Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The crushing grip of self-doubt

So Christmas and birthday are over and I am apparently a year older. I shall be whipping the hair dye and face wrinkle filler out shortly. Next week we are away down to the Kapiti Coast where it has been raining a lot. Hmmm. I should be writing the novel but am currently feeling the crushing grip of self-doubt. I wish it would go away. I do not like it. Sadly it is the occasional unwelcome friend of many writers - bit like this person over at Catdownunder's blog. No one has the right to tell you what your dreams should be. If your dream is to be a writer don't give up unless it is no longer your dream. Of course I reserve the right to complain about my dreams and give up regularly and change my mind about it whenever I want but it is my right and my choice to do so. Self doubt is a little different and the higher the stakes the bigger the doubt. Where is my turtle shell when I need to hide inside it? I hope I am my own worst critic but even if i'm not and folk do not like what I come up with then I guess I will just have to survive it and move forward. While a turtle might not agree, there is something thrilling about sticking your neck out and giving things a go. It might be nice inside that shell but I know too well what the inside of it looks like. I do not want to be a shell dweller all my life. I want to seize the day and suck the marrow out of it. And if that means feeling some doubt about what I am creating then I suppose it comes with the territory - buy a dog, expect to pick up some poop - its all part of the experience.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Its wot I do...

I do like a good story. I also like when good things happen to nice people. Here the two mix. Yeehah. Congratulations to Tracy Baines over at Tall Tales and Short Stories in the UK!!!

And happy gift blogs are happening over at one of my favourite blogs, Help I Need a Publisher here.

If I was good at lawyering or playing Tennis I would do that. Some days I wish I was good at being a scientist in a lab coat (or out in the field in gumboots and something hose-downable) or maybe organsing and managing (all things I have trained in). I would have more money and these are more conventional ways of earning it with less rejection and more certainty. I am a bit of a people person. I like knowing things, especially natural science stuff and history of all kinds from ancient to recent and everything inbetween fascinates me. I understand a fair amount of stuff but the thing wot I am best at is writing. And the thing wot spins my dials is ditto. So although it generally pays very poorly and does not show the love much it is wot I will continue to do. I hope you will keep me company and hang in there too.

This has been (mostly) a good year and I am fairly fond of it and a little loathe to let it go. But I have my game plan for 2011 and there are some nice prospects hovering in my near future so I will step forward into the New Year with a nice tingley sense of anticipation. I have that Jenny Valentine Cassiel Roadnight book and the I am Number Four one as well to read over summer. There is baked ham and Eton Mess to eat on Christmas Day and time to be spent at the beach in early January although I will not truly be on holiday till the middle of next April at the earliest. Please, please take care of yourselves and your loved ones over the Christmas and New Year period. It is a fraught and stressful time when the wheels, if they are going to, are most likely to fall off. I am over the whole present thing but I cannot wait to hang out with my family because that is what Christmas is all about for me. Merry Christmas peoples!!! Have a good one!!!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Making plans for a shiny new year...

Yay - had a letter yesterday from Random House NZ to say that the 'Friends' themed anthology of children's short stories including my story "A Passport to Friends" is to be published October 2011. After stories were selected in January 2009 for a proposed publication date of October that year the project went dark and I confess I thought it probably unlikely it would be resurrected so it was a wonderful surprise to find it was going to come out after all. This is my 10th short story to be published and I think its time I developed a short story writing workshop and I plan to work on this next year. I have been thinking quite a bit on next year and what I hope to achieve and expect to happen. The first quarter of 2011 will be dominated by finishing my world war 2 novel and working towards the Spinning Tales conference ( have you registered yet?? Pitches are limited and everyone registered so far has signed up to pitch). The second Pick 'n' Mix collection will be out in February, my picture book is due mid year and the Random anthology in October so there will be some promotion and other activities associated with those. I am currently working on finding a loving home for my YA and as several friendly folk have read it I intend to do some minor tweaking as a result of their feedback but this is not a big job. The only project remaining incomplete at the moment is my YA bodice ripper and I will probably carry on with that over the course of the year. I am thinking of putting Jack the Viking: Magnetic North out as an e-book and if i do this it will be in the first half of the year. In the second half of the year I would like to go to Wellington and hopefully visit some schools and promote the new books down there. I'm thinking maybe August/September. Hoping too to fit a family holiday in there somewhere and will probably sign up for another university paper as I work towards completing the diploma in Childrens Literature. There will also be a new Fabo project to participate in and the final Harry Potter movie to see. And thats all I have planned for 2011. I am really looking forward to having the current project completed and a bit of free time once this is done. But there are still a number of free spots if you would like to book me in for something. What are you planning for 2011?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

my favourite read for this year?...well madam it's...

My SO and I watched a documentary about The Topp Twins last night. A pair of truly unique, yodelling, lesbian, comedian, policial activist singers (and I'm fairly sure I've left a descriptor or two off here). They are a similar vintage to us and we remember seeing them busking in Queen Street, Auckland several times in the 1980's, singing their blend of personal/issue-driven country songs. They have toured the world, wowed crowds, had their own tv series, battled cancer and changed lives. They have been there at the forefront of just about every major issue this country has faced over the last thirty years - no nukes, anti-apartheid, maori land rights, gay rights and breast cancer awareness. They still giggle away at their own stories as they tell them during their gigs. They are New Zealand icons. And one of the things that sets them apart from successful celebrities and is i think a big part of their success and their celebrity is that they are always themselves. Even as they inhabit their other personas, Ken and Ken, Dilly and Prue, Camp Mother and Camp Leader, the bowling ladies, and Belle and Bell Gingham, they are still themselves while holding up a mirror to who we are. Being themselves has enabled other New Zealanders to do the same. Its one of the things I admire most about them. And for all the famous folk who worry about a loss of privacy in sharing their lives with the world somehow the Topp Twins complete openness has lead to a refreshing respect for them. There is nothing to know about them that they haven't already mentioned. I rate this as one of my top tv watches for 2010. Other top watches this year - Glee and still got it after all these years award goes to The Office (US version).

Top read - this year has to go to The White Cat by Holly Black. Honourable mentions go to The Graveyard Book and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

Top Movie - haven't seen Inception yet but my fave for this year is Kick Ass.

Top moment - getting a phone call the day after posting a manuscript, watching my kids perform on the stage, the soccer field, the sprung floor and other arenas.

Top write - this year goes to my YA - My Sister's Shadow. I am very proud of this story. There have been some very positive noises about this from publishers. I have my fingers crossed

So, next year is approaching like Superman. What's on the agenda for 2011? I think I better make some plans, then if I tell you, I will HAVE to do them!!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is it impossible to not be a snob?

I have to confess...I too am a writery snob. After lambasting literary snobbery in a recent blog post I have become conscious that I too have been guilty of this transgression. If you are a reader but not a writer of books it is a simple story. You go and buy the books you like and you read them and unless you are a reviewer or a book club devotee you don't have to justify your reading habits to anybody. However if you are a writer, your view on books is no longer so clear cut. Everything now becomes relative. The bottom line is how many books will be sold. If you sell a lot then you will be odds on favourite to be published again and this is understandable as publishers cannot stay in business if they do not sell enough of their product. If you do not sell many books you must hope for some other virtue to be recognized to raise your cache and make your future books desirable. And here writers are pitted against each other for their share of book sales and recognition. Is a good book a book lots of people choose to buy? A book that wins awards? A book that makes a reader cry? A book with a rousing plot, hang the preponderence of adverbs? A book with a main character that has you swooning or determining to be a better person yourself, forget about the plot holes? A book that makes a reader happy? A book that teaches the reader something or is full of useful information? Should books be literary/commercial/romantic/action/have vampires/be entirely in Haiku? My favourite books to read are those with smart plots, engaging characters, clever use of words and a great sense of satisfaction on conclusion. But must this response be the one other readers must have? I strive to write the best prose I can. I try and make my characters ones a reader will care about and place them in a plot that will make the reader turn the page. I like to add humour and make the story emotionally engaging. Where does this put my writing on the literary totem pole. Do I need to climb over some other story to get higher up? The sad situation is that there are a finite number of publishing opportunities. There are plenty of good stories that never see the light of day in book form, plenty of masterpieces that languish alongside a 'bloody good read' that heads out of the shop in droves. It is hard work not to compare my writing to someone else's. I want my books to do well so the publisher might choose to publish more of my books in the future. I need my books to sell well and/ or win recognition in some way. I do my best to not be a snob but as hard as I try I feel like this business makes it impossible to avoid it completely.

I read this today in a review by Maggie Rainey Smith on Beattie's Book Blog - "...all writers to some extent need courage, bravado and a decent dose of vanity just to send their manuscript to a publisher." We must, by necessity, think our work is going to be good enough to be published, and therefore better than others on the slush pile. However it is never right to dismiss a genre as automatically inferior, and to demand that your genre/style/category is automatically superior. That's just rude.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

But edipubligents, do you not want to clear the decks?

I don't think there are too many writers out there who think they have picked an easy career. The road to publication can be like an army assault course. Not everyone lasts the distance and the reward for persistence and hard work is often the need for more persistence and hard work. But publication is a heady delight, a dangerous drug, a compelling high and I have strapped on my crampons and downed an energy bar or two and intend to keep on trying to climb up. And then while I'm not looking Christmas sneaks up and sticks a ruddy great slippery incline in the way. Everyone deserves a holiday and ok, I get it, summer is a nice time to have it, but while editors and agents and publishers can put their work down and run away for a beach side frolic with an empty mind and a joyous heart, like an elephant I CANNOT FORGET. I am doomed to fret over my submissions. But edipubligents, do you not want to clear the decks before you slip into your jandalabras? Get rid of all those outstanding subs, there since Adam was a boy? No? Whaddaya mean No? ARGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH Get me some egg nogg STAT!

(phew someone slipped me a little Dahl and I came over all portmanteau).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Too long a to-do list to do

It is now December here in the antipodes. It is now no longer possible to avoid Christmas and all its attendant business. I have too long a to-do list to do. Lots of twiddly little administrative stuff for my eldest and the exchange programme she will be on next year, things that need to be tied up, wrapped up or signed off before the long holidays start, dog vaccinations, cattery bookings, prescriptions updated before holiday mode makes everything inaccessible and no longer bookable. Hams to be ordered, presents to be bought, finances to be fretted over. And in amongst it all a book to write. I thought up a lovely little paragraph this morning whilst shampooing the noggin in the shower - a hundred profound little words that pack quite a wollop. Now only 31,820 to go - yikes :) (thats a lot of shampoo and showering).

And yesterday I found myself straying from my work in progress. I was going over my Young Adult novel and it sucked me in. I love this story. It has some difficult elements to it - it contains a difficult subject. When I described some of it to another writer last friday she looked aghast but as a whole I think it works. But I must hide it away for now. I want to spend more time with it, to fluff, titivate and massage it till you need to wear sunglasses to look at it. But I must focus on the WIP and make lots of lovely little paragraphs join hands and dance around the room together in perfect harmony. The grass is always greener eh? I didn't love my YA quite so much when I was in the middle of it trying to push through to the end. When it was hard work that made me want to tear my hair out. Its an easy date now, familiar and comfortable. I know what to say to it and what it likes to eat. I still have strong feelings for it. I'm still getting to know WIP and it doesn't always say what I want to hear, I'm not sure what it needs and I have to concentrate on what it is trying to tell me. I just keep telling myself as the story grows we will grow closer and when it is finished I will know it just as well as I know my YA.

Friday, November 26, 2010

our psychedelic and phantasmagorical experiment is at an end...

Well folks the amazing, psychedelic and phantasmagorical Fabostory experiment has come to an end for 2010 - there were laughs, drama and illustrations, there were crazy one-upping authors, dedicated and encouraging teachers and talented student submitters and worrying things like jewel encrusted trapeze pants, vomiting dinosaurs and posh english accented alien gorillas. The best thing is everyone survived - except me. In a stunning twist our final chapter winner Angus Smith wowed us all by pulling the nine fabo authors into the story and tying everything up incredibly smartly. I am not sure how to feel about the ending Angus gave me. Go read it here and let me know what you think. I am sure we will be seeing more of Angus in the future (although not on the dinosaur populated planet Awe in 3629). And you will also, most likely, be seeing more of Fabostory. Watch out for new Fabo developments in 2011, when like Lazarus, I rise from the dead...

I participated in a Meet the Author event (organised by the human dynamo Maria Gill and Kiwiwrite4kidz) on wednesday afternoon at Albany Junior High with a bevy of other writers and illustrators, speaking to and talking with school teachers and librarians from around the area. A good time was had by all, I busted some fiction myths (no Virginia, not all authors are rich and famous), spilled all my state secrets about writing and hopefully gave some useful tips for teaching creative writing in the classroom. It is very encouraging to find so many teachers and librarians keen to foster a love of books and writing amongst their students.

Not so encouraging? Once again I was turned down for Creative New Zealand Funding. The money would have been incredibly helpful and it is always a knock to one's creative confidence to be unsuccessful. I can't imagine having a better project to apply with than a contracted novel, with letters of support from several important industry folk. I am at a loss to know what is missing from my application. I now have a cold (to add insult to injury) and am feverishly applying lashings of chocolate and alcohol. I have a ship load of writing to do :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

too sad...

I never thought a message from the Queen would have the power to make me cry, but her message of condolence to NZ on the Pike River tragedy this morning was heartbreaking. I think the whole of NZ had been holding its breath since the first explosion in the mine last friday, hoping that there would be some miraculous positive resolution as there had been in Chile, but it wasn't to be. We all followed the story so closely and hung on news of any progress or change and then yesterday afternoon came the news that no one wanted. A second explosion turned it all into an unmitigated nightmare. It's hard not to be affected. I didn't know any of the 29 miners lost, or their families, but I feel so very sad for them. I hope they feel the love, support and sympathy from everyone around this country. I know what the loss of one of my family members would do to me.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

a mixed blessing...

Yesterday was a great day. I meet with some writery friends for an early afternoon drink and a bite to eat and a big chat about writing, books, publishing, writers and all sorts of industry related news and gossip. One of the hottest topics was the snobbish attitude of some writers towards children and YA fiction. This is an ongoing issue, as if writing for younger minds somehow renders the writing inferior. There is the opinion that writing for children is automatically easier and the target audience's expectations of content are lower. Wherever you are you may hear my teeth grinding right about now. The most frustrating thing is knowing there are people out there getting paid good money to teach this propaganda. I can only imagine they aren't taking the time to read any books for children or young adults. And I can't understand why they continue to perpetuate this myth when there is plenty of evidence to the contrary and why they feel the need to divide the writing community in this way. We also talked for some time about e-books. These are now a confirmed part of the publishing landscape and I am realising that a) I need to learn everything I can about how they work and b)need to figure out how I can make use of this publishing format. We talked about agents, editors and publishing opportunities. We talked about our projects and our plans. We laughed alot. The sun shone, the company was excellent and I came away feeling equal parts heartened and disheartened - which in many ways fairly represents the writing business. My family picked me up and we went on to see Harry Potter 7.1 at Imax (sigh - I am as much a fan as ever) then wandered downtown to Sal's for some fabulously impossible to eat New York Pizza and we reminisced about one of our best family holidays ever eating New York Pizza our first night in New York (sigh - going to this marvelous city is not a cure, it is merely a temporary 'fix' which leaves you craving more).

Today I must add a certain amount of words to my WIP to keep it progressing towards the March 2011 deadline. Dealines are a mixed blessing: a wonderful ego boost of contract before book, a show of faith in one's writing 'chops', and the knowledge that this book 'will' be published. But now I march to the beat of the clock ticking drum. I must have done this much by this date. Freedom is gone. Do it and do it well no matter where my head or my creative skill might be at. I will do it. Progress is currently slow but steady. Meeting deadlines is part of the business that I must master and I relish the opportunity.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

like we need any more distractions...

Here are some juicy links (I am too busy fretting about some impending responses to some important submissions due by the end of this month to blog much today). I love this post that references Schrodinger's Cat to explain why we fear opening the long awaited e-mail - opening it will clearly make it the dreaded 'no'. I laughed and then thought that is so true. Here at Nicola Morgan's blog she recommends we stop obsessing over perfecting our synopses and query letters. And I haven't finished reading this one yet by Sarah Rees Brennan but I want to read it and thought you might like to too.

Talk to you again soon :)

Monday, November 15, 2010

So 2010, were you a good year?

Ha ha - I just love the awkward silence after posting some of my writing up. I confess the piece I posted comes some way through a novel so it seems a little legless because there is no set up for the reader at this stage. Completing this novel is one of the things I have achieved this year. That's right folks, its time to reflect on the year that's been now it is nearing the end. At the end of last year my plan was to finish some of my bigger writing projects, keep submitting, including to overseas publishers and do another university paper. I've done the university paper. I completed two of my bigger projects - one I am very happy with and one that still needs work to iron out some kinks and fudges. I embarked on a new project after bravely pursuing and successfully getting a contract for it. I had some rejections, some bearable, some hard, I had an unexpected success and there are still some submissions out there from the beginning of the year. An anthology of short stories including two of mine came out last month (Pick 'n' Mix Volume 1, Scholastic NZ). I conducted a half day 'writing for children' workshop for adults, have done several talks to adult groups, have been invited to three or four schools for author visits and have run a creative writing extension programme at the local intermediate school which ironically was extended. I have been part of the most wonderful fun writing project which is now sadly coming to an end (the story is nearly complete - the last chapter will be posted next week) which you can read here at . I joined facebook and have made friends here and overseas. I am on the organising committee for a conference for children's writers and illustrators to be held in Auckland next April - Spinning Tales (check it out here). I have learned more about writing, I have kept writing and I have learned more about presenting and public speaking. I have learned how to drive over the harbour bridge. It would be fair to say it's been a busy year. All in all its been a good year. What about you? Have you been busy? Have you completed a project? Have you submitted your work? Had a great result? Done something new or different? I am going to pat myself on the back and give myself a treat. You should too. Bring on 2011

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Just a little taster...

Here's some of my writing from a recent project.

I hung my school bag off the back of a kitchen chair and helped myself to some biscuits from the cupboard. A packet of store bought chocolate chip ones. I tore the plastic wrapper along the length and sitting down, placed them in the centre of the table. Alex turned the seat opposite me around and sat in it back to front, leaning forward to grab a handful of the cookies.

The back door opened and Gemma walked through.

“Hey,” she said, doing that upward nod of acknowledgement thing before surveying the kitchen table and picking up the last few biscuits for herself. “You guys are pigs.”

I smirked. Alex ran his fingernail along a groove in the table top.

“When’s dad home?” Gemma asked, opening the fridge and grabbing the chocolate milk. She poured herself a glass, her schoolbag still slung on her back.

I shrugged. “Late. I’m cooking dinner.”

“I hate nacho’s” Gemma said as she walked through to the sitting room, glass of milk in one hand, biscuits in the other.

“You can cook if you want,” I called after her retreating figure, but the only reply I got was the jangly theme tune of her favourite afternoon TV programme wafting through the open doorway.

I watched Alex keep digging away at the groove, his long fringe obscuring his face as he bent forward.

“Don’t break my kitchen table,” I ventured.

“Shut up.”

They’d broken up. No fight, no discussion. It was just over. But Alex hadn’t been out with anyone else since. We didn’t talk about it.

After Alex gapped it to make tennis practice in time, I wandered into the sitting room.

“Dad’s looking at another house after work tonight,” I said flopping on to the couch beside my sister.

“Hope its better than the last one he looked at,” she scowled. “I want a bigger bedroom.”

“As long as it’s close to school … and we don’t move until after exams,” I said, grabbing the remote and flipping through the channels. The X Games was on one of the sports channels. I have to get my bike fix vicariously now. They put a couple of screws in my wrist and I’m off the bike for at least six months. It aches a lot. My freestyle riding career is on hold.

I ran my hand over the bristles popping out on my scalp. I liked the way they felt.

“Does it itch?” Gemma asked.

I looked over at her. Dark circles framed her eyes. The summer sun hadn’t made any impact yet on her paleness. I don’t know that it had the power to put some colour on her.

“Not anymore … Kim’s getting used to it now too. She likes the fuzz better than what it was like before anyway.” When I cut all my hair off, I shaved every last bit and my scalp had been baby-butt smooth.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

self doubt sober...

The other day a writery friend said she'd been feeling 'rubbish as a writer' (paraphrased for my younger readers). She is a published author of a fantastic picture book and has more books coming out. She is skilled and imaginative and clever with her writing.

If you are serious about writing it is likely you have experienced doubt about your skills at some point. Someone once said that feeling doubtful about your abilities or the product of your writing was a good sign. They suggested that a good writer will question what they have written, and that those who never ask if their writing could be better are the ones who probably need to question it the most. I suspect this is only true to a certain extent. The supremely confident are not always self-deluded. There are always exceptions to rules and thank goodness there are. If there weren't exceptions to rules I doubt there would be any life forms on this planet, let alone humans. Anyway, I digress, where was I....oh that's right...self-doubt. So there will be a lucky few good/successful writers out there who feel perpetually confident. The rest of us, (far and away the majority I'm sure) have those moments, moments that sometimes stretch out to horrible days, weeks or maybe months, where we feel unhappy with what we have written, where no amount of mental massaging makes the sequence of words any more appealing in our eyes, where we are sure we will never get published/be published again. Or someone reads your most beloved, precious manuscript and says, "well, yes, that was...interesting," (as happened to me the other day) and your heart sinks. We read or re-read our favourite books by the most fabulous authors (hers was Suzanne Collins. I go for Neil Gaiman, Ian Rankin, or JK Rowling or Meg Rosoff or Lauren Child, or the guy who writes the Olivia books or...oh God I'm depressed) and say 'look how good this is, I'll never be able to write this well'. We take to our beds, pull the covers over our heads cos then we're invisible, experience a sharp decline and mutter about never writing again.

So, what to do when self-doubt strikes? First a piece of chocolate. Then, pat yourself on the back a bit and say soothingly, "thank goodness, I'm normal." Then hide all the books by all your favourite authors in a room that you can lock. Hand the key to someone trustworthy and tell them not to give it back until you are no longer 'self-doubt sober'. As soon as you are drunk on confidence the keys can be handed back and you can read anything you like.

But seriously? There is no cure. Self-doubt happens. But remember self-doubt also passes. Remember it is good to question what you have written. It is good to ask, "can I make this better?" It is good to push yourself to work harder and improve what you have written. When you are feeling in the grips of self-doubt step away from the best writers. Go look at the book that always reminds you you can write better then that. Go look at the piece of your own writing you've always liked best. The one that makes you smile, the one that made you think, yes I can write, the one that makes you choke up because the emotions are so convincing. And when your confidence is restored get out a book by your favourite writer and remind yourself what it is your aiming for. Go write people. You can do it!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Books deserve more...

One of the reasons I have been slaving over the Diploma of Children's Literature is to give me a greater understanding of the heart beating inside children's books. Should I get the chance to review books in future I want to be able to give potential readers guidance in choosing good books (and other kinds of books if they so choose). I want to give readers a taste of what's inside without giving anything away. I want them to feel a twinge of excitement about where reading the book might take them. I want to perhaps give them a key to getting more out of their reading experience without taking away from that experience. Its a big ask. Reviewing is a responsibilty I would not take lightly. Thats why I am learning what I can about approaching books with an objective eye, a reader's eye, rather than the writer's eye I am so familiar with right now. I like to keep informed about the books that are coming out. I discuss new books with other people. I read them. I read what others have said about them. I try and respect the time and effort that has gone into every book whether I like it or not. Its not enough to say I like it or I don't like it. Books deserve more.

Here are some rules I keep in mind when writing. None of them are about the use of commas or adjectives or dialogue. They are rules that over the years, I have realised, keep my writing going in the right direction. You might be surprised.

1. Keep it simple
2. Less is more
3. Trust your intuition
4. Have faith the right solution will come
5. The more you give the more you receive
6. Friends are the greatest wealth
7. You can never read too many books

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pick this...

Note: For those of you who didn't know, growing like Topsy is a reference from Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

I got my final university assignment back in the post today. I was very happy. My SO called me a girlie swot. One of the benefits of having a paper completely internally assessed is that I get to see what the tutor thought of my efforts. I like that his comments on my essays and tasks push my understanding even further. I learnt something extra from his feedback. I wouldn't have had that in an exam.

Some of you will already know I now have a picture book coming out next year. I love this story. I mentioned it a while back in this blog with a brief excerpt - The House That Went to Sea. I am so very happy it will be a book. It has happened very quickly (I sent the manuscript off less then a month ago). I am excited to see what the illustrator comes up with. I now have to put head down and bum up to get finishing my World War Two chapter book. The trail went a little cold while I waited for the publisher to decide whether they would definitely take this story, then it got a little more distant while I worked furiously to finish my university assignments. My task now is to quickly bring myself back up to speed with where I was at and where I'm going next, and fall into a pattern, a rhythm of regular writing to complete it. I still feel in touch with the 'voice' and my direction, so it should be reasonably straight forward. I am not sure what I will go on to after that is finished by April next year. Maybe, I hope, a proper holiday ( I will be writing over christmas - even when we go away - to meet my deadline).

I think I might wander up to my local indie bookshop (the fabulous TimeOut) and see if they have the new Scholastic Short Story Anthology with some of my stories in, Pick 'n Mix: Volume One. I haven't seen it yet and I am curious. I have recently been pondering the idea of doing an e-book of my children's short stories. I have an 8,000 word story that has received praise but no publication offers yet, that I think would go in a collection quite nicely, along with the fifteen or so published and unpublished short stories I've accumulated over the years. I will be exploring the mechanics and process of publishing an e-book and will let you know what I discover and how I get on.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It wasn't the story that needed to change...

Been mightily distracted by the horrible state of affairs regarding the filming of The Hobbit over the last week. I wish I could convey to Warner Brothers Studios how much keeping these movies in New Zealand means to so many people here. I am shocked that the actions of a shortsighted few people can have devastating consequences for thousands of people. What did they think was going to happen? What arrogance to imagine their own interests would be automatically embraced by the rest of the acting, film making, and general communities. And why these films? The sad thing is that its blown up in their faces but the fallout is the size of our whole country. Sigh. Sad times.

On a completely different note I was thinking some more about the whole 'flogging a dead horse' issue. You definitely do not want to be spending precious time and energy going over and over and over the same story that may never be the one as far as a publisher is concerned. As a writer you have to find some litmus test for yourself that says a story is finished. I trust my gut instinct (and am generally like to err on the side of slightly underdone anyway - like a good medium rare steak - slightly blushing on the inside). Maybe you need to limit the number of drafts any story can go through. Find what works for you, but acknowledge that the polishing process is never-ending if we let it be. There are things I would change about most of my stories in print (although I am at least content with most of my short stories) but they were publishable without that extra titivation.

On the other hand sometimes it takes a long time to find the right home for a story. This is not about polishing and re-polishing the story until it shines with a blinding light. This is about keeping the faith that your story is good and sending it out despite previous rejections. We've all heard the story about how many times the first Harry Potter book was rejected before Bloomsbury took the risk. Its happened to me too, on a somewhat smaller scale of course. But there was no questioning the enthusiasm of the publisher for my manuscript. And it wasn't that I edited the story after previous rejections - the story stayed the same. It wasn't the story that needed to change.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bazinga! I learnt something...

Every time I try and explain the mechanics of writing to someone else I learn something. Yesterday I chatted with the writing group at the local intermediate school - bazinga! I learnt something (about the benefits for your plot in knowing your main protagonist). Today I gave a one-on-one workshop with a keen writer and - bazinga! I learnt something (about knowing your main protagonist and achieving the right voice for your story). If you are serious about making writing your career you should be talking about it with other people. You will learn things, make discoveries, have epiphanies quicker and more frequently if you are sharing your experience with others (ideally other writers!!). Sometimes it's merely confirming something you already believed. Sometimes clarity comes when you try and explain something to someone else. Sometimes you see something in a new light when someone else shines their metaphorical torch on it. I have leapt forward with my writing by making writer friends and keeping in touch with them. You can too.

Loved this juicy link courtesy of someone who exemplifies my point above. I love belonging to the children's writers and illustrators community in New Zealand and around the world - they really are a quality brand of folk.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I'm sorry Madam, that horse was dead some time back...

Finished my last university assignment and posted it off. I had reached that point where I no longer wanted to look at it. It would have to do, as it was. As much as exams can be a drag, when you are writing hell-for-leather trying to show everything you know on the topic in 3 hours or less finesse flies out the window. This can be a good thing. Cos when the assessment is 100% based on assignments where 'theoretically' you have the time to massage and polish your work into a hard shiny gem all that finessing starts to wear you down. I get a related feeling about my creative writing. There comes a point when I feel as if I am polishing for the sake of polishing, editing because other people do 5 or ten edits before they submit it to a publisher, not because it's what the story needs. There are times when I observe other writers still polishing the same story year after year, trying to make it shiny enough to dazzle a publisher. Sometimes this is the right thing to do. A while back I linked to writer Steven Parrish who worked and reworked his story over a number of years until it was accepted. He had faith in his story and feedback he'd received suggested he was close to the mark. But other people are putting a lot of time and energy into polishing pumice - folks that baby is never going to shine. How do you know which group you fall into? It can be incredibly hard to tell. The kind of feedback you are getting might tell you but this is not foolproof. 39 publishers might pass with a form rejection and the 40th publisher will whoop with delight when they read your story and won't be able to ring you up fast enough. Or no amount of rubbing and cutting will make any difference. One thing I can be sure of is that if you want to have a writing career you will need more then one story. If you work on only one story till it is published you will have nothing to follow it up with. Sometimes working on something new will help you see how to fix something old. Sometimes it is your growth as a writer that makes all the difference. Try writing something fresh and new - a little holiday can make all the difference.

On the flip side of the coin sometimes we want to move on but can't get started. Writers are easily frightened by a blank page. They often get that manic stare, that possum-in-the-headlights look (which often precedes that flattened feeling), and have the five coffee jitters. Its closely related to the will-I-ever-get-published-again neurosis. I've been there and knew I needed help when I started looking for strait jackets in my size (10-12 with plenty of room across the shoulders). Experience has taught me that 'dithering' is a normal part of the process. Sure some writers are really disciplined, or like little sausage factories writing vast quantities of words every day and it works for them but I know I will have days where I have nothing to put on the page. And that's ok. Its only not okay when you fret about it. The minute you give your fear some attention it feeds on it and grows like Topsy (name that reference to win a prize of my choosing). Go watch some bad TV or read a bad book. You'll be back at the page in no time knowing you can do better then that.

BTW Nicola Morgan has had some fabulous advice on dialogue on her blog recently. Check it out here and here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why conferences are good for you...

We are now at the delicious point of getting all our speakers/presenters on board for Spinning Tales next April in Auckland. If you are unsure whether you should attend an event like this consider the following goodies available to you. 1) a chance to meet with other children's writers and illustrators. I cannot stress enough how important this is. If you are serious about writing and/or illustrating for children one of the best things you can do is join that community. We share information that may help you get published. We encourage and support each other, share the good news and commiserate over the bad. We give feedback on each other's work. We laugh a lot and sometimes drink wine together. 2) a chance to meet, pitch to, or at least put a face to the name of NZ (and hopefully some Australian) publishers and agents. There will be many of them in one place. This does not happen too often. I have benefited from meeting publishers in person. 3) a chance to hear experienced and successful children's writers and illustrators share their wisdom and ask them questions. They live in far away spots all around New Zealand and are usually busy writing, illustrating or promoting their work. At Spinning Tales they will be talking to YOU. 4) a chance to live, breath and talk nothing but children's books for a whole weekend, without anyone saying "can you please put nutella on my toast" or "where is my striped top" or "I'm bored". You can have a look at some of the details here and register your interest while you are at it. I can't wait!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The sum of its parts...

Second week of the holidays, I'm slowly chipping away at the tasks that need doing, and hanging with my kids. Saw 'The Other Guys' with them at the movies yesterday which I thought was less than the sum of all its parts. And too slow. Edit people, edit! Some genuinely funny bits in there as well but not enough to get the movie a big thumbs up from me. I've been watching a bit of the Australian version of the X-Factor lately and I have to say the whole x factor philosophy/psychology goes a long way to explaining why some things succeed, from books, to movies, to singers, actors etc ... Its chutzpah, magnetism, charisma. Its why even when they are standing at the back of the chorus some people just stand out. Its what publishers are looking for when they read your manuscript. Is your story more than the sum of all its parts?

Finished reading 'Wasted' by Nicola Morgan. Great writing. Compelling and complete characters. Intriguing narrative voice, although sometimes I was more conscious of this than I wanted to be. The author makes the story predictable as she explores its central themes - issues of fate, chance and luck - and challenges the reader to toss a coin to decide the outcome of certain events. And this predicability ultimately raises questions and gives possible answers about the randomness of life. Very smart stuff. An important book for young adults I think.

I also finished 'Surrender', this year's inaugural Pindar Prize winner by Donna Malane. At first I was conscious of a few gumshoe style cliches but as the first person narrative voice kicked in these fell by the wayside. The story is fast paced and exciting with plenty of character development to keep readers satisfied and two parallel running mysteries provide plenty of interest. The author wrapped things up well at the end although I had guessed who one of the bad guys was (I inherited this skill from my mother who always figured out the bad guy before the end of the movie or tv programme). The only jarring note for me was the descriptions of pain experienced by the central protag but this was a minor niggle in what was an otherwise
entertaining and well written read.

Had a fun morning at the Mt Roskill Library reading The Were-Nana at last saturday's storytime, a special one devoted to grandparents. That's me in action up the top of this post. Children's book lovers and librarian's, Marion and Danielle run a great programme and local library goers cannot help but be infected by their enthusiasm.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Enrol me? ...

Interesting times. I had an exciting phone call last week. There will be further discussions next week. I will fill you in once there is an outcome - whichever way it goes.

Went to an Auckland Branch NZSA meeting last night. Was interested to find there were three speakers lined up to discuss their respective creative writing courses: Jack Ross of Massey University which is starting up a new Masters of Creative Writing next year (will be available extramurally which is cool), Brian Morris of the NZ Institute of Business Studies which offers a range of writing courses and Paul Mountfort from AUT's Master of Creative Writing. I was disappointed to find neither of the masters courses included children's or YA writing, although when asked Mr Mountfort did not rule out the possibility of including writers for children on the course. I did not get the chance to ask Mr Ross. I applied to the AUT masters course a few years ago and was advised they weren't able to cater to Children's writers at that point. No matter. These courses are not essential to learn the craft of writing and become published. You cannot teach talent and a diploma or degree will not make a publisher accept your work. Writers do need to share their work before submission though, and their work will benefit from the identification and weeding out of obvious weaknesses. There are basic elements of writing that must be learned: basic grammar, technique, and issues of voice, plotting, tense, POV, character development, setting, tone and dialogue, etc... And I believe it is important to have a group of like minded-individuals with whom you can discuss specifics, generalities, industry gossip and opportunities and a course can be a great place to meet these people. And sometimes all you need to move forward is a little confidence. A course can provide some or all of these things. Will completing the course take you closer to publication? It is impossible to say. A boat load of reading, a boat load of writing and a boat load of submissions will probably give you the same chances. I find myself doing a fair amount of writing teaching these days. I've learnt a lot through doing and passing on what I have learned has forced me to clarify the mechanics of how I write. I've achieved some of the things the course might have given me through alternative channels. Folks, do what feels right for you. I'm off to write a book.

ps I believe there will be more speakers discussing other courses at the next Auckland NZSA meeting in November.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

I should be writing an essay, and doing the small writing project that is due, like yesterday, and getting stuck in to my novel that I now have a contract (and a deadline) for. (Ha ha - I am so going to hell in a hand-cart). Somehow I know I will get these things done, hopefully close enough to the deadlines to not annoy anyone too much. Having a contract is a huge psychological boost - a confirmation of commitment, a vote of confidence - a little like a flak jacket for my writer's heart that will protect me from rejection bullets that fly over the parapet from time to time. September is almost over and with it the intense programme of activities that was just a little too stressful. Magically, with the advent of daylight saving last Sunday, the Spring switch was (finally) simultaneously flipped and the weather has been sunny and mild and rather lovely. It really is hard not to have a sunny disposition under these conditions. A few days ago I was looking at my writing with a very jaundiced eye, thinking 'who am I trying to kid' especially after a disappointing result for one particular project but with the contract and a new enthusiasm for another project and this gentle Spring weather, today I think I can...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Planning a nice little staycation these holidays...

sitting down for 5 minutes ... whew! What a week -

Monday I braved the harbour bridge without navigator/wing man/person to squeeze my hand and offer me reassurance during the tricky bits, to attend my first Spinning Tales (2011 Children's Writers and Illustrators Conference/Gathering) Committee meeting. Got invited to jump on board and as they were two members down thought an extra pair of hands might be handy. I am a closet bossy britches and congenitally interfering sort happy to offer my two cents worth until the piggy bank runs dry so naturally gravitate towards committees. So far I feel like I've made a couple of useful contributions and have put my hand up to run the pitching sessions. Folks go here to register your interest in attending this amazing networking and career furthering opportunity next April. There will be a great pitching session organised by moi where you can dazzle publishers (and agents?) with your fabulous manuscript pitch. Start paring down your synopsis/hook/tag line now to fit into 3 to 5 minutes so you are all ready to go next year. There will be prebooking on line before April and gentle support and encouragement offered on the day. I pitched at Spinning Gold and can advise on the amount of Rescue Remedy required to get through, and regale you with tales of how pale everyone looked beforehand and how relieved and proud of themselves everyone was afterwards.

Tuesday I took my middle child to her follow up visit to the oral surgeon who checked out the holes left behind by the removal of six teeth and the four screws now emerging from her gums. We were both thrilled and relieved to find out we would not have to return for another appointment. That afternoon I had my last workshop (number 6 in the series) with the talented budding writers of the local Intermediate only to find they have asked the Deputy School Principal if I can come back for some more sessions with them. I felt most loved and appreciated. They are a great bunch of kids, serious about writing, enthusiastic and very switched on.

Wednesday I took both my girls to the orthodontist (yay - it was the last visit for eldest), delivered them to school, went home, delivered middle child's baking back to school, went home, ran around like a mad thing doing domestic chores and drove down to the airport for a 3.30 flight to Wellington where I was met by the fabulous Ms Colston and her crafty friend Norelle - both finalists in the World of Wearable Arts Awards and after some titivation and sprucing we hied ourselves off to the dress rehearsal. Attending one of these WOW shows should be on everyone's bucket list. I sat riveted for more than two hours through the most delicious spectacle full of the most amazing creations. I was truly WOWed. Thank you so very much to Fifi for inviting me to this wonderful event and to both Fifi and her SO Adrian for putting me up in Wellington.

Thursday after chatting with Fifi before she had to dash off to work, and then Adrian who showed me this smart view (scroll down to the talk by Sir Ken Robinson) on education which I totally agreed with, I was dropped into Wellington City for coffee with Wellington authors Maureen Crisp, Fleur Beale and Philippa Werry - bliss. I trotted off afterwards for an hour or two of wandering around Te Papa (yay the childrens shop had my book The Were-Nana) before heading back to the airport and home. In the meantime Maureen had forwarded this link to me on why blogging is such a good idea. Thanks Maureen! Back in Auckland I whipped up dinner (rats - the water was too hot and killed the yeast in my very flat pizza dough) before meeting with Auckland authors Tania Hutley, Jill Marshall and Dawn Grant to farewell soon to be ex-Auckland author Kathy White. Lots of booky gossip in two cities made me feel authory to the bone.

Friday I went a-school-visitin' to Sancta Maria Primary in Flatbush, also meeting up with new author Leonie Agnew who is a teacher there. The children were just so passionate about books and I got to hear some of them read out their stories. Excellent work guys! In the evening I learned Fifi had won third place in her category. Go check out her brilliant entry at the WOW winners pages (titled Lady Curiousity), inspired by Rachel King's book Magpie Hall.

Today (Saturday) I took my middle child (she had some tickets after filling goodie bags as a job a few weekends before) to Fashion Week's Garage Sale where we scored some fashionable bargains at Stolen Girlfriends Club and Lonely Hearts. This evening it is her dance performance at the The Performing Arts Centre in Western Springs. Tomorrow I have a critique group meeting. Next week it is school holidays. We will be having a staycation at home.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Current status?...grovelly...

It finally happened. My brain got so full, some things fell out. My current MO is to apologise a lot. I'm sorry I forgot. I'm sorry I have to postpone this. I'm sorry I'm not on time. I'm sorry I put you in this position. Current status? - grovelly. Ah well. I's doin my best under tricky circumstances. I always knew September was going to be a bit overwhelming and it has only got more so - more appointments, more tasks, more responsibilities. Bring on October I say. Of course this is when my mobile phone decides to pack a sad and die on me. I've already picked out a new one. Its red which makes it go faster.

A happy spot or three for me - last weekend I got to see my eldest compete in The Allstar Cheerleading Spring Carnival. We sold off our last fundraising hot dog by 7pm and sat through the performances of the final four teams, two of whom contain my daughter. Then it was prize giving. Both teams did well and one of them won top overall team. Yay!! My son is off doing what he loves best, competing in another soccer tournament in Taupo this weekend and my middle child, who has been invited to move up a class for Screen Acting, is dancing next saturday at the Performing Arts Centre. And tonite its just me and my sweet honey bee, with the boys away and eldest off to a party in Southside. We are plotting takeaways from Burger Fuel and a mini Harry Potter film festival.

And the release of the short story anthology, Pick 'nMix: Vol. 1 (Scholastic NZ) in November is getting close enough for me to feel that twinge of delicious anticipation. There is at least one of my stories in there (Smart Soup) and maybe two (The Man With the Dog Eye), and some of my Fabo writery pals (Tania and Kathy) have stories in there too. The book looks real pretty and I'll load up a picture as soon as I make this disobedient technology bend to my will. Volume 2 is coming out next February. Yeehah.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wasted White Cat...

Finished White Cat by Holly Black way too fast - sigh. Thoroughly enjoyed this clever YA tale and discovered that not all my guesses about what was to happen were correct, yay. With the hushed-up murder of a young girl on his hands several years earlier, 17 year old Cassel Sharpe is being stalked by a white cat and hassled by his dysfunctional magic working family while trying to live a normal life. What is really going on? Where does the cat come from and why are there gaps in Cassel's memories? Young Cassel will have the girls swooning and the plot is smart, credible and just the right amount of complex. Ms Black has thought out her alternate reality very well and I was highly impressed with her attention to detail and the lengths she went to for authenticity (you'll have to read the acknowledgements for that one). The first in a trilogy (so apparently the trilogy format is not yet dead), I, for one, will be lining up for book two - Red Glove - next year. Now I'm on to Nicola Morgan's Wasted and have been disturbed by the coincidences I've been experiencing since beginning this book, which has as it's central theme the idea of chance, luck and fate. Fascinating stuff. I shall let you know what I think when I am finished.

Have been getting some unexpected and lovely feedback recently on my picture books. Was delighted to hear my first pb, Clever Moo, was being used in the classroom to teach writing at an Auckland primary school, and The Were-Nana gained some new fans in Hamilton. I've been invited to read The Were-Nana for a special storytime on October 2nd at 11am at the Mt Roskill Library and Pt England School have done a super podcast on The Were-Nana which you can check out here. I especially love how when students Brooke and Selina read the part about Simon scaring his sister with a spider on her plate, ask the question who's brother would do that and both agree that their brother would. Siblings do all sorts of things to each other, including mean and scary things and I like to explore these kinds of things in my writing. Its great to know that readers relate to the family dynamics I portray.

Congrats to fellow writer and faboist, Kyle Mewburn, who is the next University of Otago, College of Education, Children's Writer in Residence. And if you haven't checked it out lately, you should go see where our crazy tale The Visitor's has gone at (now up to chapter 8). Love the ruby encrusted lingerie - those are some big gems!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I need a holiday...

Feeling a bit stressed at the moment - my men are away on a week long soccer jaunt to the beautiful port city of Tauranga, the SO coaching and the son playing at an intermediate schools multi-sport tournament. All rather cool really but I can tell you right now by the end of the week we are ALL going to be shattered and there is a soccer tournament for the SO's team (will he play, my bionic knee boy? - I don't know) on Saturday and my eldest's cheerleading competition on Sunday at which I am helping all day with fundraising for more overseas travel for her. Eldest starts school exams tomorrow which go for most of next week too and today my middle child is having six teeth out, including two still up in her gums. I am working on an essay and have some writing to do when I am not driving offspring around for appointments. I am sure the dog is having murderous thoughts as there is not enough time for his regular walks. I fear waking in the night to find him standing over me with a cocked revolver. Of course I can't begin to imagine how those living in Christchurch must be feeling right now after last Saturday's devastating earthquake. So, so very lucky that no lives were lost but so much destruction and the daily fabric of life ripped to shreds. I have been impressed by how the machine of repair and restoration has smoothly swung into action but normalcy looks to be still some time away.

Ideas are afraid of me right now. If they appear inside my head they bounce around like an agitated electron, unable to stop for more then a few seconds at a time. I can't seem to settle to anything. My one relief at the moment (the one thing I don't have time for and shouldn't be doing but if I don't I may explode) is reading Holly Black's White Cat - okay I think I figured out the main plot twist after the first page and I reckon I know what is going to happen and why, but I DON'T CARE. The writing is so sweet and delicious and mind feeding that I am bowling along at a rate of knots thoroughly enjoying the experience. I may just have to post up a short review when I am finished and let you know if my assumptions were correct (not that I would ever reveal what those assumptions actually were). If my brain doesn't explode and my head doesn't fall off normal transmission will return next week.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Laughable myths and sobering truths....

Interesting post today over at Nicola Morgan's blog, Help! I Need a Publisher. The life of a writer is shrouded in laughable myths and sobering truths but as Nicola says its good to be prepared.

In my last post I mentioned my submission explosion (waiting on thirteen things not 12, as first reported) and this got me to wondering. It is most unlikely that I should get a bunch of yeses but if for arguments sake I got a yes from every different publisher I've submitted to for different projects (which is possible but as i said, most unlikely) I would have 7 new different publishers (plus my current one). While I seriously don't think I have anything to worry about it occured to me that this might be considered bad form. On the one hand I write in more than one genre and not all publishers publish all things. Even if they do chapter books and picture books, they may not publish all variety of picture books. Not all publishers of chapter books publish YA. They might do fantasy but not historical or contemporary. Not all publishers do short story anthologies. One publisher may not like every story I come up with. It is acceptable then, if you write across different genre that you may have more than one publisher. But what happens if they have overlaps in what they publish. Who gets first dibs? Does it come back to the best contract? What kind of loyalty can be asked and expected? I'm thinking my submission explosion might lead to a brain explosion before it leads to anything else. From my point of view, for each of my stories I want the publisher who feels the most passionate about it to take it on (they're unlikely to take it on otherwise). And a good working relationship between author and publisher is essential. It's not my intention to annoy any publishers, but my goal for each and every one of my book babies is publication and if this means multiple publishers then I will do my best to work out any kinks that may crop up as I go along. I like to think that the more books of mine that are published, the more each publisher may benefit and every one would be happy. That's the plan.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The sap is rising...

Must be Spring. How can I tell? I posted off my funding application on friday, I sent off a flurry of submissions (12 in total out at the moment, mostly to overseas publishers), I finished off my fourth assignment for my studies and got organised for the two final essays, and then I bought an embarrassingly large quantity of books at the local indy bookshop today, including Wasted by one of my favourite bloggers, Nicola Morgan. My eldest sister (part inspiration for a picture book of mine) made a comment yesterday that has my creative brain frothing with interest and on monday night the Fabo Team received an e-mail from a fabo participant which included this paragraph:

By the way you are my inspiration because since the FaBo story started I decided I want to be an author. Keep up the good writing and continue to write and maybe I can be an author.

I never anticipated how children might respond to our crazy writing experiment. I was hopeful they would want to join in the fun but results so far (not even half way through yet) have exceeded my expectations and I was thrilled to find how much it is inspiring some kids. If you'd like to see what its all about click here . The quality of the children's writing is very high. Make a note of the names of these kids - they are the writers of the future for sure.

Yet again Maureen Crisp has found some wise advice on the intramawebby you should be checking out - two items needed in every author's book promotion toolbox.

Had fun yesterday with a small but dedicated crew of intermediate students in our third workshop together, with the highlight a diversionary discussion on the significance of the book titles of a particular series.Fascinating for everyone concerned I think. Looking forward to next week.

Oh, and huge congratulations to fellow fabo team-mate and all round excellent writer Brian Falkner for winning the Sir Julius Vogel Science Fiction YA Award for his book Brainjack. Brilliant stuff.

I'm off to smell the new grass - the aroma of vigor and potential. Quite a heady fragrance.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Who de we write for?...

I am not getting much writing time at the moment. Still another assignment due (should be finished tomorrow or next day I hope) and there are two essays due by October 20th. I am keen to get stuck in on the contracted book but can't, quite yet. My offspring are up to their eyeballs (and mine) in out-of-school activities. If I charged for taxi driving duties I would be nicely rich. September is almost solidly booked out with tournaments, competitions, and events. I am at the top of the stairs leading to the longest slipperiest slide you have ever seen and yes my heart is pounding and my knees knocking out a lively little ditty. I am closing my appointment diary on October.

Although they are keeping me busier than I want to be, my studies are interesting, enlightening and ultimately motivating. Read an article in my study guide by Mem Fox yesterday about who we write for. Here is a little of what she said:

As a writer for very young children I often struggle with the question: just who am I supposed to be writing for?

Do I write for publishers, so they can make a dollar? Do I write for the critics, so they can make smart remarks? Is it for the bookshops, so they can pay their rent? Or is it for academics, so they can deconstruct the text, write articles and seek promotion? Is it for the bestseller lists and the book awards so they can make or break me? Or is it for librarians and teachers, so they can use my books in some teaching/learning program they're planning? Do I write for illustrators, so they can share my royalties? Or is it for parents, so they can do the right educational thing by their children? Or do I simply write for me, so I can pay the mortgage I've saddled myself with? Or, in the final analysis, do I write for the very young children so they may be enchanted, informed and comforted? The answer to each and every one of these questions is: yes. To write at all is to write for everyone.

How ever, while I know that when I write I cannot control my audiences nor ignore them, I know my primary audience must be very young children. If others read my work meanwhile, so be it; but if I consciously write for all those others I'll find that failure is all that I achieve...

...It is far, far better to ache with caring for the children for whom I write, to keep those little kids firmly in mind, far away from the ubiquitous bottom lines on the bank statements, to see their wide eyes and bright faces, to imagine them curled up in bed, caressed by parental voices, or sitting cross-legged on the mat in school as a teacher reads the words aloud, weaving the magic spells of literacy.

I am writing to conjure young under-five-year-old children into loving reading, to inform them, to entertain them, to enchant and affect them, to provide escapist delight, to challenge values and assumptions, to present my own values, to assist in the development of literacy, to make them feel good about themselves and their world, to present hope and ideals and possibilities, and to enhance relationships between reader and read-to.

Ok, so a touch more cynical in places than I can manage but I will not argue with the last two paragraphs.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A new book, by me

The publisher has said yes to a chapter book I am writing. Publication date (unless the wheels fall off) is March 2012. Although experience has taught me that things can change I am going to savour this moment. For the 10 to 12 year old reader, this is the project I have mentioned before that is very dear to my heart and I am excited it will be in print.

One of the issues many writers can face is the feeling of powerlessness. Stories are essential to the publishers but they are spoilt for choice. Chatting with some writer friends yesterday, one described her recent strategy for dealing with that issue. She has now developed an action plan which has given her back some control over her situation. I realised that I had come to the same conclusion/result via a different route. Over the last month or two I have been advocating for myself, asking questions, and putting myself forward. The results have all been positive and in addition I have to say I feel very proud of myself. Too many times in the past I have been a shrinking violet but the funny thing is when you take more control and act confident people treat you differently, and in a good way. I know my new approach won't always have positive results but at least I'll know I tried. I might fail if I try, but I can guarantee I will fail if I don't try. Don't hang back in the shadows people, no one can see you there!!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Because folks, what doesn't kill me makes me stronger...

I am trying to wrangle a Creative New Zealand funding application into submission. I swear when I look at the guidelines the words magically transform into a foreign language that I do not understand. Or I am missing the 'funding application' gene in my body that decodes the information appropriately so I can digest it and gain the nutrients from it. Sigh. I have applied before to no avail but I do have the dominant form of the 'glutton for punishment' gene (I am a writer) so I am doing it all over again. And as I have not been successful in the past it does not seem wise to do it the way I've done it before. I have obviously not decoded the guidelines correctly in the past so I must try and read them differently. I have a couple of things on my side this time - a project at the right size of gestation, for a start. No matter what, I continue to have hope...maybe this time...

Anonymous asked how the bottle opener story (aka The House That Went To Sea) was faring and I must report that despite several attempts and some favourable comments it has failed to find a home so far. It is winging its way overseas to a US publisher at the moment as I continue to try and find someone who loves this story as much as I do. No matter how good I think it is, it must convince a publisher that it will delight enough potential readers to make them buy it and then tell their friends about it so they buy it too. There are so many other factors at play as well. Do they have something similar just published? Can they convince the educational market to buy into it if it is a more sophisticated book, is it super fresh but not too edgy/different/weird that people just don't know what to make of it. Are they just looking for something else although they don't know what that something else is but they don't think this is it. Is your brain tied in knots from all the possible permutations that lead to a no? Are you tired now? I think this book is different but not too weird. Its uplifting and cute and funny in places. It conjures up some cool images. It has good themes. There is nothing 'wrong' with it. This is when perserverence and patience might be the key. Time will tell.

Anonymous also asked how a successful author deals with rejection. I don't know. I am stuck on the idea that 'successful' equates with not having to deal with rejection. But for me, I know that being published in the past is no guarantee of being published again. Ideally each manuscript should be judged on its own merits. There are some books I've read that weren't judged on this basis but were published because of an author's previous success and it would have been better if the budget for that book had been put to better use. And while my manuscript might have merit I need to find a publisher who agrees. Being a bestseller makes you more desirable and I haven't had bestseller status - not yet anyway (its in the 50 year plan). I've won an award and been nominated for another but unless this translates into big sales this is no guarantee of anything either. There are a number of things I tell myself when I receive a no, that are designed to make me feel better. First I remind myself that I like what I wrote and I believe in it. The second thing is that it is better to have a publisher who feels the same as I do about my story who will turn it into a lovely book and want it to do well. The third thing is that the publishing industry is suffering in the recession like most other businesses (except possibly the manufacturers of prozac, chocolate and alcohol) and is in turmoil as it wrestles with new technology (and despite all the words about the demise of books and the surge in e-books, ipad apps and the kindle I have not yet met a child who uses any of that stuff). I refuse to give up on my good stuff and I have not yet exhausted all possibilities and the beauty of this business is that the longer I hang around in it the more I know about how it all works which makes me better equipped to exist within it and find new opportunities for my work. Because folks, what doesn't kill me makes me stronger. So I just package my darling up and send it out into the world again in search of new friends. One downside to rejection that I don't appreciate that I haven't yet figured out how to deal with is a growing cynicism. Cynicism is a poxy quality for a children's writer. If anyone knows how to dissolve cynicism please let me know.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I'm dreaming of tee-shirt weather...

I went visiting on Tuesday up to Murray's Bay School on the North Shore. With my trusty sidekick, new author Elena De Roo (her gorgeous picture book The Rain Train, illustrated by Brian Lovelock was launched on August 7th) by my side for some school visit observations, I talked to all the middle and senior classes and gave a workshop to a group of budding writers in the afternoon. The children were attentive and enthusiastic and I love how they continue to embrace books. Books rock. Where there are books, there is hope.

Today I'm starting a series of writing workshops with some older budding writers at the local intermediate school and tomorrow morning I'm off to chat with some fabostory enthusiasts at Maungawhau School. Whew. Its a busy week. On Sunday its the Auckland Storylines Family Day and I will be there (Aotea Centre, on level 3 I think?) on the Kiwiwritekidz table if you want to come and say hi, ask questions or pick up any fabostory writing tips.

I've recently had some good news (sorry this is embargoed till the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed) and some bad news - a 'no' on something that I thought was looking pretty good. I am allowing myself some grieving time and then I'm going to put this result in my past where it belongs and move forward with new submissions, and new writing, because really, what else can you do when you're a writer. I hate the no's. I hate that sinking feeling as you read the rejection and the sinking plummets from a greater height when its been a long wait. In rational moments I will remind myself that a longer consideration means the writing/story was in the ball park. And I will send this story out to another publisher to start the whole process all over again.

I am ready for some uninterrupted sunshine and some warmth. The first of September isn't far away. Bring on Spring I say...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Dear Bottle Opener...

Thanks to Old Kitty for reminding me of another lovely magical piece of writing. I think A.A.Milne has had a lot of stick over the years for his sentimentality (Dorothy Parker's 'tonstant reader fwowed up' comment comes to mind) but that bit Kitty quoted beautifully and succinctly sums up the true meaning of a good friend.

Here is something that I am rather fond of from my as yet unpublished picture book The House That Went to Sea about a shy boy Michael Mariner whose parents have disappeared while studying monkeys in the rain forests. Michael goes to stay with his grandmother in her cottage by the sea and one night granny pulls up the anchor and away the house sails...:-

Michael checked for mermaids, sharks and pirates before he dropped into the water. It wasn't quite as warm as a bath which was just as well, he thought, for you shouldn't use soap and shampoo in the sea. He frog-kicked around the house and when his fingers and toes got wrinkly, he climbed back on board. As he did so, a bottle with a message knocked at the porch.

The message read, 'Dear Bottle Opener, We were pushed in the sea by some bad tempered monkeys. The log we managed to cling to, took us to an island. We shall be available to be rescued any time after 3 o'clock on Friday.
Yours most sincerely
Mr and Mrs Mariner

Enjoyed this handy little guest blog on the topic of coincidence over at the Rejectionist. I like the last paragraph especially which wisely says that its okay to have coincidences in your stories but only if you make them believable.

Also found this lovely piece on the importance of doing your own thing as a writer over at Janet Reid's blog. Like Sean Ferrell it took me a while to realise that I didn't have to write like other people wrote. I didn't have to follow their methods. Didn't have to do it the way they did to produce something good. I guess its a matter of confidence. Like shoe horning an ugly sisters foot into cinderella's shoe, its uncomfortable and impossible to walk forward. When I started out as a writer I spent a lot of time stressing that I couldn't do what needed to be done the way it should be done. Simultaneously I kept scribbling down things in my own cack-handed fashion and after a while the cack-handed stuff began to look better then the method writing. What an immense relief it was when I finally settled on the right shoe for me (nothing too orthopaedic or sensible) - how comfortable it felt and now I could walk a lot faster with ease, maybe even sprint or jog at times. I had to hand make that shoe myself but boy it fits like magic.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Proof of the existence of magic...

Sometimes when I am reading I come across a line in a book that is so cunning, and so lyrical it really does prove the existence of magic. I am re-reading Philip Pullman's Northern Lights for my university course at the moment and I came across this line yesterday which definitely proves it.

It was about as long as Lyra's thumb, and dark green, not black. Its wing cases were erect, like a ladybird's about to fly, and the wings inside were beating so furiously that they were only a blur. Its six clawed legs were scrabbling on the smooth glass.
"What is it?" she said.
"If you was to crack it open," said Farder Coram, "you'd find no living thing in there...There's a clockwork running in there, and pinned to the spring of it, there's a bad spirit with a spell through its heart."

Its kind of the holy grail, these sentences that blow our minds, that make us want to work harder and strive more to write these things ourselves. To touch this magic and reveal it for other readers. Sigh. I've been thinking about things I've written and sentences that I've been especially proud of. Sentences that have a hint of this kind of magic. I can't quite bring myself to post any up today, so close to Pullman's genius. Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. In the meantime I'd love to hear about the sentences that made you feel this way - in your own writing or the writing of others.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Grease is the word...

Chapter Three is now posted at fabostory with the most excellent artwork by ***** ****** (name embargoed in case we run an illustrator guessing comp). I would rather be a ***** ****** (btw the number of asterisks bears no relation to the number of letters in the illustrators name) picture than a Salvador Dali one right now.

My daughter finished reading my draft YA and gave it her seal of approval. She's been talking about it with her school mates and tells me they want to read it. So I started wondering if I should just do the e-book thing and my daughter promptly said none of her school friends have something to read an e-book on. So back to considering the traditional route, I am at that horrible point in the writing of a book when I need to turn it from a first draft into a final draft and I just can't face the prospect, I'm not sure why. I like this story and I'm happy with how the plot developed and finished up. I know its common practice to put a first draft away in a drawer for a few months to let it ripen like a smelly cheese but I have to say this is one writing rule I've never really followed. I want to get on with this one. A publisher has expressed an interest in having a look and I sent the first three chapters to another publisher some months back and if they do decide they'd like to see the whole thing its probably best I whip it in to shape as soon as possible. I have some other things that need working on and if I don't attend to the YA soon, it may be a while before I can get back to it. Update: I asked if they wanted to see it in its raw state and they said 'send it now' i did. As these things take a while to consider it makes sense to be doing the titivating whilst they weigh up the project. As I am happy with plot and voice and only working on improving grammar and style this seems sensible to me.

Took my YA reading daughter to a live performance of the musical Grease last night. It was loads of fun and she loved it. She has aspirations in that direction and felt very inspired by the whole thing. My only quibble - whenever we go see a movie or show together we always end up sitting next to, directly in front of, or behind the person with the hacking cough, the loud-voiced seat-kicking rudely-behaved children or the crying infant. I am acquiring some good aural blocking skills but I would rather I didn't need them.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My life is a Salvador Dali painting...

I feel like my life is a Salvador Dali painting but without any of the humour. It is all very surreal as I have been dragged unwillingly into the universe of that sad ass drooping clock. I thought for sure I would go mental about a month ago as I waited impatiently to hear back from anyone in any of the different publishing houses at which I have thrown my work. And here we are a month later and nothing has changed (except maybe that a bunch of publishing professionals have gone on holiday - at least three from three different houses - which pushes any decision making back another 3 or 4 weeks). My clock is definitely wilting. As Tim Roth (in-character) said on Lie to Me the other night, "patience is overrated." I'm with you Tim. I find the only reward for my patience has been more waiting. I am choosing to self medicate with chocolate, wine and DVD watching and managing to plod through the days in a weird kind of haze. How did Dali know?

And whats with all the mud. I spend too much time scrubbing mud out of boy clothes. That'll teach me for having a son, especially one who likes to wallow in the stuff (he does have a nice complexion though). Elinor Dashwood knew what she was talking about when she lamented that she was experiencing all the punishments of loving someone without any of the rewards. I feel that way about mud. I don't know that that was what Jane Austen was trying to tell us but it just goes to show her themes are timeless and widely applicable.

Loved this post over at fellow writer Tania Hutley's blog. I am curious to know what the website where Tania found that lovely quote is trying to sell. Luck perhaps?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Apparently I am an adult - surely i can write a story for them

Fabo has its first winners and the second chapter is now posted over at . One of my favourite things is all the children who have rocked up to participate in our crazy scheme. I am so impressed by what they are writing. It is quite a thrill to find so many book loving, great writing kids. My second favourite thing are the illustrations that accompany the two chapters. We love them so much we are doing our best to organise some more. This juggernaut is growing and gathering momentum and who knows where it might end up. Yeehah!

Special mention also needs to go to fellow writer and blogger on the other side of the planet, Miss Windsor (aka Welshcake) for her fabulous win at for Children's Fiction Book of the Year 2010 with The Scarlet Heart. Fantastic news!!!! This must become a book!!!!

I have finally shoved another assignment in the post and will shortly be beginning the next one. I am thinking right now that I may take a sabbatical next year so I can actually do some writing. Yesterday I had a go at getting down on paper the adult short story that has been knocking around in my head. Ha ha - it reads like a short story for kids with grown up themes. Ack. I shall persevere. After all, I am an adult and I do occasionally read fiction for adults. I also have to do some research as its set in Pakistan where I have never been and of which I know little.

It is raining again but earlier this morning the water just hung in the air in a gloomy fog. It would have annoyed me if I hadn't been so fascinated. The rain was so light it was suspended, fixed in an earth bound cloud. Much better than the poxy stuff thats falling now. Even the vegetation is over it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

results are inconclusive...

So the extra exciting, all-new fantastic Fabo project is up and running and children are sending in their chapters and their guesses about who penned Chapter One. As this is 'all-new' and never been done before, we are tweaking and adjusting as we go along to make sure it is the best possible. This suits me very well as my general MO is flying by the seat of my pants. It is also very exciting as we wait to see what happens with every new step we take. I never knew it would be this much fun. I can't wait to see what happens next week. If you aren't already part of the fun and would like to be, check fabo out here.

I have bleated on and off recently about the drag of having to wait to hear back on things and I was sure my brain would explode if I had to wait any longer. You will be relieved to know my head is still intact on my shoulders despite the fact that I have had no conclusive results on anything (although I did discover that the overseas conference I attended several years back is still paying positive dividends now - note to self, plan to attend another writery conference over next year or two). I can also without doubt confirm I do not have esp, or any mind bending or telepathic persuasvie powers (rats). Having the weighty carcass of a smelly assignment albatross hanging around my neck has kept me a little distracted and given me other things to carp about and the fabo project has been a thrilling little sidetrack. And here over at one of my favourite blogs (with a warning about excessive expletives) is an insightful little rant about publishing by the rejectionist. This lady is smart and wise. Go read it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

All I need is a cape and a mask...

Jane Austen will never date (in both senses of the word although Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might allow otherwise) and here (check out the July 24th post at Janet Reid's blog) is proof. I laughed, I cried, I howled. I always knew Austen wrote feisty heroines, but this puts a new spin on it.

My other juicy link is courtesy (yet again) of the amazing Miss Maureen Crisp who is the Sherlock Holmes of the internet, hunting out the new, the exciting and the thought provoking. This particular post is a little incendiary and I will not be casting a vote one way or t'other here but I did agree strongly with one thing. If you intend to make writing your career, learning the business is the smart thing to do. You need to be informed to make informed decisions whether you have an agent or not. And if you choose not to or are unable to get an agent then you must understand how publishing and editing and contracts and publicity and marketing and funding applications and new developments etc.. all work. Of course this takes time and there will always be new things to learn but it is how you will help yourself. This link particularly resonated with me in view of recents actions I have taken on my own behalf. I have been asking questions, sending e-mails and standing up for my rights. I have had interesting and positive responses. Sure I have taken some risks and I will undoubtedly make mistakes (although I have made more mistakes by not asking and being hesitant than I have being bold) but this is a business and if I am professional and business like and my questions, suggestions and enquiries are sensible than I will continue to put them forward. Jane Austen Fight Club indeed.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Please don't be kind...

Its Sunday down here in the Antipodes and of course that means domestic duties and housekeeping. My younger daughter is reading the first draft of my YA for me and of course in a world driven by market forces and commercial interests I am paying her on the promise that she tells me if and where its boring and/or incomprehensible. She has assured me she won't be kind. She's a good girl :)

In a crazy turn of events I have had an idea for a short story for adults (inspired by some international news in a recent newspaper). As I have never written fiction for adults before this could be interesting. The idea has been maturing in my head over the last few days but I must confess I am a little wary of putting fingers to keyboard. I shall have to get over myself though because I would like to enter it in a competition that closes in August if I can get it done.

As suspected I have had children home for four weeks instead of the requisite school holiday fortnight. I had the youngest off the week before and have had the middle child off the week following. I am behind on a lot of things and am keeping my fingers crossed that this coming week is my own. Time will tell.

I am still in a Jane Austen phase and watched the film version of Sense and Sensibility (not as good as the most recent BBC production IMHO and I just wanted to slap that Edward Farrars and tell him to grow a backbone) and Persuasion with Sally Hawkins which I adore. Saw 'Milk' last night and think Sean Penn is really quite a remarkable actor, Harvey Milk was an incredible and inspiring person and that that was not one of the US legal systems finer moments - that there can even be such a thing as a 'twinkie defence' is gobsmacking.

And in the good news section of this post: the super fabulous uber-talented Fifi Colston has been successful in having her Wearable Arts Award entry accepted for the competition and I am very lucky to be going down to Wellington in September to see the Show dress rehearsal which I am very excited about. I have always wanted to see the WOW show and I love having an opportunity to catch up with very good writery friends. Can't wait.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fabulous first fabo chapter

Its ALIVE! The most amazing book writing project ever, like Frankenstein's monster, has finally breathed its first....Go check it out here. I can't wait to see what will happen. Children, sharpen your pencils and your imaginations 'cos the fabulous first chapter of fabostory is rolling out.... Can you guess who wrote it? Will you take up the challenge to write the next thrilling installment? Will it be anything like our next thrilling installment? Win prizes! Laugh your heads off! Find out what we think about when we write, the questions we ask ourselves, and the crazy answers we are sometimes forced to come up with!