All kinds of Kiwi heroes

Whangarei Report - - BOOKS - Tony Nielsen

There are many kinds of hero. OH BOY is a strik­ing col­lec­tion of true sto­ries about New Zealand men who busted stereo­types and broke through ob­sta­cles to fol­low their pas­sion. Heroes can wear rugby boots or bal­let shoes. They can go on ad­ven­tures, build rock­ets, or save lives. They can change the world with a shovel, a mi­cro­scope or an idea. Au­thor Stu­art Lip­shaw has brought to­gether sto­ries about bril­liant Kiwi men who fol­lowed their dreams and made the world a bet­ter place.

How would you de­scribe Oh Boy?

Oh Boy is a col­lec­tion of sto­ries about 50 Kiwi men who had the courage to fol­low their dreams and make a pos­i­tive im­pact on the world. Some of the men be­came heroes, while oth­ers are rel­a­tive un­knowns.

What in­spired you?

I’m the Manag­ing Ed­i­tor at book pub­lisher Pen­guin Ran­dom House, and our pub­lish­ing team was de­vel­op­ing a new book both as a com­pan­ion vol­ume to Bar­bara Else’s fan­tas­tic Go Girl, and as a re­sponse to book­sell­ers, teach­ers and li­brar­i­ans all telling us they des­per­ately needed more books that en­gaged boys and en­cour­aged them to read more. Our Chil­dren’s Pub­lisher was con­sid­er­ing po­ten­tial au­thors, so I put my name for­ward. I’ve al­ways wanted to be an au­thor, and this felt like the op­por­tu­nity. A year later, Oh Boy is in the book­stores and I have two young boys of my own to read it to. Be­liev­ing in my­self helped me achieve my dream, a theme that runs through so many of the sto­ries in­cluded in the book.

Who were your heroes when you were a child?

I grew up play­ing cricket and watch­ing rugby, so most of my heroes at that time were Black Caps or rugby union or league play­ers. I was al­ways amazed by Jonah Lomu be­cause of his abil­ity to do things on the field that no one else in the world could do. That made writ­ing his story in Oh Boy very spe­cial. I came to view Muham­mad Ali as a hero. Not only was he an in­cred­i­ble ath­lete, but he was also in­tel­li­gent and coura­geous.

How did you (and the pub­lisher) choose the sub­jects?

Think­ing of po­ten­tial sub­jects was easy, but trim­ming the list back to only 50 felt like an al­most im­pos­si­ble task at times. We had a long list of about 200, and as the project de­vel­oped we would dis­cover new names or think of other peo­ple. We felt it was im­por­tant to present a wide range of men from all sorts of dif­fer­ent fields, in­clud­ing some who might not al­ready be con­sid­ered ‘heroes’ in the tra­di­tional sense.

What was it like to write your first book?

It was gen­uinely a dream come true, but there were a few chal­lenges along the way. My wife Brid­get gave birth to our sec­ond son about a week af­ter I started work­ing on the book, so it was a very busy time for us all. Brid­get has been tremen­dously sup­port­ive. There were many nights when she gave up pre­cious mo­ments of sleep to read and cri­tique my first drafts, so in many ways this book is as much her project as it is mine. Writ­ing Oh Boy also en­abled me to learn and write about so many in­ter­est­ing and in­spir­ing peo­ple, and then have their sto­ries il­lus­trated by 10 of the coun­try’s best il­lus­tra­tors. That’s not an op­por­tu­nity that comes along ev­ery day. For me, the book feels like a show­case of the in­cred­i­ble tal­ent and imag­i­na­tion New Zealan­ders have, so I’m very aware that it’s an hon­our to have my name in the book along­side all the sub­jects and the il­lus­tra­tors.

While you were re­search­ing, did you come across any facts or trivia that sur­prised you?

One story that I find more and more re­mark­able ev­ery time I think about it is Frank Wors­ley’s. He was the cap­tain of the En­durance. Not only did he and his crew be­come stuck in pack ice near Antarc­tica for over a year, but also he had to nav­i­gate a lifeboat through 1300km of rough seas to a whal­ing sta­tion on a small, re­mote is­land. Then, to top it all off, when Wors­ley and a few oth­ers ac­tu­ally made it to the is­land, they had to trek over­land for 36 hours to find help. So many things could have gone wrong, but Wors­ley made sure his en­tire crew re­turned home safely.

Do you have a favourite por­trait from the book?

It’s hard to sin­gle out a favourite, be­cause ev­ery time I look at the book a dif­fer­ent one catches my eye. With so many dif­fer­ent il­lus­tra­tors con­tribut­ing to Oh Boy, the book has such a range of styles. My 2-year-old son’s favourite is the por­trait of Bruce Mclaren. He loves the race car, and finds it fas­ci­nat­ing that Mclaren is wear­ing gloves in a car.

What do you hope read­ers get out of this book?

I hope that Oh Boy in­tro­duces read­ers to New Zealan­ders they’d never heard of be­fore, and that it teaches them some­thing new about peo­ple they thought they knew all about. I like to think of each story as a start­ing point for read­ers to dive deeper into the lives of the peo­ple they find most in­ter­est­ing. In ad­di­tion, I hope the book in­spires read­ers to be brave in their own lives — to have the courage to do what makes them happy and be­lieve that it is pos­si­ble to turn your dreams into re­al­ity, no mat­ter who you are or what ob­sta­cles might be in your way.

Oh Boy, by Stu­art Lip­shaw, Pen­guin, $45

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