This is a lovely review by Porirua librarian Bee Trudgeon:
Dinah Priestley and Cassidy Abbot with The Wicked Plum Tree
The newest published author out of Whitby is a teenager named Cassidy Abbot who is no stranger to Porirua Library. He has engaged in writing and story time initiatives with the library since he was little, and can now find his name on the library’s catalogue alongside his grandmother’s, author/artist/actor/historian Dinah Priestley, thanks to a picture book they have created together. The Wicked Plum Tree is dedicated (in part) to ‘those who love trees’, and tells the story of a naughty one. Although the book is threaded through with fantasy, it is partially based on fact.
“The three characters are based on me, Dinah and my grandfather Tony. They both are eccentric, as am I (in the best way possible),” explains Cassidy. “They did once have a plum tree that refused to produce fruit, but it came around. We both had the idea of putting it in a magic event in a book, and so we got to writing, illustrating and eventually the book was published.”
Cassidy says the example his grandmother set him by being a published author herself was extremely beneficial. “Growing up with her books made me see that you didn’t have to have special equipment or lots of money to be an author. I looked at her stories and thought: ‘I could do that!’ With the writing of The Wicked Plum Tree, she has helped me get into the author’s world.”
It’s a world he has been working towards getting into since about the age of four. “My mum has a collection of scrapbooks with various odd pieces of poetry, lyrics, stories, cartoon strips and pictures, the handwriting of which is sometimes illegible. They reflect what I was like back then, with titles, such as The Bad Beast, Puff The Dog, and Star Fever. I can almost clearly remember having the urge to write all sorts of random things at that age. As I look back on them, I think: ‘Was that really me writing?!'”
Cassidy spends a lot of time with Dinah, chatting about obscure topics, books, films, and authors… “Some people don’t get to see much of their grandmothers, so I feel lucky to be able to talk to her,” he says. They enjoy writing together, and she is teaching him to draw.
Dinah illustrated The Wicked Plum Tree, and Cassidy describes seeing her take on his characters as “a fantastic experience”. “I didn’t need to give her much direction, she just got it. I was really pleased, as the pictures are as important as the words (if not more important).”
When not contemplating how to draw fruit from reluctant trees, Cassidy expresses his interest in trees in other ways. “I contribute as a youth ambassador to Nature Through Arts Collective, who are a group trying to get kids back into nature through creative adventures. I also help Dinah in a project that she runs at Patanga Hill, in Wellington City, where we plant trees and flowers together. As a pre-schooler, I claimed that I could use my stethoscope in the garden to hear the ‘heartbeat’ of the tree.”
Cassidy’s number one tip for budding authors who wish to publish is: Keep at it! “If you don’t have enough money to self-publish, you’ll have to go through editors and big companies, and not all of the companies may want the book. You have to submit and resubmit sometimes, but at the end of all the hassle, a book with your name on it comes out, and that is the greatest satisfaction of all.
Cassidy envisages writing is something he will be doing for the rest of his life. He is so keen to share his enthusiasm that he offers free writing tuition at his website. You can read more of his work there.