Author Sayu Weerasinghe spent nine months writing her first novel. Photo: Paula Hulburt.

Young writer’s book makes its mark

Nestled on the library shelves, a colourful cover catches the eye.

Like it’s literary neighbours, it looks like a good read, but unlike the others, this book has been written by a ten-year old Blenheim girl.

Even more impressively, English is not her first language.

With a talent for creative writing, up-and-coming author Sayu Weerasinghe has published her first book.

The St Mary’s School pupil says she has always been a keen writer.

“I’ve always loved writing and reading, ever since I first went to the library when I was about 6-years-old.

“My dad gave me the idea for the book and encouraged me to write it.

“I didn’t have time to so any at school, so I wrote after school and it took about 9 months to finish,” she says.

The Coral Kingdom is a magical adventure story, full of colourful characters and exciting twists and turns.

The main character, Molly is whisked away to an unfamiliar land called the Coral Kingdom when her grandmother’s dog finds a glowing shell on the beach.

Sayu is proud of the self-published work which she says wouldn’t have been possible without all the support and encouragement she had from her mum, dad, and teachers at St Maries School.

She also credits her English teacher in Sri Lanka for her support, reading and editing the draft and her daughter Serene Palleyagedara for her wonderful illustration on the book cover.

“I would like to write a series,” she says.

“I’ve already got ideas where to go next and when I’m older I would like to get a job and write stories in my spare time”.

When I told friends at school, I don’t think some believed me at first but when they saw it, they started asking me for autographs”.

Born in Sri Lanka, Sayu first moved to Nelson where her mother studied at NMIT to become a chartered accountant.

The family moved to Blenheim four years ago.

But learning a new language was no problem for Sayu who learnt English while living overseas.

“I was lucky,” she says.

Every teacher who has taught Sayu has been given a copy as well as Marlborough District Library where the book can be borrowed.

But for those wanting their own copies, Sayu’s debut book is available for $15 New Zealand dollars online.

“I used everything I know about writing in this book but never thought I’d have a book.

“It was so exciting when the book arrived, and I saw my name on it.”

The book can be ordered through

Dr Molly Wittig is holding a mug of coffee as she explains a busy start to the day meant her morning caffeine fix had to wait.

Psyched-up over book fest

Dr Molly Wittig is holding a mug of coffee as she explains a busy start to the day meant her morning caffeine fix had to wait.

The midwinter sun filters through the windows at her comfortable Blenheim clinic room, a stack of well-thumbed papers and her latest read lay on her desk, a book she knows very well.

Molly will be at this year’s Marlborough Book Festival talking to award-winning journalist Naomi Arnold about the book she edited – Headlands – New Stories of Anxiety.

It was, Molly says, a fascinating read.

“She’s a very accomplished journalist. We spoke yesterday [Thursday]; she’s down some really cool things and is really driven and accomplished.

“The book is great for people to know that they’re not alone and maybe they can identify and think, wow, that’s what I’m going through.” She says.

A published fiction writer with a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Louisiana State University, Molly is the perfect choice to head-up this element of the festival.

Appearing on stage at the ASB theatre is making Molly slightly nervous. She prefers to think of it as a “chat about the book with friends”.

“The great thing about the festival is it feels like a group of friends who are all there because we love books and authors,” she says.

Featuring a collection of stories by 32 Kiwis from all walks of life sharing their personal experiences of anxiety, the book seeks to show what anxiety is.

Brave contributors share their stories in a way which is sometimes raw and confronting. But all want to see an end to the stigma surrounding mental health.

With steady number of people seeking her help, Molly, who runs the Wittig Clinic, says readers will be able to relate, or know someone who will.

“The big question is why she chose anxiety and how she got these people,” she says.

“It’s a diverse group of people who’ve been willing to do it. It’s like casting out a net and seeing what you catch.”

Born in New Orleans, Molly arrived in Marlborough permanently with her husband Alex, also a doctor, but of medicine, in 2014.

With a young family, a cat, a dog, a private practice and three chooks, it is little wonder that the day’s first cup of coffee sometimes falls by the wayside.

But Molly’s buzz is not caffeine induced; she’s excited about the festival. As a festival devotee and a writer, herself, there’s plenty to look forward to.

She co-wrote Guardians of Draconem, a magical realism book for middle graders aged 8-12 years-old.

Its follow-up is underway.

“It’s finding the time. It’s always roaming around in my head, it just a matter of picking up the threads again,” she says.

This will be my fourth festival. I just love it, the organisers always do such a professional job.

“I always try and pick the ones [shows] I really want to go as, sadly I can’t go to them all and then I’ll hear that someone else was really good,” she says.

One in four New Zealanders suffer from a diagnosed mood or anxiety issues.

Is the issue more prevalent than it once was? Probably not, says Molly, but people are more aware of what to look out for and when to seek help.

“A hundred years ago it wouldn’t have been diagnosed and just dealt with by the family, probably in the dark without anyone else finding out.

“It’s getting better though, it’s less taboo and less scary.

“The book brings out that there’s definitely a cultural disconnect with Māori people less likely to seek help than pākehā.

“In the States, going to therapy has become mainstream but there are still many who are reluctant to seek help.

“There is a dearth of help but it is improving,” she says.

Tickets to the event, at the ASB Theatre on Saturday 6 July from 2-3pm, are available from ASB Theatre or online via Ticketek.

Marborough Book Festival will be on from the 5-7 July.

For more further information visit

Family bucks digital book trend

Whether she’s in the car, at the dinner table, or in bed, Kate Wilkes almost always has her nose in a book.

The 11 year-old bookworm’s family is one of Marlborough’s most prolific book borrowers.

Over the past six months Kate estimates she has read a whopping 780 books.  Her twin sister Molly has read 120, brother Jack, aged 14, has read 96, and her mother and father Nicola Poswillo and Steve Wilkes have read six each.

Totalling more than 1000 mostly real books in six months, it is safe to say the family of five are bucking a trend towards reading via digital formats.

“I love reading so much, my favourites are anything to do with animals and books starring girls,” Kate says.

“I get lost reading, people will be talking to me, and I won’t even hear them.”

Molly who enjoys “real-life fiction”, non-fiction and recipe books prefers physical books to reading on her iPad.

“A book never goes flat,” she says.

Over the past four years, Marlborough District Libraries manager Glenn Webster has seen a shift away from withdrawals of physical books in favour of the library’s e-resources.

There were 481,912 physical issues In 2014-2015 and 466,037 issues in 2017-2018 showing a decrease of 15,875 issues over four years.

Issues of e-books and audiobooks increased from 7,445 to 18,498, an increase of 11,053, over the same period.

“As our world has become more digitised, we’ve seen a corresponding shift in people moving towards digital reading resources,” Glenn says.

The library’s two apps BorrowBox and Libby have become a popular way for people to browse and borrow e-books and audio books without having to visit the library.

Nicola, an early childhood and primary school teacher, says she started reading to her three children before they were born.

Giving children access to a wide variety of books and and not pushing them to read books they are not interested in is a great way to instill a lifelong love of reading in children, Nicola says.

“As soon as babies learn to crawl, they will pick up a book and leaf through it if they are accessible.

“Discovering the wonder of books and being able to tell a story by looking at the pictures, rather than reading a story is more important than learning to read. They’ll soon pick reading up when they go to school.”


Molly and Kate’s favourite writers:

  • Belinda Murrell (Aus)
  • Anna Branford (Aus)
  • My New Zealand Story series (various authors)
  • Des Hunt (NZ)
  • Jacqueline Wilson (UK)
  • Chrissie Perry (Aus)
  • Michael Morpugo (UK)


Jack’s favourite writers:

  • Chris Bradford (UK)
  • Bear Grylls (UK)