10 Questions with Michael Petherick


Q1: With #Tumeke! you have created a complete world, peopled with remarkable characters. How did they come to you?

Most of the characters came to me as I was sitting in front of the computer. Sorry, not terribly interesting. A few turned up fully formed at 4am when I was lying awake wondering how on earth I was going to finish the book. Gimple Gut and Hangi Man were like that. Walked straight in through the open door of insomnia and desperation. Harmonica Man was different. He’s a person I talk to some mornings on the way to work. I told him I was writing a book and he begged to be in it. We made a deal. I’d write him in if he could play Lorde’s ‘400 Lux’ on his harmonica in E minor. Two days later he had it down.


Q2: Over what period of time did they make their way into your mind and the story?

The book was written in three months. I couldn’t think about anything else. Three months of kids racing round on bicycles and playing with tape recorders in my head. Some of the main characters — Dreadflock, Monty, the Ice Dagger — were part of Annual 2, so they were written in 2017. My editors, Susan Paris and Kate De Goldi, liked them so much they asked me to write a whole book about the world they lived in. Pretty sure they regret that decision now.


Q3: Their hood is Newtoun, but it’s not actually Newtown in Wellington, is it?

 You’ve done your homework, questioning person! Places called ‘Newtown’ exist all over the world. Back in the day people would build a town, and when there was no more room they built another place called Newtown next to it. Wellington has one, and so does Auckland. Sydney has one. Loads in America. I wanted a place like all those Newtowns, but it had to be make believe. Thus Newtoun. Trainspotters can find street names from the real Newtowns in #Tumeke!. Newtoun is all the Newtowns, and none of them.


Q4: In fact you have had fun with place names. The key character, Dreadflock, is from Oturehua. How so?

Dreadflock is from out of town. A place so empty and small that coming to Newtoun was a shock for her. Oturehua is that kind of place. Wikipedia entry on Oturehua: ‘Little has changed there since 1905.’ Zero happens. Apsoluta Nada. But she comes from Oturehua for another reason. Dreadflock is a nerd. Seriously cool. Really into books. A famous poet lives in Oturehua and I thought, if Dreadflock could be from anywhere, it would be that place. Sitting round the kitchen table with her parents and the famous poet. Tumbleweed rolling down the street outside.


Q5: She’s a great kid. Are you fond of her?

D-Flock. Dread. Flockster. The Flockstaaar. No-one knows her name. She’s that person I wish I hung out with when I was thirteen.


Q6: There’s a real spirit around your Newtoun. What is it you wanted to portray?

#Tumeke! builds toward a Waitangi day festival at Newtoun School. I wanted the spirit of Newtoun to pretty much be the spirit of Aotearoa now, as we celebrate who we are. Diverse. Caring. Pleasantly odd, set to rap music.


Q7: You must have had fun with some of the running narrative. Tell us about the goat saga.

I live smack in the middle of Wellington and I saw a goat on the street late last year. Someone was taking it for a walk on a chain. You’re not allowed goats in Wellington. I checked the by-laws on my phone. Where was it going? What would the police say? The goat in #Tumeke! is that goat, still at large. Eating dahlias and running from the law.


Q8: The PTA minutes are hilarious, and believable. Have you ever been on a PTA committee? 

They’re not meant to be funny, so that’s not good. Committees are intensely boring. Following an agenda. Everybody listening to the sound of their own voice. I could never be on a school PTA. The boring would drive me nuts.


Q9: Favourite character?

Too easy, questioning person. If you look around the internet you can find photographs of me impersonating Peter ‘The Ice Dagger’ Munro, an 84-year-old wrestler who dislikes mathematics. I like him so much that a literary festival asked me to dress up as him for a while.


Q10: What children’s authors do you love to read?

Sorry, questioning person. You have to read #Tumeke! to find that out. Dreadflock and I put long lists of all our favourite books in it, you see.