Kiwi author Jane Bloomfield on writing middle fiction

As part of Kiwi Middle Fiction Month, we talk with Queenstown author Jane Bloomfield about her hilarious stories for 9-12 year old readers featuring zany fashionista Lily Max.

Jane says there may be fourth Lily Max story..! And she’s working on a new book she describes as full of dogs and ponies and a bit bonkers. Sounds fun!

With thanks to Maria Gill, KidsBooksNZ blog for letting us republish her interview with Jane Bloomfield.

1/ Your heroine has designed clothes for a school fashion show, learnt to ski during a snow competition, and solved mysteries while surfing during a summer holiday break. How did you decide the settings for your main character?

Book #1 was school based. This was a good starting point for my readers to get to know the characters well. Then after setting Book #2 in winter also, I knew book #3 would take place in summer. I enjoyed a two week research trip at Wainui beach in Gisborne. We stayed in tiny cottage, which was the original chauffeur’s cottage for this grand villa on the cliff top overlooking the beach in front of us. The cottage became the house Lily Max and her family stayed in when they moved north for the summer to work on the movie Wave. Being in on the East Coast, near where Captain Cook landed at Cook’s Cove, it was impossible not to have a multicultural historical component to it. My husband’s great, great grandmother Miriama Pou, Ngati Tanui, married a British seaman and had four sons. In my story the orphaned Josephine falls in love with Hami the local chief’s son.  

2/ Are any of the incidents in the trilogy from real life situations? Tell us about them.

I wrote the first draft Book #2 Lily Max: Slope, Style, Fashion after a family ski trip to Austria, hence the European subplot. The ski field in the book, Mt Sugarcone, is actually my local ski field, Coronet Peak, Queenstown. I learned to ski as an adult with my then future husband an ex skier racer. So I had a LOT of humiliating experiences to draw from. I was also a regular parent-help for my childrens’ primary school skiing programme. It was so great seeing kids who’d never step foot on the snow, start off on the magic carpet and progress to the main lift over the course of six weeks. That was the reason I made Lily Max and absolute beginner with nothing to wear!

3/ Are any of your characters modelled on real-life people? If so, how did you change them or did you keep them exactly like the real person?

Ha, Lily Max is probably the outspoken, gregarious young lady I wished I’d been as a child. I was more the silent brooding type. I stole her name in part from my eldest daughter, Lily. She read the first book and exclaimed, ‘Mum! She’s nothing like me!’. Tilda Button, my character with dementia, is modelled on my paternal grandmother, who was a very fun stylish lady. I wanted to show how accepting and supportive children are when a family member succumbs to this disease. Both my Nana and father had dementia. Some of Tilda’s lines were taken verbatim from my dad who was in the advanced stages of Alhzhiemers when I wrote the books. I just had time to show him that I’d dedicated book #3 to him, a week before he died. My dad was a commander in the Royal New Zealand Navy. He’s a bit like the nautical neighbour, Roland who rescues Lily Max, Greer and Ryder from their near catastrophic lighthouse adventure.

4/ I hear your illustrator lives overseas, tell us about him and how he started illustrating your stories.

Guy Fisher is a Kiwi based in Barcelona. He was living with his family in Arrowtown and  the early days of Lily Max I got Guy to create an image of her. Mostly to keep her alive during the glacial publishing process I experienced. I created a website and wrote a blog in her voice. Guy is first and foremost a very experienced animator. We also had the same London based agent. He author/illustrated several picture books. Neither of us got picked up. The first book has 103 illustrations. The second 43. Guy always left the illustrating to the last minute then worked night and day for about five weeks to get it done. Emailing images to me for approval, then to Katrina Duncan our designer for trimming and typesetting. For three books this task fell in the sweltering Spanish summer and endless school holidays. I make illustration notes through the manuscript then Guy replies. On book #3. His first reply was, ‘This is the best one so far! I’ve just booked a surfing holiday!’ I love Guy’s over stylised illustrations. I wish they had a bigger audience. A lot of them would make beautiful prints for a child’s bedroom.

5/ Are you writing any more adventures for Lily Max? If so, can you give us a hint of what will happen next? If not, what are you writing at the moment?

I do have fourth Lily Max story I’m dying to write. This involves Tilda Button receiving a mysterious inheritance from a distant Italian relative, and more importantly a research trip for Lily Max and I to Milan Fashion Week! I really hope I can pull this off! I wonder if Creative New Zealand would be interested. LOL. I am just putting the finishing touches to a new middle grade novel. I’m keeping these new characters and their story under wraps. Let’s just say it does involve dogs and ponies. Lots of ponies actually. It’s a bit bonkers and not your regular pony-mad-girl story. After that, I’m going delve into the world of magic!

Jane Bloomfield