(extract from Questions Kids Ask Joy Cowley, Scholastic 1996)
||Where and when were you born?
I was born in a house on a chicken farm in Levin, New Zealand at 6 pm on 7 August, 1936. My name was Cassia Joy Summers.
What did your parents do?
My parents did not work- they were both ill, my father sufferng from heart disease and my mother from mental illness. They were loving parents but they found life difficult.
Were you good at school?
No! When I was young I had trouble concentrating and I got bored easily. I used to read a book under my desk and draw pictures in my exercise books which got me into a lot of trouble.
What did you like to do?
I loved to draw pictures, tell stories and make things. I didn't discover the magic of books until I was nine and then I couldn't get enough of them. I would read under the blankets using my father's torch which I "borrowed". When I was at High School, I liked to read, write stories and poetry, and paint.
Did you like writing stories?
Not as much as I liked telling them. At primary school I wasn't very good at spelling, grammar, punctuation or handwriting so I often got poor marks for my work. It wasn't until I was at High School and had more control of the written language that I enjoyed writing stories. From the age of 11, I had stories, rhymes and drawings published in the children's page of the Southern Cross newspaper. When I was 16, I got an after-school job editing the children's page of the Manawatu Daily Times in Palmerston North.
What sports did you play?
I played hockey in winter and swam in the summer- I enjoyed both and was good at neither.
What did you do when you left school?
I was offered a job as a cadet reporter at the Manawatu Daily Times but my parents apprenticed me to the Foxton Chemist where I worked as an assistant. I saved up and bought myself a motorcycle and I learned to fly a Tiger Moth - a wood and canvas bi-plane.
When did you marry and how many children do you have?
I married Ted Cowley in 1956 and we had four children- Sharon, Edward, Judith and James within
four years. We divorced in 1968. In 1970 I married Malcolm Mason, a Wellington writer and
accountant who died in 1985. My third marriage in 1989 was to Terry Coles.
Where do you live?
In Fish Bay in the Kenepuru Sound at the top of New Zealand's South Island.
We own about 165 acres which was part of a farm but is now reverting to bush. The nearest town
(Picton) is about two hours away by car or six minutes by float plane.
Do you like living there?
Yes! I love to live by the sea. The bay is a peaceful place with bush, streams, tuis and bellbirds. I sometimes miss the things you can do in big cities but I never get lonely- we have a close, caring community and lots of visitors including my children and nine grandchildren- who come often.
||When do you write?
I usually get up at 4 am (I'm a farm girl at heart) and write six days a week until mid-afternoon - my brain turns into cottage cheese after 8 p.m. so I don't write at night unless I have a big deadline. I also spend a lot of my writing time replying to children. I get between 200 and 1000 letters a week.
How many books have you had published?
I don't know. There are over 400 early readers, about twenty picture books, three novels and two collections of short stories for young readers. For adults there are five novels, a collection of short stories, articles and spiritual material.
||Are you a Christian?
Yes, I converted to Catholicism almost 20 years ago and my faith is very important to me. Terry and I have a retreat house here at Fish Bay and people come to have some time out in this beautiful, peaceful place.
If you could change anything in New Zealand what would it be?
New Zealanders can be quite negative and I would like to see them appreciate and celebrate all the good things here. I would like to see more people enjoy work for work's sake and not just as a way of getting money. I would also like to see people celebrate more, love each other more and become more aware that this earth is our mother - if we hurt the earth, we also hurt ourselves.
Footnote; March 2011. Joy now lives in Featherston, New Zealand with her husband Terry Coles.