McNaughton, Iona

McNaughton, Iona

In Brief

Iona McNaughton writes fiction for young adults. Her novel, Summer of Shadows, was awarded the Tom Fitzgibbon Award for previously unpublished writers in 1996 and it was also shortlisted for the senior category of the 1998 Aim Children’s Book Awards. She has published a range of stories, many of which can be found in School Journal, a magazine for New Zealand schoolchildren. McNaughton is available for Writers in Schools visits.


McNaughton, Iona (1954 – ) writes for young adults and has also had a number of stories published in the School Journal. She has also had work published in story collections for children.

Iona McNaughton grew up on a farm in Southland, leaving home to go to Otago University in Dunedin. She works as a writer and an editor, and also teaches children's writing at Onslow Community Education.

McNaughton’s books for young adults include Summer of Shadows (Scholastic, 1997) and One-way Ticket (Scholastic, 2004). Summer of Shadows received the Tom Fitzgibbon Award for previously unpublished writers in 1996; the novel was also short-listed for the senior category of the 1998 Aim Children’s Book Awards.

In a review of Summer of Shadows in The Dominion, Norman Bilbrough writes, ‘The big issues of death, sexual trust and painful independence are explored here, and it’s told without pretension, just good accessible prose which pulls the reader inexorably along.’ Barbara Murison, reviewing One-way Ticket in Around the Bookshops, describes the novel as 'truly hard to put down.’


McNaughton is available for Writers in Schools visits. She can speak to children from primary school age through to intermediate and secondary school age. She is happy to discuss being an educational book writer, a teen fiction writer, and a non-fiction writer. She can run a range of sessions, and is flexible about how many students she can speak to in a single session depending on the nature of the session. She is able to participate in tours outside of her region.

Kapai: Kids' Authors Pictures and Information

Where do you live?
I live in the hilly suburb of Ngaio in Wellington, which has a lot of beautiful bush and great bush tracks to run along.

What books do you read?
I read a lot of New Zealand fiction and poetry but I also like to read good novels by overseas writers like Ann Pratchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Rohinton Mistry and Margaret Atwood. I also enjoy reading good young adult novels, partly for pleasure and partly to help my own writing. One Australian writer I'd love to write like is Malina Machetta (Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca). I also enjoy dipping into poetry: Jenny Borndholt is my favourite New Zealand poet.

Who is your favourite writer?
That’s a hard one. My consistently favourite writer is Maurice Gee. I must have read just about all of his books and I’ve enjoyed them all. And because we lived in Canada once, I like to read Canadian writers.

How do you think up your ideas?
Ideas come from life – everything around me. It might be newspaper stories, an overheard conversation, my childhood, my two daughters and their friends, family dynamics, holidays, good times, bad times.

What is the best thing about being a writer?
When you know you’ve found the perfect image or written something good. And when people say they liked your book or story. If it’s a non-fiction story, it’s great when you interview an interesting person, return to your computer and write a good profile. The other good thing is when a story or novel is accepted for publication.

Questions from Secondary School students

How did you get started?
I’ve always written since primary school and that’s why I chose journalism as a career. Then when I had children, I became interested in picture books and stories for children. I did a couple of writing workshops and from those I became part of a writing group. The members have changed over the years but we meet once a month to read and give feedback on each other’s work.

Who inspired you when you were getting started?
No one that I remember. I was inspired – and continue to be inspired - by any good writing.

What advice would you give an aspiring young writer?
It’s all been said before: read a lot and write a lot. And don’t give up by rejections. Most writers have had rejections and the winners are those who keep going.

Is it difficult to make a living writing in New Zealand?
Yes, very hard if you’re a fiction writer and not able or willing to turn your hand to other kinds of writing such as journalism. I work fulltime in communications, which involves a lot of writing. That means I don't have much time for my own fiction writing but that's just an excuse really.

What were you like as a teenager?
Wow, maybe you don’t want to know. I grew up on a farm and my best friend was my pony. I loved living on the farm, with the native bush and the big spaces. I went from a primary school of about 25 kids to a big co-ed high school of 1200 kids. It was pretty overwhelming for a while but I found my feet okay after the first year. I was a conscientious kid. I studied hard but was also involved in quite a few activities: netball, basketball, horse riding, tennis and piano. Of course, I read a lot too. I didn’t have a very good relationship with my father, which made for some unhappy childhood and teenage experiences.

Is there anything else you could tell students about yourself?
Because I lived on a farm about 30 kilometres from the city, the things I did for fun were very different from what kids growing up in the city do. My brother and I did quite a lot together and one of the things we used to do was go eeling in the creek that ran through the farm. We’d catch some eels and boil them up in a billy over the bonfire. Then we’d give them to the hens to eat because someone said it helped them lay. The hens would eat all the eels and leave just the bones. And then they laid lots of eggs.


Updated January 2017.