Thursday, December 31, 2009

A new year is inevitable...

Happy new year folks! Happy new decade! As resolutions tend to have an air of failure about them I'm not going to make any, but I do have some plans. I'll probably sign up for another year of university study - only one paper and although last year's required a lot of reading and even more time on assignments, its ensures that some of my time will not be spent just navel-gazing. I wish it wasn't so expensive but as I get to do it in the comfort of my own home I shouldn't complain too much.

I'm determined to finish some of my bigger writing projects and start on something new. I also plan on more submissions. Some will be in NZ but I'm keen to try some overseas options as well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I'm also tossing up whether to attend the SCBWI conference in Australia in September. At this point its hard to assess how beneficial such a trip might be so I can't tell whether the cost is justified. I think my initial overseas submissions will be to Australian publishers and agents then, so I get a feel for what the possibilities are and whether its worth a visit. Its hard to keep my enjoyment of travel out of the equation.

What 2009 taught me is how the unexpected can rule your life. I was lucky to have lots of opportunities to visit schools and give talks as a result of winning the Children's Choice Award. Even though I know there probably won't be so much of that this year, I hope I still get the chance to meet the readers and talk about writing from time to time and I have a proactive plan in place to try and make that happen.

Hope your 2010 is a good one. I'm off to create some 'firsts' for this new year, this new decade.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

what a coincidence...

Hello to new blog followers - I feel very honoured that you've signed up. I shall do my best to keep it interesting.

As its holiday time we've been checking out a few movies at the cinema and I've been ploughing through a few books. Saw Sherlock Holmes on Boxing Day which I enjoyed and yes that enjoyment probably does owe something to the presence of Robert Downey Jnr (who I've been a fan of ever since the Pick-Up Artist) and Jude Law (who really can act but loses a few brownie points cos he's back with Sienna Miller). I loved the period background detail as well. The story was so-so but it had enough humour and credibly freshened up the whole Sherlock Holmes canon. Today we went to Avatar. Had my socks knocked off by this movie. Sure it had a few stereotypes, the story was a tad unsubtle with a brick like message and a number of plot elements were predictable but James Cameron just made the most of the medium and it was near three hours of cinematic bliss. Totally love that Weta Workshop contributed to the visual feast. My SO, who rarely rates movies much at all, thoroughly enjoyed Avatar

With books, I've just finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and while its not without issues including a plot error (these always bug me) I can see the appeal and it was a ripping yarn. Best of all are the two central characters who are well drawn and demand we care about them. I think characters like this are what keep readers coming back and can make up for writery sins otherwise committed (if Mr Larsson's book sales are anything to go by). I'm now more than half way through Val McDermid's Fever in the Bone. I like the writing (apart from a little bit of repitition) but again its the two central characters which are keeping me reading as I've already figured out the plot. Of most interest is one of the central character's musings on the significance of coincidence. Ms McDermid's character eschews any meaning at all in coincidence (although his beliefs are being challenged in the book). But this argument (and the fact it is even in the book) freaks me out a little, as a word in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that I have never ever come across before, turned up in the dedication of Fever of the Bone. How weird is that. The word is Gallimaufry - go check it out and add it to your lexicon. Coincidences probably are no more than just coincidences but it sure doesn't feel that way. What do you think?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I predict 2010 will be a pantser...

I have spent very large, long chunks of time over the last fortnight not thinking about writing/editing/publishing. My brain feels very rested and uncluttered. But I could never forgo all of that work-related stuff completely. I wouldn't be me if I did (yes yes slightly obsessive and crazy - I admit it). So since my return home, even though it has been a time of birthday and christmas, I have trawled a few of my favourite writery/editory/publishy blogs and found this post from Editorial Anonymous in particular most interesting and more than a little disturbing. It has come to that time of year where thoughts of next year are unavoidable. Based on this years events (of which 99%, whether good or bad, were totally unexpected), my view of EA's post and how my book sales compare, and a few other bits and pieces thrown in for good measure I have no idea what to think or expect of 2010. This is unsettling. I am not ready for 2010 - it is going to be a big fat pantser! In the meantime here is a photo of me and my family taken on boxing day.
(Update - I just came across this on Kristin Nelson's blog here -
Dreamstate asked:What to do about those dreaded "Didn't love it enough" rejections? Should the writer response be persistence, querying with the belief that someone will love it enough. Or after 3 or 4 such responses, should the writer be looking at revising, albeit in the absence of any guidance from said rejections? I would be so grateful for any words of wisdom from you!Only 3 or 4 responses! Surely you jest. I wouldn’t worry until you’ve gotten at least 20 rejections on your sample pages. When you’ve hit that, then you might want to think about revising, working with your critique group, making it stronger, and following any feedback you might be receiving. Once that is done, go out full bore with it again. If you are still getting 20 to 30 “didn’t love it enough,” then you might revise again or keep trying. I wouldn’t be giving up on those sample pages until you have 200+ rejections.
and feel strangely uplifted by it. Even though it feels like I've been hacking away at it forever, I haven't really shaved much ice off the iceberg yet. Maybe I need to check out what's under the waterline in 2010).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Have a very merry christmas and a cool yule...

Arrived back from hot Oz at 12.05am Christmas Eve after a 10 day holiday with the family. It was a blast and the best christmas present I could have had. We spent time in Surfers, shopping and theme parking at Movie World and Wet n' Wild (the Tornado is the best ride ever - this is the one that looks like a giant funnel and is loads of fun), the only down sides at Wet n'Wild being the sole searing pavement and queues which are inevitable in good weather. We hopped down to Byron Bay in NSW for a day trip but it was windy and my eldest got stung by a nasty old jellyfish, the discomfort of which I would not wish on anyone (except maybe fictional enemies). After Surfers we trundled up to the Sunshine Coast where we've never been before, to stay at a restful resorty place at Twin Waters. The main feature was a huge salt water lagoon with free-to-use kayaks and hobie cats which we made full use of. Watching dry bobs (as opposed to wet bobs - heh) try to sail was excellent entertainment. The North Shore Beach adjacent to the resort was stunning and made up for our Byron Bay experience. I got trashed by the huge waves and had a Tara Reid moment much to my family's amusement and they will be dining out on the tale for some time. Giving the whole pre-christmas stress/panic/intensity at home a miss was a very good idea and I thoroughly recommend it, although I did have to cook up my famous truffle mixture at 2am on the 24th so it would have time to set before rolling and dipping in chocolate before the big Szymanik Family Christmas which we traditionally celebrate on the afternoon/evening of Christmas Eve. Feeling a little sleep deprived now but so far Christmas day has been very cruisy. The 6 egg pav is crisping up beautifully in the oven as I type and then I will be getting back to reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo which so far lives up to its reputation. And I'm off to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie at Gold Class tomorrow for my birthday - squeeee.
I wrote maybe 50 words at most on my YA while I was away. And I have to say right now I am very happy to be having a break from work.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sorry about all the commas (leave them alone in the dark for two seconds and this is what happens)

I'm having a blogholiday (gulp - I miss you already). To keep you entertained while I rest, here is the first chapter of the thing I have been twiddling with most recently. Some of you may recognize it. I have slaved away at this before, but, by golly, I think this time I may have finished the thing (except, of course, for a stern round of editing):-

Chapter One
“I don’t like you Vanessa. You’re a pain in the…in the…somewhere painful!” It was the worst thing Sally could think of to say and she could tell it wasn’t very bad. Rats.
“Oh Sally,” Vanessa teased, her full lips curving up nastily as she towered over Sally. “I’m so frightened.” And she rolled her eyes and laughed a great Ha, ha. “Hand it over then.”
Sally sighed. She pulled a small tightly pinned hanky from inside the pocket of her school smock. Slowly she unclipped the safety pin that held the four corners of the hanky together. In the centre of the unfurled fabric sat three gold coins; her lunch money. She sighed again as she handed the money to Vanessa. The big girl reached forward with her enormous hand like a baseball mitt and squeezed Sally’s face. “Smile,” she ordered.
“You’re too nice, that’s your problem,” Vanessa said with a grimace which Sally suspected was Vanessa’s attempt at a smile. A smile she felt sure would frighten babies.

All through lunchtime at St Welt’s School for Perfect Young Girls, Sally’s stomach growled with hunger. She was small for her age and missing lunch didn’t help. Everything about her was delicate, from her wispy blond hair and her round, pale blue eyes, to her almost transparent skin. Sally’s best friend Abigail, who was quite Sally’s opposite with a ruddy complexion and masses of brown curly hair, gave her a crunch bar and a packet of raisins out of her lunch box. Knowing what a huge sacrifice this was for the forever hungry Abigail, Sally ate them even though she hated raisins. The gurgling reduced to a small grumble and Sally forgot her hunger long enough to play a lunchtime game with Abigail.
Afternoon lessons were torture. Sally couldn’t keep her mind on her school work. Her tummy groaned constantly and her brain felt tired and out of sorts. An image of Vanessa Blunt eating the hot yummy mince pie that should have been Sally’s swam constantly before her famished eyes.
“Sally Fogg!” shrieked her teacher, Miss Trig, “I cannot have children sighing all over their story writing. It will not do your writing any good. If you must sigh, try diary writing instead. That is how young girls deal with their feelings. They write it all down to an imaginary friend in their diaries and their troubles go away and all that dreadful sighing STOPS!” Miss Trig brought her ruler down on Sally’s desk. WHACK!
“Yes Miss Trig,” Sally said quietly. Before she could stop it another sigh leaked out of her body. Miss Trig remained by Sally’s desk for several minutes squinting menacingly at her.
After Miss Trig had passed on down the row of desks Abigail leaned over the aisle toward her friend.
“Why don’t you tell Miss Trig what happened,” she whispered loudly. “…with Vanessa.”
Sally shook her head. Miss Trig didn’t like them to tell tales on each other. Perfect young girls didn’t tell tales. And anyway Miss Trig did not see Vanessa Blunt the way the other perfect young girl students did. Sure enough when Sally turned around, Vanessa’s large flat round face, like a dinner plate, was beaming up at Miss Trig as the teacher patted her favourite pupil on the top of her wiry head.
“Marvellous work Vanessa. What wonderful descriptions. We must enter this in the school essay competition.”
Sally turned back to her desk. One large hot salty tear fell on the words at the top of the page sitting there. The ink swam to the edge of the drop of water, dissolving the word. Sally ripped the almost full page of writing off her lined pad, screwed it up and began again on the fresh sheet beneath. ‘My father was the captain of a ship,’ she wrote.

As soon as she got home after school Sally rushed for the biscuit jar. Her mother always kept it full to the brim. Sally’s hand hovered over the lid ready to yank it off and dive in. Her stomach twisted with hunger and she felt deranged.
It was her mother’s voice coming from the lounge.
“No biscuits till after homework. You know the rule.” Her mother could hear a chippie packet or lolly wrapper being opened from the other side of the planet.
Sally sighed. Vague Vanessa images danced around inside her head. She couldn’t think straight.
“If you must eat have some celery, or a prune.”
Sally sighed again. There was no choice. She wouldn’t be able to do her homework on an empty stomach.
She was about to open the fridge door and reach in for the prunes when her brother Malcolm walked in the back door. He flung his school bag off his back onto the middle of the kitchen floor.
“What’s wrong with you, nerd features?” he said quickly lifting the lid off the jar and swiping a biscuit in less than a second. As he walked swiftly through the door opposite into the hallway, their mother came in from the lounge.
“Oh Sally,” her mother scolded, looking at the biscuit jar lid sitting on the bench, the space where a biscuit had been obvious at the top of the jar. “I just told you not to take a biscuit. No more food until dinner time for you madam.”
“Aargghhh,” screamed Sally, bursting into tears.

As Sally lay face down on her bed after dinner there came a knock at her door.
“Sally,” came her mother’s voice, “we should talk.”
Perched on the corner of her daughter’s bed, her mother felt Sally’s forehead. “Hmmm,” she said. Sally said nothing. There was nothing to say. She couldn’t tell her mother about Vanessa. She couldn’t tell her mother how she had been bullied by Vanessa yet again. And that today it had involved her lunch money. She’d told her Mother about the bullying before and her mother had spoken to Miss Trig and then Miss Trig had a long talk with Sally afterwards. Miss Trig had not called Sally a liar but she had carefully explained to Sally’s mother how she couldn’t imagine a girl as clever and obedient as Vanessa bullying anybody. Her mother never said ‘she must be jealous of you’ or something equally soothing like other mothers did. After all there was nothing to be jealous of. Sally was small, mousy and not very good at sports or dance or musical things. Sally’s mother had told her daughter to stand firm, and to tell Vanessa to leave her alone and to ignore her. She said she couldn’t understand what Sally was doing wrong. There was no point in saying anything about it. Vanessa would be there at school again tomorrow as mean as ever. Sally would be there for her to torture as always. Nothing would be different. But Sally was wrong. Things were about to change.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Writing is one of my happy places...

I have to say this - put a big smile on my face. If you live in Singapore you can now check out my novel Jack the Viking at a library near you.

I have finished the first draft of my current junior novel. This is also making me smile. I plan to do some editing while I'm away on holiday (this does not conflict with the concept of relaxation - writing is one of my happy places). I have nearly completed my pre-holiday to-do list and my panic levels are becoming more manageable (always present pre-travel). Wish I didn't have a slight temperature and urge to cough.

Been noticeing a surprising trend amongst writing colleagues recently. Now I know I'm a bit uptight about these things and feel free to wade in with your opinion on this if you disagree, but I think if a publisher/editor/agent expresses an interest in seeing something you have discussed with them you should foward it to them as soon as possible. If you pitched at Spinning Gold and the pitchee said "please send that to me," you should have sent it to them by now. I read alot on the topic of publishing every day and 99 times out of 100 editors/publishers/agents do not express interest in something lightly. They do not give their enthusiasm away for free - generally you should acknowledge that you have earned it and should act accordingly. Strike while their interest is still hot and your name is still fresh with them. Even if the passing of time does not dull their interest, it is time where your manuscript is idle. Because the next step may take a long time, the sooner you get the process started, the sooner your plan for world donimation can progress. If you pitch something incomplete and they ask to see it when finished, this is a little different, and its probably worth asking when they might like it by. But no one can say yes to your work if you don't send it out. As Nike apparently once said (when she was wearing sweatbands and sneakers) - Just Do It!

Monday, December 7, 2009

We live in risk-averse times...

Went to a christmas work do last night with my SO which included a screening of The Time Traveller's Wife. I enjoyed the movie and I cried. I think it successfully captured the essence of the book and managed to convey enough of the complex story although there is no doubt in my mind that the book is the superior beast. Yes we know in the movie that Henry and Clare love each other but the book gives us every reason why. And even though the movie is a summary that cannot fully capture the depth and breadth of the book, it is still a moving and satisfying love story. Rachel Mc Adams and Eric Bana were great.

Love Fifi's velvet Jesus. Go check it out here. Its especially cool that he has a hint of a smile - I like to think he might have smiled sometimes (after all he wasn't an author trying to get published).

Was interested to see on Beattie's Blog this morning that Viking is rejacketing Edward de Bono's backlist and Jeffrey Archer is being paid 18 million pounds for an as-yet unwritten 5 book series. While I might be persuaded by the argument that celebrity books and big name commercial writers might help publishers also publish less commercial propositions, this is a huge amount of money to tie up. How many books by new or mid list authors could be published with 18 million pounds? And who knew that a publisher even had that kind of money? Especially in the current economic climate?? And while I can only dream of having any of my books stay in print long enough to be rejacketed, rejacketing just seems another sign of these risk averse times. My sighs can probably be heard in Invercargill. I promise to try and be more cheerful soon.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The year of the Bean Counter...

Congrats to Kiwiwrite4kidz clanfolk, Maria Gill and Heather Arnold for having their book Rangitoto in the Listener's top 50 children's books of 2009. And congrats to Heather Arnold for her shortlisting in the Storylines Gavin Bishop Illustrators Award. And it is great to see fellow writers Lucy Davey (A Right Royal Christmas), TK Roxborogh (Banquo's Son), Jill Marshall (Doghead) and Victoria M. Azaro (Saffron) listed in the Christmas Book Special in the Weekend Herald's Canvas magazine. Yowza! Exciting and excellent stuff.

Super lovely South island Children's writer and Spinning Gold co-attendee, Jane Bloomfield, has a fab template so you (or any crafty associated small fry) can make your own Lily Max Christmas angel for atop your Christmas Tree, via her blog here. I am particularly jealous of the winged boots and would like a pair of my own.

I have also been checking out brilliant jewellery at Meadowlark and covet the silver fang ring, especially after trying one on yesterday in Little Black Crown in St Kevin's Arcade on K Road, and deciding it enhanced the natural beauty of my hands ten-fold (ha ha). Having spent up very large on myself just last thursday, I know I must be patient before I can shell out for any new jewellery. However I did just get any extremely good result for my University paper so maybe I am deserving although a fang ring may not be the best symbol of academic acheivement. But it does go with the tattoo :)

I feel like it has been the year of the bean counter this year (I don't know whether accountants object to that moniker but I am a writer for children and that's my excuse for using it). When the recession bit, the voice of the bean counter got stronger and I have felt the sharp sting of the bean counter's "no" several times this year. This is akin to running the 100 metre hurdles and crashing on the last hurdle. Rats. In fact, several rats. It is no good winning the editor over if the bean counter is not keen. Not sure what my plan of action will be should next year also be the year of the bean counter, but I am taking suggestions...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

All I want for Christmas is a YES...

Was very pleased with myself yesterday as I developed a fun way to illustrate good characterisation to a group of intermediate students I was doing a creative writing workshop with. So pleased I have written it down and plan to use it everytime. One of the spin off benefits of the NZ Post Book Award has been the need for me to examine the processes I use when I write so I am better able to explain it to others. For a long time I viewed it as an-impossible-to-pin-down form of magic, and while I believe there is still an element of the unexplainable involved, I now have a better grip on the structures, strategies, techniques and basic ingredients used in creative writing. Having said all that, I believe that I am still learning and developing as a writer all the time. And I also believe that some aspects of creative writing are not teachable and no attempt should be made to distill everything down into an easy lesson plan with one size fits all. Then it would not be creative writing and we would not have the wonderful and sometimes innovative range of books that we have available now.

I love all the trappings of Christmas (although I loathe the stress involved): the tinsel, the songs, the traditions, the baby cheeses. But I am feeling that creeping frustration that accompanies the gradual slowing, then shut down, of the publishing industry over the festive/holiday season. Hope that I might hear back on a few things before the 25th. I want a 'yes' for christmas please.

I have become a fully fledged Gleek. I am totally in love with the television series Glee currently on, on Friday nights (TV3, 7.30pm). It's appointment viewing and makes me happy. Which is good because I have been a bit grumpy. Been watching Inkheart on DVD too and its reminded me what a cunning book (by Cornelia Funke) it was. I don't think I gave it enough credit when I originally read it. Will have to go back for another read perhaps and then on to the other books in the series.