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.

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!