Thursday, April 29, 2010

Defying Gravity...

Yeehah - Team NZ in action at the International Cheer Union World Comp. That's my girl looking extremely flexible and a bunch of other gravity defiers.
I am fascinated by the current trend of writers of adult fiction segueing into childrens fiction, for example John Grisham and Harlan Coben are the latest with YA books coming out. There are others as well. If writing for children is often seen as the poor relation why are writers for adults suddenly trying to marry into the family? I guess I am a little confused.
With the world shrinking as technology embraces the planet and becomes increasingly more versatile, writers, especially in geographically isolated countries like New Zealand are seeking to extend their search for publication overseas. As we do so the need to understand the rules of engagement in other countries becomes essential. Agent, publisher and author blogs provide a wealth of information and bloggers are generous with tips, advice and exemplars of how to proceed. Agents and editors justifiably hold unknown authors at arms length and we must impress them in a couple of succinct, pithy paragraphs (aka the query letter). Really this should be our strength. After all, good writing in any genre rests on the ability to say so much with so few well chosen words laid out in just the right way. What in theory should be so easy becomes mind blowingly hard. Its a few paragraphs to sell the agent/editor on something you have been slaving over for weeks, months or maybe years. The hours of toil, sweat, tears and frustration are now distilled into a page long (at the most) query letter that must capture the essence of your story wrapped in the voice and style you have employed in that work. Shesh. And there's something extra scarey about the fact that its about selling your product. I am not a salesperson. I doubt I could sell raincoats during a monsoon. Maureen Crisp has a lovely clip on her blog today of Nathan Bransford talking about how to pitch your novel. If I find writing query letters a tad tricky, pitching face-to-face has an extra degree or three of difficulty. I can talk the hind leg off a donkey when there is no pressure or scrutiny or judging. I can write a novel. But distill my manuscript down to its essence and then verbally sell it? Ha ha ha - no. The fact is I can't neglect this skill or avoid it cos it scares me. It has to be part of the modern (or is that post-modern or post, post-modern) writers toolkit. Fab writer Brian Falkner talks about the tag-line. If your book was a movie what would the single sentence on the promotional poster be (one of his examples being In space no one can hear you scream for the movie Alien). This is a great way to approach that distillation process (without the support of any other distilled product). Of course while this is an easy concept to grasp it becomes a little harder when you try and apply it to your own work. Those Hollywood folk have a bunch of experts to come up with their pitch to the world. One of my favourite ways to nut out a problem like this, especially about writing, is to talk about it. I'm talking about it here and I'll take it to my other writery friends and hash it out with them. No one else can do it for my books but me. I suppose its made things a little easier up till now not having to query or pitch like writers do overseas but of course now that makes me the complete newbie amongst a large crowd of people for whom it is the norm. If I discover any secret formulae or super insightful tips on queries and pitches (beyond what is already available out there on the blogosphere) I'll let you know. Right now I'm relying on rescue remedy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Don't let it rain on their parade...

I've learnt a lot from all those forensic crime shows on the telly-box. We'd hoped to communicate with my eldest while she is in the US at cheerleading competitions via text but her mobile didn't connect to the network over there. So I have had to become a forensic Mum. I got to see her performance for the International Cheer Union World Competition on the internet. She was also in the opening ceremony parade and in the front row for team NZ as they received their bronze medals for coming third out of 11 countries in the Elite Co-ed division. So I could tell she was alive and whats more was the daughter of a very proud mum. I was able to keep tabs on her debit card and make sure she hadn't run out of money (eek it wasn't working at first but I got that sorted) and checking in on that again today she is definitely still alive as the money is just about all gone. As her team didn't come in the top three for the Allstar World Cheerleading comp over the weekend I had no idea how they fared with that. The top three teams in all divisions were from the US. Its their sport and they excel at it, especially in the co-ed division. My other daughter had a txt from a friend this morning to say Team NZ came 8th in that one. Well done guys. Cheerleading is still a very young sport in NZ - we've come very far, very fast. My eldest will be home tomorrow morning - yay! (and it'll be my turn to do a little cheer).

I had some lovely feedback from a participant of the workshop I conducted at the beginning of the month as part of the Seminar Series run by the St Heliers Writers group. The series was very well organised and I got to work with such a fabulous bunch of people with some amazing stories.

...Please tell Melinda how much I enjoyed her Writing for Children morning. Nice group of students and I think we all felt we'd learnt a lot in a short time. perfect place for seminar, loved it... - Pam

I've had a few other positive comments from other attendees and I'm really pleased people enjoyed my presentation and got something out of it.

I had an author visit at Greenhithe Primary School yesterday. What great children and teachers and how lucky they are to have such a fabulous librarian, Jayne. There were definitely some budding writers and illustrators there and thanks to Ryley for the lovely picture. I am also pleased to report that my first ever power point presentation worked. Some finessing is required but the technology did its job. Thanks again to Jayne who set eveything up to make things trouble free for me. I hope the sun shines for their bookweek parade on Friday.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

On the World Stage...

I am distracted. Yesterday I spent most of the day doing research for my next book. The material is fascinating and heart wrenching. I want to start writing but I am more nervous than usual about this project. The stakes are high and more than ever before I want to get this one right. I have personal reasons for feeling this way. I hope I can do it justice. It may be the most important book I ever write.

If that was not distracting enough, some time in the middle of the night tonite the ICU cheerleading competition will begin in Orlando, Florida. My eldest is competing as part of Team New Zealand. I find it difficult to watch my children compete at sports. The whole time my heart is in my mouth. My fingers, toes, and a few other things are crossed for a good performance. Good luck sweetie. Over the weekend she is also competing in the Allstar World Cheerleading comp in a co-ed senior team. Tomorrow my son plays soccer (last weekend he was captain of his team and they won their first game of the season) and sunday my other daughter has stage challenge practice. She has a lead role. I'm very proud of my three. They are an amazing bunch. Good luck to all of them.

Oh, and because I don't like to be distracted alone, here is today's juicy link. Read Maureen Crisps latest thought provoking post on ways authors can help themselves at her smart and well-informed blog Craic-er

Monday, April 19, 2010

A little slashing and burning never hurt a draft novel...

Loved this guest post by Margo Lanagan on the topic of 'not writing' over at Justine Larbalestier's blog. Sometimes the words just won't come out, or when they do, they are dull or cliched or pointless. It is not only a good idea to take breaks from your writing, it is essential, to refresh yourself and your writing and keep the passion alive because if the passion is wilting it is nowhere more obvious than in your writing.

When I recently presented a workshop on children's writing to a group of adults, I did bang on quite a bit about the overuse of adjectives and adverbs. Long passages of purple prose can kill a story dead, whether adult or childrens. Yet some readers cannot get enough of flowery descriptive passages. Sometimes these passages can define and make a book. It all depends. And I can't explain it clearer than that unfortunately. What I have learnt from experience is that most writers do tend to overuse adjectives and adverbs when writing. Ask yourself three questions when using adjectives and adverbs. Are these descriptions relevent to the story as a whole? Is there a more active way of writing this (and I don't mean people necessarily running around the place more)? And when did I last use an adjective/adverb? Of course some books rely on descriptive passages. In fantasy stories (traditionally the fatter books in the bookshop) description is relevent to the world building. In historical books description will set the scenes readers cannot help but be unfamiliar with and teach them something in the process. Do not rid yourself of every adjective and adverb but be sure that you will invariably be using more than you need. A little slashing and burning never hurt a draft novel :)

And last but not least I revealed to a friend the other day that I had submitted a manuscript to a publisher without anyone else having read it. She was horrified. Was I mental? I guess time will tell whether I was right or wrong but her reaction has been poking at my brain. Am I crazy? Writers are encouraged to join writers groups and have material critiqued. I know several writers who send everything to a manuscript assessor before editing and submission. Some writers have obliging, book-fan children/partners willing to read their work. But I have submitted a number of things over the years without anyones eyes but mine having been over them. Picture books, short stories and novels. Some have been published and some haven't. Would some have benefited from critiqing? Probably. I do tend to look for advice when I am stuck or uncertain. When I know something isn't working and a solution eludes me. I look for advice when I can't decide if the story hangs together right (and often just talking about a problem will elicit a solution without the reading being necessary). But if these problems are absent then I trust myself. And I find the critiquing process a bit like having a bath in sandpaper. I find myself doubting even the reviews of trusted extremely clever writery friends, not because they don't know what they are talking about (because they most definitely do) but because they are my friends. And I am way too stingy to pay for an assessment - the thought that I might spend more on preparing the novel then I might earn if its published is more than I can handle. It is ultimately about how I work. I do what feels right and comfortable to me. It may not be the right way for anyone else. It's an amalgam of all the bits and pieces of advice I've accumulated over the years intermingled with my own philosophies. Some of it might work for you too. It might not. My friends horror wasn't required. This is an acceptable way of doing things. She can disagree with my methods, but I am happy with them and until I feel a change is required I will keep doing it that way, with the occasional break as suggested by Ms Lanagan.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wow, 2012, you've gone and marketed yourself in all the wrong ways...

Apparently someone has predicted the death of publishing as we know it to happen in 2012 (here via Beattie's Blog). Maybe they went and saw that John Cusack movie, the one where cataclysm's predicted by the Mayan calendar or some such, are going to destroy Earth. Wow 2012, you've gone and marketed yourself in all the wrong ways. All I could think when I read this was 'crap' -all my writing dreams founded on my love of the writing generations who'd gone before me - Tolkien, Lewis, Wilder, Hinton, and Le Guin - are based on a publishing model that is dying out. If only I'd started ten years earlier. Or been born in another time. If the minimum print run is no longer sustainable in competition with digital formats and publishers must transform or perish what will happen to the quality of the content. If everyone can do their own thing who will judge what is suitable/quality/acceptable/readable and how will readers be able to sift though everything available? I prefer not to be the only arbiter of the quality of my own work. Writers will surely still be required if novels (or whatever monika they come to be known by) are still read in whatever format but will they survive financially considering the majority barely scrape by now. I'm luckily not dependent on my royalties (I'd be the corpse in the corner if I was) but I know other great writers who are, who must be prudent and frugal now. I cannot deny that I wish things were different. I was born to be a writer. It is stamped on every gene in my body. I like the way books and writing careers used to be produced. As Gandalf says to Frodo when he laments the burden he is charged with, we cannot choose the times we live in, we can only do our best with what we have been given. I'll keep writing because I'm co-dependent with it, because the air I breathe is that sweet, slightly dusty stuff trapped between the pages, because my last thought before I fall asleep at night is about writing, as is the first thought when I wake up in the morning. Maybe I'll light a candle to St Jude.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I didn't know it was a horror movie....

I watched the movie Julie and Julia yesterday. Love Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci more than ever now. But I didn't realise that it was a horror movie. It was truely horrifying to realise Julia Child and Simone Beck and the sumptuously named but less involved Louisette Bertholle took eight years to complete Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julia wrote it on her typewriter with carbon paper between the sheets. What if she needed another copy? What if she wanted to edit one line on a page? How did she retain her sanity whilst writing a good proportion of a 700 page book on a typewriter? Okay it was a cookbook (instructions are less malleable) but STILL!! How long did it take to post anything across the world? And back again? And when publishers said no as Houghton Mifflin did (yes its absolutely gobsmackingly fabulicious but its too expensive to make a 700 page book that we don't think enough people will buy - okay some things don't change) the thought of rewriting it. I guess in the future people will look back on the way we do things now and wonder how we managed. You work with what you have because thats how it is, but it bends my brain cells to the point of hurting to think of how Ms Child had to work. And I wanted to throw things at the tv screen as the dvd played the part where Ms Powell has 65 messages on her answer phone from publishing editors, tv producers, magazine and newspaper editors etc.....all wanting a slice of the action after the article about her, her mission and her blog appeared in the New York Times. Throw things people. Oh for even a fraction of that response. Sigh...

Friday, April 9, 2010

Some info on getting published in NZ...

Update! You can find a revised 2016 version of this post with additional information here

Spent the morning with a lovely bunch of folk discussing children's writing. As promised below is some info on getting published in New Zealand.

So you’ve read your story umpteen times, checked and re-checked it for mistakes, edited it till it sparkles and written ‘The End’ – what do you do next?
How to Submit

1. Re-read your work again. If possible read aloud – you don’t need an audience for this but it is amazing what reading aloud will show you about your work – repetition, incorrect or missing punctuation, troublesome flow, missing information, or dialogue confusion.

2. Research the market – where should you send it? Who publishes this kind of thing? What are their submission guidelines?

Writing and Illustrating for Children Handbook
available by writing to the address below - the book contains contact and susmission information on NZ publishers of material for children)
Central Library
Christchurch City Libraries
P O Box 1466
Christchurch 8140

This booklet is $6.00 plus $1.50 p&p

PANZ Publishers Directory
current version available for download at:

-Writers and Artists Yearbook
-Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook
-Writers and Illustrators Market
-Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market

(these books published annually are available in good bookshops)

3. Do what the submission guidelines say – DO NOT DO ANYTHING ELSE. They supply guidelines because this is how they want to receive your stories. You would be surprised by how many people ignore the guidelines. While doing something different may make you stand out, it makes you stand out for the wrong reasons. Follow the guidelines.

4. Query/covering letter. You need to include the name of your manuscript, the word count, genre, the intended market, a brief outline of the work, and your publishing credits if any. For fiction you will need a synopsis and either several chapters or the entire manuscript as per submission guidelines. For non-fiction you generally submit a proposal.

Educational Markets
Learning Media – School Journals ( )
School Magazine – Australia ( )
Pearson ( )

Check out the NZSA website ( ) for details on competitions, fellowships, and awards

-Sunday Star Short Story Competition
-Katherine Mansfield Short Story Competition
-Joy Cowley Award (picture book)
-Tom Fitzgibbon Award (children's novel by an unpublished author)

We don’t have many in New Zealand. You do not need an agent to get published here. NZ Publishers are used to dealing directly with the author. If you would like to try overseas markets then you would benefit from having either a NZ or overseas agent. It’s not impossible to get one. Check out for those NZ agents who belong to the NZ Association of Literary Agents. Books such as the Writers Market and Writers Yearbooks mentioned above have contact details for overseas agents.

Writers Organisations
NZSA ( )
Kiwiwrite4kidz ( )
Storylines (
NZ Book Council (

If you are serious about writing there are a lot of benefits in belonging to writer’s organisations and joining critique groups. I have learnt more from my fellow writers than I ever could have learnt on my own.

Handy things to have

An up-to-date, reputable Dictionary
A Roget’s Thesaurus
Reference books – Baby names
Dictionary of Classical Mythology
Dictionary of Phrase and fable
Biographical Dictionary
‘How to’ Books
Books on Grammar (The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B.White, Longman)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mum, why are you not psychic...

Do not give your daughter a sugar doughnut when she is on the computer. Do not take the cat and the dog to the vet at the same time on your own. Do not leave preparation for a two and a half hour workshop till the last day.

Ah, school holidays. No having to get up early and manage preparations for the day ahead for three school aged children. No having to listen to disapproval of available breakfast and/or school lunch options (Mum, why are you not psychic about what i really feel like eating right now, and no, not knowing myself is not an excuse Mum) and then the making of sandwiches etc...that will probably not get eaten. Taxi driving them during the day as well as in the afternoon and evening. And why are they always walking past when I am playing computer solitaire instead of working on my next magnus opus. These would be heavy crosses to bear if my offspring weren't fab. Fortunately they are all fab. This is all just another turn in the cycle of life, wherein I am being reminded that getting up early to sort them out for the school day means I then have the computer and control of the rest of the day to myself. And time to remember how much I enjoy their company and how nice it is not to have to get up early and manage preparations for the day ahead...

I'm off to write a workshop I am delivering on 'writing for children' tomorrow.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

the start of something new...

Time to put some writing up's something in very early draft form and as yet unfinished...

“Malcolm!” His father yelled as soon as Malcolm walked in the back door from school. “Jez has been worrying Mr. Walker’s sheep again. That’s the third time she’s slipped her rope this week. If you can’t control that dog…”

Malcolm’s father didn’t have to finish his sentence. If a farm dog wasn’t a worker it kept out of the way and didn’t cause trouble if it wanted to stay around. Malcolm’s heart sank. He bit his lip.

“Don’t worry Dad.”

“I wouldn’t worry if she wasn’t a problem. But she is. One more stunt like this and I’m ringing Symonds to come pick her up.”

“No Dad,” Malcolm begged. “I promise I’ll make sure she can’t get out.”

They always had dogs on the farm. It was just part of the whole farming thing. Farm dogs to help round up the sheep and move them along and to sit on the back of the quadbike or the ute or wander down to the postbox with you for a bit of company. They were lean and smart and loyal as anything but they were always his Dad’s dogs. Once Malcolm’s Mum, Jean had been given a silly little Chihuahua thing to keep her company in the house when Dad was out on the farm, and Malcolm and his sister Chrissy were at school. He’d been all ears and poppy eyes and noisy like you wouldn’t believe. Malc’s Dad Thomas liked to call it ‘the rat’ when Jean wasn’t listening but he wouldn’t ever say it to her face. Thomas loved Jean and Jean loved the dog. But little Pepe, a good Mexican name for a Mexican dog Jean had said, didn’t want to stay in the house all day with her. He’d decided he wanted to be a farm dog too. He’d run after the big dogs yapping like he’d sucked helium out of a party balloon, and making the sheep pop out all over the place. He couldn’t stay on the quad bike without slipping off but if Malc was helping his Dad and went out on the bike he’d put Pepe in his back pack. Sometimes when they were out all day or all night lambing or mustering and Jean would come out in the ute along the back roads with lunch or hot drinks or soup, Pepe would come with her, sitting in the little hammock seatbelt Thomas had rigged so he didn’t fall out the window. Every one of them, even the farm hands Wayne and Alan were crushed when Pepe got bowled by the bank manager in the driveway the summer before. But Jez, Jez was Malcolm’s first dog of his own.

“Misty’s just had her pups,” Malcolm’s dad had said to him coming out of the barn six months before. “I’ve promised a couple of them to Mr Winthrop over at Cloud Farm and I’ll keep the biggest boy for myself seeing as Otto is getting a bit past it but there’s a wee girl in there. She’s…” Thomas hesitated. He rubbed his chin and studied his son’s eager face. “She’s the runt so she might not amount to too much. But if you want her I don’t see why she can’t be yours.”

“What about Mum?” Malcolm couldn’t help asking.

“Pepe was the only dog for her mate,” Thomas said laying his large hand on Malcolm’s shoulder, man to man. “Shall we go and have a look?”

Malcolm nodded. He knew how lucky he was. Dogs that couldn’t earn their keep were no good to a farmer. Pepe had been an extra special exception to that rule. They made their way quietly into the barn.

It took a few minutes for Malcolm’s eyes to adjust to the dimness of the old barn. The family who owned the farm before the Nichols had kept their horses in here and the space was divided into six stalls and a central aisle. Thomas now used it mostly for feed and equipment storage. These days he parked his horse power in the new garage with the town car and the ute. Two stalls remained empty in case of sick sheep or abandoned lambs or as in this case a recently pregnant bitch border collie. Misty was a beautiful animal but she had always been too proud to let Malcolm get friendly with her. Malcolm’s Dad reckoned she was the smartest of all his dogs and ruled over the others although they were mostly males. No one messed with Misty. Even now with five squirmy sausages suckling at her. As Malcolm crept up and peered over the stall wall Misty turned her head to glare at him. ‘Touch my babies and your dead’ her eyes said.

“No worries Misty. I won’t hurt them,” Malcolm said. “They’re beautiful. You must be very proud.” And they were, five soft chubby little bodies with tightly closed eyes wriggling up against their mother. Like their parents they were mostly black with white markings except for the smallest little puppy who was grey and white.

“Wow,” Malcolm gasped. “Is that one mine?”

Thomas nodded.

It didn’t matter what his Dad had said. She was going to turn out amazing. Malcolm was certain. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.

As the days passed the little sausages grew rounder and longer. They opened their eyes and took wobbly little steps. They nipped and cuffed each other and rolled around the barn watched over by the ever alert Misty.

Whenever Malcolm could spare a minute from school work and chores he would come and sit with Misty, both of them admiring the tiny trainees becoming proper little dogs. When the pups were ? weeks old, Misty weaned them. Malcolm couldn’t blame her. They were getting big and boisterous and very nippy with sharp little teeth. As soon as Misty saw Thomas putting bowls of mush out for the dogs, Malcolm was sure he could see the relief in her eyes. But more importantly it meant that Misty would now let Malcolm get close to the little grey puppy. And now that he could get up close there was no doubt in Malcolm’s mind that she was the coolest dog ever.

“I thought you were coming over after school today?” Jordan said from behind him.

“Oh hell. I completely forgot. I’m really sorry.”

“You’re not mucking around with that daft dog again are you?” he said, hacked off for being slung over for just a dog.

“Don’t say that,” Malcolm said gruffly. How could Jordan say that. Couldn’t he see how cool she was. “Jez isn’t daft.”

Happy Easter!