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!!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Free Workshop on Writing Historical Fiction this coming weekend...


I am running a workshop on writing historical fiction next Sunday, October 26th, at 10.30am as part of the Polish Festival at the City and Sea Museum in Wellington. It is FREE to attend, and the workshop is suitable for adults and children 12 and up. Bookings are essential and can be made by phoning (04) 472 8904 or email :

Thursday, October 16, 2014


I thought it might be useful to talk about editors. What are they? What do they do? What don't they do? Whether you are traditionally published or self published you cannot send a book out into the world without the advice and assistance of an editor. And why, exactly, do you need one?

First of all - some definitions. Different kinds of editors/editing do different things.

1. A commissioning/publishing editor: this is the person at a traditional publishing house that chooses the manuscripts from the slush pile that they think deserve publishing. They champion these manuscripts at acquisition meetings and contract with the author for the work, if the acquisitions committee agrees to publish the work.

2. Copy editor/editing: copy editing is about spelling and punctuation and grammar. Do your sentences function effectively and mean what you want them to mean? It's also about consistency; of spelling, comma use, etc... UPDATE - a good editor will also fact check, e.g. place names, dates of events etc...(Thanks Sue!).

3. Structural editor/editing: does your plot work; does it sag in the middle; is everything in the right order; are your characters believable; do you have too many characters; too few; do their interactions ring true; does the action propel the plot forward effectively? Structural editing is also about consistency - does the hero have the same eye and hair colour all the way through; is their personality consistent? and so on.

4. Manuscript assessment: an editor might offer a manuscript assessment service. Usually this focuses primarily on structural editing and the general impressions about whether your manuscript is publishable.

I love editors. I know my weaknesses. I have a tendency to lose control of my commas, and my use of them is inconsistent. Usually my spelling is pretty good but I have writer friends who need help with it. Sometimes my sentences veer toward the passive. And I have to have an impartial reader confirm that my stories make sense and work like I hope they do. Even if you believe you write perfectly, it is worthwhile having a fresh pair of eyes confirm this. But seriously, every story can be made better. I like my stories being sharpened up.

An editor is not there to massage your ego and praise your genius. They are not there to tell you what you want to hear. You can tell yourself that already.They are there to recognize and help you realise the potential of your story. They will point out any errors, inconsistencies and problems with the narrative. They may encourage you and help nurture the development of your writing. If they are experienced and good at their job, if they have edited stories that have gone on to be successfully published, then you should trust their judgement.

They are not a guarantee of the publication or success of your manuscript. No one can guarantee that. You do not have to accept or implement everything they suggest. You decide. It is your story. Your name is the one that will be on the book cover. But their only interest is in improving your manuscript. They have read a lot of manuscripts and have a good idea of what works and what doesn't. I pick my battles, and only question their advice if i can prove to them and myself that I was on the right track to begin with.

This article also talks about the function and benefits of editors - and the fact that if they do their job well, you can't see where they've been. The best are invisible.

A good editor will cost. That's fair enough. They are providing a service and their expertise. Its worth it to get your story into the best shape to be a book. Make sure when you contract an editor to work on your manuscript that you discuss and confirm with them what type of editing they will do - copy, structural, assessment, or some combination of those.

A good rule of thumb for picking an editor is to choose one with proven experience. Anyone can call themselves an editor but it's a skilled job requiring a depth of knowledge and familiarity with the requirements of language and publishing standards. Word of mouth can be a great way to find one, or through the acknowledgements section of books you've admired. Some good local freelance children's editors that I have worked with are:

Christine Dale - ex commissioning editor Scholastic NZ

Sue Copsey - ex editor Dorling Kindersley, Pearson Education.

Well folks - I hope this is helpful.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Climbing out of the ghetto...

Sigh - oh, look, somebody is complaining about YA literature again. How original...and refreshing...and, OFGS.

If we talked more about children's and young adults literature in the wider media maybe people would have a better understanding of it and we could spend less time having to defend it. Sigh. This article argues for greater media coverage on behalf of Australian literature but we need to be doing this in New Zealand too. If media attention was apportioned according to market share, children's and YA literature would be featuring a lot more than it does now.  And as Danielle Binks says, the YA and Children's lit crowd are having way more interesting and complex discussions while the adult critics bang on about their cringe over adults reading YA. Our envelope is being pushed, the boundaries challenged and the bar raised, while their record appears broken...

Sure, there are some children's and YA books that are not well written, are formulaic and break no new ground either thematically or in literary terms. But there are many that are and do. Can we please discuss each book on its merits and accept that the term children's or Young Adult does not make a book some inferior entity? No category of book is automatically inferior or superior. New Zealand SFF author Helen Lowe argues the point well on her blog here. The divisiveness harms all of us. Folk need to grow up and talk about each book on the quality of its content, including Children's and YA.