Sunday, December 25, 2022

It's all a mystery here at the end of the year ...


It's been a year. I didn't realise how much of a year until I actually looked back and took stock. I spoke as part of the schools programme for Featherston Booktown in June, I gave a talk at the Storylines Hui in July and went away to Southland on a Storylines Tour in August and had a brief appearance at the Auckland Writers Festival. I am grateful to everyone who invited me to be a part of their event. I had a few school visits, ran a few workshops for Selwyn Community Education, attended the NZCYA Book Awards and was voted on to the NZSA National Board. I did around twenty manuscript assessments. I had covid. We travelled overseas. I had a picture book come out (welcome to the world There are No Moa, e Hoa/ Kua Kore he Moa, e Hoa ), and wrote a wee bit of poetry, both for adults and children.

The marvellous Paula Green did an incredible series of poetry illustrated by children on her blog, Poetry Box, and kindly included my poem If Fish Could Talk. The illustration is brilliant and you can check out the picture by Oscar D. and my poem here. And I gave a talk at a SLANZA end-of-year event.

It is always surprising to me that a few things dominate my memories looking back so it helped to actually look through the diary and tot up all my commitments. I was busier than I remembered. And there were so many wonderful experiences. I've been very privileged to take part in so many amazing things. Now I'm looking forward to 2023 and wondering what it has in store. I wish there was more certainty. I only have two workshops and an event I am required to be at signed up for next year. Yet 2023 may end up being as busy as 2022. I just have no way of knowing. I have two picture books coming out if everything goes to plan. And two poems.

I'm not much of a fan of the not knowing. In the past I guess I've surrendered to it and gone with the flow but I am tempted to take a different approach to the coming year. Maybe some study. Maybe a more structured approach to my writing. How much should we give in to destiny/luck, how much should we try to shape what lies ahead? It's all a mystery, here at the end of the year. What are you going to do? Make some plans, or leave it all to fate?

Monday, December 5, 2022

Am I Doing it Wrong? ...

Over recent years there has been a growing call for more diversity in our children's literature, and rightly so. Our literature should reflect the people who make up our society with more representation of different cultures, ethnicities, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation and gender. I have wrestled with what I can and can't write about myself, growing in my understanding of what my limits are and ceding space (if it is in my power to do so) to those who will do a far better job than me. 

Back in 2016 a picture book of mine was called out for having a male main character in an article discussing a lack of female representation. I confess the rebuke stung but it did its job because I became much more aware of who I was writing into my stories. But I have discovered over the years that there is a flaw in my gender representation plan. Readers/reviewers/folk-in-general DO NOT NOTICE. They decide and then that is the gender of the character. They ignore my clues ('he said', or 'she said' or a complete lack of identifying pronouns).

Where I have avoided pronouns to enable the reader to make their own decisions I guess it might be fair enough that the reviewer/discusser has decided for themselves to apply a label, although ideally they would also take the route of making it vague - it's for the target audience to decide, not the reviewer or other adult intermediary.

My dilemma I guess is that I am wondering if my efforts are having the desired effect; am I managing to reach the people for whom this really matters (the kids are alright and we just need the grown-ups to catch up)? I suppose my books aren't centering the gender discussion so this might contribute to the assumptions being made, but I make deliberate decisions about my characters when I am crafting my stories and I am perplexed when these get no cut through. Sometimes my decisions are about ensuring there is an even mix of genders in the story, sometimes it is about challenging our expectations of roles and who performs/inhabits them, and sometimes it is just a practical decision - in BatKiwi for example male kiwis are smaller and female bats are bigger so the female bat has more chance of carrying the male kiwi (although actual physics/reality makes it impossible sadly), however I also didn't want a male bat swooping in to save the day for the female kiwi. 

When I review or talk about books other than my own I try to do my due diligence (although I am likely to have got it wrong sometimes in the past too). Novels are easier in some respects because character names and context can be obvious signifiers (although not always), but in a picture book it is a simple task to check. This isn't all about me and maybe these reactions don't matter but gender representation is important and I am just wondering - are the choices I'm making working like I hope they will? Are these responses just an anomaly or are they something to be addressed?