A “super nerd” on his first book, a YA novel about mysteries among the trees

Spark Hunter is a story about the fairies of Fiordland, and it’s one of the best YA books we’ve read in years. Here, the author explains that it is an obsession that she has had since her childhood.

My husband almost wet himself with laughter.

“You were Phone A geek! ”He says.

“No, I wasn’t! I was… ”I look up, searching the ceiling for the memory, but there are only flies. “I was… cool. Like, a cool nerd.

” Were you really? “

“Yes!”

He points to the 1B5 notebook covered with Duraseal in my hand and labeled: SONYA WILSON / RM 8/1991 / ROSEDALE INTERMEDIATE and laughs like a bird from the country where he was born: a kookaburra, or a crow.

I had searched for my old school book among the vast landscape of disused vehicles and family wrecks in my parents’ shed because I thought it might help with editing my novel. Spark Hunter features a 12 year old girl from Invercargill attending school camp at Deep Cove in Fiordland. I was once a 12-year-old girl from Invercargill attending a school camp in Deep Cove in Fiordland, and I was – I thought – kind of like the protagonist of my novel: very fond of Fiordland, and also capable. , sturdy and cool. But my husband’s face as he turns the pages of my school camp-era workbook suggests otherwise. Seeing this work in the harsh, cold light of 2021, alarmingly, I think he might be right.

The Absolute State of 12-year-old Sonya Wilson (Photos: Provided)

In 1991, the Deep Cove School Hostel in Doubtful Sound looked a lot like what it is today: miles from it all, through the mountains of the far western arm of Lake Manapōuri; a two-story wooden building teeming with sandflies and surrounded by amazing wilderness of the kind almost extinct in the rest of the world.

I vividly remember sitting there in room 8 of Rosedale Intermediate, Invercargill, setting up our Deep Cove camp by learning about the geography and geology of Fiordland, its flora and fauna, climate and climate. story. Our teacher wrote facts on the whiteboard for us to copy and gave us photocopied sheets that we had to paste on the pages of our notebooks.

Most young people, certainly those with a normal height tendency to gain the favor of their teacher, would have pasted their handouts in their books, applied a title, then moved on to other tasks: graffiti their pencil cases with from NKOTB Sux or covet their classmate’s Kozmik sweatshirt, or mend their lock of hair.

I am not 12 years old. I am twelve years old and I went to work.

I turned these copied facts into landscape paintings, coloring them up to a centimeter close to their two-dimensional life. I have drawn titles using heavy serif fonts of my own “design” and others using several different Lettering Book techniques, sometimes all in the same word. I was so excited about my job that even the titles had exclamation marks: Deep Cove! A typical fjord! (Author’s own spelling.) A deeper U-shaped valley! Hanging valley or circus !!!

I decorated the geography document to the north, south, east and west; the page describing the red horopito and the rimu is hatched in a sort of garish Tudor pattern in purple and yellow; there are myriad shades of color that span entire pages – a commitment to artfully coloring that would make even Suzy Cato blush.

Is the map colored? Shit yes that’s it. Orange in color on the front and back, then folded into a puppy tent shape and stuck in a colorful field. Colors alone aren’t enough, however. I also wanted shapes. Random shapes that have nothing to do with the subject being treated. There are parachutes above the letters spelling out sheep rock; there is a mast which joins the plant species; the lettering of “Manapōuri Power Scheme” is designed to resemble ice cream on the tip of jelly; the “Places and Names of Fiordland” page is inexplicably presented as a Christmas present.

A spread of an old workbook, showing beautifully colored projects on Fiordland, including a puppy tent with opening flaps.

It is a functional puppy tent which is also patched together (Photo: Supplied)

My classmates must have wondered what was wrong with me. I wonder what was wrong with me. I don’t remember any of them asking, or seeing their dismissive looks, but maybe they did and I just didn’t hear or see them because of the serious screaming in my eyes. ears and rainbows of steam rising from the tips of my pencils.

“This is,” my husband said, “like something a fool would do. “

Her unusually high-pitched voice catches the attention of our children.

“What is this?”

“It was my social studies book when I was 12,” I tell them. “Schoolwork I did on Fiordland before going to school camp there.”

The seven-year-old said: “Has your teacher even To allow so much coloring?

The 10 year old girl says, “Damn mom. You needed to calm down.

Page 8: Here is a candy stripe accessory in baby blue and pink. The geology paper is folded and tied – give us a moment while my husband wipes the tears from his eyes – with a ribbon. The “Forest Structure” sheet is folded and colored to form a tree trunk; the “How to get there? Title, in irregular capital letters, falls down the hill drawn in pencil like my credibility.

The book that my husband and I hold between us shows a passion for its subject matter that goes far beyond cheesy appreciation – it borders on slipping. It is the work of a 12 year old child with no concern for making friends, just a unique vision involving all the colors of Crayola. A preteen so emotional that she threw up the whole panettone color chart on her 1B5.

I just… I absolutely loved Fiordland.

I still do. Witness the array of books, rocks and maps in my Auckland home that have flown from latitudes around 45 south: I’m a map-carrying Fiordland fan-girl, certainly obsessed.

I had thought that the obsession had started in adulthood. That as an adult living among the pōhutukawa and hibiscus across the country, I became more and more fascinated by this mossy, damp and distant land. In fact, I have written magazine articles saying this even. But the evidence at hand suggests I was wrong about this, too. My absolute devotion to Fiordland was clearly well established – and rendered in such terrible technicolor – when I was 12.

Two old photographs of a young (12?) Sonya Wilson, boating in Fiordland.

1991: Sonya Wilson in Deep Cove, Fiordland, the setting of her first novel (Photos: supplied)

Thirty years later, my novel begins where this old exercise book ends, with a young girl in love with the forest that she has the chance to visit and her conviction, just as I had at the time, that something important, mysterious and ancient was hiding among these primordial trees.

Spark Hunter is fictional, even a fantasy, but it is no exaggeration to imagine the events of the novel happening in a place like Fiordland. It is a landscape of shadows, Ata Whenua, Te Rua o te Moko; he keeps his secrets. It is a place that has attracted many explorers, adventurers, and tourists over the years – a place so beautiful and wonderful, but also so vast and precarious, that many who entered never returned. It is true that there are parts of this forest where even today, in 2021, humans have never set foot. As one of the characters in Spark Hunter says, anything can be hidden there.

No wonder I liked the place so much, eh?

Books are hard to write. They require a level of commitment and patience that, for someone who has spent 20 years in the fast-moving TV news and current affairs business before attempting to write a full prose work, feels painfully slow. and laborious. Study and persevere, work and rework: writing a book takes a good deal of nerd.

It took me years to finish my novel, between babies and kids, work, study and life, but I kept going because this story and its frame was stuck, glued with school grade PVA , in my psyche. My crazy pre-teen coloring on papers on lichen, horopito, and hanging valleys – that stuff stuck with me. It helped me make Spark Hunter the book I wanted to read when I was 12. Much like my old exercise book, this is a love letter to Fiordland, both for kids like me then and for adults like me now, having fun in the green and in the great outdoors. and the wonder of it all.

In 1991, my classroom 8 teacher, who must have cried with laughter at the multicolored seriousness of her pupil, wrote a note in pencil at the end of my notebook:

“You illustrated it very well, with a lot of extra effort,” she said unmoved. “In the years to come, you will enjoy rereading this. “

Spark Hunter, by Sonya Wilson (The Cuba Press, $ 25) is available from Unity Books Auckland and Wellington.


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