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Interview with Vanda Symons

Vanda Symon is the author of the Detective Sam Shephard series of crime novels, and The Faceless – a stand alone psychological thriller. She has been a three time finalist in the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Fiction. When she is not studying for her PhD, or writing, she is having fun being Queen of her busy household in Dunedin, or can be found on the business end of a fencing foil.

See below the fascinating Q&A with Vanda Symon:

What is a typical working day for you?

Is there any such thing as a typical day?! I am currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Otago looking at the communication of science through crime fiction, so my week days involve running around getting the family organised in the morning before heading down to Uni and doing research/ writing academic articles and cracking on with my thesis. Then it’s picking up kids after school, running around after their sports and activities, my sports and activities, and then after dinner and family life, if I have a skerrick of energy left, I get the chance to indulge in some creative writing. She’s a long day…

What are your three favourite books of all time? And why?

Wow, that’s a tough question. So many books loved for such different reasons. If pushed I would have to say my favourite childhood book was The Berenstain Bears Almanac by Stan and Jan Berenstain – I completely obsessed over this book when I was a little kid. Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon – it’s the first book in her Outlander series and is one of the few books I re-read regularly. I love the idea of a twentieth century woman accidentally traveling in time to eighteenth century Scotland, and I adore the characters, Claire – strong, resourceful and stroppy; and Jamie, heck, like all my friends, I fell in love with Jamie! My third pick would beThe Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. It is a fabulous story, fantastical with dwarves, Hobbits, Elves and dragons, quests and adventure. One of the things I love about it is the magic that happens when you read it aloud. I read it to my children, and it is beautifully lyrical, the words roll off your tongue so you revel in the story as well as its telling.

Which author do you admire most? And why?

Ngaio Marsh is a world famous crime writer who many people have forgotten. She wrote 32 Detective Chief Inspector Alleyn mysteries over a 50 year period and was one of the four Queens of Crime of the Golden Age of crime fiction along with Agatha Christie, Marjorie Allingham and Dorothy Sayers. She won a prestigious Edgar Award for her work and was a Dame. She was our hometown gal from Christchurch who reigned on the world stage. On top of all this, she was also a theatre producer who loved to direct and produce Shakespeare. I am using the example of Ngaio Marsh and her work as a case study in my PhD. Fabulous lady.

What tips would you give aspiring writers?

Read and read widely. Also, there is no perfect time to write, you have to grab what time you have. If you have the luxury of plenty of time – use it well, sit your butt down and write. If you’re as busy as a flea in a fit, grab moments. Ten minutes here, twenty minutes there. it’s how I managed to write my first novel when I had a six month old baby and a two year-old. It’s that old thing – a few words become a sentence, a few sentences become a paragraph. Write enough paragraphs and you have a chapter. Write enough chapters, and you have a book. It comes down to persistence and actually writing words on a page.

What’s your most memorable experience at a Literary Event?

Best experience ever – at Hamilton Gardens, before doing a panel talk with Paul Cleave, Ben Sanders, Scott Bainbridge and chaired by Craig Sisterson. We were relaxing before the event by playing frisbee out on the grass, (yes, frisbee is fun in a frock and heels), when Craig got a little too exuberant and accidentally pitched the frisbee into Turtle Lake. Oops. He who threw the frisbee in had to go retrieve it. So fifteen minutes before the event, the chair was swimming in the lake amongst the ducks retrieving Mr Cleave’s frisbee getting laughed at by us, pointed at by passers by and heckled by Mr Bainbridge. The organiser was having apoplexy.

If a movie was made of your life, what three songs would you want on the soundtrack?

Hmmmm. Hard one. I don’t know that I could pick three individual songs, but I’d definitely want some Nina Simone in there, some R.E.M and Abba, it wouldn’t be my life without ABBA!

What advice would you give to your younger self?

You are allowed to say no.


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