Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sending our babies out in to the world...

How do you know you're a writer? In my previous life in the normal/real world I had a regular paying job in an office, working (mostly) on the business management side of Hospitals and (more briefly) Universities. My eldest recently started a new job and I was telling her this morning that it can take a while to settle in and feel comfortable in the role. It takes a while for the newness and shyness to rub off and the tasks required to feel second nature. I believe this to be true. In fact I know this to be true. Because although in my previous life I never ever felt completely comfortable in my work life, I did stop feeling new and shy and all at sea. But I am now completely comfortable in my current a writer...for the rest of my life. I have settled in. The newness and shyness have rubbed off and the tasks required feel more natural.

The day before yesterday I remembered an old manuscript I had shelved a while back (in 2009); a manuscript that almost made it but of whom several folk had said it needs fixing without being able to put their finger on exactly what the problem was. Yesterday I brought it out and I looked at it and saw straight away where it didn't seem to work and straight away I twiddled and tweaked and rearranged and dusted and polished. I don't know if it will cross the finish line but it's a better story now. How did that happen? I'm not exactly sure but I rather like it. And I have re-submitted the story to a publisher.

Oh, and I can now confirm my picture book The House That Went to Sea will be sailing off to China to be published there in English and Chinese versions. Bon voyage little book, fare you well!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Without a parachute...

The life of a book is equivalent to a piece of string. How long is the piece of string, you might ask? Well as long as the life of a book.


My first picture book is now out of print. All my other print books are still out there I believe, but I am under no illusion that OOP can strike at any time. When a new book is launched it feels like it is everywhere and then the following month new books are launched and they are everywhere and your book not so much, and the honeymoon can feel, well, over. I am not complaining. I did get the chocolate on the pillow, the romantic pics on the beach, and the late wake up call. So it is rather nice to have reviews still wandering in for a book launched back in March. Thanks to Bookwitch for a nice review of A Winter's Day in 1939 here in the UK. And if you check that book's page on Fishpond NZ there is a great review there too. And I liked this one on Goodreads - short and sweet but quite complimentary really. Each one feels like another lovely surprise chocolate on my pillow.

And in breaking news, it seems a picture book of mine published a few years back may be translated and sold in another country. More news on that when/if it all comes together. Very exciting. I know of other folks whose books have been picked up overseas 5 years after publication. I never give up hope. A short story of mine waited 7 years from acceptance to print. Time becomes Einstein fluid in the publishing world, or perhaps publishing all happens inside the Tardis and who knows what time it is in the world outside. My one regret is that the eternal youth of the space traveller doesn't seem to be applying to me. Anyways... I digress. The answer to how long is the life of a book is patience. My patience has slowly become a well-oiled, efficient little machine: overworked but better at its job than it used to be. It hums along these days, now that I've switched it to the long game setting.

Fellow blogger Maureen Crisp linked to this wonderful piece by Libba Bray; wonderful and somewhat distressing. Ms Bray talks about 'writing despair' - the despair of failing to bend a story to your will and make it work. For all the times we feel this despair and work through it to end up with a story that we are happy with, we know there are no guarantees this will happen next time. We live in fear. We break through and then admonish ourselves for ever thinking we couldn't do it. And then we start all over again. In my writing, like Ms Bray, I am untethered by outlines and structure and Scrivener and rolodexes full of character eye colour, and background, and inside leg measurement. I wing it. Without a parachute. Sometimes this works better than other times. The biggest stumbling block for me is always fear - will I stuff up this great idea. It looks so pretty/smart/elegant in my head but turns in to a hoiked-up fur ball on the page. People who think series or sequels are such a great idea because you already have that world and those characters built be warned - you can no longer bend that world or those wills anew to your own purposes. You made rules last time and now they must be obeyed. And there are expectations. Expectations! If you ever wanted success, know that expectations come with it. And, apparently, fear. The key of course is patience. And I can only hope, for Ms Bray's sake and mine, that the length of the life of the book will be positively influenced by the length of its gestation.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The best idea ever...

The assignment is in the post, I have sorted out a few things, and had some nice emails arrive. Things are looking up.

I have a picture book coming out next year about a tree. But I also have a picture book coming out later this year (Octoberish) that isn't about a tree. It's about things that happen at night. T'is very simple (my shortest ever coming in at under 200 words) and, I think, a little poetic. I got sent some of the artwork the other day and it is so much fun. Yay!! I cannot wait to see the whole thing in its final form. Here is an illustration (by Greg Straight) to give you a taste:

For some years I have invested in the long game, wearing my patience paper thin, and plodding on when I didn't really feel like plodding on. When rejections are the response du jour, and the last publication was some time back it can be nothing more than an act of faith to keep writing new stories and sending them out, reworking the old ones, looking for new ideas and keeping positive. But in small ways the long game is starting to kick in for me. I still have a long way to go and a lot of work ahead of me. I make few assumptions, realise I have to keep up with all the changes and developments, and I have learnt the hard way that there are no guarantees. But some things are coming together and sometimes the news is good. This is probably my most important advice about being a writer. Keep going. If this is what you truly believe in, keep going.

And here is a beautiful blog post by Amanda Palmer about her husband Neil Gaiman. It is about love and creation and difficult things. It is about relationships and timing and art. It is about marriage and pride. Cos sometimes the people we love make us so proud, and for all those times when we think 'was this a good idea?' there are those perfect moments when we know it was the best idea ever.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Please talk quietly amongst yourselves...

I am currently distracted with a bunch of stuff which unfortunately does need my attention. So because my mum asked, here are some photos of my daughter Geneva before her Year 13 Ball. And a couple from the book launch of my book A Winter's day in 1939 of me, my Mum and my Dad.

Monday, June 10, 2013

"Baby, we were born to write...."(sung to the tune of Springsteen's Born to Run)

You would be easily forgiven if you have been feeling rather gloomy about the current publishing scene in New Zealand. We have been delivered several blows in short order - the departure of some or all of the Pearson Education and Harper Collins operations from these shores. The recent merger of Penguin and Random will undoubtedly have some repercussions for the total number of titles published here. And just over a week ago the publisher of my YA title The Half Life of Ryan Davis closed up shop. Pear Jam Books has ceased to operate. My book is however still currently available on-line at most e-tailers, under my own imprint, at the very reasonable price of US$2.99 - just in case you were wondering. I may also at some point have some print copies available (publishers, don't knock each other over in the rush to ask me about obtaining the rights).

It is all rather depressing if, like me, you feel you were born to write. We turn in ever decreasing circles.

Well the problem with that is the stories just keep jumping up in front of me to get my attention. 'Hey, hey, look at me. Look how cool am I with my plot and my setting. See my great characters? Aren't you just busting to find out how we are all going to end up?' My stories know me too well. I am a gullible fool and I conspire with these tricksy things to get them down in print and send them off into the world looking for a home. And that's the thing. Just because traditional publishing is under stress. Just because the landscape of social media has changed how we discover, devour and discuss literature. Just because everyone else is obeying the stories hammering away at their conscious and there seems to be an ever growing flood of books overwhelming readers. None of this should stop me writing. The only thing that should stop me writing is myself. When the love is gone. If ever.

I keep thinking, I will find a way through. Readers have enjoyed my books in the past. Why shouldn't they continue to do so if I work to deliver good stories. There will always be a way to get stories from writers to readers. Hopefully there will be ways for writers to be paid for their work. These things might happen in different ways to how they used to. The trouble with gloomy depression is that it doesn't facilitate forward progress. So I am ditching the gloom. And soldiering on...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Day Two, Golden Yarns...

I have not posted a picture for a wee while. Here is a taste of the artwork for my picture book due out in the middle of next year. It is beautiful. The illustrator is Dominique Ford. Tis very exciting.

So on with my debrief on Golden Yarns, Conference for Children's Writers and Illustrators in New Zealand. After a fab night out with fellow authors and illustrators, things got under way at 9.30am the next morning with a talk by Kate De Goldi on the subject of her current book project, children's book collector, cataloguer and afficionado Susan Price. This talk was fascinating as Kate described how her perceptions of her subject and her expectations around the project changed as she got to know Susan better. The task seems to grow as time passes and I suspect it will be a seriously compelling read when the book is complete.

After morning tea Maggie Tarver from the NZSA, Sarah Forster from NZ Book Council and author Tessa Duder representing Storylines each outlined the work their organisation did and told us how these services could benefit us and be utilized by us. Maggie took us on a whirlwind tour through her recent efforts with regard to the PLR, ELR, and the resources available on the website. Sarah talked about the writer's in schools programme, speed date the author events, the more than 1000 book reviews available on the Book Council website and the international travel grant. Tessa covered the Storylines Family Days, notable book lists, Storylines tours and the IBBY congress to be hosted in New Zealand in 2016. This was followed up by Kyle Mewburn talking about how NZ children's authors and illustrators can better promote themselves and their books in the current climate, coining the term uppity-ness in the process. He urged folk to be positive and proactive and speak up and out.

Ant Sang and Dylan Horrocks talked graphic novels after lunch. Both outlined the challenges of working in a medium that echoed film work, limiting words to dialogue and stage direction and requiring the artwork to show the action. While this allowed some freedoms it also restricted what was possible in the storytelling. Sang also spoke of his work with Bro' Town on TV and both talked about the graphic novel form in New Zealand.

Two more panels rounded out the day, starting with one on Educational Writing and outlets for this work. Susan Paris spoke about Learning Media, the current changes in the business model for them and their continued interest in NZ content. There was some discussion about the future of the School Journal but much seems still undecided. Maria Gill ran through the educational work she does, taking a positive and proactive approach and taking on all work offered. She said there were many opportunities out there and this could be a good additional source of income. Time had run out and unfortunately Jenny Cooper spoke only briefly about working for Learning Media etc.. as an illustrator.

The finals session looked at e-books and self publishing with Raymond Huber and Adele Broadbent both speaking about their own experiences producing their own books. Raymond discussed ways of using social media to generate interest in his work, while Adele outlined the practical requirements for doing your own print book (ISBNs, cover design, editing, printing) and ways an individual could distribute these to the marketplace and for review. Maggie Tarver then addressed the discrepancy between copyright licensing money collected and money paid out to authors and illustrators and urged members of the audience to register with Copyright Licensing here in NZ to check whether they should be reimbursed for their work being copied. She also recommended checking the Australian site of CAL.

Despite concerns, issues and problems existing within the children's literature industry here in New Zealand I left the conference feeling very positive. To quote a teen movie 'we're all in this together' and the sense of community is strong and mutually supportive. Other industry professionals want to help us. We want to keep writing stories and illustrating them and the urge to do so seems to outweigh everything else. Till 2015 then my friends.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Day One, Golden Yarns...

We gathered on Friday night for first hellos and a chat about issues that worried us. Chatham House rules applied - I could tell you what we talked about but then I'd have to kill you. We ate pizza. Thank you to Hell Riccarton for finding us and being very helpful with dietary needs and a big order. And for nice pizza.

Saturday morning we began with a talk about Te Tai Tamariki (a Trust which gathers, curates and exhibits artwork by New Zealand illustrators for children's books), The Children's Bookshop and the impact of the earthquakes on these two. The work of the Trust so far is impressive and I felt a pang of disappointment not to have seen one of their touring exhibitions yet. I hope the next one comes to Auckland. The photos from the earthquake were sobering and it is understandable that the effects of the quakes are still being felt by those in Christchurch more than two years on. The Children's Bookshop have managed to keep operating under the most trying conditions.

The second session was a talk by Gregory O'Brien about artist Graham Percy, the subject of a biography O'Brien has written. Percy worked as an illustrator for the School Journal, illustrated more than 100 children's books, did design work and produced other artworks. His work referenced the art of other New Zealand icons, and NZ itself. A prolific, humble, thoughtful, quiet hero, Percy has not received the attention he and his artwork deserve.

After lunch we had a choice of workshops. Three process workshops on First Draft Techniques, Revision Techniques and the Editor's Role. I went to the editor one with long time and extensively experienced editor Anna Rogers and was encouraged and relieved to find that I was familiar with a lot of the things she talked about. I agree that having someone else do the final edit of your work is a good idea but I know I can get my work to a fair level of readiness fixing spelling and grammar, and checking for factual, character and plot consistencies. I think I'm not too bad with the overall structure of plots either but having a fresh pair of eyes on a manuscript never hurts. I smiled when she warned against adverbial and adjectival overuse, and argued for simple dialogue tags.

Then there were the Genre Workshops - Non-fiction, Picture Books and Social Realism. I went for Picture Books with Kyle Mewburn, where he went through his process for writing his NZ Post Children's Book Award short-listed Melu. This book had a fairly long gestation and there were significant turning points in the writing of it: fundamental shifts in thinking that helped drive the action and gave clarity to the central themes of the plot. I like how Kyle continually questioned every element of the story. What did each element say, how did it contribute to the whole, could it be better? My process is quite different but I liked that questioning approach and will look at incorporating that in future.

After a break everyone re-gathered for a literary dinner at Chateau on the Park where we were wined, dined and very well entertained by Tessa Duder, Fleur Beale, Dylan Horrocks, Kyle Mewburn and Gavin Bishop. If I have missed anyone out here let me just say some wine was consumed. I then attended a very genteel after party at the motel room of some other conference attendees. Then I went and got four hours sleep in preparation for day two...

to be continued....

Monday, June 3, 2013

Mental garage sale...

From time to time we clear out old and unused things from our cupboards, wardrobes and drawers, have a bit of a de-clutter and make some space for new things. I would like to know how I can do this for my brain. I attended the Golden Yarns Conference over last weekend - a conference for Children's Writers and Illustrators organised by the dedicated and amazing Te Tai Tamariki Trust with support from a variety of other groups such as The Children's Bookshop, Storylines and Kiwiwrite4kidz. So much new information has been jammed into my mind that I am having a spot of bother organising it all and tidying it in to sensible piles and useful places. Suffice it to say it was an excellent weekend with plenty of discussion, great catch-ups with fellow kid-litters and some good advice that I know I will find very useful once I stop being confused. A lack of sleep is not conducive. But the chance to see authors and illustrators from other parts of our geographically spread out small country was for me one of the biggest rewards.

What did I learn?
1) Coffee is essential. Instant does not cut it.
2) I can survive without chocolate
3) Christchurch was not as cold as I expected
4) Children's writers and illustrators are very (very, very) funny
5) The NZSA are hard working advocates for us and are keen to hear from us about our concerns and issues
6) The creativity of others never ceases to amaze and inspire me
7) You have to take responsibility for keeping yourself informed and up to date
8) It is possible to feel positive about the publishing environment in the current climate

I will provide more details on what went down when my mind has had a chance to file a few things in the right places

I also want to do a shout out to the most fabulous Selwyn House and St Andrews College Prep. schools in Christchurch for their most warm welcomes and attentive, switched on children. I thoroughly enjoyed my visits to these schools.