 2012 | by  | in Arts Books |
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A Made-Up Place

Put two academics in a room together and a squabble of Old Testament proportions is likely to break out. Set five to the task of writing a single groundbreaking textbook, and one would expect the surrounding area to be uninhabitable for the next few hundred years. 

Yet English Literature lecturers Harry Ricketts, Anna Thompson, Tatjana Shaefer, Geoff Miles and Kathryn Walls say that writing their book A Made-Up Place: New Zealand in Young Adult Literature was extremely enjoyable. “Our discussions were invaluable,” Harry said. “And hopefully that organic sense of development came out in the book.”

The book is a critical analysis of New Zealand children’s literature: specifically on our ideas of “New Zealandness”, a field of study which the authors say has a great deal of precedent overseas, but none in New Zealand. Each author wrote two chapters each, with an additional introductory chapter written by Anna, so communication was the key to keeping the work cohesive. “We didn’t each write our own things and then have somebody stitch them together,” Tatjana said. “We each wrote together knowing what everyone else was doing, and that meant we were able to refer to each other’s chapters or pick up on points we had made in previous chapters. It was as close as you can get to having five people writing a book that was also by one person.”

“We took quite a relaxed approach to any disagreements between the chapters—well I don’t think there were any disagreements—but people were taking different approaches to the same effect, and we were very open-ended in that way,” Kathryn said.

“We decided that if we were going to disagree we would disagree between the chapters, saying something like ‘Geoff read this book in his chapter in this way, but I’m going to read it in a different way’,” Tatjana said.

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