Children’s writer honoured with medal

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RICHARD.DAVISON@nullcluthaleader.co.nz

A CATLINS writer has received a top New Zealand literary award, despite starting her career almost by accident.

Waihola›born Diana Noonan, who now lives in Papatowai, is this year’s winner of the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal for lifetime achievement and outstanding contribution to New Zealand’s literature for young people.

Noonan (62) said she was delighted to receive the award, which marked a career spanning more than 35 years and 100 titles.

However, her journey into writing had begun without a clear ambition to ‘‘become a writer’’.

‘‘You could call it naive or you could call it thick — I just never really thought about books having been written by people, I really didn’t.

‘‘And then to write something [for the School Journal] and have it published, I still didn’t quite get it.’’

That was in the mid›1980s, having taught for four years after graduating from the University of Otago.

‘‘Then it gradually dawned on me there was this opportunity that you could write things and people would pay for them. It just wasn’t on my radar.’’

Publishers quickly identified her talent for engaging a young audience, and further titles were commissioned although, in the pre›internet age, Noonan’s identity remained a matter of speculation.

‘‘When Iwent to work for the School Journal as editor years later, they told me they assumed my first stories were written by an elderly eccentric.

‘‘Anyhow, they published them.’’

Noonan said she felt honoured to receive an award of such note, and pleased to have a further connection with Mahy, with whom she was well acquainted.

‘‘She was a really special person, infinitely kind, good to new writers, amusing and witty, just a good person.’’

Noonan said she had enjoyed workshops with Mahy, and had been privileged to share the stage with her at various events down the years.

‘‘Like a lot of New Zealand writers, we miss her.’’

Among Noonan’s many contributions to the literary landscape, in 2012 she received the North West Christchurch Award for services to the community for her 2010 picture book Quaky Cat, illustrated by fellow Mahy Medal›winner Gavin Bishop.

The book raised more than $150,000 for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.

‘‘I wrote the first one simply because, like most New Zealanders, I wanted to rush up immediately and help, and then it dawns on you the best way to help is to use the skills you already have; so Gavin joined me as illustrator, and we wrote a book that was received very, very well.’’

The pair went on to write a successful sequel, Quaky Cat Helps Out, in 2015.

The mother›of›one said she was often asked whether she wrote children’s books because she liked children.

‘‘I think children are really interesting people, but I’m seriously interested in their welfare, here and around the world. Being able to help through projects like Quaky Cat has been very satisfying.’’