Celebrated author Pauline Cartwright has returned to her North Otago roots for her retirement. She shares with Ashley Smyth some of the wisdom she has gleaned from a lifetime of teaching, learning, and as the author of too many titles to count.
Pauline Cartwright has been and always will be a writer.
For as long as she can remember, she would put pen to paper at any opportunity.
“If there was an opportunity to have a go at something in the writing field, I did … I used to write poems for the children’s pages, and things like that.”
As a pupil at Weston School, and then Waitaki Girls’ High School, a young Pauline Webster was close friends with Elizabeth Flett, the daughter of well-known Mills and Boon author Essie Summers.
“Mrs Flett – Essie Summers – the romance writer, she was like my other mother … and she was very helpful,” Mrs Cartwright said.
“She was the one who sent a poem away and I got paid for it, and I’d never done that, you know. I thought that was quite amazing. She was very encouraging.
“It’s kind of a difficult thing, in a sense, to start writing, because you’re just going into an unknown world and you don’t even know sort of how to get into it really, so it’s nice when you do have people that know about it, and they can send you in the right directions really.
“She certainly knew a lot about it.”
From high school, Mrs Cartwright went straight to teaching and had sole charge of Tawanui School, near Owaka, which then had eight pupils. This was the beginning of a long teaching career, which aided her in the writing of many school readers.
“I felt that having been a teacher was really helpful. I knew what teachers wanted, and you knew the sort of age groups of children, and you could write accordingly.
“Some people wouldn’t know where to start for writing for schools, but I did do a lot of that because I could.
“It was very useful. And they went into all sorts of places, and overseas and all of that, so it meant more money.”
It was the income from the readers, together with being awarded the Choysa Bursary of $18,000, that eventually allowed Mrs Cartwright to leave the education sector in 1991, to focus on being an author full-time.
This was also the year when Meg’s Last Springtime, her first novel, was published.
By then she was living in Alexandra with her second husband Rob.
Her two children Carl and Ana were high school age, and Mr Cartwright also had a son, Michael.
In 1992, Mrs Cartwright was diagnosed with severe repetitive strain injury in her wrists, which left her unable to type and able to write by hand only for short periods of time.
She would have to dictate to a typist, but found the process “intrusive”, as she preferred to work alone.
Two years later, the Otago Daily Times reported she was “writing with her voice”, using a ground-breaking voice-operated computer.
There were teething problems, she said at the time, but it had restored her independence.
“The wonderful thing is, that even if it’s slow, I can do it myself .. and that’s marvellous.”
Over the years, the prolific author had been shortlisted for, and won, national awards with her illustrated children’s books and novels. She wrote a series of 15 stories for National Radio’s morning children’s programme Ears, which was set in the Dunstan goldfields; and all the while continued to write readers, poetry, and non-fiction books, as well as short stories in magazines for adults, albeit under a pseudonym.
Cartwright also penned the first interactive children’s book for CD-Rom in 1995, called Mungo – the Only Pirate Left.
It was this adaptability and willingness to put her hand to any type of writing which ensured writing was a viable career choice for her.
She did not have a particular favourite book, but had enjoyed “writing some things more than others”.
“It’s like most things you do.”
She had formed strong friendships with other writers and also illustrators, such as Dunedin artist and author David Elliott, with whom she collaborated on Arthur and The Dragon.
Television, although it had its place, could never take the place of a good book, she said.
“Books are superior to television. Television’s good, but it’s patterned by people in a way that books aren’t. Books are more generous with the realities of writing, I think.”
She had a copy of each book she had written or contributed to, tucked away in a bookshelf in her new Oamaru home.
“It’s nice to have all these, to remember, because it’s the only way you do remember.”
The 77-year-old moved back to Oamaru in December, after about 35 years in Alexandra. She had wanted to be closer to family since her husband died.
“I didn’t find it easy to come to terms with the fact Rob died,” she said.
“It’s lovely to be with family who are generous with their kindness, and I’m much appreciative.”