Seaside Stories

Nicole Miller, a Mount Maunganui-based teacher and author, frames global issues facing kids in fun-to-read books, aiming to inspire positive change. We find out about her latest book.

Nicole Miller, a Mount Maunganui-based teacher and author, frames global issues facing kids in fun-to-read books, aiming to inspire positive change. We find out about her latest book.

“My early attempts at writing were filling my diary with stories of summers spent in the Coromandel and my cats — stories about cats who could walk and talk,” author Nicole Miller laughs. “My Mum
has kept all my home-published books, which I illustrated and bound with staples.”

In year 6, Nicole wrote a short story called Jodie’s Jump, set on the Wairoa River. It was her first foray into sharing her writing publicly, and earned her a finalist spot in the Bay of Plenty Times short-story writing competition.

Growing up on an orchard in Aongatete, her earliest memories are filled with time spent outdoors, summers spent by the sea, and reading. “Books were a huge part of our childhood. I devoured
The Faraway Tree series, and English authors like Shirley Hughes, Joan Aiken and Roald Dahl.
Mum always encouraged me to reach for New Zealand authors, so Sherryl Jordan and Maurice
Gee became favourites as a teenager.”  

After finishing high school at Katikati College and completing a Bachelor of Teaching, the next decade saw her focusing on travel and her teaching career, so writing projects became few and
far between. “When I moved to the UAE, I definitely missed home and being by the sea. At the time, they had built the biggest man-made wave pool with these perfect waves. I always think it’s funny that I grew up by the beach, but really only took up surfing when I lived in the desert,” she says.

Nicole had a love of reading instilled in her at a young age, and now loves to read with her children.

The cover of Nicole’s new book.

This love of the ocean has inspired both of Nicole’s books, which highlight global issues affecting young children. Her first book, Celia Seagull and the Plastic Sea, published in 2019, speaks to the harm caused by plastic waste that ends up in the sea. It aims to encourage families to protect
our marine life and oceans, one piece of plastic at a time.

When she was hoping to secure a publisher for the book, Nicole entered it into the Storylines
Joy Cowley Award in 2019 and became a finalist. Nicole explains it was this public recognition of
the manuscript, and the endorsement from conservationist and environmental activist Dame Jane Goodall, which gave her confidence and reignited her passion for storytelling.

“I remember my publisher at Little Love saying to me, ‘It would be great to get the manuscript endorsed by someone like David Attenborough or Jane Goodall.’ I laughed and thought, ‘Yeah, right.’ A week later, I got a response to my email to Jane’s PA who said that Jane had read the manuscript, loved it and was happy to endorse the book.”

Her second book, Daisy McCray and the Wave of the Day, hits bookstores across New Zealand in November. Nicole wrote it during lockdown in 2021, originally as a play for her children. “They spent half a day practising and dressing up. We tied a blue sheet to the fence and curled it over our heads to become the wave and filmed the whole thing,” Nicole says.

The book tackles the increasing presence of technology in young people’s lives, a topic that she hadn’t seen covered in a children’s book with a fun, light-hearted rhyming verse. “When discussing this with others in the field of education, we see the impact of screen time in terms of children’s language skills and attention spans. Technology at our fingertips is an ongoing balance for all of
us and I’m like every other parent whose attention can be divided between screens and our children.
I want this story to provoke families to think about the impact of reaching for devices all the time. ‘What are we missing out on? What are our kids missing out on?”

Through characters like Daisy, Nicole hopes her readers will think about how important real world adventures are versus spending time on screens. “Daisy seems like any well-organised, sun-smart teen seeking an adventure and some epic waves. We soon learn she is impatient and distracted, disconnecting from nature and tuning into the world of social media.”

Nicole lives in the Mount with her two children, partner and step-children, and says that writing
and parenting go hand in hand. Her books have become an important creative outlet in the depths
of motherhood, and children are a constant inspiration for her writing.

“Publishing my first book was a much-needed form of healing in that time of my life. I was on leave from my teaching career, navigating a separation, had moved back to Tauranga with a newborn
and a toddler, and was facing life as a solo parent,” she says. “I saw an image of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch on social media and felt so emotional and immediately inspired to create.”

One of Nicole’s favourite parts of being an author is visiting schools around New Zealand, holding author’s talks and running writing workshops for aspiring authors, including sharing advice on how
to keep positive in a competitive writing world. “After Celia Seagull and the Plastic Sea was made
a finalist for the Joy Cowley award, I thought it would be easy to get it published. Once I started submitting it, I realised it’s really hard,” she says.

Nicole with her two children (in front of her) Jesse and Ayla, her partner Ben, and his kids, Siella (left, holding Pippi Longstocking, the dog) and Kade.

Her advice to young writers is to believe what you have created is worthy and important to share. Have a few trusted people who will critique it honestly, use that to improve your writing, and thank publishers or those who took the time to provide critical feedback. “I’m inspired by other female authors, like Sherryl Jordan whose first published book (Rocco) was her thirteenth novel that she
had written. JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as a solo mother and was rejected a number of times. I have had more setbacks in the competitive writing world than success. So I say, don’t ever let rejection force you to stop.”

Nicole believes the key to successful children’s books is an important moral, rhyme, repetition, humour and of course a twist. Her inspiration also comes from authors like Julia Donaldson,
Dame Lynley Dodd and Dr Seuss, and their world-renowned use of rhythm and rhyme. “Creating
an enjoyable auditory experience for the listener is key in children’s books. I’m always counting syllables and conducting the phrasing to test if it works when read aloud.”

Thinking about what the world will be like for children in 10, 20 or 30 years’ time, and what
problems they will face, provides Nicole with a purpose, and she plans to keep presenting those important topics in an entertaining, engaging way. “I want to be remembered as an author who inspires positive change.”

Daisy McCray and the Wave of the Day can be pre-ordered at nicolemiller.co.nz and is in  bookstores from 25 November (including local stores Books A Plenty and Little Trooper).
For book launch details at Mount Maunganui Library, follow  @nicole_miller_author
Story by Karen Clarkson
Photography by ilk