Sunday, August 31, 2008

Farewell Izzie....

Our cat died over the weekend which made me cry. She was a pretty wee thing, a cameo coloured moggy, dainty and sweet-natured. She lived permanently out-doors but knew which side her bread was buttered and knew who her family was, even the dog. Although still relatively young at about 6 and a half she got inexplicably sick and try as we might after a month was no longer the cat we remembered and there was no going back. I shall miss her. RIP Izzie.

Hi to the people who are reading my blog. Even though I sit here alone in my office, my tapping at the keyboard the only sound I hear, its comforting/reassuring/motivating/fun to know that I am part of a community of writers also sitting tapping out their stories, coming up against the same issues, pressing on despite the difficulties, wishing each other luck and best wishes. You are a fabulous bunch of folk and I couldn't wish for a better crowd to be a part of.

It is now officially September here in NZ and my picture book is out this month, it is NZ Book month for which I am doing a number of events at Auckland Public Libraries and the Auckland Art Gallery, my husband has a business trip out of town and there are cheerleading and dance competitions and other related events for my daughters. It will be a busy time and I certainly feel like I am at the top of an extremely slick slope wearing inappropriate shoes. I suspect I will be too busy to obsess over the things I usually obsess about but I hope I am not too busy to keep writing on the current project. I did a little bit of forward planning while exercising last night and wonder if i am going to come up a little short of my hoped for word count. The aim was around 50,000 but looking at where I am (18,000 words) and what I have left to write I don't think I will get there. Still, I am not going to stop now or change the synopsis so I will see what the result is when I get to the end.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jumping through hoops with a glass half full...

So while I'm feeling confused and blue about the hoops I'm having to jump through to move forward with my writing, I'm slowly coming to realise that if I let it get me down and suck the energy out of me, I won't be moving forward with anything. The bottom line is, no matter what else is happening, I should keep writing. After all, it is obeying those pesky and intrusive words that won't let me give this career away. I have thought about giving up before and aside from the fact that i'm not much good at anything else, the stories just REFUSE to go away. Sure, I can moan and groan but that will not make someone say yes instead of no, or pick up my book in a bookshop. In fact moaning and groaning will probably have the reverse effect. It probably isn't good for my karma either. I think karma works better with a cheerful outlook, a glass half full kind of mentality and I have been forgetting this too much recently. One thing I will do in addition to keeping on with the writing is not accept everything as its given to me. Sometimes questions need to be asked and even if things cannot be changed I want a better understanding of how they work and how I fit into it all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What do I want to be when I grow up?

My eldest, now fifteen, has just received the booklet outlining her subject options for next year. Next year is form five, also now more commonly known as year 11 and the first year of externally graded qualifications. We have both been looking at the booklet probably with different reactions. One of mine is sheer jealousy. She can pick things like photography, drama, japanese, graphics, computer studies and practical hospitality. But my favourite is 'writing for publication'. Jeepers! I would have killed to do a subject like that. If I'd had the chance to do that it might not have taken me another twenty years to admit I wanted to be a writer and get on with the job of trying to be one. In my fifth form year we could do art, two languages, music, sewing or cooking as options, history, geography or economics. They get to choose those as well as all the cool new things. So yeah, I'm a bad shade of green. However one thing doesn't change. My daughter is sitting there thinking 'what do I want to be when I grow up?' That question never disappears. What I thought I wanted to do when I was her age isn't what i have ended up doing now. I spent a lot of years in between studying science, and working in hospital administration to end up as a writer. But I'm more satisfied with my choices having made a few wrong turns along the way. And nothing is wasted. But I know from personal experience that not being sure now is not a bad thing. My advice to her now is to pick the subjects she feels most interested in no matter where they might lead. The more you enjoy something, the better your chances of doing well and finding a job down the track that plays to your skills and makes you happy. Nothing is wasted but also there is nothing to stop her, like me, studing different things in the future and changing where she is heading. Life is full of opportunities.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Off to a glittering event...what to wear?

Squeee! I am off to the NZ Book Month Launch next monday which I am most excited about. What does one wear? Do you think a tiara will be too much? Barbara Cartland never thought so. This is my first such do where I have actually been invited as an author and I feel very speshial and i feel it is important to dress accordingly. Of course as the first such outing it is the one where i get to set the tone for the rest of my writing career (as short as that may be - see yesterday's post) so i shall think long and hard about what I wear. What do famous creatives wear. All I can think of is Vivienne Westwood but i'm not sure if this is the image I am after. But then I also don't want to look like an extra off Coronation Street.

I bet Stacy Gregg never has this problem about what to wear. As a writer AND a fashion expert you would instantly know the correct thing to wear at a literary event. I'm trying to recall what the famous writers wore at the Melbourne conference I went to. I have to say the best dressed was Fifi Colston but I couldn't borrow anything of hers because she lives too far away and is petite and gorgeous and I would break any of her beautiful dresses. The only other writer who stood out was Neil Gaiman however while black jeans, jumper, leather jacket and Dr Martens are perfect on a rock star writer like him they would not be so much on me. Barbara never wore fairy wings did she? And I don't really write about fairies so that wouldn't be right either. But i also don't want to blend in or fade out. Well I have a week to work it out and if I come up with something good i shall post a photo.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

When the voice becomes powerless...

Still thinking on voice. Perhaps voice for me is the 'personality' of the story, whether its via the main protagonist or the story at large. Or its 'heart'. Without heart or personality we would not be able to connect with the story. I am lucky that it seems to be an instinctive part of how I write. But this makes it difficult to advise someone else how to do it. In some ways I do not want to know the nuts and bolts of how I do what I do. I am a little nervous that if I understand too much about the process it will take away the magic and my writing will become flat and heartless. I guess that potentially rules out teaching writing as an adjunct to my writing career. Although at the moment I am asking 'what writing career?'. A few things I thought were done deals have become wobbly or the wheels have dropped off completely. Just when I thought I was in control of my situation, I find myself powerless again. This has been a bit distressing and I'm sitting here thinking, 'I'm not sure where to go from here.' My modus operandi isn't working and I feel the need to find a new approach. How much squeaking should this wheel be doing? I don't want to just give up on things but my head is getting a bit flat on one side from all the knocking against the brick wall. I'm off to see Mamma Mia this afternoon which I hope will be a bit of a boost. Then if i can get all my children back to school this coming week I might find some time to figure it all out. Wish me luck

Friday, August 22, 2008

Voice in the wilderness...

I was talking with a writer friend today about voice. She was experiencing difficulties with 'voice' in her novel and was wanting to discuss ways to deal with this. I have to confess my mind went blank. I don't make conscious decisions about voice. I couldn't even really say what voice is. Perhaps it's the 'style' or 'tone' of the writing. It should be a seamless part of the whole, almost a character itself, the character of the story. I don't think about it as a separate entity before I begin or as I go along. I consider my characters and the events that sweep them along and I suspect that the voice grows naturally out of the way I think about those things. Those considerations influence the tone of the setting, the dialogue, and how the characters respond. I write to show I care about the characters and the journey they are on and perhaps this comes through as voice and hopefully compels the reader to see what happens next. I suspect if I thought about it too much it would show. Is voice something we only notice if it isn't there? I don't know.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Even though they're not in the same room, I know they're there...

All three of my children are home sick today. I think only one is faking it. Even though I've banned them from using the computer so I can have free reign, it still changes the atmosphere around here and I find I don't work the same. My eldest has been off all week and I worry she has forgotten how to go to school. I will be re-training her in the subtle arts of school attendance as soon as she is well enough.

I am signed up to do author visits at a number of Auckland City public libraries for NZ book month in September. I am busy inside my head deciding how to approach these visits. Times like these I wish I had one or two more picture book titles out there as reading them all would fill up the time nicely. I certainly have written a couple I am very proud and fond of but they are unpublished and without pictures they don't have the same appeal to a bunch of littlies at your feet. These visits are not like author talks at schools where students might be expected to take an interest in the activity of actually writing stories. At the libraries the key theme will be a love of books. Still, I have a few weeks to come up with a game plan. Of course so much of this is still fairly new to me. Although I've done a few school visits, I have no teaching or library background but I have a few ideas about what I can do to get the children involved.

Today Kristin Nelson blogged about the benefits of Google Alerts and I have already signed myself up. I confess I do regularly google myself and have had some surprising and useful results, discovering new reviews, where my books are being touted online, and finding teaching resources associated with my work amongst other things. All good stuff. Sometimes it can be hard to see the new entries though and Google Alert will hopefully not only save me time and effort but improve my ability to keep tabs on what is happening to my work. Yay the internet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What will I do for the rest of the year without Harry...

I was looking forward to the November release of the next Harry Potter movie (HP and the Half Blood Prince) and felt pretty grumpy when I learned it was being held back til the middle of next year, apparently for commercial reasons. As much as I revere The Dark Knight, I'm afraid its partly responsible as it earned a million simollions on its mid year release this year and as the writers strike has left the film industry a little movie-lite for the middle of next year HP jumped into the mega-buck-opportunity providing breach. With no more books in the series, having the movie delayed seriously compromises the R n'R plans I'd made for what remains of 2008. I will just have to console myself with James Bond instead.

I have at least been cheered by the ongoing efforts of our Kiwi Olympians. Still trending up from all the fourth place showings at the last games, we now have a slew of bronzes. I like where this is going and look forward to London 2012 when we should be in the silver medal position for everything. Don't for one minute think I am dissing third place. Having watched a range of events I respect everyone who actually makes it to the games as a competitor in the first place. These are mostly people who have put just about every other aspect of their lives on hold to train right, eat right and mentally prepare themselves to battle it out on the day. When you think that many events are only of a few minutes duration, some even less then that, it blows my mind that people make so many sacrifices in the hope they will come first, second or third. Kind of puts into perspective all the difficulties of the writing business. Sure, I work for hours to maybe earn about ten cents an hour if my book is accepted, nothing for all that effort if its not, but I can write for years, I can still do other things, and I get to eat chocolate if i want to.

I've been a little worried the last few days. My current WIP is looking a bit setting-lite. In my last two novels (Jack the Viking and his sequel) the setting was kind of a character in itself. It was essential to maintain a sense of setting both in Jack's modern location and back in the time of the Vikings. Contrasting the two times was something I wanted to explore but I also needed a clear image of the Viking period to background Jack's emotional state and the changes he experienced. Now with the new story, place doesn't have a key role and as I progress, the characters dominate and I find, while I know where they are, the setting refuses to assert itself. I'm not sure whether this is a problem or not? But I have the feeling I should decide on this now. If i have to write more on setting after the first draft is finished i might be making a large and difficult job for myself. What do you think?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Yes that sentence is like poetry but IT HAS TO GO...

As well as the ability to objectively recognize when part of your story sucks there are some other fairly important weapons in the writers arsenal (I have to say I like that word despite the fact I am a peace loving person). Arsenal (sorry i just had to say it again and once more for good time) arsenal. Okay I'm good for now. So in addition to acknowledging the bad stuff, it is also handy to recognize the really good stuff that just doesn't belong. Sometimes the prettiest, most elegant, brilliant use of words isn't right. You know you love that sentence but everytime you read over it, it sticks out like a broken leg in a cast. Recognizing its a problem is the first skill but the even greater skill rests in being able to rip that sentence right out. What you take out can be as important as what you leave in. At the beginning of my writing career everything stayed in. Editing was a strange act that other people did behind closed doors. Worse still, I didn't need to edit. I'd worked too hard on those words to ditch any of them. Luckily things changed. The story rules. If the words don't tell the story, if they aren't relevant, or don't contribute they shouldn't be there. If they don't tell you something about the setting, or the characters what is their purpose? To successfully use these tools you have to have a clear vision about your story and your characters. Even if you don't have every detail mapped out before you start writing, you should be in control. If you have clarity and control of your story then editing will be fairly straightforward.

I stayed up late Saturday night watching NZ competitiors do their stuff at the Olympics. I felt for Mahe Drysdale getting pipped by two other rowers in the final 500m of his race. He got a bronze medal but deserves a gold medal for giving it his all despite the circumstances and then refusing to blame those circumstances for the outcome. It seems cruel that the product of years of training is decided in a few minutes at a specific point in time. I guess it is the same for all competitors but luck certainly plays a part. Whatever the results i'm proud to be a Kiwi and respect all of NZ's sportsmen and women for their dedication and their efforts. We do pretty well for a small country. Its very motivating.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Jack Sequel and the Writer's Tool-kit...

I'm at that point in my WIP when I am a third of the way through writing the first draft and I can't believe I will ever finish this sucker. I've finished novels before and I know I will most likely finish this one too but its hard to imagine right now. Its like knitting a fancy sweater with three cables across the front where the chance of dropping a stitch is high. Can I bring all the threads of the story together in a satisfying way? That is the plan and I just need to keep at it.

I do not go through a lot of drafts, finishing the story first and then revising again and again. I tend to fix as I go which probably goes part of the way to explaining why I am a little slower at writing compared with some of my peers. So at least when I do make it to the end I will not have a long period of rewriting ahead (unless some prospective publisher demands it). Having said that, my last novel (the sequel to Jack the Viking) took a looooonnngg time to write because twice before i'd even got to the end of the story I ripped out a decent chunk of words and started again from about a quarter of the way in (first 10,000 words, the second time around 20,000). Then when it was complete I did the edit on the first novel which meant more changes to the sequel. This may have cured me of writing series, trilogies or sequels ever again. I would be more inclined to write them if the story came to me as a two- or three-parter in the first place. Still, i would never say never to anything cos thats just silly. I does not like to eat my words, especially that 'never' word - it is not tasty. It was also comforting to know I could look criticly enough at my own work to see when it was going wrong (with a little help from a friend at one point) and to be able to fix it. These are important tools in the tool kit of the writer and I'm thrilled i've been able to add them to mine.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Blessed feedback and the intrusions of real life on my whinging time...

There seems to have been a small flood of rejections for friends in the last few days. For me I think my stuff has fallen off the edge of the desk into the void that is the round holed file. Although it is bad news to be rejected, on a positive note there has been feedback where there has been none before. Feedback is sooo hard to come by, it is a refreshing and welcome change to be given some. I am now waiting for my rejections with feedback. I love feedback. It can take me weeks to translate my rejection letters using the subtle art of rejectomancy. What are their true meanings? There are many degrees of no and some are less depressing than others. If I have to have a no, a why will make me so much happier.

But sadly I am still in the 'no news' zone. All my little fishing expeditions have been fruitless. I am still banging away at my two stories but feeling a bit lack lustre about both. This is dumb because I need new material to keep this whole 'juggernaut' moving. Like a snort of something illicit, I want a short story or picture book to just pop out and get snapped up. But there are no magic short stories or picture books 'popping', just the 'real world' fun of force feeding the cat her medication, and doing the grocery shopping with the quick side trip to Geoff's Emporium for fabric for my middle child's school project which needs to be dropped off at her school five minutes ago.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

If its a no, just tell me...

I was sad to see a fellow writer have her work rejected, especially after getting positive feedback about her story, but it got me thinking that sometimes I actually crave rejection. Now please don't get me wrong (but you can think i'm crazy because thats an acknowledged fact). I DO NOT want my writing to be rejected. I cross fingers, toes and everything else crossable (you'd be surprised) in the hope my writing will be accepted. But the reality is not everything of mine is accepted and if its to be rejected I wish they would get on with it and give me the bad news. The rejections I can handle, its the not knowing that drives me insane. The worst scenario is months of waiting, months where you can only speculate that they are giving your work serious consideration and doing the calculations about potential sales using a ouija board, the dessicated bones of a small rodent and a mars bar and then they still turn around and say no. I blame the mars bar. Chocolate should never be involved in the decision making process. But maybe your ms is really only protecting their desk from coffee cup rings or propping up the ilustrations for some else's ms that got the nod, or lying muddied in the rear footwell of the publisher's car. I have no way to tell what is really happening. I will not stalk you if you reject me. I will not abuse you, harangue you or provide a 50 page letter explaining why your decision was wrong. I just want to know whats going on. And maybe if you don't want to publish it, someone else might - stranger things have happened. But the longer publishers delay a decision the bigger the delay before I can send my story out to someone else. And then the whole process begins again. And normal everyday people wonder why writers have a haunted air about them, drink copious quantities of alcohol, and get depressed so easily. Its simple. If its a 'no', could you please just tell me so I can move on with my life!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Here's to a squillion sales...

Congratulations to Maureen Crisp ( ) who launched her Kiwi Bite "Bones" last friday in Wellington. Having a 'yes' from a publisher is such a rush but its even better when the book is finally in the bookshops. The launch looked like it was a blast. Here's to a squillion sales.

Launches are equal parts terror and thrill. After all that work you want to send your book off into the world with a bit of fanfare; a party to celebrate the effort and the achievement. But writing is a profession populated by people happy with their own company and the company of all those imaginary characters crowding inside their heads. Real crowds aren't as obliging as the small army of characters I can control. My characters don't expect me to say much as long as i continue to put words in their mouths. And a blush on paper can be brushed aside much more easily than the one on my own cheeks. Writers are also familiar with rejection and being held at arms length by the publishing industry so it is strange to have people openly praising your work and picking up and buying your book of their own free will. "Are you sure you want to buy my book, theres a book by a real author just over there." Will this feeling ever change? I don't know. I'll tell you if i get there.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Yes I am a little jealous...

While trolling one of my favourite american agent blogs (Kristin Nelson at ) i read this:-

5 Ways That Another Author's Career Can Sideline Yours by US Agent Deidre Knight--and we don't mean because they're more successful!Here’s the big secret: the power for those authors to harm your career is all inside of YOU!
1) Don't compare yourself to other authors. Every career, no matter if same agent, same editor, or same house, is unique. Comparison derails you with jealousy and can be toxic in a variety of ways
2) Looking at your friends careers and growing impatient. This is a long haul business and we have seen new authors who rush too hard to get projects out that should have been edited more. Don't kneecap yourself by worrying about your friend's recent deal.
3) Don't decide your career is like anyone else's. Your career is unique to you. A doctor can't treat you based on a friend's illness. Dig in, focus on what you need to do and forget everyone else. Write the books.
4) Soliciting advice from a committee of friends. If an Agent brings you an offer--make your decision with your agent. Don't poll your pals about the contract, your cover, you name it. Don't feel every facet of your career is for public consumption.
5) Be careful with your online presence. Don't join in blog dramas or controversies. If authors are in feud, float above. Be careful how you choose industry friends and use your instincts about who might be toxic and who is not.

I often read about do's and don'ts and dealings with agents, publishers and editors but it was interesting to see this list of ways a writer can get unintentionally sidetracked by other authors. I have myself previously acknowledged that every author's career path seems to be unique and that this makes it difficult to give good advice to other authors. I have had experiences that no one else has had. No one could tell me the best way to deal with these things and I've had to muddle through on my own. And I don't know if there would be any benefit in sharing this experience with other's. It probably won't happen that way for you. And I DO look at what has happened to my writer friends. I am guilty of being impatient for my own work when I see what has happened to other writers I know. I want to sell my next work before its completed because thats what my friend did. And no she wasn't famous the first time it happened (okay maybe she was a bit famous when it happened subsequent times). And why doesn't the publisher ring me the day after a submission having read my work overnight because I know thats happened to other people. And if i read again how the usual time frame is a year from submission to book on shop shelf I will scream! I so admire the achievements of my friends but i can't help comparing my career with theirs.

Children's writers are a very supportive, kind, and generous bunch, more so perhaps than writers in other genres but as Deidre points out, the problem isn't actually with the other writers, its with me. I think there is a lot of truth in what Ms Knight says but of course i want that same success that he/she is having with their books. I don't think I'll ever stop wanting a faster, easier run at getting published. I don't think I'll stop dreaming about getting a yes the day after a submission. But i won't let those dreams and desires keep me from writing my stories, submitting them and then submitting them to someone else and submitting them again if need be. I'd rather sell my new story now so I know its worth doing the work to complete it but i know I'll finish it anyway. And I'll keep muddling through my own unique set of circumstances as they happen. And I'll keep reporting on what happens to me just in case something similar happens to you and there's something useful in my experience that helps you. I'll still ask my writing pals for advice. And I'll keep reading about the experiences of other authors. Sometimes I feel a little jealous but I am also encouraged and bouyed up by their news. Its still great to be a part of that community.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

So I'm cheating on my current WIP...

I am a bad girl. I am cheating on my current WIP with another story. I blame my SO for this affair. Tidying up some old papers at his request (he's the tidy one) I came across the first three pages of a story I started several years ago (based on an idea I'd tinkered with several years before that) and i felt all excited reading through it. Then I searched it out on my computer and the first 11,000 words were still there. Its horribly overwritten and a bit bodice-rippery but I like it. So I've been mulling it over and doing a little bit of revising when i should be working on my current project which my agent is trying to shop around for me.

I know its the wrong thing to do. My WIP doesn't deserve this treatment. What it does deserve is to be finished. It's at around 14,000 words (only 36,000 to go) but i've got all uptight about it because it has potential and I suddenly doubt my ability to realise that potential. You see, if I don't finish it, then I can't cock it up.

I don't want to mess up. Ideally I'd write both stories but I've never worked on two novels at once before. I've managed to work on different genre at the same time before - novel and short story or novel and picture book, but this is new. I have to finish the WIP. What to do?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Is a pen name a good idea?

As you can see I have a name that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue in one fluid motion. My first name is manageable but my surname has Polish origins that add quite a degree of difficulty to its pronunciation. It is a lot easier than it looks and phonetically is close to Shi-manic. So now you know. But I can't be there in all the bookshops to help anyone who is after one of my books, who can't remember the title and can't pronounce my name. I thought quite a bit about using a psuedonym. I even had access to a not so pseudonymous appellation - my husband's surname Norman - and I could legitimately claim this one as my own. But as much as I love my significant other (SO), my name is an important part of me I can't surrender. I grew up with this tricky thing and all its mispronunciations and mis-uses. By the time I got married it seemed wrong to throw all that good work away. I had grown comfortable with it, and it's distinctiveness was not without appeal. My husband did not mind that I kept my own name and my children don't seem at all bothered by it. What might have been a scandal thirty or fourty years ago is old news now.

But putting my name to a book brung a new set of concerns. Plenty of writers use pen names - Lemony Snicket and Emily Rodda for example. But the name 'Lemony Snicket' was part of the whole conceit of 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' and Emily Rodda had previously published adult historical ( I think) fiction under her real name. My only excuse was a tricky to pronounce handle. Would it prevent people buying my books? I don't know. I hope not because I stuck with my own name for several reasons.
1) Its distinctiveness has the potential to work in my favour. People may remember it better than a blander more everyday name.
2) I couldn't come up with anything clever that I liked better that made sense. Emily Rodda, I believe is at least in part, if not completely, the name of a forbear.
3) How would the people I grew up with and my friends know it was me writing these books. Like the next person I have some pride and want people to know its me.
4) I have heard Emily Rodda speak on two occasions and both times she was introduced as Emily Rodda. This isn't her name. She didn't seem troubled by being someone else, but I was. I realise and own that this is my problem not hers but this made me realise how much I would dislike appearing to be someone else. I have no issue at all with other people using pen names but I want to be the person who wrote my books - me - Melinda Szymanik - so that is the name I am sticking with.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dodging a bullet...

We dodged a small but potent bullet last week when a stick thrown at a wooden lattice gate surprisingly managed to find its way through one of the tiny holes and strike my son in the face. Fortunately the impact was just below his eye rather than in it and once he got over the shock and the doctor steri-stripped the two deep cuts up and he discovered that an injury gives you a certain cred at school things got back pretty much to normal. I do not like to dwell on the what ifs of this situation. Suffice it to say i have now added 'don't throw sharp aerodynamic objects at people no matter how safe you consider the conditions to be', to, no running with sharp objects and no slamming doors when playing. It seems to take all the years until adulthood (and sometimes that is not even enough) to realise that no one expects an accident to happen. Thats why they are called accidents. Children and adrenalin junkie adults like to see how risky a risk really is. Parents are the people who have a fair idea and try to pass this information on but it seems a few risks that become accidents have to be experienced for the information to sink in. Parents also get good at the post-risk-testing patch up and have a lot of practice at the hope-this-isn't-serious prayer. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger and its character building, especially when there are a few scars involved. Its not just kids that have to survive growing up, it's their parents who have to survive it too.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Why a big part of my personal library is reference books...

I has lots of lovely books. I not only love to write them I love to read them as well. Books are the bees knees. I try to select carefully because if i bought everything that took my fancy we would be buried by books right now. I wants some new ones right now but my bedside stack is close to critical mass so i'm avoiding book shops. Luckily I have three fabulous children so I can, on the pretext of getting them something good to read, safely buy more books without endangering the teetering pile in my own bedroom. I will talk more over the next week or so about the books I am hankering after but the books I want to mention today are reference books.

As my writing has grown more serious and career-like I have been adding to my library of reference books. The obvious starter pack is a good dictionary and thesaurus. But I also have a book of quotations, a dictionary of phrase and fable, a biographical dictionary, a classical mythology dictionary, a book of baby names (I think i need a new one of those - one is not enough), and a children's time lines in world history. There are other history books on specific periods like the Vikings. The internet is a godsend for researching but especially when you are not entirely sure what you are looking for a reference book can make all the difference. I know my collection is not yet complete.

Of course the other kind of reference book is the writing guide or the ones that help you once you've finished your manuscript and i have quite a few of those as well. The Writer's Way by Julia Cameron is a popular guide but i also have several by Natalie Goldberg, books on writing by John Marsden and Stephen King and other books on particular genre and getting published and one or two on style, the most famous of which is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I also have the local reference books like the Christchurch City Libraries bible on Childrens Publishers in NZ, The BPANZ book on NZ Publishers and The NZ Writer's Handbook.

They have all proved themselves useful over the years, even if its been to disagree with their advice. Every career has its text books, and training manuals. Writing is no different. And on the days when you don't feel like writing or the words just aren't coming, picking up a reference book or a writing guide is a smart way to spend the day. Any person good at their job never stops learning how to do better at it.