Award-winning author Kate De Goldi teaches writing for the 9-13-age group on Saturday, October 26 at Baycourt Theatre in Tauranga. Tickets $120 (places limited to 12). Other Tauranga Arts Festival workshops include short stories (Tracey Slaughter) and screenwriting (Tim Balme).

Hunkered down in central Otago, thanks to a year-long Henderson House residency, award-winning writer Kate De Goldi is making inroads on a new novel, her first since 2015.

“I don’t want to talk too much about what it’s about,” she says of the novel, “because I never ask myself that question. There’s a character surrounded by a family of some sort and … well, that’s all I can say really.”

Family – whether blood or assumed – is a rich vein in De Goldi’s work which is characterised by its fluid readership-age boundaries and includes the internationally successful ‘The 10pm Question’.

Growing up in Christchurch, De Goldi and her two sisters had 42 cousins living nearby and a myriad of stories to fuel their imagination from an Irish grandmother, “a natural storyteller”, and her father, the son of Italian migrants who didn’t speak English.

“My father took great pride in his second language,” says De Goldi who is a longtime Wellington resident and excited to be spending a year in Alexandra. “He never used one word when five would do.”

Both parents encouraged their daughters to be readers and every Friday their father took them to the library to borrow “stacks of books”.

De Goldi’s mother ran a home-based music school and Kate, who played cello and piano, taught beginners’ piano.

“Our house was full of music, it was a hugely formative part of my life,” she says, “which probably explains why I’m obsessed with the music of sentences. I’ve had to learn how to plot books but I’ve always understood the rhythm and cadence of language.”

Since publishing ‘From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle’, De Goldi has, with Susan Paris, produced two ‘Annual’ books for middle readers ( 8 to 13 years) and together they last year launched Annual Ink, a publishing company under the imprint of Massey University Press, to work with first-time authors.

‘#Tumeke!’ by Wellington’s Michael Petherick, is Annual Ink’s second book and is due out on October 24. To tell the story of an inner-city Waitangi Day celebration, Petherick uses fictional Instagram posts, emails, committee minutes, posters, diary entries, blog posts, homework, raps and a “reliably bonkers community noticeboard”.

“Funny books with substance are crucial for middle readers,” De Goldi says. “Children need a varied reading diet but, unfortunately, series books by international writers, such as David Walliams and Andy Griffiths, tend to crowd out titles that are ultimately more rewarding.

“Stories that are brainy, nuanced and gentle have a hard time finding a publisher, which is where Annual Ink wants to make a difference. I know from years of teaching workshops that there is much untapped, excellent writing in Aotearoa.”

The first thing to do as an aspiring writer for middle readers, De Goldi advises, is to read top-quality middle reader fiction, from the classics to the most contemporary.

“Look for the craft and ideas – there’s a great theory that all children’s literature is subversive because adults never really read it … and that might be well be true.

“Middle readers are really interesting – they’re becoming sophisticated readers, they have the most time they’ll ever have in their lives to read, and they are the best visually and formally educated humans ever.

“They need writers of fiction and non-fiction who tell their stories well, who use an armoury of literary styles and devices, who pay attention to how the story is told, writers who have the ‘x’ factor and are interested in different ways of telling – and it can all be learned.”

If you want to write for middle readers (8-13 years) then you must read books for that age group, according to Kate De Goldi who is coming to the Tauranga Arts Festival to lead a writing workshop.

The acclaimed author has twice won the NZ Post Children’s Book of the Year Award, while The 10PM Question, published internationally, won Book of the Year and Best Young Adult Fiction in the 2009 NZ Post Children’s and Young Adults’ Book Awards, was a runner-up in the 2009 Montana NZ Book Awards, and won the Readers’ Choice Award.

Kate is joining us from Central Otago where she is the 2019 Henderson House writer-in-residence. (Read more about the historic house, which offers two residencies a year.)

Some of Kate’s recommendations for top-flight contemporary middle reader books, “brainy with big ideas”:

Ursula Dubosarsky (Australia, b 1961)

Geraldine McCaughrean (Britain, b 1951)

Polly Horvath (US/Canada), “wild and brilliant”, says Kate

Katherine Rundell (Britain, b 1987)

Terry Pratchett (Britain, 1948-2015)

Jan Mark (Britain, 1943-2006)

Phillip Pullman’s (Britain, b 1946) essays about writing, Daemon Voices.

If you’ve hankered to write for this age group, Kate’s reading list is great – and enjoyable – preparation for joining her Boundary Riding writing workshop on Saturday, October 26. Don’t hold back, unleash your stories now! More information and tickets available here.