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World of Warcraft, baking and cheerleader movies … and writing

Karen HealeySometimes I wish I were a velociraptobearshark, says Karen Healey on her website, and this along with her love of World of Warcraft, baking and cheerleader movies, makes for an interesting author with a quirky sense of humour.

Born in Whangarei in 1981, she has worked in a variety of roles, including shelf filler, tutor and as an English teacher in Japan. Guardian of the Dead is her debut novel.

It’s a suspenseful mix of Māori legend, mythology and teenage struggles and is set mostly in an evocatively captured Christchurch, before moving north for a stunning climax in Napier.

I like writing a terrible first draft and then fixing it up, like I might fix up an antique car — if I were into cars.

Her advice to budding authors? The only right way to write is the right way for you.

What are you currently reading?
Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Leviathan. This is one of my favourite co-writing pairs, and I really like their smart, witty take on teenage life.
Where do you write?
CoverI write at my desk, which is one step away from my bed, and therefore terribly close to the temptation of napping. I like my desk a lot — it’s basically a big bench, with lots of room for manuscripts and books and my Sulu action figure. But I’ve written in a lot of spaces — hotel rooms, my best friend’s spare room, in the backseat of a car in a roadtrip across the United States.
What do you love doing when you’re not writing?
Reading. Are there writers who would answer otherwise? I also love playing World of Warcraft and Civilization IV, watching cheerleading videos on YouTube, walking, and baking.
Why did you choose Christchurch as the main setting for Guardian of the Dead? Have you spent a lot of time there yourself? How did the city shape the story?
I did my BA and MA at Canterbury University, so I lived in Christchurch for five and a half years. I don’t drive, so I spent quite a few nights walking from bus stops through the misty streets, wondering about all the things that could jump out at me.
It’s such a peculiar place — a city plopped down in the middle of these wide, bare plains, but there’s greenery everywhere, and true bush maintained at the heart of the city, in Deans Bush. People have called it an English town, but I’ve been to England, and the woodland there is so cultivated, laid out like a patchwork quilt in green. It’s tame. In Christchurch I feel that the bush is always pressing on the edges
I loved Ellie, she was a wonderful mix of insecure and stroppy! Did you always know the main character would be female and was that important to you? Was she your favourite in the book?
Oh, thank you! I never conceived of the main character not being female — it just never occurred to me to think otherwise. But dynamic, interesting female characters as leads and plot movers are really important to me, so I’m glad you liked Ellie!
She’s actually not my favourite, though – that position goes to Iris Tsang. I’m drawn to characters pulled into magical adventures who don’t themselves have magic, who can only combat horrors with humanly possible skill. Because if I were suddenly dragged into supernatural story, I would still be the woman whose skills include baking and being able to construct outrageous lies on command, and I like to think that I would, like Iris, make those skills work for me.
Will Ellie make another appearance?
Possibly! There are no sequels to Guardian of the Dead contracted yet, though I’d love to write a companion novel set in the same world, featuring another young woman coming into her own. Ellie would definitely appear in that story.
What are you working on now?
I am about to begin the copy-edits on my next book, The Shattering, which is coming out September 2011. It’s another young adult supernatural adventure story, this time set in Summerton, a fictional and oddly perfect town on the West Coast. A pattern of suspicious suicides leads the younger siblings of the dead boys to investigate, but shattering Summerton’s secrets could place them in dangers they never knew existed.
Do you hear from your readers? What are their reactions?
I do, it’s really terrific! I get some lovely fanmail from readers, and a group of girls actually got together and baked a cake based on the book. I thought that was just the sweetest thing.

This is a short version of our interview with Karen Healey, read the full interview by Jacqui Taylor of Christchurch City Libraries.

December 2010