Williams, Mona

Williams, Mona

In Brief

Mona Williams is a Guyanan storyteller, children's writer and educator. She has written numerous books, and has performed her work at various storytelling festivals and schools. The titles of her books give an idea of the vast, magical world they present, from The ant who refused titles (1975), to How we made a colour television show (1973). She also published her autobiography, Bishops: My Turbulent Colonial Youth in 1995.


Williams, Mona (1943 - ) is a Guyanan storyteller, children's writer and educator whose action-packed stories and dramatic presentations enthrall audiences of all ages.

Born in Guyana - then British Guiana - she secured a place at the exclusive girls' school Bishops. The school lends it name to her autobiography, Bishops: My Turbulent Colonial Youth (1995) which recounts her experiences at the school, both destructive and enriching. On one hand Williams quickly discovered her place at the school as 'poor, black and unknown.' On the other, she embraced the joys of English literature, music and culture, reading Dickens, singing Anglican hymns and cooking roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in the sweltering equatorial heat.

Mona Williams is the author of more than twenty four books, mostly for children. Their titles give an idea of the vast, varied, and magical world they present, from The ant who refused titles (1975) to How we made a colour television show (1973). She has performed at storytelling festivals, and at numerous schools as part of the Book Council's Writers in Schools programme.

She was the 1993 Waikato University Writer-in-Residence.

Her titles are: How we made a colour television show (1973); The turtle who longed to be a bird (1973); Christmas in Guyana (1974); The day I swam the river (1974); How the goat lost his voice (1974); Old Medicine (1974); The ant who refused titles (1975); Granny (1975); Father Martin Heale (1975); Old Bell (1975); When I went to the pictures (1975); Stealing the gooseberry jam (1975); Thinking about it (1975); Speaking the truth (1975); You really saw my father? (1976); A tale to match (1977); Spell wool (1977); Sharing (1977); The outsider (1977); Secrets (1978); The Bicycle (1978); Old Mrs Davidson (1983); The strange cure (1984); Two of a kind (with Joy Cowley) (1984); Bishops: My Turbulent Colonial Youth (1995).

As of 2013 Mona Williams has visited over 50 foreign countries. She taught writing in the Middle East for ten years, and performed as a storyteller at various festivals, conferences and weddings. The towns and cities where she performed include Rotterdam, Edinburgh, Zurich, Selkerk, Salmiya (Kuwait), Bergen (Norway), Ontario (Canada), Tembagapura (Irian Jaya), and Norfolk Island.

Mona Williams lives in Wellington, New Zealand and is available for Writers in Schools visits.

(With thanks to Margot Schwass for her review of Bishops in the NZ Listener.)

Last updated: 28 May 2013


Mona Williams is available for school visits as part of the Book Council's Writers in Schools programme. She is a performer of oral literature. She is able to visit primary, intermediate and secondary schools (as well as universities and polytechs) to conduct narrative writing workshops, to experiment with elements of poetry and realistic fiction, and to promote the delights of reading. She is also able to present fully-costumed concert performances of 'oral literature'. Performances include selections from sagas; heroic tales; folk and fairy tales; autobiographical stories; wisdom narratives; Irish, Russian, Jewish, African and Caribbean heritage epics, myths and legends, and New Zealand historical dramatic tales of the sea and farming life.


Children’s Questions for Mona Williams

Where do you live?
I have lived for 16 years in Wellington and 16 years in Palmerston North. I plan to live two years in Europe from 2002-2004, but I will be back in New Zealand during the August holidays.

What kinds of books do you like to read?
Novels about solving problems. Adventures. Books about women, and New Zealand authors.

Who is you favourite writer?
Chaim Potok, he wrote My Name is Asher Lev and The Chosen.

Where do you get your ideas?

I remember incidents from my life and then I write about them.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Being alone so that I can write, then feeling elated when I have sent my writing to be published.

Some Questions for Primary School

Do you have a lot of pets?
I once had a light grey horse, Pedro, a pet lamb, a manx cat and a tortoise shell male cat called Marmaduke. My daughters had chickens, quinea pigs, tropical fish and Mr. White Ears, a rabbit.

Do you have a favourite colour?

Do you have a favourite food?
Steamed snapper on jasmine rice.

How about a favourite sport?
Cricket played by the West Indies team.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?
Meeting children and grown ups to discuss writing. Meeting Tessa Duder, Joy Cowley and Margaret Mahy.

How do you make a book?

I give my writing to a publisher who publishes my book about one year later.

What do you like to do on your holidays?
In New Zealand I ski at Ruapehu and I love it. I also travel to England, because one brother lives there, and I go to America because my mum and sister live there. I also visit good friends in Switzerland.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
I was naughty only in High School. I once wagged school to go to see the West Indies cricket team, in Georgetown, play against the England team. The West Indies won. I was frightened I’d be punished because I had gone to the cricket grounds in my school uniform. But no one told my school. I never ever wagged school again.

Questions for Secondary School

How did you get started as a writer?
I always knew that I wanted to write but I used to be beaten as a child if I spelled words incorrectly. So I stopped writing for eighteen years. When I became a Mum and stayed home with a baby I was desperate for my own money and wrote and published secretly.

Who inspired you when you were trying to be a writer?
Someone believed in my ability, a woman named Jane Thompson, an editor for the School Journals in 1971.

What advice would give someone wanted to be a writer?
Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Don’t lose the belief in yourself not matter what, and live, live, live.

Is it hard to make a living as a writer in New Zealand?
Yes, because the market is small. I’ve kept my day job as a teacher, from 1978-2002. This year I have retired to begin to write full time – on my pension.

What were you like as a teenager?
Very insecure, very spirited all the same. I was rather serious. I had to work during my high school years, in order to pay for my room and board while I attended a posh school. I disliked the school because it did not respect people like me, people who have black skin. I did, however, like learning but struggled with English because it was my second language. I wrote about my teenage years in Bishops: My Turbulent Colonial Youth.

What kinds of things do you like doing?

I like dancing down supermarket aisles to the music which is softly played to help you enjoy shopping.

Often I’m flown to Scotland, Holland or the USA to do storytelling has taken me around New Zealand and I enjoy that. Storytelling has taken me around New Zealand from Whangarei to Invercargill and Gore visiting schools, performing in libraries and entertaining at festivals.

Do you have any children?
I have two daughters called Rosie and Sheba.

What do your children do?
They are both in television ads and in the newspapers modelling clothes. Rosie is an accountant and Sheba graduated from a School of Architecture. Sheba loves singing jazz and has performed in Japan, Taiwan and around New Zealand. Both girls, like me, travel and they have promised to visit me when I’m living overseas during my great OE – 2002-2004.

Updated January 2017.