Monday, May 26, 2014

Be in to win....

As part of my visit to Remarkable's Primary School at the beginning of the month (what a great school!!) a competition was run to design a cover and write a blurb for my junior novel, Sally Bangle: Unexpected Detective.  Here is the most excellent winning entry by Paige in Year 5. Paige, you are a star! This is wonderful. I shall be sending you along an e-copy of the book shortly.

And folks, if I haven't already mentioned it here, the magnificent Fabostory writing competition rides again. Go check it out here at It has a new format - you have 2 weeks to take the information and opening paragraph provided and write the story, and then enter it online. The guest author judge will pick two winners and give out fab prizes. Then we start all over again with a new opening paragraph and a new guest author judge. There will be tips and advice along the way. Hone your skills, practice your writing and get feedback. What could be better than that for a budding writer!! Go to it.

(And I am feeling in the mood for a bit of a competition myself - watch this space in June - there will be a chance to win a copy of my new book The Song of Kauri ).

Friday, May 23, 2014

Less snot and froth...

Recently I wrote a bit of a frothing-at-the-mouth reaction to an article quoting Jonathan Emmett in the Times (which turned up in the NZ Herald) about gender imbalance in the children's literature industry. Mr Emmett rightly responded to clarify a few things.

"Hi Melinda.

Sorry that the Times article annoyed the snot out of you. I didn't write it. It was written by two Times reporters in response to this blog post about children's book reviewing which I did write:

You've made a number of unfounded assumptions about my views, some of which are addressed in this post:

I've offered "some practical solutions that might work" under the section headed "Solutions" which starts on page 21 of this essay:

"And all you can say Mr Emmett is that we don't give our sons sufficient books about pirates?"
If you take the time to look at the rest of the essays and blog posts on, I hope you'll recognise that my argument is somewhat more complex and nuanced than that."

Fair enough. Mr Emmett's original article is considerably different to what appeared in the Times/NZ Herald (and I'm a little disturbed by how much the tone has been skewed). And his stats make for very interesting reading and raise a whole bunch of other questions about gender in writing, reviewing and publishing, that should be widely debated. I'm not totally convinced, at the latter end of the article, about how influential the boy-centricity of picture books (or the lack thereof) is on literacy levels. I wonder what contribution other factors like electronic gaming, online activities and television make to boys abandoning books? Do these things appeal more to boys? Here in New Zealand I sometimes even wonder how much the thought of the money to be made in sports (predominantly by men if we are considering gender imbalances) attracts boys away from reading? Plenty of boys I know certainly apply themselves more diligently to sporting activities than they do to academic ones. We are thought of as a sporting nation. Sports gets a lot of press (especially those sports played by men) compared with arts and culture. Sports are cool. Culture, hmm, maybe not so much. Children's book reviews in general are thin enough on the ground here in mainstream media, without considering the gender of the reviewers. This is the environment we are raising our boys in. These are complex issues.

If you are at all familiar with playground chants and rhymes you know how bloodthirsty and combative little children can be. I agree with Emmett that content should not be excessively sanitised. I think it's not necessarily always the publishers or the reviewers or librarians applying constraints (or gender-centric biases) to the content of children's books, but the (adult) consumers. Some adults felt my book The Were-Nana was far too scary for younger children and yet it won children's choice at the NZ Post Book Awards. In the end publishers have to publish what they believe they can sell. And they have to manage the risks of their choices. And how far would we push the content to attract the reluctant boy reader? Is that okay? What should our limits be? I also agree with Mr Emmett's lament about the sorry decline of children's non-fiction. For me this seems a more serious issue. If boys prefer reading non-fiction then this must also make a contribution to literacy levels. 

I still wonder how much our own subtle messages influence what boys think is cool to read. I wish I knew. I think too, some boys are even resistant to boy-preferred content, although this doesn't mean we shouldn't try to change their minds about books. On the flip side should we look at why many girl readers read more widely across a range of content. Is that driven by nature or nurture? Should we be producing more 'boy-centric' picture books or be applying different psychologically to the way we encourage boys to read? Either way we can do better. Mr Emmett, I am sorry I got so reductive. I really should know by now that sometimes the media like a spot of controversy and that some information might have dropped off along the way. 


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Pushing your comfort zone to a new level ...

Hi honey, I'm home!

Things I don't recommend
1) Living out of a suitcase that has been packed with what came out of an earlier suitcase
2) straining your vocal chords at the first of your speaking engagements
3) not taking the opportunity to buy dinner at 4.30pm before embarking on connecting flights and shuttle trips that get you to your dark, cold, lonely door at 10pm at night
4) not taking the opportunity to say hello to your writing idols and as-yet-unmet confreres
5) going for long periods without writing

Things I do recommend
1) saying yes to opportunities
2) stepping outside of your comfort zone
3) accepting the offer of a microphone
4) having some fall-back-position intelligent comments to whip out in those brain scrambled moments
5) being yourself

Wow, it may take me a while to process all the events I have been involved in over the last few weeks. It has been a whirlwind odyssey of talks, workshops, presentations and panel discussions. High point? All of it (especially getting to hang out with other writers, even if I was too shy to speak to half of them). Low point - not having more time in between to appreciate it all. Sometimes I just wanted to slow it all down and enjoy the moment.

There is no denying that it can be stressful facing a room full of strangers and trying to interest and entertain them. People asked me afterwards how the talks went. Unfortunately I have a natural tendency to immediately focus on things I wish I'd said, or things I wish I hadn't said, or forget everything that just happened, so I can never really judge these things. The litmus test in the talks to school students is if someone came up afterwards and shyly told me that they want to be a writer too, or that they felt inspired by what I said. And they did. They remind me of me at that age. I hope I've made a positive difference for them.

People say they couldn't imagine themselves standing up there on the stage giving talks. They don't know how folk do it. I don't know either. It is scary - I was speaking to one well known international writer before one of my talks and she too was anxious about her next event - had she pitched it right for the audience, she wondered. Trepidation is not unusual, even for the most seasoned performers. In the end, I focused on these events as opportunities to hopefully say something useful as well as interesting. To help others be inspired, or avoid pitfalls and mistakes, or just love books, and reading and words, and perhaps writing, just a little bit more. It was petrifying and exciting all at once. I have to say I felt very alive during the whole experience. And I've discovered that my comfort zone is transforming. There is a new normal. And I'm now very happy to return to my quiet, lonely garret to write.

Friday, May 9, 2014


It is my month of talking - May. If I am a little absent from my blog I apologise - I am darting hither and thither across the countryside and not sitting down at a desk as much as I usually do. I have remarked in the past that I could talk the hind leg off a donkey - apparently now I can also talk myself horse hoarse. I spent Thursday and Friday talking about creative writing and reading some of my books to the students at Remarkables Primary School in Queenstown, with a view to die for, and a tad more rain than I had anticipated. I talked about ideas, plotting, tone, language techniques and character development. We discussed rules for writing and how authors and illustrators work independently on a book. The children were terrific and I had a great time and was especially thrilled by the bright wee sparks who told me they couldn't wait to go off and write stories. Here are some pics from the visit

The school is in a very picturesque location:

Friday afternoon I headed back to Dunedin (via Christchurch) so I could take part in the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival. I felt very privileged to be asked to join author, Sandy McKay and chair, Bridget Schaumann for a panel discussion on Historical YA fiction and this morning we chatted about our writing process, our own history and the backgrounds to our books. We talked about getting published, research and writing habits. I hope the audience enjoyed the session as much as I did. If you wonder whether I get nervous before these things, the answer is, yes, I do. I think nerves are a normal part of the public speaking business and are not necessarily a bad sign. They don't paralyse me or prevent me from doing the job, and to me are just indicative of the fact I am keen to give a good talk and provide useful information in a coherent manner. And once I begin, they go. I don't tend to worry about them.This evening I am off to hear Eleanor Catton talk and then on Monday I wing my way to Auckland for some more talking at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival. I am currently resting my vocal cords.