Monday, December 29, 2008

What do you want to know - maybe thats the place to start...

Check out the discussion on Justine larbalestier's Blog today about her take on the advice to 'write what you know'. Being told this when I was a youngster, when I was desperate to be a writer but thought my chances of achieving this were poor, was almost completely dream crushing. Books were full of daring, cunning, wild adventures. Full of intense gripping experiences and unexpected twists. I was a middle class teen prone to book reading, time with my family and study. My wildness was pretty tame. The page would be mostly blank if i wrote what I knew. The write what you know advice crushed my fragile ambition for years. I went to university, then to work, then back to university, got married bought a house and had children; common experiences, the only possible resulting book of which would be a brilliant antidote to insomnia. But of course, with age comes the lovely wisdom of 'sod it' which says advice can be ignored. John Marsden says stories come from imagination and experience, but as Ms Larbalestier reminds us, experience can be borrowed by way of research. If my life is full of everyday chores and the humdrum minutiae of keeping home and family functioning then there is nothing to stop me researching other existences. The viking era interested me and with my sparking idea of how would a 21st century boy cope if thrust into the violent world of the vikings, I found out how the vikings lived through research and wrote 'Jack the Viking'. Ultimately the core of the story is Jack's emotional journey and transformation and these are brought to life by mining my own emotional experience. So yes I write what I know but it's the knowledge that comes from answering questions like 'what would I do if I was in this position' and 'what are the details of this position?' I didn't know I knew these things before I started writing, I worked them out and coloured them in as I went along. I wasn't writing what I knew, I was writing down my discoveries, my answers to questions I thought were interesting. So if you worry about having to 'write what you know' - DON'T. What do you want to know - maybe that's the place to start.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Okay, its official, I'm a year older...

Okay - its official - I'm a year older then I was two days ago. Alright I'm only two days older than two days ago but after my birthday I have to officially add a whole extra year to my age. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Aging has a scary in-to-the-unknown (like how wrinkly am I gonna get and what will MY health issues be and will I even remember who i am) quality about it which I'm personally not a big fan of. I'm keen to see the Curious Case of Benjamin Button not just cause I like Brad Pitt (its his acting I tell you) but also because I'm hoping for some new insights on this whole aging, birth, death thing. But lets face it - is there anything new that can be added to our understanding of how the whole birth, life, death process works - no surprises there really. You read those things where the eighty year old lady says if she had her life to live over again she'd eat more cake etc...etc...but being real here, if she ate more cake she probably would have carked it at sixty and she wouldn't be waxing lyrical at eighty about leading a more hedonistic life. Hindsight is a fabulous but ultimately annoying thing and hindsight seems to be the main thing I have more of these days. Yes I should have worn more sunscreen when I was younger. Yes I should have complained less about how much I weighed and how I looked because really I was trim, energetic and unlined and I didn't really appreciate how elastic everything was until the elastic started losing its boing. Life's cruel joke perhaps?

But whatever I think about aging and how it applies to me I can't complain about the fabulous lazy day I had on Boxing day. Friends and family texted best birthday wishes or rang me. It was a perfect sunny day. I didn't have to cook (my favourite birthday tradition) or prepare any food. My children didn't argue (only minor bickering). We shopped, I watched HSM2 on tv, did a jigsaw, lay around, ate and drank, and whooped with joy when that horrible contestant got eliminated on America's next top model. I got lots of hugs. It was all lovely. I wish everyday was my birthday except for the fact that my age would now be a ridiculous number. But then my age would be totally outrageous and therefore meaningless and maybe I wouldn't care about it at all. Still, I've got a whole year to get used to this age - I'll let you know how it pans out.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Things i want for christmas...

Things I want for christmas - 1) obedient,tidy, home loving teenagers, 2)acceptance of any of my manuscripts out there doing the rounds, 3) lotsa really good chocolate, 4) calorie and hangover-free yummy champagne (that is still actually champagne, not the alcohol and fun free kind cos then there's no point), also 5) world peace and a global economic bounceback. I already have gorgeous husband, good health, three switched on kids, loving family, a warm, dry house in a fab suburb in a great country. Thats a lot to be grateful for and i shall do my best to quit whining. I rang the quit whining hotline last night but they got sick of my complaints and hung up. Maybe they'll feel differently tonite. I may need liposuction after lotsa chocolate and real world good champagne. Its my birthday this week. Maybe I can get that as a present.

So now for some end of year best ofs...Okay, i think Tania Hutley is right when she says that end of year lists are like stocking padding but if you haven't already heard, seen or read them I'd recommend these things. Best movie I've seen this year - Dark Knight. Best books I've read - The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, Catherine called Birdy by Karen Cushman, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Dave Levithan and some woman whose name i can't recall right now, and Slam by Nick Hornby. Also Monster by Walter Dean Myers and Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. I totally love picture books that make me cry. And if you are a New Zealander who can cope with some salty language and you haven't already seen every episode to date then go and borrow all the Outrageous Fortune DVDS from season 1 through to the end of season 4 and WATCH THEM. These people know how to tell a good story. There is lots of very good reasons why it is the longest running home grown television series ever.

And last but not least have a safe and happy christmas. Hug your loved ones, be zen and relax!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

When the writing isn't happening take a holiday in your bottom drawer...

So when the writing is slow I find myself drifting back to check out old material. I find myself staring wistfully at things that seemed a lot easier to write way back when (although like one of those perpetual reflections i probably turned away from those stories to stare wistfully at things written even further back in time - like the dark ages). This has the potential to be another unproductive distraction, or, as happened to me last weekend it could be like striking a seam of coal in the depths of a mine. While rootling around for no good reason (apart from the pretence of domestic industry) in some old papers I came across a letter from a publisher, the main thrust of which was to advise me of the illustrator they'd selected for my picture book Clever Moo (Scholastic, 2006). But as I let my eyes trail idly down the page I spied a sentence which referred to another picture book submission I'd made. The story had potential but there were some issues. It was going to be discussed further. A month later I received a form rejection and because I was a bit green back then I let it go. I put the story away. Now, with the benefit of a little experience I would have got back to the author of the original comment and said 'can you tell me what this means' and 'is there anything I can do?' I did do some rewriting and submitting elsewhere to no avail. But last weekend I realised that publisher had seen potential and I would be silly to let the story die quietly in my files. So its gone off to the agent who also thought there was something there. It does need work but its alive again.

I've also resurrected an intermediate level thriller adventure novel. I hadn't realised how much I'd written (around 33 thousand words) and how likeable it was. I'd put it aside because a crucial element at the beginning didn't work throughout the story and needed replacing. The replacement needed to be able to fit with all the other plotting - not an easy task, but after 3 or 4 years I think I now know what might do the trick. And if the fix works I only need about another 5 to 10 thousand words to finish the story (and a bit of spit and polish to tidy things up of course). You never know what you might find when you look at what's in the bottom drawer. Things you'd forgotten about. Little bits of grit which have turned into pearls while your back has been turned and your focus fixed on other things. What were insurmountable obstacles a few years back when you were less experienced can now be seen with an eye and mind that have benefitted from the passing years. Maybe those stories time has come. So sometimes when the writing isn't coming together, when you want to biff the keyboard across the room in frustration and rip Roget in half, take a holiday in the bottom drawer, or under the bed or in the last file pocket of your cabinet. It can be very refreshing.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Everything will be better in 2009...

I have been struggling of late with this writing thing. Its hard work, there are other things to do which make more money, what can I do to introduce people to my books, oh-my-goodness there are my children to feed and wash uniforms clean for school for and take to physio appointments and drop off for social engagements and look my head fell off. Again. And then there's the little matter of trying to sell new work. Its been slow going this year although I take a little comfort from thinking I am not the only author experiencing these things. I have so far bought only one christmas present although secret santa has reared his annoying little head and I get to buy something cunning and spectacular for $5 or less for a child I don't know in one of my children's classes. Yay! But not really. Then there's shared lunches, 'Mum it says I have to bring a plate, but no nuts, or sugar or anything that might make us energetic or excited, and nothing shop bought and...a bottle of water? Okay Mum.' At least school finishes for all three of them on wednesday but this is one of those blessings and curses all in one. There will be chocolate but lets not talk about the waist line.

So writing is being partly avoided and partly neglected. Its my core business and when writing is going well it makes me happy. I have given up on getting it sorted in 2008. Poor old 2009. A lot is expected of it already and it hasn't even started yet. Now I'm off to test what the low petrol warning light in the car actually means. Wish me luck.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chocolate, my hero...

Sometimes chocolate is the only thing standing between me and a straitjacket. Good old chocolate. It has saved my life many times. It is a hero. And a friend. I don't care what you say diet books, chocolate loves me. It knows just what I need and its not afraid to be there for me when things get difficult. Okay, okay, so sometimes it gets a bit clingy, especially around my midriff. But when the chips are down, especially the extra thin chips with honey mustard sauce from the turkish kebabary up on the corner, chocolate comes to the rescue. You rock chocolate. I may just name a character after you in one of my novels one day, or dedicate a book to you.

Monday, December 8, 2008

change, change and for a change, more change...

In keeping with my suspicions about 2009, I discovered last friday that there will be a number of changes in the NZ children's book industry calenday next year. The Storylines festival week is moving from June to August, with the Auckland family day taking place on August 30th. The NZ Post Book awards ceremonies will take place in Auckland instead of Wellington and the Margaret Mahy lecture will not be in Auckland. Its a little surprising that there are multiple changes happening simultaneously but there you have it. It seems to me that there has been nothing but change in recent times. Its a little unnerving. Will these be the last changes? Probably not.

Friday, December 5, 2008

An author's goals for 2009

So I'm hearing sales of children's books are bouyant but the market is overcrowded. I cling to the hope that people will keep buying books despite the tough economic times because they are a highly reusable, relatively cheap form of entertainment, but I can't ignore the fact that publishers are reducing lists, budgets and staff numbers. So while books continue to sell, is the downsizing a response to what might happen or the result of revenue that has already declined to much? And how does that gibe with bouyant sales? I must admit I'm a little confused. While it might them make them harder to achieve (depending on what the situation actually is), it doesn't change my essential goals of trying to sell more books and getting more manuscripts accepted. Publishers haven't stopped needing to acquire manuscripts and publish books to stay in business. But 2009 looms a little mysterious.

Clear goals are: finish the two manuscripts I'm working on now and try generating a few short stories for the 2009 Random anthology and for School Journals and Magazines, scrape money together for September Children's Book Conference in Wellington, and make a website. Writer Tania Hutley has already got her website up and running after attending the Kiwiwrite4kidz marketing and presentation workshop just last weekend where having a website was whole heartedly recommended. I'd like to keep the momentum going with school visits and author talks/workshops too. If nothing else, 2008 has taught me greater persistence and adaptability in the face of uncertainty. I can't imagine what 2009 might bring but i feel ready for just about anything.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Crikey pass the smelling salts, its December...

I was a little horrified to discover a few days ago that it is December already. Once the guilty pleasure of being the first in my family to get in the pinch and a punch for the first of the month (and no returns) had worn off I realized it was the last month of the year and all sorts of things were about to happen. For a start Santa will be on his way soon and I am ill prepared for his visit. None of my children have lists and I have done none of the usual Santa’s little helper preparations which I am signed up for like ALL the present buying for our household, all the food preparation and Christmas card witticismry and posting thereof. Soon everyone will be stopping whatever they are doing and closing up their offices and running away to pitch their tent in the place where it always rains over summer. And you can be sure they won’t have replied to any of my manuscript submissions before they go and I will have to add on several more years to the million years it already takes to hear back about a submission. The only possible response I can make to this is to consume frightening quantities of lollies, baked goods and alcoholic substances and then scare the children in the new bikini I bought after trying it on in the dark because lights and mirrors and bikinis should never be in the same room together. Then I will get cranky because I can’t sleep at nights because someone has switched my feet on to roast, the mosquito volume on high which Noise Control roll their eyes at whenever I call about it at 2am even though all noise should cease at 11pm and those sheets which felt like ice in winter are now doing a nice sandpaper imitation. Yes folks it is almost the summer holidays when you are on holiday but no one else should be, so they can read your ms, accept your return of the glow-in-the-dark apron without a receipt because no madam you are quite right that is not a hot Christmas gift which every wife is desperate to have, and open the picture theatre so you can cool your sun-burnt shoulders in the dark while watching the movie of the book which should never have been made. Why do December days pass twice as fast as the days of all other months apart from January where the days before businesses reopen pass twice as slow. And why are school holidays always a week too long? Must go – have Christmas shopping to do!

Monday, December 1, 2008

No more changes please, I am already over my quota for 2008...

I must admit to feeling a little shell shocked. After 25 years with Scholastic NZ, the publishing manager has resigned. Twenty five years is a long time and a good enough reason on its own to have a break and try something new. I can't imagine that the strain of operating under the current financial situation would have helped, but its just more sad news for authors like me in what has been a difficult year. Scholastic has been my main publisher so far and I was just getting the hang of how it all worked. Now I guess it will be different. 2008 has been very different to how I expected it to go. I am having trouble imagining what 2009 may bring and making plans is almost impossible. At the moment the thing I am looking forward to the most is the Children's Writers conference in Wellington in September. Wellington is a most excellent place to visit and is further improved by the wonderful writers and illustrators who reside there and who it will be great fun to catch up with. To my way of thinking the conference cannot come at a better time (well maybe earlier in the year would be better but...) as we need to have some serious discussions about how we can move forward and make things better in the current environment. All you kiwi children's writers and illustrators need to be marking it in your diaries now.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Brand Melinda Szymanik

Yesterday I read yet another interesting post on Maureen Crisp's blog. The topic was branding. And I'm not talking the permanent mark on the skin kind (although I want one of those too). In one of those slightly freaky coincidences that sometimes dogg me, only the day before at a Kiwiwrite4kidz workshop on marketing and presentation skills one of the presenters, Brian Falkner had been talking on the same subject and recently it has been something I have been thinking quite a bit on myself. I've wittered on before about the need for authors to get out there and publicise themselves and their books. Now, with a reported trend in overseas publishers who have previously taken on the pr and marketing role themselves, encouraging writers to DIY, whether we like it or not, we must step up and do as much as we can ourselves. We kiwis seem to have been one step ahead of our foreign counterparts with this trend but I don't think we are necessarily better prepared. But whether we are or not, i think it comes down to brand recognition. When a book buyer goes into a bookshop intent on making a purchase, I want my name or the name of my books to be uppermost in their minds. There is an ocean of book titles on offer. The only way I can rise above the waves is to increase my brand recognition. There is debate about whether reviews sell books. I think anything that spreads your name and the name of your books across a wider audience will benefit you in the long run. I am in this business for the long haul. It might take me a while to build up my brand and achieve recognition. And i can't afford to focus just on branding. I obviously also need to devote time to my core business - writing children's fiction and getting it published and as we know that isn't a simple process. But the two are linked. If I have a recognised brand then I will be a more appealing publishing prospect. It is important that my brand reflects what I do. I don't just write one genre in children's fiction. So far I've had short, novel length and picture book fiction published. I'm now working on a YA story. My branding shouldn't pigeon hole me. I've got a lot still to work out yet but in the meantime I'm going to improve my presentation skills and do as many school visits and author talks as I can fit in.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Jack the Viking: A great gift for Christmas...

Jack the Viking would be great to give as a gift for Christmas. Now as the author of this book I am understandably biased but this is not my opinion, it is the opinion of a reviewer at Christchurch City Libraries. Read her review here.

So the euphoria of the Kiwis rugby league world cup win has worn off now. Today I did a school visit today to the Stella Maris school in Silverdale where my sister teaches. My other sister acted as driver (cos as you know I turn into a chicken behind the drivers wheel) and my writer friend Tania Hutley came along as the Tonto to my Lone Ranger. We played a neat game with the kids of 'one of these things is not like the other' and i have to say the family resemblance is obviously not strong enough physically for the children to figure out straight off which of us was unrelated to the other three. Either that or Tania is actually my long lost sister. I'll have to talk to my Mum and Dad about that. I think things went pretty well, although by the end i thought my eyeballs would drop out, I felt so tired, and I suspect I was talking gibberish to the last lot but they were all too polite to say anything. I was extra excited by the first class who had just the day before finished having Jack the Viking read to them and with their very groovey teacher had been having all sorts of discussions prompted by the book. This is wildest dreams stuff where the story I've written has given them an opportunity to learn a whole lot of different things and taken them in all sorts of directions. All the times I've been excited, challenged or stretched by a book, I never imagined (and boy I've imagined a lot of things) my book would do that to someone else.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Over here, Look at me...

Time for a wee rock on one of my hobby horses - here is a blog posting from the Urban Muse on 'why writers should blog' (thanks to Janet Reid for the link). The influence of the internet is increasing all the time. One of the hardest things about being writers is getting people to sit up and take notice of us and our work. Blogging is just another form of me standing up and waving my arms around and saying, OVER HERE. LOOK AT ME. Of course, the greatest benefit is that I can do it in my jammies and slippers with a pimple on my chin and no one will know except for anyone who reads that last bit. Oh well. Now you know. The other benefit is that this is a medium that utilises one of my better skills. And I can post when I want, and edit it at will. The alternative is public appearances and I get nervous and a little tongue-tied speaking to a group of strangers. And it is unlikely that I could ever reach such a wide audience through public appearances. My blog has been checked out by people from the US, Australia, the UK, Canada, Tonga and all over New Zealand(hi there!). And did I mention, it can actually be fun, and I don't get interrupted, and there aren't any awkward silences (well maybe there are but I am blissfully ignorant of them). You might look at the internet and think but I'm just going to get lost amongst ALL of that information, more of which is being added every second. Okay you do need to be a little savvy and make sure your name and/or book title are in your blog title and blog address and are mentioned as much as possible but I can confirm that people are finding me. And yes sometimes that's by accident, but other folk are finding me and my books on purpose and although my books aren't on bookshelves around the world yet, if I didn't have an online presence you might not know about me at all. And that would be a shame because I think you'd like my books. But I have a blog and some of my books are popping up on Amazon and places like Fantastic Fiction in the UK. See how cool this is? The internet is not a hard tool to use. And using it, I believe, gives me an advantage. Okay enough rocking, I'm getting off now.

But before I go I just want to say congratulations to the Kiwi's, who against the odds and expectations, beat their biggest rivals the Kangaroos to win the Rugby League World Cup on the weekend. And by a healthy margin too :)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

On days like this I believe in summer...

Wow, the sun is out with a vengeance today - not even one solitary little puff of white to be seen in that fabulous blue dome above. It was almost too hot for the little white flea hotel on our walk this morning at 9.30. On days like this I believe in summer. It is one of my three most favourite seasons. I think after the last few months I need a mini holiday, my brain and body feel a bit weary. Of course a spot of tropical cruising would be the best, but then there's the whole what would I pay for it with? Maybe I'll just try lots of movies, reading and lying around instead. I'll give it a test drive and see if it does the trick!

I want to start wearing my christmas earrings and get the festive feeling too but November is just too early. Of course once December comes I'll be fretting about the christmas shopping. When Justine Larbalestier's new book 'How to Ditch Your Fairy' came out she did a few blog posts on what kind of fairy's her blog readers had and the ones they would like to have. I would like to have a gift-shopping-savant fairy - one that automatically knew what the ideal affordable gift was for any recipient. The one I seem to have is the ability-to-think-like-a-child-and-so-find-where-they-put-lost-objects fairy. Hmm, not as useful except on christmas day itself. Ah well. Best go and dig out the tinselly earrings in preparation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mixed bag...

Yay my SO is back driving (although he still walks round with his arm in the napoleonic style - poor thing) - so no more white knuckle, closed eyed drives on the motorway or across the harbour bridge unless I choose. Ultimately it was good practice and i do feel a little less nervous about motorways and bridges but there are some real psycho drivers out there - Guys! Calm down, chill out, go home, hug somebody.

You all need to head over to Maureen Crisp's blog here today to be reminded about why you need to find out how to work this intermawebby thing. And australian wunderkind writer Lili Wilkinson's blog here is always worth a look too. I'm about to take my walking flea hotel for a trot up on Big King so I'm just going to post an old poem of mine today. Sorry its a bit sad...

For All the Lost Girls

They're calling my name
But I'm not her anymore.
by chance,
Picked up
Put down,
Lost at sea
Buried in the sand

There's no outlook
No chance for stormy weather
Slammed doors
Lost touch.

Pitch a tent,
Query the neighbours,
Let the dogs out.
But I'm gone
Whatever you find
I'm not her anymore.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water - being reviewed!

Just when you thought, as a writer, that you'd got the hang of dealing with rejection and found a way to cope with the nerve-wracking nature of public appearances you discover you must now also deal with your books being reviewed. Maybe this is why I was feeling calmer about rejection - it was time to move on to managing the scariness of reviews. Being reviewed - this is a phrase that strikes both fear and excitement in every writer. What's worse than a bad review? - No review at all. You've sweated ferociously over your manuscript, made it the best you can, sent it out and then heard that magic word - yes! But you discover that this is not the end of the process, it is only the beginning. Now comes the editing, the proofreading, the book design - do you love it or loathe it (I count myself very lucky on this score so far). And then the book launches and the worry starts all over again. Will people like it, will they get what you were trying to say, will they love the characters as much as you did and ultimately - will they buy it? And then, just when you thought it was all a bit overwhelming the reviews start coming in. You cannot make people review your books. You cannot make a reviewer like your book. You just have to sit and wait and see what they say and hope that the suggestion that even bad reviews sell books as people see for themselves if you got it so horribly wrong, is true. I have put extra chocolate and wine aside to help me through. So far, I am happy to report, I am getting reviewed and the reviews are complimentary. I have already posted the link for the Radio NZ review of The Were-Nana but this book has also been reviewed in Magpies Magazine, Reading Time (The Children's Book Council of Australia Magazine) gave it a starred review which is extra good, and it was also well reviewed in the November 2008 issue of Around the Bookshops with a 'good read aloud' tag. Jack the Viking was also reviewed and recommended in the same issue of Around the Bookshops, and is reviewed in Talespinner, a Christchurch College of Education publication and in the NZSA's NZ Writer's November e-zine. When I can link to reviews I will post these on the blog.

And hey Fifi, it was excellent to see you up in Auckland on the weekend. Please come and live here permanently. And your 'Velvet Honey's' are just stunning and i am saving up for one.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lemons into lemonade...

The recession, like a cloud creeping its way slowly across the sky, is gradually starting to cast a shadow. I don't think its a black hole into which we will all be sucked but i do think its going to squeeze us all to the point of discomfort. I know I'm a bit uncomfortable already about how its affected my writing career in recent times. So it was refreshing to read the other day a post titled 'Why Recessions are Good for Aspiring Writers' by US agent Jenny Rappaport at her blog . Like anything else, the recession will cause a shift in the industry and we must adapt accordingly. And i can't cease being a writer just cos money is tight. Thats not how I roll.

BTW congratulations to my writer friend Elena de Roo for having a picture book ms accepted just recently - living proof that publishers are still taking on new works. I can't wait to see this one in the bookshops (mid 2010 I think).

Monday, November 10, 2008

Books launch!

Last saturday, November 8th was a very important date. On that day at Mainly Toys in Mt Eden Road we celebrated the launch of my books The Were-Nana and Jack the Viking. What a buzz. Lots of lovely friends and family came along to toast my books, feast on some nibbles and hear a few speeches. All the public talking I've been doing recently helped enormously and after a few mental rhearsals during the day and following a lovely speech (on behalf of Christine Dale from Scholastic) and introduction by Penny Scown also from Scholastic I said my piece without any flubs and even got a few laughs. Phew. So public speaking does get easier! The venue was excellent. With plenty of amazing cool stuff for the younger set to check out once the ceremonies were over, Mainly Toys is like Aladdins cave. People bought my books which I signed, along with the super talented illustrator for The Were-Nana, Sarah Anderson. Thank you to all of you who came along to support me, I felt extremely fortunate to know so many lovely folk.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Writer's Zen and the art of being rejected...part 2

Maureen Crisp suggests the zen art of rejection calm is the mark of a professional writer. Its a very strange profession we work in - maybe that accounts for the zen! There is a lot about the business of writing and publishing that is unique. The rules are that the rules don't always apply, and cannot be applied uniformly across all authors. But interestingly, despite all the frustrations, I am content to call this odd profession and the difficult industry attached to it, mine. As US literary agent Janet Reid says here - - 'Publishing isn't perfect. It's a small, insular, power imbalanced industry. I still love it.'

And oh my god Fifi - what do you mean 'plan' for my launch? I don't have a plan. Do I need a plan? What does a plan include? I've invited a horde of ten year old boys and I thought I'd feed 'em up on some greasy savouries and sugary foods and then let them loose in the toy/book shop. It seemed like a winner of an idea to me. I've press-ganged a few folk into making sure I don't sit there alone and I've noted the phone number of the Dominos Pizza place which is just a few doors down from the venue. And there is wine. This is as far as my broken brain will get me. Are there other things I should include?


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Writers zen and the art of being rejected...part 1

I am in a strange zen place about my writing at the moment. Now don't assume for one minute that this means i am not worrying about stuff. There are still plenty of things to worry about such as children (especially eldests sprained ankle and middle childs stolen cell phone and library card which currently has eighteen books out on it, several of which are overdue - who steals a library card? but I guess at least the thief is trying to improve their mind - i am divided in my opinion on that one), driving on the motorway and over the harbour bridge, MY BOOK LAUNCH THIS SATURDAY (8th November, at Mainly Toys in Mt Eden Road, starting 4pm, be there or be square), doing the best lessons I can for the writing class I am taking, the dog's fleas to which he is allergic and all sorts of other things like what to buy people for christmas. I am not worrying about the election, although it is near on impossible to pick between two people whose policies aren't that dissimilar but whose behaviour is equally bad. Not much of a choice really. I choose wine and chocolate...

...anyway I digress. Zen. Writing. I have had a few rejections recently. The agent bravely sends my things out into the world, and...then they come back. But I am untroubled, relaxed, even philosophical about it. I can't help wondering though - is this a bad thing? The potential devastation wrought by rejection can cast a cloud over things for days but if i am not worried by rejection does that mean that some kind of passion is gone. I still feel passionate about writing but how can i be calm about rejection? So folks, you tell me, should I be worried that i'm not worried about rejection?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Those aren't grey hairs, they're stress highlights...

Tomorrow is Halloween. Although Halloween has copped some flak in New Zealand for being an adopted 'event', and is also perceived by some religious folk as a major element of an evil devil-worshipping plot I kind of like it. I like that its an excuse to have fun. And for the price of a few packets of wrapped lollies and some cheap costume accessories from the very cool local cheap costume accessory emporium (Geoff's in Dominion Road) its a low cost bit of fun. Okay, I do feel a little uncomfortable knocking on the front doors of complete strangers and asking for a treat but being on the other side of the door and checking out how much trouble some children have gone to with their outfits, how inventive they've been and realising that it can be a confidence boost for the shy child to go up to the front doors of complete strangers and knock and ask for treats in the name of fun makes me 'want' to give them lollies. I don't like scary movies and I will not be watching old scary movie re-runs. I have my own horror unfolding at home as the second of my three children becomes a teenager on the 31st. Those aren't grey hairs, they're stress highlights!

My SO had his shoulder op on tuesday and is home now. He's walking round with a full time anaesthetic pump on his shoulder. I'm thinking, I'd like me one of those. Looks like the operation was a success and once he's healed up and rehabilitated he'll be almost as good as new. I'm ticking off stressful events at the moment. My cheerleading daughters have their annual international cheerleading competition this coming sunday and once thats over things should be a little calmer round the house.

I'm a bit stuck on my WIP at the moment and there have been so many distractions I haven't been giving it the attention it deserves. Although I thought this comment I saw the other day suggesting that if you are blocked maybe its because you should be, made a lot of sense (sorry i can't remember where I read it) I'm not a great believer in writer's block. Being stuck is me acknowledging that I'm a bit off track and I have to let my brain take its time and figure out how to get back on track and that the station its heading to is a good destination. Sometimes it all comes easy, other times the cogs grind a little slower or need an injection of something you can't identify until you get it. If this sounds a bit airy fairy thats because it is. There is no 100% logical explanation I can think of that describes the writing process. The path I took for the last book will most likely bear no resemblance to the path i take on this book or the next one. I often fear that my ambitions for a particular story are beyond my writing skills (Justine Larbalestier blogged on this a few days ago) but I believe the ambitions are good and drive me to work harder to get the writing right. I know how I want the story to go, but its a little like precariously holding all the pieces of a broken vase together and then needing to apply the glue - it can be a very tricky business. I don't believe any writer ever knows all there is to know about writing. We are striving to improve, seeking a better way to tell a better story.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Enough of politics...maybe its time for a poem instead...

I have had enough of politics. I cannot wait for our election and the US election to be over. I already know who I want to win in both countries. I hate the games that are played, the mudslinging, the name calling, the bitching and gripeing, the dirty tactics and the cheap promises. I hate that they think I can be bought with a single election promise. But, I ask, who will lose out to fund that benefit for me? Because there will never be enough funding to give us all the things we need, let alone the things we want. At least here in New Zealand, no matter how it turns out, I think I will be okay, but I worry about the outcome in the US and what it will mean for the world. I vote Tina Fey for VP!

Enough about politics, and now for something completely different...I don't write a lot of poetry, but sometimes thats just how the words come out. Sorry, this is not a cheerful one. I feel like it might still be a work in progress but I feel like 'tis on the verge of saying what I want it to:-

Important Equations

The science of war says
The square root of the distance from human suffering
Is directly proportional
To reckoning 'whats in it for me'

The mathematics of human nature says
The sum of acquisition and advancement
Is equal to or greater than
Our love for our fellow man

And the theory of relativity says
The person who harms me
Is more likely
To be known to me

Our ability to laugh at the misfortunes of others
Has not yet been explained.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Getting your book isn't the end of the process, its just the beginning

I love writing - I think you've all figured that out about me by now. I'm actually suffering withdrawal symptoms a bit at the moment as there have been so many other things on that I have not had time or sufficient brain juices flowing to make much progress on my WIP. I've been focusing more on PR and marketing of me and my books, visiting schools and libraries and trying to figure out how to make this intermawebby thing work harder for me to the same end. And trying to earn a few pennies in there as well through non-book related activities. But I think there are even more things I should be doing. Having my stories published has been one of the highlights of my writing experience (seeing someone enjoy one of my stories is the other major highlight). But boy is it a huge can of worms I didn't realise I was opening when I got those fateful words - can we please publish... Because its not just about making the story into a book and getting the book and saying YAY. Its also realising 'I want people to buy my book' and 'I want people to like my book' or best of all 'love it'. There are book launches and especially with children's books there are school visits and library visits and giving talks. And then people say 'its a really good idea to have a web presence' and a blog may not be enough, I might need a website too and then I need to make sure I'm connecting up to the audience who might be interested in me, but i should also follow the traditional route and do a press release and have some info on me going out to print media and maybe the radio, and lets face it getting into the editorial section is a major plus and ...whoops i think my head just fell off. I'm only one person and I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of these additional things I need to do to help my books. I feel like I need to be a company with departments to successfully achieve all of these things. Truth is I am the antithesis of a super woman. Most days I struggle just to write and do all the domestic chores that need doing. I'm reading the tips on what kinds of marketing things i should be doing but does anyone have any tips on how to actually fit all these things in (especially when I have to learn how to do them in the first place) without having a 'nervy B'?

Next week my SO has an operation on his shoulder (old golfing war wound) and will be in a sling for a month. This means no driving for a month. For those of you who have met me in the flesh you may be aware of my driving phobia. I am pretty handy at tootling round the local streets. Even when the occasion merits I tootle a little further. But I am petrified of driving on the motorway and the harbour bridge. I've seen what crazy stunts some drivers do (hell I've seen myself do some dumb things) and New Zealand drivers rightly have a reputation for being discourteous (aka down right rude) and fairly cranky if they think you've diminished their driving experience in some way. So its not just an irrational fear - there are good reasons i get sweaty and shakey at the thought of driving on the motorway. I don't even like being in the car with someone else driving on the motorway. So I'm feeling a little stressed about having to pick up some additional driving duties during the 'incapacitation'. It doesn't help reading blogs about people who don't want to drive, who just don't. They don't apologise for their fear. They just make a choice and don't drive. I should point out that the choice not to drive is often accompanied by the choice to not produce offspring. This is a good call. If you have small fry the need to be able to drive increases exponentially. In fact it is the driving of my children to after school activities (when the motorway is a necessary evil) that is stressing me the most. I know I have some white knuckle drives coming up but I am really looking forward to just tootling again in the future.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Where do writer's get their ideas...

Recently I have been trying to provide a good answer to the following question 'Where do writers get their ideas?' The people asking are school students and would not be too keen on the best answer I have, which is that I don't really know where my ideas come from. Or more specifically I do know where they start but i don't know how they transform from that first thought or phrase or image into the story that pops out at the end. When we were in the midst of renovating our house several years back, my builder brother-in-law was head builder on the job. He's an excellent builder and craftsman, is also into books and like us, owns a dog. I can't remember how the conversation started. It was just idle chit chat over lunch but somehow I came out with a sentence about a man having a dog-eye. What is a man with a dog-eye? How on earth had our conversation brought us to this strange sentence? I can only explain by saying this is the way my brain works. All the time. I can't switch it off. It segues in the most unexpected directions and this is why I am a writer. And I can't complain. I like that my brain does this. The man with the dog-eye sentence turned into a short story about a young boy who owned a dog who met a scary old man that dogs would follow like rats after the pied piper (The Man with the Dog Eye). Would living with his grandmother in a house that sets sail help a shy boy come out of his shell? (The House that Went to Sea) This grew from the name Granny Nor (the family name for my husbands grandmother).

For me, ideas turn up unexpected and unbidden. My job is to recognize the idea and grab it close. I have to keep my ears and eyes and mind open. It seems like magic to me and is certainly not a thing of logic. Am I strange amongst writers in this? I couldn't say. I only know that this is how it works for me. But it makes it jolly hard to answer the question 'where do writers get their ideas.'

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spongebob breaks the ice...

Lots to talk about today. Just swung across to Janet Reid's blog ( and saw a very smart comment. She advised writers attending conferences that conferences weren't just about meeting agents and editors. Conferences are a great opportunity to meet other writers as well and this should be one of your purposes in attending. Of course there is much value in meeting agents and editors but in the day-to-day wilderness/jungle that is a writer's life one of the best survival tips is to make friends with other writers. No one else can know better the difficulties/agonies/ecstasies /disappointments and minutiae that make up your existence. No matter how generous, kind and understanding an agent or editor are, your writer friends are having the same experiences as you. No other group are as well trained in the art of surviving life as a writer. There is a divine karmic interwoveness to the whole thing too:- Some days i need support and encouragement, other days I give support and encouragement to someone else. We don't have a lot of writing conferences in New Zealand, but writers groups, critique groups, classes and organisations and their meetings are great places to make writer friends. They are an essential part of the writers toolkit.

Now I also came across this interesting piece (via Jenny Rappaport's blog, LIT SOUP at 'about the marketing end of the book business, the rationale behind how buyers pick books, and a nice dose of bookselling history too.' You can read it here:- Its written about the American market but the general themes are relevant here too. Just as the health system has a purely financial end that recognizes the most expensive widgit is too much for the budget, at the polar opposite of the emotional end of being sick where you don't care how much the best widgit costs, its the one you need, the book industry takes your beloved book baby and says it needs to sell x copies or it can't break even. No matter how the industry evolves over time we will always be emotionally attached to the books we have slaved over and pored our hearts into and the publisher and booksellers can only sigh and say we have to make enough money to cover our book producing, book selling operation costs. They are not charities and there is no way we would want them to be. It is good to understand how all aspects of the book industry works. And it is always comforting to know that I am not the only writer being rejected or skipped.

The flipside to the financial realities is the fun to be had in meeting your audience. I visited Owairoa Primary School today in Howick, East Auckland. I met with each of the four year-3 classes at the school and talked about ideas, the writing and book making process and reading. It was a lot of fun and the children were wonderful. I'm glad i packed all my books into my Spongebob Squarepants suitcase. The children thought it fitting that books be protected by the King of imagination and it was a great ice breaker. Having my little viking bear along as mascot was also handy. The children were interested and enthusiastic. It got a bit tricky at the end, as having covered the same material with each group i began to wonder if i was repeating myself to the same crowd. As the information came out in different orders for different classes depending on their responses I couldn't follow the same sequence and tick off the list as i went. I will have to figure out a way to avoid this problem. I hope I get to do more school visits in future.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Financial crunch...not a tasty breakfast cereal

Justine Larbalestier recently discussed one of my pet peeves on her blog - why do publishers feel the need to change spelling/common english idiom for different markets. Isn't that how readers learn about other places and cultures? I blogged recently about this in 'Our reading makes us world savvy'. All the posters to this comment by Justine felt pretty much the same way on the topic. It seems authors aren't keen on the practice. Is there any way to stop or reverse this sad habit?

A few of my other favourite blogs (Kristin Nelson, and have mentioned the current recession and the potential impact this is/will have on publishing and authors. Kristin was reasonably optimistic, bookends not quite so cheery. Many of the posters to the comments were hopeful. Books are still a reasonably priced luxury that don't require ongoing costs like batteries or an electrical supply or the latest game, and keep on giving unlike a coffee at the cafe or a trip to the movies. On the one hand I want to be optimistic too because I don't really want to give up this writing gig (as tempted as I am at times of intense frustration with the industry and/or myself) and I want there to be more books out there with my name on them and I don't want the publishers to face hardship. However part of me knows that less disposable income will mean less sales of every product. And the fact that this financial crunch is partially driven by people spending beyond their means suggests that there should be at least be a decline in retail down to a level where people are spending responsibly. I still think books are a good investment, especially for children. And there will always be book lovers who can't wait for their next book fix and need to consume them regularly to stay healthy and sane. Health and sanity are important! Libraries might see greater patronage. I think most, if not all, libraries in NZ stock my books - yay. As someone pointed out recently however, books were still being written, published and bought during the Great depression. To help the book industry I intend (within my means) to keep buying books and reading them. I also plan to keep writing and submitting and to keep hoping that the recession won't cut too deep and the recovery when it comes won't be too painfully slow. In the end I can't fix the problem so I just have to make the most of what is in front of me. Remember, there is still a bestseller list and books are still turning up on it, both here and overseas. Someone is still buying them.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jack the Viking

Be careful what you wish for. Life for 14 year old Jack Fletcher would be a lot easier if he was as tough and fearless as the viking warriors he likes to read about. A strong, brave warrior wouldn't stuff up at the interschool swimming competition or become the target of the school bully.

But when he finds himself in eleventh century Norway, Jack has bigger problems, like how will he get home, and can he stay alive long enough to find out?

The first part of a two-part story, my novel Jack the Viking, published by Scholastic NZ, is a fast moving tale of adventure, mystery and betrayal. Available now at bookshops like Jabberwocky and Timeout.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Halloween teen...

The Frankfurt Book fair is on right now. I was interested to see on Graham Beattie's blog ( a day or so back the news that Publishers from Canada, Australia and New Zealand had got together at Frankfurt and formed a coalition in pursuit of closer cooperation. All three countries have had concerns about the dominance of Britain and America in the english language markets and their proprietorial attitudes towards other english speaking markets like Canada, Oz and NZ. I like the sound of this coalition but I'm not sure what impact it will have on me and my writing/books, if any. The bigger impact at the moment is bound to be from the global financial squeeze. Right now I feel strangely calm about it all. Long may this calm continue.

In a delicious touch of irony, this year my youngest daughter turns teen on Halloween. Is there any more frightening prospect than adding another teen to the household mix? It seems perfect for this particular festival. She is off to high school next year, and as her younger brother moves to intermediate I will no longer have any children at primary school. Another milestone is passed, another era ends. I wonder if losing that connection with primary age children will have an impact on my writing. Will i drift away from writing picture books? I hope not. There is something truely magical about crafting a story for this genre. I never cease to be amazed, even as a picture book writer myself, how the brevity and apparent simplicity unfolds and gently reveals complex themes and feelings. It is immensely satisfying that despite repeat readings my favourite picture books can still move me to tears, smiles, out right laughs and understanding. If I'm feeling down 'Olivia' is guaranteed to bring a smile to my face, 'Tulevai and the Sea' reminds me of the power of a mother's love and 'Dear Greenpeace' chokes me up on the final page. How cool is that.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It pays to be a boy scout/girl guide...

I was horrified watching an item on the television programme 60 minutes last night. The item was looking at the spending habits of young females. One gorgeous young thing in her early twenties in particular had my blood boiling. With the global financial crisis making the lucky ones tighten their belts and the less lucky wondering where they might sleep or when they might next eat, this brainless lovely had a weekly spend on her credit cards of around $1500. It was her right as a human being to treat herself. I believe in treating myself too if things have been particularly stressful or something particularly special or exciting has happened. But she treated herself because it was another day. And her treats were high end luxury items. Her clothes had designer labels, she drank expensive wine and was considering buying a $60,000 car. On credit. Shopping made her happy. Her shopping made me unhappy. How could she not know that spending comes after earning. Her values and attitude shocked me. If she represents the next generation I feel very afraid.

Whilst net trawling this morning, I've come across a couple of interesting posts that got me thinking. NZ crime writer Vanda Symon's latest post reviews the last session at the Burns Festival in Dunedin on NZ literature. Read her review here: As did one of the pannellists (Catherine Chidgey), I've often wondered if it is only writers like ourselves who know NZ writers and books so well. If you asked Joe Public how many NZ writers and their books they could name, and how many NZ books had they read in the past 12 months what would the response be? For myself, I read book sections in magazines and papers, read reviews and regularly check out whats new at the bookshops, but does Joe Public? Ms Chidgey contrasted the NZ reality with that in Ireland, where all Irish writers are known. How did they achieve that and how can we do it here. Should it form a bigger part of a childs education to know who our greats are? To paraphrase Ms Chidgey, 'when will our writers be on cards in weetbix packets, traded with excitement in the playground at lunchtime.' The other comment that really got me thinking was the idea that NZ literature was ghettoised by having its own section in bookshops and we would truely have matured as a reading/book buying nation when NZ writers were mixed in with the rest of the world. This kind of took me by surprise and I'm not sure whether I agree or not. I like that it makes my book easier to find. But does it somehow subordinate our writing to what comes from overseas. Perhaps when all kiwis know all NZ writers then we can be mixed in or maybe being mixed in is an important part of the process of getting to that point. I'm not sure.

The other post that caught my eye this morning was by Justine Larbalestier (link over on your right listed under extremely cool people). With some of her pals having books coming out soon she was giving advice on preparing for author talks and book tours by looking at the most often asked questions at such events.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

Where do you get your ideas?

What were/are your inspirations?

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

And Whats your favourite book/author?

Justine looks at how these questions might be approached. While these all might seem simple and predictable and straightforward it never hurts to consider your repsonse to each one before throwing yourself out there. We assume the answers to the obvious will come easy but if you have a smart and/or witty reply tucked away in your mind it will leave room free for adlibbing on the questions you never saw coming like what does your husband earn (and I have actually had this question from a seven year old - you have been warned). It probably pays to also spend a bit of time thinking of answers to questions like favourite food, colour, animal, and place to write. The more organised you are, the cleverer you will appear!

Friday, October 10, 2008

I have been reviewed...

Was vair excited to hear my book The Were-Nana reviewed by John McIntyre on Radio New Zealand on Friday October 10. It is here :-)

It is specially exciting because he figured my eastern european background and saw the influence of the fairytales I grew up on. I had a steady diet of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen as a child - an amazing collection of stories that captured the darkness and light of human nature and really fired up my imagination. I also got a buzz out of hearing that the famous singing sisters, Helen and Margaret Medlyn, interviewed before the book review session liked the book too. Yay!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Our reading makes us world savvy...

I has been reading lots over the past few days. Day before yesterday I finished The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. What a haunting story. And such a devastating conclusion. It is a simple tale that lays out the horrors of a terrible time in our history and is an excellent way to keep knowledge of these injustices alive and understandable for future generations - we should never forget.

Yesterday I needed to read something completely different (and was grateful that perhaps the way history played out enabled me to). I consumed, in a day, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Cool read. Now I wanna see the movie. Nick and Norah's contains a lot of geographical, cultural and product references specific to the US. Only one product had me confused but it didn't hold my enjoyment or understanding of the story back. I wish NZ books travelled to the US like their books travel here. Are kiwis more world savvy or has our wide reading about different cultures over the years made us so. One of the benefits of reading is escaping to and learning about new places, cultures and people. I could never be a teenage jewish New Jersey girl having one crazy night in Manhatten but now i know how it might feel. How cool would it be if some new jersey youngster caught a glimpse of how kids live here. I do wonder why our books don't travel and theirs do?

This morning I'm on to Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. I hardly ever read non-fiction except the newspapers which stretch that definition somewhat at times. Its compelling so far but its a fat book and I am not sure I have the reading stamina for the whole thing. Especially since school holidays are nearly over and I will have peace and quiet, the house and the computer to myself again come monday to get back in to my writing. I can't complain too much tho'. I have been enjoying the books, and all the movies I have been to with my children. I have seen at least one movie alone with each of them which is extra nice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Do we need more awards...?

Still have dribbly horrible cold, brain still MIA, children still off school on holiday. I have sent my inner writer away to sulk in a closet somewhere. Justine Larbalestier asked if book awards influence people's reading. I wondered this too after a friend said yesterday that there should be more awards for children's writers in New Zealand. I think there should be more attention paid to children's writers in New Zealand but I don't know if there should be more awards. Commenters told Justine that yes they were influenced by short lists and winners and others told her that no they weren't. One commenter said, some brilliant books don't win anything and some rubbish does. As with any judgement of a book, it comes down to opinion.

In New Zealand the awards we do have for children's literature don't make a huge media splash. The books shortlisted may enjoy greater sales but sadly I don't think these are always vast quantities. I worry that adding more awards would only dilute the effect of each individual award. The current awards don't garner enough attention. Maybe in the short term we should be working to increase the public awareness and interest in those awards already available. Doing this may generate enough positive spin-off to benefit all children's writers. What do you think?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gotta get a website...

Maria Gill, head of children's writers organisation Kiwiwrite4kidz has just started up a blog, discussing and promoting children's books by New Zealand authors. . This blog is still being set up but is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

I read a very interesting post this morning by author Maureen Crisp at , her third post on marketing one's books using the internet. This one deals with websites and talks about knowing your audience (in our case children) and making the site a mix of information and interactive fun. I got a bit of a fright when she said this,

In the states publishing contracts for children’s authors are beginning to state that providing extra content on websites is part of the book contract.

Yikes. I would love to have my own website but confess I am put off by the cost and the expectations involved. If publishers require it, do they contribute to the cost? When I was growing up, books were all about reading and the interactive part happened inside my readers brain. But times have changed and my brain, raised on reading as reading only is not sure how to turn this round to become interactive fun on the net. I think I'm going to have to get past my ignorance and fear and get on with it though because this is an incredibly beneficial marketing tool I can't ignore. I am a member of the Australasian chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and apparently publishers regularly check out their website ( ). I believe an overseas publishing deal was offered for a book noticed on the site. My books are named on the site but i need my own website to provide further info on me and my books to take full advantage of this. I had a bit of a squiz at one author's website listed on the SCBWI site for author Deb Abela which blew my socks off - kids must love this - If only I'd trained one of my children up to be an IT whizz!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Everyone should read more books...

Can you believe the world at the moment? American politics is eye-popping material and part of me is holding my breath waiting for the presidential election to play out (but not all of me because we know what happens when all of you holds your breath from september to november). I worry over the fact that I cannot have an impact on the outcome but that the outcome will undoubtedly have an impact on me. And the financial crisis. Did no one see that coming? Yikes - is there a brain big enough to see the long term implications of whatever rescue package they come up with now (compared with whatever bright sparks came up with the plan that got them into the mess in the first place)? I am not filled with confidence. Myself, I think the answer is - everyone should read more books!!!!!

At least we have the internet. My favourite blog post of recent days is this one - found via - you will need to know who Calvin and Hobbes are to appreciate this. If you don't know who they are, this is an excellent reason to find out.

I had my last two events for NZ Book Month on the weekend. A visit to Auckland Central Library late saturday morning and one to Auckland Art Gallery in the early afternoon. I was one of four authors at the library and I really enjoyed sharing the visit with Maria Gill, Jenni Francis and Lorraine Orman. I think we complemented each other well. At the Auckland Art Gallery I was scheduled to follow Tessa Duder - a potentially daunting position to be in but she was extremely generous and encouraging which put me at my ease. It was such a pleasure to listen to her read and speak. I haven't been to any author talks for a while. I did so many a few years back they all began to sound the same and I stopped going, concentrating on my own work. Now I'm thinking the occasional one will be inspiring, and illuminating and i must make sure I make the time for them.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

the happy victim of books...

Karl Lagerfeld says 'Books are a hard-bound drug with no danger of an overdose. I am the happy victim of books.' Thanks to Gondal-Girl for the excellent quote ( via Rachael King's blog at ).

Monday, September 22, 2008

Out Now - The Were-Nana

My book, The Were-Nana is out now. This is a scary story best suited to the slightly older reader (4 or 5 plus). Like me when I was a child, the young girl in the book, Stella-Rosa, has an older sibling who likes to frighten her. And like me as a child, Stella-Rosa is about to meet a grandparent she doesn't know. Is her Grandmother really what Simon says she is?

I tell my children a little bit of fear is a good thing. It heightens our senses and helps us be prepared. I never really stopped being a bit afraid of my one and only grandparent with the thick accent and gruff manner that i rarely got to meet, and my older sibling never got over the fun of scaring us but will this happen in the Were-Nana? You'll have to read it to find out. Published by Scholastic NZ and available at super duper book shops like Jabberwocky and Wheelers now.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Many thanks to John Graham of Paper Plus...

Maureen Crisp ( ) gave some good advice on self-marketing/promotion in a comment on my last post - many thanks Maureen. In many of the venues we may find ourselves as children's writers it can be difficult to have our books available for sale. I made an author visit to a local library yesterday as part of NZ Book Month and was kindly supported by John Graham who runs several Paper Plus stores in Auckland. A few books were sold and I hope this is enough to make it worthwhile for him attending on a glorious sunny Saturday afternoon. His continued support of Kiwiwrite4kidz writers is very much appreciated. I still find myself feeling so grateful to bookshops who stock my books and buyers who purchase them. I have to remind myself that they are not treating me as a charity case but are investing in a good read, but its hard work.

In the same vein, I am working hard not to feel guilty about charging a reasonable amount of money to the school I will be taking writing workshops at over a six week period (yay! - I got the job). It is more than I have earned per hour before in previous jobs but less then the recommended rate. I am very keen to do the workshops and have some exciting ideas for them and hope they will be pleased with the results. It is weird to actually be making money as a writer in an industry that up till now has successfully trained me to devalue my worth (because even if i'm rubbish i'm still worth more than 10 cents an hour which is about what I earn now). We do not seem to have a nationally prescribed and accepted 'profile' or 'going rate' like writers do in some countries and I find it makes for some awkward moments. Maybe this is another topic that can be raised at next years conference of children's writers in Wellington. To end todays post i just have to borrow this fantastic query letter that i found via Kristin Nelson's blog at :

Dear Editor:
I am monster.
Monster look for publisher.
I am main character in new book, [title removed]. 330 manuscript pages approximately.
Good horror story: lots of action. Blood.
And guts.
Monster enclose return postage.
I may be monster, but I have manners.
Monster thanks you for your consideration.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I promise I'll only make a small scene...

Ha ha - so you know how they say be careful what you wish for...I wanted something to happen and it did. Its a good thing - a short gig working with some intermediate age children on their writing. I've wanted to do this for some time and this particular opportunity fits the bill perfectly: great age, excellent group size, and of course, my favourite subject at a local school. Whats more its a paying job although i've sent back details of my pay rate and haven't heard back yet. I guess cost may be a stumbling block but I'm hoping we work it out. I realised a while back that i wasn't going to earn enough money from my books alone (ha ha ha ha) and I had to diversify if I wanted to earn a bit more. I'm really pleased that I am making progress on this front, although I have such a healthy cynicism I never believe anything is truely happening until I'm actually there or the contract/book is in my hand get the picture.

So something changed but secretly i wanted the change to involve one of my manuscripts. It still may happen but as time waddles on I get further and further away from my last manuscript acceptance and the old self-doubt creeps in, exacerbated unpleasantly by the reducing nature of the current publishing industry. I am most saddened by my manuscript Made With Love which people seem to like but publishers don't want to publish. I think it compares well (yes, yes I know I can't be objective but this is different - I've had serious careerist writing folk praise this one) to other picture books in the bookshops so I'm a little heartbroken over that story. I really hope its time will come. Cos i know you would like it too.

I've been mulling over one other aspect of publishing the last day or two. How much of all of the crap thats get thrown at us should we accept? I'm famous/notorious (you pick) for my impatience. I know I'm not alone on this one but I am frequently told that this is the nature of the business and I must accept it or go do something else. Okay - I kind of get (in my more lucid moments) why certain things take time. If they are not getting back to me its because they haven't made up their minds yet. Its not because they are afraid to say no to me, its never stopped them before and I have shown myself to be a person who doesn't make an awful scene or threaten violence if things don't go my way. But this is not the only crap we must endure. I am SURE we each have a secret list of things that happened to us and our writing that drove us mad. My list has been growing like a bug in a petri dish recently. And i just have to accept it all and go write some more stuff that they can screw around with and mess with my head over. Does this seem right to you? Would people just STOP mucking me around please! Its starting to affect my writing. I may just have to channel all this pent up emotion in to lobbying for an educational lending right.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Melinda ate one too many crabby patties...

Do you ever get those days when you wish, when you would give just about anything (even your first born who is so over school right now that i am tearing my hair out), for something to happen or change. Something significant that will break you out of the morass of self doubt you are bogged down in. And deep deep down you know, right down in your DNA you know, this event is so unlikely and that yes tomorrow will look just like today and the day before, that you need some other way to try and move forward and change things yourself. I am so tempted to write a slew of rude letters/e-mails venting my frustration but of course the short term gain is not worth the long term pain. None of this is helped by reading about New Zealander Helen Lowe ( ) who after securing a US agent now has a YA fantasy book coming out with Knopf in the US (released here in october) and they have also contracted an as yet incomplete four book series of adult fantasy. This is fantastic stuff and i so wish her all the best but I can't help contrasting it with my own experience where I'm not feeling the love. That pointed stick i am using to push that runny poo uphill is NOT WORKING. Garrrr! And who decided to put fashion week in the middle of NZ Book month (or NZ book month around fashion week). This is New Zealand, a small country with a population you can count in one night (although it takes them several years to collate the results). Fashion week must distract people from book month. What were they thinking (oh, okay maybe no one WAS thinking or the right hand wasn't talking to the left hand cos there's a body inbetween). Double garrr!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A stable of writers...

So I 'invigilated' yesterday and am happy to say I survived. Have now couriered off exam answer sheets etc... to the UK and hope I didn't make too many mistakes with the way I conducted the whole thing. Time will tell but i do hope it was good enough to get paid for it. It was a strange day yesterday and my friend blamed that particle collider experiment happening on the other side of the world. Seeing as some people thought it would create a black hole that would swallow our lovely planet I am relieved that a bit of weirdness was the only tangible result for those of us outside the scientific community.

I have been contemplating today (in lieu of actual writing of WIP) whether the current publishing trends in NZ will include a move towards publishers wanting to keep their writers to themselves. I know of at least one australian publisher who operates this way and with the recent changes in NZ in submission policies, the sale of publishing houses and booksellers, and the economic recession I just can't help thinking this might be one more strategy added to the pile by publishers over here. Even if a publisher and I worked equally hard for eachother I'm not sure how I would feel about having only one publisher looking at my work and then, if acceptable to them, publishing it. As I've said before when thinking about loyalty I don't think one publisher would want all the things I write. My writing projects can be so different and in the long term i don't want to be restricted to a particular selection of genre, age groups, etc... And what would i do with the stuff they didn't want? Would I be prevented from sending it elsewhere? I want to challenge myself to try new things and explore different voices. Would a single publisher dictate the topics and styles I worked on? At the moment it goes against the way I work. But if this was the only way to get published would I do it? What would I do to stay published? I never say never, but right now its hard for me to imagine working this way. And if this way of working was adopted wholesale by NZ publishers is there anything I could do to influence how its applied to me or the way it works in general?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Let me explain what I meant by that last blog post title...

Eeek - reading the title of my last post i realised this could easily be misconstrued and I'd better set the record straight. The important thing here is that you have seen the new television reality show Wipeout where contestants go through a barrage of physical challenges to win $50,000. Its a modern day assault course of enormous bouncy balls that have to be traversed, rope swings that take you to impossible-to-cling-to vertical walls, hopping unstable platforms on water, jumping over fast moving objects, dodging punching gloves popping randomly out of a wall that push you into a pool of mud etc...Some parts are fun, some look downright bruising. Its hard to explain but its easy entertaining viewing on a sunday night and my children especially have become fans who want to give it all a go themselves. While the publishing industry seems to be slowing somewhat here in NZ I would not want to give anyone the impression it is wiped out. Rather, getting accepted for publication seems like having to get through the assault course and it is almost impossible to come through without getting muddy, and a little bit battered. And you don't win 50,000 either, although the potential prize of publication is still motivation enough to keep you leaping, bounding, jumping and pushing yourself to the limits.

My eldest daughter is part of the Allstar Cheerleading team that got through to the next round of NZ's got Talent last Monday night. They only showed highlights on Monday and I'm looking forward to seeing the whole routine during the semi-finals. Usually a flyer (doing stunts while being tossed up by a base group of three others) with her senior team, my daughter is one of the oldest members of this group and bases one of the younger team members but she does do some gymnastic style tumbling with flik flaks etc...which can look amazing.

Today i am earning a few dollars 'invigilating'. That word just blows my mind but i'm getting better at wrapping my tongue around it. Don't worry, I'm not carrying a gun and wearing a badge, it just means I'm supervising an exam this afternoon in town. Exam rules seem to have got a bit stricter so i'll probably need to take the full 15 minutes before the exam starts to go through the instructions. As its my first go at this I feel like I'm sitting the exam myself.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Is today's publishing market a bit like the tv reality show Wipeout?

Happy - people are saying nice things about my book The Were-Nana. Sad - publishing markets seem to be downsizing. I guess its just an economic reality. Sometimes i think wistfully of what it might have been like to be writing twenty or thirty years ago when publishers became more involved with their writer's careers, patiently nurturing them and helping them along. They were probably more willing to take a risk back then too. But then if I was writing back then I have to remember I'd probably be doing it long hand and I wouldn't have some of the excellent technology and groovy accessories that are available to us today. No time is the best time or the worst time. Its just 'how it is' right now and whatever the circumstances, the plain truth is I'm a writer. If I don't find a way to move forward in this environment I may as well give up. But I don't want to give up so I'll be thinking my way through the current setbacks and difficulties and hopefully coming up with some strategies for keeping my sanity and my sense of humour (an essential tool in the writers tool kit) intact. And maybe i'll also find a way to make the most of the way things are now.

And thank you Fifi for your very kind words of encouragement. They made a big difference.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

You like me, you really like me...

(Ten points to the people who get the reference in the title of todays blog post). After welcoming NZ Book month in with the official Auckland opening last monday night, I followed up yesterday with author visits to three Auckland libraries. Karma smiled at me making my last visit the one to my own library at Mt Roskill. Unlike the other libraries, they had advertised my visit in their display case outside the library and set up another display featuring my work inside the library alongside where i was to sit. They had made fairy bread for the children and gave me flowers and chocolate at the end of the visit. I was overwhelmed by their appreciation and left feeling ten feet tall. I had my son with me and i swear he stood a lot taller too. So thank you to the librarians at Mt Roskill, you obviously care about children's literature and I'm sure it rubs off on your young readers. Mt Roskill library - YOU ROCK!

I have to say I was impressed with the children at all three libraries. The audiences were never huge but the children were patient, well behaved and polite. In a library you are kind of preaching to the converted as these are people who have already decided they like books. They are there because they want to be which is the best kind of audience to have. I have two more library visits later in the month and a visit at the Auckland Art Gallery.

It is good to have those first three visits under my belt. I was a bit stressed about it before hand. I am not a natural speaker and I'm still learning about finding the right tone for different audiences. I have a better handle on speaking to classroom groups as I'm clearer on what the agenda is but a public venue like a library is a different kettle of children. They are there because they enjoy reading but may have no interest in writing or the process of making books. They might not care where you get your ideas from or what you did when you were growing up. They want entertainment in the here and now. (School children probably feel the same but there is an expectation from all parties that some educational elements will be included). Thanks to Maria Gill's good advice I'd generated some word-finds which many of the children seemed to enjoy and I had some lovely flash-looking Jack the Viking postcards to hand around. I think most children get a kick out of taking something like this away. Best of all they did seem to enjoy being read to, which is great because I get a buzz out of reading aloud. At the Storylines Margaret Mahy Day earlier this year Wayne Mills gave a stirring lecture on the benefits of reading aloud. And not just to the younger children. I'm a big fan and I'm now thinking i might see if i can do more of it. The only tricky thing about reading aloud is what to read to a mixed audience. I am lucky to have written material over a range of age groups from picture books to short stories to novels. There's pretty much something for everyone. With school groups the ages tend to be homogenous and selection is much easier. Most older children don't mind hearing the occasional picture book but sadly I lost a few older boys at one of the venues despite having suitable material for them because of the littlies in the audience. I don't know if there is any way around this. I hope some of my other picture book stories are published so I have a wider range of material to read from. It is still looking possible that a third one will be published but it is (as with so many book related things in my life right now) up in the air. Even if it is, it is probably a couple of years away.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Call me loyal...

I was reading about an interview with a career agent of some thirty years recently on Kristin Nelson's blog. Kristin summarised the main points in her post and one of these talked about the importance of loyalty for writers, agents and editors. Some commenters had varying opinions on this topic. I'm not sure what I think. Loyalty might seem a simpler issue if I only wrote one kind of book, like a series of crime thrillers with the same protagonist through out, or all picture books. But I don't. I write short stories, picture books, childrens novel's and the current project is YA. Who knows what i might produce in future. I think it is true to say that most publishers focus on particular genre, styles, or age ranges. As much as I wished my main publisher so far would fall in love with everything I wrote, the realist in me knows that some of my work may end up with other publishers. I already have short stories published in educational markets (NZ's The School Journal and the Australian School Magazine) and in several trade anthologies. Ultimately every book published should help every other book because each one reinforces my name with new and old fans. Each story deserves to search for the right home and will do best when it finds someone who loves it enough to turn it into a book and put it out into the world in the best possible way. No matter who ends up publishing which story I will always try to be professional, positive and helpful with that publisher. I guess my first loyalty is to my stories, but if they succeed then everyone involved should be happy?

Monday, September 1, 2008

How clever am I?...

How clever am I? This morning I figured out all the people I could have introduced myself to last night at the NZ Book Month Launch in Auckland. There are so many people I don't know. Although I have heard her speak I have never met Jenny Hellen from Random (a short story of mine was in the 2007 anthology, Dare and Double Dare published by Random). And I would like to also meet Vicki Marsden from Penguin/Raupo. But I'm not kicking myself in the leg over these missed opportunites because I can't remember what Jenny Hellen looks like and I have no clues what Vicki Marsden looks like either. Nobody wore name tags at the event last night and I had no connecting people who could introduce me. Even if i did know which ones they were I am (despite all evidence to the contrary) a very shy person who finds it difficult to go up to complete strangers and strike up a conversation. I suspect that publishers are afraid of meeting writers at such events anyway and its possible these introductions do not help in the long term.

The do was very enjoyable. I had my best man by my side and lovely people to talk to. It was fun to eyeball a few famous sorts - Miriama Kamo is even more lovely in person, and I'm a huge fan of Tammy Davis - and the entertainment provided by three actors and their ringmaster was superb. The food and drink were yum and the venue - Hopetoun Alpha - is gorgeous especially when done up in fairy lights. And its always fun to have an excuse to dress up. I went out and got myself a very fitting little slip of a dress from a cheap girly clothes emporium - very sorry, no photos, i completely forgot - I'd sighed over some designery frocks and wished I could wear one, then I remembered I'm an author and I can't afford label clothing. I had to suck in my tummy all night (good excercise) but i felt pretty dressed up. I hope this is not the last time i get invited to an event like this. I almost felt like a real author.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Farewell Izzie....

Our cat died over the weekend which made me cry. She was a pretty wee thing, a cameo coloured moggy, dainty and sweet-natured. She lived permanently out-doors but knew which side her bread was buttered and knew who her family was, even the dog. Although still relatively young at about 6 and a half she got inexplicably sick and try as we might after a month was no longer the cat we remembered and there was no going back. I shall miss her. RIP Izzie.

Hi to the people who are reading my blog. Even though I sit here alone in my office, my tapping at the keyboard the only sound I hear, its comforting/reassuring/motivating/fun to know that I am part of a community of writers also sitting tapping out their stories, coming up against the same issues, pressing on despite the difficulties, wishing each other luck and best wishes. You are a fabulous bunch of folk and I couldn't wish for a better crowd to be a part of.

It is now officially September here in NZ and my picture book is out this month, it is NZ Book month for which I am doing a number of events at Auckland Public Libraries and the Auckland Art Gallery, my husband has a business trip out of town and there are cheerleading and dance competitions and other related events for my daughters. It will be a busy time and I certainly feel like I am at the top of an extremely slick slope wearing inappropriate shoes. I suspect I will be too busy to obsess over the things I usually obsess about but I hope I am not too busy to keep writing on the current project. I did a little bit of forward planning while exercising last night and wonder if i am going to come up a little short of my hoped for word count. The aim was around 50,000 but looking at where I am (18,000 words) and what I have left to write I don't think I will get there. Still, I am not going to stop now or change the synopsis so I will see what the result is when I get to the end.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jumping through hoops with a glass half full...

So while I'm feeling confused and blue about the hoops I'm having to jump through to move forward with my writing, I'm slowly coming to realise that if I let it get me down and suck the energy out of me, I won't be moving forward with anything. The bottom line is, no matter what else is happening, I should keep writing. After all, it is obeying those pesky and intrusive words that won't let me give this career away. I have thought about giving up before and aside from the fact that i'm not much good at anything else, the stories just REFUSE to go away. Sure, I can moan and groan but that will not make someone say yes instead of no, or pick up my book in a bookshop. In fact moaning and groaning will probably have the reverse effect. It probably isn't good for my karma either. I think karma works better with a cheerful outlook, a glass half full kind of mentality and I have been forgetting this too much recently. One thing I will do in addition to keeping on with the writing is not accept everything as its given to me. Sometimes questions need to be asked and even if things cannot be changed I want a better understanding of how they work and how I fit into it all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What do I want to be when I grow up?

My eldest, now fifteen, has just received the booklet outlining her subject options for next year. Next year is form five, also now more commonly known as year 11 and the first year of externally graded qualifications. We have both been looking at the booklet probably with different reactions. One of mine is sheer jealousy. She can pick things like photography, drama, japanese, graphics, computer studies and practical hospitality. But my favourite is 'writing for publication'. Jeepers! I would have killed to do a subject like that. If I'd had the chance to do that it might not have taken me another twenty years to admit I wanted to be a writer and get on with the job of trying to be one. In my fifth form year we could do art, two languages, music, sewing or cooking as options, history, geography or economics. They get to choose those as well as all the cool new things. So yeah, I'm a bad shade of green. However one thing doesn't change. My daughter is sitting there thinking 'what do I want to be when I grow up?' That question never disappears. What I thought I wanted to do when I was her age isn't what i have ended up doing now. I spent a lot of years in between studying science, and working in hospital administration to end up as a writer. But I'm more satisfied with my choices having made a few wrong turns along the way. And nothing is wasted. But I know from personal experience that not being sure now is not a bad thing. My advice to her now is to pick the subjects she feels most interested in no matter where they might lead. The more you enjoy something, the better your chances of doing well and finding a job down the track that plays to your skills and makes you happy. Nothing is wasted but also there is nothing to stop her, like me, studing different things in the future and changing where she is heading. Life is full of opportunities.