Monday, December 9, 2019

Annual stocktake ....

So here I am, at the end of the world year, looking back at what I got up to, what I achieved, and what I didn't achieve. And looking toward 2020, wondering what it might hold for me. A stocktake is always interesting and useful.

I had four school visits. This is lower than recent years, and most of my invitations came directly, rather than through second parties (this is a complete 180 on previous experiences). I guess this may be a reflection of my publishing hiatus. Perhaps this might change now I'm back on an upswing. But its hard to be certain. In many ways I feel like I'm starting over again. But I'm not a beginner anymore. It's a little weird.

I was involved in several conferences, one 'Speed Date the Author' event, was invited to give a talk, ran two week-long, creative writing camps for school students, and two day-long picture book writing workshops for adults. There were a couple of other small unpaid gigs, and I mentored another writer over the year. I'm very familiar with public speaking, feel comfortable creating content for these events, and feel as nervous as if I was giving my first talk ever, every time. Yay nerves, my constant companion these last 'many mumble' years.

I titivated a few larger projects but didn't complete any of them, and wrote three new short stories and seven new picture books (result!). One picture book manuscript from 2018 found a home this year, and is one of two that will be published next year. I have a bunch of irons in the fire, and don't expect any further results until next year. I had one book out this year, Time Machine & Other Stories, of which I am very proud. Yay!!

I was involved again in Fabostory which is such a great way to get young people writing (also very proud to be a part of this), will be judging a picture book writing competition again over the summer break (194 entries - yikes!), and I've blogged, reviewed books for a few different platforms, and written a few articles. I interviewed somebody this year too which was a first for me. You can teach an old dog after all.  I threw my hat in the ring for a bunch of things such as speaking opportunities, residencies, and the like, and can report that so far I have had zero success. Hmm, I'll probably stop doing that for a while until I've licked all my wounds, and then get back to it.

So not too much of a slack arse then. But definitely a different combo of things this year. The only thing a writer really has any control over is the content they create, and turning up. The rest is all in other people's hands, with a dash of luck thrown in. I don't think I'd do anything differently. What about you? What did you get up to?

So, next year. As always, tis mostly a mystery. It will involve lots of waiting (see comment above re: irons in the fire) and frequent shaking of the patience jar to activate the contents. I have my regular Picture Book Writing Workshop and Write Like an Author Camp gigs and I'm booked in for an event mid year. I have a new writing project I want to work on, but I have some pre-project doubts and uncertainties, so I'll be girding my loins to try jump those hurdles. And that's it. That's all there is on the menu. I don't feel too worried. That's how things usually look at this time of year. And I don't have any big plans or strategies for things I think I should do. One thing I have learnt over the last few years is the value of writing retreats. I think I will try to book at least one of those in for 2020. Whaddaya reckon, retreat buddies?

Looking back at my last post (on overthinking) I don't really have many further survival strategies. At this time of year the most obvious one is to remind yourself that you have worked hard over the year (do a stocktake to remind yourself what you got up to), and it's important to take a proper holiday. Go relax over your favourite things to do, with your favourite people. Breathe deep and empty your mind. Recharge the batteries, read some books and smell the roses. If creating content is the thing we can control, we need to take care of our creativity. Ask yourself, what can you do for yours?

And last but by no means least, here is a really interesting insight on the topic of diversity and acknowledging our own blindspots when writing, by literary agent Janet Reid

Saturday, November 23, 2019

We should talk about overthinking ...

I suspect I am like many other writers, sweating a lot about what publishers are thinking and doing with my submissions, or what is happening in the great abyss that a contracted work falls in to before it emerges many months later as a published book. We tend to be overthinkers. It comes with the territory. Honestly when your job centres on extensive brain noodling to create meaningful, believable and rational plots and characters, it is hard to shuck off this intensive thinking. We start to apply it to EVERYTHING. We are gap fillers, using our empathic skills to scrutinse and prognosticate on what others are thinking and feeling, about us and our work. We follow trains of thought into tunnels and out the other side. We stop at the most unexpected stations, and sometimes we get out where we shouldn't.

If we write full time it means we have more of this overthinking time. We don't want to be obsessed about how long that submission is taking and what it might mean. We don't really want to imagine all the possible implications of that long silence following our enquiry. We're just made that way. That's why we're writers. Its a pretty rubbish side effect of the job. You can suggest 'keeping busy' all you like but keeping busy for a writer just means more thinking time. Daydreaming, considering, wondering,  obessessing, crying into our coffee ....

And then you add in social media. And as a writer it can be a useful tool in the drive to raise one's profile, broaden visibility, and help with branding  and book sales. People tell you to avoid it, or spend less time on it, and sure it can be a vast rabbit hole that has all the qualities of a gravity well. But it's not the time wasting concerns that do my head in. Its the fact that if you join the writing community on any/many platforms (because that is what writers do), it is a constant reminder of the achievements and successes of others. Have enough followers/friends and you can sprint from grateful, excited post to grateful, excited post about book launches, festival invitations, award wins, film deals and bestselling statuses which only serves as a contrast to your own current stalled position in the wilderness. Of course the relentless positivity is not some skewing of an overabundance of good things happening to everyone else except you, its just a normal pattern of people mostly sharing the good news and keeping mostly schtum about the crap things, or an absence of tweets about an absence of progress in their careers, or whatever. Be part of a big enough group of mostly writers and the normal occurence of good news can't help but look top heavy It just seems like everything is happening to everyone else except you, but its not true. It's an artificial effect.

Of course when you combine the two - overthinking and everyone else is clearly doing way better than me - it can become downright unhealthy. So what to do to maintain sanity?

1 - buy some jigsaws/books of sudoku/code crackers. A most excellent way to keep the brain too busy for random thoughts. If you need to switch off, do some puzzles. Reading is great, and important for writers, but you need to find things unrelated to writing to truly switch off.
2 - make sure you follow people on twitter/facebook/instagram who aren't writers to get some balance. I recommend squidthegriff on instagram and endless screaming (@infinite_scream) and @JamesBlunt on twitter.
3 - remember none of it is real. It is our minds working over time and the false evidence of social media. (however, should your worst prognostications turn out to be true remember a) most of your prognostications weren't, and b) confirmation can be liberating, allowing you to process it and move on)
4 - have a strategy for when you feel yourself slipping down the slide of obsessiveness. This strategy might include knitting or baking, exercise, and looking at cat pics/videos. Telling a writer friend can help but can also intensify the obsessiveness - have a list of people you can approach who will listen carefully, give you a wee slap and provide a rational explanation for whatever thought process you are having.

Hmm - I'll keep thinking on this. I think the list of helpful tips should be longer so I'll be trying to add to it in the coming days.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A week of words, warmth and wisdom ...

It is Monday November 11 here in New Zealand and I am reporting to you live from my bed at 10.22am.

It has been quite a week.

Last Tuesday I flew from Auckland to Dunedin with fellow writer Maria Gill. We were met at the airport by Fifi Colston: writer, illustrater, wearable arts creator and Wellingtonian, who'd flown down earlier in the day. Later in the week we would be presenting various sessions at the Wild Imaginings Children's Writers and Illustrators Hui, but Maria and Fifi had thought schools might be interested in having some out of town authors visit preceding the Hui, and had invited me to join them.

Bright and early Wednesday morning we set off for Oamaru to take part in a Speed Date the author/illustrator event, with 82 students from schools in the district. We'd run with a historical theme and Fifi and Maria dressed up for the occasion. The day was enormous fun (many thanks to all those involved in making the event such a success, especially Fiona Kerr, children's librarian at Waitaki District Libraries, and Kathryn Carmody at ReadNZ Te Pou Murarmura). We had car trouble though, so our highly anticipated dinner date at Fleur's Place in Moeraki had to be cancelled. Grrrrrr.


Maria, Me! and Fifi.

Thursday we were back in Dunedin, and Maria and I had school visits. I was hosted by North East Valley Normal School for the morning and what a great school they are, doing wonderful things to build a love of books and reading in their students.

Friday, Maria and I checked out the Challenging the Deep exhibition at the Otago Museum which was quite amazing, while Fifi had a school visit. Then it was back to the computer for some final content construction and preparation for our Hui presentations, and then off to the Opening Ceremony.

The Hui was wonderful.  Lots of talk. Lots of meeting old friends, and making new ones, forging connections and building relationships. I was a panellist for a discussion on reviewing for the first breakout session and we had a great round table chat about the topic with the attending delegates. My takeaway was that as traditional reviewing channels contract and decline, we need to make the most of the new reviewing forums popping up online, and grow their reach and their reputation. We have to focus on making the most of the new possibilities, rather than wasting time on lamenting the loss of the old.

Kate De Goldi's keynote chat with illustrating marvel, David Elliot, was a joy, followed by a fascinating discussion about different routes to market with a panel of 3 publishers (Mary McCallum at Makaro/The Cuba Press, Anoushka Jones of Exisle/EK Publishing, and Sophie Siers at Millwood Press), and best selling author Stacy Gregg, chaired by writer/agent Chris Else. It was great to hear the speakers talk about their title sales across a range of territories. The second breakout session with Stacy Gregg provided a solid framework for constructing compelling novels. With 25 novels to her name, Stacy knows her stuff.

I'd been tying myself in knots for several weeks trying to prepare my talk for the afternoon keynote that I was to be involved in - Pathways to Imagination. It's tricky writing for an audience that ranges from novices to experienced award winners. In the end I opted for covering as many bases as possible and touching on a reminder about the limits of our imagination. We can be inventive but cannot create something out of nothing. Our imagination must draw on our experience and knowledge, and risks arise when we try to write beyond these. We have to respect our own limits, and more importantly, respect the reader. I was really touched by the hui delegates who came up to me afterwards to tell me how much they'd enjoyed the talk.

The Conference dinner was a blast. Previous University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children's Writers in Residence (of which I am one) spoke about their experiences during their residencies, over the course of the evening . That's us below - from left: the 2020 resident, Elena De Roo, Leonie Agnew (2013), Me! (2014), Kyle Mewburn (2011), Fifi Colston (2019), Robyn Belton (with Jennifer Beck 2015), and Karen Trebilcock (2010). 2002 resident, Sandy McKay, who also spoke is missing from the photo.

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During my spot, when I remembered to mention my 'getting locked in/small-lady fence gymnastics' adventure, I completely forgot to talk about the friendships formed with the other University fellows during my residency, in particular the Mozart fellow, Jeremy Mayall. Jeremy was keen to work collaboratively and composed music to accompany my picture book The Song of Kauri, released while I was in Dunedin. It was a very special and treasured experience, which a day of heightened preparedness had driven from my mind.

Next morning kicked off with a fabulous keynote by the incredible Wendy Pye, whose tireless work and creative thinking takes tools for reading acquisition all around the world to people who would otherwise not get the opportunity. Next I attended junior fiction series author Swapna Haddow's, breakout session on writing series. This was a terrific primer on constructing a series, and after a mini epiphany mid-session, I came away fizzing with a potential idea. The post lunch keynote was a fascinating insight into the process of two very different authors, Stacy Gregg and Rachael Craw, who were interviewed by Kate De Goldi. The session was a great reminder that there is never just one way to write a fantastic book. Unfortunately we had to dash away before the final keynote and farewell in order to catch planes home, but we'd had an amazing time. I tip my hat to the organisers for this rip roaringly successful event. I will be down there in a shot if they do it again.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Can you write too much....?

Over the last four and a bit months I've written five new picture books (four in the last six weeks). In addition to that I've reworked the ending of another. Twice. I've not been this productive with pbs ever before. But I'm not working on any longer stories - it's just a switch of genre focus for me at the moment. In the past I've averaged a couple of picture books a year, so this current output represents quite a shift in my writing life. And it's mostly organic. The last story was written to try and meet a brief but the rest were responses to ideas that just popped up unbidden in my head. I'm not sure why there's been this wee flood. I feel really happy when I'm massaging these ideas into a working picture book text. And then a bit bereft when I'm done and I'm casting around for another idea. And I rather like the things I'm producing. But I worry that this is too many pbs. Can you flood the market with too many of one person's ms? Do I need to slow down on the pb production? I mean, its not like you'd want to dismiss or set aside a strong idea. I guess the bottom line is how much I have enjoyed the writing. It would be crazy to resist that, right? Its a big part of why we're writers, right? But after thinking maybe I should slow down, and deciding a few days ago not to write any stories for the rest of October, I had a plot breakthrough on an old pb idea yesterday. And I've made a start on it. Crikey, I think I might need a spreadsheet.

In other news I've had some nice reviews come in for Time Machine and Other Stories, here, here, here and there. And I've had some lovely comments from teachers and librarians. Like this one about one of my favourite stories from the collection ...

 And I got to visit the schools (Balmoral School and Kohia Terrace School) of the two winners (Edward Mulholland and Nadia Hall) of the colouring-in competition we ran leading up to the launch of the book. I presented a copy to each winner and their school library. Thank you to both schools for having me. I really enjoyed my visits!

Here I am with winner Edward Mulholland from Balmoral School.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The meaning of Fuzzy Doodle - the Arts as a Bridge to Literacy ...

I spent time in Christchurch last week. I'd been invited down to talk a little bit about the new book, Time Machine and Other Stories, during the social evening event at the 2019 National Conference of the NZ Literacy Association. I was also invited to read my book, Fuzzy Doodle, to all the delegates as part of the evening's entertainment, as The Arts as a Bridge to Literacy was the theme of the conference. And I'd successfully pitched a daytime programme workshop proposal to the conference organisers on Readers as Superheroes. Most delegates were teachers and this is the first time I'd spoken to teachers about reading and literacy rather than creative writing so I was a little nervous going in to my session, but happily the response was a positive one. I sat in on the key note speeches and one of the other workshops on the day of my presentations, and came away with some cool insights on imaginative play, and practical ways to raise the writing skills of intermediate students. I met some wonderful teachers and a librarian or two (if you are in Christchurch you must check out TÅ«ranga - the fabulous new library in the city centre), and I felt very energised by the whole experience.

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(Photo credit - Mary McCallum).

Here is the speech that accompanied my reading of Fuzzy Doodle.

"People often ask how we produce our particular art form. 'How did you write that book?' Part of the process always feels unexplainable. It's difficult to understand or describe. Like trying to understand how the universe is infinite, or how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. Where do ideas come from? How do we turn them into a whole story?

As the story advances both pictures and words become more complex and sophisticated - just as understanding and ideas grow and mature, as we grow and mature. The story, like creativity, is layered. It can be read on a purely fundamental level, as the story of the caterpillar to butterfly life cycle. There are also resonances with the familiar text of The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. And yet, this is also about the more impenetrable process of how we make art. Clearly we must absorb elements of the world around us - here Fuzzy eats words and pictures - in order to transform this sustenance through the creative process - into a work of art. Whether that's a book, or a painting, a musical composition, choreographed dance or other forms.

But it also recognizes that we all start at a very basic level - the scribble, the doodle, the scratchings on the page. And as the book says, which is the message we really want children to hear, is that, Great things from little scribbles grow! Every child is creative. And if we feed them right on arts and ideas, they will produce amazing things."


Next week I am taking a holiday programme, teaching creative writing to school students at Sancta Maria College. This is one of a series of 'Write Like an Author Camps' created by author Brian Falkner that run around the country throughout the year. You can check these camps out here.  Next month I'll be taking part in the Wild Imaginings Hui in Dunedin, (details here). I'm looking forward to celebrating and talking nonstop about writing and books, and to networking with my tribe from all around New Zealand.

In writing news, I have completed all the manuscripts for the three picture book ideas I was working on. They came to me in a rush, and the writing flowed, and over a couple of months I have written The End times 3. Now I am bereft of picture book ideas and despite the fact that I have written many picture books over the years, at this stage I always feel like I will never get another picture book idea EVER again. Logic would slap me upside the head and say experience shows you how WRONG that is, and yet my brain is like, 'Nup, that's it, no more, NADA, Zilch, NEVER again.' Brain, why do you do this to me?! I guess this would be a good time to have a little writing vacation, cos three picture books over two months is a pretty good (slightly hectic) result, but there is always the nagging thought that we are only as good as our last publication and if momentum is not maintained on new material then the world IS flat and I am about to fall off the side of it into oblivion. So there's that. And there is also the distressing truth that finishing a manuscript comes with no guarantee of publication. I am in the perpetual spin cycle/wringer phase that is the washing machine of being a writer. No wonder I feel so dizzy all the time. Should anything find a home, I will let you know.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

This uninvited enquirer thinks excruciation should be a word...

I am a bit stuck in limbo again at the moment. I have been circling for days round the theme/thesis for a new blog post but have been finding it difficult to land. I guess I'm at the running out of fuel stage so here I am about to write about nothing in particular, because it's either come down on purpose, or crash and burn.

So ... those limbo times. A new book is out there (yay!! go Time Machine & Other Stories) trying to worm its way into the hearts of new readers and find its place in the world. There is little to say at this point about how it will fare (if wishes were bestsellers, writers would thrive). It is a special kind of torture. Also, I am some months away from the build up for my two new picture books so there is nothing much I can do yet to help them along. This is a touch frustrating, but that's just how it is.

I have not been idle. I have been chipping away at a trio of new picture book ideas. The first is close (if not all the way) to completion, and the other two are coming along. I am quietly shocked at the progress I am making (who am I, and what have I done with the usual lazy-arse feet dragger?). I am also revisiting an old middle grade novel (over 29k words long already) with a view to wrangling it in to shape sufficient for submission. This is proving a much harder task. Sigh. I've been looking at some of the material I have already written for this project and think, actually, that's pretty good, which then intimidates me with the idea that I won't be able to match it now.

And I am dabbling in some 100 rejections activity, putting my name forward for things and making some official submissions to things like residencies. Putting my name forward for things uninvited is unpleasantly awkward. Do other people do this? Or am I the only embarrassing, pushy woman in town. Deep down I want to be invited without having to be all up in people's grilles, to get involved organically because of all my stunning works of genius (lol), not because I've begged them to think of me. It is anathema to my semi-reclusive, totally organic soul. But with the gap I had between published books I came to realise that I was going to have to do something to avoid total invisibility in the booky-sphere. Of course, all my efforts may still come to nowt. Which would be a jolly poor reward for the excruciation of willfully marketing and promoting myself. And because I have enquired rather than made a submission, there is no indication of when there might be results. Or if I will be advised at all. I may remain invisible. Time will tell. If anything comes to fruition I will let you know. But even if nothing comes of all my overtures, maybe you, dear reader, might be emboldened to put yourself forward for something that you might have wanted to try out for, but had been too shy to. Because I would feel far less awkward if I knew other people were also enquiring uninvited after opportunities. We can be awkward together! And how thrilling it would be if you succeeded!!

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Out in the world...

Tarantara tarantara!!

I had a flurry of entries over the last few days, some on the blog and some via email for reasons which I decided were entirely acceptable. Not only did the winner correctly guess my favourite story (Crocodile Dreaming) but they also guessed my second favourite as well (Pirate Eye) and their order of 1st, 2nd and 3rd faves was closest to my own. No one picked my third fave and I am leaving this as a mystery for another possible competition in the future. And the winner (DRUM ROLL please) is: Ezabella Lanuza from St Mark's School in Pakuranga. Ezabella wins a signed copy of Time Machine and Other Stories!! which will be in the post shortly.

Thank you to everyone who entered. You are all terrifically smart people who know books make awesome prizes.

Surrounded by good friends and family, the book was launched last night by publisher Mary McCallum from The Cuba Press, and book-loving, book-reviewing, librarian and friend, Crissi Blair, at Time Out Bookstore in Mount Eden.

Just outside the door at Time Out Bookstore :)

Crissi, Me and Mary
(photo by my SO)


The most delicious mini-cakes from The Caker on K Rd.

My little book is now set free to fly to readers and hopefully the stories inside will delight them as much in the reading, as they delighted me in the writing.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Competition results! Did anyone win a book??...

The competition to win a signed copy of Time Machine & Other Stories closed on Sunday and I have been unsure of the next step to take because no one correctly guessed my personal favourite story from the collection, or my 2nd and 3rd faves either. It is a difficult challenge. So, I am leaving the competition open until the day of the launch - August 29th. If you have already entered, you get another go. If you have not entered previously you get one go as you can check out the comments that have already been left to eliminate those stories. If no one guesses correctly by August 29th I think I will just randomly pick a winner. And if someone writes an interesting reason for their guesses I might deliberately pick that entry to win. Have a go. Free book up for grabs. And I like to think it's pretty good.

And the competition is now open to everyone, whether you live in NZ or not. Make sure you check out the rules in the previous post here on the blog.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Launch and competition - Time Machine & Other Stories

My latest book, Time Machine & Other Stories, is due out this month. It is a while since my last book came out (Fuzzy Doodle, 2016) and I had forgotten how it all works. The thrill of having the physical book in my hands, and the relief, of seeing coherent prose on the pages when you glance inside, and a cover which looks even better than you imagined. I'd forgotten that weirdly free-floating (scarily untethered), limbo phase between the cogs of publicity and launching slowly winding up, and the book being seen and read and maybe reviewed and hopefully purchased. The nerves of waiting for people to say what they think about your book. There is a fight inside me between excitement and terror and who knows which one will win. Is it like the two wolves tale (one good, one bad) where the one that wins is the one you feed? From the outside looking in, the birth of a book is such a joyous occasion, but every parent has fears and worries about their child's survival and success. Go well, new baby!!

The book is in bookstores from August 11th. And I will be wetting the newborn's head and celebrating its arrival on Thursday August 29th at Time Out Bookstore, 5-30pm. It would be lovely to see you there!!

And here is a competition to win a free copy (for NZ readers only). I have a favourite story in this collection. Below is a list of the titles of all the stories included in the book (in the order they appear in print). Comment here on this blog post with which story you think I like best, and I will pick a correct entry to receive a copy of the book, hot off the press. Remember to identify yourself in some way so I can name you if you win (a pseudonym is fine). Competition closes August 10th. Up to three guesses per person allowed. I also have second and third favourites, and if anyone picks all three correctly there will be a bonus prize.

Now's Good
Drawing Horses
Holding My Breath
Smart Soup
Time Machine
A Winter's Day in 1939
Crocodile Dreaming
Time Machine II
The Monster Under My Bed
The Gift
Rich Pickings
My Mother is an Alien
The Man with the Dog Eye
Dog's Best Friend
A Passport to Friends
Last Summer
Time Machine III
Pirate Eye: a novella

Saturday, July 13, 2019

2019 Writing Children's Picture Books Workshop

Arghhh!! My eyeballs, my eyeballs! I have been editing ma short stories for the last few weeks, and now proof reading! Anyone for fried brains? Yet, all too soon it will be too late. The book will be off to the printers and those words and all that punctuation will be set in ink on those pages permanently. Publishing is so yin and yang. So exciting and terrifying, so energising and exhausting. And the book isn't even out yet.

Once the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted I will be gearing up for my Writing Children's Picture Books Workshop with Selwyn Community Education. On Sunday 18th August this year, it runs from 10am to 4pm at Selwyn College in Kohimarama. You can check it out, and register, here. Looks like there might not be too many places left, so get in quick if you're keen.

And just in case you are new to my blog and me - here is a little background information in case you were wondering how I came to run this course. I have written many picture book stories over the last twenty years. Some of them have won awards and been nominated for others. I have experienced rejections and acceptances and I know that having books previously published is no guarantee of having things published in the future. I have submitted with an agent and without. I have picture book number 8 and number 9 coming out early next year. Sharing with Wolf with Scholastic NZ, illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson, and Moon and Sun with Upstart Press, illustrated by Malene Laugesen. They are very different books. One is dark and funny, and the other gentle and heartfelt. Just this past summer I was a judge for the 2019 Storylines Joy Cowley Award and having made my way through all 158 manuscripts, I have some feedback for future submitters. I'll be talking about this during the workshop. Submissions for the 2020 Storylines Joy Cowley Award close October 31st so you'll have time to polish up your manuscript before you need to send it off.

Friday, July 5, 2019

'Time Machine and Other Stories'

Publishing has a slightly strange trajectory. No smooth parabolic arc here, no sirree. It is more like some terrifying mountain range that only the most foolhardy attempt. You write your stunning work(s) of genius (small, slightly bumpy but upward rise), and once polished and primped, send it off to publisher(s). At this point your arc might continue up (small, almost imperceptible gradient), or it may crash and burn. A publisher says yes and your internal arc soars, but really, outwardly, it just hiccups along with mostly slow, gradual, but occasional step-like upward movements. Contract sent? Take a step up. If it's a picture book, illustrator confirmed, it's a step up. Then you almost forget you have a book coming out (but not really because all the key dates are burned into our brains), and the arc is more plateau at this point. "My book?" you reply to polite enquiries, "Oh, yes. The book. It's something, something, some time distant," and you wave at the air in front of you, as if the publication date is somewhere out there visible if they look hard enough. Then suddenly edits are sent (giant leap for mankind!), a cover is decided upon, release dates and launches become a thing and finally this project looks like a book and you can see the midnight ink beyond the stratosphere approaching rapidly. And the stars are shining. And your heart skips a beat because the book is more than you imagined it could be.

Well here we are folks. And I am so proud and excited. Time Machine and Other Stories by yours truly is coming out August 11th. There are thirteen previously published short stories that have been gathered together here in one handy-dandy tome. There are an additional six new stories, one of which is a novella that I heart so much that it partly drove the determination to make this collection happen. I thought these stories were pretty good before but editor Mary McCallum from The Cuba Press has really made them sing and shine. I cannot wait to share them with you.

Published by Ahoy (an imprint of The Cuba Press), with cover and internal artwork by the very talented Theo Macdonald. Out August 11th. Launch details coming soon to a blog near you.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Why you shouldn't give up writing...

Was it only me that hadn't realised why the bigger (international) publishers take longer to respond to submissions? Why I can get an answer in less than 24 hours from a small independent versus a six month + wait from one of the two big names in children's books still here in New Zealand. Of course there are always exceptions to this trend, but when you have a team of two in a small outfit, or the sole publisher/editor makes all the final decisions, then it can happen pretty quickly. Whether it's a yes or a no. Bigger publishers have more people involved in the decisions and gather more intel before they make 'em. It puts things in perspective. It doesn't make me happier about the long waits, but it does give me the rationale for why it might be so.

Writers are well aware of the unique nature of the industry they work in. The usually glacial pace of response and production. The way we hold all our emotions in check because we are always protecting ourselves from potential disappointments. The work we do to keep ourselves moving forward, to keep writing on spec, and sending things out when the odds of publication and success are against us. The ephemeral high of getting a yes that dissolves in your hands as you try to grasp it more tightly (just like that raccoon with the marshmallow). This isn't a sob story, but a reminder that we do a lot of work that is emotional and cognitive. It isn't visible, but it is exhausting. If you weren't sure why you felt so tired after a long day of hovering over your inbox, and adding three new words to your work in progress, now you know why.

For the very long time it took between acceptances for me in recent years, it was a real challenge to keep my spirits up and stay hopeful. Desperation is unattractive and I had to look for new strategies to stop myself wallowing in failure and disappointment and believe that my career wasn't over. I gave in a few times but my inner writer refused to lie down and die. What I did instead was try a bunch of strategies.

1) If your submission isn't getting any traction/interest, you need to be working on something new. Yes this is hard, especially when you had a lot of faith in the last thing you wrote. It was so good, why does no one like it? How do I start again? The bottom line is that having only one egg to put in the baskets is asking one book to keep holding up your whole career on its own. It needs help to share the load. Give it some friends. You're a writer. Let your creative mind accept new ideas. Believe that the next story is out there, just waiting for you to be ready to receive it.

2) Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Where else can you send your work? Who haven't you tried before? Maybe now is a good time to find an agent. Or try further afield. Or write in a different genre.

3) Don't just submit your work more widely. Apply for things too. Residencies, grants, new opportunities for old work. Having several short stories published in my wilderness years showed me my work could still be relevant and desirable. I worked towards 100 rejections and while I had to eventually pare this back to something more manageable, it did actually pay off. It changed my thinking so I was working on more eggs for more baskets which ultimately is a much better model to achieve a result. And it kept me creating. It can be too easy to get out of the habit if you allow yourself to. Keep writing. You're a writer.

4) Do other writing related work. This can be challenging if you feel your writerly relevance slipping into the past. Your name does slowly drop off the book world radar when you don't have any recent titles out, and gigs can be harder to come by, but they will help you remind folks who you are and that you still have something to say. Attend events so people know you are still here and still writing. And you never know what might come of that chat by the drinks table. Oh, and of course keep writing as well.

5) Read. Read for pleasure. Catch up on all the books you were putting off. Its not skiving, or indulgent, its research and it's good for you.

6) Stay in touch with the writing community. A- it's a reminder that everyone is in this tough environment, not just you, and B - if you still want to be a part of it, you need to turn up. It can be extremely hard when it seems like everyone is getting published but you, but the truth is that isn't what is happening and everyone is just muddling through, doing their best to carve out their careers in a challenging environment. This is your tribe and they still want you to be there.

We live in difficult times, publishing-wise, and it is essential to remember it is not you, it is the industry. The hoops are smaller and further apart, and jumping through them requires fitness and effort and persistence. Don't give up because you are despondent. Denying your writing ambitions won't fix that feeling. Only give up if you find something you want to do more. And just remember, I will always be here to nag you into continuing.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The 2019 Finalists for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults...

It's that special day of the year when the finalists for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults are announced!  I apologise in advance for my lack of macrons on the Maori words. I hope to resolve this shortly.

This is a wonderful selection of terrific books, and I have read and loved many of them.  I have my personal favourites, but I urge you to go out and read (and where possible, buy) these books and make up your own minds.We are right to be proud of the breadth and quality of the children's books we produce in this country. There are some real stunners here. Winners will be announced in August. And now ... drum roll please........

Picture Book Award Finalists

Mini Whinny: Happy Birthday to Me (Scholastic NZ)
Written by Stacy Gregg, illustrated by Ruth Paul

The Bomb (Huia)
Written by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan

Puffin the Architect (Penguin Random House)
Written and illustrated by Kimberly Andrews

Things in the Sea Are Touching Me (Scholastic NZ)
Written by Linda Jane Keegan, illustrated by Minky Stapleton

Who Stole the Rainbow (Penguin Random House)
Written and illustrated by Vasanti Unka

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

Search for a Kiwi Killer (Torea Press)
by Des Hunt

Whetu Toa and the Magician (Huia)
by Steph Makutu, illustrated by Katherine Hall

The Dog Runner (Allen and Unwin)
by Bren MacDibble

The Mapmakers' Race (Gecko Press)
by Eirlys Hunter, illustrated by Kirsten Slade

The Telegram (Pipi Press)
by Philippa Werry

Young Adult Fiction Award

Ash Arising (Penguin Random House)
by Mandy Hager

The Rift (Walker Books)
by Rachael Craw

Legacy (Huia)
by Whiti Hereaka

Children of the Furnace (The Copy Press)
by Brin Murray

Invisibly Breathing (Penguin Random House)
by Eileen Merriman

Elsie Locke Award for Non Fiction

New Zealand's Backyard Beasts (Potton and Burton)
Written and illustrated by Ned Barraud

Art-tastic (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu)
by Sarah Pepperle

Go Girl: A Storybook of Epic NZ Women (Penguin Random House)
Edited by Barbara Else

Whose Home is This? (Potton and Burton)
Written by Gillian Candler, illustrated by Fraser Williamson

Ko Mauao te Maunga: Legend of Mauao
Written by Debbie McCauley and Debbie Tipuna, translated by Tamati Waaka

The Russell Clark Award for Illustration

Cook's Cook: The Cook Who Cooked for Captain Cook (Gecko Press)
Illustrations by Gavin Bishop

Oink (Gecko Press)
Illustrations by David Elliot

The Bomb (Huia)
Illustrations by Josh Morgan

Puffin the Architect (Penguin Random House)
Illustrations by Kimberley Andrews

Helen and the Go-Go Ninjas (penguin Random House)
Illustrations by Ant Sang

Best First Book Award

Bullseye Bella (Scholastic NZ)
by James Guthrie

Art-tastic (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu)
by Sarah Pepperle

Children of the Furnace (The Copy Press)
by Brin Murray

Slice of Heaven (Makaro Press)
by Des O'Leary

The Stolen Stars of Matariki (Scholastic NZ)
Written by Miriama Kamo, illustrated by Zac Waipara

Wright Family Foundation Te Kura Pounamu Award for Te Reo Maori

Nga Whetu Matariki i Whanakotia (Scholastic NZ)
Written by Miriama Kamo, illustrated by Zac Waipara, translated by Ngaere Roberts

Te Haka e Tanerore (Mauri Tu)
Written by Reina Kahukiwa and Robyn Kahukiwa, translated by Kiwa Hammond

Te Hinga Ake a Maui i Te Ika Whenua (Upstart Press)
Written and illustrated by Donovan Bixley, translated by Darren Joseph (cultural adviser) and Keri Opai

Full list and book details can be found here

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Writing Short Stories for Children: Part Two ...

Getting the hang of writing short stories has a bunch of benefits: helping the writer master technique and structure, the ability to work within a limited word count encouraging efficient, economic writing, experimentation with the 'twist,' and also just being enormous fun and an extremely satisfying thing to do. It is NOT essential to be able to write them if you prefer other forms, but if you do want to get to grips with this form, here are some thoughts and tips.

1) Short stories often spring from a single dilemma or wish. Or a single quirky object, interest, obsession, event or comment (e.g. museums are boring, a boy finds it hard to sit still, what happens if you never tidy the mess in your room, a football can break down language barriers)
2) Keep it single/simple. Too complex an idea or problem needs time and space to resolve.
3) Simple doesn't necessarily mean un-layered or basic. Short stories can still have themes and complex meanings
4) Technique can be transformative: metaphor, motifs, symbolism, imagery can double the value of your words.  Sometimes technique is everything/ is the story.
5) Setting can be a character
6) Character development is limited in a short story but your MC can still be changed by the events of the story
7) If it's a journey story, it won't be a short one.
8) A short story is a lovely place to explore the domestic and everyday. They can reveal depth and interest in what people expect to be the mundane
9) Don't try too hard for meaning. There is nowhere to hide and it is easy for the writer's hand to show in a short story. An obvious author in the text suggests your idea isn't quite ready or right for this format. You'll know when it's working.
10) Humour is a very desirable but not essential element, and does not need to be obvious. 

I looked up other people's advice on writing short stories before attempting this post and was interested to see that most were vague and/or broad tips. It is hard to pin down some practical rules that will give you the desired result. There is always an indefinable something in any writing advice, and just like other forms, short stories require a dab of magic to really sing. Playing around with the format is probably one of the best ways in. And my super duper best advice is to practice with very short formats. Start with up to six words. Then try 50 word stories. It is very doable to write a complete and satisfying short story in 50 words or less. Doing so teaches you what is needed and what isn't. And gives you a handle on the patterns that work. Remember many jokes we retell work on this basis. A complete story with a punchline in a short format.

Here is an example that I wrote some years ago for a radio contest. I was very new to writing at the time but you get the idea. And my story was included in a book of the most successful competition entries.

"Do you like my cranberry pumpkin chocolate blancmange?"
"Oh yes, honey, it's lovely."
"It's my best recipe. I make it all the time."
"You look a little green. Are you OK?"
"I think I'm getting the flu."
It must be love, he thought, as he headed to the bathroom.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Writing Short Stories for Children: Part One ...

Let's talk children's short stories. Partly because I have a collection coming out in August!! The Time Machine and Other Stories by Moi (Ahoy) - swoon - I am so excited!!! Partly because they are the thing I have most had published ( thirteen over the years in anthologies and educational journals and magazines, and soon five previously unseen stories will be getting their 'moment' in the collection) so I feel like I have the measure of how to write them, and partly because last weekend I wrote two new ones - one organically and one requested and I found the resulting difference in process surprising in a couple of ways.

Short stories used to be a good way to kick off a children's writing career in this country. A way to get seen and known, and a way to hone and reveal one's craft. For a brief period in the 2000's we were really lucky that a couple of publishers produced trade anthologies. Random House in particular put out maybe five or six themed collections by assorted authors, and Scholastic did a couple of their own. But usually, having some stories published in The School Journal in New Zealand was the time-honoured way for a writer to gain some respected publishing credits. It is still possible to do this now but both The School Journal here, and The School Magazine in Australia have changed the way they do things and it can be harder to get a look in. The desired topics are also now prescribed in advance. Great, if you can write to request/ a brief, but not so good if your main approach is to write organically.

In the beginning I didn't actually 'get' short stories for years, and wasn't too good at writing them either, until I did my English Lit degree. The Writing for Children paper unlocked my understanding. But a degree is not the only way in - there are many ways to develop the knack for writing them. Getting the hang of writing long form or picture books will help but it is fair to say that short stories are their own beast and require a somewhat different approach. Not all novelists are short story writers and vice versa.

Remembering back to when I was a young thing wanting to write, and observing today's children with the same ambition, it seems obvious that the novel is very seductive and we all reach to write something we are not yet ready to write (although there are always exceptions). Few youngsters start with the short story, but that would be an ideal first step to gaining the requisite skills in imagining a brief and very manageable story arc and pinning it to a character who can still change over the course of that arc without needing the depth of development a novel requires. Short stories also train you to vary the text between narrative, dialogue and action. In fact with children's short stories being, well, short, there isn't always a lot of space to indulge in narrative.  Things must happen in 'short' order. The commitment required to produce a short story compared with a novel is far more easily met. Wrangling a single plot arc with only a few briefly developed characters is far more achievable. Its a very good place to start.

And myself? Well I hadn't written any new short stories for a couple of years. Not until the weekend just gone. I go through little bursts with this form. Sometimes I need to do it to remind myself I can still write them. Sometimes I need to do it to remind myself I can still write at all. They are encouraging, and fun, and satisfying. Three very starry qualities. Anyways at the end of last week two things happened. I had an idea for a short story resurface. One I'd mulled over in the past without any real sense of how the story would play out. But this time I felt the urge to actually sit down and see where things led. The other thing that happened was a long phone call with the editor of my short story collection who suggested I write a particular story for inclusion in the book. I agreed with the rationale and could see the potential in the story. But my inclination is to avoid requested/meeting-a-brief type projects. Almost everything I write is on spec, written organically as an idea takes hold and I let things unfold without restriction or expectation. Yes it means my time and efforts might be for nothing if the story I produce goes unwanted but the only person I have to please is myself. And if I send it off to a publisher and they say no, at least I am still pleased and satisfied by what I wrote. With a commission, you are trying to please someone else from the get go. The possibility of failure is exponentially greater and is harder to ignore. It's no fun disappointing someone else.

So, because I had this story I promised to write, I wrote the one that I wanted to write instead. I'd noodled around with it in my mind for about 24 hours and then I got to work. Within a day (Friday), it was done. Was it any good? I couldn't be sure. But I'd pleased myself. It made me laugh (subtle chuckles) and it resolved as I'd hoped. Result! But now I couldn't avoid the requested story. And a tight turn around on this had been asked for. So I sat down with the notes Id made during my chat with the editor and got cracking. It made my head hurt. Not because I didn't know what to write, but purely because I was going to be judged on whether I could achieve this specified goal. And the pressure to not stuff up sat like an albatross on my shoulder. So many of the other stories that will appear in the collection have been published previously. Scrutinised, weighed and accepted by strangers, so I knew they were good enough, and I had their seal of approval to prove it. But this one was straight out of my noggin, tested only by me. I finished it on Saturday. And I sent it off to the editor before my doubts and misgivings could take over. Before any one else could read it and give me feedback. For good measure I chucked in the other story as well. That one's about snot, but in a very understated way. And dear reader, they were very well received and will both be in the collection. I talked with my SO about the experience and he gently chided me for saying I can't do commissioned work. He had a point, but honestly, my gut still resolutely tells me I can't. And the difference in process for writing the two stories? - the mental hurdle I furnished myself with for the second one, and the headache it gave me. I much prefer the organic process but I have to remind myself I can also meet a brief if necessary - I have to stand firm and overrule my gut, which doesn't know everything. Sometimes we are our own worst enemies, putting the stumbling blocks in place to stop ourselves completing, or even attempting, new work. Frank Herbert was right - 'fear' really is the mind killer, and we need to find a way to step around it. Also, I'd just like to quickly note I don't usually write short stories this fast. That was a shock. I don't know how that happened (maybe having such a dreadfully tight deadline). It probably won't happen again. Maybe fear can be a cattle prod too :)

Anyways, I think in my next post I'm going to talk a bit about the how of writing short stories. I just have to go and work out how I do it first :) Talk soon.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The writers of the future...

It was a class of 32 for the Write Like an Author Camp (devised by author Brian Falkner) that I taught at Remuera Intermediate last week (from April 15th to 18th) - 33 on the Monday when we had one extra booked for the junior day. They were a terrific bunch of students (average age 12), approaching everything with gusto and taking everything in like super soaking one way sponges. There were a mysterious couple of lads who never answered at roll call or put up their hands to answer questions, like a pair of stealthy ninjas - there but not there - except that one did fill in a feedback form and both their certificates were gone at the end of the final day so I feel fairly confident they weren't a complete figment of my imagination. In class we covered the elements of story, character, and suspense, narrative, dialogue and action, and a lot more. We played games and they won points for their teams. I read some of the amazing stories they were working on and couldn't help but admire their burgeoning skills. They seemed to have a good time and the majority of them are keen to do more courses in the future, which is a great sign. I wish there'd been camps like this when I was their age - I would have jumped at the chance to participate in something that would have fed into my obsession with reading and writing so well. I wonder whether I would have admitted my writing ambitions earlier, and kicked off my career sooner? But my only regret now? That I was so very focused on teaching last week, that I did not stop to enjoy their company as much as I should have. What a lovely group of smart, switched-on kids. I wish them every bit of luck with their writing in the future and hope we get to meet again.

Tomorrow's writers: Remuera Intermediate WLAA course April 2019

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Success is a moving target...

Success is a moving target.

Before I had anything I'd written published, getting something (anything?) published was my measure of success. And before I was published it seemed to me that this was the only foot in the door I needed. Once I was published I would be on the 'success road' where publishers knew my name, gave considering my work priority over unpublished writers, and called me to chat about ideas. Lol. There's a fantasy musical in there somewhere.

Of course, I soon discovered that staying published was the next goal, and the challenge, surprisingly, was greater than the hurdle of getting that first thing published. Who knew? (Apparently everyone but me).

Then came the secret desire to be shortlisted for an award. And to win something. People say awards are a bit of a lottery, but I can't lie about finding them desirable. I regret this desire regularly but I can't help myself. I am working on being at peace with this.

I didn't expect the win when it came. Children's Choice at the 2009 NZ Post Children's Book Awards for my picture book with Sarah Anderson, The Were-Nana. Yes I did look shocked. It rates as one of my happiest moments in my writing life. But it didn't open doors the way I thought it might. I think there have been ripples of results from this, but somehow I'd assumed waves were the normal outcome. I've gratefully received a few other nods over the years although I haven't won a category or the big prize at the NZ Book awards so I don't know whether these have greater door opening capacity or not. I suspect asking someone who has won would give mixed answers. There are so many variables that influence how success looks for that winning author/book.

Success has meant a lot of different things along the way. Some small and some big. And it's a constant readjustment, and sometimes a complete recalculation. Sometimes publication success has been elusive and results have been focused on invitations to speak, or tour, or present. Or the chance to write uninterrupted. Or completing a story. Or writing more than 50 words in a day.

Success right now is still very much about staying published. For a career writer this measure is a constant. What are my other current measures? I'll let you know if they come to pass. Sometimes I worry if something big happened that it would be overwhelming and I wouldn't handle that success well. I am however, willing to test this out. Lol. I mean, who would say no to some big kind of writing success. Of course, there's the fact that what qualifies as a success in my opinion might be of no importance to someone else. You have to make your own measures.

I'd recommend keeping them realistic too. It's okay to have tiers of success to aim for. Like Bronze, Silver and Gold. Of course the higher up you aim, the better your chances of reaching a higher goal, but don't make that success unreachable. I'd also recommend always regularly renewing what you consider success means to you. The world, and the book world, are constantly shifting and evolving. You need to shift and evolve with them. Remember too that the success you planned for might have surprising, unexpected outcomes. And it is even possible these outcomes can be negative. Success can sometimes end up being little more than a big fat learning experience. It pays to get adept at finding the silver linings. And perhaps most importantly (especially because I suck at this), learn how to enjoy any success that comes your way. Stop and smell that rose. Water it. And polish it occasionally. It's beneficial to remember the good things along the way because sometimes the next good thing you hoped for doesn't happen. And sometimes the only success you need is that you are still here, still writing, still being hopeful.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Don't panic! What to do if you are addicted to hearing from publishers and agents ....

Some thoughts on being addicted to the publisher's/agent's response to your submissions:

1) Remember you cannot jinx a submission, unless of course you stalk, harass or insult a publisher or agent. So just NO stalking, harassing and insulting and you should be okay. And no superstitious worrying that you have somehow affected the result. If, after a reasonable time, you inquire after your submission, THIS WILL NOT JINX THE RESULT (unless you stalk, harass or insult). If it's a rejection, YOU DID NOT MAKE THAT HAPPEN with your behaviour. It is the story that has been rejected and there are many reasons why that might have happened, none of them related to anything you said or did while waiting for the response. However, if you inquire every five minutes (are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet?) then this may encourage a publisher to reject your work. Don't be THAT person.

2) Your obsession is a measure of how important being published is to you. Do you want it to be less important? No? Then don't worry - everyone is a little obsessed about something. Especially when it matters this much. Try use at least some of that energy for something productive. And remember to get some work/life balance.

3) This industry is, on the whole, excessively slow with its answers. Much, much slower than many many other industries. We cannot be surprised that we get hung up on refreshing our emails - few have to wait like we do. Cut yourself some slack. You are not required to agree with or enjoy the waiting. In fact, I would be more worried if it did not bother you. It is good to accept that this is normal though (as frustrating as it is). You are not being singled out for this torture - we all get to experience it.

4) The stakes are high - there is no shame in having a significant emotional investment.

What to do if you are addicted to the response.

1) Do nothing. Your addiction is a justifiable response to a unique set of circumstances - high stakes, slow turn around times, and long term emotional investment. Just remember this addiction only belongs to your writing life and should remain there.

2) Accept that the circumstances are normal and shared by many others. You are part of a tribe that regularly deals with this and I find that comforting. We can all be a bunch of weirdos hitting refresh together.

3) Don't fight it. Only treat the addiction if it is preventing you from engaging in everyday life. If you are still exercising, eating, sleeping and hanging out with those you love you will manage the addiction. If you are not engaging with everyday life turn off the computer and go and hug one of your favourite people, take a long walk, eat something good, and go to bed.

4) Just like being told to eat your veggies because people are starving is the most rubbish piece of advice that does not make your veggies more appealing, people telling you to get to work on the next project to distract you from the frequent email refreshing feels unhelpful. However, just as veggies still actually do have health benefits, working on the next project is a smart move with career benefits. Try to do this whenever you can manage it. If you can't manage it, its occasionally okay to do nothing. You'll get sick of it eventually, and sometimes doing nothing is exactly what the doctor ordered. And boredom can be a great motivator. Just don't get stuck in the nothing zone. Set a time limit on your 'do nothing' time and stick to it.

5) Smell the roses. Treat yourself. Organise some fun.

So in summary: don't panic. This is a survivable, liveable addiction. And if you think things are getting out of hand, chatting with someone who understands this world is a good place to start. If you do not already belong to one of the many cool writers' groups who hang out online and in real life, now is a good time to go join one. They are a bunch of lifesavers, and smarties and will help you get through :)

Monday, February 18, 2019

A picture book is like complicated origami ...

Things are heating up. I recently revisited some picture book manuscripts I've been working on, on and off, some for a few years, some six months or a bit less...

Some picture books turn up on your doorstep complete. They flop out on the page, beginning to end, as you tap away at the keyboard and apart from the 'always needed' editing/tweaking/titivating, they are good to go in a surprisingly short amount of time. I suspect these have been percolating away deep inside the old noodle for a while, like complicated origami pieces folding and unfolding, till they take their intended shape and then rise to the conscious zone ready to emerge acting like they always looked like that and aren't all covered in creases. My conscious always acts surprised, but those stories always have a whiff of the familiar.

Then there are some stories that resist. Or their shape is not just a matter of twelve folds in a particular order and you're done. Or maybe they have to be seen to be realised? They appear as a blistering idea that fills your entire head space and you have no choice but to turn it out on the page already and see what it is. And what might be done with it. And there might be an obvious resolution carrot dangling but no matter how much you trot towards it, it remains tauntingly out of reach. Or there really seems no way to achieve that paper crane with a round piece of paper. And sometimes you thought the answer was a crane but really it is a butterfly and you must unfold and refold many times until you get there. And sometimes, sometimes your ambition has leapt ahead and the rest of you hasn't quite caught up yet and waiting patiently is the only answer. This is why, no matter how fragmentary a picture book idea might be, I never throw them away or give up on them. It took around ten years for The Song of Kauri to find its final form and that was a good lesson for me.

So, over the last month I have unexpectedly wrapped up a couple more picture book texts and I feel pretty happy with the results. And the most interesting thing to me is that I didn't return to those manuscripts because some penny had dropped about how to resolve them, I just kept coming back to them because I had faith that the ideas were worth something and maybe this time I'd fold the story the right away to make the crane (or the bear or the dragon as the case may be). I wasn't expecting to complete them in this round of revisions, but apparently their time had come.

Of course, sometimes the shape looks finished and you send something out on submission, but it's almost yet not quite right, and it is the agent or the publisher who makes the final fold to reveal the perfect form. Last week I rewrote the second half of a pb manuscript at a publisher's suggestion and by crikey I like it much better now. Luckily so do they. The story is the same same but different. In this case, the final fold was out of my reach and I needed a fresh pair of expert hands to point it out. I hope it gets to be a book. It would be cool to show you what I first thought the story should be, what it ended up as, and the journey it took between the two points. Of course the bit I can tell you now is I believed there was a good story inside that first idea.

So, points to take away?

1) Each picture book story has its own writing journey. It might be that no two are alike for you and you will get along better if you don't expect them to be.
2) Don't throw anything away that at some point you believed was a great idea.
3) Don't wait for some plot revelation to get you to return to those manuscripts. Regular revisiting is a good idea, even if you sometimes make no progress/go backwards.
4) How do you know when the story is ready for submission? The moment of true certainty never arrives. Trust your instinct and send it out when you think/feel it is ready. Sometimes the next pair of hands that hold your story are the only ones that can make that final fold for the perfect shape.
5) Don't worry if a story is taking an inordinate amount of time. As always, remember this lark is a long game ...

Note: Last time I wrote about being addicted to the 'yes' and just in case you are interested in this, I hope to return to this topic with some tools to help manage this issue in future posts. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Are writers addicted?

Addiction is never a good thing. People can fall prey to alcohol and drug addictions, gaming, gambling, food, and even social media. When you consume your choice of addictive substance your brain rewards you with a squirt of happy. If you want more happy squirts you must consume more of the addictive substance which provides it. And as time passes more substance is required to achieve those squirts. The cycle can be all consuming, and hard, and often painful, to exit from. I'm not speaking from personal experience. Well, okay maybe a little with social media. But actually ....

... is it possible to become addicted to response from publishers? Yeses to a submission produce a huge surge of elation. And every subsequent interaction around your soon to be publication also gives you a little happy squirt. And then it's reviews and reactions and mentions in the media. More squirts. Even rejections, while giving you a squirt of misery also take on a compulsive aspect. There is something satisfying about ripping off the band-aid. Folk joke about the constant refreshing of their inbox as they wait for replies from the agents and/or publishers they've submitted to.  While we wait and refresh, we obsess about what is happening in the publisher's or agent's office. Have they even read what we sent them? Is it going to committee? Why is it taking so long? I have to keep throwing my hat in the ring to keep my chances of publication alive. I have to keep published to stay relevant. These things are bad enough without having the need for a fix thrown in. If writing is our sole occupation, our main distractions are talking about our work with others, either students or colleagues, or working on more stories to submit. The cycle is endless. And suddenly that 100 rejections thing might not be such a good idea after all. It'll feed that addiction. And while some addictions are definitely worse than others, no addiction is ever a good thing.

Are we addicted to replies from publishers/agents? And if we are how do we stay in the business and not get caught up in the addictive cycle of needing the reply. Of that need for a fix. In an industry where they come few and far between.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The submission ambition that works best for you ...

Did my first gig of the year Thursday last week. Reading to children at an Auckland Libraries, 'Dare to Explore' event, at Three Kings. And what an excellent way to kick things off. It was a warm sunny day. The children were in to it. I was into it. And books were at the heart of it all. Bliss!! :)

I have done no writing over the holiday break. This wasn't the plan but I ended up having a couple of unexpected trips out of Auckland to hang out with family and crikey, where did the time go? Some things are still in limbo too with the Christmas close down and I don't have the heart to move on until I know what's what. Aaand I've been doing a lot of reading (for a variety of reasons, some of which aren't self imposed and can't be put off) and as much as it is crucial to read when you are a writer, it has eaten in to my writing time. It's all grist to the mill though, and when some of the 'reading projects' are over in the next month or two I should be able to slip back into my usual routine. I hope so. I always feel a little lost when I'm not writing. Although I don't think being a little lost is always necessarily a bad thing. It's good to be hungry to write...

I have been thinking more about the 100 rejections thing. Towards the end of last year I lowered my sights to a more manageable 50 rejections but I'm thinking that even this is going to be a bit of a challenge for 2019. Which publishers, what residencies and other opportunities can I apply to this year? Unless I have new material I can't resend things to the same folk who've already seen that ms. Unless I have new projects ready to go I can't apply for this years residencies. But if I'm so busy applying and submitting when do I find time to write? And what is realistic to apply for? New Zealand is a small place. How far afield can I reasonably send/apply for things? Ergo, there is a limit to the list. So I may need to revise things down again. On the flip side I think keeping at this takes an emotional toll as well. How much time can you spend researching possibilities, crafting appropriate submissions, get your hopes up, wait impatiently longer than you thought you would have to and then receive the rejection (or as is the case so often these days, pass the deadline when they say they will respond by if they are interested, and wonder for ages afterwards how hard and fast that deadline is) and by crikey it isn't healthy. The benefit, of course, is meant to be that the more you submit/apply the more chances you have of a yes. But there is a cost, and I think its exponential rather than incremental and should not be overlooked. There needs to be a balance, so it might take a while to find out the submission ambition that works best for you. Look after yourselves people.

I have also been thinking on the perennial question about multiple submissions. Should you submit your ms to more than one publisher at a time? In a world where writers submit to agents first (not so much New Zealand although there is a whiff that we are heading more and more in this direction) this isn't an issue. I think in general agents accept you will be approaching more than one agent at a time. But in the distant past it was deemed the polite thing to send your ms to one publisher at a time. They were investing their time, expertise and effort in considering your manuscript. If others were also looking and saying 'yes' first then their time could have been wasted. When it takes 3 or 4 months for a response - okay. But, as a general rule of thumb, most publishers tend to take longer than they advise on their websites. It might be 6, 8, 9 or more than 12 months. Please respect your own time as well folks. Over the years I have also realised that most publishers here in NZ have particular tastes and publishing niches. Yes there is a risk that more than one publisher will want the same ms, but it is probably lower than you think. And (and this is a big and), what if your manuscript is about to hit a trend? The trends we see are coming at the end point of one to two years lead time on an accepted ms (which might have taken 6 months to a year to be considered and accepted). That one to three years lead time can be swallowed up by one publisher looking at your work who then says no and the trend sails by without you. I think multiple submissions are okay. If a publisher asks that you submit only to them, decide on their suitability for your project. If they rate high then it might be worth the risk of a single submission to them first before moving on to others. If they rate low, send to them last. And if you are only submitting to one publisher before consigning a work to the bottom drawer and starting on a new project you are doing this wrong. See above comment about tastes and niches. And remember, should you have two publishers interested, be polite and professional - the bottom line is that your ms finds the best home.

Well I suspect I've ranted enough for one day. I have an appointment to get to and I bet you have work you should be doing too. Happy writing people.