All kinds of Kiwi heroes
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