Mandy On Stories with a Message


At a meeting of the local Labour Party today (Saturday 18 August) Mandy Hager spoke about the art and science of storytelling.

What makes stories powerful?

By Roger Childs

Mandy started with looking at the basis for a good story. To be effective, writing should

  • have a heart
  • have a human side and reflect how people behave
  • be about how people fit into the world
  • connect with the reader – heart to heart

On the political scene John Key often repeated his childhood experience with a solo mother and being brought up in a state house. He knew this would resonate with the electorate especially as he was a National prime minister.

The “quiet activist”

Like her brother writing non-fiction, she feels that the human story provides a basis for “talking” about the bigger issues.

She gave the example of how Nicky in his most recent book Hit and Run how the true story of an Afghan child being shot in her mother’s arms. This appalling incident linked to the wider issues of what New Zealand forces were up to in the war-torn country.

Acting as a quiet activist is her description of what she is trying to achieve through her novels especially those written for young people.

The process she goes through in crafting her stories, start with her imagination. Then she

  • pictures it like a movie 
  • writes the story 
  • then hopes the reader will bring their imagination to it

Getting through on big issues

A book needs to speak to people. She has been unafraid of using novels aimed at younger readers to confront big issues which are often very sensitive. Her first published book was about the death of a parent and its impact.

As with all her later publications she has had plenty of positive feedback. She gave plenty of examples from letters conversations and emails she had received.

Some of the elements and issues she has featured to make a connection, include

  • teen suicide as in Dear Vincent
  • having a dyslexic person as a main character
  • date rape
  • having a Pacific Islander as a hero.

She wants to get people talking about some of the difficult realities in our society – all part of her quiet activism.

The large amount of positive feedback that has come through, shows that she is achieving her key objective.

One of the most unexpected responses that Mandy received was from a former nun reflecting on her life in the Catholic Church after reading Mandy’s recent novel Heloise, which focused on the forbidden love affair between a theologian and his young student.

This was a fascinating and enlightening analysis of her craft as a writer and was much appreciated by the audience of 50 people.






You are a brave and hardworking writer, Mandy. As one gets on and income isn’t quite so generous it’s not easy to afford books but I am so pleased to have been able to buy Heloise and lend it out to several people who have appreciated it. I never cease to wonder at your research and detailed account of something that took place so many centuries ago. As I read the story not only was I pulled into it I felt I accompanied you right though on your exhausting (and exhaustive) unravelling and seeking out all that information.

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