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Joseph, Vivienne


Vivienne Joseph is a children’s book writer, poet, and short story writer. Joseph has contributed to the School Journal, worked as a scriptwriter for Radio NZ, and has had poetry and short stories published in numerous journals including Landfall. Her first book, A Desirable Property, won the 1985 First Book of Poetry Award. She was awarded an Honourable Mention in the 2001 UNESCO Prize for Children and Young People’s Literature, the first time a New Zealand writer has received this award.


Joseph, Vivienne is a children’s book writer, a poet and a short story writer.

Vivienne Joseph (nee Merrill) was born and raised in Wellington. As a young woman she worked on a dairy farm, as a veterinary nurse and also did office work. She went on to work in bookshops and as a publisher’s sales representative. From 1991-1994 she both started and managed the Wellington office of Trade & Exchange.

As a writer Joseph has contributed to the School Journal since 1979. She has worked as a scriptwriter for 'Grandpa’s Place', a Radio NZ programme for pre-school children. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous journals including Landfall. She has written a monthly page for the NZ Listener where she reviewed books for children and interviewed visiting writers. In 1980 she won the Air NZ Australasian short story competition.

Joseph’s first book A Desirable Property (1984) won the 1985 First Book of Poetry Award. Her first teenage novel Worlds Apart (1996) was followed by Raindancer (1998), The A.O.K. Project (1999), and The Thin Line (2002). Joseph’s children’s picture books include New Tricks (1994), The Penguin’s Day Out (1997), A Very Clever Possum (1999), Ugly Mug (2000), Baby Bumble and the Sock Pirates (2001), and In the Spring (2002).

In the Otago Daily Times Judith Jones writes 'Worlds Apart is a highly original and moving first novel. [Joseph] writes with great sensitivity.' Raymond Huber, Otago Daily Times, writes, ‘It is great to read a children’s novel that conveys such positive values (without being pushy).’ In a review of Baby Bumble and the Sock Pirates in the NZ Listener Linda Burgess writes, ‘Fluent writing and engaging illustrations make this an appealing read.’

The A.O.K. Project was awarded an Honourable Mention in the 2001 UNESCO Prize for Children and Young People’s Literature in the Service of Tolerance and Peace. It was the first time a New Zealand writer has received the award.

In addition to her writing, Joseph teaches writing for children and adults. She completed a BA at Massey University as an extramural student.

The Thin Line (2002) was shortlisted for the 2003 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. The work was also included in the 2003 Storylines Notable Senior Fiction Books list.

Vivienne Joseph lives on the Kapiti Coast.

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writers in schools information

Joseph is available to talk to students of any age. She is prepared to discuss her experiences as a writer, writing techniques for poetry and prose. Joseph would prefer to talk to groups of up to 30 students and she is able to run workshops for smaller groups. She is prepared to travel out of town for Writers in Schools visits.

KAPAI: Kids' Authors' Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
I live at Waikanae Beach on the Kapiti Coast, near Wellington.

What sorts of books do you like to read?
I read all the time, books, magazines, and newspapers. I enjoy reading fiction (all genres) and I usually visit the local library each week, taking home more books than I can read before the due date arrives. I read books for adults and books that people say are for young people. (Don’t tell anyone but I think many children’s books are much more exciting and enjoyable!)

Who is your favourite author?
My favourite children’s authors are too many to list here! Some of them include – Robert Cormier, Emily Rodda (the Rowan series), Anne Fine, Jan Mark, Jacqueline Wilson, David Almond, Philip Pullman, Dianne Wynne Jones, E.L. Konsburg, Lesely Howarth, Morris Gleitzman, Jerry Spinelli, Sharon Creech, Sherryl Jordan, Daivd Hill, and J.K. Rowling. My favourite adult author is Jennifer Johnston.

How do you think up your ideas?
I don’t. I go to my local supermarket and buy them in bundles of 100. I buy in bulk because so many of the ideas fizz away when I try to write them! I also listen to people talking, walk on the beach or by the river, read books, watch TV, go out as much as I can and sit outside on sunny days and day-dream.

What is the best thing about being an author?
I think the very best thing about writing is when you receive a letter from a young person who has read your book and enjoyed it! Also, it’s great when you finish whatever you are working on and it has turned out well. The next best thing is when you go to the letterbox and there is your story transformed into a proper book – with your name on the cover.

Some Questions from Primary School Students

Do you have any pets?
I have a big, black cat named Ben. I’ve trained him to be out all day and sleep all night or he will fight all the cats in the neighbourhood.

Do you have a favourite colour?
The colours of the sea and sunsets.

Do you have a favourite food?
Picnic food – cheese, bread, chicken and nectarines for desert. Yum!

Do you have a favourite movie?
It’s too hard to choose just one. I enjoyed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and The Lord of the Rings.

Do you play any games or sports?
Tennis – I’ve played tennis since I was about 10 and don’t intend to stop until I’m too old to hit the ball!

What is the most fun thing about being an author?
It’s going into schools and talking with children and teachers who have read my stories, articles, poems and plays.

How do you make books?
I walk along the beach, pull out weeds, clean out cupboards or sit in the sunshine and daydream until I have an idea that interests me. I then work out a beginning, middle and end – these are the ‘bones’ of my story. After that I think about the characters, what they are like and what they want. When I know my characters well, I begin writing – putting the ‘flesh on the bones’ at first, then expanding my notes. The first draft takes ages. Sometimes I find myself bogged down in the middle and have to walk on the beach until the problem sorts itself out. When it’s finally written down I put it away for a while and work on something else then I read it again and begin chopping and changing. I do about six to seven drafts (sometimes more) before it’s ready to send to a publisher. If they accept it there are usually changes that the editor wants me to make so I begin revising the story again!

Where do you like to go for your holidays?
In 2002 I went to Italy to collect an award for my book The A.O.K. Project. I spent three weeks there, driving around getting lost (and rather scared at times) and enjoying myself. This year I will be going down the South Island to Akaroa and later, up to Napier.

What was the naughtiest thing you ever did at school?
My brother talked me into wagging when I was about eight and I’ll never forget hiding up on the hill above our school watching everyone else. I remember I felt guilty and excited all at once.

Some Questions from Secondary School Students

How did you get started?
I have always enjoyed reading and it just seemed natural to try and write my stories too.

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
I was lucky because when I was in year ten, a secondary school teacher, Miss Forde, praised my writing and made it seem important to do it well.

What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?
Read as much as you can. Educate yourself. Live a full and meaningful life – experience all that there is on offer. Read. Try to write something every day to keep your mind ‘greased and oiled’ and seek out courses or classes in creative writing. Remember, the only way to learn to write, is to write.

Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?
Yes, but it isn’t impossible – many writers do now. It’s good (especially in the beginning) to have a ‘bread and butter’ job and write in your spare time. That way, you don’t suffer from isolation, which sometimes doesn’t help your writing.

What were you like as a teenager?
I was quiet and shy, however, this didn’t stop me from leaving home a few days after I turned sixteen. I set off to live in Wellington by myself and the following year was probably one of my most memorable and exciting.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?
I like to challenge myself. For instance, although I am afraid of heights, I went for an air balloon ride in Australia. Here on the coast, at Paraparaumu, I took over the controls of a glider and also went for a spin in an old Tiger Moth aeroplane. It’s a strange thing, but once I am in the air I don’t feel worried at all.

Twice in my adult life I have gone to another country where I knew no one and had to find a place to live, a job and friends. The first place was London and the second, Brisbane. It was difficult and lonely at times but I proved to myself I could not only survive, I could make a good life for myself anywhere I choose to be!

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Media links and clips

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Phone 0064 4 801 5546
Level 4, Stephenson & Turner House, 156 Victoria St, Te Aro
Wellington 6011, New Zealand