Saturday, January 24, 2015

Stepping up to the plate ...

Book sales were perky last year, both here in New Zealand, and round the world. This good news is a sweet note to be starting the year on. And children's and young adults books are doing particularly well. Yeehah! This makes me keen for writing.

In contrast to last year I have few fixed events in 2015. In fact I currently have only one speaking engagement booked in. Last year was jam packed and super exciting, but I have to say I feel just as excited about this somewhat quieter year. And there are a few tasty carrots dangling in the distance. My SO and I are having a bit of a trip away later in the year. Far away. To new places. Very exciting. And then I will come home just in time for the Bi-annual Children's Writers and Illustrators Conference. This year the Conference will be in Wellington over the first weekend of October. A conference like this is gold: for networking, for sharing information, tips, and issues, for exploring the new and catching up with old friends. I'll post further details as they come to hand.

I still have some older projects that I want to work on, and one or two new ones to get started with. I also need to get back in to a more regular blogging habit. I want to do lots of reading and take in art, theatre and movies.

So ... the plan for the year is to

1) Complete at least two long projects (novels) - either new or existing
2) Attend the conference
3) Read 46 books (already declared as my Goodreads challenge) and write a review of each one
4) Write at least one new picture book manuscript
5)Create a publishing plan for every completed manuscript (existing and new) which notes the publishing avenues I will pursue for each.
6) Put those plans in to action for each manuscript
7) Blog at least once a week
8) Contribute as much as possible to the task of creating a New Zealand Children's Laureate
9) Do that thing I've forgotten that I also want to do
10) Do some other really cool stuff

Putting these things in print is a good way of guilting me in to action on them. So what about you guys? What are you stepping up to the plate to do this year ...?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

There are no short-cuts to mushrooms...

I have been hanging around in this book business for quite some time now. More than 15 years of writing, submitting, up-skilling, network building, and thinking about process, books, publishing and how everything works and fits together. The playing field refuses to stay the same so I know I will never be at a point where I can stop learning.  But I keep meeting or hearing of people who ask nothing about the industry before jumping in with boots on - they are the 'I want to invent this really cool thing called a wheel' or 'I don't need to know about your wheel: my wheel will be much rounder' brigade. Or I meet or hear of people who want to take short cuts. Who want an easier route. Who know there is some sure fire formula for success. The 'What's the secret to writing a great book?', 'If I (or my publisher) say I'm the next big thing', 'I just need to use these sure fire methods for increasing my readership/ word-count/ book sales/insert desired outcome here' group.

There is an astounding amount of information available online, and in books on writing and publishing. If you are thinking of trying to get a book published don't wait until it is finished before you find out the requirements of the category/genre you are writing in: how to present and submit your work: who to submit it to: what is expected of you as an author and/or illustrator: how to go it alone if self-publishing is your preference, and the help you will need to do this: anything else at all about the book industry. Reading a best-selling and/or award winning novel/picture book does not qualify you as an expert in what is involved. It really pays to check out how that book got to end up in your hands. And there are screeds of information available. I spent years accumulating a boat load of knowledge about this industry, but it is all at my fingertips these days if I have any questions. It is at your fingertips too. There is no excuse for not knowing. Do your homework peeps.

And I have never met a real short-cut. I believe having success is likely to be because of good luck and good management. That whizz-bang technique you applied at the same time is very possibly a red herring unrelated to your outcome.

I reckon lasting success is the result of:
1) Hard work - writing is hard work. Nothing is perfect first time and must be sharpened and polished into the diamond that people will want to buy and read. It takes months and years. 'Instant success' is often the result of years of work behind the scenes, or a one-off.
2) Practice - all my writing over the years has made me a better writer. And I think more writing will make me a better writer in the future.
3) Persistence - this is what I want to do. So I will keep working at it, keep trying, keep challenging myself, within the vagaries of the publishing world
4) Patience - I don't have much and it has been hard work to be patient when things have taken a long time or expectations have had to be shifted or re-imagined. But there is no way around having to use it.
5) Becoming an active, participating member of the writing community. Give where you can and appreciate when people give back to you. My book friends have kept me from being a 'Jack' and helped me to be 'Rose'. I would do the same for them.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

I've been reading...

You might have been wondering where I've been. My dad passed away on the First of December. While not unexpected, it has been a sad time for my family. There have been a few other unwanted challenges as well this month for us and at times I have been focusing on the words of others as a comforting distraction. Below are some reviews of the books I have read recently.

Monkey Boy by Donovan Bixley (Scholastic, 2014). 4 stars - Action and adventure on the high seas with young powder monkey Jimmy Grimholt, freshly recruited into the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars. While at first vulnerable and naive, with the help of some unexpected allies and a very special talent Jimmy faces danger head on. This book is not for the squeamish, with plenty of blood, guts and toilet humour, but Bixley's well timed inclusion of graphic novel elements provides an effective change from sections of text, adds drama and detail, and keeps the pace zipping along. The narrative is a little slow to find its rhythm at first, but is a terrific read when it hits its straps.  A ripping read

Hunter by Joy Cowley (2004). 5 stars - Spare, fast paced and satisfying. Cowley deftly imagines and handles NZ history, seamlessly and believably presenting customs and habits of  the Maori people in 1805. In 2005 young teenager Jordan and her two little brothers are in a plane crash in a light aircraft that veers off course trying to avoid a storm. Hurt and alone, in an isolated part of New Zealand's rugged South Island they must fend for themselves and keep their hopes alive that help will come. Yet when help does come, it initially arrives most unexpectedly from the past. From Hunter, a psychic young Maori slave on a Moa hunt in 1805.  The adventure is a little predictable but well managed and for the most part, rewarding. Some words are a bit dated for the 2005 setting  ('Hipsters'?).  Recommended.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (2014). 4.5 stars - following on from the breathless second part of Stievater's Raven Cycle series (The Dream Thieves), we pick up with Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan and Noah six months after Maura disappeared into Cabeswater. There are new threats and old enemies to deal with, as well as another quest. As ever, Stiefvater's writing is lush and lyrical with sentences that sweep you up in their arms like long lost lovers, and paragraphs you want to save for sharing or future reference. The characters are intriguing and well drawn in a good amount of detail. The plot did get a bit squirrelly at times and the book ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger with the final installment a year away, but I will be lining up to get my hands on it as soon as it is available.

Every Breath by Ellie Marney (2013). 4 stars - Great read, good pace, well written. It tends towards the schmaltzy in places, as it's essentially a romance, and the detective work is on the light side, but this book is most enjoyable, with plenty going on, some chilling villains and a few good thrills along the way.

Every Word by Ellie Marney (2014). 3.5 stars - There were things I really liked about the book and other aspects, not so much. The criminal activity is more complex (good), and the violence nasty and more frequent than I think is healthy (bad). The romance is still hot and heavy and I would have preferred it dialled back a notch. On the whole a pretty good read though and I'll be checking out the third book when it is out in 2015.

Half Bad by Sally Green (2014). 5 stars - Half Bad - rather good. The writing in this first in a trilogy is polished and tight in this urban fantasy where witches live privately side by side with regular folk. Ongoing concerns amongst white witches about the threat posed by black witches comes to a head as young half code (white witch mother, black witch father), Nathan, heads toward his 17th birthday when he will receive his magical powers. Classic themes of what really makes people good or evil, nature vs. nurture, and how people justify their cruelty to others, wrapped in a well thought out package.  I was reminded a little of the Demon's Lexicon series by Sarah Rees Brennan (in a good way). Sometimes main character Nathan thinks a little more maturely than his age would suggest and I had to keep reminding myself how old he was meant to be. But I like where this is heading and have high hopes that the solution will be way smarter and more satisfying than how the BBC's Sherlock jumping off the roof was sorted.

Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen by Dylan Horrocks (2014). 5 stars - Magic indeed. We follow Sam Zabel through this comic adventure as he suffers a crisis of artistic conscience. Falling into a vintage comic of a famed fictional NZ comic artist, Sam explores the attitudes of the past as he searches for answers to questions about his own future, personally and creatively. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

You don't scare me, December....

My cold is gone, the assignments marked and returned, fabo judged, and paid work completed. I have set the wheels in motion for where to send my returned manuscripts next. Possibilities are by no means exhausted. I aim to straddle that wobbly fence-line that marks where the paddock of realism meets the field of optimism. It is precarious but not impossible. And new work needs creating. If the earlier works don't grab the publishers then I will require other work to submit. Not indie publishing, I hear you muse? Not with picture books. I cannot produce the kind of end product I would want. It is important to keep faith with my own aims and intentions. (Tip#1. Decide on the goal and then make sure subsequent decisions support this goal). It is important to acknowledge the skills I don't have, along with the ones I do. So, onward ... (Tip #2. Always make a plan for what to do next. Staring for too long at the result you didn't want is unhealthy. And Tip #3. If the commas you add to your sentence for meaning look awkward, it means you should reorder/rewrite the sentence).

And with the Christmas/Holiday season wind-down about to crank into high gear it is time to give thanks for the year that is drawing to a close and consider the possibilities of 2015. (Tip#4. Always celebrate the good stuff, irrespective of the size or shape of it).

For a change I don't have a university paper I am planning to enrol for next year, which is simultaneously a relief and somewhat horrifying. Sure stretching my brain around assignment questions has made it hurt sometimes, but finding answers is exciting and satisfying. Fact is I have completed my Diploma in Children's Literature so I should probably stop with the papers. I guess if nothing else the bank balance will be the cost of a paper better off next year (Tip#5 - there is often a silver lining - always check for one, and if you see it, acknowledge and enjoy it).

After the thrilling whirlwind of the residency, the festivals, workshops and school visits of this year, the anticipated relative quiet of next year is welcome and scary. The old ego will have to rein it in a bit but that will be offset by a leisurely pace that will allow more time for navel gazing (Tip#6 don't underestimate the importance of navel gazing for writers. Our navels are often where we find our best ideas - please note this is not to be confused with novel gazing which is something else entirely). The freedom to read whatever I want is deliciously appealing. And the idea of finishing off a few writing projects in 2015 is also a satisfying one. I love writing the End. Right, well, I think that's 2015 sussed. Okay December, I think I am ready for you.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

How NOT to write a blog post...

How not to write a blog post:

1) Have final university assignments to complete

2) Have paid work with a deadline

3) Run the last story writing competition for Fabo 2014 (with heartfelt thanks to Tania Hutley) at (entries are closed, and I am now judging the winners)

4) Get a cold

5) Start reading books from the enormous tbr pile beside your bed as soon as 1) is posted away to your course controller (so far I've read Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater and Every Breath by Ellie Marney)

6) Watch movies (I recommend Mud) and all 7 series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to avoid/get you through doing 1) and 2)

7) Be down about the state of publishing, which seems to be turning in ever decreasing circles these days. Lists have got shorter, publishers fewer, and competition fiercer. Publishers are looking for safe bets, blockbusters-in-waiting, the next big thing. I've recently had a couple of accepted projects subsequently declined. And I'm not the only one to whom this has happened.

8) Spend time looking for the silver lining to 7)

9) Stare at the looming prospect of Christmas that sucks the air out of everything else from now until January 1st

10) Read other peoples blog posts about what you should put in a blog post

11) Think a lot about writing (rather than doing any)

12) Listen to/watch your writing heroes say amazing things about the art of writing

See what I did there? :)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Head down...

Here is a little something something while I complete my final university assignment (which looks like it'll be about 10,000 words long at the rate I'm going). It includes a bit of a look at how Margaret Mahy uses and subverts fairy tales in her fiction. Which reminded me of this poem I wrote and posted some time back.

I have made some changes.

Sometimes words escape me
I think it's because I pinch them
As if I'm Hansel and Gretel's witch.
Sometimes I squeeze them
so hard
Cut them to make them fit
Like the feet of step-sisters
In Cinderella's dainty shoes
That they bleed
upon the paper
Leaving a stain upon the page
That reads between the lines
Like the truth of ‘happy ever after’
In old fairy tales

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bits and Pieces...

I am so excited to have a poem of mine included in the most wonderful book just out - A Treasury of New Zealand Poems for Children (Random), edited by poet Paula Green and illustrated by Jenny Cooper. This is a wonderful collection of poems by poets both new and experienced, young and old.

Paula arranged a series of interviews by children of all the poets and you can see my interview with Lily here. Lily asked awesome questions and I really enjoyed answering them. Oh, and my poem is called Fancy if you want to go check it out.

And next Saturday, November 1st, I will be reading my new picture book, The Song of Kauri, at 11am at Arataki in the Waitakere Ranges, as part of their events for Conservation Week. Yay!!!