Saturday, September 27, 2014

Brain still under repair. Meanwhile...

Now that the election is over here in New Zealand it seems like a good time to revisit the question - Why should we bother supporting the Arts? To some, the arts are an indulgence, a luxury that should only be fostered in times of plenty. To some, people should have 'real' jobs that make things people need or provide a service people want, rather than pursuing speculative endeavours that just aren't important and don't sell well. And they believe we shouldn't rely on government support or encouragement.

I think folk working in the creative arts do have real jobs making things people need and/or providing a service people want. It is easy to forget that a positive can-do attitude that encourages us to be motivated and innovative, and to succeed in competition around the world in business, commercial and scientific fields, sports and other areas, is born out of a belief in who we are as members of a great and unique society. Our New Zealandness is special and part of what makes us punch above our weight. We're the plucky little country that the rest of the world views as friendly and socially progressive, and yet edgy and different.

The Arts contribute to our sense of who we are and our confidence in our identity. They hold up a mirror, reflecting back at us our society's values, mores, and culture. We can't just exist on a diet of books, art, dance, film and music from other countries. We need to see ourselves and value what we have and what we can offer. We need to see that being a New Zealander is worth something. From birth to old age. The Arts foster our country's self esteem and consequently the self esteem of the individuals within it. If we only ever experience the arts of other countries, it chips away at our self confidence. And it's not enough that we enable the arts, we need to celebrate them too. If we are embarrassed about them and always look to overseas critics to endorse us and tell us we're good enough we will always be waiting for the approval of others. We make good art. Lets not lose that or we might lose ourselves.

Oh, and by the way, our books, and art, and music, and films, and dance, do sell, and win awards, both onshore and off. And supporting the arts supports the growth and well being of our nation.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Home on the strange...

Did you miss me? I missed you. No, don't shake your head - it's true!

Well, the family survived without me (phew) and are still even talking to me. Yay!! And luckily they didn't save all their dishes and laundry for me either. I am truly lucky with how supportive they have been of my adventure down south. I loves them. I think maybe they loves me too.

My final hurrah was a fantastic opportunity - the WORD Christchurch Writers and Readers Festival. I got to take part in the Schools programme (which you can see here and here and here), several read aloud sessions and a panel discussion. The venues were buzzing, and the crowds big and enthusiastic. I'd learnt my lesson at the Auckland Festival and took every opportunity to attend sessions once mine were done. Major personal highlights included the Great Crime Debate, the Margaret Mahy lecture by Elizabeth Knox, and the discussion on Margaret Mahy's novel The Changeover. And of course being in Christchurch itself. It is heartbreaking to see so much destruction still in evidence but heartening to see the wonderful things being done to bring the city back to life.

Best of all for me though was the chance to talk with writers and illustrators, both local and international, children's and adult. I had an amazing time. I feel like I am still processing everything I heard and saw and learned. I am grateful for the chance to be a part of this terrific event and my congratulations to the organising team, especially Literary Director Rachael King and Executive Director Marianne Hargreaves, for making magic. Wow! Check out the very cool blog of award winning slam poet Anis Mojgani who was one of the featured speakers, here. Scroll down for his poignant impressions of Christchurch.

And now I'm home I am realising I left it all out there. If you ask me what I'm writing right now I would have to say nothing. Te brain is fried. Not just crispy round the edges but deep fried on a high heat. I guess it's a little like cyclist Sarah Ulmer's inability to draw breath and respond to the reporter after her winning ride at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. She gave that ride everything. Anything less would have been a disappointment. I sucked the marrow out of the last six months folks. It may take me a little while to get my breath back :)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Whoa Nelly, it was a wild ride...

Well the days just galloped past and before I could yell, 'Whoa Nelly,' the residency came to an end. I had my last day at the office today. Tomorrow I pack my bags and move out of the writer's cottage. I take part in the Dunedin Storylines Family Day on Saturday and the Christchurch Storylines Family Day on Sunday and then I am off home. Weird.

It has been a wild ride.

I have spent time with the coolest people. Teachers, and teachers of teachers. Fellow fellows. Students: undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD. Primary, intermediate and secondary too. Librarians, booksellers, writers: for adults and children (and those strange creatures inbetween), illustrators and old friends. I have flown backwards and forwards. And then backwards again. I know that the airbus is the A320 and that D is not a window seat, except when you are on the ar72. I never put my carry-on in the overhead lockers. I have a fair idea what ice on the pavement looks like and know not to cross the road until you are sure the cars are going to be able to stop. I have admired the gentle behaviour of flakes of snow slowly drifting down. Stone buildings are cool.

I have been busy. Not all of the events I have been involved in resulted from my being the Children's Writer in Residence. Some came about because of other things. And some events were the love children of the residency and other things coming together. The word 'organic' took on a whole new meaning this year. In a different year I think the residency would have had a very different flavour. 2014's flavour was 'wild ride'.  It came chocolate dipped with crushed nuts and a flake. 

But now the adventure is over and soon normal transmission will resume. My SO said at the beginning of the residency that it would change me and I scoffed back then at the suggestion. But now I think he's right. It has. And I am different. Hopefully, on the whole, for the better. If you think you might like to do the residency, I recommend it. If you are not sure how you will manage it, find a way. The benefits are real. After all, I am now an ace suitcase packer.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Song of Kauri - story with music

A wonderful outcome of my residency at the College of Education at Otago University has been meeting the other 2014 fellows. I was most fortunate that the Mozart Fellow, Jeremy Mayall, suggested collaborating and wrote a musical interpretation of my picture book The Song of Kauri. After composing the music, he recorded me reading the story, and put the music and reading together with a slide show of Dominique Ford's lovely illustrations. Enjoy!

If you prefer, you can listen to just the audio here

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I wasn't prepared for that...

The last few days have been a whirlwind. Last Friday I launched my latest picture book The Song of Kauri, stunningly illustrated by Dominique Ford. It was a lovely evening, thanks to terrific support from fab writer and friend Tania Roxborogh and her husband Phillip, Jeremy Ross from Scholastic, Kay Mercer from Dunedin Library, the University Book Shop, and all the lovely folk who came to help me launch the book. I showed the multimedia presentation with Dominique's illustrations, and me reading the story accompanied by the music composed by University of Otago Mozart Fellow, Jeremy Mayall, and it got a terrific response. I hope to post a link to the video here on the blog soon. I've had some more reviews of the book too - here and here.

Then yesterday I flew up to Wellington for the LIANZA Children's Book Awards. A Winter's Day in 1939 was a finalist for the Esther Glen Medal for Junior Fiction. This is my first ever LIANZA shortlisting and I was thrilled to be included. The Awards Ceremony was held at The National Library and was a great opportunity to catch up with the Wellington children's literature community.

And then I got a bit of a shock because this happened:

And I got this:

And these:

And this was my response:

- that's me looking very happy alongside Elsie Locke Award for Non-Fiction winner, Fifi Colston.  I'm still in the 'pinch me, I'm dreaming' phase. And feeling very honoured.

Libraries helped shape me when I was growing up. They enabled me to read widely and often. They were a safe haven filled with like minded people. They were like the world of pools in CS Lewis's The Magician's Nephew, where each pool leads to another unique and separate world: an endless supply of adventure, fun, entertainment, and information. Libraries encouraged the writer in me. And they're still doing it now! They deserve to share the credit for me writing this book, cos I wouldn't have reached this point without them. So Libraries, you rock!! This one's for you.

Below is a complete list of the winners from last night. (And here is a link to the complete post). Thanks also go to Hell Pizza who have made a positive contribution to the reading habits of many children across New Zealand through their sponsoring of these awards this year.

2014 LIANZA Children’s Book Awards Winners
LIANZA Esther Glen Junior Fiction Award For the most distinguished contribution to literature for children aged 0-15.
Dunger by Joy Cowley, (Gecko Press)
LIANZA Young Adult Fiction Award For the distinguished contribution to literature for children and young adults aged 13 years and above.
Dear Vincent by Mandy Hager, (Random House New Zealand)
LIANZA Russell Clark Illustration Award For the most distinguished illustrations in a children's book.
Flight of the Honey Bee, by Raymond Huber, illustrated by Brian Lovelock, (Walker Books Australia)
LIANZA Elsie Locke Non Fiction Award
For a work that is considered to be a distinguished contribution to non-fiction for young people.
Wearable Wonders, by Fifi Colston, (Scholastic New Zealand)
LIANZA Librarians’ Choice Award 2014Awarded to the most popular finalist across all awards, as judged by professional librarians of LIANZA.
A Winter’s Day in 1939, by Melinda Szymanik, (Scholastic New Zealand)
Te Kura Pounamu (te reo Māori)Awarded to the author of a work, written in Te Reo Māori, which makes a distinguished contribution to literature for children or young people.
Ngā Kaitiaki a Tama!, by Kawata Teepa, illustrated by Jim Byrt, (Huia NZ Ltd)

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.