Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Those aren't grey hairs, they're stress highlights...

Tomorrow is Halloween. Although Halloween has copped some flak in New Zealand for being an adopted 'event', and is also perceived by some religious folk as a major element of an evil devil-worshipping plot I kind of like it. I like that its an excuse to have fun. And for the price of a few packets of wrapped lollies and some cheap costume accessories from the very cool local cheap costume accessory emporium (Geoff's in Dominion Road) its a low cost bit of fun. Okay, I do feel a little uncomfortable knocking on the front doors of complete strangers and asking for a treat but being on the other side of the door and checking out how much trouble some children have gone to with their outfits, how inventive they've been and realising that it can be a confidence boost for the shy child to go up to the front doors of complete strangers and knock and ask for treats in the name of fun makes me 'want' to give them lollies. I don't like scary movies and I will not be watching old scary movie re-runs. I have my own horror unfolding at home as the second of my three children becomes a teenager on the 31st. Those aren't grey hairs, they're stress highlights!

My SO had his shoulder op on tuesday and is home now. He's walking round with a full time anaesthetic pump on his shoulder. I'm thinking, I'd like me one of those. Looks like the operation was a success and once he's healed up and rehabilitated he'll be almost as good as new. I'm ticking off stressful events at the moment. My cheerleading daughters have their annual international cheerleading competition this coming sunday and once thats over things should be a little calmer round the house.

I'm a bit stuck on my WIP at the moment and there have been so many distractions I haven't been giving it the attention it deserves. Although I thought this comment I saw the other day suggesting that if you are blocked maybe its because you should be, made a lot of sense (sorry i can't remember where I read it) I'm not a great believer in writer's block. Being stuck is me acknowledging that I'm a bit off track and I have to let my brain take its time and figure out how to get back on track and that the station its heading to is a good destination. Sometimes it all comes easy, other times the cogs grind a little slower or need an injection of something you can't identify until you get it. If this sounds a bit airy fairy thats because it is. There is no 100% logical explanation I can think of that describes the writing process. The path I took for the last book will most likely bear no resemblance to the path i take on this book or the next one. I often fear that my ambitions for a particular story are beyond my writing skills (Justine Larbalestier blogged on this a few days ago) but I believe the ambitions are good and drive me to work harder to get the writing right. I know how I want the story to go, but its a little like precariously holding all the pieces of a broken vase together and then needing to apply the glue - it can be a very tricky business. I don't believe any writer ever knows all there is to know about writing. We are striving to improve, seeking a better way to tell a better story.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Enough of politics...maybe its time for a poem instead...

I have had enough of politics. I cannot wait for our election and the US election to be over. I already know who I want to win in both countries. I hate the games that are played, the mudslinging, the name calling, the bitching and gripeing, the dirty tactics and the cheap promises. I hate that they think I can be bought with a single election promise. But, I ask, who will lose out to fund that benefit for me? Because there will never be enough funding to give us all the things we need, let alone the things we want. At least here in New Zealand, no matter how it turns out, I think I will be okay, but I worry about the outcome in the US and what it will mean for the world. I vote Tina Fey for VP!

Enough about politics, and now for something completely different...I don't write a lot of poetry, but sometimes thats just how the words come out. Sorry, this is not a cheerful one. I feel like it might still be a work in progress but I feel like 'tis on the verge of saying what I want it to:-

Important Equations

The science of war says
The square root of the distance from human suffering
Is directly proportional
To reckoning 'whats in it for me'

The mathematics of human nature says
The sum of acquisition and advancement
Is equal to or greater than
Our love for our fellow man

And the theory of relativity says
The person who harms me
Is more likely
To be known to me

Our ability to laugh at the misfortunes of others
Has not yet been explained.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Getting your book isn't the end of the process, its just the beginning

I love writing - I think you've all figured that out about me by now. I'm actually suffering withdrawal symptoms a bit at the moment as there have been so many other things on that I have not had time or sufficient brain juices flowing to make much progress on my WIP. I've been focusing more on PR and marketing of me and my books, visiting schools and libraries and trying to figure out how to make this intermawebby thing work harder for me to the same end. And trying to earn a few pennies in there as well through non-book related activities. But I think there are even more things I should be doing. Having my stories published has been one of the highlights of my writing experience (seeing someone enjoy one of my stories is the other major highlight). But boy is it a huge can of worms I didn't realise I was opening when I got those fateful words - can we please publish... Because its not just about making the story into a book and getting the book and saying YAY. Its also realising 'I want people to buy my book' and 'I want people to like my book' or best of all 'love it'. There are book launches and especially with children's books there are school visits and library visits and giving talks. And then people say 'its a really good idea to have a web presence' and a blog may not be enough, I might need a website too and then I need to make sure I'm connecting up to the audience who might be interested in me, but i should also follow the traditional route and do a press release and have some info on me going out to print media and maybe the radio, and lets face it getting into the editorial section is a major plus and ...whoops i think my head just fell off. I'm only one person and I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of these additional things I need to do to help my books. I feel like I need to be a company with departments to successfully achieve all of these things. Truth is I am the antithesis of a super woman. Most days I struggle just to write and do all the domestic chores that need doing. I'm reading the tips on what kinds of marketing things i should be doing but does anyone have any tips on how to actually fit all these things in (especially when I have to learn how to do them in the first place) without having a 'nervy B'?

Next week my SO has an operation on his shoulder (old golfing war wound) and will be in a sling for a month. This means no driving for a month. For those of you who have met me in the flesh you may be aware of my driving phobia. I am pretty handy at tootling round the local streets. Even when the occasion merits I tootle a little further. But I am petrified of driving on the motorway and the harbour bridge. I've seen what crazy stunts some drivers do (hell I've seen myself do some dumb things) and New Zealand drivers rightly have a reputation for being discourteous (aka down right rude) and fairly cranky if they think you've diminished their driving experience in some way. So its not just an irrational fear - there are good reasons i get sweaty and shakey at the thought of driving on the motorway. I don't even like being in the car with someone else driving on the motorway. So I'm feeling a little stressed about having to pick up some additional driving duties during the 'incapacitation'. It doesn't help reading blogs about people who don't want to drive, who just don't. They don't apologise for their fear. They just make a choice and don't drive. I should point out that the choice not to drive is often accompanied by the choice to not produce offspring. This is a good call. If you have small fry the need to be able to drive increases exponentially. In fact it is the driving of my children to after school activities (when the motorway is a necessary evil) that is stressing me the most. I know I have some white knuckle drives coming up but I am really looking forward to just tootling again in the future.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Where do writer's get their ideas...

Recently I have been trying to provide a good answer to the following question 'Where do writers get their ideas?' The people asking are school students and would not be too keen on the best answer I have, which is that I don't really know where my ideas come from. Or more specifically I do know where they start but i don't know how they transform from that first thought or phrase or image into the story that pops out at the end. When we were in the midst of renovating our house several years back, my builder brother-in-law was head builder on the job. He's an excellent builder and craftsman, is also into books and like us, owns a dog. I can't remember how the conversation started. It was just idle chit chat over lunch but somehow I came out with a sentence about a man having a dog-eye. What is a man with a dog-eye? How on earth had our conversation brought us to this strange sentence? I can only explain by saying this is the way my brain works. All the time. I can't switch it off. It segues in the most unexpected directions and this is why I am a writer. And I can't complain. I like that my brain does this. The man with the dog-eye sentence turned into a short story about a young boy who owned a dog who met a scary old man that dogs would follow like rats after the pied piper (The Man with the Dog Eye). Would living with his grandmother in a house that sets sail help a shy boy come out of his shell? (The House that Went to Sea) This grew from the name Granny Nor (the family name for my husbands grandmother).

For me, ideas turn up unexpected and unbidden. My job is to recognize the idea and grab it close. I have to keep my ears and eyes and mind open. It seems like magic to me and is certainly not a thing of logic. Am I strange amongst writers in this? I couldn't say. I only know that this is how it works for me. But it makes it jolly hard to answer the question 'where do writers get their ideas.'

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spongebob breaks the ice...

Lots to talk about today. Just swung across to Janet Reid's blog ( and saw a very smart comment. She advised writers attending conferences that conferences weren't just about meeting agents and editors. Conferences are a great opportunity to meet other writers as well and this should be one of your purposes in attending. Of course there is much value in meeting agents and editors but in the day-to-day wilderness/jungle that is a writer's life one of the best survival tips is to make friends with other writers. No one else can know better the difficulties/agonies/ecstasies /disappointments and minutiae that make up your existence. No matter how generous, kind and understanding an agent or editor are, your writer friends are having the same experiences as you. No other group are as well trained in the art of surviving life as a writer. There is a divine karmic interwoveness to the whole thing too:- Some days i need support and encouragement, other days I give support and encouragement to someone else. We don't have a lot of writing conferences in New Zealand, but writers groups, critique groups, classes and organisations and their meetings are great places to make writer friends. They are an essential part of the writers toolkit.

Now I also came across this interesting piece (via Jenny Rappaport's blog, LIT SOUP at 'about the marketing end of the book business, the rationale behind how buyers pick books, and a nice dose of bookselling history too.' You can read it here:- Its written about the American market but the general themes are relevant here too. Just as the health system has a purely financial end that recognizes the most expensive widgit is too much for the budget, at the polar opposite of the emotional end of being sick where you don't care how much the best widgit costs, its the one you need, the book industry takes your beloved book baby and says it needs to sell x copies or it can't break even. No matter how the industry evolves over time we will always be emotionally attached to the books we have slaved over and pored our hearts into and the publisher and booksellers can only sigh and say we have to make enough money to cover our book producing, book selling operation costs. They are not charities and there is no way we would want them to be. It is good to understand how all aspects of the book industry works. And it is always comforting to know that I am not the only writer being rejected or skipped.

The flipside to the financial realities is the fun to be had in meeting your audience. I visited Owairoa Primary School today in Howick, East Auckland. I met with each of the four year-3 classes at the school and talked about ideas, the writing and book making process and reading. It was a lot of fun and the children were wonderful. I'm glad i packed all my books into my Spongebob Squarepants suitcase. The children thought it fitting that books be protected by the King of imagination and it was a great ice breaker. Having my little viking bear along as mascot was also handy. The children were interested and enthusiastic. It got a bit tricky at the end, as having covered the same material with each group i began to wonder if i was repeating myself to the same crowd. As the information came out in different orders for different classes depending on their responses I couldn't follow the same sequence and tick off the list as i went. I will have to figure out a way to avoid this problem. I hope I get to do more school visits in future.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Financial crunch...not a tasty breakfast cereal

Justine Larbalestier recently discussed one of my pet peeves on her blog - why do publishers feel the need to change spelling/common english idiom for different markets. Isn't that how readers learn about other places and cultures? I blogged recently about this in 'Our reading makes us world savvy'. All the posters to this comment by Justine felt pretty much the same way on the topic. It seems authors aren't keen on the practice. Is there any way to stop or reverse this sad habit?

A few of my other favourite blogs (Kristin Nelson, and have mentioned the current recession and the potential impact this is/will have on publishing and authors. Kristin was reasonably optimistic, bookends not quite so cheery. Many of the posters to the comments were hopeful. Books are still a reasonably priced luxury that don't require ongoing costs like batteries or an electrical supply or the latest game, and keep on giving unlike a coffee at the cafe or a trip to the movies. On the one hand I want to be optimistic too because I don't really want to give up this writing gig (as tempted as I am at times of intense frustration with the industry and/or myself) and I want there to be more books out there with my name on them and I don't want the publishers to face hardship. However part of me knows that less disposable income will mean less sales of every product. And the fact that this financial crunch is partially driven by people spending beyond their means suggests that there should be at least be a decline in retail down to a level where people are spending responsibly. I still think books are a good investment, especially for children. And there will always be book lovers who can't wait for their next book fix and need to consume them regularly to stay healthy and sane. Health and sanity are important! Libraries might see greater patronage. I think most, if not all, libraries in NZ stock my books - yay. As someone pointed out recently however, books were still being written, published and bought during the Great depression. To help the book industry I intend (within my means) to keep buying books and reading them. I also plan to keep writing and submitting and to keep hoping that the recession won't cut too deep and the recovery when it comes won't be too painfully slow. In the end I can't fix the problem so I just have to make the most of what is in front of me. Remember, there is still a bestseller list and books are still turning up on it, both here and overseas. Someone is still buying them.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Jack the Viking

Be careful what you wish for. Life for 14 year old Jack Fletcher would be a lot easier if he was as tough and fearless as the viking warriors he likes to read about. A strong, brave warrior wouldn't stuff up at the interschool swimming competition or become the target of the school bully.

But when he finds himself in eleventh century Norway, Jack has bigger problems, like how will he get home, and can he stay alive long enough to find out?

The first part of a two-part story, my novel Jack the Viking, published by Scholastic NZ, is a fast moving tale of adventure, mystery and betrayal. Available now at bookshops like Jabberwocky and Timeout.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Halloween teen...

The Frankfurt Book fair is on right now. I was interested to see on Graham Beattie's blog ( a day or so back the news that Publishers from Canada, Australia and New Zealand had got together at Frankfurt and formed a coalition in pursuit of closer cooperation. All three countries have had concerns about the dominance of Britain and America in the english language markets and their proprietorial attitudes towards other english speaking markets like Canada, Oz and NZ. I like the sound of this coalition but I'm not sure what impact it will have on me and my writing/books, if any. The bigger impact at the moment is bound to be from the global financial squeeze. Right now I feel strangely calm about it all. Long may this calm continue.

In a delicious touch of irony, this year my youngest daughter turns teen on Halloween. Is there any more frightening prospect than adding another teen to the household mix? It seems perfect for this particular festival. She is off to high school next year, and as her younger brother moves to intermediate I will no longer have any children at primary school. Another milestone is passed, another era ends. I wonder if losing that connection with primary age children will have an impact on my writing. Will i drift away from writing picture books? I hope not. There is something truely magical about crafting a story for this genre. I never cease to be amazed, even as a picture book writer myself, how the brevity and apparent simplicity unfolds and gently reveals complex themes and feelings. It is immensely satisfying that despite repeat readings my favourite picture books can still move me to tears, smiles, out right laughs and understanding. If I'm feeling down 'Olivia' is guaranteed to bring a smile to my face, 'Tulevai and the Sea' reminds me of the power of a mother's love and 'Dear Greenpeace' chokes me up on the final page. How cool is that.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It pays to be a boy scout/girl guide...

I was horrified watching an item on the television programme 60 minutes last night. The item was looking at the spending habits of young females. One gorgeous young thing in her early twenties in particular had my blood boiling. With the global financial crisis making the lucky ones tighten their belts and the less lucky wondering where they might sleep or when they might next eat, this brainless lovely had a weekly spend on her credit cards of around $1500. It was her right as a human being to treat herself. I believe in treating myself too if things have been particularly stressful or something particularly special or exciting has happened. But she treated herself because it was another day. And her treats were high end luxury items. Her clothes had designer labels, she drank expensive wine and was considering buying a $60,000 car. On credit. Shopping made her happy. Her shopping made me unhappy. How could she not know that spending comes after earning. Her values and attitude shocked me. If she represents the next generation I feel very afraid.

Whilst net trawling this morning, I've come across a couple of interesting posts that got me thinking. NZ crime writer Vanda Symon's latest post reviews the last session at the Burns Festival in Dunedin on NZ literature. Read her review here: As did one of the pannellists (Catherine Chidgey), I've often wondered if it is only writers like ourselves who know NZ writers and books so well. If you asked Joe Public how many NZ writers and their books they could name, and how many NZ books had they read in the past 12 months what would the response be? For myself, I read book sections in magazines and papers, read reviews and regularly check out whats new at the bookshops, but does Joe Public? Ms Chidgey contrasted the NZ reality with that in Ireland, where all Irish writers are known. How did they achieve that and how can we do it here. Should it form a bigger part of a childs education to know who our greats are? To paraphrase Ms Chidgey, 'when will our writers be on cards in weetbix packets, traded with excitement in the playground at lunchtime.' The other comment that really got me thinking was the idea that NZ literature was ghettoised by having its own section in bookshops and we would truely have matured as a reading/book buying nation when NZ writers were mixed in with the rest of the world. This kind of took me by surprise and I'm not sure whether I agree or not. I like that it makes my book easier to find. But does it somehow subordinate our writing to what comes from overseas. Perhaps when all kiwis know all NZ writers then we can be mixed in or maybe being mixed in is an important part of the process of getting to that point. I'm not sure.

The other post that caught my eye this morning was by Justine Larbalestier (link over on your right listed under extremely cool people). With some of her pals having books coming out soon she was giving advice on preparing for author talks and book tours by looking at the most often asked questions at such events.

Where did you get your ideas for this book?

Where do you get your ideas?

What were/are your inspirations?

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

And Whats your favourite book/author?

Justine looks at how these questions might be approached. While these all might seem simple and predictable and straightforward it never hurts to consider your repsonse to each one before throwing yourself out there. We assume the answers to the obvious will come easy but if you have a smart and/or witty reply tucked away in your mind it will leave room free for adlibbing on the questions you never saw coming like what does your husband earn (and I have actually had this question from a seven year old - you have been warned). It probably pays to also spend a bit of time thinking of answers to questions like favourite food, colour, animal, and place to write. The more organised you are, the cleverer you will appear!

Friday, October 10, 2008

I have been reviewed...

Was vair excited to hear my book The Were-Nana reviewed by John McIntyre on Radio New Zealand on Friday October 10. It is here :-)

It is specially exciting because he figured my eastern european background and saw the influence of the fairytales I grew up on. I had a steady diet of Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen as a child - an amazing collection of stories that captured the darkness and light of human nature and really fired up my imagination. I also got a buzz out of hearing that the famous singing sisters, Helen and Margaret Medlyn, interviewed before the book review session liked the book too. Yay!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Our reading makes us world savvy...

I has been reading lots over the past few days. Day before yesterday I finished The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. What a haunting story. And such a devastating conclusion. It is a simple tale that lays out the horrors of a terrible time in our history and is an excellent way to keep knowledge of these injustices alive and understandable for future generations - we should never forget.

Yesterday I needed to read something completely different (and was grateful that perhaps the way history played out enabled me to). I consumed, in a day, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn. Cool read. Now I wanna see the movie. Nick and Norah's contains a lot of geographical, cultural and product references specific to the US. Only one product had me confused but it didn't hold my enjoyment or understanding of the story back. I wish NZ books travelled to the US like their books travel here. Are kiwis more world savvy or has our wide reading about different cultures over the years made us so. One of the benefits of reading is escaping to and learning about new places, cultures and people. I could never be a teenage jewish New Jersey girl having one crazy night in Manhatten but now i know how it might feel. How cool would it be if some new jersey youngster caught a glimpse of how kids live here. I do wonder why our books don't travel and theirs do?

This morning I'm on to Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. I hardly ever read non-fiction except the newspapers which stretch that definition somewhat at times. Its compelling so far but its a fat book and I am not sure I have the reading stamina for the whole thing. Especially since school holidays are nearly over and I will have peace and quiet, the house and the computer to myself again come monday to get back in to my writing. I can't complain too much tho'. I have been enjoying the books, and all the movies I have been to with my children. I have seen at least one movie alone with each of them which is extra nice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Do we need more awards...?

Still have dribbly horrible cold, brain still MIA, children still off school on holiday. I have sent my inner writer away to sulk in a closet somewhere. Justine Larbalestier asked if book awards influence people's reading. I wondered this too after a friend said yesterday that there should be more awards for children's writers in New Zealand. I think there should be more attention paid to children's writers in New Zealand but I don't know if there should be more awards. Commenters told Justine that yes they were influenced by short lists and winners and others told her that no they weren't. One commenter said, some brilliant books don't win anything and some rubbish does. As with any judgement of a book, it comes down to opinion.

In New Zealand the awards we do have for children's literature don't make a huge media splash. The books shortlisted may enjoy greater sales but sadly I don't think these are always vast quantities. I worry that adding more awards would only dilute the effect of each individual award. The current awards don't garner enough attention. Maybe in the short term we should be working to increase the public awareness and interest in those awards already available. Doing this may generate enough positive spin-off to benefit all children's writers. What do you think?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Gotta get a website...

Maria Gill, head of children's writers organisation Kiwiwrite4kidz has just started up a blog, discussing and promoting children's books by New Zealand authors. . This blog is still being set up but is definitely worth keeping an eye on.

I read a very interesting post this morning by author Maureen Crisp at , her third post on marketing one's books using the internet. This one deals with websites and talks about knowing your audience (in our case children) and making the site a mix of information and interactive fun. I got a bit of a fright when she said this,

In the states publishing contracts for children’s authors are beginning to state that providing extra content on websites is part of the book contract.

Yikes. I would love to have my own website but confess I am put off by the cost and the expectations involved. If publishers require it, do they contribute to the cost? When I was growing up, books were all about reading and the interactive part happened inside my readers brain. But times have changed and my brain, raised on reading as reading only is not sure how to turn this round to become interactive fun on the net. I think I'm going to have to get past my ignorance and fear and get on with it though because this is an incredibly beneficial marketing tool I can't ignore. I am a member of the Australasian chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and apparently publishers regularly check out their website ( ). I believe an overseas publishing deal was offered for a book noticed on the site. My books are named on the site but i need my own website to provide further info on me and my books to take full advantage of this. I had a bit of a squiz at one author's website listed on the SCBWI site for author Deb Abela which blew my socks off - kids must love this - If only I'd trained one of my children up to be an IT whizz!