Sunday, March 29, 2015


Well what a week it has been. We've had such super exciting cricket with the tail end of the 2015 Cricket World Cup. I've been so impressed by the Black Caps, both for their cricketing and their sportsmanship, and was thrilled they won their way into the final against Australia. They made it easy for us to love them and want them to do well. Win or lose, they are a remarkable bunch of guys.

The 2015 LIANZA Children's Book Award finalists were announced on the 23rd, and it was rather fab to have my book with illustrator Dominique Ford, The Song of Kauri, long-listed in two categories: for the Russell Clark Award for Illustration (yay Dominique - those illustrations are breathtaking), and for the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction (the only picture book included - crikey). We didn't make the shortlists -  there are just so many great books coming out of New Zealand - congratulations to all those who did and good luck for the big announcement of the winners in June.

Russell Clark Illustration Award Finalists
  • Marmaduke Duck on the Wide Blue Seas - illus. Sarah Davis – Scholastic
  • Jim’s Letters - illus. Jenny Cooper – Penguin Random House
  • Have you seen a monster?, - Raymond McGrath – Penguin Random House
  • So Many Wonderfuls, - Tina Matthews – Walker Books
  • Mrs Mo's Monster, - Paul Beavis – Gecko Press
Bye,Bye, Bye - illus. Stephanie Junovich
Go Home Flash - Ruth Paul
Moonman - Ned Barraud
The Song of Kauri - Illus. Dominique Ford
I Am Not A Worm - Scott Tulloch

LIANZA Young Adult Finalists
  •  I am Rebecca, by Fleur Beale – Penguin Random House
  • The Red Suitcase, by Jill Harris – Makaro Press
  • Singing Home the Whale, by Mandy Hager – Penguin Random House
  • Recon Team Angel: Vengeance, by Brian Falkner – Walker Books
  • Night Vision, by Ella West – Allen and Unwin
Kiwis At War - Susan Brocker
Spark - Rachael Craw
The Bow - Catherine Mayo
Awakening - Natalie King
Unworthy - Joanne Armstrong
Magic and Makutu - David Hair

Elsie Locke Nonfiction Finalists
  • The Book of Hat, by Harriet Rowland – Makaro Press
  • A New Zealand Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris – Walker Books
  • Maori Art for Kids, by Julie Noanoa and Norm Heke - Potton and Burton Publishing
  • Mōtītī Blue and the Oil Spill: A Story from the Rena Disaster, by Debbie McCauley – Mauao Publishing
  • New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions, by Maria Gill and Marco Ivancic – New Holland
Under the Ocean - Gillian Candler, illus. Ned Barraud
Offloading With Sonny Bill - David Riley
Ghoulish Getups - Fifi Colston
Loves Me Not: How To Keep Relationships Safe - Lesly Elliott
Taratoa and the Code of Conduct - Debbie McCauley
One Girl, One Dream - Laura Dekker

Esther Glen Junior Fiction Finalists
  • Monkey Boy, by Donovan Bixley – Scholastic
  • The Volume of Possible Endings (A Tale of Fontania), by Barbara Else – Gecko
  • Conrad Cooper's Last Stand, by Leonie Agnew - Penguin
  • Trouble in Time, by Adele Broadbent – Scholastic
  • Letterbox Cat, by Paula Green – Scholastic
The Song of Kauri - Melinda Szymanik, illus. Dominique Ford
The Deadly Sky - David Hill
Island of Lost Horses - Stacey Gregg
Dappled Annie and the Tigrish - Mary McCallum
The Night of the Perigee Moon - Juliet Jacka

Te Kura Pounamu (Te Reo Māori) Finalists
  • Nga Kī, by Sacha Cotter, Josh Morgan and Kawata Teepa - Huia
  • Hui E!, by various authors - Huia
  • Tūtewehi, by Fred Te Maro - HuiaKimihia by Te Mihinga Komene and Scott Pearson - Huia
  • An early Te Reo Reading Book Series, by Carolyn Collis - Summer Rose Books
And last but by no means least,yesterday was the Storylines International Children's Book Day and Storylines Awards Presentation. I was really pleased to receive a 2015 Storylines Notable Book Award for The Song of Kauri. And so happy to finally meet the book's illustrator Dominique. What's more, the illustrator for my next picture book was there too, and we had a bit of a chat about some things he is planning. I cannot wait to see what he comes up with. I got to chat with other writery and illustratory friends - always an excellent thing. And missed chatting with others and am now kicking myself over that. Congratulations to all the other Notable Book Awardees. Congratulations to Suzanne Main on the launch of her 2014 Tom Fitzgibbon Award winning book How I Alienated my Grandma - such an awesome read!, to Tom Moffatt, this year's Tom Fitzgibbon winner, and Joy Halloran-Davidson, the 2015 Joy Cowely Award winner.

Here is the full Notable Books List for 2015:-

Notable Books List 2015

The 2015 list is for books published in 2014. 
Storylines Notable Picture Books List 2015
Books for children and/ or young adult where the narrative is carried equally by pictures and story
  • Blackie the Fisher Cat by Janet Pereira, illustrated by Gabriella Klepatski (Craig Potton Publishing).
  • Have You Seen a Monster by Raymond McGrath (Penguin).
  • Jim’s Letters by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Penguin).
  • Kakapo Dance by Helen Taylor (Penguin).
  • I Am Not A Worm by Scott Tulloch (Scholastic).
  • The Song of Kauri by Melinda Szymanik, illustrated by Dominique Ford (Scholastic).
  • The Anzac Puppy by Peter Millett, illustrated by Trish Bowles (Scholastic).
  • My New Zealand ABC Book by James Brown (Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of NZ).
  • My New Zealand Colours Book by James Brown (Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of NZ).
  • Construction by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock (Walker Books)

Storylines Notable Junior Fiction List 2015
Fiction suitable for primary and intermediate-aged children.
  • The Volume of Possible Endings by Barbara Else (Gecko Press).
  • Island of Lost Horses by Stacy Gregg (HarperCollins).
  • Conrad Cooper’s Last Stand by Leonie Agnew (Penguin).
  • Teddy One Eye: The Autobiography of a Teddy Bear by Gavin Bishop (Random House).
  • MNZS: Harbour Bridge by Philippa Werry (Scholastic).
  • Monkey Boy by Donovan Bixley (Scholastic).
  • Trouble in Time by Adele Broadbent (Scholastic).
  • The Name at the End of the Ladder by Elena De Roo (Walker Books).
  • Ophelia Wild, Deadly Detective by Elena De Roo ( Walker Books).
Storylines Notable Young Adult Fiction List 2015
Fiction suitable for upper intermediate and secondary school students.
  • While We Run by Karen Healey (Allen & Unwin).
  • Speed Of Light by Joy Cowley (Gecko Press).
  • I Am Rebecca by Fleur Beale (Random House).
  • Singing Home The Whale by Mandy Hager (Random House).
  • Spark by Rachael Craw (Walker Books).
Storylines Notable Non-Fiction List 2015
For authoritative, well-designed information books accessible to children and young adults.
  • A Little ABC Book by Jenny Palmer (Beatnik Publishing).
  • Maori Art for Kids by Julie Noanoa, illustrated by Norm Heke (Craig Potton Publishing).
  • Under The Ocean: Explore & Discover NZ’s Sealife by Gillian Candler, illustrated by Ned Barraud (Craig Potton Publishing).
  • The Book of Hat by Harriet Rowland (Makaro Press).
  • New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions by Maria Gill, illustrated by Marco Ivancic (New Holland Publishers).
  • A Treasury of NZ Poems edited by Paula Green, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Random House).
  • Ghoulish Get-Ups by Fifi Colston (Scholastic).
  • The Letterbox Cat & Other Poems by Paula Green, illustrated by Myles Lawford (Scholastic).
  • Piggy Pasta & More Food with Attitude by Rebecca Woolfall and Suzi Tait-Bradly (Scholastic).
  • A New Zealand Nature Journal by Sandra Morris (Walker Books)

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Tricksy Business of Novel Writing ...

I am loving hanging out at the Pah Homestead - it is a stunning oasis surrounded by suburbia, with views and art and lush greenness and creative vibes. I have the loveliest space to work in and zero distractions. And there is a cafe right beneath me if I need fuel or refreshment. I am already cracking on with the new project which is very exciting. And somewhat surprising.

Before I wrote my first complete novel, Jack the Viking, back in 2005/2006 I was riddled with a lot of assumptions about how writers and publishing worked. I wish I'd written them down because they would give me a jolly good chuckle now. They shared little in common with reality. One revolved around the notion that once I'd written my first novel all subsequent novels would be easy to write because I would 'know' how to do it. Hahahahahahahaha - no.

Another was the idea that you started at the start and worked your way through to the end.

And you completed a first draft, then reworked the story through however many drafts it needed till it was the polished gem it had to be for submission.

And that you could treat it like a daily job. 9 to 5.


And if you think there is one right way to write a novel STOP. You are wrong! But hang on, actually, in a way, you are also right.

Arghhh - tricksy business!!

The truth is...

There are many different ways to write a novel. Planning it in great detail, chapter by chapter. Or starting with the flash of an idea and just seeing where it leads you. Working in a linear fashion from start to finish, starting at the end and working backwards, or shifting around constantly filling in bits all over the place. If none of these is how you are doing it, that's Ok. The way that is working for you is the right way.

Cherish that first time you write The End. And every subsequent time as well. Celebrate it. Because each time will be an achievement of a significant magnitude. Completing a novel will indeed teach you an awful lot about the novel writing process. Trouble is, it changes us as well. I don't want to do the same thing I did last time. I want to push myself and try harder and be more ambitious. I want to try and explore more challenging topics. I want to be a better writer. Always. I hope each novel improves on the one before. But they are never easy.

I wish I could write a predetermined number of words every day. 1000 sounds nice. How easy it would be to plan my life. Make a writing habit, people say. Just sit down at the desk and start typing they say. It's all about discipline. Hah. If only my brain obeyed my wishes. If only the rest of my life would stay uncomplicated, with a good night's sleep every night, without crises and unexpected demands, surprises and disappointments and things that occupy your conscious unbidden like a protest group on a sit in. It's hard work creating something completely new out of your imagination. Some days are good days with lots of lovely words flowing freely. Other days are best forgotten. At least I know I am capable of completing a project and, like eating an elephant (metaphorically of course), it is best achieved one bite at a time. I might not make the story longer every day but at least I try to make it better.

It has been a novel experience with the new project. Up till now my previous stories have been told in linear order, start to finish. This time ideas are popping up from different parts of the story. I jot everything down and then type it in where I think it belongs best. I can cut and paste later if need be. It is a little discomforting because to a certain extent my brain likes order. But the beginning is resisting arrest and I could easily get stuck there. And my mind is leaping ahead. Why not follow it and see where it goes? I am willing to accept that this way, as odd as it is for me, might produce a finished product equally well, so it makes sense to give in to it. I have a loose framework in mind for the plot, so I will just have to make sure every part is in place when I am done. Piece of cake. Hmmm.

And drafts. In the past I have drafted and redrafted as I've gone along. My first complete draft has been massaged and titivated as I've gone along. It makes me slower but then I end up with a product closer to a final version. Swings and roundabouts I suppose. It works for me so I will keep doing it that way. Unless I change my mind and do it a different way because that seems right at the time. I never say never. The aim is to complete a manuscript I am happy with. How I get there is open to change.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The question of talent - just don't ask...

Updated - cos I felt like it :-)

The interweb blew up a bit last week when this came out - a somewhat grumpy and cathartic outpouring from ex-MFA tutor Ryan Boudinot, to which our fave Terrible Mind Chuck Wendig nearly exploded when responding (here). He had obviously been doing some deep breathing before posting again here on the subject, although it is still fairly ranty and at times confused. More recently there was this from Laura Miller. At some point in all these articles they each make some good points. And they all get a little tetchy at others.

All this frothing and invective got me wondering about the issue of 'talent'. We wouldn't question that some natural ability lies behind the careers of people like Mozart, Johnny Cash, Picasso, Da Vinci, Jonah Lomu, or Roger Federer. These people had/have talent. Sure they all worked their butts off to perfect their skills but no amount of practice would ever push me up to their level of ability. They have something I don't have which cannot be obtained through effort. Yet somehow we can't so easily apply this same thinking to writers. Is writing different? And if so, why? All I'd like to say is Gaiman, Le Guin, Mahy - you get the idea. Folks, I believe the creative area of writing is not mutually exclusive of talent. But I also think there is no creative area more divided about what we believe is evidence of natural ability.

Here are some points about talent I believe are worth considering

1) Talent does not equal success
2) There is no simple measurement for talent in writing. It is not a publishing contract, book sales, awards, 5 star reviews, or most likes on your facebook fan page. 50 Shades of Grey has nearly 430,000 5 star reviews. I rest my case.
3) People can have talent and not use it or walk away from it, or squander it
4) People can have limited or no talent and achieve great results. See above
5) Ten people will say you are talented. The next ten will say you aren't. Who is right? Might they both be right? (or both wrong?)
6) Talent might not be evident at the start. Talent might be latent, needing passion and effort (or some other trigger) to allow it to manifest itself
7) Working hard at what you are passionate about will result in improvement
8) Persevering when the going gets tough may be the single most important predictor of success
9) If you are obsessing about whether you have talent or not you are not focusing on the right things (such as numbers 7 and 8 above).
10) The more passionate we are about what we love to do, the harder it is to be objective about it

I have some natural abilities. I can cook well. I can empathise. I am good at loving my family. Dancing. Spelling. Finding lost things. These are some things I am naturally good at. But I got better at all of them with practice and experience. Am I a talented writer? I don't know, and I don't want to ask the question cos my writing is important to me and I would care TOO MUCH about the answer. If talent is there, it will be there no matter what I do or think or say about it. And if it isn't, would I let that information stop me in my tracks? If the answer would derail me, I do not want to ask it, or dwell on it. Better to just get on with the writing.  The only way forward for me is to be passionate, practice lots, and persevere when the going gets tough. Is talent necessary? I think that's probably the wrong question.