Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jumping at our own shadows...

Sorry I have been a bit absentee. Things have been busy and I find I am unable to post on my blog during the day. And, well, I have been having doubtie moments. This might seem perverse with books published and things going well etc... but doubts are no respecters of, well, anything, really. For many creative folk it is a normal part of their personality/genetic make-up. We are sensitive souls who jump at our own shadows (when we aren't inserting them into our stories). These things don't have to be logical. Doubt is my middle name.

When you work within an industry which is mediated at every step by personal taste, opinions and subjectivity, and where every step of the process is unpredictable and not necessarily tied in to the value of your writing, well because what is valuable? and how is that value mediated by personal taste, opin....well, you get my drift - things can get tricky and doubtie. Especially when there are so many ways for people to tell you what they think of your work, and then if they don't talk at all, well the silence is VAST. Anyways. So, as you do, I went in search of some good advice online on the topic of doubt and came across some useful stuff - this is helpful, and so is this. The second one is more about dealing with criticism but I think most of our doubts boil down to our worries about how our work will be received. And the lovely thing about these two posts is that they demonstrate that plenty of others also deal with doubts. It is normal to feel doubts. The important thing is not to let those doubts make decisions for you.

Meanwhile The Song of Kauri has had a nice review from Barbara Murison on her fab Around the Bookshops blog. I love how she says -

"The whole beautiful production sings of the kauri – its gold, brown and yellow cover with its embossed koru, the carefully crafted words and the feeling that if you took a deep breath as you turn the pages you would be able to smell the leaf mould of the forest and the heady scent of the kauri gum." 

And I'm thrilled to say, two of the other 2014 University of Otago Fellows, Mozart Fellow Jeremy Mayall and Caroline Plummer Dance Fellow Louise Potiki Bryant have suggested collaborating with me to create music and dance for The Song of Kauri. I'm recording a reading of the book today to accompany the music Jeremy has composed. More details soon on the dance, I hope. This is a first for me, and for one of my books. Exciting times.

I talked up a storm last week down in Invercargill, running a round of workshops for Intermediate students, High School students and adults for the Dan Davin Literary Foundation. I met a host of wonderful people and was well sorted by organiser extraordinaire Becs Amundsen. A cool few days in the deep South. I even got down to Bluff, which was amazing, thanks to Becs. See? 2014 is my year of adventures.

Sent in and received back another university assignment. Had my misgivings but it went okay. It will be weird to be at the end of my studies when I complete this year's paper.  I've been enjoying the Diploma of Children's literature so much (except when an assignment is due and I want to throw things and set fire to my hair and run around the room screaming). It's been a terrific insight and taught me so much. I am still not sick of learning yet but will have to take responsibility for it myself in future. The world is such an interesting place.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hours of fun...

I am thrilled to report that I am part of the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival 2014, happening August 28-31. You can check out the programme here. I'm one of the writers involved in the 'Read Aloud Schools Programme' along with Jackie French, Donovan Bixley, Dylan Horrocks, Laini Taylor and Anis Mojgani. Excuse me if I am a little giddy about all of this. I am part of the free storytelling on Saturday for 8 to 12 year olds at 11.30am on Saturday and for young children at 1pm. And then I get to debate the truths of writing for children with Gavin Bishop and Tania Roxborogh at 2.30pm. You can be sure I have some opinions on this. Hours of fun. Bring it on!

It was fascinating to see a report on the contribution publishing makes to the NZ economy. I was surprised by the results. We make a real contribution ($330million total sales). Educational publishing and trade sales to educational institutions and libraries constitute 24% of total sales. And children's and Young Adults books will take a respectable share of trade sales. I would love to see the numbers drilled down to the different categories of books: children's and YA, adult fiction, non-fiction etc... For a small country these seem like robust figures. I have all sorts of thoughts and questions and need more information to find answers, and comment meaningfully. A key thought is that money is still being made in publishing. I shall not give up my day job yet. Ha ha, the day job is writing, and it doesn't pay well but I still feel hopeful. Oh who am I kidding. What else am I going to do. To all those people who say, 'what you do is not who you are,' I say, 'you are obviously not writers.' Sheesh.

And as my new book The Song of Kauri slowly eases it's way into the world, here is another lovely review with some Q and A from yours truly. And there was a bit of a thing on me in the Otago Daily Times last Thursday.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A winner haz been picked...

Tis time to announce the winner of my competition to win a copy of my new book The Song of Kauri. I have had a range of terrific entries on facebook and here on the blog. And the winner of the English version, with her name picked out of a hat by my eldest, is Sue Copsey, who picked her favourite name, the hattifatteners (from the Moomintroll books) for it's sublime mixture of silliness and pathos. Your book will be making its way to you soon. As it was unclear whether any of you would like to win the Maori version, if any one would be interested in this copy, I will give it to the first person who puts their hand up. Thanks to all for entering my competition.

I will be officially launching the book in Dunedin on August 1st. Exciting times!!

And in the ongoing debate about YA literature and what teens should and shouldn't be reading, here is a terrific post to remind adults everywhere that the kids, and their books, are alright.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Thrilled and terrified...

The release of a book is simultaneously thrilling and terrifying. Up till that moment the book has just had potential and promise. Now it is up to people to decide whether it is something they like and want to buy. Now readers will have a read and make up their own minds. As they should. My marketing and promotion strategy has always been kind of organic, and long term. Agent Janet Reid talks about the same sort of thing here and I think this has always been my philosophy. I'm not keen on being actively 'sold to' so I try to avoid doing this to others. And reading the phrase 'the next big thing, or 'by the next (insert famous author's name here)' about a new book hot off the press makes me grumpy. I want to hear what other readers think. Genuine word of mouth is not something you can manufacture.

Yet again there is much debate about the suitability of books for their target audience. In particular the winner of the 2014 Carnegie Medal, The Bunker Diary, by Kevin Brooks. Folk have been outraged that such a bleak book can win a prize. Because now more teens might read it. Nicola Morgan talks very thoughtfully about this fact, and our desire to protect young people, here.  I've talked about my stance on this issue before. I believe children and teens are self limiting and smart readers. There is no magic transformation into adulthood from adolescence. It can't happen in a vacuum. Teenagers must have access to information in order to become responsible, empathetic adults. Better that they read about difficult topics in a book, than have to experience them first hand in order to understand. Letting teens read books like The Bunker Diary might actually be a better form of protection for them.

And I loved this terrific smart response to that annoying article in Slate admonishing adults who choose to read YA books. It made my day. Because:

Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. - CS Lewis

But you should really go and read the whole thing. Or an extended version of CS Lewis's original article here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Your chance to win a copy of my new book 'The Song of Kauri'...

NZ Booksellers recently held their annual conference. You can read a bit about it here. As mentioned last year, sales are declining (bad), although the rate of descent is slowing (good). And again, sales of children's books are doing better than most (great). I would love to know what actual numbers we are talking about here, and whether NZ children's literature is forming a reasonable percentage of those children's book sales. And if they are, what sort of push might be made by all those involved (from publishers, through to booksellers, and international trade folk) to make the most of this. How do our NZ children's literature sales numbers relate to total NZ lit sales and book sales overall? NZ literature has been getting some good overseas exposure recently through our guest of honour position at the Frankfurt Book Fair a few years back, our special Festival in the UK last month, and through Eleanor Catton's spectacular Man Booker Prize win. Yay! This is all great news. I am hoping at some point this wonderful spotlight will widen on our local children's literature. We work hard to write great books and help them sell, but I think we could do with some extra help to get a bit more attention overseas. If our books garner more interest, this benefits booksellers as well as authors and illustrators.

I went on some wonderful school visits this week, with an all day session on Tuesday at Kowhai Intermediate in Auckland and a shorter one at Balmacewen Intermediate in Dunedin yesterday. We talked about plot essentials, character development, the importance of names and of editing, and about books we love amongst other things. I tip my hat to the wonderful teachers and librarians who devote themselves to sparking a love of reading in their students, who continually look for new ways to interest and engage them, and encourage and support their reading and writing skills. They are real heroes in my book!

And now folks, it's time for a competition! My new picture book The Song of Kauri is out July 1st and I have just received my author copies. I have one hardback copy and one softback Maori translation to give away. In the comments below tell me your all-time-favourite character name, and why you love it. Some personal favourites of mine are Elizabeth Bennett, Frodo Baggins and Finnick Odair.  Also say whether you want the Te Reo or English version of the book. The competition will close on July 4th. And.......go!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Night at the Awards: Part 1...

It was the end of an era last Monday night. The final NZ Post Book Awards ceremony for Children and Young Adults. After 18 wonderful years, a long and fruitful sponsorship has come to an end.  NZ Post can no longer sponsor the book awards and the job of finding a new sponsor has begun. Next year things will be different. I hope they are as magical and exciting as they have been with NZ Post in the sponsor's seat.

The scene this year was set with butterflies, bell jars, toadstools and vines. A little bit Wonderland really.

(Photo taken by Fifi Colston).

Winners on the night were:

Picture Book: The Boring Book by Vasanti Unka
Non-fiction: The Beginner's Guide to Hunting and Fishing in New Zealand by Paul Adamson
Junior Fiction: Dunger by Joy Cowley
Young Adult Fiction: Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox
Best First Book: A Necklace of Souls by Rachel Stedman
Children's Choice: The Three Bears, Sort of by Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley
Margaret Mahy Book of the Year: The Boring Book by Vasanti Unka

Congratulations to all the winners! These are all terrific books. I cannot deny it would have been rather lovely to be a winner myself (cos really, who doesn't like that) but being chosen as a finalist is a big honour and I am very proud to be in the company of the other finalists. There were many wonderful children's books published in New Zealand in 2013. I'm proud of my book. And I'm thrilled New Zealand children's and young adult's literature is in such good heart. I am so happy to be a part of this community.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Why yes, I do have an opinion on that...

Well, look at that! I am reading and talking as part of the Read Aloud Programme for Schools for The Press Christchurch Writers Festival in August. Super excited! Writers Festivals are a little slice of heaven.

Some folk have been complaining about adults reading YA. Here and here. Cos ya know YA is just dumbed down stuff and talks about issues that have no relevance or interest for adults.What are we thinking reading that puerile stuff. Cos like children and young adults are, ya know, like some simple, inferior version of like, grown up people. Sheesh. Folk reacted, responded, or went a little septic, here and here. What do I think (cos y'all know I am bound to have an opinion on this)? There is an arrogance that underlies some of the criticisms of YA literature. That young adults and children are simple, un-smart versions of adults. That YA books can only offer the adult reader escapism, instant gratification and nostalgia (and it is obviously embarrassing to want these from a book). That YA literature is incapable of dealing with complex, important or challenging themes.  That grown up issues are somehow better and more important than issues facing younger people. Is Malala Yousafzai's experience simpler and less important because she is a teen? Can we not join the 'real' realm of adulthood if we don't read 'difficult' adult literature. But perhaps the thing that I wonder most about this brouhaha is why? Why the complaints and criticisms? And why do folk see the need to denigrate a book category to further their agenda? I wonder if perhaps some writers of adult literature aren't happy that adults are buying and reading YA books rather than adult books. They want to shame us into changing our reading habits. I just can't help thinking that telling me I should be embarrassed is the wrong way to go about getting me to change my behaviour. And making sweeping generalisations about YA books of which many are diverse and rich and well written is just, well, poor ammunition. Of course not all YA books are sophisticated and smart. But then neither are all adult books. And children and young adults might lack experience but they don't lack brains, or feelings. And they can be faced with issues just as complex as those facing adults. And if they aren't there yet, doesn't mean some of the books don't contain those more difficult themes for when they are. Because the thing that irks me most about this whole debate is thinking that the way to win me over is by telling me YA books are beneath me. That there is something wrong or bad about that kind of literature. Perhaps if the critics had spent more time impressing and exciting me with the books they would like me to read, I would be more open to their suggestions. I just want to read good books, regardless of the target audience.