Thursday, December 8, 2016

The end is nigh...

I've started this post about five times - clearly I need more coffee. Hang on, just gonna go make myself a cup. BRB............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................


So, now that I am correctly caffeinated for my end of year rant, let's get started.

What to say about 2016?

I ended up being way busier than I expected to be, doing a lot of school visits, running workshops and getting involved in some amazing projects. I did heaps more talking (and writing of talks) than I did writing but it was just that kind of year. Thank you to all the wonderful people who invited me to be a part of things. I did lots of things that scared me and for the most part I was so glad I did. Not everything worked out. Some things terrified me too much and I won't be doing them again. Knowledge (and experience) is power. Actually most things will always scare me but some things aren't worth a repeat fright. I guess the bottom line is that doing things that terrify you isn't a cure, it's more of a life management plan.

2016 also demonstrated that it is impossible to plan ahead in too much detail when you are a writer. I put my name down for a couple of things in 2016 but for the most part I wasn't anticipating the invitations, requests and suggestions that I received. I think it's the fruit of my 'long game' philosophy. The last three years have each been distinctive anomalies compared with the previous 13 or so years, (the Dunedin Residency in '14, the Pah Homestead Residency in '15 and the Book Award judging and Otahuhu Project this year). Is three years of different now a trend? I might have a better idea at the end of 2017 so I'll have to get back to you on that one. On current evidence, although I only have a few fixed points (repeats of a couple things I took part in this year), next year has the potential to strike out in a new direction. I suppose enough uncertainty eventually becomes a certainty of its own. I am, if nothing else, adaptable. Saying yes to (nearly) everything is a key contributor to this but I have been liking the results of this approach to my work life so for the moment it's still my MO. I will just have to accept the randomness that comes with it.

My picture book with Donovan Bixley, Fuzzy Doodle, took flight in the middle of the year. It's a thrill to have a book come out and I thank everybody who has encouraged, supported and said nice (or otherwise) things about Fuzzy. Writers pray that their books will be reviewed, so it does break my heart a little when a review does nothing more than summarise the plot, especially when it is just based on the back cover blurb. I've had a few of these for Fuzzy and there is so much more to the book than that. I appreciate that space for reviews is shrinking but I know a lot can be done with so little (especially as a picture book writer). I loved this very brief review of the book on Goodreads by Miss Wilson  - A visual transformation that improves with each page turn, much like the content it discusses literally and metaphorically. Only eighteen words, yet so delicious and intriguing. It can be done! And most recently there was a lovely and thoughtful (and longer) review of the book here by blogger Steph Ellis.

And to cap off an exciting and interesting year, I recently took part in a wonderful event showcasing the students' work from the amazing Otahuhu Project I was involved in. I was so impressed by, and proud of, what the students achieved. They are our writers and illustrators of the future. Thank you to the school, the dedicated teachers, the NZ Book Council and the fabulous funders of this amazing initiative. Long may it continue!


So what of 2017. Just a few things booked so far. And a few more prospects hovering. I have a ticket to see Adele in concert in March and I am out of the country for New Years which will be weird. This last fact somehow seems like some kind of portent about the year to come. That the usual order of things might be shaken up. Time will tell I guess. I'll keep saying 'yes' to things. Keep trying to learn more about this business I am in. Keep trying to pass this information on. Keep trying to produce more written work because without that I will stall, stagnate, become stale. From time to time I throw up my hands and say 'I give up'. Being a writer and staying published has more than its fair share of challenges and issues and more than a whiff of futility about it. On the days that all I can see is the wood of the door I am banging my head against, I feel certain this industry and I cannot remain together. But repeated examination has slowly revealed that it is not what I do, it is who I am. I could no more give up writing than I could stop being human so I shall stay on, thumping the keyboard and staring out the window and into the distance, mulling ideas over and attempting to turn them into stories. 2017? Here I come...

Monday, November 21, 2016

Some info on getting (Children's Books) published in NZ ... shiny 2016 version

I posted some general information on getting published in New Zealand on this blog in 2010. I updated it in 2014 as the industry had undergone a number of significant changes in the intervening years, and now, as it seems to be one of my most visited pages, it seems prudent to update it again. I hope you find it useful. (Sorry about the mismatched fonts and messy layout).

Firstly, if you have completed a manuscript of any stripe, congratulations!! I advise taking a moment to celebrate this achievement. A lot of people talk about writing a book but few actually get as far as you have. Completing the writing of a book is hard work, and requires courage, perseverence and tenacity. Well done! 

So you’ve written 'The End', read and re-read your story umpteen times, checked and re-checked it for mistakes, and edited it till it sparkles – what do you do next? 

In the past I've recommended checking out which publishers were publishing what kind of books and then suggested submitting your manuscript to the publishers most interested in your kind. Now, you must first ask yourself - do I want to seek traditional publication of my work or should I self publish? Do you want to go digital only or have your book in print? Go take a look at sites like Amazon and Smashwords etc... and check out their best-sellers. Some genres sell very well for writers self publishing, and it is an excellent option. Some books do best in print. I think picture books are better in print and would not want to attempt to arrange an illustrator, designer, editor, etc... and the printing of these myself. I want the help of experienced practitioners. On the other hand I am happy to try self publication of a novel (whether in digital and/or print), but in most cases I will pursue traditional publishing first. 

So do your homework before you decide anything. 

Go look herehere and here if you want to know how I tackled self pubbing a children's novel. If you've decided to try the traditional route with this manuscript start here: - 

 At this point you have three options

1)     send it to a manuscript assessor. I know a number of writers who send all of their manuscripts to an assessor before they submit to a publisher. They want to have confirmation that their story works and get advice on improvements. I know other writers who never use assessors, like me. If you choose not to use assessors, if your manuscripts do get rejected it may pay to try assessors to see where and what changes might help you get to a yes. You can find NZ assessors here –

2) send it to a professional editor. If you are not confident in your spelling, grammar etc… a professional editor will help. If you are self publishing using a professional editor is an essential step. There are two key types of editing – copy and structural. Copy editing will correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. Structural editing looks at the story as a whole, does it work, is it consistent, is it logical, would the story be improved by the addition or omission of characters, scenes etc…
“Don’t ask me to proofread my own writing
            I always end up seeing what I thought I wrote!”

I have used one in the past for work that I have or would like to self publish

3) send it to an agent/publisher.

Do you need an agent? When I started out you didn’t need one here in NZ. All the major publishers accepted submissions directly from authors. While most still do, an agent can help. However we have few agents representing children’s material in New Zealand. Agents are listed here - . I believe Glenys Bean is currently not accepting children’s writers. Agents will take around 15% (and up) of any book income from contracts they have been involved with. It is possible to get signed with an overseas agent. Watch out for scammers though. Sites like Preditors and Editors and the Writer Beware Blog list agents and publishers and whether they are professional legitimate operators or not.

Find editors and more assessors here -

How should you prepare your manuscript?

Lay Out

For both physical and digital submissions: Double space your lines and ensure margins on both sides. Do NOT use fancy or joined up fonts. Something easily readable is best (12 point Times New Roman is a safe bet). Number your pages and include your title and name in a smaller point size as a header for each page, so this information is unobtrusive but readily available if required. Print on one side of the paper only if posting a hard copy in.

If you have written a picture book, in my experience you are NOT required to lay your manuscript out as a picture book in order to submit it. As I am now familiar with how picture books are paginated I will break my text up into paragraphs or sections of text that represent each double page spread. If you are unsure, just have the text laid out as if it was to appear as a short story. Remember, each page needs the text to provide a different image from the other pages. Your average picture book has around 14 double page spreads (for a total of 32 pages in the book), but look at a range of picture books to see the different formats and page set ups.

 Important (for picture book submissions): Please note - if you are not an illustrator and are submitting your manuscript to a traditional publisher, YOU ARE NOT REQUIRED TO FIND AN ILLUSTRATOR YOURSELF. Publishers are VERY experienced at matching illustrators with writers. They know way more illustrators than you do. Just send your story in. Also, don't feel you must describe how the illustrations should appear. The more you prescribe how the story must appear, the less able the publisher is to see it in a number of different ways which may work better than what you have envisaged. Remember they do this for a living and are experienced at seeing the potential in a story.

This also applies to artists notes. I don’t tend to discuss the artwork with the illustrator while they are illustrating my stories. It is a leap of faith but they may (and often have) come up with things I could never have imagined that enhance my story. I would limit them by demanding my ideas be used. And I have not yet provided artist's notes. I once heard one publisher say she always threw artists notes in the bin without even looking at them.

Covering letters

You will need a brief covering letter (for both email and posted submissions) which includes the name of your manuscript, the word count, genre, the intended market, a brief outline of the work, and your publishing credits, if you have some. For fiction you will need a synopsis, and either several chapters, or the entire manuscript as per submission guidelines. For non-fiction you generally submit a proposal.

Places to send your work

Always start off by looking at the submission guidelines on the publisher's website. Do what the submission guidelines say – DO NOT DO ANYTHING ELSE. They supply guidelines because this is how they want to receive your stories. You might think it's a good idea to do something different and stand out from the crowd. But all it does is make you stand out for the wrong reasons. Follow the guidelines.

Scholastic NZ - Scholastic are currently only accepting submissions from authors previously published within the last ten years. However they are accepting illustration portfolios from unpublished illustrators - instructions can be found here (publish Kyle Mewburn, Juliette MacIver, Elizabeth Pulford, me and others).

Scholastic will also consider self-published books for inclusion in and distribution through their School Book Club brochures

Unpublished authors can submit work to the Storylines Joy Cowley, Tom Fitzgibbon, or Tessa Duder Awards. Entries close on October 31st every year and this is an excellent way to get your manuscript in front of Scholastic (Joy Cowley and Tom Fitzgibbon Awards) or Walkers Books (Tessa Duder Award) as they read all entries.

Penguin Random House are accepting manuscripts and their instructions can be found here -

Gecko Press - Gecko are accepting manuscripts under certain provisos (previous publication or recommendation via an agent assessor or industry professional) - instructions are here  (Publish Paul Beavis, Juliette MacIver, Joy Cowley, Barbara Else).

Duck Creek Press - David Ling at Duck Creek Press is currently accepting picture books submissions. Instructions here - (Publish Nikki Slade Robinson, Lisa Allen)

Upstart Press - not currently accepting fiction of any kind. Their guidelines are here - . I recommend checking back from time to time to see if this has changed (Publish Donovan Bixley and Joy Cowley)

Oratia Media – are currently accepting submissions by mail. See details here - (Publish Dawn McMillan, Tessa Duder and Tim Tipene)

EK Books - are an Australian picture book publisher (there is a NZ address for local submissions) and are currently accepting submissions, including from NZ. Instructions are here -

Allen & Unwin – an Australian publisher. They accept pitches via email (The Friday Pitch) and respond fairly quickly  – there is a helpful Q&A here -

There are other publishers in Australia you can try - Scholastic Australia, Walker Books, Little Hare, Penguin Random House ( )

Educational Markets 
The educational market is considerably less robust than it used to be here in New Zealand. Many New Zealand children's writers and illustrators got their start with the School Journal - a New Zealand institution for decades - including me.

School Journals - the contract to produce these is currently held by Lift Education.

School Magazine – Australia is another option, and they are happy to accept submissions from New Zealand authors.

What happens next?

Extreme patience is required at this point. Many publishing offices are run with only a few staff, who will read your manuscript and then pass it on to others (external readers, marketing departments etc…) who will assess its qualities and saleability. Reading submissions is fitted around other duties. This may take months and is completely normal and incredibly frustrating. My longest wait for a yes has been more than 9 months. Nos have averaged between 3-6 months but can take much longer.

What I recommend

If you are serious about writing:-

a)     Join some organisations for writers and/or children’s literature such as the New Zealand Society of Authors, Storylines, SCBWI, and online groups like Facebook’s Kiwiwrite4kidz. Somewhere along your journey you will need advice.  If you are looking for a critique group or just like-minded people this is where to find them. Countless times I have needed support, information, encouragement and feedback and many times we have shared information on opportunities and services, and problem solved together over industry issues. The NZSA will check contracts before you sign if you are a member.
b)     Read children's books. Know what's hot, and what's good in the area you like to write. Understand the 'rules' of those types of stories.
c)     Have resources – dictionary, thesaurus, grammar book (Strunk and White), books on writing and ideas (see below).
d)     Protect yourself against scammers. If it seems too good to be true it probably is. If in doubt, google, ask around and/or check in with the NZSA who are there to advise and support and protect authors

DON’T GIVE UP. Your next manuscript might be the one that gets accepted. Every bit of writing you do contributes to your 10,000 hours of practice. The publishing industry is a slow one and should be treated as a long game.

There is general information on 'Writing and Illustrating for Children in New Zealand' here at the Christchurch City Libraries website. This includes submission guidelines for most of the children's publishers in New Zealand

or you could check out the PANZ (Publishers Association of New Zealand) website.

And/or take a look at these
-Writers and Artists Yearbook
-Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook
-Writers and Illustrators Market
-Children’s Writers and Illustrators Market

These books are published annually are available to buy from good bookshops and are held in some libraries

Writers Organisations
NZSA (New Zealand Society of Authors)
Kiwiwrite4kidz (an online community of local children's writers on facebook)
Storylines (the Children's Literature Foundation of New Zealand)
NZ Book Council
SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - Australia East/NZ Chapter of an  International Organisation)

Handy things to have: -

An up-to-date, reputable Dictionary
A Roget’s Thesaurus
Reference books – Baby names
Dictionary of Classical Mythology
Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
Biographical Dictionary
‘How to’ Books
Books on Grammar (The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B.White, Longman)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Saying 'yes' .......

Crikey - the year has been whizzing past and it is nearly time to go into that phase of looking back over the year that was and musing about the one to come.  There are still a few engagements left on the work calendar but things are winding down. Already there are whispers about Christmas functions ... Before you can say 'Jack Skellington' we will be hanging Christmas ornaments and sending letters to Sandy Claws.

This year did not turn out at all like I expected. It has had unanticipated busynesses and things not going according to plan. I have been involved in projects, invited places and given some lovely and exciting opportunities that weren't on my radar at all this time last year. I have traveled far more than I anticipated, and I will be off travelling again before the year is out. I was commissioned to write some small things and got to try my hand at something new, writing a skit for Wild Things Magazine, a children's quarterly put out by Forest and Bird (Issue 132 Spring/Koanga 2016). I enjoyed the process much more than I thought I might, accompanied as it was by the discovery that in the end, despite my fears, this wasn't a skill that lay outside my abilities.

I have an informal rule of saying 'yes' to everything (unless it involves me being in two places at once) which I almost always adhere to, and so far this has turned out way better than I expected. Without that rule I would be cocooned in my comfort zone without any of the new skills and experiences I have picked up because I ignored my inner voice and said 'yes.' Of course it means I feel anxious before everything. If you live on the far edge of the envelope this is hard to avoid. Should I discover a means of managing this I will let you know.

 Next year currently looms as a vast sea of potential with almost no fixed points apart from family events and if experience has taught me nothing else, I know that things will turn up: opportunities, invites, requests and my own ideas and efforts that I can run, jump and play with to see what shakes out. And if 2017 turns out to be a quiet one, this too will be good. I have a list of Plan B's for these times and like the book piles beside our beds this never gets shorter. It would be good to cross a few things off the list faster than I add things.

This year too I got to launch Fuzzy Doodle in June. There was a lovely blushworthy review of the book on Radio New Zealand today by John McIntyre from The Children's Bookshop which you can listen to here if you like. 

And next weekend on Saturday November 5th I will be giving another workshop on writing picture books at Selwyn College.  Info and registration can be found here.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Why New Zealand literature deserves your support...

New Zealand literature is a necessary thing...

My parents were immigrants. World War 2 pushed them out of their home country Poland and brought them, via a truly circuitous route, to New Zealand. I was born here about seven years after their arrival.

My Polish heritage informed so much of my early life. The food we ate, the people we socialised with, the traditional folk dancing I learned, the national costume I owned and sometimes wore. To my regret, I didn't learn the language. In my tender years I didn't appreciate the value of doing so. I found it hard. And I eagerly embraced the language of my peers (I love the English language. We are always doing gymnastics together). But at school I enjoyed having this exotic Eastern European background. I was the only Polish kid in class. It felt special. So I wore it with pride.

I was a booky kid. I read a lot in school right from the beginning. I hung out at libraries all the time. The Lion,The Witch and The Wardrobe (although I started with The Silver Chair after picking up the hardback for a bargain price at a school fair), The Famous Five, Paddington Bear, The Moomintrolls, Baron Munchausen, The Moon in the Cloud, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, The Hobbit, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Flambards, The Outsiders, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Dark is Rising, Fairy Tales, The Odyssey, Robin Hood, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and many, many, many more. Are you sensing a theme to my reading yet?

The only New Zealand literature I was exposed to as a child was what the School Journal provided. There was no Margaret Mahy or Joy Cowley, Maurice Gee, Fleur Beale or David Hill back then. I read one short story by Witi Ihimaera and didn't understand it at all, because it was a single drop in a vast ocean of the European and US literary heritage I was consuming in vast quantities.

It became difficult to sustain the atmosphere of Polishness as we all grew up. We had to get on with our Kiwi lives. We didn't forget but wore it more on the inside than the outside. And the pre-war Poland of my parent's experience was unreachable, existing in memory but no longer in reality. And my empathy and understanding of people and the world learned through books filtered everything through a foreign lens. What is it to be a New Zealander? I'm still figuring it out. I can't help always feeling a restlessness that can't be answered, predicated as it is on a nostalgia for a lost heritage that can never be recovered, and a literary education built on cultures to which I can never belong.

If you want New Zealand children to understand their own culture, to feel it in their bones, then it must be provided to them in their literature. It helps ground them, makes them feel strong in their roots, connects them to this place and to each other. It reflects their experience back at them, reinforcing its value. We must embrace our own literature. It is a tremendous gift that must be protected and encouraged. We can't just measure it as a product with sales, because its impact is lifelong, far reaching and life changing. It needs to be everywhere and we need to pay it way more respect then it gets now.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book Review: Annual....

I was recently sent a copy of Gecko's 2016 Annual so I thought I'd do a bit of a review. It's a bold new step for Gecko, to produce an Annual: a collection of different writing, games, comic strips, poetry, activities and art for the intermediate/young teen reader. I remember owning and enjoying one or two annuals in my own childhood, but nowadays they seem to only be associated with teen boy bands, British icons like Beano and Rupert, or sports teams. There hasn't been anything available that is particularly kiwi that I can recall and as a gap was perceived in reading needs in this age group, Gecko responded with this very handsome book. It was with great interest and curiosity that I dived in between the pages.

I have to say it is rather beautiful, and every care has gone into making something that looks and feels cool and attractive, but is also hard wearing and long lasting.

So, to the contents. There are short stories, comic strips, poetry and essays of varying sizes by writers new and familiar. Names like Bernard Beckett, Barbara Else, Sarah Laing and Steve Braunias alongside Paul Beavis, Whiti Hereaka, Giselle Clarkson and Kirsten McDougall. There are things to do, games, things to make, differences to spot, a play, music, and quirky collected things. It is a superb selection. The writing is smart and assured. Stories examine themes such as family, relationships, finding your own place, growing up and being real. The art work is varied, often fun and always inspiring. I can see children with an artistic bent having a go at some of the tasks, but also trying to imitate some of the styles seen here.

(this artwork by Gavin Mouldey)

There is a really useful guide to visual storytelling. There is humour (poor Bad Luck Zebra) and a funny board game (whatever you do don't land on the square where you accidentally see Grandma naked!). I didn't like everything that was in there, but I think that is to be expected. There is a wide enough variety of theme and style to appeal to a good range of readers. With sophisticated writing, and all of it with an underlying ideas-driven and artistic vibe, this book is for the hungry, confident reader, and I think it will bend and stretch and entertain them in all sorts of good ways.

Out now at good bookstores

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

What I have been up to....

Hello there

Boy, August was full on. I became involved in a special project involving half a dozen full day visits to a South Auckland school teaching creative writing and a love of books and reading. I had my first visits in the last week of July and did the remaining visits over August. It has been a wonderful experience visiting at Panama Road School. The students are enthusiastic, affectionate and keen. I hope my love of books and writing has infected them.

I headed down to Wellington in the second week for the NZ Children's and Young Adults Book Awards. We announced and celebrated the wonderful winners on a wild, wet and windy Wellington Night at the Circa Theatre. Ten days later a host of international delegates descended on Auckland for the 2016 IBBY congress and for four days we discussed, celebrated and examined children's literature from around the world and it's crucial role in bridging cultural divides and bringing us all closer together. I got so much out of it. I attended sessions with the wonderful Australian Children's laureate Leigh Hobbes, and amazing novelist Markus Zusak. I chatted with writery friends from round the country and the world. I loved hearing about initiatives from other countries, about writers and illustrators I had not come across before, about the desire for more diversity in our children's literature

I was comforted by the fact we are all looking for solutions to the same issues. I loved the passion for the potential children's literature has to heal rifts, and to unite us globally. It was exciting to see aspects of our own country through the eyes of others. The whole thing was very thought provoking....and inspiring. And I found myself thinking about the possibility of attending future IBBY Congresses in other countries. On Sunday the IBBY Congress segued into the Storylines Festival and I got to take part in the Auckland Family Day. I met some lovely fans, made origami butterflies with lots of children and talked about turning ideas into books.

I imagined 2016 was going to be a quiet year with few engagements. I thought I would be twiddling my thumbs but the year just keeps on surprising me. In a few weeks I'm heading down to Christchurch to take part in a few events organised around our What Lies Beneath Exhibition of Children's Books by New Zealand authors themed around World War 1 and 2. This exhibition has been touring around New Zealand libraries and is spending the month of September in Christchurch. I'll post up more details soon. In November I am giving another workshop on Writing Picture Books with Selwyn Community Education. The days inbetween are slowly filling up too. Who knows what might happen next?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Getting through the mid career doldrums, even if you only have a teaspoon to row with...

Woohoo - another short story is to get its moment in the sun. I am so pleased to have something new picked up. It is with an educational publisher and I have no clues about when it will come out - sometimes those things can take some years (my previous record was around 6 years between acceptance and publication). I am doing a little happy dance - it has been a little while since I last had a story (of any kind) accepted. I have had droughts before and they are never fun. As I quoted in my last post - it's a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published. For those of you still trying to break in this can seem counter-intuitive. Surely once you are 'in' you know the secret of how to achieve an acceptance. Except the secret isn't really a secret. It's producing a well enough written story that a publisher can see the merits and the potential profitability of. You don't need an introduction, or to 'know' someone. There's no special handshake or password. In the beginning, I just kept sending my stories in, and working on new ones until one stuck. No secrets. Now, I do the same. Sending stories in, working on new ones, hoping like crazy. Persistence really is a useful quality in this business. And even then, when your story is good and smart and saleable it might still fall into that bottomless crack that exists between 'same, same, but different', 'one out of the box' or 'just before the crest of a trend'. And there is always the publisher's box to be ticked which has no definition, they just know it when the see it, and no they can't explain what that means. No secrets, some magic. Rinse and repeat.

So you've succeeded a few times and you are slowly understanding how things work and getting the hang of this business. How can this make things harder? This seems like an advantage, and of course, to a certain extent it is because it streamlines the process of submission. But it doesn't make them say yes in any different ways, or more often than they did before. In the mean time trends are shifting and changing, and the economies of countries are contracting or contracting. Publishers may want to invest in your next book but their money must be spent as wisely as possible to enable their business to continue and there just may be less of it to spend on everything, because trends, global financial stuff, changing platforms, latest thing, and most probably all of the above. If your last book didn't sell as well as they wanted then that will have an impact on whether they take your next book. Even if they really want your next book. And you've honed your voice and style and that shines through in all of your stories and is that what people want, or don't want, is it tired or is that how the fans you do have know you best and is what they wait impatiently for. And do the publishers want more of that or are they searching for new voices?  And yet in amongst all of this you are changing too. All the things you've written previously have shaped and influenced what you are writing now. And personal things happening in your private life are affecting you too. Books you are reading, world events, life events, aging, families growing or contracting, sadness, happiness, other stuff you do to keep the wolf from the door, or the labrador, cos like you know they eat a lot and are endlessly hungry. You are a long way from your debut you, and you know stuff and that isn't always helpful to your writing.

And of course the fear of never getting published, or not being good enough just surreptitiously transforms into imposter syndrome, or an advanced form of self doubt. It never goes away. It is stubborn and pernicious - damn it.

So, what do you do?

The only thing you can do, if you want to advance from mid careerist to established writer. You utilise all that change and growth and labrador drool and keep banging away at the keyboard. And you stick all of that experience in your stories and your writing. And you smack yourself if you say 'I've reached my peak' or 'I know I'm never going to be better than this' because how the hell do you know (unless you are truly clairvoyant but honestly I still don't think that is the final word). You push, because apparently people who tell themselves they can do better, often do. And you remind yourself that fear is something you have previously successfully overcome or ignored long enough to achieve good shit in the past, so you are clearly capable of doing so again in the future. And if something doesn't work you try something different cos that's what you used to do, and how you got published in the first place. And you remind yourself that good ideas have always arrived at their own pace and there's no reason why that should change now just because you're older and wiser.

And then you realise that it is a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published, and you've been staying published up till now and there's no reason why that shouldn't continue if you give yourself half a chance, and that deserves a bloody good pat on the back and some chocolate and maybe a little bit of confetti. No secret, just magic.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Some magpie behaviour...

A friend recently had some toxic blow-back from a book review she posted. The author took exception to this person's view of the book and got in touch personally several times to express their disapproval. This is incredibly poor form, and behaviour that won't win you any friends long term. People tend to remember when you tore a strip off them, and not in a good way. And if reviewers are trying to get a rise out of you, then rising to the bait is achieving their ends not yours. Truly, the best policy is to never respond. Writer Maggie Stiefvater has a classy attitude to reviews good and bad, that takes the sting out of the one star ones and and demonstrates why getting some negative response can actually be desirable.

And underling Maggie's point, agent Janet Reid (and friend) had this to say

Jessica Snell picked up the thread on book reviews (and how readers find books) with this:
Although many of the books I read are ones I've heard of via word-of-mouth (mostly from my brother and my mom, honestly; I know and trust their taste), I probably find most of my books via book reviews.

And the thing is, those book reviews don't have to be positive. Sometimes the reviewer doesn't like the book, but if she's a good reviewer, she'll say *why* she doesn't like it, and I'll know whether or not that reason would be a deal-breaker for *me*. Sometimes I know I'd like the book for the very reason the reviewer hated it, and I'll go ahead and pick it up.

So, I guess what I'm saying is: dear authors, don't be too discouraged by bad reviews. Well-written bad reviews might get you just as many readers as the good ones.

Very very true. One of our sayings back in my publicity days was "Get reviews. Good or bad, doesn't matter."

Now it's even more important because any mention of a book increases its discoverability.

Janet Reid has also made a few good comments that resonated with me, on a range of other issues. The first is about marketing your books. It's a long game folks. Of course all authors think their own book is an incredible work of heartbreaking genius, and even if they are making an objective assessment and are right, no self respecting reader is going to take that on face value. They want to hear it from someone they trust who has no vested interest in the sale/purchase of the book.

And then there's the one about when publishers give off warning signals  that the ship isn't quite so ship shape. Number 6 especially gave me pause - Publishing is Broken; We're Going to Fix It.  Confidence is a good quality in a entrepreneur. So is iron clad optimism.  Hubris is not.  Someone who tells you they're going to fix an industry they've never worked in is textbook hubris . I recognized this one...I'd heard it before and that hadn't worked out so well then either. If someone says this to you, wait to see their fix in action before jumping on board. Do your homework people. Ms Reid's blog is a good place to start.

And last but not least this one - perhaps the most sobering of all my links today - which pretty much concludes with  'Bottom line: it's a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published'. That's a hurdle (or dark long corridor of hurdles) that you can't imagine when you are working so hard on breaking in, but it's a reality for a significant proportion of all writers, and an issue that many mid-career writers grapple with. Getting published isn't a lifetime pass in to the publishing world, or a guarantee of future publication. More on this I think next time.....

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fuzzy Doodle is HERE!!...

I have been in the thrilling eye of a school visiting/author event whirlwind for a wee while but this is now quietening down and I seem to have popped out the other side. Big shout outs to the most fabulous Orakei Primary, Parnell District School, Northcote Primary, Mission Heights Primary and Milford Primary Schools who, I have discovered, all love books just as much as I do. I have also spoken with teacher trainees about using NZ children's books in the classroom, launched my new picture book and run a day long picture book writing workshop for adult writers. If you missed out on the Picture Book Writing workshop and would like to attend, I will be conducting another one on November 5th - details are here. Just havin' a lil hibernate now while the winter weather is extra rubbish and the school term runs down to school holidays. I will be back in to the swing of things come August. As always, despite the fact that I am in the teaching role for all these events, I always learn new things about public speaking and author visits.

1) Protect your throat. Talking a lot can put a big strain on it. Gargles, throat lozenges and rest where possible. And keep hydrated folks.

2) Wear layers because visit environments range significantly in warmth, especially in the recent unpredictable Auckland weather. Being too cold or too hot is very distracting.

3) Add ten minutes travel time on to the longest amount of time you think it'll take you to get to your destination. Be ready to hit the ground running.

4) Always pack some chocolate in your lunchbox - best mid visit boost ever. And a serviette or wipes - chocolate smears on your cardy look awkward.

5) My book earrings are worth their weight in gold. I have two or three ice-breaking props or items of clothing/jewellery and always have an ice-breaking opening line or two to warm both me and the children up and get us chatting.

6) Don't forget to take your visitor sticker off afterwards....

Meanwhile I can also report Fuzzy Doodle has had the loveliest delivery into the world. People have been saying some very kind things and you can read some early reviews  here at the My Best Friends Are Books Blog, and  here at the Booksellers NZ blog. I think the launch went well, many thanks to the brilliant Time Out Bookstore who hosted the event and all the wonderful folk who came and celebrated Fuzzy with me, and bought the book. Fuzzy has been feeling the love and loves you all right back. Here I am on signing duties on the day (photo credit - Sue Copsey).

I also made some origami butterflies with young guests (photo credit - Halina Szymanik)

And in an exciting development Fuzzy made the New Zealand Nielsen Bestseller List squeaking in at number ten on the NZ Children's and Teens bestsellers for the week ending June 11, and climbing to No. 8 for the week ending June 18. This is a first for me and I am extremely thrilled. Woohoo!!

Monday, June 6, 2016

and the book give away winner is.......

It is time to announce the winner of my book give-away.

Frogmella, the envelope please......

table top drumroll.............

...All the entries were fabtabulous. I love the heady magic of a good opening line and you all reminded me of some wonderful beginnings, but there can only be one... Maureen I could not help but agree about the game-changing nature of the Harry Potter canon, and that opening line of the first book does indeed draw us in before we are even aware we have been hooked. What deliciousness followed. You are my give away winner. A copy of Fuzzy Doodle will be on its way to you shortly.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Eventually, a reply...

I was pretty shocked and dismayed by a recent article that appeared in The Spinoff, defending the new initiative, the Academy of New Zealand Literature. The Academy seeks to support and promote New Zealand Literature here and overseas. The article was a reaction to some of the 'less than rosy' responses to the launch of the academy. I was shocked that children's authors were deemed 'the worst' of those responding, and dismissed as 'easily ignored.' Maybe it was meant as a joke, although it didn't feel funny at the time. At least the part about us discussing the initiative was true. We weren't happy there were no dedicated children's writers included in the 100 strong membership of the academy. I would have said that was a compliment to the academy - that we saw its value and appreciated what it might do for authors. I would have thought discussing this amongst ourselves where we sought to understand, rationalise and move forward would have been an understandable thing to do. But it came off sounding more like we had been throwing entrails in a cauldron while we concocted some curse against those working hard to create this new endeavour. In truth a large part of our discussion ending up referencing superheroes, capes, masks and wearing our undies on the outside. Someone asked whether you could wear a poncho instead of a cape (the consensus was yes). We're writers and illustrators. We're not new to rejection. We're also human.

In the moment when I read the article there seemed no response I could make that would not reinforce the writer's opinion of our group. I felt hurt and angry and all the words that sprung to mind were fairly loaded. We were exhorted not to 'fight' by others. We often say nothing because of fear. It's a small town. And times are hard. Yet if we always say nothing maybe we are 'easily ignored.' And none of these are 'fighting' words.

Most of all I'm sorry that this might deepen the divide between adult and children's writers. That's a real shame. We're not the enemy.

Now our online group has moved on to discussing the importance of breaking regularly from constant sitting to avoid blood clots - a serious issue for serious writers. We're talking about the LoveOzYa campaign, and about a similar promotional poster campaign that one of our group has been driving here in New Zealand. We talk about a lot of things that might help us. Sometimes we moan and groan, and get a bit feisty. Feel free to throw the first stone at us if you never do this. Anyways, our demonic cabal of cauldron stirrers is now on hiatus as we focus on our key obsessions of writing and illustrating, and the secondary ones of profile, promotion and marketing. I hope the Academy springs forward in leaps and bounds and is able at some near future point to bring children's writers and illustrators on board. In the meantime we will continue to look to each other for support and promotion.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Win a book - Fuzzy Doodle Competition....

Exciting times people, exciting times!! June is but a blink away and with it will come the new book. To that end I think IT IS TIME FOR A COMPETITION!!!

Are you ready? Really? Are you sure? Okay. Quite sure? Just testing. No, no, I can tell you're sure.


By the way...

I got asked to run a workshop on writing picture books. I'm doing it soon at Selwyn College Community Education. It's a day long course 10am to 4pm on Sunday June 19. The fee is $120 inc GST. I'm going to tell people everything I know. Plus some extra stuff. All on picture books. They're so hot right now.

You can find details here.

It'll be fun.

I promise.

Well then.

Till next time.


Sorry, what?

I forgot something?

I forgot to tell you how to win the competition?

The competition.


So. To win a signed copy of Fuzzy Doodle:

One of my favourite first lines is from Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz - 'When the doorbell rings at 3 in the morning, it's never good news.'  I want you to tell me your favourite opening line in a book and why you think it's the best. Post it in the comments here on the blog. I will pick the one I like the best. Competition closes on Friday June 3rd at 5pm.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fuzzy Doodle soon...

It is less than a month to go until my new picture book is released. I am simultaneously excited and terrified. I hope y'all love it as much as I do. I am having a little soiree with illustrious illustrator Donovan Bixley to launch Fuzzy Doodle 3pm on June 12th at Timeout Bookstore in Mt Eden and I would love you all to come! And don't worry - I will remind you all closer to the time. I think I might run a bit of a competition to win a copy here on the blog soon too, so keep an eye out.

It is hard to describe what the book is about but I guess you might be wondering. Whenever I try to imagine what it means for the Universe to be infinite I find it difficult to comprehend. How can something go on forever? And how does a caterpillar transform into a butterfly within the tiny confines of a cocoon? The concept of metamorphosis is understandable on one hand but the practical application seems other-wordly. It's a bit like the process of writing or art. Where do ideas come from? How do we turn them into complex stories or paintings? I sometimes look at things I've written and thought 'where did that come from?'. There is always an element I can't explain. A certain kind of magic that is involved. These things are at the heart of this book. That is what it is about.

An educational resource for the book can be found here!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Girls won't spoil the story....

I read this terrific article and wanted to shout 'hallelujah, it's not just me!!' I have long thought that there is something inherently wrong in providing books strictly for boys, to boys. Books with boys as the central protagonist, doing 'boy' stuff in a world of adventure and action and mayhem. 'We need more books for boys,' goes the battle cry. Write something boys will like. And somehow that has included an absence of girls. WE have given girls cooties, in the stories we offer to boys. And books about girls? WE have deemed them toxic to boys. I think in our desperation to get boys reading we made it too much about gender, to our detriment. To society's detriment.  Because in doing so we gave them, between the lines, the message that reading about girls is uncool, and/or embarrassing, and/or unnecessary. And I think this doesn't help anyone. In fact it is has become harmful. Females make up more than half the world's population. How can it be a good idea to tell the other half that females aren't included in the cool stuff. That they can't be brave or resourceful, the problem solver or the hero (and that they don't have to behave like a boy to be any of those things). How can it be a good idea to tell boys that girls aren't even worth reading about. That they'll spoil the story. That they always need rescuing and will reward their rescuer. That they can't be interesting in their own right. Or on their own. We have shot ourselves in the foot and I am tired of hopping around. Stop trying to find a boy book for that boy to read. Just find them a good book. We need to change our posture and vocabulary when we talk about books with boys. We need to stop genderising covers and that goes for 'books for girls' as well - because what matters is what's between the covers. We need to read stories about girls to boys at every level. We need to show them that a story doesn't have to revolve around a boy to be a great read. They should read widely. Like so many girls do. And we need to do the same for diversity. I know this will take generations to change.  But we better start yesterday and stop digging the hole that we have dug so deep.