Chris Szekely was appointed the Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library in 2007 and is the first Māori person to hold this position. He was previously City Librarian at the Manukau City Council, where he headed one of the largest and fastest growing public library services in New Zealand. He was also instrumental in setting up Te Rōpū Whakahau, the professional association of Māori librarians where he is a life member.
In 2012 Rāhui won the Picture Book Category at the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, as well as the LIANZA Russell Clark Award for Illustration and the Librarian’s Choice Award.
Here is 5 minutes with Chris Szekely.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
I love the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary starting with 'Ramona the Pest'. She's such a scamp.
We all have one book we’re a bit ashamed of loving – do you have one?
Well...is it okay yet to admit to having read and enjoyed books by Enid Blyton as a youngster? The Famous Five, the Secret Seven, The Faraway Tree, and yes, Noddy and Big Ears, were all a part of my growing up.
Why did you want to write Rona?
I wrote Rona as part of a portfolio of work for the children's writing programme at the Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria Uni. I liked the idea of drawing on elements from a traditional story and turning them into something new and unexpected. The moon, the broken mug, the Ngaio tree, and Rona's defiant nature all link back to the traditional story 'Rona and the 'Moon'. The other source of inspiration was my family who live in the Far North, as well as bits from my own childhood.
Do you have a book that you always go back to?
One of my all time favourite short stories is 'A game of cards' from Witi Ihimaera's book Pounamu, Pounamu. I was first introduced to the story at primary school. I thought it was the most moving thing I had ever heard. I still get soppy every time I read it.
Which writers inspire you?
Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace and Miriam Smith. Miriam wrote Roimata and the Forest of Tane, Kimi and the Watermelon and Annie and Moon ... wonderful stories about longing and loneliness and love.
Who would you love to be the main actor of Rona if it was made into a movie?
Do you remember the demented welfare officer from the movie 'Hunt for the Wilderpeople'? She was played by a terrific actor called Rachel House. If Rachel was 30 years younger she'd be a perfect Rona.
In the meantime I'd be very happy if Taika Waititi directed 'Rona the movie'. He did Wilderpeople and the movie 'Boy'. He's an amazing actor and director. I'll have to wait though. He's currently working on the new Thor movie!
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
Who is your favourite literary villain and why?
Do comics turned into movies count? If so, Magneto from The Uncanny X-Men. Why? Because he has superpowers of course. And a cape!
If you could ask one author one question, what would you ask and to who?
J K Rowling. Why did she have to kill off Dobby in Harry Potter? He was the best thing.