Monday, August 12, 2019

Competition results! Did anyone win a book??...

The competition to win a signed copy of Time Machine & Other Stories closed on Sunday and I have been unsure of the next step to take because no one correctly guessed my personal favourite story from the collection, or my 2nd and 3rd faves either. It is a difficult challenge. So, I am leaving the competition open until the day of the launch - August 29th. If you have already entered, you get another go. If you have not entered previously you get one go as you can check out the comments that have already been left to eliminate those stories. If no one guesses correctly by August 29th I think I will just randomly pick a winner. And if someone writes an interesting reason for their guesses I might deliberately pick that entry to win. Have a go. Free book up for grabs. And I like to think it's pretty good.

And the competition is now open to everyone, whether you live in NZ or not. Make sure you check out the rules in the previous post here on the blog.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Launch and competition - Time Machine & Other Stories

My latest book, Time Machine & Other Stories, is due out this month. It is a while since my last book came out (Fuzzy Doodle, 2016) and I had forgotten how it all works. The thrill of having the physical book in my hands, and the relief, of seeing coherent prose on the pages when you glance inside, and a cover which looks even better than you imagined. I'd forgotten that weirdly free-floating (scarily untethered), limbo phase between the cogs of publicity and launching slowly winding up, and the book being seen and read and maybe reviewed and hopefully purchased. The nerves of waiting for people to say what they think about your book. There is a fight inside me between excitement and terror and who knows which one will win. Is it like the two wolves tale (one good, one bad) where the one that wins is the one you feed? From the outside looking in, the birth of a book is such a joyous occasion, but every parent has fears and worries about their child's survival and success. Go well, new baby!!

The book is in bookstores from August 11th. And I will be wetting the newborn's head and celebrating its arrival on Thursday August 29th at Time Out Bookstore, 5-30pm. It would be lovely to see you there!!

And here is a competition to win a free copy (for NZ readers only). I have a favourite story in this collection. Below is a list of the titles of all the stories included in the book (in the order they appear in print). Comment here on this blog post with which story you think I like best, and I will pick a correct entry to receive a copy of the book, hot off the press. Remember to identify yourself in some way so I can name you if you win (a pseudonym is fine). Competition closes August 10th. Up to three guesses per person allowed. I also have second and third favourites, and if anyone picks all three correctly there will be a bonus prize.

Now's Good
Drawing Horses
Holding My Breath
Smart Soup
Time Machine
A Winter's Day in 1939
Crocodile Dreaming
Time Machine II
The Monster Under My Bed
The Gift
Rich Pickings
My Mother is an Alien
The Man with the Dog Eye
Dog's Best Friend
A Passport to Friends
Last Summer
Time Machine III
Pirate Eye: a novella

Saturday, July 13, 2019

2019 Writing Children's Picture Books Workshop

Arghhh!! My eyeballs, my eyeballs! I have been editing ma short stories for the last few weeks, and now proof reading! Anyone for fried brains? Yet, all too soon it will be too late. The book will be off to the printers and those words and all that punctuation will be set in ink on those pages permanently. Publishing is so yin and yang. So exciting and terrifying, so energising and exhausting. And the book isn't even out yet.

Once the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted I will be gearing up for my Writing Children's Picture Books Workshop with Selwyn Community Education. On Sunday 18th August this year, it runs from 10am to 4pm at Selwyn College in Kohimarama. You can check it out, and register, here. Looks like there might not be too many places left, so get in quick if you're keen.

And just in case you are new to my blog and me - here is a little background information in case you were wondering how I came to run this course. I have written many picture book stories over the last twenty years. Some of them have won awards and been nominated for others. I have experienced rejections and acceptances and I know that having books previously published is no guarantee of having things published in the future. I have submitted with an agent and without. I have picture book number 8 and number 9 coming out early next year. Sharing with Wolf with Scholastic NZ, illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson, and Moon and Sun with Upstart Press, illustrated by Malene Laugesen. They are very different books. One is dark and funny, and the other gentle and heartfelt. Just this past summer I was a judge for the 2019 Storylines Joy Cowley Award and having made my way through all 158 manuscripts, I have some feedback for future submitters. I'll be talking about this during the workshop. Submissions for the 2020 Storylines Joy Cowley Award close October 31st so you'll have time to polish up your manuscript before you need to send it off.

Friday, July 5, 2019

'Time Machine and Other Stories'

Publishing has a slightly strange trajectory. No smooth parabolic arc here, no sirree. It is more like some terrifying mountain range that only the most foolhardy attempt. You write your stunning work(s) of genius (small, slightly bumpy but upward rise), and once polished and primped, send it off to publisher(s). At this point your arc might continue up (small, almost imperceptible gradient), or it may crash and burn. A publisher says yes and your internal arc soars, but really, outwardly, it just hiccups along with mostly slow, gradual, but occasional step-like upward movements. Contract sent? Take a step up. If it's a picture book, illustrator confirmed, it's a step up. Then you almost forget you have a book coming out (but not really because all the key dates are burned into our brains), and the arc is more plateau at this point. "My book?" you reply to polite enquiries, "Oh, yes. The book. It's something, something, some time distant," and you wave at the air in front of you, as if the publication date is somewhere out there visible if they look hard enough. Then suddenly edits are sent (giant leap for mankind!), a cover is decided upon, release dates and launches become a thing and finally this project looks like a book and you can see the midnight ink beyond the stratosphere approaching rapidly. And the stars are shining. And your heart skips a beat because the book is more than you imagined it could be.

Well here we are folks. And I am so proud and excited. Time Machine and Other Stories by yours truly is coming out August 11th. There are thirteen previously published short stories that have been gathered together here in one handy-dandy tome. There are an additional six new stories, one of which is a novella that I heart so much that it partly drove the determination to make this collection happen. I thought these stories were pretty good before but editor Mary McCallum from The Cuba Press has really made them sing and shine. I cannot wait to share them with you.

Published by Ahoy (an imprint of The Cuba Press), with cover and internal artwork by the very talented Theo Macdonald. Out August 11th. Launch details coming soon to a blog near you.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Why you shouldn't give up writing...

Was it only me that hadn't realised why the bigger (international) publishers take longer to respond to submissions? Why I can get an answer in less than 24 hours from a small independent versus a six month + wait from one of the two big names in children's books still here in New Zealand. Of course there are always exceptions to this trend, but when you have a team of two in a small outfit, or the sole publisher/editor makes all the final decisions, then it can happen pretty quickly. Whether it's a yes or a no. Bigger publishers have more people involved in the decisions and gather more intel before they make 'em. It puts things in perspective. It doesn't make me happier about the long waits, but it does give me the rationale for why it might be so.

Writers are well aware of the unique nature of the industry they work in. The usually glacial pace of response and production. The way we hold all our emotions in check because we are always protecting ourselves from potential disappointments. The work we do to keep ourselves moving forward, to keep writing on spec, and sending things out when the odds of publication and success are against us. The ephemeral high of getting a yes that dissolves in your hands as you try to grasp it more tightly (just like that raccoon with the marshmallow). This isn't a sob story, but a reminder that we do a lot of work that is emotional and cognitive. It isn't visible, but it is exhausting. If you weren't sure why you felt so tired after a long day of hovering over your inbox, and adding three new words to your work in progress, now you know why.

For the very long time it took between acceptances for me in recent years, it was a real challenge to keep my spirits up and stay hopeful. Desperation is unattractive and I had to look for new strategies to stop myself wallowing in failure and disappointment and believe that my career wasn't over. I gave in a few times but my inner writer refused to lie down and die. What I did instead was try a bunch of strategies.

1) If your submission isn't getting any traction/interest, you need to be working on something new. Yes this is hard, especially when you had a lot of faith in the last thing you wrote. It was so good, why does no one like it? How do I start again? The bottom line is that having only one egg to put in the baskets is asking one book to keep holding up your whole career on its own. It needs help to share the load. Give it some friends. You're a writer. Let your creative mind accept new ideas. Believe that the next story is out there, just waiting for you to be ready to receive it.

2) Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Where else can you send your work? Who haven't you tried before? Maybe now is a good time to find an agent. Or try further afield. Or write in a different genre.

3) Don't just submit your work more widely. Apply for things too. Residencies, grants, new opportunities for old work. Having several short stories published in my wilderness years showed me my work could still be relevant and desirable. I worked towards 100 rejections and while I had to eventually pare this back to something more manageable, it did actually pay off. It changed my thinking so I was working on more eggs for more baskets which ultimately is a much better model to achieve a result. And it kept me creating. It can be too easy to get out of the habit if you allow yourself to. Keep writing. You're a writer.

4) Do other writing related work. This can be challenging if you feel your writerly relevance slipping into the past. Your name does slowly drop off the book world radar when you don't have any recent titles out, and gigs can be harder to come by, but they will help you remind folks who you are and that you still have something to say. Attend events so people know you are still here and still writing. And you never know what might come of that chat by the drinks table. Oh, and of course keep writing as well.

5) Read. Read for pleasure. Catch up on all the books you were putting off. Its not skiving, or indulgent, its research and it's good for you.

6) Stay in touch with the writing community. A- it's a reminder that everyone is in this tough environment, not just you, and B - if you still want to be a part of it, you need to turn up. It can be extremely hard when it seems like everyone is getting published but you, but the truth is that isn't what is happening and everyone is just muddling through, doing their best to carve out their careers in a challenging environment. This is your tribe and they still want you to be there.

We live in difficult times, publishing-wise, and it is essential to remember it is not you, it is the industry. The hoops are smaller and further apart, and jumping through them requires fitness and effort and persistence. Don't give up because you are despondent. Denying your writing ambitions won't fix that feeling. Only give up if you find something you want to do more. And just remember, I will always be here to nag you into continuing.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The 2019 Finalists for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults...

It's that special day of the year when the finalists for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are announced!  I apologise in advance for my lack of macrons on the Maori words. I hope to resolve this shortly.

This is a wonderful selection of terrific books, and I have read and loved many of them.  I have my personal favourites, but I urge you to go out and read (and where possible, buy) these books and make up your own minds.We are right to be proud of the breadth and quality of the children's books we produce in this country. There are some real stunners here. Winners will be announced in August. And now ... drum roll please........

Picture Book Award Finalists

Mini Whinny: Happy Birthday to Me (Scholastic NZ)
Written by Stacy Gregg, illustrated by Ruth Paul

The Bomb (Huia)
Written by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan

Puffin the Architect (Penguin Random House)
Written and illustrated by Kimberly Andrews

Things in the Sea Are Touching Me (Scholastic NZ)
Written by Linda Jane Keegan, illustrated by Minky Stapleton

Who Stole the Rainbow (Penguin Random House)
Written and illustrated by Vasanti Unka

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

Search for a Kiwi Killer (Torea Press)
by Des Hunt

Whetu Toa and the Magician (Huia)
by Steph Makutu, illustrated by Katherine Hall

The Dog Runner (Allen and Unwin)
by Bren MacDibble

The Mapmakers' Race (Gecko Press)
by Eirlys Hunter, illustrated by Kirsten Slade

The Telegram (Pipi Press)
by Philippa Werry

Young Adult Fiction Award

Ash Arising (Penguin Random House)
by Mandy Hager

The Rift (Walker Books)
by Rachael Craw

Legacy (Huia)
by Whiti Hereaka

Children of the Furnace (The Copy Press)
by Brin Murray

Invisibly Breathing (Penguin Random House)
by Eileen Merriman

Elsie Locke Award for Non Fiction

New Zealand's Backyard Beasts (Potton and Burton)
Written and illustrated by Ned Barraud

Art-tastic (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu)
by Sarah Pepperle

Go Girl: A Storybook of Epic NZ Women (Penguin Random House)
Edited by Barbara Else

Whose Home is This? (Potton and Burton)
Written by Gillian Candler, illustrated by Fraser Williamson

Ko Mauao te Maunga: Legend of Mauao
Written by Debbie McCauley and Debbie Tipuna, translated by Tamati Waaka

The Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Cook's Cook: The Cook Who Cooked for Captain Cook (Gecko Press)
Illustrations by Gavin Bishop

Oink (Gecko Press)
Illustrations by David Elliot

The Bomb (Huia)
Illustrations by Josh Morgan

Puffin the Architect (Penguin Random House)
Illustrations by Kimberley Andrews

Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas (penguin Random House)
Illustrations by Ant Sang

Best First Book Award

Bullseye Bella (Scholastic NZ)
by James Guthrie

Art-tastic (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu)
by Sarah Pepperle

Children of the Furnace (The Copy Press)
by Brin Murray

Slice of Heaven (Makaro Press)
by Des O'Leary

The Stolen Stars of Matariki (Scholastic NZ)
Written by Miriama Kamo, illustrated by Zac Waipara

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Maori

Nga Whetu Matariki i Whanakotia (Scholastic NZ)
Written by Miriama Kamo, illustrated by Zac Waipara, translated by Ngaere Roberts

Te Haka e Tanerore (Mauri Tu)
Written by Reina Kahukiwa and Robyn Kahukiwa, translated by Kiwa Hammond

Te Hinga Ake a Maui i Te Ika Whenua (Upstart Press)
Written and illustrated by Donovan Bixley, translated by Darren Joseph (cultural adviser) and Keri Opai

Full list and book details can be found here

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Writing Short Stories for Children: Part Two ...

Getting the hang of writing short stories has a bunch of benefits: helping the writer master technique and structure, the ability to work within a limited word count encouraging efficient, economic writing, experimentation with the 'twist,' and also just being enormous fun and an extremely satisfying thing to do. It is NOT essential to be able to write them if you prefer other forms, but if you do want to get to grips with this form, here are some thoughts and tips.

1) Short stories often spring from a single dilemma or wish. Or a single quirky object, interest, obsession, event or comment (e.g. museums are boring, a boy finds it hard to sit still, what happens if you never tidy the mess in your room, a football can break down language barriers)
2) Keep it single/simple. Too complex an idea or problem needs time and space to resolve.
3) Simple doesn't necessarily mean un-layered or basic. Short stories can still have themes and complex meanings
4) Technique can be transformative: metaphor, motifs, symbolism, imagery can double the value of your words.  Sometimes technique is everything/ is the story.
5) Setting can be a character
6) Character development is limited in a short story but your MC can still be changed by the events of the story
7) If it's a journey story, it won't be a short one.
8) A short story is a lovely place to explore the domestic and everyday. They can reveal depth and interest in what people expect to be the mundane
9) Don't try too hard for meaning. There is nowhere to hide and it is easy for the writer's hand to show in a short story. An obvious author in the text suggests your idea isn't quite ready or right for this format. You'll know when it's working.
10) Humour is a very desirable but not essential element, and does not need to be obvious. 

I looked up other people's advice on writing short stories before attempting this post and was interested to see that most were vague and/or broad tips. It is hard to pin down some practical rules that will give you the desired result. There is always an indefinable something in any writing advice, and just like other forms, short stories require a dab of magic to really sing. Playing around with the format is probably one of the best ways in. And my super duper best advice is to practice with very short formats. Start with up to six words. Then try 50 word stories. It is very doable to write a complete and satisfying short story in 50 words or less. Doing so teaches you what is needed and what isn't. And gives you a handle on the patterns that work. Remember many jokes we retell work on this basis. A complete story with a punchline in a short format.

Here is an example that I wrote some years ago for a radio contest. I was very new to writing at the time but you get the idea. And my story was included in a book of the most successful competition entries.

"Do you like my cranberry pumpkin chocolate blancmange?"
"Oh yes, honey, it's lovely."
"It's my best recipe. I make it all the time."
"You look a little green. Are you OK?"
"I think I'm getting the flu."
It must be love, he thought, as he headed to the bathroom.