Sunday, September 29, 2013

Rules for behaving...

I have a number of unwritten rules that I observe as I go about my writerly business. The all come under my mantra umbrella of being 'polite and professional'. Sometimes I would benefit from being a little less polite and professional but 99 times out of ten this approach has worked for me.

Here are some of the (no longer) unwritten rules:-

1) I don't review things I haven't read - although I may make a comment if I've tried to read something but stopped because of the content. 

2) I don't rate or review my own books (although I may refer to someone else's review or a straight description). How could I be even remotely objective and in view of this, how might readers perceive such reviews? 

3) I can get very emotional about stuff. Being in touch with feelings is a useful quality for a writer. But in the end I always try and make a rational rather than an emotional decision. Do NOT shoot first and ask questions later. Regret is not a fun companion. 

4) I always reserve the right to change my mind and I try to fess up if I was wrong.

5) Honesty is a good policy.

6) I despair about the fakery, witch-hunting, name calling, stalking, hate-filled behaviour that has been on the rise in the online book world.  Wtf. Why do people do this stuff???  

7) Know when to say nothing. Sometimes silence is the right response. Sometimes silence is eloquent and speaks volumes.

7) Be yourself - being someone else can be much harder to pull off. 

8) Don't get stuck on past problems or mistakes - learn from them, apologise if necessary, and move on

9) Be nice. Most folk respond well to good treatment.

Feel free to add your own rules in the comments. In view of my number 6 above - here is a link to 5 tips for writers using social media from Nicola Morgan.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chocks away...

I had such a fun visit to Viscount School in Mangere yesterday and I was greatly impressed by the students. They treated me well, were really engaged and asked great questions. Cool kids, cool school - thank you so much for making me feel so welcome.

The day before I had posted my essay off for my university paper. With assignments I often circle round and round the question for a while trying ideas out and experimenting until things start to fall into place, to gel, to coalesce and turn into a whole that hopefully makes sense and addresses the issue at hand. I circled for a long time on this one till I seemed to be running low on fuel and thought I might have to ditch in a nearby paddock. I managed to land that thing but it wasn't elegant. Oh well... it's done now. On to the next (and last) one due Halloween. I contacted the tutor today and checked if my proposed essay topic was gonna fly and got the thumbs up. Chocks away.

Things have gone a little crazy on the internet recently with hostilities breaking out between some authors and some reviewers. Nathan Bransford blogged about it on September 3 and the long thread of comments is sobering reading. Emotions have been running pretty high. I want people to say what they really think about my books. I understand that sometimes they won't like my books. Negative reviews do hurt but on the plus side even a negative review is an engagement with the book.  And I always hope that reviewers will accord me the same respect that I accord them. I don't ever want to interfere with the process. I acknowledge them all, good and bad. Then I go back to the keyboard and write some more. I don't know that I've really been tested though. And if things went beyond just a review how would this feel.  Fellow blogger Maureen Crisp posted an interesting link to a post on the Popular Science site which stated they were turning off comments on their articles as research had revealed that reading insulting comments can artificially skew a reader's perceptions about a topic. Yikes. I know reading comments like those on Bransford's blog had an impact on me. And freaked me out a little.  I'm worried about where this is all heading. Be careful out there people.

My latest title While You Are Sleeping is still a few weeks away from release but I have had my first review which you can check out here. Sweet!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Live, in action...

From time to time I like to try on a new hat. Recently I was asked to be a judge for a very cool writing competition for children. Run by The Breeze radio station, the brief is to write a 400 word story. The closing date is September 27th which isn't too far away so if you would like to enter you will need to get writing. There are two age groups: 9 and under, and 10 to 13. The winners receive a cash prize and books for their school library. This is epic. Get writing. And if you need a few tips there are some videos online from the judges...

... including one by me!

And if you like, you can listen to my story The House That Went to Sea being read by Emma Kinane on Radio New Zealand

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sometimes...a poem happens

Thank Dog

My dog’s tail can’t always decide if he is happy or not
Be glad
I tell him confidently.
Glad like I am, that I have no tail of my own
To give me away
Like his does.

The cat begs to come in so she can stare out at the world
I let her in, again
Always. I know how she feels
And let her come inside
To stare out at life going on without her
Till she is ready to go out again

Thank cat,
and dog

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The dog may never forgive me...

I have been concealing a sekrit. I could have told you all but then there would have been problems over what I would have done with all the bodies. But that is no longer an issue as the news has now been made public. I am to be the "University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence" for 2014. I will be heading down to the city of Dunedin next February and staying there for 6 months. There is a stipend, accommodation, working space on campus at the University of Otago and most importantly an ENORMOUS amount of time to do nothing but write. I must admit that last bit leaves me a little giddy.

I am leaving my family at home. This will be a challenge for me and them. We are a close knit unit and I will miss them terribly (the dog may never forgive me. The cat will just say 'meh'). When I think of who I am, as an individual and a writer, my family are an indivisible part of the whole package. But when applications first opened for the residency back at the beginning of May I mentioned it to my eldest and she encouraged me to put my hat in the ring. Thank you Elora for showing me this opportunity wasn't just good for me, it was good for you too. My family all know I have writer stamped on my DNA. And there is more to receiving this opportunity than time to write (which is HUGE), financial support ( a concrete endorsement of my being a writer), and being part of an academic environment (which I have always loved - I am a recidivist student). It's a big honour to be selected. The children's writing community in New Zealand is such a strong one. And while the benefits in 2014 will be tangible and obvious, I think this opportunity has the possibility to keep rewarding me for years afterwards. And then, ya know, YOLO. I have always been a little risk averse (let's not play the radio in the car when the engine is off), and kinda careful about a bunch of stuff. This is a big adventure for me. I think this experience is going to inform my writing in new ways. And I must say that is rather exciting.

Thank you to James, Elora, Geneva and Remek for their understanding and patience. And to the University of Otago College of Education, and Creative New Zealand. I am truly grateful.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Perhaps not the right reward for excellence....

Last week was a shocker. The New Zealand Children's literature community was rocked by the news that the Government is closing Learning Media, the organisation that has produced the School Journal and other educational literacy material for use in schools. This award winning material is provided free to schools and forms the backbone of learning to read and extends many other courses of study within the classroom. The School Journal and other materials have an international reputation for excellence and are the envy of many other countries. Concerns were raised earlier this year when we were alerted to the fact that the production of these materials was being put out to tender. Learning Media were required to compete for the business that it had previously held sole responsibility for. And now they are to close. We wonder what might happen next to these wonderful educational publications.

Paul Little had this to say in the Sunday Herald - The state-owned enterprise that publishes the School Journal is to close, largely because it lost a Government publishing contact.
Don't expect the Journal itself to last much longer. The decision not to bail out Learning Media and ensure continuity of this beloved resource shows, as if we needed reminding, that we value money ahead of reading, imagination, creativity, tradition, inspiration, history, art, stimulation, fun, language, writing, communication, children, dedication, variety, the music of words, open minds, canons, culture and memories.

And here is a good explanation of what happened and why we should care about what happens next, written by NZ illustrator Adele Jackson - "There is a company that wasn't managing to return a profit and perform well under the government's new procurement processes, certainly. The reasons for this are many but essentially, Learning Media were forced to compete for their work, where once they had a monopoly. The company produces literacy resources for the Ministry of Education and all kinds of other wonderful educational materials like 'Ready to Read' books used by most if not all schools, and science magazines of a quality not seen anywhere in the world, te reo resources and pacifica resources. They also produce the School Journal which contains plays, fiction, nonfiction, poetry and craft activities. Now that the company is being wound up, the School Journal will be tendered out to other publishing companies for production. These companies are on a panel of providers. There is nothing to stop overseas companies from applying to be on the panel of providers and content for the Journals could be sourced from overseas in future. In all probability it will eventually stop being published altogether if the new tendering process fails to reach the levels of economies required by the Ministry. Before that happens we may see it being sold to schools ... and this will be a huge expense for lower decile schools. 

So looking at the effects now:
The the demise of the school journal *will* affect literacy levels undoubtedly - Journals are primary schools' main resource for teaching reading, social studies, science, history, english and culture... (and they are free to all schools I might add). The School Journals have uniquely New Zealand content which is written and illustrated by New Zealand authors and illustrators. They are graded to match literacy standards imposed by the Ministry of Ed as a child progresses through school, and they're matched against the New Zealand Curriculum with extensive teachers notes. All journals are indexed so back issues can be used to support classroom planning and the curriculum at any time. Picture books like The Gruffalo (not a NZ book) aren't core learning materials. The School Journal reflects New Zealand culture and arts as well as New Zealand history and the achievements of New Zealanders.

So you see... there really is a lot to lose and they are a hell of a lot more than a sentimental memory for those of us that grew up with them. They are a priceless treasure house that shape our kids learning through school."

 If you are concerned about what is happening please write to your MP and the Minister for Education and let them know