Monday, February 15, 2021

The pattern is that there is no pattern ...

 So, for several reasons there was no public launch this time round for Moon and Sun, and honestly, it is a mixed blessing. Launches can be stressful things that are hard to land with the desired results. But watching your book arrive with no wine-glass-clinking, cake-eating celebration is equally daunting. Will anyone notice it has arrived?? As with all my paper babies, I am so proud of this story. It says and does some good and surprising things. And Malene Laugesen's illustrations elevate the story, magnifying and building on the emotion and detail of the text in a beautiful way. Truth is, a launch is only ever a small part of a book's debut. Plenty of work has been happening behind the curtains (thanks to the team at Upstart Press) to support Moon and Sun's arrival. Copies have been going out and about and some early reviews have been really lovely - thank you to Desna Wallace at BookTrailers4KidsandYA, NZ Booklovers, and KiwiReviews. I'm also being interviewed about the book for radio later in the week, and there is a chance to win a copy of the book in the Kids Club section of the current NZ TV Guide (20 - 26 Feb). And I finally get to wear the t-shirt with artwork by my eldest, which is a perfect fit for the book.

Welcome to the world Moon and Sun - I'm so happy you are here :-) 

And I have to say this book, a gentle, secretly science-y tale, is so different to the last thing I had published (the darkly funny and mischievous Sharing with Wolf). I am a technicolour dreamcoat, a collection, a museum of many things. I do worry that I am a bit unpredictable and that fans might want some reliable patterns to hold on to as they take a wild ride through my books. The only patterns you'll find are a distinct love of language, a desire for rhythm, and a guarantee that there will be layers of meaning, peelable and yet also intersecting. My next two picture books, My Elephant is Blue (illustrated by Vasanti Unka and coming out in May with Penguin, dealing with heavy feelings) and Batkiwi (illustrated by Izzy Joy Te Aho White and published in July by Scholastic, about being a hero) are also different. Perhaps the pattern is that there is no pattern. 

It would be lovely to talk about this. I sometimes envy adult writers chatting about their latest book with a wise and well read interviewer on a stage at a Writers Festival. This doesn't really happen to picture book writers. I've seen picture book and junior fiction writers interviewed on stage, or giving a talk, but these events are pitched at young readers who usually make up at least half the audience (and many of the rest are their guardians and minders and keepers). But like a writer of adult fiction, I too have ideas and influences and writing craft that are grown up things. Lots of writers for children do. And I am always sad that picture books are only ever seen as childish things. We don't talk enough about children's books outside our children's books circles. I think this needs to change - for the benefit of our children. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Self trickery - how to grow a word count

The competition to win a copy of my new picture book Moon and Sun has now closed and it only seems right that there should be two winners. So Clare Scott and Craig Campbell, if you message me your addresses I will send those books right off to you. Congratulations!!! 

I was chatting with a writer friend t'other day (waves to Heather Haylock) and we got on to the topic of productivity. What we think we can achieve vs. the abject realities of what happens under self motivation.  Sitting down and writing productively every day is fraught. There are a lot of contributing factors when it comes to how many words one might tap out in a day. Mood, the general state of the world, other worries, personal news - good and bad, confidence, the state, and desirability, of one's current project, other projects that seem more alluring but are actually equally challenging once directly addressed, whether there is chocolate in the house, the fact that your two favourite tv sitcom characters have just broken up (it's alright, they got back together), the depth of one's laundry, the day's imposter syndome scale ranking, and a host of other things.  Whew - I'm amazed I get any writing done at all. What!? I hear you say, what about self discipline? I think you are very lucky if you have it, but there are plenty of us who don't. This blog is for those who sometimes (/often/always) find their self discipline is AWOL. Including me. It turns out I require a lot of cajoling and self trickery.

So I am currently resorting to several methods of indirectly talking myself into writing more words. The fab Maureen Crisp recently mentioned Austin Kleon's 100 days and suck less challenge on her blog, and I like this because 100 days of applying yourself is a most excellent way to build a habit. I would however like to know why it only takes a few days to break a habit and around five hundred years to build it up again. 

The embarrassment of having something of long standing that you still haven't completed can also be good motivation. Honestly, it is worth finishing just to avoid the awkwardness of saying 'I am still working on that particular project.' The difficulty here is that this particular project is past redemption and will be slipped in to the bottom drawer once complete. But it will be finished and I will have gained the writing mileage.

The fear (constant), of falling in to a permanent publishing hiatus is also a really good cattle prod - keep writing, or else. Laurels are a stupid thing to rest on - all right, they do smell nice, but they aren't exactly soft and cushy. On the other hand fear doesn't always get the best results.

And before you suggest it, yes, I have tried bum glue and sadly it doesn't work for me. Or more to the point, it is an indiscriminate adhesive for too many things, like other people's books, netflix bingeing, social media scrolling and email refreshing. Bum glue can be a blunt tool.

Running races are a practical approach. Team up with one or two (or more) other writers, and check in with each other daily with word count tallys. This only works if you are all able to participate to the same degree. But knowing someone will be checking in daily can keep you honest. 

Rewarding personal word count achievements can also spur you on. As can fake deadlines. But the trick is in making the reward big enough to keep the writing going without breaking budgets or breaking a writing stride. And fake deadlines need to convince you that they are real even though they aren't. The running race can work as a fake deadline.

And sometimes it is just enough to know that plodding on will be the bridge between the last hot project you excitedly sped through and the next hot project you will not be able to resist. It's keeping your writing muscles sufficiently exercised that you know what to do when the next idea is irresistable. You don't have to keep doing a marathon, it's okay to slow to a walk between bursts of sprinting. And on that exhausted metaphor note I am off to potter on some average ideas.