Interview with Shelley Chappell

October 27, 2017

I actually started writing a story for your anthology but it just never got traction.


Tell us about your latest novel or project:

My latest project is Wish Upon a Southern Star, an anthology of radical fairy tale retellings by twenty-one New Zealand and Australian authors (including me!). The collection is for young adult readers and draws together a great variety of radical retellings. Some stories are set in our world and some in a fantasy world; some are serious and some are comic. We hope there is something for everyone to enjoy. Wish Upon a Southern Star was released on 2nd September.



What got you started writing?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, but for many years I wrote my stories for myself and only sent a few out into the world. A few years ago I decided I’d like to share my writing more widely and so I started submitting some short stories for publication and polished up a few fairy tale retellings for my indie collection, Beyond the Briar: A Collection of Romantic Fairy Tales (2014).


What challenges did you face when you first started writing?

Since I’ve been writing for so many years, it’s difficult to remember! I’m sure I experienced all the usual problems facing beginning writers: how to develop a plot, maintain pace, structure effectively, and create convincing characters, conflicts and dialogue. These days, the main challenge is finding the time (or perhaps more the ‘mental space’) to write while working full-time. I find it easier to focus on shorter stories when I have limited chunks of time available, which is the main reason I’ve been focusing on short fiction for several years - rather than finishing several novels that are jumping up and down on the bench, eager to get up to bat.


What is it like writing in New Zealand that would be different if you lived anywhere else?

Because we are a small country with few opportunities for publication, I think a lot of New Zealand writers struggle with getting started – figuring out how to break into the industry. If we want to publish, should we try to publish here at home, send our work off to international markets, or go for indie publishing? The industry is changing so rapidly that there is a lot of conflicting advice and what worked for one writer twenty, ten or even five years ago may no longer be a valid path to publication for a new writer now. I’m sure a lot of writers from other small countries face the same issue. On a more specific note, I’ve read that living in New Zealand, at the bottom of the world, encourages us to write on common themes of survival and isolation and to have a disproportionate interest in post-apocalyptic fiction. It would make an interesting study to calculate how true that might be!


Why do you think readers are fascinated by books written about New Zealand?

As a New Zealand reader, I remember reading my first book set in my hometown, Christchurch – I was in my teens and it was a Kate de Goldi novel. It gave me such a thrill to read about places I knew and loved. I wasn’t used to that as the books I read were usually always set in other parts of the world (if they were set on Earth!). I think it’s important for us to be able to see our world reflected in print. It validates us in many ways. For readers outside of New Zealand, books written about New Zealand offer insight into a unique bicultural country with its own communities and histories and an inspiring landscape. I think that must be quite appealing for many who are looking for something out of their norm.


Who is your favourite New Zealand author and why?

My favourite New Zealand author is Sherryl Jordan. She has written a lot of great YA fiction that I loved as a teen. I really enjoy her characters, her settings, and the empowering messages of her books. I also found her to be a great role model for me as an aspiring writer when I was younger – it was wonderful to know that there was a New Zealander writing the kinds of books I wanted to write one day.


She is my favourite as well. I remember her coming to our school. Very inspiring.


Do you get to network or meet up with other New Zealand authors?

I belong to several New Zealand writing networks and I get a lot out of meeting with other Kiwi writers. Christchurch is a hub of activity for writers, with a supportive Christchurch Writers’ Guild, strong regional representation from the NZSA, who often put on excellent workshops, and other great groups and events on offer. I also belong to SpecFicNZ, which is a great way to keep in contact with other writers in my genre across the country. I really believe that meeting up with other authors is beneficial – fellow writers can offer so much advice, knowledge and moral support!


Thank you for sharing some of your story with us. Good luck with your next project.



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