Thursday, December 31, 2009

A new year is inevitable...

Happy new year folks! Happy new decade! As resolutions tend to have an air of failure about them I'm not going to make any, but I do have some plans. I'll probably sign up for another year of university study - only one paper and although last year's required a lot of reading and even more time on assignments, its ensures that some of my time will not be spent just navel-gazing. I wish it wasn't so expensive but as I get to do it in the comfort of my own home I shouldn't complain too much.

I'm determined to finish some of my bigger writing projects and start on something new. I also plan on more submissions. Some will be in NZ but I'm keen to try some overseas options as well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I'm also tossing up whether to attend the SCBWI conference in Australia in September. At this point its hard to assess how beneficial such a trip might be so I can't tell whether the cost is justified. I think my initial overseas submissions will be to Australian publishers and agents then, so I get a feel for what the possibilities are and whether its worth a visit. Its hard to keep my enjoyment of travel out of the equation.

What 2009 taught me is how the unexpected can rule your life. I was lucky to have lots of opportunities to visit schools and give talks as a result of winning the Children's Choice Award. Even though I know there probably won't be so much of that this year, I hope I still get the chance to meet the readers and talk about writing from time to time and I have a proactive plan in place to try and make that happen.

Hope your 2010 is a good one. I'm off to create some 'firsts' for this new year, this new decade.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

what a coincidence...

Hello to new blog followers - I feel very honoured that you've signed up. I shall do my best to keep it interesting.

As its holiday time we've been checking out a few movies at the cinema and I've been ploughing through a few books. Saw Sherlock Holmes on Boxing Day which I enjoyed and yes that enjoyment probably does owe something to the presence of Robert Downey Jnr (who I've been a fan of ever since the Pick-Up Artist) and Jude Law (who really can act but loses a few brownie points cos he's back with Sienna Miller). I loved the period background detail as well. The story was so-so but it had enough humour and credibly freshened up the whole Sherlock Holmes canon. Today we went to Avatar. Had my socks knocked off by this movie. Sure it had a few stereotypes, the story was a tad unsubtle with a brick like message and a number of plot elements were predictable but James Cameron just made the most of the medium and it was near three hours of cinematic bliss. Totally love that Weta Workshop contributed to the visual feast. My SO, who rarely rates movies much at all, thoroughly enjoyed Avatar

With books, I've just finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and while its not without issues including a plot error (these always bug me) I can see the appeal and it was a ripping yarn. Best of all are the two central characters who are well drawn and demand we care about them. I think characters like this are what keep readers coming back and can make up for writery sins otherwise committed (if Mr Larsson's book sales are anything to go by). I'm now more than half way through Val McDermid's Fever in the Bone. I like the writing (apart from a little bit of repitition) but again its the two central characters which are keeping me reading as I've already figured out the plot. Of most interest is one of the central character's musings on the significance of coincidence. Ms McDermid's character eschews any meaning at all in coincidence (although his beliefs are being challenged in the book). But this argument (and the fact it is even in the book) freaks me out a little, as a word in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that I have never ever come across before, turned up in the dedication of Fever of the Bone. How weird is that. The word is Gallimaufry - go check it out and add it to your lexicon. Coincidences probably are no more than just coincidences but it sure doesn't feel that way. What do you think?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I predict 2010 will be a pantser...

I have spent very large, long chunks of time over the last fortnight not thinking about writing/editing/publishing. My brain feels very rested and uncluttered. But I could never forgo all of that work-related stuff completely. I wouldn't be me if I did (yes yes slightly obsessive and crazy - I admit it). So since my return home, even though it has been a time of birthday and christmas, I have trawled a few of my favourite writery/editory/publishy blogs and found this post from Editorial Anonymous in particular most interesting and more than a little disturbing. It has come to that time of year where thoughts of next year are unavoidable. Based on this years events (of which 99%, whether good or bad, were totally unexpected), my view of EA's post and how my book sales compare, and a few other bits and pieces thrown in for good measure I have no idea what to think or expect of 2010. This is unsettling. I am not ready for 2010 - it is going to be a big fat pantser! In the meantime here is a photo of me and my family taken on boxing day.
(Update - I just came across this on Kristin Nelson's blog here -
Dreamstate asked:What to do about those dreaded "Didn't love it enough" rejections? Should the writer response be persistence, querying with the belief that someone will love it enough. Or after 3 or 4 such responses, should the writer be looking at revising, albeit in the absence of any guidance from said rejections? I would be so grateful for any words of wisdom from you!Only 3 or 4 responses! Surely you jest. I wouldn’t worry until you’ve gotten at least 20 rejections on your sample pages. When you’ve hit that, then you might want to think about revising, working with your critique group, making it stronger, and following any feedback you might be receiving. Once that is done, go out full bore with it again. If you are still getting 20 to 30 “didn’t love it enough,” then you might revise again or keep trying. I wouldn’t be giving up on those sample pages until you have 200+ rejections.
and feel strangely uplifted by it. Even though it feels like I've been hacking away at it forever, I haven't really shaved much ice off the iceberg yet. Maybe I need to check out what's under the waterline in 2010).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Have a very merry christmas and a cool yule...

Arrived back from hot Oz at 12.05am Christmas Eve after a 10 day holiday with the family. It was a blast and the best christmas present I could have had. We spent time in Surfers, shopping and theme parking at Movie World and Wet n' Wild (the Tornado is the best ride ever - this is the one that looks like a giant funnel and is loads of fun), the only down sides at Wet n'Wild being the sole searing pavement and queues which are inevitable in good weather. We hopped down to Byron Bay in NSW for a day trip but it was windy and my eldest got stung by a nasty old jellyfish, the discomfort of which I would not wish on anyone (except maybe fictional enemies). After Surfers we trundled up to the Sunshine Coast where we've never been before, to stay at a restful resorty place at Twin Waters. The main feature was a huge salt water lagoon with free-to-use kayaks and hobie cats which we made full use of. Watching dry bobs (as opposed to wet bobs - heh) try to sail was excellent entertainment. The North Shore Beach adjacent to the resort was stunning and made up for our Byron Bay experience. I got trashed by the huge waves and had a Tara Reid moment much to my family's amusement and they will be dining out on the tale for some time. Giving the whole pre-christmas stress/panic/intensity at home a miss was a very good idea and I thoroughly recommend it, although I did have to cook up my famous truffle mixture at 2am on the 24th so it would have time to set before rolling and dipping in chocolate before the big Szymanik Family Christmas which we traditionally celebrate on the afternoon/evening of Christmas Eve. Feeling a little sleep deprived now but so far Christmas day has been very cruisy. The 6 egg pav is crisping up beautifully in the oven as I type and then I will be getting back to reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo which so far lives up to its reputation. And I'm off to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie at Gold Class tomorrow for my birthday - squeeee.
I wrote maybe 50 words at most on my YA while I was away. And I have to say right now I am very happy to be having a break from work.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sorry about all the commas (leave them alone in the dark for two seconds and this is what happens)

I'm having a blogholiday (gulp - I miss you already). To keep you entertained while I rest, here is the first chapter of the thing I have been twiddling with most recently. Some of you may recognize it. I have slaved away at this before, but, by golly, I think this time I may have finished the thing (except, of course, for a stern round of editing):-

Chapter One
“I don’t like you Vanessa. You’re a pain in the…in the…somewhere painful!” It was the worst thing Sally could think of to say and she could tell it wasn’t very bad. Rats.
“Oh Sally,” Vanessa teased, her full lips curving up nastily as she towered over Sally. “I’m so frightened.” And she rolled her eyes and laughed a great Ha, ha. “Hand it over then.”
Sally sighed. She pulled a small tightly pinned hanky from inside the pocket of her school smock. Slowly she unclipped the safety pin that held the four corners of the hanky together. In the centre of the unfurled fabric sat three gold coins; her lunch money. She sighed again as she handed the money to Vanessa. The big girl reached forward with her enormous hand like a baseball mitt and squeezed Sally’s face. “Smile,” she ordered.
“You’re too nice, that’s your problem,” Vanessa said with a grimace which Sally suspected was Vanessa’s attempt at a smile. A smile she felt sure would frighten babies.

All through lunchtime at St Welt’s School for Perfect Young Girls, Sally’s stomach growled with hunger. She was small for her age and missing lunch didn’t help. Everything about her was delicate, from her wispy blond hair and her round, pale blue eyes, to her almost transparent skin. Sally’s best friend Abigail, who was quite Sally’s opposite with a ruddy complexion and masses of brown curly hair, gave her a crunch bar and a packet of raisins out of her lunch box. Knowing what a huge sacrifice this was for the forever hungry Abigail, Sally ate them even though she hated raisins. The gurgling reduced to a small grumble and Sally forgot her hunger long enough to play a lunchtime game with Abigail.
Afternoon lessons were torture. Sally couldn’t keep her mind on her school work. Her tummy groaned constantly and her brain felt tired and out of sorts. An image of Vanessa Blunt eating the hot yummy mince pie that should have been Sally’s swam constantly before her famished eyes.
“Sally Fogg!” shrieked her teacher, Miss Trig, “I cannot have children sighing all over their story writing. It will not do your writing any good. If you must sigh, try diary writing instead. That is how young girls deal with their feelings. They write it all down to an imaginary friend in their diaries and their troubles go away and all that dreadful sighing STOPS!” Miss Trig brought her ruler down on Sally’s desk. WHACK!
“Yes Miss Trig,” Sally said quietly. Before she could stop it another sigh leaked out of her body. Miss Trig remained by Sally’s desk for several minutes squinting menacingly at her.
After Miss Trig had passed on down the row of desks Abigail leaned over the aisle toward her friend.
“Why don’t you tell Miss Trig what happened,” she whispered loudly. “…with Vanessa.”
Sally shook her head. Miss Trig didn’t like them to tell tales on each other. Perfect young girls didn’t tell tales. And anyway Miss Trig did not see Vanessa Blunt the way the other perfect young girl students did. Sure enough when Sally turned around, Vanessa’s large flat round face, like a dinner plate, was beaming up at Miss Trig as the teacher patted her favourite pupil on the top of her wiry head.
“Marvellous work Vanessa. What wonderful descriptions. We must enter this in the school essay competition.”
Sally turned back to her desk. One large hot salty tear fell on the words at the top of the page sitting there. The ink swam to the edge of the drop of water, dissolving the word. Sally ripped the almost full page of writing off her lined pad, screwed it up and began again on the fresh sheet beneath. ‘My father was the captain of a ship,’ she wrote.

As soon as she got home after school Sally rushed for the biscuit jar. Her mother always kept it full to the brim. Sally’s hand hovered over the lid ready to yank it off and dive in. Her stomach twisted with hunger and she felt deranged.
It was her mother’s voice coming from the lounge.
“No biscuits till after homework. You know the rule.” Her mother could hear a chippie packet or lolly wrapper being opened from the other side of the planet.
Sally sighed. Vague Vanessa images danced around inside her head. She couldn’t think straight.
“If you must eat have some celery, or a prune.”
Sally sighed again. There was no choice. She wouldn’t be able to do her homework on an empty stomach.
She was about to open the fridge door and reach in for the prunes when her brother Malcolm walked in the back door. He flung his school bag off his back onto the middle of the kitchen floor.
“What’s wrong with you, nerd features?” he said quickly lifting the lid off the jar and swiping a biscuit in less than a second. As he walked swiftly through the door opposite into the hallway, their mother came in from the lounge.
“Oh Sally,” her mother scolded, looking at the biscuit jar lid sitting on the bench, the space where a biscuit had been obvious at the top of the jar. “I just told you not to take a biscuit. No more food until dinner time for you madam.”
“Aargghhh,” screamed Sally, bursting into tears.

As Sally lay face down on her bed after dinner there came a knock at her door.
“Sally,” came her mother’s voice, “we should talk.”
Perched on the corner of her daughter’s bed, her mother felt Sally’s forehead. “Hmmm,” she said. Sally said nothing. There was nothing to say. She couldn’t tell her mother about Vanessa. She couldn’t tell her mother how she had been bullied by Vanessa yet again. And that today it had involved her lunch money. She’d told her Mother about the bullying before and her mother had spoken to Miss Trig and then Miss Trig had a long talk with Sally afterwards. Miss Trig had not called Sally a liar but she had carefully explained to Sally’s mother how she couldn’t imagine a girl as clever and obedient as Vanessa bullying anybody. Her mother never said ‘she must be jealous of you’ or something equally soothing like other mothers did. After all there was nothing to be jealous of. Sally was small, mousy and not very good at sports or dance or musical things. Sally’s mother had told her daughter to stand firm, and to tell Vanessa to leave her alone and to ignore her. She said she couldn’t understand what Sally was doing wrong. There was no point in saying anything about it. Vanessa would be there at school again tomorrow as mean as ever. Sally would be there for her to torture as always. Nothing would be different. But Sally was wrong. Things were about to change.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Writing is one of my happy places...

I have to say this - put a big smile on my face. If you live in Singapore you can now check out my novel Jack the Viking at a library near you.

I have finished the first draft of my current junior novel. This is also making me smile. I plan to do some editing while I'm away on holiday (this does not conflict with the concept of relaxation - writing is one of my happy places). I have nearly completed my pre-holiday to-do list and my panic levels are becoming more manageable (always present pre-travel). Wish I didn't have a slight temperature and urge to cough.

Been noticeing a surprising trend amongst writing colleagues recently. Now I know I'm a bit uptight about these things and feel free to wade in with your opinion on this if you disagree, but I think if a publisher/editor/agent expresses an interest in seeing something you have discussed with them you should foward it to them as soon as possible. If you pitched at Spinning Gold and the pitchee said "please send that to me," you should have sent it to them by now. I read alot on the topic of publishing every day and 99 times out of 100 editors/publishers/agents do not express interest in something lightly. They do not give their enthusiasm away for free - generally you should acknowledge that you have earned it and should act accordingly. Strike while their interest is still hot and your name is still fresh with them. Even if the passing of time does not dull their interest, it is time where your manuscript is idle. Because the next step may take a long time, the sooner you get the process started, the sooner your plan for world donimation can progress. If you pitch something incomplete and they ask to see it when finished, this is a little different, and its probably worth asking when they might like it by. But no one can say yes to your work if you don't send it out. As Nike apparently once said (when she was wearing sweatbands and sneakers) - Just Do It!

Monday, December 7, 2009

We live in risk-averse times...

Went to a christmas work do last night with my SO which included a screening of The Time Traveller's Wife. I enjoyed the movie and I cried. I think it successfully captured the essence of the book and managed to convey enough of the complex story although there is no doubt in my mind that the book is the superior beast. Yes we know in the movie that Henry and Clare love each other but the book gives us every reason why. And even though the movie is a summary that cannot fully capture the depth and breadth of the book, it is still a moving and satisfying love story. Rachel Mc Adams and Eric Bana were great.

Love Fifi's velvet Jesus. Go check it out here. Its especially cool that he has a hint of a smile - I like to think he might have smiled sometimes (after all he wasn't an author trying to get published).

Was interested to see on Beattie's Blog this morning that Viking is rejacketing Edward de Bono's backlist and Jeffrey Archer is being paid 18 million pounds for an as-yet unwritten 5 book series. While I might be persuaded by the argument that celebrity books and big name commercial writers might help publishers also publish less commercial propositions, this is a huge amount of money to tie up. How many books by new or mid list authors could be published with 18 million pounds? And who knew that a publisher even had that kind of money? Especially in the current economic climate?? And while I can only dream of having any of my books stay in print long enough to be rejacketed, rejacketing just seems another sign of these risk averse times. My sighs can probably be heard in Invercargill. I promise to try and be more cheerful soon.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The year of the Bean Counter...

Congrats to Kiwiwrite4kidz clanfolk, Maria Gill and Heather Arnold for having their book Rangitoto in the Listener's top 50 children's books of 2009. And congrats to Heather Arnold for her shortlisting in the Storylines Gavin Bishop Illustrators Award. And it is great to see fellow writers Lucy Davey (A Right Royal Christmas), TK Roxborogh (Banquo's Son), Jill Marshall (Doghead) and Victoria M. Azaro (Saffron) listed in the Christmas Book Special in the Weekend Herald's Canvas magazine. Yowza! Exciting and excellent stuff.

Super lovely South island Children's writer and Spinning Gold co-attendee, Jane Bloomfield, has a fab template so you (or any crafty associated small fry) can make your own Lily Max Christmas angel for atop your Christmas Tree, via her blog here. I am particularly jealous of the winged boots and would like a pair of my own.

I have also been checking out brilliant jewellery at Meadowlark and covet the silver fang ring, especially after trying one on yesterday in Little Black Crown in St Kevin's Arcade on K Road, and deciding it enhanced the natural beauty of my hands ten-fold (ha ha). Having spent up very large on myself just last thursday, I know I must be patient before I can shell out for any new jewellery. However I did just get any extremely good result for my University paper so maybe I am deserving although a fang ring may not be the best symbol of academic acheivement. But it does go with the tattoo :)

I feel like it has been the year of the bean counter this year (I don't know whether accountants object to that moniker but I am a writer for children and that's my excuse for using it). When the recession bit, the voice of the bean counter got stronger and I have felt the sharp sting of the bean counter's "no" several times this year. This is akin to running the 100 metre hurdles and crashing on the last hurdle. Rats. In fact, several rats. It is no good winning the editor over if the bean counter is not keen. Not sure what my plan of action will be should next year also be the year of the bean counter, but I am taking suggestions...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

All I want for Christmas is a YES...

Was very pleased with myself yesterday as I developed a fun way to illustrate good characterisation to a group of intermediate students I was doing a creative writing workshop with. So pleased I have written it down and plan to use it everytime. One of the spin off benefits of the NZ Post Book Award has been the need for me to examine the processes I use when I write so I am better able to explain it to others. For a long time I viewed it as an-impossible-to-pin-down form of magic, and while I believe there is still an element of the unexplainable involved, I now have a better grip on the structures, strategies, techniques and basic ingredients used in creative writing. Having said all that, I believe that I am still learning and developing as a writer all the time. And I also believe that some aspects of creative writing are not teachable and no attempt should be made to distill everything down into an easy lesson plan with one size fits all. Then it would not be creative writing and we would not have the wonderful and sometimes innovative range of books that we have available now.

I love all the trappings of Christmas (although I loathe the stress involved): the tinsel, the songs, the traditions, the baby cheeses. But I am feeling that creeping frustration that accompanies the gradual slowing, then shut down, of the publishing industry over the festive/holiday season. Hope that I might hear back on a few things before the 25th. I want a 'yes' for christmas please.

I have become a fully fledged Gleek. I am totally in love with the television series Glee currently on, on Friday nights (TV3, 7.30pm). It's appointment viewing and makes me happy. Which is good because I have been a bit grumpy. Been watching Inkheart on DVD too and its reminded me what a cunning book (by Cornelia Funke) it was. I don't think I gave it enough credit when I originally read it. Will have to go back for another read perhaps and then on to the other books in the series.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mobbed by proxy...

I have not been mobbed yet (maybe after I have spent my winnings and am newly styled?). It is the physical embodiment of Stephanie Meyers creation for whom the fans go wild. Maybe for a writer that is the equivalent of being mobbed personally? I think maybe it is. If Jack the Viking ever made it to some kind of screen I think he'd have a few fans too. And I would be even more pleased that I created him. I am mulling over some more thoughts on Jack and am tempted to give him another adventure even if it never sees the light of day. Maybe he will need his own blog too.

I am nearly finished my latest WIP (nearly 33,000 words). I want to finish it before I go away on holidays. I may post up the first chapter before I go so you can have a read while I'm off drinking cocktails on a sunny beach and trying to keep sand out of the new laptop. A holiday is definitely in order for all of us. At least eldest's NCEA exams are finally over - yay!

Just read on Beattie's blog this morning that Anthony Browne has picked Duck, Death and the Tulip as one of 2009's books. This picture book is like nothing else, is startling, provocative and lovely. It is one put out by Gecko Press and is beautifully produced. Go Gecko!

Went out last night with the remaining members of my old ante-natal group (about six or seven of us still meet up a couple of times a year having first got together before the birth of our first children more than 16 years ago). As always, was nice to catch up and reassuring to know our children are coming up to the same milestones and parental worries. We didn't stay out late but the dog wanted out at 5.45 am this morning and I am out again tonite (critique group christmas dinner - need to go and get the flashing christmas earrings ready), tomorrow night (Paper Plus Gelnfield christmas shopper event) and wednesday night (our company christmas do). Phew, feeling a bit pooped already.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'd like to be mobbed just once...

Not that it matters but I'm team Edward (although I'm sure those abs are airbrushed on) but I caught a bit of some E channel Twilight doco on the telly yesterday and footage of R Patts trying to walk down the street whilst being mobbed by hundreds of women of all ages all probably wanting to have his airbrushed abs babies made me feel sorry for him for like a whole moment. Then I thought, imagine being famous enough to be mobbed by fans. Does Stephanie Meyer or maybe Neil Gaiman get mobbed when they walk down the street, like R Patts does? If not then why not. I always thought books were sexy.

Gecko Press...

Went to hear Julia Marshall of Gecko Press talk last night at groovy local indie bookshop 'Time Out'. I enjoyed hearing her talk (especially the bit about being on the Global Board for the Seriously Distracted), and was completely won over by the Gecko philosophy. I love the way her company operates. Obviously as a business, thoughts about the bottom line have weight in any decision making, but there was no doubting the passion for books that underwrites everything they do. Does the text make an emotional connection, does it have 'heart'? - these are the crucial elements for stories they select to publish. Needless to say, I think having a manuscript accepted by them would be a wonderful experience. I came away with several Gecko Books and laughed my way through 'Reflections of a Solitary Hamster' last night. This book is better then any happy pill. When I am in need of a pick-me-up I will be pulling this one off the bookshelf. Like Ian Falconer's Olivia (of which i still do not have a copy - argh) the humour and joie de vivre will never get old.

Here is today's juicy link. Via agent Janet Reid's blog here is a little treatise begging for more rejections by writer Chris Rodell. Funny and sad all at once. Excellent stuff.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

simultaneous submissions...

UPDATE: In my mulling over of the issue of simultaneous submissions below I think my maths is pretty shonky and I just wanted to add that a 'no' can be startlingly horrifyingly quick (sometimes in just 4 weeks) making the process very streamlined and efficient but totally depressing. However when its not a straight out 'no', ( instead, being either a long drawn out 'no' or a 'yes') in my experience so far - on average - my wait time has been in excess of 4 months.

My brain cells have been debating 'simultaneous submissions'. Its not something you see discussed much and I thought it might be useful to lay some pros and cons out there. If you don't already know, simultaneous submissions (aka multiple submissions) are where you send your manuscript to more than one publisher at a time.

Pro - If you are an impatient biddy like me, waiting x (as in x = more than 4 months) amount of time for each publisher to consider your manuscript before being able to send it on to the next one should the first publisher decline, is like having one long session at the dentist without anaesthetic. If it takes 4 or more months for each reply then you can make only three (or less) submissions per manuscript per year (without even factoring in the christmas close-down etc). If a yes is 6 or more publishers away then this is two years to get a yes and then at least another two years (on average) before publication. Thats maybe up to four years folks assuming you get a yes at some point. If you don't get a yes, its two years of slowly pedalling backwards. I thought the pace of life was speeding up? Why is the inverse true in the publishing industry? Is it God's cruel joke? Was I that naughty? Simultaneous submissions will reduce this waiting time considerably, effectively becoming the publishing industry equivalent of prozac without the chemical side effects.

Con - if they are all nos then you've had a lot of rejection in a short period of time which is the opposite of prozac. Still, better to know sooner rather than later that that manuscript is the mouldy side of death and you can move on to honing the next piece of literary perfection. Having said that, multiple rejections are not always the last word on a manuscript which might find a home when publishing trends change. I never bury my mouldy dead manuscripts but keep them in cryogenic stasis just in case.

con - I have had the experience of having two publishers interested in the same manuscript at the same time and I have to say it was not pleasant. I stressed heaps and while overseas this kind of situation might lead to a better offer being put on the table that didn't happen here. I had to decide which publisher I preferred and it wasn't an easy decision but I believe the decision I made was the right one in the end.

I don't send simultaneous submissions to create a sense of urgency or a bidding war between publishers because I'm not Neil Gaiman or Audrey Niffeneger and publishers aren't falling over each other beating a path to my door. I do it to preserve my flimsy shred of sanity and keep my dreadful impatience in check. I also figure there's more benefit to the publisher then there is to me with single submissions which doesn't seem fair. I can't help feeling that the submissions and publishing processes are weighted in the publisher's favour. Making simultaneous submissions feels like a way of giving the author a little bit of control back. Publishers are taking longer and longer to make decisions (I've heard instances of some people getting a no after a year's wait - although this is not the norm). I'm not trying to be stroppy or controversial - I'm just trying to manage my writing career without going crazy. If manuscript turn around times were shorter I would be more than happy to do single submissions.

It pays to check out if the publisher you are submitting to accepts multiple submissions. They should specify if they don't accept mulitple submissions in their guidelines and if they don't mention it I assume they are okay with it. if in doubt - ask. It should be mentioned in your submission that you are sending the manuscript to other publishers - its just professional courtesy. I confess to having forgotten to mention it on occasion (in those wine and chocolate fuelled unprofessional moments) but where possible I try and let the publisher know (this is one of those moments where its better to do as I say, not as I do. Professional courtesy is always the preferred means of operation).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Flattery will get you everywhere...

I think this particular plaigarism issue is unresolvable. I don't think there will ever be consensus on this particular case because of the person involved. I never thought about plaigarism much before because my brain is like a very holey seive (more a colander perhaps, or a rusty bucket with shotgun bullet holes in the bottom) so I thought it unlikely I would transgress. I still think I'm unlikely to transgress and i certainly wouldn't do so knowingly. Yikes! But I guess I'm a little more wary now (forewarned, forearmed?) and I'm definitely ready to move on. You too? Excellent.

The fabulous Fifi has done it again and created a new set of superb velvet artworks which you can have a sneek peek at here. If you live in Wellington I am jealous, as these and other works will be exhibited and available to buy at the Deluxe Cafe from December 20. I bought one of the lovely ladies last year for my Mum and Dad's new house and I covet it something chronic. It really is gorgeous. My favourite so far this year is the navy boy in blue. Make sure you click on the photo to get a closer look...Sigh...

I was visited by a stylist yesterday courtesy of my Westfield win. He had the most fabulous shiniest winkle-pickers I've ever seen and super Ed Hardyesque tattoos on his arm. And he was a master of flattery and made me feel beautiful for the hour he was here. Who needs fashion. Just having someone telling you loads of nice things is all you need :) although of course I am still looking forward to dropping $1000 on clothes at St Lukes next week. Yowza

As a publisher is willing to look at my current junior WIP I'd better go finish it. Happy writing folks

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Wiser? Probably not, maybe just more cautious

I have been thinking a lot on plaigarism. There is still a considerable amount of discussion on this topic in the media, in blogs and in conversations (see Beattie's Blog, Mary Mccallum's blog and todays Sunday papers). Before I say anything else I want to begin by mentioning that I believe plaigarism is a dreadful thing to do. But...

When writing, based on research, I am incapable of remembering fragments of sentences, let alone complete ones without referring back to the source. My remembery circuitry is a bit rubbish. I therefore struggle to understand how someone can use another's sentences unwittingly. However what if I am the exception rather than the rule? Should we be reviewing our definition of plaigarism and how it is applied? Are we too hard on ourselves? Can any of us say with 100% certainty that we would never commit this error unknowingly? I hope I never do, I will be making efforts not to, but I can't guarantee it with absolute certainty. Maybe I already have and I am just completely unaware (ok, that freaked me out a little) - I won't be casting any stones . I do have high expectations of those in positions of authority however. If you teach at the highest level I think a greater effort should be applied to avoid errors - especially when so many people look to you as a role model. So I guess I'm disappointed...but now a little more circumspect on the issue.

Friday, November 20, 2009

In defence of children's writers...

I was hugely honoured to receive some letters from readers through the ASB wordbank competition run during NZ Book Month. In this competition young readers were asked to choose their favourite book by a NZ writer and write a letter to the author saying what they liked about the book. There were around 3,000 entries and 6 of them were to me. I loved all the letters and was thrilled that they picked me and my books. A very big thank you to Rosa and Sylvie (Onehunga), Briley (Gore), Jacinta (?), Olivia (Morrinsville) and Albert (Waiuku) for writing to me and telling me what they thought. I was especially thrilled by Albert's comment about Jack the Viking that 'It was the first book I liked and read the whole way through.' The thought that you've given a child a positive reading experience through something you've written is the biggest buzz for a children's writer.

I have discovered that there are very mixed views about children's writers, especially from writers of other genre. Whatever your opinion might be, can I just say that children's writers are a big part of switching children on to books (go teachers, librarians and parents/grandparents as well). And with all the competition for children's attention today from playstation, wii, the internet (youtube, facebook, bebo, twitter), television, after school sports and activities, the task of gaining a share of their time has become that much harder. But we are working hard at it and still succeeding. If an individual is not switched on to reading during their childhood what is the likelihood they will grow up to become a reader? If children's writers are less important than other types of writers, are child readers less important?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why thank you...

I have been nominated for a blogging award by excellent writery blogger Justine Windsor aka Welshcake. This is a first for me and is a bit exciting and surprisingly for me I am a bit lost for words.

Thank you Justine!

Like being crowned Miss Bay of Plenty or Class President there are responsibilities attached to this award and these are:

1. Copy and paste the pretty picture which you see above onto your own blog.

2. Thank the person who gave you the award and post a link to their blog.

3. Write 7 things about yourself we do not know.

4. Choose 7 other bloggers to award.

5. Link to those 7 other bloggers.

6. Notify your 7 bloggers.

So now I need to spill the beans on those things I thought I could keep secret from you forever

1 - I love tarty shoes and would wear them way more often if I was brave enough

2 - I have a secret stash of chocolate - the dog has his suspicions about where it is

3 - I love the Harry Potter books in all their under-edited glory. How bad can it be that all those extra words make the book last longer!

4 - I have a bad habit of teaching folk how to suck eggs - sorry! I'm trying to retrain myself

5 - I'm also a chronic interrupter - sorry again, but I don't know whether I can cure myself of this one. I only seem to become aware of it after the fact.

6 - the only movie that ever gave me nightmares was Lost in the Desert about a small boy and his little dog who have to fend for themselves in the desert after a plane crash which I saw when I was about 8 or 9. It still haunts me...

7 - I believe there are some things about writing which you just can't teach.

I hope I haven't traumatised you too much with my revelations. So here now are my nominees for this award - some excellent folk that I love hanging out with in person and/or on the internet - in no particular order:-

1. Fifi at Fifi versus the World

2. Maureen Crisp at Craic-er

3. TK Roxborogh at Banquo's Son

4. Tania Hutley

5.Nicola Morgan at Help I Need a Publisher

6. Maria Gill at Kids Books NZ

7.Thomas Taylor at That Elusive Line

Sunday, November 15, 2009

They're growing up...

I can't seem to make Creative New Zealand care for me. They still don't want to give me money. And I am still struggling to find out what part of my application is letting me down. Is it my writing, my project, my newbie-ness or my chocolate addiction (I have been trying to get help!). Will they ever give me the big tick? Hmmm - its all very frustrating.

Still these pictures cheered me up no end - my eldest up on high during warm up at the Allstar Cheerleading Internationals held in Auckland recently (her two teams 1st and 2nd equal) and above, my SO and my sweet Halloween baby. (There are only videos of my youngest so I will have to post a piccie of him in the future).
And I am nearly finished a junior fiction novel. It was previously unfinished (at around 32,500 words) because it had plot confusion so I've been editing to tidy that up and have finished that and now just need to write the ending (which I already know). I intend to complete that before we go away on holiday in December. All of you out there will have to keep me honest :)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A full time writer?...

It is a strange week. My daughters sports team is in crisis and its stressful for her as she comes up to her NCEA exams. My SO's work is a leetle crazy right now too. Yet I have had three good bits of news this week - one related to my writing, one for my university study, and one completely out of the blue. I'm trying not to jump up and down too much but I am definitely doing a little dance on the inside.

I came across this smart yet funny bit of writerly advice (where writer/editor Kit Whitfield cleverly compares query letters to dating) the other day via Sally Zigmond's blog The Elephant in the Writing Room. Its not quite so applicable for the New Zealand writing/publishing scene but still very much worth a read.

You know how gas expands to fill a jar? I am definitely an expert time waster. When people ask if I write full time I tend to laugh. I have time available at the moment to spend on my writing but I still manage to distract myself with other things LIKE HOUSEWORK or Sudoku or picking lint out of my navel. There are writers who sit at their computer every day and make themselves write so many words (like a thousand or ten thousand or something). I'm not sure I'm capable of this, or that I want to be capable of this. It works for them but I'm not sure it would work for me. I like the way my stories develop slowly over time. Short stories and picture books are my quick writing fix but novels need a longer gestation. There's a lot of thinking that goes on behind the scenes, and a whole heap of tinkering, both inside my mind and on the page. Sometimes I wish they'd just hurry and grow up and leave home but then they wouldn't be my stories. My stories have to be hand made by me, using the process that I use. So you tell me, do I write full time?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Favourite Books...

The festive season draws near and I am in a list making mood.

My Top 5 grown up books in no particular order

1) Lord of the Rings Trilogy - JRR Tolkien
2) Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
3) The Time Travellers Wife - Audrey Niffeneger
4) A Room with a View - EM Forster
5) The Boy in Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne

My top 5 children's books in no particular order
1) The Wizard of Earthsea series- Ursula le Guin
2) Northern Lights (aka The Golden Compass) - Philip Pullman
3) The Outsiders - SE Hinton
4) The Moon in the Cloud - Rosemary Harris
5) The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper
6) Little House on the Prairie - Laura Ingalls Wilder
7) The Harry Potter Series - JK Rowling

My Top 5 picture books in no particular order

1) Dear Greenpeace - Simon James
2) Anything by Lauren Child
3) Olivia - Ian Falconer
4) The Chicken Thief - Beatrice Rodriguez
5) The Sneetches and other stories - Dr Seuss
6) The Lion in the Meadow - Margaret Mahy
7) Tulevai and the Sea - Joy Cowley

as you can see I have cheated. I have always been terribly undisciplined and I am not in a mood for rules right now. And lets face it, 5 (except for adult books) is not really enough. I know there are other books that should be on the lists and they have temporarily fallen out of my brain - maybe Bond's Paddington Bear books and Enid Blyton's Famous Five and some New Zealand saga set in and maybe titled Pencarrow, along with heaps of others. I really clocked up some serious book mileage with those books as a child. And comics - Little Lotta, Archie and Jughead, Superman, Casper and Wendy, Beano, Jackie, Mickey and Pluto, Scrooge McDuck. I spent hours reading all sorts of things when I was young. Folk who worry about the quality of what their children are reading shouldn't. How can you sort the good from the bad, what you like from what you don't like, if you don't read widely. Nothing is wasted with reading. Discovering that reading can be a source of enlightenment and pleasure should be the goal because of course if you enjoy it you will want to do more of it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A wave of apologies is not anywhere near as good as a mexican wave...

Now that I have free time on my hands, my brain has turned to jelly. Not even coloured jelly, but more like the almost transparent kind you get from boiling pigs trotters. I have been wondering if there could be a literary equivalent of the NZ music airplay quota? What do you think?

I am non-plussed by the whole Witi Ihimaera thing, thrown on multiple levels by the plaigarism, the apology (?), the level of media coverage (I would dance naked through the streets for this kind of exposure except without the negative aspect of course), what this means in view of his teaching responsibilities and for writers in New Zealand in general and a few other things as well.

There seems to be a wave of apologising going on at the moment and I feel uncomfortable about all of it. Its like people who say, "don't take offence but..." and then go on to say something offensive. That doesn't make up for the offensive comment folks, it doesn't absolve you. These are people who if they weren't already aware they were doing something wrong, should have known. And if they did know then they shouldn't have done it. Thats why they are in these well paid positions of trust and responsibility. Yes people make mistakes and should be able to say sorry and move on but the kinds of mistakes we make reflect who we are. For example Mel Gibsons anti-semitic rant when trolleyed. Where he said it was his mistake, but what he said is what he believes - his apology couldn't cover that. Well I guess if nothing else, I now know what NZ's current apologisers really think and how they really act. And I guess I am not that impressed.

And why is Spring back-pedalling into Winter? Where's the warmth? I am so over my winter clothing. I want short sleeves and bare-feet. I can almost see the confusion in the plants in the garden. I can just about hear them saying 'my buds are cold. Should I bloom?' At least there hasn't been as many as usual of the sad little egg-filled nests blown out of trees at this time of year. My dog is off his food and as I sit at the computer typing this I am being serenaded by his belchy, squirty stomach noises. Its not conducive to creativity (not mine anyway, and i hate to think what his stomach is working on!) so i am going to take a wee break. Talk to ya later...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Someone turned my crank handle...

Colour me cranky...I didn't get one of the fellowshippy things I applied for, one of my children is having a bit of a crisis, there's way too much on for a friday evening (I JUST WANNA VEGE PEOPLE!) and well...I'm just a tad fed up with all the doom and gloom abounding in this industry. Yes recessions are not sunny happy things and yes, look what technology did to the music industry and now its hungry again and is it eyeing up the book industry? Well folks, I keep buying books, and whats more I keep writing them too. And all you other writers out there are DOING THE SAME! We love books. Heaps of us love books. This is what author Jeff Somers had to say about the death of the book... Go Jeff! There is nothing we can do but keep writing and reading and hoping. And the next person who starts warbling on about the terminal nature of the book industry better keep out of reach of me!!

And btw children are still reading. I've seen them. We've talked about it. And I'm not talking about my own kids (although they do read too). I was in an article about the new library opening at Owairaka Primary School in last wednesday's Central Leader Newspaper along with fab author Kyle Mewburn. When we visited, the whole school was just fizzing about their new library. The children were excited about books. And I was so happy to find out that some children chose my books to write about for NZ Book Month's ASB wordbank competition. I would be super sad if focusing solely on the bottom line led to the decline of book publishing. What would that say about our society? Probably something similar to what some people's desire to dismantle the anti-smacking law says. Folks you have to think about the bigger picture and stop using only one colour to colour it in.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Respect the head you're in...

Awhile back I gave a talk which included a discussion on Point Of View and I think I confused more than I clarified. I'm very sorry folks. POV is one of those aspects of writing that just when I think I have it sussed, breaks free of my grasp like a wriggley two year old who turns around and blows a raspberry at me. I confess that once or twice I have written in first person just to avoid committing any POV sins. And I must also confess that I am not confident when head hopping is and isn't a legitmate thing to do. But what I can say about POV is, respect the head you're in. Whatever point of view you are writing from will have certain limitations which must be respected. If writing from my own POV I cannot know what is going on inside someone else's head or how they are feeling. I can make educated guesses based on physical and verbal cues which is how it should be spelled out in my writing. I cannot know what is going on beyond my hearing or vision except for some physical or aural cues which must be spelled out in my writing. Likewise from any character's POV. POV can change during a piece of writing but there must be a reason for doing so and there must be enough cues for the reader to know who the POV resides with. Readers like a challenge but if they can't tell what is going on they will put the book down. An omniscient POV does not necessarily solve all these problems as knowing everything can also lead to reader confusion. If you are having trouble with POV in your writing, try working in first person for awhile. The discipline of a more restricted point of view will show you what is and isn't possible and once you have it under control, can provide a good springboard onto more complex POV arrangements.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I learnt something from the movie Bull Durham

A snippet from Tomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard"

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hi Honey....I'm home

Hi Honey, I'm home....sorry I was away so long...been busy with non-writing related things but now I'm back...

On sunday its November. Most of me is ready for September now. It usually happens around this time of year - the months are flying past faster than I can keep up with. I might be ready for christmas by next February. On Halloween my middle child turns fourteen.

I am writing an article at the moment on 2010 (even though I am obviously not ready for it yet). At this time of year we tend to spend a lot of time looking back and making 'best-of' lists and things like that. Its a good idea to look back at what was achieved over the year but also now is a good time to think about what might be achieved in the future. Okay, as writers, this is a bit tricky because so much of what we might achieve is out of our control. The only things we can control are the words. But now I'm thinking about the stories I have on-the-go that need finishing and polishing and how long realistically it might take me to do this. I'm wondering about how far afield I want to submit my manuscripts next year and how I go about this. Who might be the best fit for my work and how should I present myself - should I do things differently or stick with the same MO. Next year I think I would like to try some face-to-face meetings with local publishers but I would also like to send some things overseas and in order to put my best foot forward I need a starry query letter. Janet Reid, literary agent and blogger in NYC recently posted a summary on writing a good query letter. Go check it out here - its good advice. I'm also debating whether to do more study next year and wondering whether I can afford to go to the SCBWI conference in Australia (which I think is on in October). I guess attending the conference will depend on what manuscripts I will have to offer at that point, what has happened with my work between now and then, and what use I can make out of such a visit. It might be good to do an Australian based pitch slam if they have one.

Catching up on writery news on Beattie's blog today I saw that Mallinson are being taken in under the Penguin umbrella. The children's publishing industry in NZ needs to buy even slimmer fitting trousers now. Like the ones in that doctored photo of the model with the impossibly tiny waist.

In other news, Noddy, like Winnie the Pooh, is attempting a comeback. Sigh. If booksellers are saving their christmas budgets for Dan Brown in the adult section, will they be setting their childrens allotment aside for Winnie and Noddy? And superstar merino Shrek will be mixing and mingling with Queenstown shoppers this weekend to launch his new book. He's a bit of a dag but he has a good angle and as his needs are simple his royalties go to charity. If he sells more books than I did at my last launch I may cry.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Brain wrecks!...

Ha ha - people go on a lot about silly folk whose lives are like train wrecks but this week I am suffering from brain wrecks. I visited the lovely town of Thames on wednesday, reading to children from Thames South School and their parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles in the morning, and then conducting a workshop with adults in the afternoon. Thank you to the kind and welcoming staff of the Thames Library, especially Rachael who made me feel like one of the gang. Gorgeous place.

Friday, I was co-visiting author and official co-library opener with Kyle Mewburn at Owairaka Primary School in Mt Albert. Again I was made to feel so welcomed and staff and children, who had dressed up as favourite characters in some pretty amazing costumes, were wonderful. And to chief organiser Angela, congratulations for organising such a wonderful event. But today I suffer from brain wrecks - the poor little old melon is sucked dry.

Here are some juicy snippets that caught my eye this morning....

1) From today's Weekend Herald - in a review of Cut and Run by Alix Bosco (a pseudonym), reviewer Paul Thomas says, Ego, as revealed by a greater interest in recognition than achievement, often fuels the drive to be a published writer... Wow, thats a bit snippy. There are about a million easier ways to feed one's ego; a million ways over which you have more control, with much better odds of succeeding. Sure, having a publisher say yes or seeing a book with your name on the front cover are ego boosters, but there are many more ego deflating moments than there are ego boosting ones. Your average writer spends most of their time surviving with the aid of something much less fragile. And suggesting recognition rules over achievement - grrr don't get me started...

2) From Graham Beattie's blog posted saturday 24th, Patricia Wood, author of adult novel Lottery, takes a different, and I think very wise view of the relationship authors could be building with booksellers. She suggests it is useful to go past the book signing/launch type deal and the 'do you stock my book and how many copies have you sold' kind of interation, and find ways to help booksellers get more buyers (of any kind) in the shop. If bookshops survive, more authors might survive too, and in the great karmic wheel of life, what goes around, comes around.

3) During my workshop on Wednesday several people asked about how you go about getting an illustrator for your picture book manuscript if you are not an artist. The short answer is, you don't. Check out the latest post at Editorial Anonymous where she discusses this very topic. If you have not submitted a picture book manuscript before I can see how you might believe it essential to have illustrations to accompany your text. I can even, at a pinch, understand how you might wonder that the publisher will see the illustrations as you would like them to be. But folks, this is why they are professionals. They are in the business of producing books that sell (although they aren't always successful at this but it is still their goal) and they know what picture books look like, how they work and 98% of the time they will see the pictures your words suggest. And they know lots of talented and skilled artists/illustrators who will do a fab job. I did not meet the illustrator for The Were-Nana until the book launch but she knew exactly what I was trying to say. So it is best to submit your manuscript by itself. You do not need to attempt your own pictures or find someone to do it for you. If they like your story the publisher will try and find the right illustrator for it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Children are not afraid to be a little afraid...

So I'm still hanging out at the insane asylum of writing. T'is an addiction I cannot be cured of. I am a slave to its vagaries. What does it say about you when you know all the drawbacks and you still insist on queuing up for another round of craziness - if the strait jacket fits?

I checked out a lovely post on Libba Bray's blog t'other day. She waxed lyrical about the movie version of Where the Wild Things Are seen the night before. Her review makes me want to see it. I want to watch the snow fort scene. But one of the things she said flicked a lightbulb switch on in my brain. Some adults have worried my picture book The Were-Nana might be too scary for their children. Folks, Ms Bray has this to say about such things...

"Some folks on Twitter asked if the movie was too scary for a five-year-old/seven-year-old/fill in with age here. I loved Maurice Sendak’s response. Apparently, he said that if the adults were too scared, they could go and let the kids stay. LOL. But it’s true. I think kids are much less afraid of the darker, sadder aspects of life than we give them credit for. It’s the adults who can’t quite bear that sadness. It’s as if we, too, fall victim to magical thinking; we think we can protect kids from life’s inherent injustices and cruelties, from the knowledge that things fall apart, that our anger is powerful, and that, ultimately, underneath it all, we are alone in a big world in a vast universe. And we try to bridge that loneliness with our connection to other people, people who disappoint us as much as they love and complete us. Life is hard. Growing up is hard and it never stops. Thank heavens for art."

I wish I had been this eloquent on this subject in the past. And isn't it better too, to come across difficult topics in a book or movie where they can be discussed and understood and learnt from, rather than facing them, unprepared, in real life. Books can teach you all sorts of unexpected things that can help you overcome all sorts of troubling and difficult things in life. Don't fear books that deal with hard subjects. And children value these book experiences. Children love The Were-Nana. They are not afraid to be a little afraid.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Unassailable truths...

Unassailable truth # 1 - if I do not sell enough copies of this book I may not get the next one published. However what constitutes 'enough copies' varies widely from publisher to publisher. Sometimes they apply their sales counting formulae in intriguing ways. But publishing is a business. Book sales = good. This is why I do try to promote my books. (Horrible question that I don't want to contemplate - how many books have I sold through my promotional efforts to date?)

Unassailable truth # 2 - authors/illustrators do not agree on whether they should charge for appearances or not. What I can tell you is that the income from the sale of my books this year would almost pay for my coffee habit but nothing else. I would be whippet thin if I lived on my book income alone (or dead). My income from public appearances is 7 or 8 times that. Don't get too excited, I still couldn't cover my living expenses, even if they were significantly reduced from their current levels. And I cannot rely on invitations to speak, read etc... being regular or even continuing. Which makes my SO a patron of the arts. Suffice to say many authors/illustrators rely on a range of income sources to survive. I don't know that charging for visits /readings /appearances is the ideal model to support authors and illustrators. I wish there was more grant money available to assist full time creatives to pursue their art and not be faced with the sometimes difficult side of charging for visits. And more fellowships etc..which didn't involve travelling far from one's family (yay - go the Beatson Fellowship! Not only generous but understanding and forward thinking too). The way many fellowships etc..are structured means my role as mother precludes me from applying. Anyone who is not a mother/parent therefore has more fellowships, awards, grants etc they can apply for. This isn't a criticism of those with more freedom to apply for a wider range of things, but more a lament that such things are out of reach for me. Having my children goes a very long way to make up for that but all the benefits of such awards would sometimes be very handy and would look fab on the CV if i was a successful applicant (and of course hard times mean more competition for these things). And maybe a tax break for the arts patronage my SO is required to take on because he loves me would be good as well.

Unassailable truth # 3 - doing an exam at home is harder because there are a million more distractions and a greater sense of pressure to perform. Ack... Give me a 3 hour exam in an echoey community hall any day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Excited about writing...

I got my last assignment back in the post along with the exam to be sat this saturday in the comfort of my own home with my study guides open. It will not (despite possibly appearing otherwise) be easy. I am sure they factor in that it is done at home with the books open and expect a little bit more accordingly. I am required to assess and analyse something previously unseen. And then on Sunday it will all be over. I love being a student but I am always glad when the exam is done. I can smell freedom already.

I have been tinkering away with a new, old manuscript in a happy way on my new toy. If things go well I could have another piece of junior fiction finished and submitted by the end of the month (35 to 40,000 words - yippee). The YA is currently on hiatus. Bahamas I think. Hope it packed sunscreen. It needed a break and it better come back rearing to go is all I can say. In breaking news apparently R Patts and Kristen have finally (FINALLY) come out as a couple. Quel surprise.

Next week as part of NZ Book month (got your book by a NZ author yet?) I am reading The Were-Nana at Thames Public Library (Wednesday 21st) in the morning and running a writing workshop in the afternoon. Then Friday 23rd I am at Owairaka Primary in Auckland for the opening of their new library, along with fab author Kyle Mewburn. They are devoting the day to a love of books - how cool is that!! In early November I am part of a days workshop for children's writers run by KiwiWrite4Kidz on the topic of Before and After Publishing. With most events over and the academic year wound up I will have some large chunks of writing time after this which is a dizzyingly exciting prospect. My eldest has NCEA exams and I will be doing what I can to help her but the rest of the days will be mine. Folks I feel about this like a five year old feels about Christmas.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Its not just about the lollies....

The house is empty of children (except for the pyscho kitten who seems to see ghosts - I think she fell down the chimney one too many times - well she would insist on going into the crawl space). The silence is divine but now that I have time I am squandering it shamelessly. I have things I want to write but I have been feeling a little steamrollered of late - like something out of a Warner Bros cartoon and I am the flat shape on the sidewalk. And I've just signed myself up to give an hour long talk to a group of paying adults which for some reason I am happy about. Maybe its because I now have a laptop that can run power point presentations. Typical 'person with a new toy' reaction. I could easily waste some time hunting out some appropriate comic strips to support my talk. Now I just have to decide on my topic. The theme for the day is "Before and After Publishing." I'm doing my best to think of things that won't frighten the punters away.

Have you bought a book by a New Zealand author yet this month? If you haven't, make sure its on the list. You have until Halloween. We are off to Geoff's Emporium this afternoon to check out some Halloween costume stuff. Halloween is fantastic. Sure the lollies rot your teeth and its a strange American Autumnal tradition that doesn't quite fit with our Spring vibe but that whole mystical idea of All Hallows Eve followed by All Saints Day on November 1st just gets my imagination going. The air always feels different on the 31st. As if it was filled with something more than just the chemical constituents of the stuff we breathe. I feel inspired already.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Normal transmission will resume...

The holidays have gone like an overexcited chihuahua. Here we are at the second friday and the kids have only just hit their holiday stride - poor things - back off to work they go on monday. Of course, you can guarantee that the sun will finally come out then too after playing hide and seek with some pretty aggressive rain clouds over the last fortnight.

Well the good news is I finished my final assignment, or more truthfully, I printed off what I had, put it in an envelope with sufficient postage and bunged it in the post box. Its not my best work but I ran out of time and the love just wasn't there anymore. It is what it is. I hope I pass. Just the exam to look forward to now.

I finally got to sit down (in the flesh) with the lovely and talented writers Tania Roxborogh, Michele Powles and Jeannie McLean round my dining table last wednesday afternoon. One of the benefits of blogging that I never anticipated was the opportunity to make friends with people round the country (and round the world). Tania lives in Dunedin but blogging has bridged the gap and when you do get to meet the people whose blogs you read all that awkward first meeting stuff isn't there. We had a fab afternoon supping some wine and chatting. This would be one of the benefits of sharing some space with other writers - a collective of sorts - to overcome the otherwise solitary nature of this business. My experience on wednesday and at spinning gold has shown me how much fun and how beneficial socialising with other writers can be. More please! BTW Tania launches her latest book Banquo's Son this saturday at 5pm at Takapuna Library. It looks like a ripping read. Go buy a copy, stat.

I have been interviewed by Little Miss Pink Hair and you can read it here!

And because I'm in a state of writing/writers confusion right now here is an interesting bit of advice related to the debate on whether you should market and promote your own work, pinched from here via Maureen Crisp's blog, which should be the cattle prod to your grey cells - just what you need when you're winding down on a friday.

I heard some excellent advice from Lisa Earle McLeod at the Foothills Writers Guild workshop last weekend, which she heard at the beginning of her career: Many talented writers will never be successful due to mediocre marketing skills. Many mediocre writers will be successful due to marketing talent.

This comes from a much bigger post here with a horde of publishing advice that is definitely worth checking out.

Have a good weekend folks...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Thomas Horler won first prize with his book review...

I got sent this wonderful review of my book The Were-Nana. Thomas you made my day!! I would like Thomas Horler to be in charge of marketing and publicity for my books because his advice is solid - he would recommend this book to everyone in the world!

It is NZ Book Month during October. make sure you go out and buy a NZ book and let the bookseller know that this is what you are doing. Yeah!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The great divide

My new baby just arrived - the cutest little netbook with the sweetest smile (no its not wind) and we have bonded already. It is just adorable and I am very happy with it. Oh, that everything in my life was being as cute and adorable. I have one last assignment to do for my university course and I cannot wait for it to be completed and in the post, except that i actually have to do the work for it to be completed and in the post - argh! Life will be simpler when I have finished the assignment, done the exam and the university year is over. Still I have learnt a lot and its all good information. And best of all I have been forced to buy some gorgeous picture books for the course as text books. Today I picked up Chicken Thief by Beatrice Rodriguez (Gecko, 2009), which I needed to finish that last assignment. This book is annoyingly genius. It shows that you don't need a totally new or complex idea - sometimes the simplest twists are the freshest. This book deliciously subverts the fox stealing the chicken cliche in a most satisfying and poignant way and worst/best of all, does it all without words thereby making people like me feel horribly redundant. And I love it to bits and feel very pleased that I had an excuse to buy it. You should read it. I defy you to be unmoved.

I have been grumbling recently about the huge variety in quality of books that are getting published. I cannot help but look at some and think my story is better then that, why does it keep getting rejected. Of course I may just be delusional about my own stuff but when I stumbled across an old post of one of my current fave bloggers Nicola Morgan on the very topic of why the quality varies so much it made annoying but helpful sense. Whether I'm personally deluded or not, Nicola made some great points here. Two of Nicola's points stood out for me. 1) Publishers produce stuff they believe will sell. If it didn't sell they would stop producing it. Its that simple. 2) And one of Nicola's comments on why great stuff isn't getting published -although it's genuinely beautiful in many ways and you are a talented writer, you have not yet crafted a book which is good enough to be in the "great book" category but it is way too great to be read by readers of the crap category.

So for all of you great writers out there writing beautiful things - there is a ruddy great ditch that you have to claw your way out of to get to the far side that is publication. I think the recession made the ditch wider and a little deeper as well. Books like Chicken Thief and some of my other favourites like The Library Lion and The Lion in the Meadow and The Boy who Swapped his Father for Two Goldfish show me what to aim for. Jeepers, do I have some work to do.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

More on promotion...

So it would seem promotion is something we aren't exactly all keen on but that we do accept is part of the business. If you are not a natural, then fake it. If smiling even when you don't feel like it, can fool your body right down to the basic elements and make you healthier and come full circle to make you happier, then faking confidence and enthusiasm should do the same. However, like blogging (as Ms Morgan so sensibly puts it in her latest blog here), your promotion should fit with your persona - while its smart to fake the smile its not a good idea to fake who you are (unless you're permanently grumpy and a misanthrope in which case - get to it) And if I'm unsure what to say I think of one of my SO's work mantras (he who is in PR, Communications and Marketing) - how can I add value? What can i say or do that might be useful to this group of children or adults. If they are very young and not yet reading and writing on their own, then I'm not too embarrassed to make it all about Sponge Bob - he's very wise for an inanimate object. As the audience gets older I try and add more practical tips about writing and creating. If talk about writing is making them glaze over then I ask lots of questions and get them to talk to me. And if it turns ugly then I know tomorrow is another day. JK Rowling knew what she was doing when she made chocolate the antidote to a happiness sucking attack by the dementors. While its true that children can smell fear I'm not sure if they can detect fake confidence. By the time they do, you could be working with the real thing.

Of course promoting yourself to publishers and booksellers is a different animal. But doing promotional work with your target audience will earn you brownie points with Publishers and booksellers. Keep a note of any thing you have done to promote yourself and include a summary in your writing CV and perhaps a very short note about it on your query/ cover letter, if its relevant.

One of the best things about throwing yourself into promotion and giving it a go, is figuring out what works for you and maybe getting to try on different sizes and styles of event. One of my favourites so far was the Speed Date the Author event I was lucky to participate in recently. Here is a nice write up on the event from the Dominion. The more things you give a go, the more you can edit and rearrange to come up with a presentation that works for you. I cannot play a guitar and sing in public like Julia Donaldson does for her promotional appearances but I don't want to do someone else's presentation and I'm trying to create my own style. I want to do something that fits with me and my persona and my kind of writing.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

To promote or not to promote...

To promote or not to promote that was the other big question...

Shakespeare is probably revolving at a rate of knots in his grave right now - sorry Bill, I'm sure I'm not the first. So the school holidays have arrived and before I get pushed off the computer by the kids I wanted to try and scrape the rest of what I remember from the conference off the floor of my brain before it's gone in holiday programmes, taxi duties and a collection of sorry excuses for movies.

A number of folk at the conference - presenters, publishers and booksellers included were keen on authors/illustrators promoting their books to the public. Especially for publishers and booksellers the bottom line is income - if they don't sell product they don't survive. For authors and illustrators the equation is a lot more murky with a complex bottom line that often includes a fear of public speaking. One prominent author said promotion and marketing are not the job of the writer/illustrator but belong with the publisher. I whined to my writer friend about this on the plane ride home - sorry T. - prominent author could easily say this as they already has excellent reputation to help sell their works (and now that i think about it prominent author already has occasional tv presence too so does do own promotion anyway even if inadvertantly). T suggested that prominent author's comments were designed to give people permission not to promote if they felt it was beyond them. Hmmm. For myself, my fear of obscurity outweighs my fear of public speaking. And if one does get asked to speak I would bet any one they could not/would not say no. Public engagements scare me. Deep down I'm shy (stop laughing - all of you!). But I want to have my stories published. I want my books to sell. I want publishers and booksellers to see my books sell so that they publish and stock me again in the future. I want a career. And there are other benefits to promotion as well. So I promote. I agree that you should not do it against your will, that you should be a willing participant, even if you are rigid with fear. But I also think you should give it a go before you decide against it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Saying hi across the interverse

Just a quick note to say hi to any Blogoffee visitors. Hosted friday (UK) time by Nicola Morgan at her blog Help!I need a publisher - go visit and check out some other blogs. I've been over to Thomas Taylors place, Cat Down Unders and Ebony McKenna's. Its fun to visit overseas :)You never know what you might find and who can say no to making new friends. I keep a list of my recent favs down the right hand side of my blog. I have virtual coffee, chocolate and champers available (sorry I finished all the real stuff). There are few things as good as a chat about writing over a drink (hot or cold). I raise my coffee to you all and wish you good fortune with your writing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

So which is it? - write to the market or write what you feel?

I've had a comment on an earlier post (Hi Judy) which touched on a topic raised by the conference which I am keen to post about. Judy I hope you don't mind that I repeat part of your comment here :)

so there's the conflict. Do you write for yourself or the /a market?; write for popularity ie for money or for prescence?; write what you feel or study the market, genre, word length, and the anomalous one - read what's been published and is in the marketplace. Then write something fresh and new that hits the mark.

I'm sorry presenters/keynote speakers - you didn't make it easy. At least one speaker I listened to urged us to study the market. Another urged us to write what was in us. Both are respected and successful writers for children. So which is it folks? Well, in my many minutes of experience people I believe the answer is yes. Neither guarantees you a publishing contract. As I posted not so long back, publishers want something new and fresh that's exactly like their most successful books. You can study the market extensively and write on a popular theme/genre. You may or may not get published. You can write on what interests you, what gives you brain fever and spins your dials. You may or may not get published. Some people are very good at writing to the market. They look at the elements that are present in the most popular books and can spin a new story on a trusted framework. Other people have fallen in love with a character who just has to go off on this tangent that they can't get out of their heads. They create something thats sends shivers or squeals down their spine. I believe that YOU already know how you want to write. DO NOT look at the other writer doing it the other way who has had a manuscript accepted and think you are doing it the wrong way. There is no wrong way. The answer is yes. Write the best story you can, in the way that you feel most comfortable/happy with. If you do something against the grain chances are this will show. If you write the way that suits you best you will have a much better chance of writing something that works. Nothing guarantees publishing success but trusting yourself will make it more likely. Phew. Thats my two cents worth on the subject.

Juicy snippets on the Interverse

Thank you to Graham Beattie for mentioning my blog on his yesterday. And my two favourite conference co-conveners, Fifi and Maureen too, for mentioning mine on theirs as well. I hope folk visiting have found something of interest in my raves on the conference. I would like to post more on what I heard there but I found a couple of juicy snippets across the Interverse over the last few days that I just have to mention.

Go look at this lovely little post on what kids are really after when they read. It all boils down to this:-

Take this fine advice from young T., a third-grader from Park Slope: "It's like when you think you are going to care about the book, but then no stuff happens, so you get bored and then you read a different book." Or wee L.: "If the people aren't doing anything cool the book is dumb."

Things have to happen. Its about action, man! Thats about as clear as you can get.

And, in the spirit of honesty which I found very refreshing at the conference, here is a great post from Nicola Morgan on why she writes

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pitch Slam Dunk...

I am slowly sifting through some of the information put in my brain last weekend at the conference. Here are some thoughts I have had following this fab event.

1. If you are serious about being a writer and/or illustrator one of the most useful things you can do to help yourself is to join at least one (if not all) of the professional groups available in NZ. Kiwiwrite4kidz or the WCBA (Wellington Childrens Book Assoc.), the NZSA, Storylines, The NZ Book Council and Te Tai Tamariki. When I finally got up the nerve to give the writing thing a shot I joined Storylines and the NZSA. Becoming part of the children's book community is the best way to find out how it all works. If I'd stayed alone in my study tapping away on my computer, sending things out in the post to publishers I would be years behind where I am now. Talking with others who share the same goals is inspiring, motivating and educational. I have since joined Kiwiwrite4kidz and intend to join the NZ Book Council as well. It is an essential part of your development.

2. Martin Baynton gave a stirring keynote speech on the opening night of the Conference where he urged everyone to take control of their intellectual property and exploit it for maximum benefit. He does not automatically assign all rights to publishers who contract his work. Can that publisher actually exploit that right and maximise the income for that work? The publishers panel the following day gave a mixed reply to his advice. Some argued for their ability to make use of these rights. Others stated which rights were non-negotiable (thereby implying that the others were?). Many publishers are part of a global company or are affiliated with overseas publishers, some of whom have the necessary skills and corporate machinery to make use of these rights. I never asked them how often these rights are exploited and how lucrative they were. I appreciate that a small proportion of published work would ever be deemed suitable for film or merchandising (or other similar) rights but I now know I shouldn't forget about them during the contract process. Baynton's vision is broad and his ambitions, global. He borrowed millions to exploit one of his works and it paid off. Of course this kind of investment is a) not for the faint-hearted and b) not suitable for everyone's work. I'm not sure if I'll ever go down that route but his talk certainly opened my eyes.

3. I was extremely honoured to be invited to participate in the Speed Date The Author event held at Island Bay School in Wellington on the morning of the opening day of the conference. I did a 15 minute presentation on tone to 5 different groups of intermediate aged children who rotated round 6 different authors and illustrators each assigned their own topic. I hope the children enjoyed it. I loved the format and once I warmed up I enjoyed it. Congratulations to Sarah Forster from the NZ Book Council who came up with the idea and thanks for including me. This concept could easily be used anywhere in the country.

4. Pitching. Huge kudos to Maureen and Fifi for including this in the conference. Pitching has, as I understand it, been a part of writing conferences for some time in the US. A writer or illustrator makes an appointment to pitch their book idea/completed novel/pb to a publisher or agent. It has never been formally done in New Zealand before. There were 7 publishers and 2 agents (one Kiwi, one from Oz) available at Spinning Gold. Appointments were 3 minutes long with 2 minutes for the pitchee to recover before the next appointment started. I applaud the publishers and agents for agreeing to do this. It would not be easy to listen to up to 12 individuals trying to sell you their idea/book. We were all newbies at pitching and everyone looked terrified. Rescue remedy was being passed around. Some faces were a worrying shade of pale. There was a lot of nervous joking in the stairwell before we were let through for our appointments. I had three appointments and through sheer luck (and being completely brazen) I managed to get myself a fourth. Some publishers would be ideal poker players. Some were probably overwhelmed by the all the things I thrust at them and were wishing they were better at poker. I was grateful for the opportunity to just meet these people face to face. I think my pitching needs an awful lot of polishing. Although one is talking about one's own work which we theoretically should know intimately, it is easy to forget the salient points and go heavy on the waffle. I think I did better at talking about my shorter works - lets face it - its a lot easier to summarise a 700 word pb then it is to summarise something in excess of 45,000 words. Thank you to the Spinning Gold team who organised this and who, on the day, despite a huge chance of mayhem had it all running like well oiled clockwork. Thank you to the publishers and agents who gave up their time to participate. I am hoping, like dating agencies that publicise any resulting unions, that Spinning Gold will mention any successful deals struck as a result of their inaugural Pitch Slam.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Warts and all...

I think it will take me weeks to process everything I heard and discussed at the Spinning Gold Conference. I'm still trying to catch up on sleep even though I went to bed early and rose late while I was there. When everything on offer at a conference is so good and you listen so intently at each session and there are no free periods and the sessions that clash with the ones that you selected are also so good and you try and pick the brains of friends who attended those ones - well - its just plain exhausting. But the thing I liked best about the whole thing (apart from the socialising which was wonderful) was the honesty of it all.

I've been a bit troubled by the fact that some speakers disagreed directly with other speakers on how writers and illustrators should be approaching this crazy business. Some said focus on promotion, marketing, making use of new technologies and work to the market. Others said it is not the creatives job to promote or market (that is the job of the publisher), having an internet presence is unnecessary and create what is important to you, not what the market suggests. Then it dawned on me this morning that that is the nature of the business. Even the experts don't agree on how things are best created, published and sold. What works for me, may not work for you. Both ways may work or both may fail miserably. I'm sorry if this is all sounding a bit oblique. That is essentially what the publishing industry is like. The publishers panel during the conference was brutally honest and everyone looked a little pale and shaken after that session but I came away thinking that we were fortunate that the publishers were willing to tell it how it is. Even they disagreed at times on some fundamental issues, and I do believe some topics were avoided, but the undeniable impression for me at the end was how much all of these publishers loved childrens books and how much they fought for them and wanted good books to do well. A huge thank you to the publishing people who came and spoke to us, who braved the pitch slam and who showed where the heart is in the Childrens' Publishing business. And I am the better for all the speakers' willingness to say what they really think, to share what works for them and to not gloss over the less savoury aspects. I think these are the things that made the conference so great.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Wow, the WCBA really knows how to put on a conference. I returned from Wellington last night after the weekend Spinning Gold Conference having had my brain poked, prodded, broadened, enlightened and occasionally pickled. Maureen and Fifi, and your amazing helpers, I hope you all realise how brilliant you are. Organisers with more resources (but way less talent) have not been able to achieve what you did. And folks, Children's writers and illustrators truly are the nicest bunch of people you could hope to meet. My only regret is that I did not meet and talk with every one there. We discussed creativity, promotion, marketing, publishing, bookselling, taxes, poetry, being monsters and more, and I plan to blog some more about the things I learned later this week. If you want to know more about what it was like and whether it is something you would like to attend in future I believe there will be some material going up on the Spinning Gold Blog when the organisers have sufficiently recovered (and they are truly deserving of a long break).

In the meantime ponder this:-

From the Herald On Sunday, September 20th - "the book chains are setting aside almost their entire Christmas contingency budgets to buy in more copies (of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol), should it - as they expect - go lunar."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Peace at last...

Its not a good sign when the organic life form you can relate to best is a chicken with its head cut off. I'm off to Wellington tomorrow afternoon for a couple of events and the Spinning Gold Conference. My SO asked me to do something for him this morning and I warned him there was so much in my brain I couldn't guarantee this little task wouldn't fall out - best not to rely on me right now to do any extra errands. I've been trying to finish an assignment (just put it in the envelope to post - 58 pages in total), still have to do this month's PAYE, answer some interview questions, write talk for tomorrow night, talk for Friday morning, get head round pitching to two publishers and do exercise for workshop (plus check school uniforms will be available for next Monday, food available while I away and someone will feed the pets). Oh, and pack bags. Oops - too late, brain just gone squidge onto floor :) I'd laugh at it but I don't think i understand anymore....peace at last...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The 'must write' gene...

If you are a writer hoping to be published or a published writer hoping to be published again, go read this!. There is nothing simple or easy about this business. Sometimes it gives me hives. Sometimes it forces me to eat large amounts of chocolate. And the recession adds an extra degree of difficulty. The thing is I can't seem to stop myself writing. If I'm not thinking about what needs to go in the washing, or what I'm going to make to feed 5 people with widely varying tastes for dinner, or that I must get on to the accounts so I can do next months GST, I am thinking about story ideas. I am mulling them over, twisting and turning them this way and that to see if they give the right fit - are the darts in the right place and is the zip long enough. It would be handy to stop because life would be so much simpler. I sometimes wish I was wired for a different profession, but every bit of me is coded with the 'must write' gene. And when I sit down and write it feeds my soul. I have been a bit deprived of writing recently and I feel hungry.

I attended the Auckland Reading Association's celebration of National Literacy Day as a guest speaker yesterday. Highlight? Meeting a teacher and three pupils from my old primary school. I don't know who was more excited. All five of us were grinning happily. Another highlight? Children coming up and saying Did you write this? I love this book? There were a number of Jack the Viking fans, and Were-Nana ones as well. I was stoked. Of course there is no better reward than seeing a reader delighted with your book. And that is the other reason i write. Can I write a book that has the same impact on a reader that some books have had on me? How can you say no to that?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I want to know everything about everything....but knowing how to make a tiara out of an egg carton will do for today

I visited a primary school today together with the illustrator of The Were-Nana. I tried a different approach with my talk and it seemed to go okay. Tomorrow I am off to Te Papapa School for the Reading Association's National Literacy Day event. Next week I'm off to Wellington for a Meet the Author event, A Speed Date the Author Event and The Spinning Gold Conference. I have two assignments due. I must say my brain is a little fatigued. It's only a week away and I can't even contemplate the Conference yet. And writing? Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ah the irony.

I realised last night that writing for me isn't about finding ideas. Its about being curious. I want to know why things happen, why people do the things they do, how they work things out (in fact i want to know everything about everything but this takes a very long time). Its also a lot about problems. Not all of my stories contain a character facing a problem but most of them do. All my longer works do. I spend most of my time thinking about problems. I think this is the lot of a writer. We dwell on people's problems. Thankfully we also dwell a lot on solutions. Especially when writing for children.

Check out Fifi Colston's blog today. She has made the coolest tiara out of an egg carton and is contemplating producing a book full of clever things that can be made out of this everyday domestic product. I would buy this book if it only contained the instructions for making the tiara but it would be chock full of other clever things so would be even better to own.

I'm going to go ride 25 kms on my bike now and then do sudoku and order takeaways. So there.