Monday, July 25, 2011

Made with Love

Mama was baking spicy gingerbread biscuits. She kept back some dough for Sam and Penny to make a gingerbread woman.

The children peered through the oven door as their gingerbread woman stretched and yawned. "Should she be doing that" they asked.

"Of course," Mama replied. "It's the special ingredient in the mixture."

When you make things with love something special is bound to happen. This is from my next picture book due mid 2012. The illustrator is the lovely Gabriella Klepatski who illustrated The House That Went to Sea which is now out in book shops.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

There is no recipe for that hum of excitement

Sorry in advance folks about my broken linkity-link button. It is pouting over in the corner and refusing to acknowledge my repeated requests. In fact none of the buttons work. No idea when normal transmission will resume.

I have seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two and have become a little obsessed. Hoping to see it for the third time today. I guess after seven previous movies played out over the ten teenage years of much of the cast, both story and reality have somehow entwined to deliver up an intense and satisfying conclusion. If it was an eight part series about adults it couldn't reveal growth and change in the characters in the same way. You know you are an adult when you can wipe all memory of yourself from the minds of your parents in order to protect them from unbridled evil. And -SPOILER ALERT IF BY ANY CHANCE YOU HAVE WANDERED INTO MY BLOG WITHOUT BEING A READER - when you have fought the enemy for so long, delivering yourself up for death makes sense. And now it is over.

Read this interesting post ( over at Nathan Bransford (ex-agent, now author)'s blog and nodded at this bit

"This is one of the hugest drawbacks about an era of publishing where publishers expect authors to shoulder the lion's share of the promotional activities. No one I know enjoys self-promotion, and no one out there particularly likes being promoted to either. People usually want to hear about new things from enthusiastic and neutral third parties, not the hugely biased person who created the thing."

Bransford goes on to say that despite the hideousness of self-promotion you have to suck it up and do it anyway. I struggle mightily with this. If folk would rather hear it from someone else then telling them directly might be a bigger turn off then a turn on. Campaigns that go viral, go viral for reasons that all the experts in the field can't explain. Look at Harry Potter (the editor at Scholastic US himself said he was closing the fantasy imprint when Harry Potter came along), look at Susan Boyle, look at Twilight or Justin Bieber. There are plenty of things shoved in our faces everyday that 'don't take'. Movies, books, programmes, stars, with lots of money and creative thinking and crafty persuasive advertising behind them and none of it generates that hum of excitement, that 'I gotta have it' reaction. I will go out and meet potential readers and read my books to folk and hope they like what they hear enough to part company with their money to own it. But I don't know that doing more than that makes a difference. The one thing I will do is keep trying to create new work that readers might like, especially those that liked my previous work. Because sometimes it is the weight of one's career that helps it build speed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I just want to write good books that children will want to read...

This article you to Tracy Ann Baines for the link via facebook) just about sent me screaming down the corridor when I read it. Yes folks it is getting harder to be a children's author. Not only is the chance of getting published diminishing, but if you do manage to get a yes, the likely financial returns have also reduced. We cannot keep writing just for the love of it. Other careers are not predicated on the need for the worker to expect no recompense for their efforts. Some might say that if the book industry cannot sell enough books then that is fair enough, but people are still selling books whether in print or in digital format. There has been a lot of negative focus on bookshops recently with the collapse of a number of high profile chains around the globe. Commentators point to the decline in book sales as the reason but the world has been in a recession - plenty of other businesses have been struggling, not JUST bookselling. Part of the cause for the demise of these bookselling chains has been the application of a business model that would have never fit with selling books. Partly it was greed, and the drive for expansion at any cost. You never thought the movie 'You've got Mail' would be anything other than a substandard romcom now did you? And the 'books are broken' way of thinking that is being touted is creating a risk averseness amongst industry players. Its not the 'books' that are broken folks. When JK Rowling advised she was selling Harry Potter e-books through her Pottermore venture there was some criticism that she was biting the hand that fed her. And also biting the new and untried authors yet to be discovered because the industry needed the income from Rowling's books to fund those risky debut writers. Publishing lists have shrunk and many hopeful writers can tell stories of how hard it is to break into the business. If there is money being made from the big authors, less of this is going on risky debuts. The number of previous titles being re-issued is worrying.

People still believe in the power of the written word. People still believe a literate society is a good thing. And a literate adult society comes from creating literate children. The world population is increasing not declining. Reading, for information or pleasure, of non-fiction or fiction, in a variety of genre that entertain and inspire will never be a bad thing. Good readers cannot grow on the classics alone. They also need contemporary work that speaks like they do, about issues relevant to the here and now. Somewhere along the way writers have been devalued. I know there is a lot more to it than just the issues I have raised above. I don't know who is responsible. But things cannot continue this way. Go have a read of this blog post - (thanks for the link Yvette) - I don't agree with everything that's said but there is a lot of food for thought.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I can't tell you what I want, I'll know it when I see it...

I have another picture book in the works which is planned to come out middle of next year. On Monday I went to the publishers to check out the illustrator's first sketches and to agree on what we thought was the best way to go. This particular story is essentially a love story. Although the illustrator was keen to produce something that fitted with the images I had in mind I have to admit that the images in my head were pretty vague and I waffled somewhat when we first discussed it. The dominant thing was the emotion of the story. I have always understood how publishers say 'we can't tell you exactly what we want, we'll know when we see it'. This was how I felt about this story. I didn't have a sharp visual idea in mind but I knew I would recognize the right thing when I saw it (which is also something that kind of happens in the story) and when I saw the artist's sketches my heart melted. I don't know how she does it. In a few simple pencil drawings she had captured the emotion I had aimed for with my words. You can never tell how a book is going to go but I for one am very happy with the pictures that will accompany my story in this new book. I hope folk will feel the love for this book the way the characters feel the love inside it. Sweet.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Here's one I prepared earlier...

Well folks I have succeeded in growing one to full size. A child that is. My eldest turned eighteen yesterday and in this fair land of ours she can do just about anything (except launder her own clothes apparently) - vote, drink, marry, enlist, and move out. She is moving out, kind of, shortly, to embark on a student exchange to the US of A for twelve months or so. It will be easier and harder without her.

This morning I went down to Maungawhau Primary School to award some Fabo Writing Prizes to students at the school. Congrats to Josh and Matthew and all the students and their wonderful teachers, especially those in rooms 22 and 23 who have been making stupendous writing efforts to meet the 2011 Fabo Challenge. Go check it out at

Friday, July 1, 2011

On a need to know basis...

One of my favourite things about taking writing workshops with school children is finding those brilliant examples or summarising phrases that capture a 'truth' about writing. My favourite at a class yesterday came during a discussion about setting. Plenty of writers provide more setting than the story needs. Plenty of writers provide too much detail that bogs the story down when the reader just wants to know what happens next. Sometimes we do it to show off how much research was done, sometimes it's because we feel the need to provide this really detailed complete picture 'cos it looks great. Sometimes its a substitue for plot - look at all my shiny fabulous world building, doesn't it feel real, even though all my characters are just standing round doin' nothin'. But folks, setting should be included on a 'need to know basis'. If it isn't relevant, you probably don't need it. In my latest novel on which I have just completed a little rewrite and spruce up and which is to be published this December I worried quite a bit about how little setting I provide. I kept writing and wondering and worrying, but the story just didn't demand more setting than I was giving. Sure you know what time of day it is and what season. You know where you are in terms of home or school or the skate park or a friend's place. But there is little additonal detail about the town the story is located in and barely anything about the country. It wasn't relevant to the story. It felt wrong to add it. Rather than advancing the plot or explaining the change in the character it got in the way.

There are times when a lot of information about setting is necessary. From the size and length of that mountain range to the way the locals produce their food. If you create a new world, we won't know anything about it except what you tell us. Go for broke and build that world. But the 'need to know basis' rule still applies. If you story is set in the past or the future, then we will need to know how the world worked/works to understand how the characters behave in it. But the 'need to know basis' rule still applies. And one of the weird-ass phenomenons of writing is that all that extra detail that you thought of or researched or developed, that you have to leave out because it isn't relevant to the action and doesn't propel the story along acts like the bit of an iceberg that sits below the water. Although the reader only reads the visible bit above the water line they sense the bit below the water. Because that bit below the water informs the visible bit above and even though you don't get to spell it out, it has influenced what you did choose to put in and the reader can tell. It supports the credibility of your story and you know if some kid ever asks you to explain that bit in your story you WILL know the answer because it was something you thought about even though it never made it to the final version.