sarah johnson

“Phantom Riders” Annual 2

All I’ve ever wanted is to be a writer. I’ve been working towards that goal for nearly forty years. That seems a long time, but it would be fair to say I can be pretty slow at some things. I’m a bit like the tortoise in the hare and tortoise fable – it can take a while, but I usually get there in the end.

These days, I work as a freelance writer. I write all sorts of things for all sorts of people and organisations. I also write stories, plays, and books for younger people and am trying very hard to finish a novel for adults (it’s taken twelve years so far and counting).

I love all of it. Love shaping the story and finding the words in my head, then spilling it onto the page, shifting and playing until it sounds right. The image I always have for this process is of a raindrop falling onto the skin of a tambourine: falling and rebounding. That’s what I’d like my writing to be like – taut, silver, musical, surreal.

The other thing I love is being out and about in the world. I find it hard to be inside and in one place for too long. I like to move, and moving is important for my work. I’m lucky to live in Whaingaroa–Raglan with my family. Whaingaroa is a mind-blowingly beautiful place. We have an enormous harbour and a pounding, shifting, black sand beach. Karioi, the maunga, stands over us all. Every day I walk along the beach, climb over the lava flows in the harbour, or cycle up the mountain’s flanks. This is when I do the first part of my writing. For me, this is how stories arrive.

Books I liked when I was younger
When I was a child, my parent read to me a lot. We had this really uncomfortable couch: it was small, it was covered in scratchy woollen fabric, and it had a wooden bar running between the cushions. You had to balance on the bar if it was your turn to be in the middle. Either that or stand behind the couch.

We read The Hobbit and The Silmarillion and all of the Swallows and Amazons series, plus many more. I also had books of my own; small tatty paperbacks (kids’ books weren’t so glamorous then). My favourites were The Diddakoi by Rumer Goden (about a small girl who lived in a gypsy caravan), Manxmouse (about a blue mouse with no tail and large ears who is originally made of clay but comes to life) and The Snow Goose (about the evacuation of Dunkirk) both by Paul Gallico, and The Wombles (about … the wombles) by Elisabeth Beresford.

I still like to be read to, and I have four children, so we do a lot of mutual reading aloud. One of my current favourite authors for young people is Geraldine McCaughrean. Her stories are imaginative and clever and above all different. Like a raindrop falling on a tambourine, only better.

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