Monday, February 28, 2011

The House That Went to Sea...

My baby is nearly done. Last year I blogged about this story here - one of my favourite stories that was looking for a loving home. And then in a whirlwind I sent it out, it was accepted by Duck Creek Press and it has now been turned into a book with fabulous illustrations by Gabriella Klepatski. It will be available in shops in June. It is in hardback. I am very proud and excited.
The House That Went to Sea follows the story of an introverted young boy sent to stay with his Grandmother while his adventurous parents study monkeys in the rainforest. Anything is possible when Granny Gale takes up the anchor...there are mermaids, pirates and a shark in this story, and a lot of seagulls...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

When people are built of 100% awesome

Still thinking of Christchurch so much. So many people have lost loved ones and so many things we take for granted, so many of the basic elements of our daily lives like electricity and running water and flushing toilets and phones have been taken away. It is a struggle and I watch in awe at the people who have stepped up and done whatever needs to be done: who have reached in and rescued people, who have shared what they have with people in need, who have offered comfort and the best of humanity to help their fellow man. I am proud to be a kiwi.

I am also proud to be my parents' daughter. I am writing a novel based on my father's experiences as a young teen in the Second World War. When Germany invaded Poland, they divided up the country with the Soviet Union. Many Polish families became prisoners of war in Russian labour camps including my father's and my mother's families. My maternal grandfather died in the fighting in Ancona. My paternal grandmother died of a treatable illness. Some of my parent's siblings died as a result of the war. After the hardships they endured my parents met and married in England and came out to New Zealand in the 1950's. It must have seemed like paradise, filled with peace, progress and prosperity, after the horrors of Europe in WW2. Knowing their story makes me realise how resilient and remarkable people are.

There have been times when I have despaired for the human race when they have seemed intent on a path of self destruction or when the petty cruel behaviour of some individuals beggars belief, but then there are times like these when people are built of 100% awesome. Thank you to all those people from round the world who have sent their love, who have donated money or who have come to New Zealand to help rescue Christchurch, to help strangers because thats what good people do.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tomorrow is uncertain...embrace today

Mother Earth tried to crush the beautiful New Zealand city of Christchurch in her devastating embrace on Tuesday. A shallow 6.3 earthquake broke Christchurch at 12.51pm and it is heartbreaking now to watch the ensuing tragedy unfold. The city lies in ruins and many innocent folk have lost their lives. It is hard to know what to do or say. Facebook has been a godsend in providing information on the safety of friends. I have been trying to donate to the Red Cross ( ) and suspect that I cannot get through to do so because there are so many other people trying to do the same which is a good thing. People want to help. I am wandering around thinking 'what can I do'? My heart feels heavy all the time. There is no rhyme or reason to this, just 'what is' and at times like this I am conscious of how small and insignificant humans are in the grand scheme of things. I have joined the NZSA's fundraising effort and will read from my books at one of the Auckland Libraries on 25th March. And I am going to embrace my SO and my kids and my life and enjoy the good things that I have because tomorrow is uncertain.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Gandalf would know what to say...

So Whitcoulls and Borders in NZ have gone into voluntary administration. I wailed and gnashed my teeth when I first heard the news. It had an inevitability about it all so I wasn't terribly surprised but my first reaction was 'this can't be good for authors'. Of course it can't be good for their staff or for local publishers either. With 60+ shops this represents a lot of people who might be without jobs if they can't trade out of the hole they are in. And local publishers rely on income from the big bookshops (although I imagine its been none too reliable over the last year or two). If publishers rely on them and we rely on publishers you can see how this all might be a problem for folk like me. I am more philosophical about it all today. Gnashing my teeth will only result in gnashed teeth - probably not a good look in the long term. The bottom line is this has happened and feeling glum about it helps no one. I can't help wishing however that my writing career wasn't happening (or trying to happen) in these tumultuous times. Why do there have to be such upheavals in the publishing and bookselling industries when I am trying to make my way in them. I guess Gandalf might have something sage to say about this but for the moment I am listening to this talk by Margaret Atwood (via agent Rachelle Gardner's blog) and thinking she makes great points but are the people who might make a difference listening? I shall continue to do what I think I do best (besides making chocolate cakes) and wait and see what happens next.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Googled yourself lately?...

If you are a regular, dear reader, you may know I do enjoy googling myself. As I have come to realize over time, it can be the best way to discover news about yourself. Yesterday I fell over the interesting snippet that my picture book The Were-Nana can now be found in the Boston University Library. Of course this is not ground-breaking, wallet stuffing news but it warmed my heart none the less. To paraphrase an old beer commercial, "they're reading my book over there." Googling oneself is also a reminder of how the world is seeing you. This is the information that Joe Public, googling your name, will stumble across. It is always good to keep this in mind when wittering into the ether. I think its good to have a presence on the internet and good to keep an eye on it.

And as you pound the (metaphorical) pavements in the marathon of getting and staying published here are some juicy links to bandaid those blisters and joggers chafe with... One from Crabbit Old Bat Nicola Morgan on the question of whether Editors ever make 'mistakes' and the other from children's lit agent Jennifer Laughran on why it can take so long for a book to come out. All her points are fair ones. The book publishing process is not a simple one and its helpful to have an insight into the contributing factors that can delay a book. Of course on the other side of the coin is the fact that when they really want to, a publisher can shorten this time considerably. But in the end the bottom line is that they publish it. If the reasons are good ones I for one, don't mind waiting.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

All these feelings are exhausting

I think writers may well be a psychiatrist's dream. Being an emotional sort probably helps me write. They're all there, the full array of emotions; available to explore for a scene and experienced personally to enable credibility. I get envious about other writer's successes and feel guilty about my own in turn. I have had some very good things happen. I am published. I have had some rubbish things happen that haven't happened to other published writers I know. I get down when my writing isn't going well or I get rejected. I get down when I look at my writing income. I get uptight when adult writers behave as if writing for children is something that requires little or no skill (yes Martin Amis I'm looking at you). I get uptight when people in positions of authority suggest the arts are not important and/or are frivolous (yes Paula Bennett I'm looking at you). I get deliriously happy when I get a yes or someone compliments my writing. I get nervous before a workshop or school visit. And the frustrations....lets just not go there. So if you are anything like me you will be grateful for strategies to help you overcome the less pleasant emotions that plague you. Chocolate does indeed help you recover from an attack by the dementors. I eat a lot of chocolate. If I get bad news I let myself be mad and sad about it but I try and work through these quickly. The envy is tricky because in addition to being jealous I get annoyed with myself for being jealous. The Rejectionist has excellent advice (and a seriously entertaining read) on dealing with writer envy here. You need to do whatever it is that keeps you sane in the insanity of the world in general and the writing world in particular. And I have to remember I wouldn't have so many ups and downs if I wasn't putting myself out there so much. You take risks? Sometimes they won't pay off. I try not to stay and dwell on it. I keep trying to move forward.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Well developed tenterhook muscles...

T'was very exciting to see the final pictures for my next picture book on Monday. I don't know what anyone else will think but I am satisfied. They have humour and energy and subtlety. They capture my story. And the good news is the book will be published in June. This is not far away. I popped this manuscript in the post to the publisher on September 28th last year. I have a picture book manuscript that has been under consideration with another publisher since the beginning of last year that I am still awaiting a response on. And if you take from this that no two publishers operate the same (and you would be correct in this) remember to add on that the same publisher may behave differently for different manuscripts. Maybe the best advice for prospective writers is 'expect the unexpected.' Writers are permanently on tenterhooks which is why our tenterhook muscles are so well developed.

And further to my musing on the question of whether being an author from the Antipodes makes any difference to being published outside of Australasia (still unanswered but I'm tending towards 'maybe it does') I now offer a new thought. Getting published offshore has been the Holy Grail for me for many years. That way lies greatness? riches? fame and fortune? Well...the comment from Book Brainz about the comparatively high quality of picture books in New Zealand made me wonder if that Holy Grail is a bit like a dragon - mythical and ethereal. Evidence would suggest that the sheer size of populations overseas makes print runs and therefore advances and subsequent potential income greater. But evidence also shows the difficulties of getting published, of staying published and of avoiding being remaindered are no different in other places. In a larger population where many more authors are being published annually how much harder is it to get noticed and build a name for yourself. I would still like to be published overseas. But the books I have had published here have been beautifully produced and the illustrations wonderful and at least some part of the writing and reading community know my name. I like it here. Why is 'overseas' automatically perceived as 'better'? I have to remember that yes they do have grass over there too but that doesn't mean its greener.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Libraries change lives

Drum roll please..................its post number 400!!!!!!! Jeepers, I can talk a lot.

When I first started out as a writer I thought it was all very simple. You write a story that's good enough, the publishers say yes, it is turned into a book and people buy it. Rinse and repeat. I have since learned that it doesn't work like that at all. You can write a story that is good enough but that's as far as you get. You can write a story that is good enough and the publishers say yes but that's as far as you get. You can write a story thats good enough, the publishers say yes and it is turned into a book but thats as far as you get. You can rinse as much as you like but never get to repeat the process. And at every point there can be many more steps in the process but not necessarily. If your head does not explode you are doing very well. It is much more complex and tricky than I could have imagined but I am determined to be as knowledgeable as I can be and I devote a considerable amount of time to learning about it.

As a writer it is useful to know how your income can be supplemented. Not too many writers can live on royalties alone. Many writers do school visits, run workshops, and provide assessment or editing services. And we breathe a sigh of relief when the Public Lending Right cheque turns up just before Christmas. I have often thought it unfair that School Libraries are not included with Public Libraries in the PLR, especially if you are a children's author and I mentioned this in my last post. After all, if the PLR makes up for books that are not sold as the result of folk being able to borrow them from the library, should this not be true of all libraries. Well folks, as with everything else to do with writing, it is just not that simple. I had this fabulous comment posted by a school librarian in response to my last post:

Of course you knew you were going to get at least one response from a School Librarian!
1] Those purchases are sales, sales are good. There would probably be fewer sales in NZ if it weren't for school libraries as most school librarians that I know consider it very important to support local authors in order to present the students with a representation of their world.

In quite a few cases [not particularly with yours as yours are not 'noticeably' NZ books], these books are bought because of the local content - not just because the writing and production value is as good as most of the books they buy from outside of NZ.
However the feedback we get is that generally NZ books are attractive with way better art work [than seen in the US for example] and we generally feel that a high majority of NZ authors are definitely worth buying. What we are often faced with is paperback books which fall apart quickly and books which go out of print /supply rather faster than they should.

2] School libraries are funded from parents' fundraising efforts, not by the MInistry of Education, rates or taxes and are not covered by the relevant government Act. There is no official body which could demand school librarians to send in a print out of their lendings each year/quarter. It is an interesting complication not easily solved. The only thing I can suggest is to balance a lending fee loss with getting paid to give readings, visits and writing classes - something NZ children's authors used to do for free in the bad old days.
We do know it takes months and years to produce each book and there is a lot of awareness that children's authors have a hard time making a living just from writing. We are also faced with the gamble of buying as many different books as we can for many different age, taste and ability levels and hoping that those books will be read more than a few times. Our budgets are mostly very constricted, so I wonder what would happen if we were paying lending royalties as well?

I am a huge fan of libraries, both public and school. I think I lived in the school library throughout the days of my school life and was often a librarian. I got my borrowing card from the Public library system at about 8 or 9 and still use the service regularly now. Libraries rock and I have been watching the situation with public libraries in the UK with a lump in my throat. Libraries change lives.

I have been so grateful to receive my pre-christmas cheque I have never stopped to wonder how it is funded apart from wishing the pie from which we are paid was a tad bigger. Although more authors and titles are regularly added the pie stays the same size. Do libraries pay a fee to cover the PLR like companies pay an ACC levy? I am gobsmacked that School Libraries are not funded from Ministry of Education money. Isn't reading and its encouragement a fundamental part of every child's education? Of course the other side of the coin is how many book sales do I actually lose from children borrowing my books. Another librarian commenter on another blog said that research has shown book borrowers also buy the most books. The study I referenced in my last blog post also showed that people buy books by authors they know. I need readers to get to know me through library borrowings of my books. So as you can see its a completely different can of worms to the one I thought I opened.

I guess the bottom line (for me anyway) is I want my titles in libraries, both Public and School. The bottom line is I want my stories to reach children. More money would be nice but I write so I can share my stories with the people I write them for. And librarians help me make that connection. And the good news is my next picture book will be in hardback so if libraries buy it it should last a bit longer :)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fortune favours the bold.

I am a writer because I do not like talking on the phone. I can be funny sometimes when I talk, and smart. But I am generally neither of these things on the phone. I can give a talk or deliver a workshop because I have prepared my material and the topics are not only familiar to me but are ingrained like a tattoo. But anything is possible on the phone. You have no idea what the other person is going to say and long pauses while you try and come up with something smart and/or funny to say back are awkward. Pauses during talks or workshops are okay. This is when folk put up their hands and taking the question(s) fills the pause nicely and gives you a chance to collect your thoughts as you consider their question and recall the next part of your talk. But not on the phone. Some people do not mind the phone. I am not one of them. Let me text any day. Or e-mail. I am made for e-mailing. I can take as long as I like to hone my prose, or not, if the mood takes me. The bottom line is, I control when I hit send. But I swallowed my fears and used the phone yesterday to successfully ask somebody important an important question. It makes me laugh that I can talk to a room full of people but can't pick up the phone to call a stranger. I am so glad I braved my phone allergy and as I am coming to realise more and more as I go along in life, I am extra glad I asked. I have had a lot of good results as a result of asking over the last year. There will definitely be more asking in my future. Fortune favours the bold.

I spotted this (the results of a study into children's book consumers) today on Graham Beattie's blog and I am sure I have already seen it somewhere in the ether over the last few days (over at the fabulous Maureen Crisp's blog!). It is a fascinating and at times surprising read and brings up so many questions and issues around the children's book industry. It is heartening to see that children still read and value books above other sources of amusement. It is interesting to note that physical books are still the medium of choice. It is great that most children get their books from school libraries but there is a downside. I am thrilled to have my books in many school libraries but know that this potentially means less retail sales of my titles. School libraries are not included in the Public lending Right here in New Zealand and as a children's author I am therefore disadvantaged. Understandably adding school libraries to the calculations would be problematic for many other authors unless the size of the PLR pie increased substantially. There is no easy fix to this but seeing the statistics made me realise how much this affects me.

And I found the statistics on book choice equally illuminating. Subsequent books in series rank high in sales as do those by recognized authors. Series or sequels can be challenging to write well but still seem strong sellers. And building one's name and length of career is crucial. And encouraging booksellers to face books cover out makes a difference, as does a great cover. I shall be keeping these points in mind as I move forward.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Drinks Monitor...

Someone who knows me very well bought me the coolest badge as a belated birthday present (she also got me book vouchers - I am a little bit in heaven right now). I will be wearing this at every opportunity. I am hoping to work my way up to the badge that says 'Head Girl' :)

I have a month left to finish the WIP. It is a short month. That seems unfair. It has been a tight time frame and I have discovered the pitfalls of having a deadline hanging over you. They are not as appealing as they look from the other side. It is a good experience however and I don't regret it. It hasn't killed me and I am probably stronger.

Last week I received an e-mail with some of the final artwork for my next picture book The House That Went To Sea, due out mid year. I love the pictures. I think the artist's style suits the tone of the story beautifully. I am so looking forward to holding the finished product in my hands. As soon as the cover is sorted I will post up a picture. I also received my copy of Pick 'n' Mix: Volume 2 last week (see above) with a story of mine in it (The Monster Under My Bed). There are lots of other great stories inside by people like Kyle Mewburn, Lorraine Orman and David Hill. Just like its mate, Volume 1, it looks fab. It is available now.

And here for your perusal, because we all need a good laugh, is a juicy link courtesy of Janet Reid. Bless her for ferreting out these gems. I laughed MHO.