Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Kids, exercise your rights!!

Peoples, it is very exciting times in this year's New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults!! Children get to say which books published over the last year they like the most. 20 Finalists across four categories have already been chosen by young readers from all around the country, and now it is up to you to have your say and cast your vote. Which books are your favourites? We want to know what you think. The power rests with you...

Here is the list to check out again before you get voting:-

Children's Choice - Picture Books
  • I am not a Worm by Scott Tulloch - Scholastic NZ
  • Little Red Riding Hood ….Not Quite  by Yvonne Morrison & Donovan Bixley - Scholastic NZ
  • The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett & Trish Bowles - Scholastic NZ
  • Doggy Ditties from A to Z by Jo van Dam & Myles Lawford - Scholastic NZ
  • Marmaduke Duck on the Wide Blue Seas by Juliette MacIver & Sarah Davis - Scholastic NZ
Children's Choice - Junior Fiction
  • Dragon Knight: Fire! by Kyle Mewburn & Donovan Bixley - Scholastic NZ
  • The Island of Lost Horses by Stacy Gregg - HarperCollins
  • How I Alienated My Grandma by Suzanne Main - Scholastic NZ
  • 1914 - Riding into War by Susan Brocker - Scholastic NZ
  • My New Zealand Story: Canterbury Quake by Desna Wallace - Scholastic NZ
Children's Choice - Non-fiction
  • New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions by Maria Gill & Marco Ivancic - New Holland Publishers
  • Maori Art for Kids by Julie Noanoa & Norm Heke - Craig Potton Publishing
  • The Letterbox Cat & other poems by Paula Green & Myles Lawford - Scholastic NZ
  • A New Zealand Nature Journal by Sandra Morris - Walker Books Australia
  • Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry - New Holland Publishers
Children's Choice - Young Adult Fiction
  • I Am Rebecca by Fleur Beale - Penguin Random House NZ
  • Night Vision by Ella West - Allen & Unwin
  • Spark by Rachael Craw - Walker Books Australia
  • Awakening by Natalie King - Penguin Random House
  • The Red Suitcase by Jill Harris - Makaro Press

Every kid who votes (you need to be 18 years old or under) will be in the draw to win some books for themselves and for their school (this is a truly awesome prize for people who love books like we do). On the second page you will be asked some questions to help the organisers contact you through your school if you win. If you are unsure about anything ask mum or dad or your teacher to help you.


Voting closes at 12 noon on Friday, July 31st. So VOTE now, and tell your friends to vote too. Just click here to vote.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

If a tree falls in a forest...

Feeling all existential this week. So, you know the argument. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? My SO and I have batted this one back and forth from time to time, neither one of us budging from our preferred stand on the debate. Does sound rely on a receiver to exist? What do you think? And why am I asking? Well, it occurs to me that being a writer is a bit like this. If you produce work that no one reads are you still a writer?

Bear with me.

There is a saying - Publishing is a business, writing an art. The two will never completely see eye-to-eye. Sure some writers work on commercial principles, writing, as much as it is possible to do so, for the market. They focus on commercial titles which have a greater chance of selling in volume. Of course there are no guarantees. All writers take a risk that their fall in the forest will be unheard. Some of us write stories that try to answer some other need. At first publication is the yardstick of our success. And if we are published, then sales, further publication and perhaps even short-listings and awards become the new yardsticks. All of us want to be heard. We crave a receiver for our sound. The more receivers the better. It's our greatest fear. That we aren't real if no one hears our voice.

But hang on ... just backing the truck up here. That tree created sound. Celebrate the act of creation folks. Cos humanity sometimes gets a little caught up with the measures of things rather than the creation itself. What is the object of our pursuit? The commerce? Or the creation? Personally I think it's cool to seek both. On the whole, we are social creatures who like to share what we do. I need a way to show others (publication) and understandably I hope they enjoy it (sales, short-listings). And if I'm honest I personally find the measures highly desirable. My ego likes a good stroking as much as the next person does. So what happens when the gap between strokes widens? Truth is, the only thing you can control is what you produce. You can't control the publishers, the market place, the readers, so focus on the product. In some ways I can't even control that. If there is a switch inside my brain that would allow me to stop the urge to write I am yet to find it. So I am bound to keep creating. If no one is listening I intend to focus my attention on making the sounds regardless. Gotta make the best tree-falling noises I can. And just gotta be a tree that can keep getting back up again ;-)


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Finalists Announced

The finalists for the 2015 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults have been announced. Check out this awesome bunch of books!

Picture Books
  • Construction, Sally Sutton and Brian Lovelock, Walker Books Australia
  • I Am Not a Worm, Scott Tulloch, Scholastic New Zealand
  • Jim’s Letters, Glyn Harper and Jenny Cooper, Penguin Random House
  • Keys, Sasha Cotter and Joshua Morgan, Huia Publishers
  • Little Red Riding Hood . . . Not Quite, Yvonne Morrison and Donovan Bixley, Scholastic New Zealand
Non-Fiction
  • Ghoulish Get-Ups: How to Create Your Own Freaky Costumes, Fifi Colston, Scholastic New Zealand
  • Māori Art for Kids, Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke, Craig Potton Publishing
  • Mōtītī Blue and the Oil Spill, Debbie McCauley and Sarah Elworthy, Mauao Publishing
  • The Book of Hat, Harriet Rowland, Makaro Press/Submarine
  • Under the Ocean: explore & discover New Zealand’s sea life, Gillian Candler and Ned Barraud, Craig Potton Publishing
Junior Fiction
  • Conrad Cooper’s Last Stand, Leonie Agnew, Penguin Random House/Puffin
  • Dragon Knight: Fire!, Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley, Scholastic New Zealand
  • Monkey Boy, Donovan Bixley, Scholastic New Zealand
  • The Island of Lost Horses, Stacy Gregg, HarperCollins
  • The Pirates and the Nightmaker, James Norcliffe, Penguin Random House/Longacre Child
Young Adults
  • I Am Rebecca, Fleur Beale, Penguin Random House
  • Night Vision, Ella West, Allen & Unwin
  • Recon Team Angel: Vengeance, Brian Falkner, Walker Books Australia
  • Singing Home the Whale, Mandy Hager, Penguin Random House
  • While We Run, Karen Healey, Allen & Unwin
Māori Language Award
  • Hoiho Paku, Stephanie Thatcher and Ngaere Roberts, Scholastic New Zealand
  • Nga Ki, Sasha Cotter and Joshua Morgan, Huia Publishers (translation ofKeys, a finalist in the Picture Book category)

This year we also have finalists for Children's Choice as selected by young readers themselves - a wonderful new development in these book awards.

Voting for the Children’s Choice opens on Tuesday, 9 June and closes on Friday, 31 July. This year there will be a winner in each category. Anyone 18 and under can go and vote here.
Children's Choice - Picture Books
  • I am not a Worm by Scott Tulloch - Scholastic NZ
  • Little Red Riding Hood ….Not Quite  by Yvonne Morrison & Donovan Bixley - Scholastic NZ
  • The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett & Trish Bowles - Scholastic NZ
  • Doggy Ditties from A to Z by Jo van Dam & Myles Lawford - Scholastic NZ
  • Marmaduke Duck on the Wide Blue Seas by Juliette MacIver & Sarah Davis - Scholastic NZ
Children's Choice - Junior Fiction
  • Dragon Knight: Fire! by Kyle Mewburn & Donovan Bixley - Scholastic NZ
  • The Island of Lost Horses by Stacy Gregg - HarperCollins
  • How I Alienated My Grandma by Suzanne Main - Scholastic NZ
  • 1914 - Riding into War by Susan Brocker - Scholastic NZ
  • My New Zealand Story: Canterbury Quake by Desna Wallace - Scholastic NZ
Children's Choice - Non-fiction
  • New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions by Maria Gill & Marco Ivancic - New Holland Publishers
  • Maori Art for Kids by Julie Noanoa & Norm Heke - Craig Potton Publishing
  • The Letterbox Cat & other poems by Paula Green & Myles Lawford - Scholastic NZ
  • A New Zealand Nature Journal by Sandra Morris - Walker Books Australia
  • Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry - New Holland Publishers
Children's Choice - Young Adult Fiction
  • I Am Rebecca by Fleur Beale - Penguin Random House NZ
  • Night Vision by Ella West - Allen & Unwin
  • Spark by Rachael Craw - Walker Books Australia
  • Awakening by Natalie King - Penguin Random House
  • The Red Suitcase by Jill Harris - Makaro Press
Winners will be revealed on August 13th at an Award Ceremony in Wellington.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Crocodile Dreaming Parts 1 + 2

And here is my completed story wot I have now finished


Crocodile Dreaming


The teacher took Joseph Miller to the zoo. In fact she took the whole class, including Joe, who was the second smallest student. It would have been better to be the smallest, but that position was filled by Martha Eggleton, who was not only short, but also blond and dimpled. Everyone felt protective towards Martha. Joe had red hair, and more freckles than ‘you could shake a stick at’ as Granny Miller liked to say. Joe didn’t get how a shaking stick was a way to measure anything but Granny used it quite a lot. He also had teeth that refused to sit neatly in a straight row, and wore glasses because otherwise the words on the board looked like wet weetbix. His classmates found all these things impossible to ignore. Maybe if Joe played sports, things would be different. But he didn’t, and they weren’t. He wasn’t really the right shape for sports.

Joe liked the idea of going to the zoo. Animals seemed much less complicated than people. His Mum and Dad took him once but they were busy people and hadn’t managed to fit in another visit yet. He tried to hide his excitement in the week leading up to the visit. The other boys in his class found other people’s excitement annoying. At least that’s how they found Joe’s excitement.
It was cloudy the day of the trip. Ms Terry said this was perfect zoo visiting weather. Sunshine made animals sleepy and want to hide away in their dens in the shade. Joe stayed on the bus till all the other students were off as he often tripped over other peoples legs. But when he finally emerged he sniffed the earthy combination of animal fragrances and smiled.
“Hurry up Joseph,” Ms Terry called. “Stop dawdling.”
The animals didn’t disappoint.
“Miss, aren’t flamingos meant to be pink?” Harry Tanner asked as he hung over the railing at their enclosure.
“They’re grey because of the food they eat,” Joe said. “When they’ve eaten enough shrimps and stuff they’ll change colour and be pink.”
“Quite so, Joseph,” Ms Terry said tartly.
“Yes Joseph, quite so,” Harry parroted.

It was a small mistake, laughing at Harry when the llama spit at him. Everyone laughed at Joe when Harry spat at him at school, and frankly Joe didn’t see the difference. But apparently there was one because Harry let him have it while no one was looking during morning tea break beside the band rotunda. Harry’s friends egged him on.
Joe tried not to cry, but his nose hurt.
“What’s all this?” asked Ms Terry when she finally noticed.
“They’re crocodile tears Miss. They’re not real. I didn’t do anything,” Harry said in his own defence, out of habit, even though Joe had said nothing.
Joe didn’t bother mentioning that crocodiles did actually cry real tears. And that it had nothing to do with pretending they felt sad when they didn’t.

The crack in the left hand lens of his glasses made the animals look mysterious; especially the crocodile, already a little sinister, eyeing Joe from under half closed lids, through the vapour of the climate-controlled Reptile House. Half submerged in murky water, the animal floated perfectly still. Its knobbly, patterned hide made Joe think of dragons, and the knights who fought them. Magnificent teeth, curving and pointed and long, sat outside the crocodile’s lips in a predatory grin. Who could really tell what simmered below the calm and silent surface? Only a low railing separated the pond and its grassy surrounds from the visitors.
“This is boring,” Harry declared. “Crocodiles never do anything. And they’re ugly.” He smiled at Martha who flashed a dimple back. “Let’s go see the lions.” Everyone was slowly filing out, students pushing and shoving in their impatience. It might have been an accident. Who could tell in the end? But Harry’s elbow caught Joe in the back as he leaned over the fence. Joe found himself falling forward, watched closely by those crocodile eyes.  He landed on the edge of the pond, his hands in the water. What was that beneath his hand? He grasped at it.
Laughter erupted behind him. Joe wasn’t quite sure how being in danger was funny.
As quickly as he’d fallen in, the crocodile keeper yanked him out, pulling him up by the back of his shirt. The crocodile had not moved. Even though that’s what they usually did when food fell down right in front of them. How odd.
“You should never climb into an enclosure,” the keeper warned. “Crocodiles are killers.”
There seemed little point in Joe saying he’d been pushed.
“Yes,” he said instead. And, “Thank you.” But already the keeper was moving off to attend to his next task. The room had emptied. Joe opened his palm out and looked down at the crocodile tooth, large and hard and yellowed. He popped it in his pocket and glanced at the crocodile.
“Thanks for not eating me,” he said.
The crocodile blinked, a slow single tear sliding down its cheek. Joe said, “Bye,” and hurried off to find Ms Terry and the others.

His parents told Joe to be more careful when he showed them his broken glasses after school that day. They fished his spare pair out of the hall cupboard and handed them to him. It felt so much better not to have a fault line running through his eyesight. Joe didn’t tell them about the tooth. Instead he put it under his pillow as he got into bed that night.

He dreamed…

His nose filled with the scent of animals rising up from the ground beneath him. Zebras, antelope, giraffes, and lions. And darker things. Hyenas, man.  He moved forward slowly across the grass, with a scything motion, twitching from side to side, his tail sweeping the ground behind him. His claws dug into the earth. He blinked, a lazy movement, felt his teeth slide over his lips as his mouth clamped shut.
Joe felt powerful, hungry, and confident. He reached the edge and slid into the water, surging forward as the fluid took his weight. His view blurred a little as his third eyelids moved across his eyes, but they kept the water out. He watched bubbles rise up from his nostrils to break the surface of the water above. Submerged reeds swayed, silt from the riverbed swirling with his movement and the currents. Thin sharp shapes darted: fish too small for his appetite. This was his domain. Here the rules were simple. Here he felt at home.

“Good sleep?” Joe’s mum asked as she poured cereal into his bowl the next morning.
“Mmmm,” Joe replied. Telling his mum ‘maybe’ or ‘no’ would only lead to a difficult chat between them. He felt the tip of the crocodile tooth in his shorts pocket. Joe smiled at his mum and pushed his glasses up.

He felt different when he walked through the school gate. He was still a boy, but he felt his tail sweeping the ground behind him, his eyelids closed and opened in a slow, lazy blink, and his teeth … his teeth felt sharp.
Harry was waiting for Joe, as he often did. Half way along the corridor leading to their classroom. Just in front of the hook where Joe would have to stop and hang his schoolbag.
“Have a nice swim in the crocodile pond yesterday?” Harry asked, looking smug.
“Yes I did thanks. I felt right at home,” Joe replied. His tail twitched, his jaws closed and Joe rolled with his prey.
SNAP!
“They’re just crocodile tears,” Joe said to the gathering crowd as he hung his bag up and headed to his classroom.

He felt sure, as he took his seat at his desk, that at the zoo the crocodile was grinning. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Mockingjay

Do you ever feel like you are in a novel? More and more, people talk of the publishing world as if it was some kind of dystopia...

Sometimes I feel as if I am in the Hunger Games - thrown in to a vast wilderness with booby traps, and hidden dangers, fighting for survival. Skills will help you battle through but who knows what will be thrown at you next. The ground and goal posts keep shifting. Sometimes concealing yourself with camouflage and just waiting it out might be the best strategy. There are judgements and assessments, and ratings are applied. The audience watches on, drink in hand. They want to be entertained.

I'm waiting for my little parachute-topped tiffin pan with burn ointment from my sponsors.

Will there be a rebellion?


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

If only I could eat their brains...


Last weekend I attended a number of excellent sessions at the Auckland Writers Festival. They pulled out all the stops and had an incredible selection of international speakers this year including Haruki Murakami (who just does not attend festivals), Carol Ann Duffy, Tim Winton, Dav Pilkey, Helen MacDonald, David Walliams, David Mitchell, Alan Cumming, Anthony Horowitz, Morris Gleitzman, Ben Okri, Atul Gawande and many, many more. Local writers included Philippa Werry, Donovan Bixley, Paula Green, Rachael Craw, Nalini Singh and Helena Wisniewski-Brow. It is hard to imagine how they might top this collection of awesome in future. But I wouldn't put it past them to somehow manage it (Sonya Hartnett, Maggie Steifvater, hint hint).

The crowds (and boy were there some crowds) were full of familiar faces, both of good friends and local writing (and other) luminaries. I caught up with pals from Queenstown, Dunedin, Taupo and Wellington as well as a bunch of Aucklanders. We raved about who we had just seen or were about to see, shared writerly gossip and generally had an all round good time. I went to the opening night gala, attended a scriptwriting workshop and saw and heard Alan Cumming (who urged everyone to be authentic), David Walliams (apparently when you meet the queen you aren't allowed to ask any questions which is very tricky, you just have to wait for her to ask you some), Anthony Horowitz (sought the original author's voice when writing Sherlock and Bond stories), and Helen MacDonald (who found solace in the relationship she forged with the brutal and noble goshawk Mabel) in action. I queued up to have a book signed by Anthony Horowitz (such a lovely guy) but did not even attempt to join the 3 hour line for David Walliams. You have to pick your battles folks. And all the time, this buzz of excitement, an energetic frisson of anticipation.


I enjoyed everything I went to. I laughed at times, had a lump in my throat at others, and felt that twinge of jealousy when they read from their work. Once or twice I felt grumpy with things the speaker said. But in the end I couldn't avoid feeling mostly a professional curiosity, rather than a fan's love. I nodded in recognition at their writerly advice. Sympathised with their struggles. I scrutinised their presentations for tricks and tips and ideas that I might be able to use myself in future. Sometimes I just wanted to be them, other times I thought, I could do that too. In the end none of them really spoke about how they write, which is fine because everyone's process is personal and non-transferable (except in a zombie-ate-my-brain kind of situation and even then there are no guarantees). They were all just interesting people with stories to tell, which I guess is kind of the point.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Are we in danger of becoming disconnected from our own literature...

It was too sad/frustrating/maddening/insert your emotional response here, to find out that NZ Book Month will not be going ahead this year. It seems so few outside of our own community want to invest in New Zealand literature, or celebrate it. Maybe books are bad for people, and reading is a waste of time and should be discouraged. Maybe having a literature that shines a light on our own experience, that celebrates our own unique culture, and values, and concerns is not worthwhile. Maybe we just can't write 'good' books here in New Zealand like people from other countries do. Or are books just a frivolous indulgence, a luxury that can be set aside when times are tight? 

No, of course not! Reading can be the best escapist fun /entertainment /enlightenment /thought provoking experience, and you get heaps of added bonuses. Literacy is the cornerstone of education. Reading improves our cognitive abilities, and enhances our emotional and academic intelligence. And reading can just make you feel good. We make some incredible books here in New Zealand but we constantly face an uphill battle to tell the public about them.

Are we in danger of being disconnected from our own literature? Because the longer you expect the cord between the public and local creatives to stretch, the less elastic, and more brittle it will become.

Perhaps it is assumed the book industry, and more particularly the creative folk providing content, will survive and persist regardless. That we do not need to be promoted or feted. Money can be cribbed from this, the logic might go, because books will still be made and be available to readers (and if our local literature diminishes, hey there are just so many books coming in from overseas). And lets face it, so many writers continue to write despite poor returns.

When NZ Music month began it was about giving NZ music more radio airtime. Radio plays are not sales to the public (there is income to the artist but not to the radio station) but NZ music received way more exposure.  Radio stations didn't want to play more local songs but the government of the day (go Helen Clark!!) made them and in the end it has been a win/win. The current government does not seem keen to encourage promotion/exposure of NZ books in the same way but I think we need this kind of help. The industry and authors themselves do what they can but there is limited nationwide exposure. Perhaps the media, especially tv, are our 'radio' equivalents. We struggle to get the same kind of coverage that NZ Music month and the NZ music awards get (the most recent music awards had daily tv coverage of finalists leading up to the awards night). If media were encouraged to provide a quota of coverage daily during NZ book month the connection between the industry and the public might be strengthened. First you have to showcase the books. And encourage people to take pride in reading and owning NZ literature. Sales will come down the track. Long game people, long game.

So why do we need a NZ Book Month? Because no one else does NZ literature! Because New Zealand should be proud of the literature that is created by us and for us. Because too few opportunities currently exist for the wider public to learn about and be exposed to our books. Because reading is good for everyone and here is a chance to encourage everyone to pick up more books than they usually would. How amazing it would be to have some cheerleaders for NZ literature, just because they are New Zealand books. How cool would it be if these cheerleaders came from outside the book industry, because like, you know, the rest of us are already converted to the benefits. How about we grow some new fans!

The fantastic Rachael King (author of great NZ books you should read - The Sound of ButterfliesMagpie Hall, and Red Rocks) has started a brilliant twitter campaign this month to promote New Zealand books with the hashtag #NZBookMonthMay. We are doing what we can. But really, we need your help. Let's not go another year without a NZ Book Month.