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In the limelight

25 March 2022
Diana Noonan holding her book, Quaky Cat
Photo: Richard Davison, ODT

Our beloved Kiwi Gardener contributor is also an acclaimed children’s writer and editor whose latest award puts her in good company. Interview: Anna Wallace

This April, Diana Noonan will receive the 2022 Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal for Lifetime Achievement and Outstanding Contribution to NZ’s Literature for Young People.

In a 35-year career Diana has written more than 100 titles for children and young adults and won numerous accolades. Her books include The Silent People, A Dolphin in the Bay, The Best-loved Bear and The Know, Sow & Grow Kids’ Book of Plants. She edited the School Journal for eight years.

Career change

I guess being a teacher all those years ago was a great apprenticeship for being able to encourage and enthuse groups of people.

Remembering the great

It’s so nice to be connected to Margaret Mahy. I met her often at various writing events. She was very kind, clever and well liked. She helped to encourage new writers and was quirky fun. We all miss her.

Green-fingered connections

When I get excited about something I want to communicate that and enthuse other gardeners. I like researching new things.

I’m in a little part of the Catlins and you hope people read my stories. So, when I hear a beginner gardener has been inspired to do more – that makes me happy.

A few months back we were on a plane and a pair were giggling away in front of us. My husband saw that they were reading 'Living off the Land'!* That made me happy too.

I do miss meeting Kiwi Gardeners at events like the Riverton Harvest Festival. I’m lucky to get correspondence from the sweetest readers though.

*Diana's column on tales from the Catlins every month in Kiwi Gardener.

Sustainable living

It’s great to see more people embracing gardening. They want to be safe and be responsible for their own food. My husband and I are vegan and produce about 75 per cent of our own food, including pulses.

diana noonan with vegetables

Managing the juggle

I have to plan my month meticulously. I usually dedicate the last 10 days of the month to Kiwi Gardener. I like to interview real people – face to face or on video.

I always have other work on the go too. I’m working on an early literacy project and carers’ profiles at the moment. I like causes that are dear to my heart.

I’ll be at my desk by 7.15am and write through to about 2pm. Then I will get out in the garden for about 4 hours. I do that every day – it’s my outlet.

Spring is exhausting when I’m hugely busy in the garden and have writing commitments to meet. In the Catlins, spring can extend until Christmas!

Divvying up the labour

My husband is good at harvesting and infrastructure; I’ll dig new ground, growing, composting, taking on new projects. We’re a good team.

Picturesque but not perfect

If there’s any internet issues I ring our chap Joe. The other day when I rang, he said he was just heading down to the river as cows had breached the fence and eaten the cable. He joked that they liked a high-fibre diet!

They are the ones

I was once invited to Bangladesh with Save the Children, to promote the support they were giving children living in the biggest brothel in the world. It was confronting to see the fragile existence they lived. It would be even more challenging now, in a pandemic, for the children and their mothers.

Proudest work

The opportunities I’ve been given to support others really stand out – like producing Quaky Cat (2010) with illustrator Gavin Bishop, which raised $150,000 for the Christchurch earthquake appeal.

April's issue of Kiwi Gardener features Diana's articles on: Oamaru Organic's brassicas, inspirational elements of a Persian garden, a Te Puke gardener experimenting with Pacific plants, plant rescue tips, product reviews - plus her usual column from the Catlins. Grab a copy from your local stockist.

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