Saturday, October 5, 2019

The meaning of Fuzzy Doodle - the Arts as a Bridge to Literacy ...

I spent time in Christchurch last week. I'd been invited down to talk a little bit about the new book, Time Machine and Other Stories, during the social evening event at the 2019 National Conference of the NZ Literacy Association. I was also invited to read my book, Fuzzy Doodle, to all the delegates as part of the evening's entertainment, as The Arts as a Bridge to Literacy was the theme of the conference. And I'd successfully pitched a daytime programme workshop proposal to the conference organisers on Readers as Superheroes. Most delegates were teachers and this is the first time I'd spoken to teachers about reading and literacy rather than creative writing so I was a little nervous going in to my session, but happily the response was a positive one. I sat in on the key note speeches and one of the other workshops on the day of my presentations, and came away with some cool insights on imaginative play, and practical ways to raise the writing skills of intermediate students. I met some wonderful teachers and a librarian or two (if you are in Christchurch you must check out TÅ«ranga - the fabulous new library in the city centre), and I felt very energised by the whole experience.

Image may contain: 1 person
(Photo credit - Mary McCallum).

Here is the speech that accompanied my reading of Fuzzy Doodle.

"People often ask how we produce our particular art form. 'How did you write that book?' Part of the process always feels unexplainable. It's difficult to understand or describe. Like trying to understand how the universe is infinite, or how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Where do ideas come from? How do we turn them into a whole story?

As the story advances both pictures and words become more complex and sophisticated - just as understanding and ideas grow and mature, as we grow and mature. The story, like creativity, is layered. It can be read on a purely fundamental level, as the story of the caterpillar to butterfly life cycle. There are also resonances with the familiar text of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. And yet, this is also about the more impenetrable process of how we make art. Clearly we must absorb elements of the world around us - here Fuzzy eats words and pictures - in order to transform this sustenance through the creative process - into a work of art. Whether that's a book, or a painting, a musical composition, choreographed dance or other forms.

But it also recognizes that we all start at a very basic level - the scribble, the doodle, the scratchings on the page. And as the book says, which is the message we really want children to hear, is that, Great things from little scribbles grow! Every child is creative. And if we feed them right on arts and ideas, they will produce amazing things."


Next week I am taking a holiday programme, teaching creative writing to school students at Sancta Maria College. This is one of a series of 'Write Like an Author Camps' created by author Brian Falkner that run around the country throughout the year. You can check these camps out here.  Next month I'll be taking part in the Wild Imaginings Hui in Dunedin, (details here). I'm looking forward to celebrating and talking nonstop about writing and books, and to networking with my tribe from all around New Zealand.

In writing news, I have completed all the manuscripts for the three picture book ideas I was working on. They came to me in a rush, and the writing flowed, and over a couple of months I have written The End times 3. Now I am bereft of picture book ideas and despite the fact that I have written many picture books over the years, at this stage I always feel like I will never get another picture book idea EVER again. Logic would slap me upside the head and say experience shows you how WRONG that is, and yet my brain is like, 'Nup, that's it, no more, NADA, Zilch, NEVER again.' Brain, why do you do this to me?! I guess this would be a good time to have a little writing vacation, cos three picture books over two months is a pretty good (slightly hectic) result, but there is always the nagging thought that we are only as good as our last publication and if momentum is not maintained on new material then the world IS flat and I am about to fall off the side of it into oblivion. So there's that. And there is also the distressing truth that finishing a manuscript comes with no guarantee of publication. I am in the perpetual spin cycle/wringer phase that is the washing machine of being a writer. No wonder I feel so dizzy all the time. Should anything find a home, I will let you know.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

This uninvited enquirer thinks excruciation should be a word...

I am a bit stuck in limbo again at the moment. I have been circling for days round the theme/thesis for a new blog post but have been finding it difficult to land. I guess I'm at the running out of fuel stage so here I am about to write about nothing in particular, because it's either come down on purpose, or crash and burn.

So ... those limbo times. A new book is out there (yay!! go Time Machine & Other Stories) trying to worm its way into the hearts of new readers and find its place in the world. There is little to say at this point about how it will fare (if wishes were bestsellers, writers would thrive). It is a special kind of torture. Also, I am some months away from the build up for my two new picture books so there is nothing much I can do yet to help them along. This is a touch frustrating, but that's just how it is.

I have not been idle. I have been chipping away at a trio of new picture book ideas. The first is close (if not all the way) to completion, and the other two are coming along. I am quietly shocked at the progress I am making (who am I, and what have I done with the usual lazy-arse feet dragger?). I am also revisiting an old middle grade novel (over 29k words long already) with a view to wrangling it in to shape sufficient for submission. This is proving a much harder task. Sigh. I've been looking at some of the material I have already written for this project and think, actually, that's pretty good, which then intimidates me with the idea that I won't be able to match it now.

And I am dabbling in some 100 rejections activity, putting my name forward for things and making some official submissions to things like residencies. Putting my name forward for things uninvited is unpleasantly awkward. Do other people do this? Or am I the only embarrassing, pushy woman in town. Deep down I want to be invited without having to be all up in people's grilles, to get involved organically because of all my stunning works of genius (lol), not because I've begged them to think of me. It is anathema to my semi-reclusive, totally organic soul. But with the gap I had between published books I came to realise that I was going to have to do something to avoid total invisibility in the booky-sphere. Of course, all my efforts may still come to nowt. Which would be a jolly poor reward for the excruciation of willfully marketing and promoting myself. And because I have enquired rather than made a submission, there is no indication of when there might be results. Or if I will be advised at all. I may remain invisible. Time will tell. If anything comes to fruition I will let you know. But even if nothing comes of all my overtures, maybe you, dear reader, might be emboldened to put yourself forward for something that you might have wanted to try out for, but had been too shy to. Because I would feel far less awkward if I knew other people were also enquiring uninvited after opportunities. We can be awkward together! And how thrilling it would be if you succeeded!!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Out in the world...

Tarantara tarantara!!

I had a flurry of entries over the last few days, some on the blog and some via email for reasons which I decided were entirely acceptable. Not only did the winner correctly guess my favourite story (Crocodile Dreaming) but they also guessed my second favourite as well (Pirate Eye) and their order of 1st, 2nd and 3rd faves was closest to my own. No one picked my third fave and I am leaving this as a mystery for another possible competition in the future. And the winner (DRUM ROLL please) is: Ezabella Lanuza from St Mark's School in Pakuranga. Ezabella wins a signed copy of Time Machine and Other Stories!! which will be in the post shortly.

Thank you to everyone who entered. You are all terrifically smart people who know books make awesome prizes.

Surrounded by good friends and family, the book was launched last night by publisher Mary McCallum from The Cuba Press, and book-loving, book-reviewing, librarian and friend, Crissi Blair, at Time Out Bookstore in Mount Eden.

Just outside the door at Time Out Bookstore :)

Crissi, Me and Mary
(photo by my SO)


The most delicious mini-cakes from The Caker on K Rd.

My little book is now set free to fly to readers and hopefully the stories inside will delight them as much in the reading, as they delighted me in the writing.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Competition results! Did anyone win a book??...

The competition to win a signed copy of Time Machine & Other Stories closed on Sunday and I have been unsure of the next step to take because no one correctly guessed my personal favourite story from the collection, or my 2nd and 3rd faves either. It is a difficult challenge. So, I am leaving the competition open until the day of the launch - August 29th. If you have already entered, you get another go. If you have not entered previously you get one go as you can check out the comments that have already been left to eliminate those stories. If no one guesses correctly by August 29th I think I will just randomly pick a winner. And if someone writes an interesting reason for their guesses I might deliberately pick that entry to win. Have a go. Free book up for grabs. And I like to think it's pretty good.

And the competition is now open to everyone, whether you live in NZ or not. Make sure you check out the rules in the previous post here on the blog.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Launch and competition - Time Machine & Other Stories

My latest book, Time Machine & Other Stories, is due out this month. It is a while since my last book came out (Fuzzy Doodle, 2016) and I had forgotten how it all works. The thrill of having the physical book in my hands, and the relief, of seeing coherent prose on the pages when you glance inside, and a cover which looks even better than you imagined. I'd forgotten that weirdly free-floating (scarily untethered), limbo phase between the cogs of publicity and launching slowly winding up, and the book being seen and read and maybe reviewed and hopefully purchased. The nerves of waiting for people to say what they think about your book. There is a fight inside me between excitement and terror and who knows which one will win. Is it like the two wolves tale (one good, one bad) where the one that wins is the one you feed? From the outside looking in, the birth of a book is such a joyous occasion, but every parent has fears and worries about their child's survival and success. Go well, new baby!!

The book is in bookstores from August 11th. And I will be wetting the newborn's head and celebrating its arrival on Thursday August 29th at Time Out Bookstore, 5-30pm. It would be lovely to see you there!!

And here is a competition to win a free copy (for NZ readers only). I have a favourite story in this collection. Below is a list of the titles of all the stories included in the book (in the order they appear in print). Comment here on this blog post with which story you think I like best, and I will pick a correct entry to receive a copy of the book, hot off the press. Remember to identify yourself in some way so I can name you if you win (a pseudonym is fine). Competition closes August 10th. Up to three guesses per person allowed. I also have second and third favourites, and if anyone picks all three correctly there will be a bonus prize.

Now's Good
Drawing Horses
Holding My Breath
Smart Soup
Time Machine
A Winter's Day in 1939
Crocodile Dreaming
Time Machine II
The Monster Under My Bed
The Gift
Rich Pickings
My Mother is an Alien
The Man with the Dog Eye
Dog's Best Friend
A Passport to Friends
Last Summer
Time Machine III
Pirate Eye: a novella

Saturday, July 13, 2019

2019 Writing Children's Picture Books Workshop

Arghhh!! My eyeballs, my eyeballs! I have been editing ma short stories for the last few weeks, and now proof reading! Anyone for fried brains? Yet, all too soon it will be too late. The book will be off to the printers and those words and all that punctuation will be set in ink on those pages permanently. Publishing is so yin and yang. So exciting and terrifying, so energising and exhausting. And the book isn't even out yet.

Once the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted I will be gearing up for my Writing Children's Picture Books Workshop with Selwyn Community Education. On Sunday 18th August this year, it runs from 10am to 4pm at Selwyn College in Kohimarama. You can check it out, and register, here. Looks like there might not be too many places left, so get in quick if you're keen.

And just in case you are new to my blog and me - here is a little background information in case you were wondering how I came to run this course. I have written many picture book stories over the last twenty years. Some of them have won awards and been nominated for others. I have experienced rejections and acceptances and I know that having books previously published is no guarantee of having things published in the future. I have submitted with an agent and without. I have picture book number 8 and number 9 coming out early next year. Sharing with Wolf with Scholastic NZ, illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson, and Moon and Sun with Upstart Press, illustrated by Malene Laugesen. They are very different books. One is dark and funny, and the other gentle and heartfelt. Just this past summer I was a judge for the 2019 Storylines Joy Cowley Award and having made my way through all 158 manuscripts, I have some feedback for future submitters. I'll be talking about this during the workshop. Submissions for the 2020 Storylines Joy Cowley Award close October 31st so you'll have time to polish up your manuscript before you need to send it off.

Friday, July 5, 2019

'Time Machine and Other Stories'

Publishing has a slightly strange trajectory. No smooth parabolic arc here, no sirree. It is more like some terrifying mountain range that only the most foolhardy attempt. You write your stunning work(s) of genius (small, slightly bumpy but upward rise), and once polished and primped, send it off to publisher(s). At this point your arc might continue up (small, almost imperceptible gradient), or it may crash and burn. A publisher says yes and your internal arc soars, but really, outwardly, it just hiccups along with mostly slow, gradual, but occasional step-like upward movements. Contract sent? Take a step up. If it's a picture book, illustrator confirmed, it's a step up. Then you almost forget you have a book coming out (but not really because all the key dates are burned into our brains), and the arc is more plateau at this point. "My book?" you reply to polite enquiries, "Oh, yes. The book. It's something, something, some time distant," and you wave at the air in front of you, as if the publication date is somewhere out there visible if they look hard enough. Then suddenly edits are sent (giant leap for mankind!), a cover is decided upon, release dates and launches become a thing and finally this project looks like a book and you can see the midnight ink beyond the stratosphere approaching rapidly. And the stars are shining. And your heart skips a beat because the book is more than you imagined it could be.

Well here we are folks. And I am so proud and excited. Time Machine and Other Stories by yours truly is coming out August 11th. There are thirteen previously published short stories that have been gathered together here in one handy-dandy tome. There are an additional six new stories, one of which is a novella that I heart so much that it partly drove the determination to make this collection happen. I thought these stories were pretty good before but editor Mary McCallum from The Cuba Press has really made them sing and shine. I cannot wait to share them with you.

Published by Ahoy (an imprint of The Cuba Press), with cover and internal artwork by the very talented Theo Macdonald. Out August 11th. Launch details coming soon to a blog near you.