Joy Cowley, prolific author of about 600 books, shares her secret for a good yarn

Prolific Kiwi author Joy Cowley says kids hate “good message stories”, preferring underdog characters they can root for.

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Cowley is still going strong with 600 titles under her belt. Source: Seven Sharp

Ms Cowley - who penned classics like Mrs Wishy Washy, the Meanies and The Hungry Giant - spoke to TVNZ1's Seven Sharp yesterday after she was awarded the Arts Foundation medal. The honour is only ever held by 20 living legends at a time who have left an indelible mark on the arts.

Ms Cowley, also a member of the Order of New Zealand, said writing books for kids was difficult.

“I used to see a lot of manuscripts sent to me and they were usually good message stories that would help the child to grow good and righteous,” the 83-year-old said as she reflected on her decades-long career.

“Children hate those stories. They hate them, and so did I.”

What kids wanted stories about, instead, was “small” characters who won, she said.

“Small is always the winner … always the underdog.

“They just want to know that they are winners. 

“They win by being smarter than adults. They win by virtue of being small,” she said.

She said she was starting to feel like “the country’s grandmother” as so many Kiwis over multiple generations had read her books. Ms Cowley has written about 600 books over 50 years.

Ms Cowley said being acknowledged by the Arts Foundation meant a lot to her because “I love my country enthusiastically”.