Celebrated children’s author William Taylor dies

William Taylor, ONZM, the ‘grand old man’ of New Zealand children’s publishing, acclaimed author of richly comic novels for children and powerful fiction for young adults, died today (3 October) in Taumaranui, aged 77.

Kyle Mewburn, president of the New Zealand Society of Authors says, “Bill Taylor was undoubtedly an icon of New Zealand literature. Less well known is his enormous contribution to the wider literary community, including a stint as NZSA National President from 2001 to 2004. In 2009 he joined an illustrious group of writers appointed President of Honour. His advocacy for, and support of, all writers has left a lasting legacy.”

Taylor’s literary career began in early eighties, while he was mayor of Ohakune and a primary school principal. Six adult novels were published overseas, an apprenticeship, he always said, for his novels for children. During this period he also served six months with Volunteer Service Abroad in Bhutan.

Winning a Choysa Bursary in 1986 enabled him to become a full-time writer, producing a steady stream of books, one almost every year, until the last in 2010, a well-received memoir entitled Telling Tales: a Life in Writing.
Among his best known novels are the children’s classics Possum Perkins, The Worst Soccer Team Ever, Agnes the Sheep and Knitwits, while for young adults he produced ground-breaking novels exploring relationships between teenage boys, notably The Blue Lawn and Jerome.

  • William Taylor’s novels won him multiple honours: Italy’s prestigious Premio Andersen Award, the inclusion of several novels in American Library Association and Germany’s International Youth Library’s “White Ravens” listings. He won a writers’ fellowship to the University of Iowa in 1996, and appeared at writers’ festivals in Melbourne and Chautauqua, New York State.
  • At home, his awards included the Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal for lifetime achievement and several Storylines Notable Books listings, the Esther Glen and AIM awards, as well as writers’ residencies at the Palmerston North Training Collage and later, the University of Otago.
  • In 2004 he was awarded an ONZM for services to literature and the community. Until very recently, he was chairman of the National Park Community Board.

Dr Libby Limbrick, chair of the Storylines Children’s Literature Trust, says, “From his warmly humorous books for younger readers, to his thought-provoking novels for adolescents, Bill’s contribution to literature for young people has been immense.”

Among author tributes, Joy Cowley writes, “We will miss his humour, his unfailing kindness, his courage, the books that could have been, but we are so grateful for the writings we have. Through his novels, future generations who never met him, will be glad to know him.”

Writer/illustrator Gavin Bishop, and a board member of the New Zealand Book Council, says, “For many years, Bill was an ardent supporter of the Book Council’s Writers in Schools scheme, visiting hundreds, if not thousands of schools throughout the country. His often challenging and beautifully crafted writing established a high benchmark for the younger writers who followed him. His substantial body of unforgettable work will ensure that William Taylor will never be forgotten.”

Author Janice Marriott remembers Bill as a mentor. “I’ll miss his wisdom.  We both loved to put humour into children’s books, and we shared many laughs about our work and our lives.”

Another long-time friend, author Tessa Duder, credits William Taylor as one of the emerging writers of the 1980s who, along with Margaret Mahy and Maurice Gee, raised New Zealand children’s fiction to a new level. “His was a unique comic voice, matched in New Zealand literature only by Mahy. Equally, he produced tough YA novels of unflinching realism, showing great sympathy for teenagers searching for a sense of self, often in terrible circumstances. As mentor of many creative writing students he was always generous and honest.”
William Taylor is survived by two sons, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

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