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.