I was 7 years old and my sister was 10 when my family immigrated to New Zealand from the USA. We arrived in Auckland on a P & O ocean liner called the SS Orcades which deposited us at the bottom of Auckland's Queen Street on a wintry, cold, August Sunday.
The first big thing my parents did was rent a car and drive all over New Zealand looking at places to settle. My sister and I spent long hours in the back of a Morris 1100 (which was, in the 1960s, a very new and popular imported motor vehicle) getting jostled about, mostly bored out of our brains, while Mum fed us honey sandwiches and warm Fanta or Coke (drinks were not often kept in fridges then - they were just on the shelf at the shop).
The combination of so much sugar and our boredom inspired my sister and I to come up with a story or a song, each day, which we then either sang or narrated to each other in our hotel room that night.
My sister was already tuned in to what made a good story.
"You need a good idea to make a great story," she said to me, "that means, you have something really horrible happen at the beginning so people want to read it, have a middle where there's plenty of action, and an end where lots of people die but some don't."
She had written up a list of genres which began with HORROR (her favourite), then went on to ANIMAL, WILD WEST, SUSPENSE, ending with LOVE. Each morning in the car we had to select a genre for our story that day. We always considered the last one too 'soppy' to write about.
Her strongest idea ever was the Giant Kiwi. Driving through the tall, dark forests of the South Island and the bush of the North inspired her to spin nightly tales of the giant kiwis, 20 feet tall, who lived in the dense and remote parts of the country where no one had ever been, and if you were mad enough to go there, you would be eaten, or seriously damaged, by the giant kiwis.
Every evening as we sat in our hotel room, she would tell me the latest horror about The Giant Kiwi. Needless to say, at the age of 7, highly impressionable, in a strange, new country with more trees than I had ever seen in my young life, venturing about in a small car with parents who really didn't know where they were going, and being fed honey sandwiches, day after day, I was beside myself with delicious terror at the thought of these vicious kiwi creatures roaming about in the darkness of the woods. We had, of course, seen photos of the small, innocent, flightless birds but for me, it wasn't hard to imagine these little kiwis transforming into massive scary things with long pecking beaks and ripping claws.
My sister got a lot of mileage out of the Giant Kiwis. She made it into a series which continued, night after night, with escalating horror and suspense until Mum told her to stop it because I couldn't get to sleep and if I did, I'd wake up screaming and rouse the whole family.
That's when we turned to the less frightening, but no less compelling, Western genre.
So the lesson here is: step one to a great story is a strong, interesting idea.
Sorry. The Giant Kiwi is already taken.