Monday, 30 December 2013

I didn’t win, but…

I found out just before Christmas that my manuscript, The Bold Ship Phenomenal, didn’t win the Kobo Prize.

But…thank you to all you lovely people who voted for me. I appreciate it. I was so pleased even to be shortlisted and am now feeling very excited about what I may do with the manuscript in 2014. 

Big congratulations to Fiona Sussman who did win with her novel Sentenced. I will have to buy an e-reader, so I can enjoy her book when it’s published.

I’m feeling very excited in general about 2014. There are lots of wonderful creative projects on the horizon, including a new children’s novel (I finished the first draft a couple of weeks ago), a novel for adults that I’ve been working for years (about bonsai; they’re little trees), which I have also finally finished the first draft of, and an exciting collaboration with my friend, award-winning illustrator Deborah Hinde (this is her current best-seller, 10 Kooky Kiwis , isn't that cover gorgeous!). I can’t wait to get started.

Here’s wishing you a creative and story-filled 2014.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Podcast for Wooden Arms

I’ve just come across the podcast for Wooden Arms on Radio New Zealand’s website. It’s read (fabulously) by Matu Ngaropo, as part of their Storytime Treasure Chest. You can listen to or download it here.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The next step

Voting has closed for the Kobo Prize, so thank you to everyone who voted for me (and to those who didn’t, but were nice enough to read my excerpt). I’ll let you know how I get on.

Regardless of the result, I have decided I want The Bold Ship Phenomenal to see the light of day, and that if Kobo don’t do it, I will do it myself. Part of the reason is that I studied publishing at university, and have always wanted to have go at creating a beautiful book for myself. The other part is that I am very fond of the story, and would like to release it into the world. Either way, the book, or books, need to be as good and as gorgeous as they can be.

There’s a lot to think about and learn, and I’ll keep you posted as I go, in case you decide to do the same yourself (or, like me, just find it interesting).

Fortuitously, I attended an excellent workshop at the weekend with The Storybridge crew (Jocelyn Watkin and James George) on self-publishing and marketing your books online. Their tag line is “We help you to tell your own story in your own way. The Story Bridge team offers a supported pathway to new heights for storytelling and publishing”. It’s very apt and I thoroughly recommend their courses (there are more) for anyone keen to hone their skills or get support for their writing practice.

Certainly I came away from the self-publishing weekend all fired up with ideas and expectations, and armed with great tips for how to create a quality book.

Wish me luck!

Friday, 8 November 2013

Award-winning authors congregate in Waikato

Many thanks to the people at the Waikato Children’s Literature Association who hosted an inspiring seminar on new children’s writing in Hamilton last weekend. We were treated to entertaining talks by Tessa Duder Award winners Rachel Stedman (A Necklace of Soulsand Hugh Brown (Reach), and Ester Glen Award winner Rachael King (Red Rocks).

I always thoroughly enjoy listening to other writers talk, as it inevitably sparks your own creativity and provides insight into the fascinating (for authors) and multifarious process of writing.  I bought all their books (oops: so much for the budget) and will look forward to several good reading sessions over the summer.

I also attended a very good workshop with Alison Robertson, another award-winning children’s writer (Tom Fitzgibbon Award), who gave tips on adding sparkle to your writing; and was treated to a ‘conversation’ with editor Margaret Cahill (previously of Learning Media) who provided a rare perspective on the editor–author relationship from the other side of the desk. The lady in the picture, explaining the nuts and bolts of picture books, is talented illustrator Deborah Hinde of Kooky Kiwi fame.

I find this type of event invaluable, for networking, having a good blather about books and harvesting the tips of the trade. I think the Waikato needs more of them, so if you’re thinking of running one and need a hand, send me an email. I’d love to be involved.

Thankfully the Waikato Children’s Literature Association has several more planned for 2014, including their AGM in February, where I’ll be speaking alongside Hamilton writers Tamara James and Yvonne Milroy. How can I compete with an elf!  

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Voting has started for the Kobo Prize

Voting has started for the Kobo NZ Authors E-Publishing Prize. My children’s novel, The Bold Ship Phenomenal, is one of the five novels shortlisted for the fiction category. Very exciting!

So please go online and vote for me. Here is the link: Kobo prize voting.

40 per cent of the judging is by reader voting, so your vote will make a difference. (Blimey, I sound like a politician.)

For anyone who wants a little taster, I've included the first chapter below. You can read a longer extract on the voting site.

Many thanks and I’ll keep you posted how I get on. 
The Bold Ship Phenomenal
Chapter one

The problem with life, thought Malachi as he trudged along the tide line, was science. It wasn’t the only problem, no way, but at this point it was certainly one of his biggest.
“Science sucks,” he said, booting at the sand, so that it rose and scattered before him in a damp fan.  “Science sucks.” Then again, louder and louder, until he was practically shouting it, “Science sucks, science sucks”. And to make matters worse, science was the first lesson of the day and he was already late. “Scien...”, he began again.
But then he saw the bottle and he stopped.
The bottle was propped, several meters below the tide mark, in a shallow pool left by the retreating sea. Further down the beach, the sea ssshh ssshhed as it slid onto the sand, but the pool that the bottle rested in was perfectly still, its blue-green surface cradling its glassy catch.
Normally this was exactly the sort of thing that interested Malachi. Stumbled upon treasures, jetsam and flotsam, he would scoop them up and squirrel them home to examine in the peace of his room. But today he couldn’t be bothered. Not with the way he was feeling, not after the way his day had kicked off.
He aimed another angry swipe at the sand and hoisted his bag up his back. He would have to hurry. But something about the bottle drew back his eye. Something about the way it reclined, as if it was struggling to stand upright, its top reflecting sunlight in smatters and sparks, like a miniature lighthouse on the shores of an inland sea.
Malachi dropped his bag and balanced on the pool’s edge to ease the bottle free. The bottle was large and surprisingly heavy. Slime-stained string coiled around its neck, below an orange wax bung. Grey barnacles clung on its belly and base, and its glass was coated in algae and a thick clouding of salt. 
Malachi stretched his sleeve over his hand and dipped his palm in the pool. He rubbed the bottle with the wet sleeve, trying to make a clear space in the glass. As he rubbed, the sound of the ocean filled his head. Gently at first – shh, shh, shh – then building, until the waves’ song thumped and thundered on the shore.
Startled, Malachi looked up, but the beach was quiet. The waves along the tide line had shrunk if anything, melting back into themselves before they finished their journey up the sand. Only the occasional sea bird, flying low, moved or called.
Malachi looked back down at the bottle but his rubbing had made no difference and the glass was still too murky to see inside. The bottle was certainly heavy though, as if it may be full, although when he shook it no liquid sloshed against the glass. He would have liked to take it home and clean it properly, see what was inside, but he was too late for that. Being late was Dad’s fault, but if he was any later Mrs Green would be back on the phone, back on his case, and that was the last thing he needed. Cleaning the bottle would just have to wait.
He took off his jersey and wrapped it carefully around the bottle, before clearing a space in the top of his pack. He placed the bottle in, did up the zip and eased the pack onto his back. Then, trying to keep as even a gait as possible, he jogged along the tide line, making up for lost time as he headed straight for school. 


Friday, 20 September 2013

Bold Ship Phenomenal shortlisted for Kobo Prize

How exciting! I have just found out that my manuscript, The Bold Ship Phenomenal, has been shortlisted for the KOBO/ NZ Authors E-Publishing Prize.

This is the first year the prize has been offered. It gives two authors the opportunity to have their unpublished manuscripts (one fiction and one non-fiction) prepared for and published in e-book format, then promoted by Kobo for sale in New Zealand.

I was actually in the process of preparing the manuscript for publication as a print and e-book (just for the fun of it, because authors can now do this) when this happened. It’s great to know that someone else thinks the story will work as an e-book. And whether I win or not, it feels like a win-win situation; now I can splash across my cover (when I have it designed) that it was shortlisted.

I’m so pleased. Writing can be a dispiriting process at times, especially when you get plenty of rejections, and publishing opportunities in New Zealand appear to be shrinking. This type of boost is exactly what writers need to keep them going.

Part of the judging process involves online reader voting, so please go online when voting opens in October, and read my excerpt. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it enough to vote for me.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

What every author needs

Look at this. Isn’t it fantastic?

It’s a wall hanging of my picture book, Wooden Arms. A friend made it for me to use at school visits and festivals.

It’s made of fabric, with clever little pieces (cars and people and steeples and houses) that come on and off. As I read the story my audience helpers add the right bits to the backdrop.

I’ve been pleased to have it with me this month, as it’s been quite a busy one. A few weeks ago, I was at the Storylines Festival at the Aotea Centre, as one of the writers on the Kiwi Write4Kidz stall. That was fun (Storylines always is), especially as I got to catch up with some of my writing friends. And I discovered a new publisher: Book Island.

Book Island is the brain child of publisher Greet Pauwelijn who has set out to produce outstanding children’s books in English and Dutch. Judging by the books she had on display at the festival, she is going to achieve it. They were stunningly gorgeous, and interestingly had quite a different design feel than most New Zealand books.

I bought Sir Mouse to the Rescue for my son: a charming tale about a feisty female knight mouse and her dragon friend. I also put my name down to get a copy of Maia and What Matters when it is released in November, which deals with the thorny subjects of stroke and the debilitating effects of aging in a picture book. I like that: kids’ books that present the world as it is. Check out Book Island’s other books and philosophy at:

Then last week I was talking to a Raglan Area School Year 5 and 6 class about the importance of editing. I got to use my Wooden Arms hanging again, although we all got a little confused about what was supposed to come on and off when: especially as my two year old son insisted on helping. Still it was good to have it along – another way of putting a story out into the world.      



Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Great luck for Old Truck

Well done to Raglan illustrator Margery Fern and her author sister Jennifer Somervell whose latest picture book, Old Truck, has won two honourable mentions in the prestigious American Purple Dragonfly Book Awards.

Actually, luck has nothing to do with it, as Old Truck is a gorgeous book, with a funny story, a happy ending and fabulous colourful illustrations. All things kids love.

Old Truck is Margery (who also goes by the name O’Connell) and Jennifer’s second picture book. Like their first, The Day Dad Blew Up the Cow Shed, it tells a true tale of life on the family’s Hawke’s Bay farm. Both books are part of the 'Tales from the Farm' series that the sisters are producing, partly because that’s what they love doing, and partly to provide an historical record for kids about what it was like growing up on a farm in New Zealand in the seventies.

Future titles planned for the series include the story of a rather large eel hunt, and a tale about an amorous pig. You can check out Margery and Jennifer’s work (and find out more about their win) on their Tales from the Farm website.

I think you’ll agree they deserve the award’s recognition.


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

An imaginative feast at Freemans Bay School

I had a fabulous visit at Freemans Bay School last week, and I have my nephew to thank for the invite. He’s in the new entrants’ class, and when he saw my book in the school library, he pointed it out to Dale, the librarian, who kindly invited me up for the day.

I had a great time (I hope the kids did too). It is visits like these that make writing for kids truly fun. We had readings, discussions, tonnes of questions, and a lunchtime session in the library where everyone hung out, coloured in, built models and talked books.

What a great school to have fostered so many keen readers.

I also ran a couple of competitions where the kids could take the beginnings of my books and complete them in their own ways, through pictures or writing or both. The ideas that came out of those sessions, produced from cold and under time pressure, blew me away. Ideas that as a writer I would hunt and scratch and sweat to produce, just flowed.

It reminded me how naturally imaginative we all are, and how important it is to tap back into that childhood wealth of images and ideas, if you are going to produce fresh original stories. One of the purposes of an author visit is to inspire kids about books and reading, but it works the other way too. I came away feeling as if I’d have a creativity and inspiration booster shot.

So thank you Freemans Bay School. I will look forward to (hopefully) visiting again with my next book.        

Friday, 21 June 2013

Murder at Mykenai: fantastic new book to be launched by Auckland author Cath Mayo

Something very exciting is happening at Alexander Park Raceway next Friday 28 June! Auckland author Cath Mayo is launching her new book – Murder at Mykenai.

Cath is a virtual writing friend of mine. Virtual because we met during an online course on writing for children, and have stayed in touch ever since. I am so excited for her because I know how much work she has put into the book, and how she has persevered in finding the right publisher for it.

Cath is an inspiration for all writers; living proof that if you believe in your work, make it as good as it can be, and keep sending it out, then sooner or later it will find a home.  She is also a very interesting person, as when she is not being a writer, she is a luthier. Know what that is? No, I didn't either. It’s a violin restorer, which sounds pretty exciting to me; almost as exciting as being an author.

When Cath agreed to let me do this post, I sent her some questions. She’s done such a good job of answering them, that I’m going to treat this as a virtual interview of my virtual writer friend and let her answer for herself.

But first, here’s what Cath’s publishers (Walker Books Australia) say about Murder at Mykenai…

MURDER AT MYKENAI by Catherine Mayo

A voice slid like a knife into his ear. “You vermin,” it said. “In a moment you’ll be nothing, no more than a lump of dead meat. That will silence our little secret, won’t it?”

Friendship vs. Treachery in Ancient Greece, a decade before the Trojan War. Menelaos, teenage son of the assassinated High King of Greece, is skidding ever deeper into danger. Odysseus, his best friend, tries to help – but Odysseus’s great ideas have a tendency to backfire …


This exciting debut from new talent Catherine Mayo will delight fans of ancient Greece and mythology.
Sounds good, hey? Now onto the virtual interview:
Me: When did you start writing Murder at Mykenai?
Cath: Some time in 2004, so it’s had a long half-life!

Me: How long did it take?
Cath: By late 2005 I had a very flawed first draft. I gave it to a writer friend, who was so flabbergasted by my lack of an ending, she went hunting under the dining room furniture for the missing pages. Unfortunately she couldn’t find them – that would have saved me a lot of trouble!

After winning the Heartlands competition in 2006, I gave my second draft to the judge, William Taylor, who took me under his wing and mentored me and the book for much of 2007. I entered the third draft into the Tom Fitzgibbon award and was shortlisted in 2008. So I had a publishable book by then. 

Over the next five years I rewrote it in fits and starts while working on other things. The ending was proving elusive and that took most of my attention. After trying and failing to find a publisher I was awarded a New Zealand Society of Authors assessment, rewrote the ending again (not for the last time) and collected some more rejection slips. They were always very positive rejections, and contained detailed, insightful and helpful feedback.
Then, in 2012, it was accepted.  My editor at Walker Books, Nicola Robinson, is fantastic, and under her beady eye I managed finally to nail the ending!

Me: What was your inspiration for the story?
Cath: My mum read us Barbara Leonie Picard’s The Odyssey when I was really small, and I’ve been telling myself stories about Odysseus ever since. Or has he been telling me? I’m not sure anymore. I knew I wanted to write books about him for a long time now, and I realised there were some great snippets of stories embedded in The Odyssey about his teenage years.

Me: How did you feel when Walker Books accepted the manuscript?
Cath: Submitting to Walker Books Australia, my dream publisher, was a tricky and very slow process, but they have such a fantastic reputation, I was prepared to wait. When the acceptance letter came, late one night in 2012, I was alone in the house – my husband was doing a course in Arrowtown – so all I could do was run round and round the room screaming! Then I got on the phone, but he was out to dinner and I couldn’t reach him for a while, so my best writing girlfriend had to take the brunt of it in the meantime.

Me: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Cath: In my other life, I’m a violin restorer. I’ve had a workshop, where I work with other luthiers (that’s the official name for what I do), for years and years now.

I also play violin and, until I started writing, I played professionally in a number of bands, did session work for recordings and lots of TV. Music tends to happen late at night, and my best time for writing is early in the morning, so it’s good that I never tried to make them overlap. I need my eight hours sleep a night, otherwise I get crabby.

When I’m not writing or luthiering, I read, garden, walk, swim, listen to music and go fishing.

Me: What’s next on your writing agenda?
Cath: I’m polishing my second book, and I’m halfway through my third. They’re both about Odysseus too. I have lots of other ideas and half-finished projects, but these books are where my heart lies and I want to focus on them.

Murder at Mykenai is in the shops now (Walker Books Australia, 2013, ISBN 9781922077943). It’s a young adult book: Cath says it’s for readers aged 12 to 15 years. But I’ve read an early draft and I think older readers will enjoy it too, especially fans of historical fiction. I can’t wait to go to the launch, not only to get my hands on my very own copy, but because I’ll also finally get to meet my virtual friend in person.

Well done Cath! Here’s to many more successful launches to come.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Golden Yarns down south

I was at the Golden Yarns children’s writers and illustrators hui earlier this month. Held in Christchurch, it was get together for many of the main authors and illustrators working on children’s books in New Zealand. It was very exciting for someone like me to sit in the same room as these wonderfully talented people and discuss what’s happening in publishing at the moment.

In some ways it was a bit bleak, because the New Zealand publishing industry is not in a great state just now (less books are being published; authors are finding it harder to get their work accepted; many big publishers are closing shop and moving overseas). But in other ways it was very inspiring, because writers and illustrators are finding other, more creative ways to get their work out there, and many are having a lot of success (especially with self-publishing and e-books). After all, if you’re an author or illustrator and making books is what you want to do, there’s no point letting tough times stand in the way of your dreams. We still need books!

It got me thinking that maybe I should give it a go. I’ve got a manuscript that hasn’t found a home. But I still like the story, and I think kids will too. So that’s what I’m going to do. Publish my own book. And I’ll keep you updated here about how it’s going. Because that’s something else I learned; that publishing your own books is a lot of work, and they’ll be a lot of steps I need to consider and take!
But it will be fun too, and I’m excited because by Christmas I could have another lovely book to add to my site. That is, unless some fabulous publisher offers me six figures for it in the meantime. But I wouldn’t hold your breath; my odds are on the book!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Virtual author visits with book lovers

One of the lovely spin offs of being Star Author last month on the Christchurch Kids Blog was being contacted by kids who love books. Enterprising Dyer Street School in Lower Hutt emailed me to find out if I would do an author visit with them; on Skype. What great idea.

We were in the middle of a wild west coast thunderstorm at the time (complete with hail the size of peas), but that just added to the excitement. Because it was exciting (at least from my point of view) to talk to these seven fabulous kids, who love reading so much that once a week they get together to discuss and research books.

They were smart too. They all knew what they liked, and didn’t like in a book, and had an impressive list of favourite authors. They’d even prepared a list of questions to ask me in advance, like:

·        Why haven’t you published many books? Answer: Because I waste so much time dreaming about what it will be like when I have more time to write

·        Who is your favourite author? Answer: An impossibly hard question, but Kyle Mewburn and Victoria Azaro would have to be up there at the moment

·        Where did you get the idea of being an author for a job? Answer: Desperation. I used to work in an office, but I really didn’t like having to wear shoes all the time. When you’re a writer you can wear bare feet and pyjamas all day if you want.    

·        Why do you like poo so much? Answer:  Because it’s hard to be serious when you’re writing about poo and I do like to laugh.

…and lots of other smart questions. So thank you very much Dyer Street kids; I hope you find lots of other great authors to Skype.  

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Book magic (and poo)

This is a bit of a cheat's post, as it's the same as one I posted on the Christchurch Children's Blog last week, where I'm blogging this month as their star author. But the post's about poo, and poo is a topic close to my heart (in a creative, not literal sense), so I thought I'd repeat it again here... 
What a fantastic time I had at the Word Café Raglan writers and readers festival at the weekend. Books are so much fun! And so interesting. And so are the people who read and write them.

Around 35 people came along to the workshop that Andre Ngapo and I ran on getting started in writing for children. (Andre’s in the picture, doing his stuff on the day.) That’s 35 avid writers and readers of children’s fiction all in one room. It was electric.

We had a wonderful discussion about what makes a great children’s book. It reminded me why I love them so much (and also of all the things I should be doing in my stories to make them even better). Everyone agreed that there needed to be:

·        lots of humour – kids (and the adults reading with them) love to laugh

·        a great story – that’s a beginning, a middle and an end, with lots of twists and turns in between

·        plenty of action – whizz, pow, bang, uh-oh, ah-ha, ahhhhhhh…that sort of thing

·        fabulous characters – no dull and boring please

·        not too many messages – the aim is to entertain

·        a pinch of amazing – that special something that makes a story zing.

Can you think of anymore?   

Personally, I think there is one, and it’s a bit of a magic ingredient when it comes to stories. That something is poo.

In the 20-ish years that I have been writing stories, I have noticed that, along with humour, kids love poo. Look at all the books that have been written about it.

For starters, there’s Baa Baa Smart Sheep by talented New Zealand author and illustrator duo Mark and Rowan Sommerset, about a bored sheep that tricks his mates into eating, you guessed it, poo.

Then there’s the hilarious Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake (she’s not a new Zealand author, but her publisher Gecko Press is from here) about a little rabbit who will only say one thing: “Poo bum”. That is, until he gets eaten by a wolf, at which point he changes his tune to…read it and find out.

Then there’s Captain Underpants by Dave Pilky about all things to do with undies, wedgies and toilets (that’s got to count poo). And the all-time poo-topping favourite, The Little Mole who Knew it was None of his Business by Werner Holzwarth, about a mole that is poo-ed on (it lands on his head) and runs around trying to find the culprit (and encountering many and varied poos along the way). It even has a plop-up version! 

That’s just off the top of my head (the list that is, not the poo). There’s no denying poo is popular.
So at the moment I am busy writing my own story about poo. I can’t give too much away, except to say that it’s a picture book and it’s about a dung beetle who spends his nights rolling endless little balls of poo (well dung, but it’s the same thing). Until one day he looks up… 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Having fun as a Star Author in Christchurch

This month I’m also blogging as the Star Author on the Christchurch Kids’ Blog. It’s a great blog about books, reading, music and movies for all children living in New Zealand, especially those in Christchurch and Canterbury.

I’m really pleased to have been asked, especially as I’m following hot on the heels of David Hill who is such a talented and funny author.

I’m reading his junior fiction novel at the moment, My Brother’s War, which has been shortlisted for the NZ Post Book Awards 2013. The story follows the fortunes of two brothers, William and Edmund, who both go off to the First Word War: one as a soldier, the other as a conscientious objector. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. It would be great if it wins.

I try to read as much junior fiction as I can. Not only because there are so many great stories, but also because it helps me with my own writing. There is so much to learn from a talented author like David Hill: it’s a bit like having a private tutorial (but from the comfort of your couch).  

Friday, 3 May 2013

Word Café is here

This week I am busy getting ready for Word Café, Raglan’s first writers’ and readers’ festival, which is going ahead next weekend (10 and 11 May). Check out:

I have been part of the organising committee and am involved in two events on the Saturday:

·        First Steps in Writing for Children – a workshop on getting started in the exciting world of children’s writing, which I am hosting with fellow Raglan writer Andre Ngapo (a talented writer who won the Sunday Star Short Story Competition and appears regularly in the School Journal)  

·        a children’s storytelling session – with Andre again, and another talented Raglan local, Margery Fern, who has illustrated two gorgeous (and amusing) books about growing up on her parent’s farm in Central Hawkes Bay. Margery’s sister, Jennifer Somervell is the author, and she will also be there to talk about the books. You might like to look at their website:

There’s lots of other great events over the weekend too, including music and a ‘real’ writers’ café at the Old School Arts Centre. So it’s busy, busy and I’m a bit nervous, but I’ll let you know how I get on.  

Thursday, 11 April 2013

My new website is up and running

How exciting, my new website is finally launched and ready to go.

I’m really pleased with it. Partly because the designer, Heather Arnold, has done such a wonderful job, and partly because it has been a very long time in the making. Years in fact!

So, I’m chuffed that the site is now live and looks so gorgeous.

I plan to tell you a bit more in another post about why it took me so long, and share some of the lessons I learnt along the way (so that if you decide to build one, it’s a lot quicker).

But for now, why don’t you check it out:

There’s information on it about me, my books and my writing, as well as some links to other New Zealand writers’ sites that you may enjoy. And while you’re there, why not send me an email? I’d love to hear about your writing, or answer any questions you may have.

I’ll look forward to hearing from you. And until I do, I might just have one more look at that site…