Arts and culture Creativity People

Denika’s teen writing attracts a growing fan base

From a young age Denika Mead enjoyed writing stories. Now she is a published author
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A teenager writing for other teens is earning plaudits for Lower Hutt author, Denika Mead.

The 18-year-old has already sold 2000 printed copies across her four fantasy adventure novels. That is a significant number of sales for anyone publishing in the New Zealand market.

And Denika’s not content with just writing but also runs writing classes for young writers.

Her classes for young budding creative writers cover plot and character development and writing techniques. Many classes moved to Zoom during lockdowns, which means she can now offer classes in person and by Zoom.

From a young age Denika enjoyed writing stories and has “always known” she wanted to be a writer.

Doors opened at age 14

Doors began to open when, at the age of 14, she entered a writing competition.

She contributed a short story to an anthology – or collection – by several young New Zealand writers.

A couple of years later she entered a Youth Laureate competition, which promised publication as its first prize.

Denika entered two manuscripts and both made it to the top five.

Boosted by getting so close, Denika decided to self-publish one, Death-Hunters, which she had written well before she learned about the competition.

Bookmark inspired plot

Its storyline was inspired by a bookmark that featured ice and penguins.

“I was imagining what people would need to do to survive in that environment.”

Set in New Zealand, and in a fictional world called Ghost Orchid, it is written for readers aged eight to 14. It’s the story of 14-year-old Ivy who falls through a portal into an icy wasteland.

Ivy fights battles – a murderous dragon, a mystery voice and a lurking magician to discover where she belongs.

During the self-publication process Denika was mentored by Kiwi writers, A J Ponder and Helen Vivienne Fletcher, who read her manuscripts and suggested editing changes.

Among the challenges Denika faced to become a published author was learning the technicalities of printing, such as making editing changes and type face options. And the larger issue of what to leave in and what to leave out.

The initial print run of Death-Hunters was 150 copies.

Currently, Denika has four books in publication. Combined sales – online and through bookshops – have exceeded 2000, mostly in New Zealand, with a few bought by overseas readers.

Death-Hunters, Into the Flames and The Ghost Warriors make up her Royal Orchid series.

The fourth book, a standalone, The Last Kingdom, was released in October 2021. It tells the story of Prince Phoenix and his friend, Mokie, as they battle to save the Land of Kingdoms from the evil pixie queen.

Good versus evil a strong theme

Good versus evil and coming of age are strong themes in Denika’s books.

Plot and character development come from her imagination. Characters’ personalities develop in her mind before she starts putting into words what she is seeing.

“Several authors in this area say the same thing,” she says.

I’m a picture thinker and see scenes in my head and see it play out.”

 

So, who does she base her characters on?

“Mokie has been in my head for many years,” she says.

Sometimes she uses traits she has observed in other people. And she adds experiences that children would either like or fear.

“You want them to be as realistic as possible.”

She goes through online lists of names and their meanings to help name her characters.

Her book cover designs have been drawn by Christian Bentulan, who lives overseas.

Wellingtonian, Ava Fairhall, designed a map while friend, Huia Wesling Macgregor, drew the ghost orchid, a flower thought to be extinct until being rediscovered about 20 years ago.

Denika created a plant she named ‘starwort’ for one of the books. It was drawn by Jenny Stringer who is a New Zealand artist.

Since 13, Denika has been home schooled and completed her NCEA through Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu – the Correspondence School.

This has allowed her to rise early and write before her school day starts.

Covid-19 lockdowns provided an extra opportunity for writing, both with time and fewer distractions.

Covid-19 lockdowns provided Denika with extra opportunities for writing

She achieved NCEA level 3 in 2021 and, in 2022, will begin a writing diploma through Whitireia New Zealand.

Denika finds receiving feedback from readers motivating. And, especially, hearing how her books are impacting others.

Emerging fan base unexpected

Something she didn’t expect was the emergence of a fan base.

Denika says her school visits are “really awesome,” especially if the students have read her books.

She enjoys meeting readers and there are “quite a few” parents who are reading the books they have bought for their children.

She is also pleased her books are helping get children into reading.

“Because I’m young they find it inspiring.”

Denika hopes she’s a good role model, especially to those wanting to become authors.

It’s really important to encourage that passion when they are young.”

 

One young student inspired by Denika’s books is Kendra, 11. Denika did a Zoom chat with her.

Royal Orchid was amazing!  Denika’s words created all those characters and created a world so real. Denika has made a path for me into the writing world. Denika you have inspired me, thank you so much for being who you are and creating an incredible and wonderful experience for all your readers.

“I followed your story and read it over and over again. The way you told the story – not only did you make me a better person but you’ve helped me with finding my passion. Thank you so much.”

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For more information:

Denika’s website

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