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.