NZSA Mentorship recipients of 2020

Sherry Xu

I have always loved reading and writing. In 1998 I studied English Literature at Oxford Brooks University in England for one year. After immigrating to New Zealand from China with my family in 2003, I made good use of Auckland City Libraries and read widely and hungrily. Having lived through the dramatic changes in China, as well as experienced a new life in New Zealand, I have so much to say! Hence the first draft of my first novel I have been working on for the past three years. Although I have planned quite a few projects, I’m determined to treat the novel I’m working on as if it’s the only one I’d write in my life. Grateful to have this mentorship opportunity, I look forward to work with my mentor to perfect my manuscript and to share the love of Literature. Sherry Xu.


Phoebe Wright


Sophia Wilson

Sophia Wilson is a mother of three, writer and organic vegetable grower with a background in arts, medicine, foreign languages, editing and translation. Her recent poetry/short fiction can be found in StylusLit, Not Very Quiet, Ars Medica, Hektoen International, Poems in the Waiting Room, Corpus and elsewhere. In 2019 the manuscript for her first children’s novel, ‘The Guardian of Whale Mountain’, was selected in the top ten for the Green Stories Competition (UK). She was shortlisted for the Takahē Monica Taylor Prize and the 24 Hour National Poetry Competition, and was a finalist in the Robert Burns Poetry Competition. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to refine a collection of poetry examining the porous borders between landscapes of body, mind and environment.


Jill Varani

Jill Varani is an American-born writer and mother of two, based in Auckland. She won the 2019 Sunday Star Times Short Story Award, and has been highly commended in the NZ Flash Fiction Competition, shortlisted in the Masters Review for flash fiction, and longlisted in the Bath Flash Fiction Award. She was awarded a scholarship to undertake the 30 Week Fiction Course with the Creative Hub, which she completed in May 2019. During the course she wrote the first draft of the manuscript which she will continue to revise in 2020 with the help of the NZSA mentorship programme.




John Tipper

Civil wars and natural disasters have formed the backdrop to John’s work for most of the past two decades, his aid work placing him long-term in South Sudan, the Balkans and the Middle East. Fresh reading material was hard to come by in these places before the advent of e-readers, and he turned to writing as a way to unwind and process the stories he was living through. Although he works in environments where there are few happy endings, he is drawn to people who face these bleak situations and yet maintain a bedrock of hope, and he aims to capture some of their strength as he brings their stories to the page. As well as writing for various humanitarian outlets, John is the author of a fiction-based training book for humanitarian workers, using the power of story and choice to instil knowledge. For the mentoring programme, he is working to improve his first novel, a fictional thriller based on the experiences of child soldiers in South Sudan.


Erica Stretton

Erica Stretton is a writer, librarian, and mother who currently works as the coordinator for Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day. In 2018 she completed the Masters in Creative Writing at Auckland University, graduating with first class honours. Her poetry has been published in Mayhem and The Three Lamps. She was born in the Waikato and currently lives in Auckland, but spent a number of years living in the UK and considers it her second home. She is very excited to continue working on her fantasy novel this year with her mentor. Winter Apple is based loosely around a fairy tale, set in the mountains of Eastern Europe, and explores feminist themes.



Alissa Smith

Alissa Smith is a freelance graphic designer and yoga teacher based in Auckland. She has been an enthusiastic reader and passionate writer from a very young age. Throughout her childhood—and to this day—she was happiest whenever her nose was buried in a book. From Roald Dahl to Stephen King, she is fascinated by the art of imaginative storytelling.  At long last—and with much encouragement from friends and family—she’s excited to embark on the journey to become a fiction novelist. Alissa is currently editing her first novel in the genre of contemporary fiction and recently won first place in a horror flash fiction competition. She is absolutely fizzing to get her novel out into the world and share it with others. Keep an eye out for Alissa on YouTube as she shares her experiences with writing!



Jessie Puru

Jessie Puru (Ngāti Te Ata, Tainui,Ngā Puhi) is a Māori/ Pākeha poet and mother of one daughter living in Auckland. Her work has been published in Ika, Blackmail Press, Landfall, and Poetry (US).Jessie was runner up for the Emerging Poets Competition in 2019. She is currently working on her first collection of poems following the life of a young wāhine trying to find her connection with Te Ao Māori. Jessie also has a Bachelor of Creative Arts from MIT, and has just finished her thesis for the Master of Creative Writing at AUT.



Himali McInnes

Himali McInnes works as a GP in a medical centre and an Auckland prison. She is a gardener, chicken farmer, beekeeper and mess-maker. She writes short stories, essays, flash fiction, travel articles, and mediocre poetry. Himali has been published in Takahe, Atlas, Flash Frontier, Intima and The Spinoff, and in the anthology Bonsai. She won the Asia NZ Short story award in 2013, and in 2019 was shortlisted for the Landfall Essay, Wild Writing Dunedin, and Takahe Short story competitions.

Himali has lived and worked in Sri Lanka (during the civil war there), PNG, the UK and other places. She is interested in identity and the sometimes subtle ways in which we categorise people as ‘other’, as well as the acts of kindness that allow others to flourish.

Since switching from full-time to part-time GP work in 2019, Himali has been able to write several short stories with protagonists who are at the fringes of society and who are often people of colour. She is incredibly grateful to receive this NZSA Mentorship, as a mentor will provide invaluable feedback, enabling her prose to sparkle, and to be thought-provoking and engaging enough to be published.’


Scott Butler

Scott Butler’s first home was on an air-force base in Blenheim, New Zealand. His love of books came from the birthday gift his father continues to give him every year. Scott works in advertising. He writes novels, short stories and blogs. He writes contemporary fiction with Suspense / Thriller being his genre of choice. Scott published his first novel ‘Drive,’ in 2015 and plans to release his second ‘The Security,’ in 2020. He is thrilled to be part of the NZSA Mentorship for 2020. He will be using this opportunity to work on his third novel, which deals with the psychology of loss, love, tattoos and freedom.




Gay Buckingham

Born in the south of the South Island, Gay has been writing for a number of years and her short stories have been broadcast by Radio New Zealand and published in the Dominion Post, Turbine, Takahe and Sunday Star Times, as well as online. She is author of The Grand Electrification of the South, commissioned and published by The Power Company Limited, Invercargill, and written non-fiction for Memories magazine. Her children’s stories have been broadcast by Radio New Zealand.  She has had a number of minor successes in competitions in various genres including poetry and very short stories, including being a regional (Asia/Pacific) runner-up in the Commonwealth very short story competition – some of her writing has even been set to music. She was highly commended in the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Literary awards, runner-up in the 2018 Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award and runner-up in 2019 Sunday Star-Times short story competition.

She is a graduate of Otago University, has an MA in Creative Writing from the IIML, Victoria University, is (mostly) domiciled in Dunedin and is currently working on a series of linked short stories set in fictional district of the Catlins, on the south coast of Southland.


Scarlett Bailey

Scarlett Bailey has been working on a novel for the past two years while juggling motherhood and part-time work in mental health. She has previously studied English literature and photography, the latter featuring in her manuscript- a coming-of-age story set in Wellington in 2012. Scarlett is hopeful that the mentorship programme will allow her to complete her manuscript once and for all, and stop her frantically Googling ‘famous novellas’ to justify an insufficient word count. This is her first time submitting a piece of creative writing and she is delighted to be selected.




Sarah Bailey

Sarah Bailey is an Auckland-based writer and doctor. In 2019, and after twenty years as a G.P, she followed her dream of becoming a full-time writer.

She grew up in North West England, escaping grim winters to first reach New Zealand in 1997, where she met her Kiwi husband, then settling here permanently in 2008.

Sarah has been writing and re-writing her Y.A thriller about a psychic teen skateboarder since 2017. She also writes short fiction. Sarah’s writing has been put through the mill by a manuscript assessor, structural editor and an NZSA StartWrite assessor. As a result, her writing, resilience and resolve have strengthened. She is thrilled to receive this mentorship and will work hard with her mentor to reach publication standard for her novel.