Saturday, December 31, 2011

I'll have a plate of achievement please, hold the side order of stress

Wow, it's a New Year; all shiny, fresh and trembly with anticipation. For a fleeting moment I thought that this year I would try and achieve more than I did last year. Must work harder, more efficiently, exercise more (if only bits of me would stop hurting), eat less (only in my dreams), stop procrastinating and find more hours in the day. But really if I just achieve this year what I did last year I would actually be pretty darn pleased. The only thing I would change is the stress levels. People tell me its useful. If we had no stress we might not achieve anything. But then if i thought about the stress involved I would NEVER sign up for anything. Like the pain of childbirth, the memory of stress fades. Of course I will organise that conference, run that workshop, entertain those forty under-5's, tame that tiger, perform brain surgery with a teaspoon - it'll be a cinch. And then I reach that moment when I slap myself upside the head and say 'what was I thinking?' but its too late. So this year I intend to do a little more of what I fancy when I can (watch movies, read books, hang with the famdamily, blog, loll about in an incredibly indulgent fashion). And the rest of the time I will do the stuff I always do - some study, some writing, some editing, some work-shopping, the after-school taxi'ing and juggling, the homework cajoling and the usual domestic chores - and I will remind myself I'm not half bad at these things. And when I've slapped myself and the stress is kicking in I will remind myself that the last time I did the thing I'm about to do, it worked out pretty well.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Keep being the kind of writer you want to be...

Borders on Queen Street in Auckland City is gasping its last. My daughter and I had a little time to kill before going to see Tintin at the movies on my birthday on Boxing Day so we wandered in and took a look. I stared at the children's novel by someone I know marked down to $2.00 a copy. I felt relief that only one of my books was in the sale and the price wasn't too hideously low. Then I went and bought a YA novel by another NZ author marked down to half price. I am a lowly paid author and a reader too and I guess I'm not apologising for buying a book at reduced prices. I can't and wouldn't stop folk buying my books at reduced prices. I would be a fool to think this might never happen to my books, and there always remains the chance that I find a new fan this way. When I can, I buy books from my local booksellers. Sometimes I buy from Amazon for my kindle or from Mighty Ape (they offered me a discount for my birthday and they had one of the books I couldn't find elsewhere - it was a no-brainer), today I downloaded a free e-book off Amazon which I didn't feel too bad about - I think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his estate have done well out of me over the years, and done exceedingly will in general. I try to spread the love around, and sometimes I am the recipient.

The Boxing Day Sales in general saw a positive increase in spending - a good day for retailers. But I couldn't help thinking how tight their margins might have been to lure customers in. Once all their bills are paid I hope they have enough to keep going. As has been said recently in the blogo-sphere (e.g. via Beattie's Blog) bookshops (and other retailers) can survive if they are smart/innovative about how they sell books (and other products) compared with the Amazons of this world. I'm rooting for them. Amazon has its place but it doesn't do everything a customer might want.

What can you do? Keep being the kind of writer you want to be. If your manuscript is rejected, it didn't fit with the publisher's programme or didn't quite make it through every hoop they needed it to jump through. If your book tanks, is remaindered or goes swiftly out of print, that's business. Sometimes business sucks. Perhaps you might be a bestseller or sell overseas, be reprinted or win an award. Yay!!! If you have written the stories that matter to you, in a way you feel proud of, then whatever 'life' your story has, you know you wrote the stories you wanted to write. Trends, fads, and publishers might come and go but your stories will always have your name on them.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Your chances are as good as ever...

In response to my last post, Kath lamented that getting published in NZ today as a newcomer seems impossible. What are the chances?

From where I sit Kath I have to say the chances seem as good as ever. Chances were never good, but newcomers still do get published every year. In the wake of the recession, publishing lists were cut and several boutique publishers (Mallinson Rendel, Longacre) were absorbed by a couple of the big international publishing names (Penguin and Random respectively). Publishers across the board were tightening purse strings and Scholastic NZ, the biggest children's-only publisher here closed to unsolicited submissions, an uncommon position in this country. And it certainly may appear that the same names are turning up on the covers of the books in the bookshops.

However if you know your local authors well you can spot the new ones too. Anna Gowan and Leonie Agnew are new faces in the junior novel area. Juliette MacIver is new in picture books as is Chris Gurney and Belynda Smith. I'm sure there are others that have slipped my mind.

Several avenues exist for new writers such as the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon and Tessa Duder Awards for junior and YA fiction. You cannot enter for these awards if you are previously published. While the Joy Cowley Award for a picture book is open to the previously published, this is how many new writers are noticed by Scholastic who participate in judging the entries and publish the winners of the Joy Cowley and Tom Fitzgibbon (Harper Collins publish the winner of the Tessa Duder Award). Scholastic have published the books of other finalists as well. I was twice a finalist in the Joy Cowley Award and while this didn't result directly in publication of my entries at the time, it was a huge boost for me as a writer and resulted in some fantastic feedback which has seen both stories being published more recently. Entries close on October 31st for these Awards every year.

And we now have new boutique publishers springing up. David Ling's Duck Creek Press  has taken on a new picture book writer and new illustrators in the last few years and Pear Jam Books, just launched by author Jill Marshall, is publishing 14 titles this year of which 5 are by previously unpublished authors and another couple are by newish authors.

I got my break with Learning Media and Australia's School Journal who first published several short stories I had written during a Writing for Children paper I did at Massey University as part of my English Degree. One of the most important things I did to help myself along was join several writer's organisations (Storylines, NZSA, Kiwiwrite4kidz) which introduced me to other people experiencing the same difficulties and challenges that I was on my quest for publication. We share triumphs, disappointments and tales of survival. We also share tips and information that make our journey easier.

So don't despair. A blog I follow in the UK by the much published author Nicola Morgan recently featured a post in which she spoke about her twenty year journey to publication. She was first published well before the global recession but it still took her twenty years to reach that first contract. It is very tough to get published. Sometimes it takes a while to find your niche, your voice, your style. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right story for the right time - the one that starts you off. If you are serious about being published as a children's author then you have to hang in there. Keep writing. Take heart. Join with the rest of us and we can hang in there together.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gaze into my crystal (rejectomancy) ball...

Some days should just not be allowed. At the moment it is days with a 'y' in them.  Despite my mood I have managed to find some more juicy links for you. There is this lovely run down on 25 things every writer should know about rejection from terrible minds (via janet reid ). I have wittered on about the subtle art of rejectomancy in the past. Here Mr Wendig explains how time and multiple rejections hone our rejectomancy skills (No. 24). The more you read, the more you know about the writing business, the more able you are to recognise what different types of rejection are actually telling you. Here, finally, is a plus in having received many rejections. There are differences and they do have different meanings. Some are indeed positive and encouraging and manage to give you hope and faith about your writing even though they are still saying 'no'. I think it is also important to note that editors/agents do not always get it right and one rejection should not be seen as the final word on a manuscript.

My other lovely link is uplifting and disheartening all at once - Sandra, in her post on Bad Reviews, reminds us that relying on the praise of others is ultimately futile. There is a wonderful logic to this that cheers me up, however having had some nice reviews recently I am now wondering if I must regard these with the same eye with which I would regard a poor review. Perhaps it is futile to rely on the praise of others but what I will cling on to is the idea that people are reading my book.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I got lost on the way to my happy place...

It has been a week of menial tasks and attending to the needs of others. A week of to'ing and fro'ing, ferrying, and sitting in parked cars. On Friday I sat in a hot, airless car in a featureless carpark in an industrial area for two hours, waiting. Sometimes it is what you have to do. I read a lot but conditions were not conducive to writing. It is hard to create when you feel like your brain is melting and your hungry stomach is about to turn on you and eat you from the inside out. Navman could not give me directions to my happy place. But then last night I understood how to bring the hero in one of my three projects back from an impossible place. Man did that feel good. I hope I get the chance soon to put that thought into words in my manuscript. Solutions come when you least expect them. The important thing is to know that the solutions will arrive. I keep the faith. It is my job as a writer. And sometimes it is the time away from the computer and the writing that yields the best results.

I am a fan of epiphanies. Sometimes they arrive close together and it leaves you wondering if they are not as important and starry as you think they are. Or perhaps they are and it is just part and parcel of the creative life to have as many as I do. Yesterday I had two. One when I realised how to rescue my hero, the other when I read this. Nicola Morgan knows how to explain things. It is clever and enlightening stuff. Go read it, it will improve your writing.

My next picture book Made with Love will be out next April (yay!!).

And over at Tall Tales and Short Stories you can read a review of my young teen novel The Half Life of Ryan Davis.

On the surface the story seems fairly straightforward, but boy is there a twist that I didn't see coming.  With any good thriller you try to work it out and, yes, with hindsight the clues are there, but the denouement took me by surprise and I loved the dark, rather disturbing twist and psychological sting in this tale.

This book is currently available as an e-book from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and I-tunes and should be available for the Sony e-reader soon. The print version is currently available from and should be in bookshops and on amazon soon. If you want a copy and are having trouble getting it let me know.

Monday, December 5, 2011

We are all lemmings...

Christmas is a season of immense joy and intense stress. Suddenly the end of the year is upon us and despite the fact that this happens EVERY YEAR we still act like a pack of lemmings (who should also know better by now) and throw ourselves off the cliff in a frenzy of what on earth should I get for all these people half of whom I barely know (secret Santa may very well be synonymous with bad Santa) and how much food and beverage can I get through toasting a season that is really all about the birth of the baby cheeses not a festival of shopping. January is the month of regret. And knowing what I know I am still able to be smug about the fact that my Christmas shopping is almost done (although I still have a boat load of food to buy, prepare and consume). I was stressed out a week ago but I'm feeling much more zen now.

As it is a time of giving, my gift to you today is some lovely links. The first is sometime agent/author/blogger Nathan Bransford talking about networking, or more to the point, networking without networking. This is kind of my philosophy too and one I didn't appreciate until the friendships I had made for the sake of friendship and kindred-spiritedness had unexpected and lovely repercussions. The beauty of this accidental networking is knowing that these relationships have been founded on mutual respect and interests, without a thought for personal gain and that the benefits go both (or multiple) ways. Oh, that more of the way the world works was founded on principles such as these.

And if you have ever loved the movie The Lost Boys I give you this lovely and most encouraging post by the Rejectionist - its a little bit uplifting, feisty, retrospective, introspective and heartwarming all at once.

Whatever the other purists say (I am a long time fan) I am looking forward to seeing Tintin on the big screen.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Time for a little fantasy...

Here is a sample of one of my current projects ... still in draft form, but you get the idea

“You are such a worry wart,” the boy teased. “It is years away.  And the Hunting of the Hare is just a tradition. It is organised to the last detail. Nothing will go wrong. ”
“Athel is right,” the second boy said.
The third one said nothing. He looked away from his friends, his gaze sweeping up the hill to settle on the castle perched on its brow.  A light spring breeze ruffled the pennants on the top-most tower and sent the clouds on their way. Twilight shadows began to creep over the grey stone walls, welcoming the dark of night. Even the majesty of this sight could not put his mind at ease. It just made him feel worse. Tomorrow he would hunt the hare. Tomorrow it would tell him he was not fit to rule. Tomorrow everyone would know what Arran was already too well aware of.  He sighed.
 Athel rolled his eyes at his friend. “Come your highness, it is time for you to prepare,” and he clicked to his horse to move on. The others followed, the third boy letting his horse fall behind. There was little point arguing. When his father died, he would take his place. None of them could understand why he thought it the worst thing in the world.

He woke too early the next morning, the darkness proving a fertile ground for his fears and concerns as he lay waiting for the cock to crow the day awake. But it was still well before dawn when his father’s guard came to get him. Tomorrow he would be sixteen. Today he discovered whether he would be a good King.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

It's dark down here...

It has been a sobering few days. After the thrill of getting a great mark on my assignment, it has been all down hill since then with some things that didn't go my way. Feeling a little bleak today but felt a bit buoyed by this post from Nicola Morgan. If you have been trying to get published for a long time and things haven't been happening then Nicola's story will give you hope. Its a good story. I admire and respect her perseverance. And her career since she first got published has been impressive. The thing that resonated with me most though is how she views the setbacks and disasters she has experienced.

Nicola says her first book,  Mondays are Red was published in 2002 and I have been very lucky ever since, though it has not always been easy and I’ve had my knockbacks. Authors tend to hide those bad times and you should realise that beneath every apparently successful author’s confident exterior are bruises and scars. But do I wish I hadn’t had the years of failure, of not knowing whether I’d ever be published? No. They stop me taking anything for granted or thinking too highly of myself. They are crucial to who I am now; they are also why I understand what gets published and why some perfectly wonderful writing does not.

What doesn't kill us makes us stronger. Setbacks and disasters are character building. At first I agreed completely with Nicola. I would probably be way more of a brat if everything had gone my way. Would I pay it forward as much if I didn't know how difficult and slippery this business can be? I still do agree with her about that.  But if I knew other authors bore the same bruises and scars that I did, I think it would make me feel a bit better about my own. And if I knew what had caused those scars and bruises I might take a different approach in future to avoid some of them. The other night I discovered a writer friend had experienced exactly the same setback I had a few years ago. She will be the third person that I know of that this has happened to. Are there others? Should we sit back and accept it or are there things we can do to save other people this experience in the future.  Maybe its not right that we just passively accept the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why yes ma'am I can write an essay about that. I can write an essay about anything...

My final assignment was returned in the post today - an essay on why (or why not) poetry from the past is relevant to today's children. I had started it in plenty of time before the deadline but every time I approached it, the topic got away from me and my thoughts ran all over the place and refused to hold hands in a circle. Finally on the way home from dropping my daughter off at some after school thing I had an epiphany. I emailed my tutor and asked if I could get the essay in a few days late. The rubbish I had already written wasn't going to wash. I needed to start again and take a different tack. The age of the poetry wasn't what mattered. It was the poetry itself. What was it about successful poetry for children that made it successful? The essay nearly wrote itself. I wracked my brain for the rules about referencing and bibliography that I had used during earlier university courses and went through the process. I am very happy to report I got an A+. Essay writing, like fiction writing, needs the right idea. Find the right approach and it falls out on the page almost fully formed. And when you have hit on the right idea, you know its the one. My earlier attempts had felt awkward and uncomfortable. Even though I ended up using a lot of the same material, I now had focus and cohesion and everything fell into place and made sense. Just three more papers to go. Next year I think I'll have a go at the research paper. I've been nervous about doing this one but I think I have to do it before I can move on to the others. I feel like I can do it now. I can essay the heck out of just about anything.

And its about time we had some more juicy links. My mantra is always 'be polite and professional.' You can do a lot of brave and bold things as long as you are polite and professional. Following up with publishers is less scary and more fruitful if you are polite and professional. In fact everything is more fruitful if you are polite and professional. Everyone likes to be treated well and with respect. And its not just me saying it. Nicola Morgan over at Help! I Need a Publisher agrees. Although I am not sure I agree with the statement
Always wear a suit when preparing your submission. If you wear pyjamas, they will see. :) 
If you write for children not only are pyjamas the right choice, your slippers should be animal themed or extremely fluffy.

Nicola also has an excellent post on praise. I adore praise (I also adore chocolate) but praise is never without strings attached. Make sure you know where all the strings lead back to and what this means about the praise and the thing praised. 

Last but not least I would like to draw your attention to this. It is a sobering read but also hopeful. Yes publishing can be an unfair place. It may not be you or the quality of your work that is the reason you have been rejected. Keep believing in yourself and try again.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Feeling stuck with your writing? Go see a movie...

Often, more so than from books, I learn something about plot, setting and character from movies. Sure there are different constraints and different requirements, but the best movies tell complex stories with fascinating and compelling characters with endings that satisfy. And in a movie there is less time to achieve this end. A good movie must 'show' effectively, the motivations, the decisions, the emotions of the character. Good movies can teach us a lot about 'show'. Well chosen settings background the people and the action. Sometimes they play a character as well.

Last night I saw Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, and Carey Mulligan. The movie opens with the main protagonist (Ryan Gosling) doing one of his two occupations. By day he is a stunt driver for action movies, by night the wheel man of getaway cars. He is smart, ice cool and skilled. A man of very few words. He meets and falls for his neighbour, played by Carey Mulligan, who has a young son and a husband in prison. When the husband gets out, he is targeted by thugs to whom he owes money, who threaten his family unless he does one last job. The driver offers to help for the sake of the man's wife and child. And it all goes horribly wrong.

What we thought we knew about the driver changes as the movie progresses. The violence is graphic and hideous but explains subsequent (and previous) events. Who do we root for? Can bad people be redeemed? How can extreme and opposite emotional states be rationalised? If you are squeamish this may not be the movie for you. But it is a gripping and rewarding watch. 5 stars from me. Another good movie, although with considerably less violence, stamped with the same quality, is Super 8. From the opening scene when the man changes the 'number of days since last work accident count' to 1 at the Steel Mill we know we are in for some subtle and sophisticated story telling. If you feel stuck with your writing? If you feel like you aren't 'getting' how you can improve your storytelling, go see some movies. Even bad ones will teach you something. At least your book doesn't rely on the quality of the acting or the amount of money you can spend on costumes, locations and special effects. Your characters just have to 'be' who you want them to be. Show us why they behave the way they do. Show us who they are and what makes them feel the way they do. Remember you don't have to spill your guts completely at the beginning (metaphorically speaking that is) of the story. Hold some stuff back. Make your reader wonder and want to read on to find out. A good plot is like a plait or shoelaces - it isn't done until its all laced together.

I'll be talking up a storm about plotting, character and showing and working through some juicy exercises on writing for children at the Centre For Continuing Education Summer Workshop next January.

Friday, November 18, 2011

One step closer to the funny farm...

I have to frequently remind myself that this business is a slow dance, interspersed with long pauses. This is a source of much frustration for me. Long time readers will know of my chronic impatience. It is a benign tumour that cannot be safely or permanently excised, that provides constant reminders of its existence, pressing on my rational brain. Either a benign tumour or a curse. Both fit.  When expectations developed in eons gone past are finally realised, I know I should be patient. But this understanding has the half life of a whisper and then I am back to my impatient self. And when the only distraction is the annoying, political arse-hattery of the upcoming election it is enough to drive me a little crazy. I am one step closer to the funny farm.

Best of 2011 Lists are emerging all over the place in the run up to Christmas. Big congratulations to all my kiwi compatriots who appear! - Maria Gill, Kyle Mewburn, Brian Falkner, Donovan Bixley and Ruth Paul. The House That Went to Sea made it on to the Storyline's Books for Christmas Giving Lists - whoop, whoop! I dream of making it on to more lists. As my rational brain knows this can take time. Maybe next year. Every year I adjust my goals depending on what has gone before. Get published was superseded by get published more than once which has been superseded by get published in different age ranges which has been superseded by get published in other formats and other countries. And of course now 'have books appear on lists'. I haven't achieved all of these yet so there are things to work on. I hope you keep your goals and ambitions fresh. Its that time of year. Sometimes they just need a little lip gloss applied, sometimes just a pinch of the cheeks, but sometimes you need to clean it all off and start again. After all, when that eyeliner smudges it can look a little ghoulish.

Remember, goals aren't just about an end product. Goals should grow your career. Goals should be about personal growth as well as career growth. Goals should nurture and take care of you as well as move you forward. Don't play it safe. Do something that scares you but not something that you don't want to do. I leave the bungy jumping to the thrill seekers - being a writer with a dislocated hip would not be my idea of personal development. Make sure that scary thing is something you've always secretly wanted to try. Maybe its saying hello to an author or illustrator you admire at next year's Storyline's Margaret Mahy Day. Maybe its showing your manuscript to a stranger for their advice. Or sending it out to that publisher. Maybe its doing a school visit or an author talk. Or presenting a workshop. Maybe its turning your manuscript into an e-book. Maybe its attending an overseas writing conference. When I look over that list I appreciate how many scary things I have done over the last few years. Maybe 2012 will be my year off scary things. My goals for 2012?

1) Do another university paper towards my Diploma of Children's Literature
2) Find a way to be involved in NZ Book Month (although I try and behave like every month is NZ Book Month)
3) Find a way to be involved in NZ at the Frankfurt Book Fair (even if its just talking a lot about it on interweb and trying to get some of my books there)
4) Finish rewrite on Jack the Viking: Magnetic North and publish in digital form (yes sorry I dropped the ball on this one this year)
5) Finish current projects
6) Have a decent holiday
7) Keep fit
8) Make more time

This list is not complete. After a year of unexpected things I am not sure whether 2012 will be the same. I feel like I have enough to keep me busy without adding more. That was one of my problems this year. I thought I would tick a lot of things off the list I made for 2011. So this year number 8 is a priority.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Paper prozac

It would be disingenuous of me to say I write for the pleasure of writing alone. I write in the hope that others will read my work with pleasure. I write to find the magic that filled the books I loved as a child. I write to replicate the happiness I find in the pages of a good read. Paper prozac. I want to read it, and write it. So it makes me feel very good when people say nice things about my books. Even more so when there is no tie of kin or friendship to temper their words. So yes I did do a little happy dance when I saw this review of The Half Life of Ryan Davis, 

"A disturbing story but compelling reading. Tightly told in short chapters which capture the teenage voice very well. Almost a detective/mystery novel but has more depth than that."

And this one of The House That Went to Sea.

"This beautifully produced book is a great little story, easy to read out loud and has that perfect combination of adventure and a little touch of sadness that makes the best kind of children’s books."

Do reviews influence readers and book buyers? I have asked this question before and there are no conclusive answers. I know I buy if I see a good review of the kind of book I like. But to me a review is a thumbs up for me as a writer. Someone enjoyed my book. People who read a lot and who know their apples have recommended my books to others. That is a significant reward in these tricky times. It is very encouraging. And it is a terrific antidote to rejections. Especially for the books in question.

If you have been wondering what I am up to now I confess I have become a total slack-arse. I have three novels to work on and instead I have been counting down to the release of the final Harry Potter movie on DVD (and am now preparing to watch it ad nauseum - yay), hanging with my children between their exams and trying to support and encourage them through their study (bless their little cotton socks). I have been reading a great quantity of other people's books which is a treat and an aid to my own writing and have been fascinated to find I have learnt more from the books I have read that weren't as well written as my faves were. It is easier to spot weaknesses than it is to point out the mechanics of great writing. And when the sum of all parts is greater than the individual parts, - fuggedaboutit. That's the magic.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A legend in my own mind...

A NZ children's author, much awarded (here and overseas) and much published (same) had their name transformed and gender switched on air recently. Ever since I heard it it has been bugging me. After an initial giggle (sorry mate) my thoughts quickly descended to 'what do you have to do around here to get some recognition'. I understand if my name is mangled - its a tricky name - it can be a challenge even for people who've known me a long time. But I was a bit shocked that this person's name wasn't better known. At least enough to be the right sex. If you have a flair for rugby your name is soon the topic of discussion around the breakfast table. If your face is on the TV during peak viewing it is an easy side step to print media. And bad behaviour seems the most effective PR of all and, as Paul Henry can confirm, the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket. If it was just about being good at what you do then I could understand that. If it was about building your reputation then that would be something to aim for. But these don't seem to be sufficient for writers of children's literature in NZ. And many of the NZ writers for children that I know regularly do the promotional equivalent of a marathon and try all sorts of gymnastic contortions to get their names out there. When I do school visits I often ask children if they know some NZ authors and illustrators and I'm saddened at their response. No Roald Dahl is not a kiwi. They often ask me if I draw as well as write and when I say that I don't, I ask them for the names of some NZers who do. What's the world coming to if they don't know Lynley Dodd or Gavin Bishop or Pamela Allen? And what about Ruth Paul and Donovan Bixley?When they ask me if I'm friends with other authors and I smile and say of course and tell them who, they stare blankly at me. Surely the sign of a healthy society is not only clothed and fed and educated children, but also a society that recognizes the names of their writers and illustrators for children. They know the names of children's writers from other countries, whether recent or not. The music industry has managed to raise its profile, but that took a government required quota system. Do children in other countries know the names of their children's writers? Do you know who Mo Willems and Ian Falconer and Lauren Child are?

I guess this example illustrates that our efforts, no matter how strenuous, aren't working. We need some help. Any suggestions?

UPDATE - okay as my SO pointed out, books are often known by their titles or main characters, especially amongst children. Hairy McLairy, or Maori Legends, or the Wheels on the Bus would be remembered before the people behind them are. I don't think this is a complete rationale or excuse though. Is there ever a teaching focus on NZ writers in primary schools? Is it in the curriculum? I would love to know.

UPDATE 2.0 - of course the more I think about it, the more I have to acknowledge how much name recognition is about branding. I get branding. However while I pursue branding on the one hand, for me I make the whole issue so much more complicated for myself by not having a series or sticking to one style/genre/age group. I can't assume that readers who like my short stories or my picture books will necessarily graduate to my longer works. And I have contemporary and historical time slip and my picture books are all stand alones and do I need to build name recognition for each one? Okay I'm tired just thinking about it - I'm off to have a lie down and a cup of tea and then work on my next novel which is completely different to anything that has come before - sigh. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Just hold steady a minute, so i can get my bearings...

Getting your work published is not the end of your education it is just the beginning. Every time I have had something published I have learned something new. The more I learn the more I appreciate how little I know. And it does not help that the industry is constantly evolving and currently seems to be experiencing some rather major shifts. Jeepers, just hold steady for a minute, will you, so I can get my bearings. Yet there are certain fundamentals which will always apply in this business. Being polite and professional is always the right place to start. And you can check out some more good advice on how to get on the publication road here at Nicola Morgan's blog.

I am in the teaching seat this summer holidays, taking a two day weekend workshop on writing for children as part of the University of Auckland's Centre for Continuing Education Summer Programme. There are still spaces available and you can check it out here. To be held at the lovely Epsom campus, it will be a fun weekend of juicy writing secrets, tips and the chance to weed and iron out those pesky writing problems you might be having.

Thanks to the wonderful Graham Beattie who reviewed my new book The Half Life of Ryan Davis on his blog. "YA psychological drama thriller writing at its best......."  Crikey - I wrote that book :). And I just want to share this juicy link because I think this is very smart. Janet Reid talks about the mistaken assumption of stupidity when someone does not 'get' what you are saying.  This is not just for writers but for everyone, everywhere.

I visited the primary school at which a fellow writer, Phillip Simpson, teaches last week to read to his year 3-4 class. I put up a signed copy of The Were-Nana as the prize for a writing challenge I gave them. Here is the winning entry by Eva Colthart. Well done Eva...I have chills running down my spine...

Halloween  Night
By Eva Colthart

Once   a   little   girl   was   going    to   do   trick   or   treating.   There   was   a   house   near   the   grave   yard.   She   trick   or   treated   there.   She   knocked   on   the   door   and   an old   man   came   out.   She   screamed   and   ran   away   as   fast   as   she   could.   Then   BANG!!   Something   came   from   the   old   man’s   house.   She   went   back   to   her   house   and   ran   into   her   bedroom   and   told   her    dad    everything .  He   didn’t   believe   her.  A    minute   later   the   lights   went   out   and   her   dad   lit   a   candle.   Then   the   lights   flashed   and   there   was   a   spooky   noise   it   sounded   like   a   howl.   She   thought   that   it   was   a   were-wolf   but   when   she   went   back   to   the   house   of   the   old   man   it   was   him.   He   was   turning   into   a   were-wolf!!!   She   was   scared   she   ran   and   told   her   dad,   he   still   didn’t   believe   her.   She   took   her   dad   to   the   old   man’s   house.   Then   they   went   into   the   old   man’s   house.   He   was   dead   on   the   floor.   Aaaaaarrrrrraarrr!!!!   She   screamed.   They   both   ran   back   to   their   house   and   the   lights   were   still   off.   Her   dad   lit   another   candle.   Then   a   zombie    came   through   the   wall!!!!!   And   on   that   day   they   both   died.

The   end!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Instant success, just add water and stir...

It was, I thought, a good idea. A company wanting to provide some free children's story downloads to customers for long car trips. Authors would receive a free audio file professionally produced to use as they saw fit. They would retain all rights and get some free promotion through folk being able to listen to their stories (a huge bonus when promotion can be such a hard slog). But the company hadn't planned to 'pay' for the stories they chose to record. Fair enough, I thought, they are not selling them. I thought about the stories I had written that might fit the bill and sent them in. But I was somewhat surprised to hear some folk thought this was a terrible idea. As far as I can tell its not a scam. I always think of a scam as the situation where things are nothing like you think they are. Or where you have to pay them to accept your story. Neither of these things was true in this instance. If my stories made the cut I would be getting a return on them but not one instantly quantifiable in dollar terms.

I believe I should be paid for the creative work I produce, but it is hard to know what I am worth. Who decides? The market? The market is saturated with books; many very, very good ones. Plenty of great writers get ignored by the market and it has nothing to do with the quality of their work. Publishers? They want to reward writers but must do so at the behest of the market. They are, after all, commercial operations. Award judges? Sure! They select stories they believe are of a high quality and it can only help to be talked about in this way. But ultimately it is the everyday purchasing reader I have to impress. In my opinion I have to earn the reputation I want to be rewarded for. This doesn't happen overnight. I can't wash it in Pantene and have instant success. Sometimes it does happen overnight to people (I want the shampoo they're using) and good on them but it hasn't happened to me. I have to write the best stories I can and send them out into the world. And then I have to keep doing it. Because if someone does find one of my books among the many, many others and then discovers they like it, I want them to like my next book even more. They might remember my name. Next time they venture out to the bookshop or the library or onto Amazon they might ask if there are any other books by me. When a new one comes out they might get that too. Building a readership can be a slow painstaking process. I have to win people over with my writing cos most of the time that's all they see of me. I can't make them love me. And with children it can be extra challenging as our target readers are always growing up and moving on. "Hey, I just won you over, stay 8 a few years longer!" And then we have to do it all over again with a whole new group and who knows what they will like. If having a story on audio helps win people over to my writing then that sounds pretty good to me. And having that recording to help sell my other stories sounds even better. I like the idea of expanding the formats my stories are available in. That's part of the reason I signed up for The Half Life of Ryan Davis to be published by Pear Jam Books. It's already in 2 formats and a third is in the pipelines. Four formats is the goal for all Pear Jam Books.

So I am willing to give my story to that company to help build my name. So its building their name as well? Good for them. I know how important that is. And if I get no financial return on a short story today its not the end of the world. If one kid likes my story on a car trip who knows where it might lead.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spooky tales....and pink hair

Happy Birthday Geneva - my little Halloweenie :) Looking forward to giving out treats to the best dressed who knock on our spooky door this evening.

The Half Life of Ryan Davis is now out in print and can be bought here. I still have a copy to give away.

I have been at the Armageddon Expo over the weekend at the Pear Jam Book Stall.  The Expo hosts a wide variety of fans who love all manner of things from Fantasy, Sci Fi, and Military, to Anime, and Manga, Steam Punk and tech. There were a wonderful array of costumes including Where's Wally, Star Wars Characters, Star Trek characters, Manga characters, Super heroes and lesser known Heroes, Ghouls, Zombies and Space Tarts.  On Saturday I got a little carried away and/or inspired and dressed up as you can see above. T'was very pleasing to hold my latest baby in my hands and feel its shiny cover. Hope those who went away with a copy enjoy the story.

Monday, October 24, 2011

hey it's another competition!! Win a print copy of The Half Life of Ryan Davis or The House That Went to Sea

Unless you've been hiding under a rock, by now you will be aware that the All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup on Sunday night. YAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!! And if you are hiding under a rock you probably aren't reading this so I will assume I am talking to the informed. It was torture to watch the final. Finally France played like finalists - much respect to them. However you cannot dismiss the All Blacks response. They played defense as if their lives depended on it. Despite injuries, quality All Blacks kept rocking up to take their compatriots places. If I found qualities in Piri Weepu that I would like to emulate, after Sunday I think the whole New Zealand team showed the kind of determination and commitment that get results. It was not their best game but they had played a tournament's worth of cup winning rugby. Mentally we all played that final, our hearts pounding in our chests.

I read this post with great interest. It's interesting to compare it to this. Why do we do what we do? I must confess sometimes the desire to be published can be overwhelming. Perhaps not to the extent that it was for Ms Whipple. But I respect her advice. Step back. Write the stories you want to write. Take your time. Ok, maybe I can't do the last thing on that list. I don't think my impatience will ever be cured. Everything is still too slow. I don't want to take my time. I will always want things to happen now. But as months and years have passed, things I never thought would happen have happened. I guess the treatment for impatience is never giving up on anything because the things that are only now coming to fruition make up for those things I'm working on now that just aren't happening fast enough.

I am giving away a print copy of The Half Life of Ryan Davis and one of The House That Went to Sea, and I will post them anywhere in the world. All correct answers to the following question will be eligible for the draw. Please advise which book you would prefer.

Question - why is Halloween extra special in our household?
(update - I will accept incorrect answers to this question if they are very creative and make me laugh)

And for those people who would like to see how our eldest is doing here is a photo taken last week

Friday, October 21, 2011

A lot we can learn from Weepu...

Watched an interview with All Black Piri Weepu on TV last night. There is a lot an author can learn from Piri. He had some dreadful blows to his rugby career; being dropped by Coach Graham Henry before the 2007 World Cup and then breaking his leg in horrible fashion during a game last year. Both could have been career ending if he'd let them. They weren't the only things interfering with his position in the All Blacks but Weepu hung in there. He learnt from his mistakes. He wanted to come back. He got match fit. He demonstrated he deserved inclusion in the team. And look at him now! He's a bit of a star. And he's handling it well. Life is what happens while we're making other plans, so John Lennon sang. We have to deal with what life hands us and make the most of it. Weepu obviously had the raw talent that made him a contender for the best rugby team in the world. But he purposefully did what he needed to do as well and kept faith in himself. Go the All Blacks - good luck for the game tomorrow night.

My head and heart dropped a little when I read this in the NZSA's newsletter yesterday

The Society of Authors has unofficially learnt that "He meomo├ža he ohorere / While you are sleeping / Bevor es bei Euch hell wird” is the slogan under which New Zealand will present itself as 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair’s Guest of Honour. The New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage, which is dedicated to preserving the national heritage of Aotearoa, views the country’s selection as the Guest of Honour for the Frankfurt Book Fair as a unique opportunity to present the cultural diversity of New Zealand. The announcement was made at a media conference in Germany, as part of this year's Frankfurt Book Fair. “New Zealand’s role as Guest of Honour in 2012 is an unprecedented high point for our writers, publishers and artists. The opportunity to share our creativity and unique perspective with Germany and Europe at the Frankfurt Book Fair is a once in a life-time opportunity and we are excited to bring our voice to you next year,” says Tanea Heke, Project Leader.

This is such a wonderful opportunity for New Zealand. As we sit, small and discrete, way down here at the southern end of the Pacific it is hard to grab the attention of Europe all the way across the other side of the globe (unless its about rugby). Here is our chance to show what we are made of to the Olde Worlde. I hoped one of my books might make it in to the catalogue but I missed out. I would love to be a part of this opportunity. When I saw the slogan I thought of my as-yet-unpublished picture book manuscript While You Are Sleeping which has done the editorial dance several times but been unable to jump the final hurdle into publication. It is out on submission at the moment. If only ...

"... While you are sleeping…

Rain may fall, and winds may blow,

Clouds come and go,

And the stars get their chance to shine ..."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I am glad they know what they're doing

Yesterday Head of Pear Jam Books, Jill Marshall, suggested a 'class trip' to the printers to watch our books become paperbacks. This was a rare opportunity. Not too many books are printed in New Zealand. And it was exciting and fascinating to tour around the facility and see how it all happens. It is a complex and technical business, overseen by perfectionists with an eye for detail - as it should be. They print large sheets on both sides with multiple pages to be cut and bound in correct sequential order. If you have a flair for geometry and origami this is the career for you. Of course the upshot of all this is that The Half Life of Ryan Davis will be available in print form by next weekend. Pear Jam Books will be at Armageddon in Auckland selling books. Come check it (and us) out next weekend October 28th to 31st!

I have also been testing gingerbread recipes and doing some experimenting for another book. I think I have come up with a winning formula and I have sent the resulting recipe off to the publisher.

Tonight the Rugby World Cup's Bronze final (playing off for third and fourth place) between Wales and Australia is being played down the road at Eden Park. There is a general consensus that Wales was robbed last weekend, losing to France who will be playing the final against the All Blacks on Sunday. Although I have hidden in bed with the covers over me for the other games (honestly, last Sunday you could have cut through the tension with a knife and served it up on a plate), I am watching the last two games. Funny thing is as I have hidden in bed over the last few weeks I have heard the cheering down at Eden Park (it's maybe just over a kilometre away?). Between the cheering and the noises from my other family members watching the game in the living room, I have had a fair idea of how things are going anyway. Tonight I want Wales to win as they have consistently punched above their weight. It will be an interesting contest either way. I won't talk about Sunday in case I jinx it but I am making French Toast for dinner :)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Best in show...

I do not understand this at all. I cannot begin to imagine how Lauren Myracle is feeling, but I also now wonder whether the remaining finalists wish they too were on another planet. What a mess.

What is it with awards at the moment?  Have all the changes in the publishing world made people's brains melt. Or is it a case of too many egos spoil the broth. It loses sight of the fact that the best books – the books that last – are born of necessity, not just of the need to fill a gap in the market and give us an easeful few hours. Book prizes should be about writers, not readers. I agree. Book awards should be about writers, not readers. Book awards should be about ego. There should be prizes for what writers consider the best of their breed (smart tail, balanced stance, ideal muzzle, glossy coat, best in show). Readers already get to elect their favourites everyday and the winners are those authors who sell the most copies and reap the most royalties. While some readers will check out finalists and winners of book awards, they aren't standing by not purchasing anything in the meantime. Sometimes the two (best written, best read) coincide, but this should not be the expectation. Debate and disagreement is healthy. Of course some years it will be harder to select a clear winner than others as the book experience is the result of the unique relationship between author and reader. We should not have it any other way. Sometimes a book is so breathtaking every reader is touched and concensus is easy and the writers can't help but agree but that too is a miracle. Debate and disagreement raises the profile of all those titles discussed. As Oscar Wilde said "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

Thank (optional deity ) for this post which had me laughing til I cried. I would like this tattooed on my body as a permanent reminder of the sanity that lurks out there on the internet.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

If only it were that simple

Thought for the day: I don't not know why the word 'procrastinate' starts with the prefix 'pro' which seems to suggest something positive. It should be 'anticrastinate or discrastinate.

Very interesting guest post over at Nicola Morgan's blog - Help I Need a Publisher - about self publishing ( Catherine Ryan Howard makes some good points about promoting your work (stop whining, do you want to sell books or not?) and about the realities of publishing decisions (it might be a great book, but traditional publishing may NOT be able to make money out of it). Promotion is a smart move if you would like to help your books sell. There are no guarantees and as she says you can sit back and do nothing and sell 5000 copies or bust a gut marketing your work and sell 5 copies. But the risk is greater in the not doing. And I get the financial arguments behind the decisions to publish. Whether you agree or disagree with a publisher's decision, they have a bottom line. Get over it.

And a very interesting post by writer pal Maureen Crisp about the possible 'demise'? of blogging ( over on her blog Craic-er. A day doesn't go by without someone sounding the death knell over some aspect of publishing or another. The thing that irks me about the industry people 'lecturing' about blogging is that they can only imagine someone would want to write a blog or read a blog if there's money to be made from it. The numbers they are talking about hurt my head - 15k visitors a month? I guess with a population of 312 million plus people in the US those numbers aren't completely nonsensical and down here in the Antipodes that number might be sensibly revised down somewhat (even though the internet is global and there are technically no borders, of course things will be different here). I don't write my blog to sell my books (although I'm not opposed to anyone buying or reading my books as a result of visiting my blog). I don't read other peoples blogs to find new writers to read (although I have bought and read books because I've read about it on a blog). I write and read blogs to join the shared understanding of what constitutes the book industry round the world. I have learned much from blogs I have followed, I have made writery friends, and I have shared my personal experience and things I have learnt with others through my own blog. Writing is an isolating business, more so than many other endeavours. Blogs have saved my sanity more than once. I think people sometimes find value in the things I have written about here. If agents and some other bloggers can only see the dollar signs, shame on them.

And if you wonder whether there is a conflict here with me agreeing with Ms Howard about the necessities of promoting/marketing on the one hand and pooh-poohing of those hectoring blogsperts on the other, to me there isn't. My primary goal is to write good books for children of all ages. My secondary goal is to keep doing it, which means selling sufficient books. Blogging is about connecting with the community I belong to which happens to be the book community. Is there an overlap? Sure. Am I aware of that overlap? Sure. Do I hope that overlap might have positive spin offs? Sure. Will I keep blogging irrespective of any spin offs? Sure.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Don't drive tired....

this post is for a friend. A friend who is feeling like the car battery is about to die as she inches forward on the dark road toward book publication.

The road to the town of Publication is perpetually in darkness with leaning lamposts hit by drunk and overconfident drivers leaving the rest of us to crawl forward with our headlamps on full. No wonder we go through car batteries so often. No wonder the fuel doesn't last as long as it should. How many miles have I walked with a gerry can that needs refilling and so often at exorbitant prices. And even when we arrive the town is not quite like we imagined it and our real destination is still further on, along an even darker road filled with potholes, hazards that loom out of the gloom and treacherous fantasy creatures who want to suck our blood or chirpy skippy little animals that try to lure us with promises of easy money. I might stop along the way but I always get back on the road and keep going forward to a destination I cannot see and am not sure of.

So why do we do it? It took me a while to figure out that I could never really give up because my writing is like politician Don Brash - it refuses to go away. I can shun it, and throw things at it, but even a flame thrower wouldn't put paid to my desire to write and my desire to succeed at writing. I have given in to this awkward dark twin that shadows me wherever I go. Sometimes we are better friends than other times. There are battle scars. I have plotted terrible things against it but it will only die when I die. So I don't give up anymore, but I respect my need to stop at that roadside motel sometimes and watch bad tv and let the twin observe the locals. Even though it seems like it sometimes, my twin is not the enemy and we both benefit from a break. There are places to recharge the battery. And to refuel. Never drive tired ... especially in the dark. And sometimes all we need to hear is a friendly voice, from a fellow traveller.

Some road rules to prevent you from crashing
1. Its okay to stop and see the sights on the way. Even though its a delay and your destination will take longer to get to, its good to make the journey more enjoyable.
2. Take the time to talk to fellow travellers - they understand the journey and its good to share information about any shorcuts to where you want to go
3. Don't let the twin boss you around. You are partners on this trip
4. Don't burn any bridges. Just cos you've been over that bridge, doesn't mean you might not need to go over it again
4. Stay in the flasher hotels sometimes, with the bigger choclates on the pillows, and bigger pillows, and a lifeguard at the pool.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why art and culture?...

Here is part of a children's story of mine that I am rather fond of

The Man Who Grew Flowers

A long time ago, after we were cave men, but quite a bit before we were like we are today, men and women would go out and look for good things to eat. They tested out the fruit that hung from trees and if they were really smart, first they watched to see if animals ate it.
Sometimes they weren’t that smart.

They checked out the roots of some plants and the fruit that drooped from vines and bushes of others. If the fruit had been there all summer long sometimes they had a party afterwards.

They figured out what was good and what wasn’t. And then the very clever ones worked out how to grow more. The seeds they spat out on the ground sometimes sprouted and the old roots grew new roots and made a new bush which fattened the new roots up until they were good to eat.

The people who grew things had something to eat when there were no animals to hunt. And they could serve up a pretty nice, well-balanced meal if someone did bring home the bacon. Soon it was the in-thing to do.

Except for one man. He liked the cherries but thought the blossoms were amazing. He enjoyed the passionfruit but marveled at the passion flower. And even though he knew some fruit was no good to eat he couldn’t help admiring their flowers. He collected their seeds and planted them. How happy he felt when the flowers popped out when the weather warmed.

But his friends frowned.
“You cannot eat that,” they protested. “That is a waste of effort.”
“If I am hungry there are fruits and vegetables growing wild that I can gather and animals that I can hunt. But I like the flowers. They make me happy, so it is not a waste.”
“What will you do when the ground freezes and the herds go south?”
“I will be hungry, but the memory of the flowers will keep me going until they return.”...

And congratulations to Jill Marshall, author, publisher ( ) and superwoman, Arts and Culture category winner in the 2011 Next Magazine Woman of the Year Awards!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Doing a little happy dance...

Another sweet review for The House That Went to Sea turned up in the Wairarapa Times Age - (Google Alerts keeps me up to date with who is saying what about my books where - if you aren't using Google Alerts you should). I have posted off another completed assignment (only one more to go - doing a little happy dance here). I think I may have found the solution to the problem I had with one of my current WIP. It was a big problem. The solution seems to satisfy all the complicated requirements that had emerged. I am going to try it on for size. Keep your fingers crossed that it fits.

Yesterday I finished reading a most beautiful book - A Monster Calls. Written by Patrick Ness, based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd, and with haunting illustrations by Jim Kay this is a stunning read. I would say it is more a children's book, but then I would not like to discourage adult readers. Just like adults would have regretted not picking up John Boyne's The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. I do not want to talk about the plot of A Monster Calls at all, because I fear it would be too easy to spoil the book for you although that is not because the plot is easy. Believe me when I say it is wonderful writing. Effortless and powerful, I defy you to be unmoved by this book. I was overcome by a fit of jealousy as I read, wishing I too could write like this. My envy was only assuaged by Ness's overuse of the word 'thick'. It is comforting to know that all authors can suffer from this overuse syndrome. My favourites are 'just' and 'ultimately' and i am sure I have others. Maybe an editor should have picked that up, but then I can understand that an editor might not have wanted to change a thing in case they somehow broke the magic.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A winner!!**!!

UPDATE: We now have a second winner - congratulations Angela! Your e-book will be with you soon. The competition is now CLOSED but watch this space as there will be another competition soon.

Folks, we've had a correct answer! Congratulations Kath for getting both questions 1 and 2 right. Please send your email address to me at and Iwill arrange for your e-book to wing its way to you.

I still have one more copy to give away, so have a go. One correct answer will qualify you. If you do not have an e-reader do not despair as the e-book can easily be read on your computer.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

COMPETITION!!! - Win the e-book of The Half Life of Ryan Davis

Hang on to your hair straighteners ladies and gentlemen, this weekend my all new shiny, smart, super-satisfying young teen novel will be out as an e-book, and available at Amazon. The Half Life of Ryan Davis is a contemporary thriller for 11 to 15 year olds.

"Having an older sister go missing three years before has defined Ryan Davis’s life ever since. All he wants to do is be normal and get on with the difficult business of growing up but the repercussions of Mallory’s disappearance aren’t over yet."

Here is a wee taster. The first person that correctly answers the question that follows will win a copy of the e-book. As I plan to give away more than one copy, if you are not the first to provide the correct answer, try the second question. I may give away an extra copy if I feel like it to other contestants too. I will run another competition when the book comes out in print in December.

Chapter One

Apparently my older sister Mallory was perfect. That’s not how I remember her, but it’s what my mother tells me when I’m doing something wrong. My sister certainly looks perfect in all the photos mum has plastered her bedroom with; photos that sit next to trophies for netball and gymnastics, photos that hang next to certificates of merit for academic achievement, and principals’ awards for community service. But she was just my sister. A sister who fought over the TV remote with me and complained if I took up more than my fair share of the couch. A sister who told me my friends were rude and smelly and called me names. But I guess it doesn’t matter whether she was perfect or not. It’s impossible to be as good as someone who’s just a memory.

“What are you doing Ryan?” Mum asked, glancing over to where I sat at the kitchen table.
I covered my work with my arm. “Nothing,” I said.
“Is that homework?” she pestered. “That better be homework. Mrs Penman wasn’t very happy with your homework last term.”
“She’s just one teacher. I have lots of teachers … and Mrs Penman doesn’t like me.”
“So what did you do to make her not like you?” Mum said, standing at the kitchen bench, squeezing the last home-made muffin into an old ice cream container.
“Nothing. She just doesn’t like me,” I repeated.
“You must have done something, Ryan.’ I could feel her looking over my shoulder. “So is this for her?”
“She’s my Science teacher, Mum. This is for English.”
“Ok. Well, make sure you do your science homework.”
I didn’t bother saying I didn’t have any.
“I’m off to a meeting,” she went on, sitting a knife and a small tub of cream cheese on top of the muffins in her basket. “It’s time to organise the Candle-light Rally for Missing Children again. Gosh, they come around quickly. I need you to look after Gemma.”
“I told Alex I’d be down to see him at the skate park with my bike as soon as I did my homework. You said nothing about going out.”
Mum pointed a wad of paper napkins at me. “Don’t be smart with me. There’s no one else to sit with Gemma and I can’t take her to the meeting. It’s too hard for some of the other parents. Too soon.”
Jeez. Mallory wasn’t here any more but she was still wrecking my life. I wanted to hate her but I couldn’t. It’s hard to hate someone when something bad has happened to them. I wondered if she’d felt this hacked off about babysitting me.
“Can Alex come here?” I don’t know why I asked.
“No. Next thing you know he’ll be texting his mates and there’ll be twenty of them round here. Or a hundred …”
I didn’t bother saying Alex didn’t have a mobile phone at the moment. I’d already told her enough times but she chose not to remember or blocked it out or something. She was good at blocking stuff out. I guess it helped her cope with what had happened to Mallory. I’d see Alex at school tomorrow. In Science class.
“I’ll lock the back door on my way out,” Mum said briskly, brandishing her over-full, jangling key ring like a jailer.
Mallory had just turned fifteen when she disappeared on the way home from netball practice, I wrote as I heard the lock click and the back door slam. I’m older then my big sister will ever be.
I didn’t make Gemma go to bed until an hour after her usual bedtime. Gemma’s okay for a little sister. None of this is her fault. She is a bit of a cry baby, but she’s a girl. Its kind of what they do. She hadn’t moaned at all when I’d asked her to clear the table and wipe while I washed. So I just said nothing while she watched an extra hour of television. I guess you’d call it a silent protest. It’s not like Mum would find out or anything, but the program was a bit grown up and full of swearing. Gemma’s always been on about watching it so I knew she wouldn’t dob me in. I didn’t even bother to make sure she did her homework. That was Mum’s job.
After I’d said good night to my sister I wandered aimlessly around the house. I wasn’t going to do any of the chores Mum would have made me do if she was here. I had a few more days to finish my English assignment and there wasn’t any other homework because the new term of school had only started a couple of days before. TV was rubbish and I didn’t want to ring Alex. He’d be hacked off I never turned up, although he had to be used to it by now. He’d met my mum enough times.
I found myself standing outside Mallory’s bedroom. The last door on the upstairs hallway. I’d seen those forensic crime shows on television. I know what dead people look like. In the beginning I’d imagined Mallory, pale, lying in long grass, her eyes closed. Just her face because I didn’t want to see beyond it. But I couldn’t do it any more. Mum kept telling me she was still alive somewhere. And one day she’d come home and we’d be a happy family again but that was one big fat stupid lie. Mum could tell it to herself but I’d stopped believing it ages ago.
Don’t get me wrong. I wanted Mallory to come back for so long. I waited and waited and waited and the police kept coming back with developments and new ideas and then questions and then, eventually, they stopped coming. I cried bucket-loads of tears – I was a lot younger back then - with Mum and Dad and Gemma, and by myself in my bedroom, and then they just dried up because they weren’t going to bring her back. For a while I hated everything and everyone because what had we done wrong, why was everyone else’s life going along okay and this shit thing had happened to us? And I hated and cursed the person who had taken my sister and wrecked our family and made it break apart into five lonely pieces.
And sometimes I blamed Mallory.
In the end it was Gemma who kind of saved me from becoming a pathetic crying hermit because they were forgetting about us and we had to stick together. Poor Gemma.
I felt a little guilty standing outside Mallory’s room now. It’s not like she’d chosen to be abducted and murdered. For ages I blamed her for all the bad things that happened after she’d gone. And then I did my best to shut her out of my head, except when it suited me to blame her for something else. Like having to babysit Gemma tonight. Even if she was here, she’d be eighteen. She’d probably be going out with a boyfriend. Probably some jock like Mike Crenshaw who played rugby for the senior first-fifteen at my school. Or maybe someone older to piss Mum off. Or she’d be hanging out with her girlfriends and I’d still be minding Gemma although Mum wouldn’t be at the meeting to organise the Candlelight Rally for Missing children. I couldn’t imagine what else she might be doing if Mallory was still around. There wasn’t anything else.
I felt for the light switch and flicked it on. For a second I thought she’d probably be annoying me like crazy if she was here. She’d find a way. And suddenly I desperately wanted to be annoyed. And this flood of sadness swept over me like a wave and threatened to suck me down. As if casting off from the safety of the shore in a leaky boat, I let go of the door frame and drifted into Mallory’s bedroom.
I didn’t know why I was in here. I gave up on the idea long ago that I could find some clue in here myself, something that everyone one else had missed with their fine-toothed combs and their specialist equipment but I couldn’t help feeling a small stab of hope. Then I remembered it all happened three years ago and any clue would just lead me to a pile of bones or a faded empty netball uniform.
When she first disappeared the police spent hours in here, looking through her clothes, flicking through her books as if she'd left a secret coded message in lemon ink in a pocket or between the pages of a favourite book as a clue to what had happened; like she was someone in a Nancy Drew mystery. But she didn’t keep a diary and there was nothing in her room to show what she’d been thinking those last few days before she was gone. There were posters on her bedroom walls of people famous three years ago, but they had nothing to say now. She’d kept a whole lot of stuff in her school bag. She never let anyone else look inside it but she had it with her when she disappeared. They searched for her mobile phone but it was missing too. They monitored it for weeks but there were no calls or texts. Mum had convinced Dad to get a mobile phone for Mallory, saying it would help keep her safe. But a phone can’t protect you if someone has bad intentions. Mobile phones don’t know kung fu and can’t dial for help on their own. And they can’t tell you where they are when the battery’s dead. Just like a person.
A frilly pink duvet lay smooth over her bed with a couple of soft toys propped up on the pillow. The one on the far side was Mr E, her first teddy that I always wished was mine, but I didn’t recognize the other one. It looked brand new; as if no one had ever held it or dragged it through the mud or wiped their nose on it like had happened to Mr E. I punched the new one off the bed. Mallory would have hated it.
Like I’d seen a hundred times before, there was Mallory’s hairbrush, and her earrings and heart necklaces and other jewellery and a bunch of face junk on the top of her drawers. Mum had tidied her girly magazines into a pile but you could see strands of paper sticking out where she’d cut out her favourite hot guy to pin on the cork board above her bed. A chill ran over me as I thought that these things were all that was left of her. Her celebrity crushes in May the year she disappeared and the big plastic rainbow heart that Tyler had given her in year seven, that she wore on a cheap rusty chain. Forever stopped at fifteen, just a roomful of stuff that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else but us. Like when you take your hand out of a bucket of water and the water falls back into place like you were never there.
I heard the car door slam outside and footsteps climbing the wooden back porch stairs to the house. The key rattling in the lock. I sprinted for the door, quietly let myself into the hallway and along to my room at the other end. It wasn’t worth the trouble I’d be in if Mum found me mucking around in Mallory’s room.

QUESTION: How old is my eldest daughter?
QUESTION 2: Where did my daughter go?

clue - answers can be found on this blog :)

Winners will be announced Next Week.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ahh technology...

I now have a kindle. My next novel is out as an e-book as well as in print. I am putting Jack the Viking 2: Magnetic North out as an e-book as soon as I get my A into G. It seemed like the right time to embrace the revolution. Is it better or worse then reading the paper version? - well, no, it's just different. Some things don't work as an e-book. And cuddling up with your kids in bed with a good book will not work with a kindle for several reasons. And I don't think it will work with an I-pad either. I like print books. But I like the electronic version as well. E-readers are here to stay. They are not a flash in the pan, fly-by-night trend like tamagotchi or furbies. They are a practical and smart idea that makes sense for a lot of people. And as an author I should know how it works and what it means and how I get my books on to these devices. Whether I liked or approved of the e-reader trend was never the point. The fact is, readers have embraced the new technology and it would be dumb for me to stick my head in the sand now.

Yet technology can be a mixed blessing. A few contentious issues have been flaring up on the interweb recently: Authors at odds with agents and or publishers over content and contracts. First we had a couple of authors horrified that an agent was suggesting they cut a gay character from their novel in order to make the book more saleable. The agent responded saying the authors were using the situation to find a publisher. It all became he said, she said, but whatever the truth of the matter is, it raised an interesting point about what Sarah Rees Brennan calls the Circle of Suck and you can read about it here - As a white middle class female, an awful lot of literature is aimed at me and I have nothing to complain about because I can easily read about people just like me, in books that reflect my circumstances right back at me. Thats one enormous comfort zone of reading for me. But if I was gay or coloured or some other minority group I would have to be reading about straight white people because thats what is mostly out there. That would suck. I don't know that I could write with an authentic voice for other groups, but I would like to think that those who could were free to write their stories and able to get published. However the original issue gets resolved (if it does at all), debate like this over the content of books is hugely important.

And then there is author Kiana Davenport who apparently fell foul of her print publisher because she was releasing short stories in e-format by herself. I found her story via Welshcake here - Although self-publishing these e-books shouldn't matter, depending on what Kiana's contract with the publisher says, like Welshcake I hesitate over what the truth of the matter is. I was a little shocked to see it all layed out in a globally public forum. I was horrified that the publisher could dismiss Kiana so unprofessionally. Was I missing something? Is there more to this story? Can e-books and self-publishing really be causing this sort of reaction? Is telling her story on her blog going to help or hinder Kiana?? I hope she can sort it out. I'm interested to know what happens.

A few more points...1) as my wise and wonderful friend Maureen Crisp pointed out on facebook, if you are in this writing business, it pays to know your rights. It is your writing - a publisher cannot do or expect more than what has been agreed in the contract. And 2) it is your writing - whatever happens to it is up to you. Know what rights you are handing over to the agent/publisher. Make sure you know exactly what your relationship is with them. You are responsible for what happens to your writing.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Will they want to take it home?...

I have had some more nice reviews for The House That Went to Sea, in the Magpies Magazine (volume 26) and the Sunday Herald (18th September issue).

An excerpt from the Magpies review by Rosemary Tisdall, - "Melinda tells a delightful story of subtle and clever manipulation by Granny Gale, as she tempts Michael to try new things. One can well imagine Michael's determination to resist her methods. Gabriella's full-page evocative illustrations create the perfect matching moods and excitement beyond the windows. The sparsely furnished cottage is balanced well with the busy-ness of the mermaids and pirate scenes. I like the way the story develops and I can see young readers wishing it were them on the floating house."

And from the review by Crissi Blair in the Sunday Herald which provides a lovely summary of the story - "A quirky adventure with a delightfully odd grandmother."

And in further developments, The House That Went to Sea may be broadcast on Radio New Zealand - if and when, I will let you know.

Reviews are nerve wracking things for writers and illustrators. Its better to be talked about then not talked about. Its better to get good reviews than bad reviews. Do book buyers read reviews and act upon them? I must say I do, but I am a lonely sample size of one so its hard to extrapolate from this.

And as I did with The House That Went to Sea, I am now reaching that unpleasant phase in the process of publication with my new book The Half Life of Ryan Davis where I know I love my story and I know the publisher has loved it enough to get behind it but now its poised on the edge, ready to throw itself at the public. What will reviewers say? Will they even review it? No matter what you have poured in to your book: the love, the sweat, the tears, the agonies, you cannot tell anyone what they should think of it. You cannot tell them how to read it and how it should be interpreted. They won't know which are your favourite bits, or your proudest. You have to let it go and hope they feel the same way reading it, that you felt writing it. Yikes, I am nervous for my new baby. Will they think its handsome? Will they want to take it home? So you other writers/illustrators/book makers - do you feel like this when your book is released out into the world?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Any minute now...

Things are cranking up for Pear Jam Books. I have been reading and re-reading The Half Life of Ryan Davis in preparation for print (December 1st) and e-publishing (October 1st) which is getting close. Pear Jam Books' first new publication The Rapture by Phillip W. Simpson is already available as an e-book at Amazon. The first in a YA trilogy, go check it out at
or . Pear Jam Books will have books for all ages from board books for the very young to an adult title. Watch this space...

Now as I have the lurgy this will be brief today so I don't germify the intramaweb. After my musings on promotion the other day I saw this lovely post ( over at Janet Reid's blog which seemed a perfect fit with my witterings. I guess you don't always have to work harder, sometimes you just have to work smarter. Those are very smart suggestions...go take a look.

Okay...I'm off to lysol the keyboard...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Charm offensive....

A writer friend mentioned on facebook that they wanted to avoid promotional work for any of their books published. They had considered using a pen name to help with this.

Firstly I can totally understand why folk might not want to get involved in promotion. Its hard work, it's generally very public and it is difficult to know to what extent it is paying off. For some there are barriers to them doing conventional promotion. Some book folk relish the public face of their business. They are naturals: witty and amusing, charming and able to have the crowd in the palm of their hand in minutes. People chase them for public speaking engagements, workshops and literary festivals. But if you are not a natural you must learn how to do it, face a thousand fears as you do so and you must do all the chasing which can be demoralising (as if we need extra rejections) and exhausting. And, always,there are no guarantees of the outcomes of any promotion you do.

If you are set against promoting your work, from all my experience and observations so far, I don't think a pen name is needed to avoid it. In this industry in New Zealand most authors and illustrators have to work long and hard to get some attention going their way. If you don't do this, 99 times out of 100 (sadly) no one is knocking your door down or ringing your phone off the hook to get a hold of you to promote your work, interview you or buy 1,000 copies of your stunning work of genius. There are exceptions, but then there are usually mitigating circumstances as well. And if you do get the hordes chasing after you when your debut book comes out, there are effective ways to respond and make use of your popularity without running round promoting yourself like a chook with their head cut off. Publishers do like authors and illustrators to promote their work but a) I don't think a pen name necessarily makes a difference as Emily Rodda will attest and b) here in NZ I don't think it is a make or break issue to signing a contract.

Of course the other side of this issue is - can you forge a writing career without any kind of promotion? I do what I feel able to do because I am afraid the answer to this question is no. I also do what I feel able to do because there is something very special about meeting the children who have read and enjoyed your work. Sometimes they are passionate readers and it is unbelieveably heartening to know they have chosen to include you in their library. Sometimes they are budding writers and meeting you is a turning point for them. Both of these things will blow your socks off. Wear two pairs in winter in case this happens.

I know there are other people who are better at promotion than me and I envy the ease with which they expand their fan base and improve their sales. I know some people who don't promote at all and some have successful careers and some don't. There are also new ways of promoting your work through the social network and with the aid of technology and these mean so much can be done from the comfort of your own home. If you are uncomfortable or unable to promote in conventional ways, it pays to check out the alternatives. Ultimately it is up to you what you feel able to do and how you manage your writing career. As with so many other aspects of writing there is no right one way to do this. Do what works best for you but make sure you are well informed about it before you make those decisions.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The title Minefield...

It can be nerve-wracking when your publisher wants your input on things like covers etc... For all the times you might think 'I wish I had more control over this' remember that with great control comes great responsibility. What makes a great cover? Who will it appeal to? Will it make your target audience pick the book up? Will it make a wider audience pick it up? Will the people who pick it up feel that the cover represented the contents and feel satisfied with their selection. Or will they feel duped or cheated? Or will they think its better than they expected? Do certain colours put people off. Is the cover too juvenile for the target audience or too mature? Will it attract boys and girls. See - it's a minefield. When you are already sweating and fretting about whether your book will sell or not, if the cover was your idea it can make you sweat and fret more. And yet to be able to share your thoughts on things like this is exciting. For my next book - a teen thriller - I knew from the beginning the title didn't work like it should and a change was likely. It took some brainstorming and some down time where I shoved it to the back of the grey matter for me to come up with a useful alternative. It was weird, as 9 times out of 10 I really like the first title I think of. My instinct has worked well in the past I think, to the point where I feel compelled to stick with the first thing I come up with. But when it isn't right you have to a)recognize the problem, b)be prepared to change and c)do your homework on how titles work. When I felt the need to change the title for this new book I didn't realise how much I had subconsciously been learning about titles and covers (hence the nervousness about having the control and getting it right). I mulled over other titles and occasionally fired off my best suggestions to the publisher and when I came up with the one that stuck, it felt different. Same as the idea for the cover. I had a few but they were too arty or juvenile/mature/cliched. Then when I had my latest idea, it not only resonated with me but with the designer also and her wonderful creative response made me very happy. Here then is the cover of my next book.

And on the back it says

“I found myself standing outside Mallory’s bedroom. The last door on the upstairs hallway. I’d seen those forensic crime shows on television. I know what dead people look like. In the beginning I’d imagined Mallory, pale, lying in long grass, her eyes closed. Just her face because I didn’t want to see beyond it. But I couldn’t do it any more. Mum kept telling me she was still alive somewhere. And one day she’d come home and we’d be a happy family again but that was one big fat stupid lie. Mum could tell it to herself but I’d stopped believing it ages ago.”

Playing second fiddle to a ‘missing, presumed dead’ sister is soul-sucking for fifteen year old Ryan. As he tries to move on with his life he begins to appreciate just how difficult growing up can be. And now there’s a stranger watching him. Will his family ever be whole again? Or did Mallory light the fuse that will blow it apart forever ...

And for all the times when I've wondered about 'my online brand' I rather enjoyed reading this post ( from Nathan Bransford this morning. Folks I think he's right.