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.

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)