Wednesday, April 10, 2024

A bag of cats ...

I finally sent off my last piece of non-fiction writing on Monday - a report - that was on my list of to dos. It's taken me two and a half months to reach this point, and I tell y'all my mind is a bag of cats right now. I decided to take a few days off but I am not yet feeling rested - too many cats up there, I tell ya.

Over the weekend I got to read my poem Pet Lessons and a couple of others at the launch of Takahe 110 at The Open Book in Ponsonby. You can read my poem here or check out all the goodness here.  Despite some nerves, I enjoyed reading my poetry aloud. And I loved hearing the work of others. The whole event felt warm and inviting and supportive. Note to self 1: attend more poetry reading events. Note to self 2: write more poems. 

I have sent a couple of picture book manuscripts off into the ether (fingers crossed for these babies) and am waiting on edits for another in preparation for its publication hopefully later this year. Now I want to work on a couple of longer projects but I am finding it hard to settle in to it. The end of daylight saving doesn't help. Is it just this year or is every autumnal 'fall back' accompanied by this amount of sleep adjustment? It also doesn't help that the nights are unseasonably warm. I also navigated my first school visit for the year, talking to Year 7s and 8s at St Kentigern Boys' School on Monday. It was a fun session with such lovely students. I have another booked in for July at a primary school and a couple of creative writing workshops earmarked for May. It's good to have a mix of things on the schedule because I think I work better when time is somewhat limited.

I was excited to see some lovely reviews of Sun Shower on the KiwiReviews site here:  

I think what first drew me to Sun Shower was the quality of the illustrations. Isobel Joy Te Aho-White has done a superb job in capturing the essence of the differing landscape patterns of Aotearoa New Zealand with the weather variations unfolding in the sky above. 

The text contains a powerful message about diversity, cooperation, and friendship. Melinda Szymanik has started with a scientific concept and presented it in a context that even very young children can understand.

I was apprehensive as to whether my 10-year-old would stay interested in the story, but knew my 7-year-old would stay till the end, but to my surprise my eldest was captivated, and it even opened up conversations about other weather patterns and how they are formed. I recommend this book as a cute story to show that even though people maybe opposites, they can still get along and still create something special.

And the book is currently hanging out at the Aotearoa New Zealand stand at the 2024 Bologna Book Fair, along with many other superb local titles. I hope some international rights get sold!!

Monday, February 26, 2024

Ready for the 100 day challenge?

Happy New Year! I can't believe we're just about to say hello to March. The last few months have galloped by and seem to have been all about poetry and non-fiction for me.

I received a lovely email from Roi Faineant Press while I was away over Christmas accepting all three adult poems I'd sent them - Double HappyPlum Jam and The Politics of Pockets - which was a wonderful surprise to end the year on. You can read the poems here. I also received a copy of Volume Ten from Paddler Press in Canada which has one of my poems in it - The Night is Singing. And another three children's poems of mine have been published on the Dirigible Balloon site, most recently The Talk in the Trees which you can check out here. I still feel very much in my infancy as a poet so these results are very encouraging. I feel so slow writing poems - I wish I could speed up. There are a steady stream of publishing opportunities and I never seem to have sufficient new poems to submit - more on that in a minute.

Despite the earlyness of the year I have already been busy with a brace of projects - current status? - two down (I have penned a profile on the wonderful Feana Tuʿakoi which will be in the next Magpies Magazine, and I wrote an article on 'translation' for The Sapling), one to go. There are other small jobs hovering round the edges as well. As is always the way, because I have these jobs on the go, my mind has been busy working out a solution to an old abandoned junior novel. Of course, as soon as I am done with those other tasks my brain will lose interest in the junior novel. I'm wondering if I can trick my brain into maintaining that excitement. It really is a very fickle organ sometimes. Perhaps it needs some specialist training.

To that end, and apropos of my comment earlier about never having enough poetry to send out, a small dedicated bunch of us are running a project which we hope will help build a lovely daily poetry writing habit and result in a good swag of poems. If you are a keen poet you might like to check out the 100 day Poetry Writing Challenge over on The Poets XYZ page on facebook, starting March 1st. I hope I see you there!!

PS: My picture book Lucy and the Dark, illustrated by Vasanti Unka and published by Puffin (Penguin RH) has been shortlisted in the picture book category of the 2024 NZ Booklovers Awards (you can see all of the finalists here ) woohoo!!!, and it is also off to Germany, hopefully for publication there later this year.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

I'm Back! ...

I'm back! And I have lots to tell you. But while I shrug off my jet lag and catch up on all the admin that awaited my return, here are a few snippets of news to keep you going. 

My new picture book Sun Shower/He Tārū Kahika, beautifully illustrated by the amazing Isobel Joy Te Aho-White, translated into Te Reo by the very skilled Pānia Papa and published by Scholastic NZ has arrived in bookstores. It looks fabulous - I am so pleased - I love the colour palette and generous detail in these books. And there have already been some lovely lovely reviews, on Bob's Book Blog here, and on the KidsBooksNZ site here

And I am thrilled to say Lucy and the Dark is a 2023 Storylines Notable Book!! Below is today's announcement and the complete list of 2023 Notable Books. Congratulations to all the creators!!

Storylines Children’s Literature Trust Te Whare Waituhi Tamariki o Aotearoa is delighted to once again celebrate excellence in New Zealand publishing for children and young adults with the announcement of this year’s Storylines Notable Book Award winners.

“Congratulations to all the creators and publishers of this year’s award winners,” says Storylines Trust chair Christine Young. “These are impressive lists of excellent books in all categories; testament to the strength and depth of local children’s and young adult publishing.

“The strength of publishing in te reo Māori remains evident, with books from a number of publishers. The non-fiction category covers everything from wildlife to environmental issues; sports to New Zealand and Pasifika history. I was particularly delighted to see an anthology of Pasifika student poetry highly commended in this category.

“As ever, the young adult, junior fiction and picture book categories are strong, with books by new and established writers impressing the judging panels.

Clearly the commitment from New Zealand publishers and authors to producing quality books for young people remains strong, and I’d commend these lists of award winners as providing excellent choices for whānau or friends looking for Christmas gift ideas, or for teachers and librarians looking to add to their school or early childhood centre libraries.

“It is so important that our tamariki and rangatahi enjoy reading – and equally important that they have access to high quality books that reflect and broaden their experience of growing up in New Zealand.”

Storylines Notable Books are selected in five genres (picture books, junior fiction, young adult, non-fiction and books in te reo Māori) by expert panels of teachers, booksellers, authors, academics, and librarians from across the country.

The 2023 awards cover books published between 16 November 2022 and 15 November 2023.

Storylines’ Notable Book Award winners provide adult buyers and young readers with lists of the ten best New Zealand books published in the latest year in each genre, that will inspire tamariki and rangatahi and their whanau to share and enjoy reading.

The lists are excellent reading and buying guides for anyone wanting to encourage young people read for pleasure and information.

The 2023 Storylines Notable Books are: 


Critters of Aotearoa: 50 Bizarre But Lovable Members of Our Wildlife Community, Nicola Toki, Lily Duval (Penguin Random House NZ)

The Observologist – A handbook for mounting very small scientific expeditions, Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)

Good Sports: A Storybook of Kiwi Sports Heroes, Stuart Lipshaw (Penguin Random House NZ)

My First Words About Tikanga Māori, Stacey Morrison, Kurawaka Productions (Penguin Random House NZ)

Patu: the New Zealand Wars, Gavin Bishop (Penguin Random House NZ)

Those Magnificent Voyagers of the Pacific, Andrew Crowe, Rick Fisher (Bateman Books)

Mangō: Sharks and Rays of Aotearoa, Ned Barraud (Te Papa Press)

Tuatara, a Living Treasure, Katie Furze, Ned Barraud (Scholastic NZ)

Wot Knot You Got? Mophead’s Guide to Life, Selina Tusitala Marsh (Auckland University Press)

Ultrawild an Audacious Plan to Rewild Every City on Earth, Steve Mushin (Allen & Unwin)

Highly Commended

Pasifika Navigators – Pasifika Student Poetry Collection How Did I Get Here? Soliloquies Of Youth, Darcy Solia (Illustrator) ***Note: The poetry includes 52 Pasifika student contributors (Mila’s Books) 

Te Reo Māori

Te Rā Kura ki Aotearoa, Donovan Bixley, Darryn Joseph (Translator) (Upstart Press) 

Tōku Whānau Rerehua – My Beautiful Family, Rauhina Cooper, Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Oratia Books) 

Ko Ngā Whetū Takirua o Matariki, Ko Waitī rāua ko Waitā, Miriama Kamo, Zak Waipara, Ariana Stevens (translator) (Scholastic NZ) 

Ko Tama me te Taniwha, Melanie Koster, Monica Koster, Pānia Papa (translator) (Scholastic NZ) 

Riwia me te Mātai Arorangi, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Huia Publishers) 

Ko Te Wai, Ko Tama Me Te Marama, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Huia Publishers) 

Ka Wehi Au Ki Ngā Wenerei, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Huia Publishers) 

He Reo Iti Noa Ahau, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Huia Publishers)

He Mahi Taunga Kore, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (Huia Publishers)

Young Adult

The Sparrow, Tessa Duder (Penguin Random House NZ) 

Catch a Falling Star, Eileen Merriman (Penguin Random House NZ) 

The Other Brother, Jax Calder (OneTree House) 

The Edge of Light: New Dawning, AM Dixon (OneTree House) 

Iris and Me, Philippa Werry (The Cuba Press) 

Flying and Falling, Lynda Tomalin (GlitterInk Press Ltd) 

The Impossible Story of Hannah Kemp, Leonie Agnew (Walker Books Australia)  

Junior Fiction

Tūī Street Legends, Anne Kayes, Craig Phillips (Wildling Books) 

Below, David Hill (Penguin Random House NZ) 

Pipi and Pou and the Tentacles of the Deep, Tim Tipene, Isobel Joy Te Aho-White (OneTree House) 

The Hudson, the Hunt & the Helicopter, Joan Joass (Copy Press Books) 

Jason Mason and the Flightless Bird Fiasco, Jason Gunn, Andrew Gunn (Bateman Books) 

Once Upon A Wickedness, Fleur Beale, Lily Uivel (Penguin Random House NZ) 

Children of the Rush – Book 2, James Russell (Dragon Brothers Books) 

Lopini the Legend, Feana Tu‘akoi (Scholastic NZ) 

RockyBottoms! Big Little Blue, Book Two, Raymond McGrath (Scholastic NZ) 

Like The Wind, J L Williams (Ocean Echo Books) 

Highly Commended

Caged, Susan Brocker (Scholastic NZ) 

Picture Books

Lucy and the Dark, Melinda Szymanik, Vasanti Unka (Penguin Random House NZ) 

Matariki, Gavin Bishop (Penguin Random House NZ) 

Granny McFlitter’s Eggcellent Easter, Heather Haylock, Lael Chisholm (Penguin Random House NZ) 

At the Bach, Joy Cowley, Hilary Jean Tapper (Gecko Press) 

The Great Kiwi School Day, Donovan Bixley (Upstart Press)

E Oma, Rāpeti: Pō Mārie / Run, Rabbit: Goodnight, Norah Wilson, Kimberly Andrews, Pānia Papa (translator) (Scholastic NZ)

Duck Goes Meow, Juliette MacIver, Carla Martell (Scholastic NZ) 

Grandpa’s Dashing Dessert, Tania Sickling, Lael Chisholm (Scholastic NZ) 

Tama and the Taniwha, Melanie Koster, Monica Koster (Scholastic NZ) 

Dazzlehands, Sacha Cotter, Josh Morgan, (Huia Publishers)

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Packing my suitcase ...

My new picture book with fab illustrator Vasanti Unka, Lucy and the Dark, is released!! Huzzah! Published by Penguin RH NZ with a glorious glow-in-the-dark cover, this wee book is garnering some nice reviews which makes us very happy. Reviews can be found here, here, here and here. Many thanks to Lou from Wardini's Books, What Book Next, The Sapling and Kids Books NZ for their very kind words. There are copies of the book signed in fancy silver pen by both Vasanti and I available at Time Out Bookstore if you are interested in getting yourself one.

It's been a busy old month with the NZ Children's and Young Adult's Book Awards held in Wellington, a school visit to the wonderful Sylvia Park School and a day-long workshop on writing picture books at Selwyn Community Education. A trio of poets including me ran a writing-poetry-for-children competition which culminated in sharing the winning poem on facebook on National Poetry Day - you can check this out here. I've been submitting poetry (mostly adult) and chipping away at a few longer works. And this Thursday I am off to Shanghai for the writing residency with the Michael King Writers' Centre. I've been slowly packing my suitcase and getting all my laundry done, organising plug adapters and getting vaccinations and paperwork completed. There is a lot of admin for an adventure like this and hopefully I've dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's that need dotting and crossing and soon I'll be tapping away on some very cool projects in this amazing city that I have never visited before. Wish me luck! And see you in November!!

... in the meantime here is some more poetry I have written for young people:

How to Fly

Is it better to be

a bird or a plane?

Do birds mind the weather,

the wind and the rain?

If their wings got wet

would they fall from the sky?

Do they get blown off course?

Do those feathers drip dry?

Planes only fly to

particular places.

They’re crowded on board

with too many faces!

I suppose at the least

that it’s cosy inside

and I don’t need directions,

the plane is my guide,

but they also cost money,

my savings are zero.

Want to take flight?

Be a caped superhero!

Friday, July 28, 2023

A bit of a rant...

 I often hear the phrase - 'it's really hard to get published' and my mind has often responded with, 'it's always been hard'. I've thought that the publishing setbacks and failures I've experienced are because my stories or books are just not good enough.   

But other things have been happening to legitimately make it harder. The sheer volume of stories being published now provides a veritable ocean of books in which your own book is the proverbial drop. It is easy to sink without trace. There are self published books in addition to traditionally published. It is fantastic that folk can now self publish and there are many wonderful self pubbed titles out there, but the total number of books has increased markedly as a result. There are less in-print reviews, especially of children's books, whether in magazines or newspapers. Some online review sites have popped up (yay!) but are they reaching the audience that can make a difference? How do we get cut through, can we even get seen? And can we stay on the shop shelves long enough with so many books coming through? I read an article here which talks about market saturation and some things you can do to help your book along. Personally, recently I've been teaming up with fellow creators to try and connect more with our target audience on social media in a positive, and interesting way. Social media is having a few hiccups at the moment but people are still hanging out around the digital watercooler so hopefully our community building will have some mutually beneficial outcomes. I'll keep you posted on our project when there is more to share. I also think creating and strengethening your own personal brand can help - being visible whenever possible and doing good work both in your books and in the writing and reading communities.

I've been finding it hard recently to stay strong in the face of the unspoken belief that children's literature requires an inferior skill set to produce and has lesser value in the eyes of adult writers and readers. I know 'not all adult writers and readers' but I've had some personal experience of being denigrated as a writer for children recently and it wasn't great. I am at a loss to understand what the issue is. As if literature is a pie and if adult literature cedes anything to children's literature it is a failure or a loss from their own share. I'm not sure how it became like this but I'd say boosting children's literature and valuing it helps create young readers who turn into adult readers. Isn't that desirable? I'd also argue that children's writers, just as any other writers, strive to master their craft and create quality. I'm thinking about plotting, character development, language techniques and deeper themes. I'm writing for an audience that I am no longer the same as. I'm writing not just for the child reader who might have emerging language skills and an inquisitive and demanding mind, but also the oft present adult intermediary who would like some relief in the form of subtle adult humour or other emotional connection and universal ideas that also speak to them. I am mindful always of the malleability and potential of words and how my efforts in the text will grow and inspire a young person's vocabulary and future reading and writing skills. Its not less than. Its just different. And the disdain I have felt recently is frankly undeserved. Maybe a children's book hurt you as an adult. Honestly, I don't know what it is. But it is selfish and it is unnecessary. Lifting each other up seems like the best thing to do eh?

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Mixed bag ...

 I'm not sure if writers still get caught up on the whole issue of copyright these days - the whole, do you need to assert copyright on your work, when do you do it, how do you do it, and what might happen if you don't? 

I'm pretty sure copyright is automatic here in NZ, meaning it applies as soon as your words are assembled on the page or screen. You don't have to add the symbol or register your story anywhere. Once you submit your completed story to a publisher there is a date stamp on your email which can corroborate any arguments about who had an idea first (information that is required so rarely that I cannot recall any instances of stolen ideas over my more than 20 years in the business). And if the publisher decides to publish, it is then up to them to do the final official paperwork/admin and copyright appears in black and white on the imprint page. 

So you are not required to do anything. And doing something can cause problems and make you look amateurish. You can read about it here - this from a US blog but it is relevant here too.

Things have been quiet around here since my big news about getting the residency. I have a few articles to write, a few missives too, and I am slowly sorting the admin for my trip. Visas and the like. Part of me wishes I was going away next week. I want the admin to be over and I want to be focusing on my project. I have made a very modest start and I have been wondering/worrying about the technique I am using. It is new to me so I have gotten some books using the same technique to read. The one I'm reading first is next level genius and it is a little intimidating, but when I went back to my own modest beginnings I thought this isn't so bad. Probably not Cilip Carnegie Medal material like my exemplar, but not as bad as I suspected. Maybe I can do this. The technique I mean. I already think the story idea itself has legs. Anyways, in lieu of having anything else to talk about I thought I would post up some poems for younger people. Enjoy!

(And if you are an NZ adult writing children's poetry you might like to enter a poem competition some poet friends and I are running. You can check out details here. The competition close August 4th and there is a small cash prize and the winning poem will be printed and displayed.)

Reluctant Ambler 

I go out for a walk,

(they make me),

I don’t want to go!

I dawdle, mope,

and drag my feet

I get so rambly slow!

The grass is tall

above my head,

each step I take

fills me with dread,

I fancy being in bed instead

but no one is at home -


I smell the flowers

(Pinks I think),

I must admit

a spicy stink.

I touch the grass,

admire the sky,

watch monarch

butterflies sail by,

and by the time we reach the bay

I actually have a mind to stay.

The sun is shining

waves shush in,

I secretly let

out a grin.

We picnic on

a sunlit shelf,

don’t tell them

I’ve enjoyed myself.

And just in case

next time’s a pain,

I drag my feet

back home again.

Blistery Mystery

There’s a word for this

I know what it is

it’s just on the tip of my tongue

and ‘tongue’ is a tip

well, a clue -

it’s a quip

or a joke

not a word on its own.

It’s a weather event

it’s a tempest, a storm

but it means

something different

as well

giving your tongue a blister -

‘She sells shells,

that shore sifter.’

That’s it -

a tongue twister!

Well done!

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Keeping my hand in ...

Whoo-wee I did not see that coming. You might think I should have 'cos I applied for it. Here is the announcement here. Thanks to the Michael King Writer's Centre, the NZ China Friendship Society, Shanghai Writers' Association and Shanghai People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, I am off to Shanghai in September for eight weeks to work on a new middle grade fiction project. The story is partly set in Shanghai, the setting a catalyst for some big turning points in the plot. I cannot wait to soak up the location, and walk the streets I will be writing about. It's an incredible opportunity and it is still a little surprising that it was given to me. I actually went on a bit of a hot applying jag a few months back. I was feeling pretty bleak about the state of things. I was wondering about slowly taking my hand out of the bucket of water, and just when you are contemplating taking a step back the logical response (of course!) is to apply for things (residencies, funding, etc...). I think the underlying mood was just reaching for some chances to fulfil a couple of long held ambitions. It all felt a bit wild and yet in the fevered moment of applying I realised Shanghai was a perfect part of my project. I guess maybe it felt like that to the selection panel too. I am feeling excited about the story and the groundwork I am laying right now. By the time I am in the plane my main character will be too, travelling to the place that will set her off in a startling new direction.

I applied thinking I would most likely not get it (the classic creative's self preservation approach). But it felt good to apply. It felt important. I was doing something ambitious and gutsy and at the same time practical and purposeful. Applications take effort, corralling information, defining and refining a project, making decisions about what to include and what to leave out. You polish the project and commit yourself to the idea. You imagine yourself taking up the opportunity and then you steel yourself to the likelihood that one of the other applicants will get the nod. But it is no good having goals and then never pursuing them. As much as this business is out of our control and a significant part of our journey subject to the decisions of others, if there are things out there you want to try for, you have to go for it. Because sometimes it might be you. This time it was me, and it is all very thrilling and I cannot wait. And now I'll be keeping my hand in the bucket of water a bit longer.