‘Mind-traveller’ creator off on own real-life adventures far, far away

Local artist cum children’s author Astrid Conjaerts Schepel may have spent the past year writing about a fictional mind traveller’s Kiwi exploits but now she and her family are about to set forth on an adventure of their own, half a world away in the arctic area of Norway.

So while she’s looking forward to the publication late this month of ‘The Mind-Traveller New Zealand’ – a children’s story which follows the central figure Jae around the country in his boat-bed – she also relishes the prospect of new challenges in a colder climate.

That despite the fact she’s loved walking the beach every day with her dog, and rates the orcas coming into the harbour among the best of her memories from 10 years living in Raglan.

Astrid has turned moments like these into features of her second mind-traveller book, which sees the main character of the series now learning about the Kiwi way of life – and about himself – while venturing in his dreams from north to south and back again.

Her daughter Najade – who is also artistic – has in turn come up with some very familiar Kiwi landmarks to illustrate Jae’s journey, including Manu Bay where orcas and surfers ride the waves “in one of the longest left-hand breaks known around the world”.

Hobbiton also is instantly recognisable as Jae ventures into “the fantasy world of Middle Earth”, as is the South Island’s Aoraki/Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain.

The author has Jae and his new-found friend Maui travelling the country Kiwi-style, first in an old surf van with surfboards strapped on the roof. 

Then they take a Northern Explorer train down through the North Island, the Interislander ferry across Cook Strait, a bus to the mountains and glaciers in the South Island, a boat to Stewart Island and finally a flight from Christchurch back to Auckland courtesy of Air New Zealand. 

In all, an “epic” Kiwi adventure dreamt by Jae from the comfort of his boat-bed.

Astrid told the Chronicle she included the Kiwirail, bus and Air New Zealand logos for authenticity after getting permission to use them in her picture book. “Now they all want to see the book,” she laughed.

She also added in the foreword – “for all the mind-travellers in the world” – a descriptive quote of Aotearoa by Kiwi musician Tim Finn; and an epilogue from the winning song ‘Aroha I Aotearoa’ in the Hook, Line and Sing-a-long 2021 music competition. 

Publication of ‘The Mind-Traveller New Zealand’ signifies for Astrid the wrapping-up of her own Kiwi adventures – she’s experienced most of Jae’s destinations for herself – and the start of a new chapter of her life south of Bodø, which is in Norway near the Arctic Circle.

No prizes for guessing where in the world the next book in this children’s series is likely to be set.

Originally from the Netherlands, Astrid says she doesn’t need to live in her country of birth, which is small and too crowded now for her liking.

 “I love space and nature,” she admits.

Astrid, her doctor husband Jan and their four children lived in Norway – though farther south – before coming to New Zealand in 2011. 

She and Jan will depart with youngest daughter Isabeau just as soon as the family dog is booked on a flight, but son Yme will stay on for a year while he completes a degree at Waikato University. 

Oldest son Halcyon is already living in Norway and his sister Najade, who has illustrated both books so far, is a veterinary student in the Netherlands. 

Three of the four siblings have been students at Raglan Area School – Halcyon was past school age by the time the family arrived in the country. 

Astrid received the proofs of ‘The Mind-Traveller New Zealand’ early this week. She’s using the same Nelson printing company as with her first book, ‘The Mind-Traveller Cambodia’, and says there’ll again be both hard and softcover versions. 

“We like to keep it local,” she insists.   

By Edith Symes