Saturday, November 27, 2021

A work in progress ...

Honestly time is just swimming along freestyle and I am doing breaststroke trailing along behind. People are putting Christmas decorations up and I am pretty sure I haven't made it to October yet. And somehow I still don't want it to slow down so I can catch up. I am waiting on things ... I am waiting on answers to things, and answers, and things, take time so time must pass. It is an unfortunate aspect of being a writer - kind of willing your life away especially cos some things take sooo long. It is the nature of the beast so we swim along, wishing we could arrive at some distant point sooner than is physically possible, and sometimes clutching at straws along the way.

I have been looking back on 2021 (probably a bit early but heyhoo some folk put their Christmas trees up in August so I make no apologies) and wondering a fair bit about 2022. 

2021 has been another year of cancelled events, at least in this second half. I worry that all my presenting skills will rust up or be forgotten. They like to be lubricated by regular use. While my hermit soul actually likes parts of lockdown, like a tennis player finds it hard to practice their skills in a quarantine facility hotel room, I'm not sure how to maintain my public speaking facilities for future use while spending 95% of my time at home. I've been thinking about and writing content for talks and hopefully that is enough. I guess I've also been trying to upskill in other ways so that might help too (more on that below) and I've been chatting with a lot of folks about picture books and the process of writing them. And we are in the midst of a pandemic and this is all just going to have to do. It'll be like riding a bike. Once I've got past the wobbly phase it'll all come back to me. 

It's also been a year of getting some things over the line about which I have been very surprised and incredibly grateful. I'm relieved to find the world hasn't seized up entirely - folk are still reading, books are still being made and publishers are still buying. 

And what about 2022? I have just booked a gig - more on that soon I hope - and hopefully (I have everything crossed) at least one of the cancelled events from this year will get the chance to go ahead next year. And maybe a few others will be resurrected too. But at the moment the dance card is mostly blank. And it feels nigh on impossible to plan much more than that. I'm keeping an open mind.

I recently did a free online course on Picture Books through Waikato University which was not only very thought provoking on many fronts, but it showed me the truth about animal characters. For so long I laboured under the assumption that animal characters in a picture book represent some kind of universal characters that every child can relate to. I was so wrong.  Animal characters still act, talk and interact like people. If I am writing without a conscious effort to change the narrative, my characters will default to my dominant cultural experience, whether they are human or cats, horses, lambs, wolves or otherwise. They'll be white and middle-class and able-bodied like me.  

If we want all children to see themselves represented in the books they read, then the story must provide that. Making the characters into animals will not achieve that alone. I've put a lot of thought in to how genders are depicted in my stories. Who has the dominant role? Who succeeds? Who is playing the supporting role? Who is physically strong? Who has the answers to the difficult questions? Who saves the day,  etc... I've made some progress on this, and looking back I see that I've often written stories where the gender of the main character is ambiguous and their behaviour doesn't force the issue either way.  I hope this has the desired effect. That all young readers can see themselves in those roles, as those characters. 

And I know I have to keep working and expanding and thinking about what I'm presenting and representing. I know sometimes my voice won't be the right one. And I need to not take the easy route of thinking an animal will provide a universal experience. Or that there even is a universal experience. Like my stories, I am a work in progress.   


Sunday, November 7, 2021

The joys (horrors) of revising ...

Lockdowns are hard and it's fair to say my creativity has taken a wee bit of a hammering over this time. I've kept writing - mostly reviews, blogposts, manuscript assessments and reports but from time to time I've managed a smidge of something a little more creative - while major projects have been sitting this one out I've produced a couple of grown up poems here and there, and done some picture book revising. I've kept submitting things beause this is still possible. And I've had some good news things happening too. 

One of these good news things was seeing three of my books in the Storylines Notable Book AwardsSharing with Wolf illustrated by Nikki Slade Robinson (Scholastic), My Elephant is Blue, illustrated by Vasanti Unka (Puffin [PenguinRH]) and Ko PekaKiwi, illustrated by Isobel Joy Te Aho-White and translated by Pānia Papa. BatKiwi also got a mention - highly commended in the Picture Book Category. I'm very proud of these books and it is a real thrill to have them recognised this way. You can check out the whole glorious list here. Lots of wonderful books across 5 categories, perfect for Christmas gifts for the young people in your lives. 

Recently an article was published in New Zealand with authors talking about what they were doing in lockdown and a bunch of us agreed this would be a cool thing to do with children's authors and illustrators as well. You can check out what we said here

I also thought I'd share this lovely treatise by author Eirlys Hunter on how a little fantasy can end up bringing the real world closer, and how the distance between the two is surprisingly small and the barrier extremely porous for young readers. 

And in the best kind of surprise twist I didn't see coming, I've had another picture book accepted for publication. This one, titled Sun Shower, is to be published by Scholastic NZ. They've also said a tentative yes to another manuscript pending revision. This sort of thing can be thrilling and terrifying in near equal measure. Revising on your own time, for your own purposes is, while sometimes hard, a generally positive experience. You are working to please yourself at a pace of your own choosing. And there is no pressure on the end result, especially in comparison to the original manuscript. Mucked it up? No matter. Try again, or toss it in the bin, the bottom drawer, or bury it six feet under. No one need ever know. We need not ever speak of it again. But a requested revision can be a different beast entirely. Someone is waiting, they know my starting point, and they will be judging my efforts at improvement. It is a nice problem to have but I will be sweating buckets. 

I'll be keeping an original version safe so I can retreat to it if things go awry. I'll be scrutinising the original and asking what its strengths are so I don't lose those along the way. And I'll be trusting my gut as it has served me well in the past. And I am also working on a completely different story in case this one bursts into flames and is reduced to a pile of ash and I need to cheer myself up with a new submission.