Sunday, December 30, 2012

I'll start tomorrow, I promise...

I read a few books while I was away on holiday. Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher which I loved and City of Bones by Cassandra Clare which mostly annoyed me. There are few things as satisfying when reading a book as figuring out the subtext and feeling clever because you have done so. I realise now how important 'voice' is to me - Ketchup Clouds has a strong voice. Its a common quality in my favourite reads. I know books are such a subjective art form. Enough readers have loved the (best selling) Mortal instrument series by Clare to inspire a major studio to make it into a movie. Don't get me wrong - there were things I liked about the City of Bones book, but ultimately the annoying things outweighed them. Things like repeating the same description for the same character, often on the same page, or contradicting a description with a second description soon after the first. There was a lot of 'telling' and info dumping. World building for alternate or new worlds should feel natural (think Lord of the Rings or Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy or Holly Black's Curse Worker books- as complex as these were I didn't struggle to recall details or connections between them with those books) but I didn't enjoy having to remember all the elements required in City of Bones. And what does 'green-scented' mean???? I liked the three main protagonists and consequently found the relationship twist at the end of this first book a little repugnant. I didn't really enjoy the writer's style and I respect that this is a taste thing. But having recently picked up another best seller which I quickly put down again because the writing was so unsubtle (I hate it when I can see the author trying so hard) and the plot so, so ... clunky ..... I am a tad grumpy. It probably didn't help that I came home from the holiday and went to see The Hobbit and wasn't entirely happy about what Mr Jackson had done with it. Much respect to Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman and James Nesbitt (in that order) however. And I am now reading Ian Rankin's Standing in Another Man's Grave and am happy to report, so far, so good. If nothing else, all this serves to remind me I must try harder when writing my own books and find a hobbit hole to hide in if anyone ever makes one into a movie.

I must admit it's been hard to get back in to writing mode after being away. I'm still feeling quite holidayish...

We waved goodbye to the Sydney Opera House on Dec 12th

and tried picking coconuts on Lifou on Dec 16th

and went rock climbing while at sea
played table tennis
and mini golf

and went swimming at tropical locations

I am not waiting three years for my next holiday. And I promise, tomorrow I start writing again...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Veni, vidi, visa...

Well, that was a blast. You know it's a great holiday when your blood pressure goes down by 10 to 20 points. I read, I lazed, I sightsaw, I bathed, I sunbathed, I stargazed and moon bathed too. And of course I shopped as well. Colour me relaxed.

There was unspoilt and tropical...

and then there was the city

and this is what happens at Bondi Beach when the end of the world is imminent
I forgot all my worries. I laughed ... a lot. Bring on 2013, cos I am ready.

So what does next year hold? My second to last university paper (just enrolled). I'm booked for a workshop already. I have a book to finish writing and two (hopefully three) books to launch. I plan to read more next year. And hang out with my SO and kids as much as possible because they are the best company. Oh, and of course I will keep blogging. I am experimenting with a bunch of stuff - epublishing, DIY, branding and marketing exercises, etc....and will pass on whatever I discover. You know I do it all for you guys :)

I hope you are having a peaceful, loving and fun-filled Christmas and a safe and happy New Year. Love and best wishes to you all.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Going dark in colour...

This blog is going dark till Christmas (in a colourful way of course, cos that's how I roll) as tomorrow I am off on a much needed holiday with my famdamily. I have a thousand and one chores to do and no minions to palm them off on so today's post will be brief. Instead of words I have decided to regale you with some pictures. Here in no particular order -

the cake I made for my niece's 21st. I made four chocolate cakes for this, and hand cut 21 stars. It tasted very nice.

We dressed up for the occasion (my eldest and I)

And I'm embarrassed to say my advance copy of A Winter's day in 1939 came to the party too (hanging out here with Elora and my SO)

My middle child was in the YASC's terrific production of The Taming of the Shrew as the haberdasher
and the widow
and finally someone took a picture of my son so I can confirm he is not just a figment of my imagination
So there you have it. Talk amongst yourselves in my absence and I look forward to hanging out with you on my return. Keep safe and have a very happy Christmas

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sally Bangle: Unexpected Detective

I seem to have published a book: a junior mystery for confident readers aged 8 to 11. Here it is

It is available to buy at Smashwords and at Amazon. Soon it should also be available for Kobo, ipads, at Barnes and Noble and Sony.

This is what it is about:  

Sally Bangle's sea faring dad was lost at sea seven years before. But is he really dead? When Sally is given a school project to research the very strange Professor Angstrom she turns up some interesting information about that fateful sea voyage. What really happened? Is that really the Professor wrapped up in bandages in St Olafs? Sally won't rest until she has figured out the mystery and she drags her best friend, her best friend's chauffer, her brother and the school bully along on a dangerous mission to discover the truth.

If it were a print book it would probably be about 170 pages long. I am rather pleased cos I did it all myself, except for the cover which I had some professional help with. This was my original picture 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Angst is a life-shortener...

eeek - the days are flying by. Time for a new post methinks. As you will all know if you have been reading along it has been quite a year. When I think back on all the things that have happened this year I have trouble believing that I squeezed all that in to less than 12 months. At times I was chasing my tail, juggling too many balls and feeling stressed. Thank goodness I wasn't juggling chainsaws. My health has been a bit rubbish and I'm not sure if that was a cause or a symptom of other things. Looking back over what I have been up to, after moaning and groaning probably more than I should have, I can't actually help feeling a little bit proud and pretty happy about all the things I achieved. Lots of deadlines, appointments and events mean you get a lot of things done. Now that the pressure has eased off I am feeling guilty that I'm not doing stuff and am wasting heaps more time doing silly pointless things. Of course this week is an exception because we are going away next week and all the things I have been avoiding while I twiddle my thumbs in a decorative fashion now need doing before we go. So I am making lists and working my way through them - suffice to say I will have enough underwear to wear on my holiday and I WILL remember to pack the power cord for my laptop so I can keep writing.

I am also assembling everything I need to upload my junior fiction as an e-book. The manuscript is edited and I am about to start formatting. I have been thinking alot about e-books and print books and the publishing industry and publishers, agents, booksellers and everyone else. If you are agonising about ANY aspect of publishing, know that you are not alone. It is an imperfect science. The best way forward is to keep informed, make decisions you can live with and don't angst over everything. Angst is a life-shortener. My experiment in publishing my junior novel Sally Bangle: Unexpected Detective myself is a terrific opportunity to test it all out. I want to know, so I am finding out. After all, knowledge is power.

And I was extremely thrilled to see this in the post last week.

The latest Magpies magazine. And look who is inside it!!

Yes, it's me!!Thank you to the very lovely Julie Harper who interviewed me and wrote a very nice article about me for the New Zealand section of the magazine. I was most excited (still am).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Poem for today...

by me

Here is my poem.
The only thing I can tell you about it
Is that it was once commended
In some competition or other
by someone who said he knew something about poetry.

But I just liked how
when I put those words together
on the page
in those lines
they started to hum

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Not burnt out yet but a little singed around the edges...

Crikey, the hamster wheel has still not slowed sufficiently for me to leap off and have a lie down yet. Had two fun school visits last week ( a big shout out to Parnell District and St Joseph's in Takapuna) off to New Windsor tomorrow and then Takapuna Primary the following week. The week after we head away on holiday. In the meantime there is one last NCEA exam for middle child, and she is also rehearsing for, and performing in, the Young Auckland Shakespeare Company's production of The Taming of the Shrew (my favourite), my son has soccer games and practices, there is my niece's 21st for which I am making a cake and I have meetings and other things to achieve. I am not burnt out yet but definitely feeling a little singed around the edges and a touch cranky.

To keep me from spontaneously combusting completely I have been investing in some sanity savers. I read The Hobbit again (first time since I was a teen I think) and admonished myself for not keeping in touch with this book more often. It's a wittier, lighter (compared with the darkness of lord of the Rings) most charming read. The narrative voice has some amusing asides to the reader which I really loved. I love too the development of Bilbo as he goes through the adventure. His personal growth and the reveal of his intelligence and strength are a real pleasure to read. And it lays the foundation for what is to come in The Lord of the Rings in an easy manner that gives you plenty of information with barely a hint at the real underlying darkness. If you haven't read The Hobbit, I think you should. I also recently read My First Car Was Red written and illustrated by Peter Schossow (published by Gecko) and must admit I fell completely in love with this book too. Another witty, beautifully told adventure that draws you in to the lovely family dynamics surrounding the main character. The illustrations are fantastic with plenty of energy and humour. I sometimes look at more sophisticated picture books like this and wonder if children will enjoy them as much as an adult would but then I think the adult reader's pleasure in reading this aloud would easily rub off on the young listener and they couldn't help but be infected by the intelligence, warmth and depth of the story.

I also watched the first series of Wallander with Kenneth Branagh in the titular role and was quite impressed. The movie length episodes are slow moving in places but Branagh is rather amazing as the grizzled, workaholic, Swedish detective. He's best in the third episode 'One Step Behind' - utterly convincing when he falls apart in front of his daughter. I do love the speed and smartness of Sherlock better but while I wait for the third series I am happy to wallow in Wallander.

And last but by no means least I saw Skyfall last Friday with my girls. I am a big fan of Daniel Craig. He is my favouritist Bond. I like Sean Connery but never really enjoyed any of the Bond movies he was in. DC has the right blend of swag, rough and smooth to carry Bond off. But I have to confess Skyfall annoyed me. Too often I saw the mark of the director drawing attention to what I like to refer to as (quoting Peter Pan) "Oh the cleverness of me". The opening action sequence was brilliant (the cuff straightening in the can opened train!!!). I liked the new Q. The villain was the best yet. Javier Bardem was truly chilling as the damaged-beyond-repair Raoul Silva. That man can act. But Bond (yes I know they were trying to show his sensitive side) isn't Bond without his swagger. I reckon they could find a way to show depth and sensitivity without losing the swag. And why oh why, after developing 'M' into such a strong female role over the last few Bond movies did they have to take it all away, sacrificing her on the altar of Bond's humanity. Eurch! She just looked weak and indecisive with errors  in judgement trailing along behind her. And now (SPOILER ALERT) we are back where we started with the woman in the secretarial role and a man at the helm. Bring back kiwi Martin Campbell is all I can say.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Number One Rule for New Authors...

I read a sad tale this morning of a prospective author scammed by an unscrupulous person posing as an illustrator. I am appalled that predatory scum-bags like this are out there preying on decent people. Shame on you. All we can do is arm ourselves with information, be vigilant and look out for each other. Trouble is when you are first starting out you don't know what you don't know. And you don't know who to ask or what, exactly, you should be asking about. One of my favourite bits of advise for aspiring writers is to join organisations like the NZSA, Storylines and Kiwiwrite4kidz, and make friends with other authors and illustrators. Because they are the people collectively who know. One of the first things I did when I made the decision to follow through on my crazy dream of being an author was join Storylines. And since those early days I have joined other groups and met a lot of authors and illustrators. If I have questions or uncertainties I ask these people. If they don't know they suggest people who might. I also spend a lot of time searching out information on the internet but I know where to look because I have spent a lot of time looking. There are ways to determine reputations. Ask around. Look after yourselves people. Of course the other problem now is that I may have experience and information at my fingertips but I don't always know what I know. I mean 'I know it' but I don't realise that it's information other people might not have. This is one of the key benefits of belonging to a community of authors and illustrators: you pick up a lot just by hanging out. We are communicative, word people. You cannot find a better source of information. Please, PLEASE don't let shyness stop you. Children's writers and illustrators in particular are the most down to earth, lovely, generous people you might ever meet. None of them (as far as I am aware) bite. We like helping each other. Come and join us :)


  • I recently had a lovely review of my YA thriller The Half Life of Ryan Davis from a very talented young teen which you can see here
  • I have solved my title dilemma and am now working on my intermediate mystery cover. I will hopefully be able to reveal more soon. 
  • Here is a great run-down on the importance and definition of what the premise of your book is, from blogger Stroppy Author. If you have this clear in your mind when you are writing your task will be easier. Go read it. Go on. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Naming my baby...

I have a mid grade manuscript good to go. A quirky little mystery thriller. What really happened to Sally Beachem's father? Were stories of his demise premature? Why has her mother suddenly given up her job? Can Sally uncover the truth and reunite her family?   At the moment the story is nameless. Titles (and covers) make the first impression. It's important to make a good first impression.

Titles used to come easily. I don't think I appreciated this ease. Somehow though, the more I have come to know about writing, the book business, publishing and marketing, the harder the titles are to come by. The freedom of ignorance is gone.

You have to keep your target audience in mind. Girls? Boys? Girls and boys? Junior, mid-grade, YA??? What's popular with the age group. What kind of titles do they prefer? You can't give the story away (How Harry Potter defeated Voldemort). You can't imply its a different story (The Voyage of... when the story doesn't take place at sea, or Barking Mad when there are no dogs involved). You need to hint at what it is (The Mystery of..., The case of..., Who Shot JR). It needs to be age appropriate (so not The Thief, The Cook, His Wife and her Lover) and not too oblique. If its a series you want to include elements that link it to future titles. Too long? (But this can work - The Incident of the Dog in the Night Time anyone?) Too short? Single words can be genius (Holes, Fear, Beserk). The same as another book (I love The Deceivers but this has been very popular and then maybe it's too mature)? Trips off the tongue but doesn't quite work. Doesn't trip but does have the right vibe? What should you go with? My usual rule of thumb is that warm and cuddly gut feeling that tells you you're on the money. I haven't felt that yet. I just  have to keep trying on titles no matter how harsh the dressing room lights are till I find the one that fits. You'll hear about it when I get there.    

Monday, November 12, 2012

Just so's ya know...

So the final assignment is handed in and the academic effort is over for another year. Of course my first thought on finishing was, what am I studying next year. In my defence I still have two papers to do to complete the diploma in Children's Literature. I can't imagine I'll do any more university study after that but I have learnt never to say 'never'. Never is a very long time. And study is yoga for the brain, or maybe pilates with a little spin class thrown in. It would be nice to write more. Maybe I will do that instead. In 2015.

Of course I'm not just looking ahead to what paper I will do in 2013 (YA fiction, if you want to know), I'm also wondering what else I should get up to. By early next year Jack the Viking: Magnetic North should be done and dusted and available at an e-store near you. I will be promoting this and my new print book A Winter's Day in 1939. I'm thinking I might put another title out as an e-book shortly. Just working on the cover. As soon as it is good to go I will let you know. And there is a half finished fantasy YA hiding in the laptop. We shall see.

Recently there was a facebook discussion on the average earnings of children's writers and illustrators in New Zealand. We aren't a wealthy lot. Those who did best took on additional work in educational writing or the like. I have earned between $4 and $6k a year from advances, royalties, school visits, and workshops etc...(somewhat under the reported average on fb), over the last few years, but that is still an improvement on what I was earning on my writing in preceding years. I really don't think folk appreciate how little money there is in this business. I don't think its cos I'm bad at what I do. Although I guess I could be doing it wrong :). I do pine for funding as a way to address the considerable shortfall between my efforts and my remuneration. Funding, so far, has managed to resist me. And in the meantime I keep writing. Its what I do. And children (and adults) keep reading my books, which is why I do it.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Statistics: A Mystery

Apparently the news is good. In a tough economic landscape when e-books and other changes threaten sales of print books, New Zealand's book sales are doing better than most. Looking at market share for New Zealand titles, non fiction has 32%, children's books 17% and fiction 3 %. Looking at those numbers I'm trying to decide if we children's writers are punching above our weight. 17% feels pretty good. There are a lot of overseas titles coming in all the time so I think 17% represents quite an effort on the parts of both consumers and producers. When I think of the local children's writers and illustrators I know the scene feels vibrant, the quality of books strong, their production of a terrific quality. When I think a little harder about the statistics it becomes a little unclearer. I will presume that the 3% refers to adult fiction only. Not sure where YA sits but I'm going to say its put with children's fiction as that's what tends to happen. Trouble comes of thinking of children's books as one genre. They aren't. Would be interesting to drill down further and see what proportion of the 17% are pb's versus novels etc... Still 17% is an interesting number. 3 % is an interesting number too. I wonder what the numbers were for the preceding period. Has our market share grown, shrunk or remained static? How do these numbers compare with market share of their own books in other countries? I can't imagine we have a market share significant enough to be measurable in any other country. What other country's literature has an independently significant market share here? What I'm trying to get my head around is what these numbers should actually mean for today's authors and illustrators in New Zealand? What can we do to improve things? Can we improve our impact in some other country? Statistics seem to tell a story but strip away the unknowns and they are only half the story and definitely not the climax or the resolution. Should I feel happy? Or sad? I'm not really sure.

Monday, November 5, 2012

When the grit hits the fan...

So t'other day in my post on not being a slave cos of the terrible sandals (there are other downsides too) where I linked to the lovely list of advice that authors should stop giving others here I mentioned I particularly liked anti-advice number 4 (Watch What You Say on the Internet). Honestly folks there are two reasons I can think of why it doesn't matter. One is that no one is listening/reading/watching in the first place (sorry but this does happen - if a tree falls in the forest etc...etc...etc...) and the second is that you don't have to say anything indecent, illicit, objectionable, questionable, or inflammatory for people to decide they dislike you and hurl great steaming gobs of vitriol your way. So whatever you say, they are capable of saying much, much, worse and not being punished or called out for it. I read this post here at an Awfully Big Blog Adventure with increasing horror. I'd already checked out Nicola Morgan's post here on the copyright furore over The Tobermory Cat (which was very interesting and a bit of an education in copyright and trademarking), but I was astounded that such things as hate blogs existed. Bullies are everywhere and I am shocked at the amount of vile, spleen and outright hatred they are full of. Scary, scary (and sad) stuff. Being successful and/or famous seems to be the main reason people become targets (well that'll keep me safe then won't it). Whatever happened to the concept of saying nothing at all if you couldn't think of something nice to say? I guess my point is, there's an extra layer to that bit of advice in number 4. As long as you are being yourself on the internet you will be able to defend, justify or apologize with sincerity for your actions when the grit hits the fan. That's all you can do. People can form crazy batshit opinions about you whether you do or say anything bad or not. You can't protect yourself by being squeaky clean and conservative so best to stick with your own truths and values and know that you can live with yourself no matter what happens.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Normal has shifted (and didn't leave a forwarding address)

It has been a crazy year. At times I've worked very hard to complete the things I'd committed to do. At times I've done things I didn't think I could do. But I did them all. Sometimes I was spinning from one event to another, from one deadline to another, wondering whether I might just fall off the edge or hit the wall and bounce back into oncoming traffic. It's hard to say no to things in this business, even though at times saying no would have eased the pressure a little. Truth is I didn't want to say no to anything. I wanted to do it all. Sometimes keeping all the balls in the air was as much by luck as by good management, but my luck and my good management held. You learn different ways of working; you learn that you can do more than you thought you could; you learn that nearly every time the rewards are more than worth it. My goal with everything is to produce a quality product - that's the bottom line I try to never lose sight of.

What else did I learn this year? I've learnt (yet again) that getting back to normal never happens. Waiting for a quiet period during which you can do all the things you've put aside never comes (and let's face it when you do get a quiet period, the last thing you feel like doing is a list of chores you put off in the first place). Do the things you want and need to do - forget, or delegate the rest. I've learnt that things are continually changing - my career, my expectations, who I am have all changed this year. And I suspect that my hope that I would catch up with myself and get the hang of me before the next change occurred will never happen. I'll just have to arrange for someone to throw a bucket of cold water over me or slap me if I become someone I wouldn't approve of.

I've learnt that being more 'zen' about the publishing industry is a sanity saver. We'll all be dust in a hundred years anyway. Fret less, pamper more, might be one of my new mottos.

And helpfully, I have come up with some handy guidelines for how friends and family can support the author in their life.

Caring for the author in your life.
Caring for your author can be a tricky and sometimes time consuming business. Authors need regular feeding and exercise to maintain good health. They respond well to frequent praise and reassurance. And it is important for them to spend time in the company of other authors, especially in the early days to encourage good socialization. Regular play will result in a happier author. The occasional treat won’t hurt them but should ideally be used to reinforce good behaviour. Do not feed them under the table as this creates bad habits. Drinking under the table is different. Just remember clear bright eyes and a glossy coat are the signs of a healthy author. Your patience, commitment and consistency will pay off in the long run giving you a happy and loyal companion for years to come.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Don't be a slave ... the sandals are so uncomfortable

I sometimes mostly always think the general public have the wrong idea about what it means to be a published author in New Zealand. I guess that isn't so surprising. Only big successes get reported in the media here. Or articles talk about what is happening to overseas writers, where an advance for a first novel in the US is likely to be in the 5,000 to 10,000 dollar range (sometimes much more, although it can also be zero) and an american debut author can be whisked off to London on an author tour and be interviewed by the press. Its all so exciting. We don't generally get whisked off so perhaps we seem less real to the media and the public. I think the general rule is you need to be something to be aspired to, or warned away from, to get media coverage. I just don't want the public to have the wrong idea. Our population here means everything is on a much smaller scale. Print runs are smaller, advances are smaller, and getting whisked away might mean a trip to the publisher's offices or a local cafe. I am not complaining. I want to live here and things are smaller here and that naturally will have implications, but I just want folks to know that its not a flash, rolling in money and junkets kind of occupation is all. And writing isn't a holiday, its a job (and often a compulsion). I think I'm probably repeating myself on this topic but I still hear the same misapprehensions when I talk to folk so I guess it bears repeating.

I also wanted to say that I am changing my mind about writing rules and writing advice. Go check out this smart link over at writer Helen Lowe's blog on Ten Bits of Advice Writers Should Stop Giving Aspiring Writers (warning - lots of swearing). I especially like the one on show don't tell (2) and on watching what you say on the internet (4). I've always been one for keeping both show and tell in a story (I find reading all show gives me a headache). As the blogger says - both have their place. I think I want to change my stance on adverbs too. They can be a bit of a lazy option sometimes but sometimes they are the right word for the job.

There is heaps of advice out there and lots of rules and some of it is good but its important to not feel straitjacketed by it all. Advice and rules can be a comfort and sometimes a lifesaver - something to cling on to when the creative seas get rough. But they aren't a cure all or necessarily your saviour. Following them can help make you a better writer and can help you improve your understanding of writing and storytelling, but sometimes you need to ignore the advice and the rules and sometimes you have to break them. They're your friends, not your masters. Don't be their slave.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Mystery...

An excerpt (pages 41-47) from the new thing I'm polishing:

The café was dark and grubby with an indeterminate colour lino floor, wooden chairs and round tables. Spiller’s was a perfect name for it, seemingly describing the behaviour of most of the occupants. It was nothing at all like the new shiny, chrome and black leather cafés that were popping up everywhere, with lots of glass windows and outside tables. While she preferred the idea of having hot chocolates at the new ones, Sally swiftly decided this one suited their purposes better. She felt sure no one from school would see them here.
With the nose blowing and the excuse making they were five minutes late for their meeting with Milo Lestrange. When they walked through the doorway of Spiller’s to the tune of a bell over the door they could see two little old ladies wearing what looked like tea cosies on their heads sharing a pot of tea and a plate of dainties in the far corner by the counter. Only two other tables were occupied. An old man wearing a disgusting stained overcoat and a knitted beanie pulled down over a mess of hair sat at a table also near the counter and a tall school girl sat at another by the front window. They were both horrified to see the school girl was wearing a St Welt’s smock, blazer and hat, and even more horrified to see that the school girl was Vanessa Blunt. She didn’t look up when they came in but seemed deeply absorbed in a book and a large piece of carrot cake. Sally shivered at the sight of her enemy. Avoiding the table near the window Sally and Abigail wended their way through to the counter. The old man cleared his throat as they passed.
An older girl had come through the plastic strip curtain to stand behind the counter when the doorbell had rung and now they gave her their order for two hot chocolates, two pieces of cake and a filled roll. Charmaine, said the badge pinned to the front of her white pinny.
“We don’t do hot chocolates. It’s either coffee or a mug of cocoa each. Alright then?” she said, not looking terribly fussed whether it suited or not. They nodded and as she rung up their order on an ancient till, Abigail handed over some money. The girl then busied herself pulling two slabs of carrot cake and an overflowing filled roll from the display case and arranging them on three plates.
“I’ll bring your drinks over,” she said pushing the laden plates towards them.
Abigail and Sally grabbed their food and turned back to survey the tables.
“Ahem,” came the old man again. This time the two girls glanced over and he was staring straight at them. He winked and tilting his head to one side, nodded.
“He wants us to sit with him,” Abigail whispered to Sally, a horrified expression on her face.
“I think its Milo,” Sally whispered back, “In disguise.”
Sure enough now that they were looking straight back at him they could both see that he wasn’t actually old at all. It was just his coat that looked like it had been through three life times. And they could see his hair had obviously grown quite a bit longer since the photo for the expedition was taken but it was still the same dark coloured wild mess it had been back then.
They walked towards the table and when they were close enough Sally leaned forward.
“Mr Lestrange?” she asked as quietly as she could.
The man nodded and they sat down at the table pulling their chairs around so their backs were towards Vanessa. She still seemed totally spellbound by the large book she was holding close to her face.
“Oh Mr Lestrange I forgot to get you something,” Sally said.
“Shhh, don’t say my name out loud like that,” the man said leaning forward over the table towards them. “And it doesn’t matter. I brought my own,” and he pulled a little flask out of his coat pocket and shook it. It made a light sloshing sound as if he’d already consumed most of the contents. Sally and Abigail smiled faintly.
“So which of you is Barque’s daughter?”
Sally stuck her hand up a little and said, “Me, I’m Sally. Oh, and this is my best friend, Abigail Fray.”
“Do you have a brother?” Mr Lestrange’s voice went down to a whisper.
Sally nodded.
“Any other’s?”
Sally shook her head.
“I remember Barque talking about his two children,” he continued. “A boy and a girl. Michael and Sally. No, ... that’s not quite right.”
“Malcolm and Sally?” Sally offered.
 “Yes...that’s it.  You do look a bit like him.” he whispered.
“Why are you whispering?” Abigail asked preparing to take a bite of the filled roll she had squashed into submission. Milo and Sally both turned to glare at Abigail. “Shhh,” they chorused.
“Well,” Milo said in a low voice. “Call me Milo.” He glanced at Sally. “I remember Captain Barque very well. Bill. That’s what he told me to call him. He was kind to me. No one else was on that voyage. I was the youngest and Bill took me under his wing. Treated me like a son. Or a younger brother. I remember it like it was yesterday. In fact I’ve had trouble forgetting it. Well, parts of it anyway. Other parts…hmmm…I don’t know. But one thing I know for sure. That one voyage changed my life completely.”
“It changed mine forever too,” Sally said softly.
“Here are your cocoas,” Charmaine said plonking two chipped mugs of flat muddy liquid on the table. Abigail smiled up at her in thanks and grabbed her mug to wash down the roll before she started on her cake.
“So what happened then,” she said.
“Well things were already difficult before we left port. Although your father had everything running smoothly Sally, Professor Angstrom and Major Blunt were complaining about everything from the food and the size of their cabins to the way their equipment was stored on board and the route your father was recommending they take. It all came to a head when we were only two days out to sea. I’d been laid up in my cabin the whole time with sea sickness. But on that second night I felt a little better and I thought it was time for some fresh air and I got up and went for a walk up on deck. I was outside the galley and I heard shouting. It was the Major and he was yelling at your father. Calling him names. Saying the expedition would be a disaster because of him. Your father was saying something about turning the ship round and returning to port right then. There was the sound of breaking glass and then steps and bangs and thuds and a shout. Doors were being opened and slammed shut and then more footsteps... and then the sound I can’t get out of my head. A scream and a crash and an enormous splash, like something very big had fallen in the water…”
“Dad...” Sally whispered, her eyes round and swimming with tears.
“I rushed around to the other side of the ship as fast as I could and I looked in the water and I called ‘Man Overboard’ and the crew came running but in the dark, even though they turned the ship around... you know even for a small ship like the Pole Star it takes a really long time. They don’t turn on a dollar coin you know. Well anyway, it was too late. We couldn’t find the body and…” Milo looked at Sally’s face.
“Please keep going,” Sally said in a small voice.
“The only person missing was the captain. The major was in the infirmary bandaging up the professor’s head. He’d taken a nasty knock and couldn’t remember anything. The major said it was the professor who’d screamed.”
“What did he say had happened to the captain,” Abigail asked breathlessly, peering over the top of her cake as she took another bite.
Milo looked from Abigail to Sally, uncertainty on his face. “I…he said…he said the captain had fallen.”
But Sally hadn’t heard. “There was that photo in the book,” Sally said staring off into space, her mind fidgeting around for something. “Of the Professor on the stretcher all bandaged. You couldn’t see his face.”
“That’s right,” Milo said.
“It could have been anyone,” she said, her expression suddenly hopeful.
“Ahhh, it looked like the professor. Whoever it was in the infirmary had the professor’s long black coat on too,” Milo said.
“But you never saw his face,” Sally persisted.
“No but the captain was a lot shorter than the professor, and the professor was…”
“But you couldn’t be a hundred percent sure. And it was a long time ago.”
“Well yes…but Sally, I don’t think it was the captain.”
“You didn’t see who went overboard?”
“No. Only the major knows what happened. And the professor. But he never recovered from the accident. He’s been in St Olaf’s ever since.”
“That’s not an ordinary hospital though, is it?” Abigail interjected. “It’s a mental hospital. Ooo, what if he’s too drugged to remember or so he can’t tell the truth or something.”
Milo looked aghast. “Look you two. It was all very straightforward back then. Don’t go inventing things that just aren’t true.”
“But it wasn’t straight forward at all.” Sally protested. “You said in your book that they weren’t going to the South Pole for oil. It was all about the army or something.”
“I don’t…remember…,” Milo said looking confused all of a sudden.
“You don’t really know the truth yourself, do you,” Sally said. “I want to know what happened to my Dad.”
“I can’t tell you any more than I’ve already told you. Although I do know the ‘Pole Star’ never made another voyage after that. It’s been in dry dock ever since. Down at the port.”
“Shhh,” Abigail said, winking and nodding her head towards Vanessa’s table. Sally turned to see Vanessa leaning back in her seat as far as she could without tipping backwards. Her book lay closed on the table and her cake plate was empty.
Sally’s face turned a livid red colour and she stood up so suddenly her chair fell to the floor with a loud clatter. She marched over to Vanessa.
“What do you think you’re doing, nosey parker,” she said banging the back left leg of the chair with her foot as hard as she could. The back legs slid under and the chair fell back with the tall solid Vanessa crashing down like a brick wall. Everyone in the cafe stared at the girl lying on the floor. Sally marched right back to the table, picked up her own seat and sat down. She didn’t look back. Vanessa lay in a tangled heap with the chair, like a tortoise stuck on its back unable to right itself, legs and arms waving in the air helplessly. Abigail snorted hysterically into her serviette.
“I guess somebody ought to help her up,” Sally said out loud in a most insincere voice so the whole café could hear.
 “Oh Sally,” Abigail gasped through tears of laughter. “How could you. She might be hurt.”
“She looks quite alright to me,” Sally said without even turning round to look. “I imagine it would take quite a lot to damage Vanessa.”
Eventually Charmaine emerged through the plastic curtain and helped Vanessa off the floor. “Lean too far back did we Miss. Happens all the time. There you go. Alright?” She picked up the chair and dusted off the back of Vanessa’s smock. Vanessa glared at Sally, gathered up her book and school bag and stalked out of the café.
“My goodness,” Milo said, “that was the major’s daughter. What a coincidence. Do you know her Sally?”

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Children get it....

I visited New Windsor School on Tuesday for my author-in-residence programme there and had such a lovely visit. I talked to two groups about ideas and plotting and I participated in one of the school's book clubs. We'd been reading Red Rocks by Rachael King which we'd all enjoyed. We discussed our favourite bits and our favourite characters. We liked how exciting and adventurous the story was. Many of the children had enjoyed the vivid description of the windswept Wellington coastline. Everyone agreed we'd like more children's books from Ms King please (I hear she is working on another one - yay!). And then as the discussion continued someone mentioned how they had connected with the main character in our previous book club read, my book Jack the Viking. Several members of the group said the words every author wants to hear - it was like what happened to me...that's just how I felt...- I loved that the fact Jack is able to overcome his problems was empowering for them, that I had written a character that was true to their experience. I'm glad I didn't cry but I sure felt like it. For those children my book made a difference and I was overjoyed.

We do have to be careful in our roles as adult writers and adult readers of children's material though. I agree with celebrated Australian children's writer Mem Fox who said "Do not write down to children. if the story makes adults wince, it will make children wince too. Write always for extremely clever, well-adjusted, lively children. Young readers will appreciate the compliment" ( from Mem Fox's Do's and Don'ts for Picture Books here - thanks to Sher Foley for the link). I think I would add that children are way smarter than us adults sometimes. They may be children with less experience but that doesn't make them less intelligent. Sometimes our maturity and experience and cynicism etc... is a burden that jaundices our view. I think this is well illustrated by this lovely piece found here at Beattie's Blog. Just cos we can't sort ourselves out as adults doesn't mean children don't know what's what. We should stop telling them what to read and how to live their lives and just be a better example ourselves

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Playing tag...

I was tagged here by fab fellow NZ author Phillip W. Simpson and I'm playing

What's the working Title of your WIP?
Barquing Mad: A Mystery
I really like this title but worry that people will think its about a dog and its not. I probably will have to change it but I think the words 'A Mystery' imply you can't take the first few words at face value

Where did your idea come from for your book?
I started this book so long ago I don't remember. I do remember submitting the first few thousand words to the NZSA for this brilliant open critique session they held at Old Government House in Auckland in 2004 and Graeme Lay and Tania Roxborogh critiqued it and were very positive and encouraging and said nice things to me. I think the biggest criticism was the stupid character names I had (they didn't use the word stupid - they were really very nice) and the names are now all different. The bully was called Mimsy Squat-Cottles (I blame famous NZ actor Michael Hurst who once said this name and got it stuck in my brain) and Prunella. I still like Mimsy Squat-Cottles but she is now Vanessa Blunt which is a little easier to read and a tad more modern and Prunella became Sally.

And this is what I ended up with:

What really happened to Sally's Dad lost at sea 7 years before? What were they really up to on that mysterious polar expedition? And why has her Mum suddenly chucked in her job? Why won't her teacher and the school principal and the school bully leave her alone? Sally needs her wits, her courage, her best friend, her best friends chauffer and even her brother's help to overcome the dangers and discover the truth.

What genre does your book fall under?
Children's mystery

What actors would you pick to play your characters in a movie rendition?
They probably haven't been born yet :) although Dakota Fanning would have been perfect for the 12 year old heroine Sally Barque when she was younger. I'd be played by Martin Freeman.

What is a one sentence synopsis of your book?
Sometimes parents get lost and it's up to their children to find them.

How long did it take you to write a first draft of your manuscript?
I think this one has been on the slow burner for about ten years. I finished it early last year but it wasn't quite right. Nearly done with the final draft and believe it actually makes sense now.

What other books would you compare this story to within the genre?
It's a cross between Famous Five and Stormbreaker

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Sheer tenacity. It was just one of those stories that I kept coming back to. I could see, inside the hot mess, a fun story that I wanted to tell, desperately trying to get free (probably from the shackles of all those commas).

What else about the book might pique the readers interest?
I really think its just the most unexpected little tale. Its got some girl power going on.

In the spirit of this game I am tagging five more fabulous NZ authors to have a play

Tania Roxborogh

Tania Hutley

Maureen Crisp

Sue Copsey

Fifi Colston

Monday, October 15, 2012

Airing my illegal download laundry...

On October 7th I read this View piece by Nick Grant in the Sunday Herald. Mr Grant says he 'can't get too excited about pirating and its alleged effect on the entertainment industry.' Thing is Mr Grant, perhaps you would feel more excited if someone else was making money out of your creative content while you received nothing. Sigh.

I sent in this as a reply:

I was somewhat irked to read Nick Grant's TV Preview piece on illegal downloading in the Herald on Sunday View section (7th October). As a creator of content whose material has been illegally downloaded more than 3,000 times in the last year without a corresponding increase in sales I take exception to the oversimplification of this issue. Yes I still do hold out hope that illegal downloads may benefit my sales in future but focusing on this ignores the fact that someone else is still benefiting financially from the illegal provision of material they do not own or hold license to, whether it is music, movies television programmes, books or some other art form. I doubt very much if any of Kim Dotcom's 2010, $42 million income went to the creators of the content his subscribers enjoyed. And many other companies benefit in the millions from providing download sites or having other associations with them. I also feel concerned that Mr Grant's lack of excitement over pirating reinforces a general attitude toward obtaining content for free. If that is the culture we create, that it's all right because everyone is doing it, that it’s only the big companies like the movie studios who object, or that this is just about politics, then I may be even less able in the future to earn a decent return from content I work hard to produce. If Mr Grant would like to give his writing away for free then he is most welcome but I can't afford to think like that.

It got printed (mostly) in this Sunday's Herald (October 14th). I get frustrated that the whole issue seems to have been swamped by the politicking over Kim Dotcom and the media's subsequent delight in watching Labour and National butt heads over this. It is too easy to forget (as Nicola Morgan has said) that there are not-so-well-off individuals at the sharp end of this issue. Still, very pleased that the Herald gave me the chance to air my opinion on this.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Winter's Day in 1939...(New Zealand Cover)

Coming out March 2013

The boy on the front cover is my father...(designed by Book Design).

The book has been reviewed on radio by Kate De Goldi and Kim Hill (you will need to scroll down the list) here and by John McIntyre of the Children's Bookshop in Wellington here. There are other reviews here, here and here.

Why and How I wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939

When the Soviet soldiers come and order them out, Adam and his family have no idea where they are going or if they will ever come back.  The Germans have attacked Poland and the world is at war. Boarding a cattle train Adam and his family embark on a journey that will cover thousands of miles and several years, and change all their lives forever. And mine too. Because Adam’s story, the story told in my new novel A Winter’s Day in 1939, is very much my Dad’s story.
I often heard fragments of this story from my dad when I was growing up.  It was shocking, and sad, and amazing.  My Dad’s family was forced out of their home and taken to a labour camp in Russia. It was freezing cold, and many people died from disease or starvation. Even when the Soviets finally let them go, they spent weeks travelling around the USSR , were made to work on Soviet farms and were still hungry and often sick, with no idea of where they might end up next.  As a child growing up in a peaceful place like New Zealand it was hard to imagine the real dangers and terrible conditions my father experienced.
 I didn’t get to know the full story until I was grown up with children of my own and was regularly writing stories for children.  I wrote a short story, also called A Winter’s Day in 1939, based on a single event I knew fairly well  from my Dad‘s childhood – when Soviet Soldiers first come to order them off their farm, the only home my father had known up till that point in his life. The story was published in The Australian School Magazine.  I showed the short story to the publishers Scholastic who liked it too. They wondered if I could turn it in to a novel.  This was a chance to tell my father’s story. By now I knew it was an important story that should be shared
Luckily my Dad had made notes about his life during World War Two; about twenty pages all typed up.  However I know people’s real lives don’t always fit into the framework of a novel and I knew I would have to emphasize some things and maybe leave other things out.
I read and researched to add the right details to the story. And asked my parents lots of questions. How cold was it in Poland in January 1940? Who or what were the NKVD? What were the trains like? What are the symptoms of typhoid? How do you make your own skis? Some information was hard to find. Some of the places that existed in the 1940s aren’t there anymore. And people didn’t keep records about how many people were taken to the USSR from Poland or what happened to particular individuals. But what I wanted to give readers most of all was a sense of how it felt to live that life.  So this then is the story of a twelve year old Polish boy in the USSR during World War 2 that all started on A Winter's Day in 1939

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The new religion...

I have wittered on at length in the past about book reviews. Specifically, poor reviews and how to survive them if you are the author of the book reviewed. But I discovered (unfortunately) another downside to poor, or shall we say, 1 star reviews. As I wandered Goodreads lonely as a cloud looking up some info for my research I came across a long book discussion on a popular book which I rather liked. The discussion ripped the book and its author to shreds. They approached it as a lesson in how not to write, with exposition on poor character development, telling not showing, etc... and folks, I felt nervous that I had liked the book. Was there something wrong with me? I mean, this level of vitriol surely must have some substance behind it. Was I too clueless to pick up on all these inherent failures? Did that make me a poor reader? Or worse, a poor writer, because I wasn't aware of these faults. I mean, I'd actually enjoyed reading this particular book. Looking at some of the issues raised, I disagree with some of the points made and the evidence for them. I don't see the examples given as particularly good ones of the crime the writer is accused of. With things like show not tell I am a firm believer of having elements of both. Showing all the time can become exhausting to read. I also think one person's poor character is another person's recognizable friend/self. The disturbing thing to me was my reaction. I felt bad I liked the book that had earned such a scathing review. I examined my own skills because of that review. I am still frequently amazed that people get so very angry about books and their content. Maybe it's like where people get highly agitated trying to defend or debunk a religion. And we feel defensive or kindred to that person in response. But I worried about my reaction. I don't want to be too afraid to pick up a book for fear of other people judging me badly on my choice.

And lovely writery friend and fellow blogger Maureen Crisp sent me a most interesting link with a terrific research project examining the number of male main protagonists (compared with female) and male vs. female authors of YA books (after the recent outcry over the perceived dominance of female authors in YA literature). The number of times I've been told we need more stories written specifically for boys, at which I've just nodded, is more than I care to mention. But hang on. The sex of the protagonist, or the genre of story have never stopped me reading something I thought looked interesting. Holy moly folks, I spent years reading war comics followed by years of romance novels. I've enjoyed male writers and male protagonists (Tolkien, Lewis, Dahl, Horowitz, Gaiman, Forster, Hemingway, Dickens, Conrad, Theroux, Hardy, Faulkes), a mix (Gaiman, Rowling, Le Guin, Susan Cooper, Holly Black, Hinton) and female writers of female protags (Alcott, Austen, Bronte, Wilder, LM Montgomery etc...). All I wanted was a good book. I've never been put off by the gender of the main character. After all I'm not allergic to the opposite sex. In fact I'm rather interested in them. Are boys not remotely curious about females? It hasn't stopped them reading the Hunger Games.  Let's not encourage boys to steer clear of reading books where the main protagonist is female. Because otherwise we run the risk of perpetuating a myth we're creating. Lets just help them find good books that they enjoy.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mobius strips, the best mental origami....

I do love a good Mobius Strip (the never ending loop of time travel) story/movie. Terminator, Brian Falkner's 'The Tomorrow Code' and now the terrific Looper are some of my favourites. I'm a little embarrassed my sixteen year old had to explain one bit that I got muddled up on, in Looper but I think I get it now. I love having my brain tied up in knots - mental origami - good times.

I recently had the honour of writing the final chapter in this year's fabostory project. This fun online writing challenge for primary and intermediate school students provides a framework (plot, direction, characters) for budding writers to practice their writing skills with, and prizes are awarded for the best submissions. Every year children impress us with their abilities and their commitment and all the NZ authors involved are thrilled to be encouraging the next generation of writers. We have wrapped up the project for this year but keep an eye out for what we come up with next for 2013. If you think you might want to participate or your school might, just drop me a line, comment here or keep an eye out for fabostory4 online. If you want to know more about how it all works go check out this year's project at the link above or you can see last year's project here and 2010's project here.

I am currently working hard on pulling all the threads of this year's university studies together in my research project, so today's post will necessarily be brief. I cannot wait to have this assignment done and dusted but I have a wee ways to go yet.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Sorry, but that's just how it is....

I confess I have been a bit ambivalent in the past about copyright issues, and free-illegal downloads of material whether musical, visual or literary or otherwise. Kim Dotcom chooses to live here in New Zealand and I have looked askance at the way his home was raided and his family's life turned upside down (his wife was pregnant with twins at the time) as the FBI sought through local authorities to deal to Megaupload. I think the political and media agendas swirling around Mr Dotcom have muddied the waters somewhat. Partly I thought it was an insurmountable problem anyway - like a runaway iceberg or inertia. The floodgates have been opened and as we can't go back in time we just have to cope as best we can with the hand technology is dealing us. Partly I thought there could be long term tangible benefits in someone freely downloading my books (I still believe this is possible - Its another route to developing fans from a source we might not otherwise have access to). But this comment in particular from Nicola Morgan changed my mine and clarified the issue for me  - I don’t believe I have a right to earn a living from my writing. What I do believe is that if anyone is going to earn anything from my writing, that person should be me. Not only me, but me foremost, me in control. - you can read the whole post here. Nicola made lots of other terrific points but this one seemed to be the clincher for me. I also recommend following the link in Nicola's point 6. The other links in Nicola's post are probably excellent too I just haven't read them all yet.

I agree the folk who participate in the production or distribution and sale of my books with my consent should be able to share in the benefits of any income. But no affected individual should feel happy, that someone who had no involvement in the creation of the content he is allowing people to download, is making millions at the content providers' expense. Millions. Every year. This writing business is the thing I am good at. I spend my time creating content for books. Selling this content is how I attempt to generate income and if someone is giving it away on my behalf without my permission, or is associated with that process, and they are receiving income in doing so, then I feel LIVID. Stop and think how you might feel if some complete stranger, without your permission, received the income you were owed for the hours you worked (and please no cracks about the IRD here). And everyone around you just said, sorry, there's no point in complaining, everyone is doing it.

It is too, too easy to click a tab and download something illegally in the privacy of your home and the likelihood of being found out and punished is miniscule, and hey everyone does it, and no one will know and lets face it today's technology is just begging to be used this way and musicians and photographers and artists and writers and illustrators and, and, and, and just have to accept that this is how it is now and there are other ways that they can probably make money, I hear Countdown is hiring.........ARGHHHHH! Don't be a part of this problem folks, be part of the solution.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Your mind is a temple too...

An old unpublished junior mystery manuscript (oujmm) I wrote a while back has been whispering sweet nothings in my ear and I confess I have been cheating on my university studies with it. Just a few little trysts on my laptop, sneaking around behind research project's back for an hour or two in the evenings. Oh, the guilt. I know I will pay for this. But oujmm looks better than I remember him. He's kept in shape. He wants to change. I can't resist him. Please don't tell on us...

Over the past eighteen months or so I have discovered an interesting fact about publishing, hitherto unknown to me by virtue of the fact that up until that point I had effectively only had one publisher (that's not entirely true as I had multiple publishers for different short stories over the years but they kind of have a separate set of rules to begin with so I expected differences). Anyways, what I discovered is that one publisher is not the same as another publisher. Its not just that the people involved are different, with different tastes and interests. Its also that different publishers can operate in completely different ways. Their contracts are not the same, their advances and requirements and expectations of you are not the same, their sales, marketing and publicity are not the same. Their submissions processes are not the same and how they interact with you is not the same. Justine Larbalestier says it very well here. Sometimes the only common factor across the different publishers you might get to work with is you. This doesn't make them better or worse, it just means you shouldn't expect the same experience.

I also liked this link this morning. I have talked about feeding your creative mind before. Its extremely important to put new stuff in when you are busily taking so much stuff out as you write. Running on empty isn't pretty. But Maggie Stiefvater has taken a different approach. Its not just the experiences your mind requires. Be careful about the food and drink you consume. Its not just the reactions to some substances you personally have that can dull your mind. Its not just your body that's a temple.

And this too at Stroppy Author's Blog - nothing like a call to sanity, eh? She's right - we can't go back so there's no point in whining about how things used to be. They weren't always wonderful anyway. Be smart and embrace the future. It might be better, it might be worse, but either way, with or without you, it'll be happening.

And if you haven't been over to Maureen Crisp's blog recently, you should. She's had some excellent and most useful links in recent weeks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sherlock analysed...

So, I'd been hoping I would be able to show you the cover of my new book A Winter's Day in 1939 today but there has been a slight change of plans. Do not be alarmed faithful friends as the changed plans are not problems.

Instead today I am forced to change topic and talk about one of my current obsessions, shoes, chocolate, Sherlock. As we head in to the summer television season the quality of programming is already dropping. I am forced (and okay I am not really having my arm held up my back here) to watch my Sherlock DVDs to ensure the continuing quality of televisual entertainment. And not only am I entertained but I can feel my writing improving from watching things like this with smart plotting and characterisation, creating an effective villain, sowing clues, satisfying conclusions and awesome dialogue. Of course the experience is elevated by great production values, effective direction and superb acting but, really, these are essential in a book as well so its all good training. We writers have the best boot camps. I feel fitter already.

As any good fan will know the final episode in the second series of Sherlock was quite a cliff hanger and it is difficult to imagine how they are going to explain the main character surviving a very busted head and large blood loss on the pavement after his fall from the top of the hospital. One of the writers Steven Moffat has said there is a clue in that final episode to how its done and it is specifically something that Sherlock does that is out of character. I have watched and re-watched and have seen what I think are a few clues but haven't been able to formulate a solid explanation. I think I understand the Higgs Particle better. Damn you Mr Moffat et al - I would have watched the next series anyway but now I am forced to suffer in between times and have much racking of the brain trying to figure it all out - consider my brain severely racked. My suspected clues so far include the front page headline of the newspaper Sherlock reads in A Scandal in Belgravia (with The woman) that says Refit for Historical Hospital. I can't imagine this is just a casual production effort and I can't see any other reason for its inclusion. In the Fall episode Sherlock makes tea (for Moriarty) which he never does otherwise but this doesn't seem to be terribly meaningful. There are several plot developments that have potential such as the little girl screaming at the sight of Sherlock and the blood?/mark? at the spot where Holmes steps up on the ledge, the van parked below, the cyclist knocking Watson over but none of these is an out of character thing for Holmes. That Sherlock is indifferent to Mrs Hudson's being shot is out of character but this is clearly part of his effort to get Watson out of the way. I guess I'm a little surprised Watson didn't question this. Holmes includes Molly in his plans because he recognizes that his previous behaviour towards her has led Moriarty to ignore her, thereby excluding her as a potential target for Moriarty's final plans. She can fly under the radar so to speak. So Sherlock has guessed some of what Moriarty is planning (wheels within wheels) but fails to see that the binary code tapped out is a red herring??? He knew he was going to have to appear to die, how did he not see the code?? That's unlike Holmes. His statement to Molly that he needs her, is unlike Holmes. So Molly and the Hospital are crucial to Sherlock's great escape. I'm hoping there's not some look-a-like/great switcheroo involved (the screaming girl, the convincing dead body). They did whisk the body away with unseemly haste - not enough time to draw a chalk outline round the body folks - don't they usually wait for the police in these circumstances?? Mr Moffat am I warm with any of this? I hope I believe the denouement when I finally get to see it. Either way I'll be learning from it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Wearing my cranky pants today...

I was a bit bummed to see articles in recent weekend papers commenting on the (gasp, shock, horror probe) six million dollar price tag for sending authors and a coterie of associated folk to the Frankfurt Book Fair this year. In case you didn't already know (if you've been hiding in a closet or under a rock or like, ya know, just not reading my blog) New Zealand is country of honour this year in Frankfurt. It's a big deal. Its a very big deal for authors in New Zealand. We got very excited. If you have been reading my blog you will also know I have had a few issues with certain aspects of New Zealand's Frankfurt programme. Like why aren't more children's authors and illustrators included. And why are so many other non-booky interests getting involved. But lets face it, even those who disagree with me over these issues should understand it is part of my job to try getting as many opportunities as possible for my work to reach a wider audience. Wouldn't you think less of me if I didn't try at all? I would.

Anyways, I digress. Whatever I have thought of the programme, I wish it well. Any greater interest in New Zealand writing in general has the chance of having positive spin-offs for me and my fellow writers. They are a great bunch. I like them very much. And there are lots of tremendous people in New Zealand writing deserving of greater things and if greater things happen for them I will be stoked (and more then a smidge jealous - I am human after all).

But I do not like that folk might be suggesting writers in New Zealand should not be helped to export their product. I feel sad that the public might be encouraged to be outraged at this expense. It reminds me of the cutting of the Queensland Literary Awards earlier this year when members of the public were incensed by the bludging authors in their midst sucking the public coffers dry. I don't know any bludging authors. We are not plundering the public coffers. None of us are rich. All the ones I know work very hard to create the best writing that will inspire, motivate, inform, educate, entertain and feed readers. They feel passionate about words and their potential. The big thing that makes us human is our ability to communicate in complex ways. Books foster our ability with words. Our culture should celebrate this. Recent articles have also lamented dropping standards in literacy in schools. Perhaps if our culture saw its literature as more valuable then our standards would improve. I can't imagine its only 6 million dollars that was spent on last years Rugby World Cup or New Zealand's attendance at this years Olympic Games. I think its important to encourage and celebrate this kind of excellence. I also think we shouldn't be limited to just encouraging sports people financially. Maybe runners sell more gatorade or rugby players more life insurance but writers feed more  minds. Holy moley, public money supported that televisual crime that was the GC. I know our economic situation is grim and people are doing it hard. I thank my lucky stars every day that my SO can cover our bills because I earn diddly even though I have what some might consider a pretty successful writing career. But I also think if we sent a better message about the value of our literary culture in New Zealand then it wouldn't seem so embarrassing and cringe-worthy for children to be picking up a book instead of playing Call of Duty or watching Snooki give everyone an unwelcome eyeful on Jersey Shore. And whatever you might think about literature, reading books does improve a child's chance of future success. So please don't say NZ writers don't deserve this kind of international development. It sends the wrong message.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Writing explained simply....

Hallelujah!!! - We have booked ourselves a fabulous family holiday and the hardest part is reminding myself it is still a few months away and I have some big jobs to complete before we pack our bags and check in with immigration. Because, really, I am ready NOW!! As we did a few years back, we depart these fair shores on December 12th and return just after midnight on the 24th. I love leaving the craziness of pre-Christmas behind and coming back just in time for the Szymanik Family get together. Tis perfect and I will be well rested and maybe a little tanned for the festivities.

Things are still busy, busy, busy. There is my fabostory chapter to finalise, judging to be done and posted up. How will all the Titanic Games dramas end??? There is university research to be nutted out and written up. I have been a school visiting (big waves to the lovely children of New Windsor School, Westmere Primary and Sunnynook Schools where I have been this month) and have hung out at the Kiwiwrite4kidz stand at the NZ Ed show over three days. Somehow, for a driving phobic, I have put a lot of miles on in the car, either ferrying myself or family to our appointments, workshops, classes, trainings, entertainments and the like. When we are away on holiday letting someone else do the driving (or steering, or flying) will be a highlight. I have been reading and rereading and sweating a little over my soon to be pubbed novel. This is my last chance to get all the facts, figures, commas, spellings, pronunciations, and story telling right. Sometimes this feels like the hardest part (although really the part of the process you are in at any given moment is always the hardest part). I am currently casting my eyes over the final, final proof. Time will tell if we need a final, final, final proof.

I am also currently being interviewed for a magazine article and I must say it is a very strange thing. There will be times when I will have to invoke 'magic' to explain my writing process. Tis a bit like when people ask where you get your ideas and at times I just want to say "can't you see them? They are everywhere..." But I know it isn't that simple. I just can't remember how I learned to see them and find them now like I do. Maybe its just because I love words so much, and some words when they come together create a kind of frisson or fusion - maybe like a nuclear reaction, where when separated the two elements are inert but then, when you join them up they create a lot of energy and power - yes maybe that's it. Anyways when you see those particular words together your mind kind of explodes and a story is created, or maybe at least born, and then you have to grow it to maturity. So if you have a fantasy background you call it magic but if you have a scientific nature you call it a nuclear reaction (or if, like me, you owe a lot to both fantasy and science, you just throw your hands up in the air). And then you spend a lot of time putting words in and then the rest of your time taking words out and then you have your story. Simple really.