Tuesday, March 29, 2011


This weekend is Spinning Tales. The New Zealand Hui/Conference for Children's Writers and Illustrators. I have been sweating bricks helping to get this organised. And it has been a labour of love because in everything I have done I have thought about what the conference goer will get out of it. A few days ago one of the most amazing writers for children, Diana Wynne Jones, passed away. She was prolific but her fans are bereft, their love for her, and their thirst for her work, not quenched. I read Neil Gaiman's thoughts on her passing and once I got past my jealousy over their collective imaginative brain power and an intense desire to have been privy to their conversations and friendship (I mean come on, Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones? - OMG) I had my customary epiphany. What an incredible friendship it must have been - Neil Gaiman and Diana Wynne Jones. There are other groups of writery friends that I have been green over - Maureen Johnson, Libba Bray, Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfield and others - jeepers can you imagine the conversations they must have? But I don't need to be green because I have my own super-circle of writery friends and my writer friends mean the world to me - literally - because (in addition to my uber-fab SO and my delicious kids) writing is my world. I love all you guys. I love talking shop. I love moaning and groaning about the injustices, sharing excitement over our triumphs, debating the broken bits and how we might fix them. And at Spinning Tales we can be together and have one big fat permission slip to talk nothing but BOOKS!!! This will be the highlight for me. Whether I learn something new or advance my career in some way or not, the true benefit will be the opportunity to hang out with my peers, my writer friends who understand my dilemmas and who share my interests. These are the people who sustain you when the going gets tough. When you need an ear to bend, a shoulder to cry on, or someone to make you laugh or to say just the right thing - you can rely on a writer to find the right words. I will get to see my writer friends from all around the country and maybe even make a few more. I can't wait :) And here is a juicy link on how you can spruce up your manuscript to make an editor happy.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Listen carefully, I will say this only once...

Yesterday I participated in a fundraising event for Christchurch. As poet Renee Laing said at the Mt Roskill library last night, when disaster struck in Christchurch New Zealanders said "I want to help, what can I do?" And the truth was the best thing to do was what you are good at. So when author James George said lets do public readings of our written work in Auckland libraries, I signed up in a flash. On Friday March 25th I joined a group of authors (Ken Grace, Mihera Paterson, Bronwyn Elsmore, Nicky Pelligreno and Brennan Rigby) at the Public Library at Massey out West at 1pm and a different group (Maggie Tarver, Robina Adamson and Renee Laing) at Mt Roskill Library at 6pm and we each shared an 8 to 10 minute reading with the good folk who turned up to hear us and donate money to a good cause. I hope the audience enjoyed what we had to offer. They seemed to. I certainly enjoyed reading aloud. I read short stories from the two Pick 'n' Mix anthologies put out by Scholastic NZ. I very much enjoyed the listening too. I remember listening to stories on the radio played during school. This is where I first developed a serious crush on Greek Mythology. Careful listening, something you have to do with a live reading because there is no pause and rewind facility (no do-overs as it were) is a great skill. I listened attentively to the other readers yesterday because if you missed any seeds sown earlier in a story the twist or climax at the end could lose its potency. I read somewhere recently that we have diminished the facility of our brains by using calculators and other technological devices that save us the effort of figuring things out in our heads. Many cultures had an oral tradition that is slipping away. Many of us lose the listening skills we developed at school. Poets, as Renee Laing reminded us last night have a well organised schedule of regular readings and slams. Writers of prose have nothing like this. We should. It would be good for writers to share their work; good for listeners to enjoy some good stories, practice some good listening skills and enjoy a sense of community around a creative endeavour. We could all benefit.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Where would we be without teachers and librarians...?

The book experience is a collaborative process between writer and reader, artist if the book has illustrations, and teachers and librarians if the book is for children. Without teachers and librarians sharing their passion for books, fewer children would embrace them. Studies show that the more books there are available in a house, the longer children stay at school thereby setting themselves up for better long term life outcomes. Books will make a tangible difference in a child's life. I often talk with children about what books can do for you. Its not just about information and learning, although if you can read you can teach yourself just about anything by reading a book. Its also about pleasure and relaxation. It's also a chance to expand your horizons and understand more about the world and the people in it. I can't go back in time but I can read about the past in a book. I can read speculations about the future. I can travel all over the world and get a peek into how other people live their lives or solve their problems. I can travel to other worlds and understand more about myself in the process. Books make me more empathetic and can challenge me. How fantastic is that?? And if I am invited to schools you can be sure that a teacher and/or librarian is behind it, keen to get their students reading and writing, keen to help them dive into this marvelous world of words. They always make me feel welcome and special. If your school has teachers and librarians who love books with a burning passion you are lucky. If your school has teachers and librarians who organise author and illustrator visits you are very lucky.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

future authors...

Visited the school my sister is a teacher at last Friday. I read my short story The Monster Under My Bed, from Pick 'n' Mix: Volume 2 and then The House That Went to Sea which both seemed to go down well. The children were fabulous and asked great questions about writing and being a writer, although one of my favourite questions was "who is the better cook, you or your sister?" I sensed a set up here but if the Diplomatic Corp had heard my response they may have hired me on the spot - I'd like a posting to New York thanks. It is incredibly rewarding to visit with children who are so enthusiastic about books and reading. And there is always at least one student in the audience who has 'future author' written all over them. You can see it in their eyes. It is so exciting to meet them.

Tomorrow I'm talking to school groups at Devonport (9.30am) and Birkenhead (11am) Libraries with The House That Went to Sea illustrator Gabriella Klepatski about creating the book, for NZ Book Month. On Friday I am reading from my books at Massey Library at 1pm and at Mt Roskill at 6pm with other authors to raise money for Christchurch. It will be a change to just read. Maybe I will include an excerpt from my WIP.

Organisation is preceding apace for Spinning Tales and as we get very close to the event we are finalising details and slotting all the pieces into place. I am boxing on with the novel, now approaching 35,000 words and I think it is in pretty good shape. I think the end is in sight. I will be happy and relieved when it is done but excited also that this story has been told. Back to work I think

Monday, March 14, 2011

Across the great divide...

If I start talking gibberish you will realise I have gone over the edge. Yesterday I thought I had reached breaking point - computery things weren't working and despite all the hours in the day I achieved very little and picked up some extra duties. Big ups to my SO who stepped in and found the solution to my computer woes and who turned the pdf of my latest book in to a power point presentation. You rock honey. I never forget all the good reasons I married you, but its even better when you add a few more good reasons. I am one lucky gal.

As I trolled through the usual bloggy suspects this morning I came across an interesting post on publishing industry myths over at Rachelle Gardner's blog. There wasn't anything in the post I didn't already know. If you hang around the internet long enough you get to recognize the myths and appreciate the realities. The myths that struck a chord with me today are that once you are published you can say goodbye to rejection and conventional forms of submitting your work. I am happy to confess that before I was published I believed this myth too. Why wouldn't you? Its all a mystery on the other side until you get there - a bit like parenthood and international travel. So today I am going to say what is different for me now that I have crossed the great divide. This may not apply to other published folk, everyone's experience is a little different, but it may be of interest.

I still write query letters, synopses and, usually, finish the manuscript before I submit. I still get rejections, sometimes form rejections. I still follow submission guidelines. I enquire, I post by snail mail if that is what is required, I don't meet with editors over coffee and chat about ideas. Truthfully, being published helps. Ok some editors do know me now so I stress less about getting in touch with them but I went through that initial scary awkward phase to get to that point and I still follow the rules with them that I've always followed. And each project is examined on its own merits. I wait on tenterhooks like every other author and 99.9% of the time I don't get to hear back sooner than anyone else. I get nervous and anxious.

Some publishers will take unsolicited submissions from published authors - that is handy. I am still learning about this business. I am still trying to figure out the best path for my career and then trying to figure out how best to get on that path. I am better at spotting opportunities and possibly feel more confident at taking them. I've also learned it pays to be prepared so that any opportunites that come up can be seized with both hands. But all of this is partly the result of hanging around this industry for so long and trying to learn as much as I can about it over the years. I've learned the value of persistence and of luck. And I take advantage of all the information out there on the internet, and from writers groups and organisations and friends. There are no special 'ins' or 'handshakes' or anything. Its up to you.

Friday, March 11, 2011

But we love you so much we want to keep you forever...

My thoughts go out to those in Japan suffering as a result of the horrific earthquake and subsequent tsunami. My eyes have been opened to the overwhelming impact events like this have on people with an earthquake having hit so close to home in Christchurch in February. I never realised how far reaching the consequences are and how long the trauma could linger. I know I have a blog reader located in Japan and I hope she and her loved ones are safe.

It seems that every time I meet up with a particular writer friend of mine I have a writing epiphany. Last time it was a realisation about how something needed to work in a novel I was writing (although the novel unfortunately still has other issues). This time I pondered the rationale behind publishers who like their authors to be exclusive. I've always struggled with this. 'It is the writer's career, not the publishers,' has been my concern in the past, but yesterday as we talked over a cup of coffee I mused on why a publisher might want to be the sole publisher of someone they welcome in to their fold. If they pass on your work you are not permitted to seek another publisher for that work (unless possibly that work is something they do not publish, like adult or non-fiction). It seems arrogant to say they are the only arbiter of whether your work is appealing/good enough or not. But then if they publish you well and have a reputation for quality work, their reputation depends on your reputation. If you publish elsewhere they have no control over the quality of the publication or its content. If they deny you the opportunity to send your work elsewhere it implies they intend to continue publishing you well in the future. They are building a relationship with you. They care about you. But are the rewards they offer enough?

There may be other arguments for exclusivity. I am sure there are arguments against exclusivity. I am still not sure about the idea myself. I struggle greatly with the idea that a publisher can reject my work on behalf of all publishers. I feel uncomfortable that someone else would effectively control my career. I like to think I have developed a clue about which of my written works cut the mustard. It is in my own best interests not to peddle anything I am not proud of. And readers look for writers they have enjoyed before regardless of who has published them. And anyway (sniff) no one has asked me to be exclusive to them. On the other hand I do not want to be a publishing hussy giving myself to a lot of publishers. That way lies madness and trouble. I guess there are reasons to be flattered if you are in the 'exclusive' position, and loyalty has value if the feeling's mutual.

Correction: Recently I had a two links in a blog post and it turned out they accidently led to the same place. Sorry folks. And as the second one led to some very useful info I am repeating them here. One funny and one handy in a long term kind of way.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"no offense, but..."

People who know me personally will laugh when I say that I am shy. At public events I do not appear shy, but I certainly feel it. The written word is my medium. Conversation ties my brain in knots. I'm not dumb but the cleaners would have swept the floor and the guests all gone home and tucked themselves into bed by the time I had come up with a witty retort or well considered counter-argument to a topic of discussion. I want to say the right thing at the right time. And I have a fear of offending people. Yet I like to blog. And I like to be honest when I blog and say what's on my mind and explore my concerns and my dilemmas and a whole bunch of other stuff. And I have no control over who comes to visit and what they read and how they interpret it and what they think and what they take away from it. I write and rewrite my posts until I feel like they best express my position in the way that is least likely to be misconstrued. But I can guarantee it is 100% impossible to avoid misunderstanding. And it is 100% impossible to avoid controversy. I am in an industry that has grown up inside an emotional minefield. The wagons are circling as technology shoots flaming arrows at the fabric stretched taut over those wire frames. Its about creatives tenderly nurturing the progeny of their minds and sending them out unprotected into a cold harsh reality of the commercial world. But while I refuse to shy away from difficult topics I hope I don't offend anyone. I hate upsetting people. That's not how I roll. But then I don't want to avoid confrontational topics. You can see the problem here folks. This industry is not simple or without issues. It is not without difficulties and it would be fraudulent to suggest it is. Ideally topics are a springboard for discussion, an opportunity for differing opinions to be heard, a chance for greater clarity to emerge. I love how kids these days say "no offense but..." and then reel out something that is sure to offend. Saying 'no offense' first is not a free pass to offend people. And I don't intend to do that here, but folks if we as writers must be able to accept advice or review or a close and critical examination of the work we do, then so must the rest of the industry. Shouldn't we all strive for improvement? And if you think I've been rude or wrong or need to bark up a different tree please tell me :)

Monday, March 7, 2011

One big jar of fickle....

On Sunday evening as I was reading my SO said "whatcha doin?" and I said "study". My diploma in children's lit course has started and I am trying not to let it get away on me because the required reading is prodigious. He said, "don't you already have enough on your plate?" and I said "yes". Um, I think I have taken on too much.

But I am going to keep on blogging because it helps me gather my thoughts and warm up for writing. A gathered thought can be a very handy thing and flexing your writing muscles should be regular - its so easy to get out of shape.

So here goes. It is very easy to say something is broken when it doesn't work for you. If only 'A' happened than 'B' would follow. Well folks the book industry is just one big jar of fickle. As much as everyone wants a constant stream of winners on their hands and we want to be part of that stream, nothing is 'sure-fire'. No one is 'sure' what they want, publishers and readers alike, until they have it in their hands. It isn't broken - this is just how it works. If 'A' then 'B', 'C' or even 'F' is possible. Most likely 'F'. Yes publishing is a business but for most writing is not - there will always be a mismatch between the intentions and needs of these two. Yes good readers read fine writing but commercial books will always sell more. Yes the local shops are awash with imported books but they are still only a fraction of all books published overseas and it probably is more a two way street than I care to imagine. Yes some books are dreck but some readers love dreck with a passion and why shouldn't they. This is part of the beauty of the system - tastes and opinions vary. And what really sells books? Word of mouth and viral marketing, but these are out of our control. Luck is an undeniable element in the success or failure of our writing and publishing endeavours. Does it do my head in? Every week. Sometimes twice a week. Every day if its a bad week. Then I wake up the next morning and get right back in the saddle. It is not surprising that people who don't write don't always get why other people slave over something which might never see the light of day. Maybe its a disease. Having a disease is a good excuse for all my irrational behaviours so, for now, I choose not to be cured.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The give way end of a one lane bridge...

I went to the Auckland launch of New Zealand Book Month last night. It was lovely. A smart and interesting crowd, superb local wines and food and a great success all round (Beth - you are a star). I counted myself lucky to go although it did mean having to talk with lots of grown ups. Held at St Matthew in the City the event included a celebliterati debate around the topic of 'should New Zealand Books be given special treatment here in NZ?' Folks this is a serious issue that has been much on my mind. Being an author in New Zealand is an exhausting business requiring writing, editing, persuading, selling, marketing, promotional and other skills and efforts. I sometimes feel like a character in a Dr Suess book, 'would you like it in a house, would you like it with a mouse, on a train, in the rain, buy my book please...' (sorry it scanned better until i took a swear word out). But I had forgotten that the debate was an 'entertainment'. Some argued passionately, 'book sales for NZ titles are a small fraction of total book sales here' vs. 'buying books should be about quality not where the author comes from.' Some took a circuitous route through their own pasts to the topic but all the speakers were excellent and we laughed, a lot. And because they were most entertaining the negatives won. But folks the question remains - Should NZ titles be given special treatment? Could someone please explain to me why it seems so few NZ titles travel to overseas markets but so many overseas titles, irrespective of their quality are sold here. The traffic is not 'both ways'. Here in New Zealand it feels as if we are on the 'give way' end of the one lane bridge. The 'quality' argument is fair enough but the playing field is not level. I haven't received Creative New Zealand funding, I don't receive special treatment, and my readers know me because I have gone out and visited schools and libraries, attended Storylines festivals and done my best to be visible. I keep writing and submitting and working on my craft. Maybe I am missing something but I don't even think its about special treatment - just equal treatment with overseas titles would be nice.

And because I love you all so much, here are some juicy links for your entertainment (Surgeon general's warning: a hot beverage should not be consumed while reading this) and your edification (this link should be filed for future reference). Have a safe and happy weekend people, go buy a book by a New Zealand author and keep the folk of Christchurch in your thoughts.