NZ Children’s Book Reviews Interviews Joanna Orwin

Joanna Orwin



Joanna Orwin, photo by Di Menefy

How did
Sacrifice come about?

I’ve always been interested in the cyclical nature of history, the rise and fall of different societies and cultures, and how survivors approach reconstructing their lives. Winning the 2009 Children’s Writers Residency at OtagoUniversity gave me the opportunity to explore these ideas as the basis for a YA novel.

Sacrifice is set in a dystopian future. Because you are still writing about a specific place but imagining a future resulting from a horrific event did you need to do any research? And if so what sort of research did you do?

I don’t see this as a dystopian novel, which tend to focus on dictatorships and restricted freedom for citizens, often as the result of warfare or political fights for supremacy. As you point out in your review, this is more of a survival story – what used to be known as post-apocalyptic fiction. The success of such stories depends on their plausibility – and that depends on how rooted in reality they are. I did an enormous amount of research, ranging from the geologic evidence for past natural catastrophes in New Zealand and the Pacific, the human response to natural catastrophes, and the collapse of past civilisations, to anthropological studies of Pacific and New Zealand early societies, the myths and legends that reflected the impact of natural catastrophe in their pasts, and the experiences of modern sailors venturing into the Pacific on replicas of early voyaging canoes (some fascinating stuff there). Also, all details of lifestyle and beliefs are an amalgam of what I read about various Polynesian societies – I used whatever fitted my basic premise and the story I wanted to write.

How did you decide what would remain true to our ideas of New Zealand and our culture and what would change?

The starting point was what would physically remain of the low-lying tombolo stretching north of Kaitaia after volcanoes and tsunamis had wreaked havoc (something that has taken place more than once in the geologic past). Polynesian societies explained their world by the use of myth, so such an event would quite quickly become the stuff of legend – I liked the idea of revealing the event itself only in that form (apart from the physical evidence that remained at the time of the story). After deliberately deciding my story would be Polynesian-based since a large percentage of survivors in Northland would be Maori, all choices and decisions flowed from the situations my characters found themselves in.

Did you do any physical research, for example did you have a go at building a boat from reeds or paddling for hours on the ocean?

As explained in the acknowledgments, I talked to experts. I was lucky enough both to talk to someone who makes modern mokihi and to find a video of the making of one. Including details of the making of the reed craft was to balance the more mystical aspects of the story and ensure my readers had some idea of what was involved – it would have been a major undertaking. Writers always rely on their imaginations to put themselves in the position of their characters and experience what they go through. I lived by the sea when I was growing up, I mucked about in boats, and have always read sea-stories.

What other experiences of your own, if any, were you able to draw on when writing the book?

My own fears and feelings as a teenager and my response to situations and interactions with others. From my readers’ reactions to what I write, there is little difference between what boys and girls feel during adolescence; they are all on the threshold of adulthood, vulnerable and unsure of themselves regardless of the persona they present to the world. For that reason I don’t and didn’t set out to write an ‘unashamedly boys’ story’. I choose the characters that best reflect the story I’m telling and assume that like myself as a child and teenager, it’s the calibre of the story-telling that will appeal or not to readers, not the genders involved.

Without giving away the ending, how did you have the courage as an author to write this particular ending?

It seemed inevitable to me. Taka’s personality, beliefs and actions led to the situation in which he found himself. I think it would have undermined the strength of the story to have softened that. And yes, it was a risk, but I’ve had only one reviewer who didn’t like the ending.

What would be your top tip for writing students?

Be true to the story you are writing. Don’t let current attitudes, popular notions, or squeamishness deflect you from what seems real.

What writing project are you working on in 2012?

I’ve just submitted a sequel to Sacrifice to my publisher. For the rest of the year I’m working on a non-fiction commissioned project, which is the way I earn enough money to embark on my next fiction project.

For more information on Joanna Orwin:

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NZ Children’s Book Reviews reviews “Sacrifice”

Written by Joanna Orwin
Reviewed by Katharine Derrick

Teaching notes available at

At last, after what feels like months of putting the NorthWrite 2012 festival ahead of reading, I have finished Joanna Orwin’s Sacrifice. I have to say this is the first book I’ve reviewed where I have had momentary struggles continuing on. The writing is superb, the characterisation excellent and the story is imaginative and descriptive so it took me a while to find the cause. And I have decided it’s because this is unashamedly a boy’s book. Anyone who has read and enjoyed The Travellers by Jack Lasenby will devour this book. The style and basic premise are similar although the stories are completely different. But girls, don’t be put off. The ending makes reading through the boys’ stuff well worth it!

Sacrifice follows the journey of Taka and a group of youths in the time after the Dark when the ash clouds covering the sky are beginning to recede. Food is scarce and new sources need to be found. Every year the Chosen are sent off to see if they can connect with long-lost kin on the devastated mainland. They never return. This time the Chosen are split in half and Taka’s group is sent on an even more perilous journey across the ocean on a flimsy craft, in search of the sacred kuma plant. To tell you what happens would ruin the story but I will say the ending is both shocking and right at the same time. Boys, you will see a hero in action. Girls, it will tear at your heart strings.

Sacrifice was selected as a finalist in the 2012 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards. Initially, I have to confess, I wondered why, but Orwin recognizes that boys read differently to girls and as I’ve said, this is unashamedly a boy’s book. By the time I got to the end, it was my book too. I’m thrilled I persevered and I’m thrilled the judges selected it as a finalist. I recommend this book for older teens.

Orwin, Joanna. Sacrifice, HarperCollinsPublishers, Auckland, 2011.

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Update at NZ Children’s Book Reviews

I may have been quiet over the past two months but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy. The NorthWrite 2012 festival I mentioned in my last posting has consumed most of my time. I am delighted to say, though, that Joanna Orwin’s Sacrifice has not been put to one side – I am still finding time to dip into it and the review and Joanna’s interview will be up in August.

For those of you interested I thought I’d do a short post on the NorthWrite Festival.

The Northland Branch of the NZ Society of Authors, is organising a three-day writing festival for Friday 7 September to Sunday 9 September. Our presenters include: Fifi Colston (illustration/how to run a workshop), Paula Green (poetry), Deborah Challinor (historical fiction), Kyle Mewburn (picture book), Joe Bennett (non-fiction), David Hill (idea generation/diversification), Catherine Arrow (social media and blogging) and Lorraine Steele,  Sarah Gumbley and Rae Roadley (marketing). We also have NZ Society of Authors members Michelle Elvy, Zana Bell, Sian Williams and Kathy Derrick presenting various editing, critiquing and manuscript preparation topics. Registrations open 1 August. Places in some workshops are limited so be in early to secure your spot.


  • For a whole weekend of workshops $100 (individual workshop rates do apply if you only wish to do one or two). Venue – People Potential Campus, Keyte St, Whangarei.
  • Friday night opening dinner with a panel discussion on The Business of Writing $45. Venue – Kingsgate Hotel, Riverside Dr, Whangarei.
  • Saturday night An Evening with Deborah Challinor $20 incl. dessert and coffee. Venue – Kingsgate Hotel, Riverside Dr, Whangarei.

For further information visit our website

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I am busily reading Sacrifice by Joanna Orwin and will get to my review soon. In the meantime I wanted to tell you about a writing festival being held in Whangarei in September. NorthWrite2012 is being organised by the Northland branch of NZ Authors. The topic is The Business of Writing and we have a full programme planned from illustration to historical fiction to social media for writers. Our presenters include Fifi Colston, David Hill and Deborah Challinor. We are still in the planning stages but places are limited so stay tuned to the NorthWrite website here.

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NZ Children’s Book Reviews Interviews Janice Marriott

Janice Marriott Janice Marriott

How did Thor’s Tale come about?
I have always been interested in the Shackleton story, and sceptical about the claims made for Shackleton’s leadershp.  When I found the ship’s carpenter’s grave in Wellington cemetary I thought it was time to write something.

What did you do to ensure you captured the time and events in Thor’s Tale as accurately as possible?
Lots of research.  I’m meticulous about detail and read widely.  People who live on South Georgia during the summer (tourist boat) season assumed I had visited the place. I felt pleased about that.  All the research was done in Wellington Public Library.  I am a big fan of libraries.

Have you ever been, even remotely, in similar harsh conditions to the ones Thor would have experienced? If not what techniques did you use to help create the feelings of intense cold, wild oceans and back breaking work, not to mention the horror of whale slaughter?
No. Only my attic where I write. No heating. Very cold.  Also, re the whales, it just takes empathy and imagination, things writers have a lot of.

What other experiences of your own, if any, were you able to draw on when writing the book?
Just the emotional experiences of the characters.

What would be your top tip for writing students?
Write with plenty of detail.  Be accurate and specifc. Never be vague. Never write lots of generalisations.  Good writing is vivid and memorable because it is precise.

What writing project are you working on in 2012?
I’m taking time off to be a grandma.

For more information on Janice Marriott:


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Student’s stories

Does anyone have any students’ stories they would like to see published here before the end of May. If you do please submit them using the form on the Competition Page.

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NZ Children’s Book Reviews reviews “Thor’s Tale”

Thor's Tale

Thor’s Tale
by Janice Marriott
Reviewed by Katharine Derrick

Teaching notes available at:

I love Thor’s Tale! It was sitting on my bookshelf for a long time before I read it because of two unfortunate conclusions 1) it’s for boys and 2) the cover is off-putting (my version has a dull and muted cover)! As an author I should know not to be so judgmental but as a reader with a bookshelf full of books reading selections can be arbitrary. If you’re thinking along the same lines – get over it and read this book!

Thor’s Tale is about a Norwegian boy, Thor, working at the whaling station, Grytviken, on St George Island in the Southern Ocean. He is there at the time Ernest Shackleton stops for supplies, and longs to be an explorer, planning to stowaway on Endurance to fulfill his dream. Luckily for Thor his dream is thwarted and he isn’t on board when the Endurance is shipwrecked in the Weddell Sea. It takes five months for its survivors to claw their way back to St George Island and Thor is the first person to see their bedraggled forms return.

Marriott skillfully weaves an unforgettable tale based around the gruesome business of whale slaughter, and it is a fascinating and horrifying read. As with Menefy (see my review of Shadow of the Boyd) she is direct in her description of events, which adds to the sense of cruelty inflicted on such incredible animals. Thankfully, Thor is as horrified as the reader that he could be involved in such a distasteful industry.

Masterful and unexpected imagery adds to the tension as does Thor’s plan on how he will stowaway – will he make it or not is a question the reader asks themselves over and over again. It’s not often a story focuses on an unrealised dream and this gives a refreshingly different take on dreams and goals – sometimes failure is as important as success, and in Thor’s case probably lifesaving.

Even though this book is classified as junior fiction it is more than appropriate for teenagers as well. This fast paced adventure will be hard for any reader to put down.

Marriott, Janice. Thor’s Tale, HarperCollinsPublishers Limited, Auckland, 2006.

(Thor’s Tale was the 2007 winner of the Junior Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, an award well deserved.)

For more information on Grytviken Whaling Station:

For more information on Ernest Shackleton and Endurance:

For more information on the history of whaling:

There are more websites listed in the HarperCollins teaching notes.

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