Sunday, December 29, 2013

Muse on leave...

So, enough with the pictures of the kids. And sorry I have been AWOL. I have been busy with family pre-Christmas (some significant illness, and significant life changes for my parents) and then there was Christmas when food preparation went into overdrive, consumption into hyperdrive, and digestion into warp drive. And then it was my birthday. I would like to announce that I am a year older than I was last year. And in the last few days I have just been lazy...

In 2012 I was wondering (quietly to myself) if my picture book writing days were over. I hadn't had a decent new idea for what seemed like an age. After all, my latest picture book While You Are Sleeping was penned several years ago. I was experiencing a pb drought. Picture books for me are all in the idea. The writing up of the idea is obviously also an important part of the whole but the idea is what gathers the words to it and hopefully sells it to a publisher and encourages readers to pick it up. When you are working with less than 1000 words, the central idea, the conceit, must be a goody. With a focus on novels for a few years I thought my picture book muse had packed up and jumped ship. It wasn't the end of the world. I was still writing. But I wasn't thrilled about it either. I love writing picture books. I love sharing them. And having my name on the front of them is pure happiness.

Well, wherever my muse had sloped off to - she sloped back in 2013. Just a couple of quick visits. But crikey she must have been off planet, or hitting up some exotic substances or something because she dropped off some very exciting fresh new ideas. I just left the door open for her to return. She comes and goes as she pleases and really, I wouldn't like to tell her how to do her job. I wouldn't make her stay against her will. A caged muse tends to produce only cliches. I just let her know I care and tell her she's always welcome no matter where she's been or what she's been up to. Never appear desperate because they can smell desperation a mile off and it is not an attractive scent. Don't go searching for ideas from other muses - then it just looks like you are copying someone else's ideas. Just keep busy and maintain an air of confidence and belief. If you trust they will return, they invariably do. And I wrote two new picture book stories.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My favourite things

Art Explained

We argue about art. What is it? How do you know? When is it beautiful?

Art is how we react. That is why our children are works of art

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Getting your marrow spoon ready for 2014...

It is that shiny, tinselly, reflective time of year when I look back over the preceding 11 and a half months and go, 'What the...'. It would be no exaggeration to say that this year has had more than its fair share of the unexpected. Most of the surprises have been happy ones but there have been a few shocks, frustrations and disappointments as well. Whether good or bad, it has been full on and I must say I feel ready for a bit of a lie down over the summer break. Although I won't be lying down too long as I am doing a talk on junior fiction to some Writing for Children university students in early January and giving some writing workshops at Selwyn College in the second half of January (more on that later in this post) and I have some workshop/talk notes to finesse. Oh, and I am one of the authors exhibiting 'What Lies Beneath' my most recent book in an Exhibition we are putting on at the National Library in Parnell beginning in January. Oh....

So 2013, I have embraced you and sucked the marrow out of you. However I feel like I am still digesting you. I don't know what to think about half the things that have transpired. I am hoping to have a handle on it all by mid 2014. If only things would slow down a little and give me time to catch up....

So my philosophical brain twirlings that have emerged from 2013....

- Don't put stuff off until a better time comes along. The time is now! Enrol, submit, apply, enter, participate! Just do it. Everything, especially in the world of publishing (whether trad or self) takes time. If you start now you will be ready by the time things are actually happening.
- the internet is designed to overwhelm you and suck you in. When I was a kid (bleat) I got a weekly magazine for girls and I could pull out the poster of my favourite boy band (I could tell you who they were but then I'd have to kill you - lets just say tartan was involved) and stick it on my wall. Now I can keep a 24 hour watch on my current obsession, and have a pseudo conversation via twitter when I am not googling their next project. No it isn't healthy. The internet is like a best friend that is a cross between the Bitch in Apartment 23 and Single White Female. Use it, but don't let it use you.
- Say yes to everything, but lock yourself away from time to time so no one can ask you to do something.
- Each year make sure you take on at least one thing you didn't think you could do. This year I wrote a story in rhyme. Next year I am moving to Dunedin for six months. Sucking the marrow folks.
- I have seen a lot of phoenix's rising out of some very deep ashes this year. I have been dead impressed listening to folk talk about the nuts and bolts of the publishing process and discussing the cost effectiveness of taking a particular route with printing, etc.... They've taught themselves how it all works and how to make things happen. The tools are out there. People are sharing information. You know the saying - when you are given lemons...
-doing the step before does not always prepare you for the step that comes next, both in terms of writing and all the associated stuff that goes with it. Bit like raising children really. Just when you've sussed the baby stage, they become a toddler. And when you've finally learned how to wrangle the toddler they morph into a pre-schooler. Each time you begin again figuring out the demands of the age stage and the strategies for growing them successfully to the next. At no point do you arrive at the resting-on-your-laurels stage. That is a myth created by advertising companies
- I have come to the conclusion I want to be a champion for NZ Children's literature. It deserves more attention than it gets

It's good to take stock of the year that's been. It's good to set some goals for the year ahead. Sometimes this can be a little like setting New Year's resolutions which I don't think I ever manage to keep, but organising your thoughts into groups of things you would like to do at least clarifies where you see yourself heading and can help you identify what you might need to do to get there. Want to submit something for the Tom Fitzgibbon or Joy Cowley Awards? They close October 31st so aim to polish that manuscript well in advance. Want to go to Storyline's Margaret Mahy Day (end of March, beginning of April) or Family Day (August 31st in Auckland) then pencil these in to your calendar now. If you want to take Massey's Writing for Children paper (Albany Campus) you will need to enrol for the 2014/2015 summer semester. And if you fancy taking any of the writing or publishing courses at Selwyn College in January you can check out the info here.

Go make plans - be bold and pick something fabulous to do that scares you - and get your marrow spoon ready for 2014

Friday, December 13, 2013

Crabby with a side of frustrated...

In response to the University of Kent's woeful attitude toward children's literature and sadly a few other disparaging and dismissive comments on the subject, and the recent dismissal of the experienced and well regarded children's book reviewer, Amanda Craig, at the Times in the UK, Keren David posted about the persistent problem at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. And then there was this on Nicola Morgan's blog. The Times wasn't interested in the letter regarding Miss Craig with over 420 signatories (many of them award winning children's authors and illustrators).

I don't expect all the grown up writers to know all about children's literature as well as adult literature (although it is possible to keep up with what's happening in both areas, I certainly give it a go). However it does seem very rude when sweeping generalisations are made about such a wide range of literature without actually cracking the spine on any examples, yet somehow the commentators are still qualified to talk as if knowledgeable on the subject. And if they are widely read in children's books are they saying that the adult experience is always going to be a better topic? Or that emotional, spiritual or any kind of personal or social growth or change is more worthy if experienced by an adult?  The comment  'JK Rowling is now trying to write proper books for grown-ups...' unfortunately does seem to be a common attitude held by many readers/writers/studiers of adult literature towards the creators of literature for children. Should I accept this idea that my books aren't 'proper' books? Or that writing a book for children does not require any effort or sophisticated thinking? That I am taking it 'easy'?Or that my effort is worth less? Or I am a lesser kind of adult? Why so defensive? Maybe it's the constant belittling. Or the bewildered reaction that appears when it is suggested that writing for children is also literature. I am so disappointed that writers would do this to other writers. I am disappointed that this kind of thoughtless dismissiveness is delivered so easily. There are wonderful supportive and encouraging exceptions but sadly I think they prove the rule. I would apologise that I appear disrespectful towards writers of, or academics in, adult literature but I've been wading through so much blithe disrespect recently some of it has tried to cling to me. I am shaking it off. It really stinks.  


Friday, December 6, 2013

Genre doesn't determine quality...

Some people genuinely believe that children's literature can never qualify as good literature. I feel bad for them. Kent University thought it was okay to say this 

teachers at the Centre for Creative Writing "love great literature and don't see any reason why our students should not aspire to produce it … We love writing that is full of ideas, but that is also playful, funny and affecting. You won't write mass-market thrillers or children's fiction on our programmes." 

I think they were truly surprised that other folk didn't agree with them and brushed off the complaints about their position on children's literature with a few jokes. Eventually they apologised but I couldn't help feeling they weren't entirely sure what had just happened. A book for children is simple to write and simple to read. Move along. Nothing to see here people.

And folk commenting on the article didn't get it either 
- lol at all the butthurt Dan Brown and Harry Potter readers on CiF crying because someone pointed out they are reading childish unchallenging books said letusberealistic.

I don't think letusberealistic (or Kent University) is reading children's books properly, or the right ones. But Frip's comment 

A lot of people read for pleasure - not to be challenged. I am one of them. My work is challenging - I want entertainment when I read. Why does a book have to challenge you? 

which appears to be an attempt to support children's books is not much better. Many children's books from YA novels to picture books contain big ideas. Complex themes and issues are put forward in a highly distilled format (no mean feat) that explores, explains and enlightens sometimes in less than 1000 words. Sometimes in less than 500 words. In a way that a very young mind can take it on board and move forward toward adulthood with that knowledge understood and absorbed. These books are challenging and entertaining. Plenty of adult books cannot do both. 

I'm not going to dispute that there are some rubbish children's books out there with little thought or effort put in to them. With cliched, tired or empty themes or stories that revolve around a one note joke. But there are many children's books that easily qualify as good writing. Surely good writing or a good book is not determined by it's genre. My biggest surprise is that adult fans of adult literature believe they never read a good book until they read an adult book. Maybe they had difficult childhoods that they would rather block out or deny. How easily they forget that it is probably only good children's books that got them through those challenging years.