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.