Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Wooden Arms goes international

Check out this picture of Wooden Arms being read to a class at the Anglo American International School in Moscow.

OK, so it helps that the reader (Nick) is the husband of one of my oldest friends. As a New Zealand children's writer, it's a good idea to have friends (or relatives) with kids in exotic places.  

I wondered what the audience would make of the New Zealand context, but apparently they loved it. I guess the theme of places we have loved and left is a universal one, especially for these international students, and in a city with such glorious buildings as Moscow.

There's a podcast of Wooden Arms being read by Matu Ngaropo on Radio New Zealand's website: you can listen to or download it here The recording is part of the Storytime Treasure Chest.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The structural edit: Conversations about self-publishing for the serially challenged 2

Phew! That was a mission.

I smile to see that, when I decided that the first thing I needed to do to get my manuscript – the Bold Ship Phenomenal – ready for publication was give it a structural edit, I allowed myself two weeks to complete the task.

How long has it taken me? Three months.

This is not the first structural edit mind you. In fact, it is probably closer to the twentieth. Yet when I decided to self-publish, it still seemed essential that I do yet another. The reason, I have realised, is the greater burden – to act as both creator and gatekeeper – that rests on the self-published author.

In a traditional publishing model, you (the author) create something and the publisher says ‘yeah’ or ‘nay’. They are the gatekeeper; the arbiter of quality, freshness, appeal, and of being ‘good enough’. As self-publisher you must fulfil this role yourself. It is your work after all and you must stand by it (hopefully with pride) once it takes its place in the world.

Yet, it is a curious concept this ‘good enough’. One of the pitfalls of the traditional model is that good enough can lead to a lack of ambition and sameness in what is being publishing. Conversely, one of the wonders of the new indie publishing scene is the freedom it affords authors to produce and make publically available new and strangely beautiful and unsettling works.

Yet as any good editor will tell you, it is difficult (some would say impossible) for a writer to gain sufficient distance from their work to see what needs to be done to bring it onto its finest form.
Hence the delay. Rather than being a straightforward matter of shifting bits around, my structural edit has been an angst process of asking ‘Is this right?’, ‘Could this be better?’, ‘Will this appeal to readers in the way I intend, or is the appeal limited to me?’. In short: ‘Is this good enough?’

I have been cheered in this process by Austin Kleon, whose small books (Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work) I stumbled upon mid-way through. Austin takes a pragmatic and enabling approach to the creative process, urging people to trust in the value of their creativity and put its products out there. (You can listen to his manifesto on stealing like an artist here.)
Of particular value was his insight (in Show Your Work) that “you don’t have to be a genius”.  Everyone, he argues, has something to contribute, and it is OK to “be an amateur”.

“Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. They’re in love, so they don’t hesitate to do work that others think of as silly or just plain stupid,” he says (Workman Publishing, New York, p.15).

So it is with The Bold Ship Phenomenal. I do love this story. It carries part of me in it. So I must act like an amateur and be willing to put it out there and potentially look ridiculous in public, while at the same time doing everything in my power to make it ‘good enough’. I owe it – I feel – to the story and to the readers who will (again hopefully) one day share it.  

Friday, 20 June 2014

An interview with the super-author and super-illustrator of Super Saffron, Victoria M. Azaro

One of the good bits about being a writer is all the talented creative book people that you get to meet. Writers, illustrator, book designers and producers: New Zealand has lots of them, even though we’re only small.
Victoria M. Azaro is one of these, and I consider her super-talented even by talented people’s standards. And the good news is she’s just produced a new book.
Super Saffron hit the shelves a couple of months ago and is a compilation of Victoria’s previous three Saffron books  Saffron (Mallinson Rendell, 2009), Saffron: I have everything under control (Mallinson Rendell, 2010), Saffron: So quite excellent (Penguin, 2012) – but with loads of added extras.

For those of you who don’t yet know Saffron, she’s phenomenal. She’s spunky, funny and ‘so quite excellent’ at getting herself, and little sisters Sage and Star Anise, into tricky situations (while Dad talks on his cell phone, and Mum practises yoga poses and dispenses calming essential oils).

Victoria is from Argentina, and worked as an international fashion designer and artist before she turned to writing and illustrating books, about 10 years ago. As a result, her stories are crammed full of overseas adventures, and gorgeous illustrations (with lots of fabulous frocks).

Victoria says, “I would like to think that my writing is FUN, and that it exposes children in New Zealand to a wide range of cultures and ways of thinking.”

I can vouch for the fact that her writing has fun, as all three of my older boys have loved the original Saffron books, and we have reread them many times as bedtime favourites. So we’re all super-pleased that Super Saffron is now out (complete with 22 extra pages of fun activities), and that Victoria is working on a series about Saffron’s little sister Sage, to be launched later this year.

Victoria kindly agreed to answer some questions about her writing; her answers are below. But if you’d like to find out more about her work, what Saffron’s been up to lately, or how to buy her books, go to: www.victoriamazaro.com and www.saffron-sage.com.

Victoria’s websites are as gorgeous as her books: one look and you’ll be hooked.   


Me:  When did you start making books and why?
Victoria: I started writing and illustrating (both at the same time) 10 years ago when my first son was one. It took me by surprise because I found it exciting, fun and a break from the adult world. It wasn't until my second son was born, three years later, that I decided to quit my job as an Art Lecturer and concentrate my time in a serious career in the publishing world.     

Me: How would you describe your work?

Victoria: I would like to think that it is FUN and exposes children in New Zealand to a wide range of cultures and ways of thinking. My favourite part is character development and that includes searching for my character's voice and also drawing it, I love the drawing part!

Me: Tell us about Super Saffron: how did the book come about?

Victoria: Super Saffron is a compilation of the three books in the Saffron series, but it also has an extra 20 pages of new materials. After my many visits to schools and bookshops I wanted to add some non-fiction aspect to the stories and I was able to do this in Super Saffron. This includes maps, a Spanish glossary, book club notes, a cake recipe from Mexico and some general knowledge games that focus on food, dress and customs.

Me: What’s next on your project list?

Victoria: Sage – Saffron's little sister – will have her own book, which will be released in September or October this year. It’s aimed at 6 to 8 year olds.

Me: And where can we get your books? 

Victoria: Super Saffron was launched in April 2014 and is available in all bookshops and online stores. For more info about my books or me, please visit my sites: www.victoriamazaro.com or www.saffron-sage.com. I’ll also be the June Star Author for Christchurch Libraries, so I will be blogging every week there.

Thank you Victoria (and Saffron and Sage) – we think you’re super!

Friday, 13 June 2014

Thank you Puketaha for the cheese

A big thank you to all the wonderful kids at Puketaha School who made my author visit such fun this week. I really enjoyed our time together, talking about the ins and outs of writing and book production.

And a specially big thank you to the clever young man who said, "A story is like cheese: the longer you leave it the sharper the flavour".

Isn't that fabulous! A reminder that all work benefits from being given time to rest and mature.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Hip Hop down to the granny beat

Talented Judi Billcliff is launching her second book of 'fun poems for kids young and old' his coming Sunday 8 June at 1pm at St Columba's School in Frankton, Hamilton.

Judi's poems are a treat for poetry lovers everywhere. Fun, funky and off the wall: if you're lucky enough to see them performed by Judi (which I assume we will this weekend), they're pocket-sized drama treats.

Judi is a drama teacher by trade and was a runner up in the 2013 National Poetry Competition. Granny Goes to Hip Hop is her second book, and like Judi herself, promises to be full of high-energy entertainment.

I interviewed Judi recently as part of the Between the Lines exhibition (she was one of the exhibitors). You can read the full interview to find out more about her inspirations and work, or visit the Rainbow Poetry website (and Judi's blog) for more about the launch and what else she's up to. See you there.     

Friday, 30 May 2014

Conversations about self-publishing for the serially challenged

It was a good week last week. I sent off two stories to publishers (with fingers tied in double-bows, sheep’s shanks and half-hitches) and am now in that lovely hiatus that opens up between sending a manuscript, and finding out it is not wanted.

When I started writing this was a period of breathless hope and anticipation for the post.  Now (having received my fair share of rejections), it is more a time of quiet pleasure: at having finished a project (an achievement in itself), and for celebrating the beginning of a story’s journey into the world, which is in fact what the initial submission is.

It’s also a time of excitement, because I get to start something new. While I always have a stew of ideas and story scraps milling around my writing desk, I find I have to focus on one story at a time if I am to get them out the door (and who wants a finished story hanging around? It’s like being hounded by a dog that wants a walk). So when one’s gone, I get to start the next. Wonderful!

Next up for me is The Bold Ship Phenomenal, a story that has been making circuitous journeys off my desk and onto the desks of publishers and back again for some years now, yet refuses to either find a home or lie down and die. It was shortlisted for the Kobo/NZ Society of Authors e-publishing prize last year, but didn’t win, so back, once again, it came.

Now I have decided to self-publish it (it is winking encouragingly up at me as I write). Being rather late off (or on) the bandwagon for most things, I have never self-published anything before, and other than a vague idea, am not even particularly sure how to do it.

So for the next few months, I’m going to record this particular journey in my blog, in the hope that what I find out may help, or at least amuse, some of you. It’s self-publishing for the serially challenged because it’s for people like me whose natural environment to date has been paper, who have large families (or even small ones) to care for, who work, who love to get out into the world and wonder and play (and frequently do), and who on top of that write…and now publish.

Looking at that list, all I can say is thank goodness for publishers who sometimes say yes. But thank goodness also for having options. I can’t wait to get started. I’ll let you know how I get on.  

And the picture? It's gorgeous Ngarunui beach in Whaingaroa Raglan where I live, but it's also where my little ship begins its journey. Not this beach, in particular, but any beach where the waves roll onto the sand, then retreat like beckoning fingers, leaving  behind treasures for sharp-eyed beachcombers to find...                

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Catch up with two talented Waikato writers: Doug Wilson and Sharon Holt

Sorry I've been a bit quiet recently. It's because I'm blogging elsewhere, on the Between the Lines exhibition site.

Between the Lines is an exhibition about Waikato Children's writers and illustrators (including me), and is on at Hamilton's Garden Place Library until the end of April 2014. We had a great opening earlier this month, with about 150 people attending. Now we're busy loading teaching resources onto the website, and blogging about the many fabulous exhibitors who are taking part.

This week I've interviewed Taupo author Doug Wilson, mastermind of the gripping Tom Hassler series, and Hamilton author and publisher, Sharon Holt, who recently scooped the Maori Language Award in the print category for her Te Reo Singalong series.

Check out their interviews on the Between the Lines blog.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Take a peek Between the Lines

Something very exciting is happening in Hamilton during April. Garden Place Library is hosting the Between the Lines Exhibition, providing local children and book lovers with a rare opportunity to get inside the heads of some of the Waikato’s best known children’s authors and illustrators.
Between the Lines runs from 1 to 30 April 2014 and will reveal the inspiration and creative process behind a range of contemporary children’s books.
Wharepapa South illustrator and designer Deborah Hinde is coordinating the exhibition, which is supported by the Waikato Children’s Literature Association. Displays on 19 writers and illustrators from across the Waikato will focus on the inspiration, research and process that lies behind one of each of their books.

Deborah says, “We wanted to show that there is as much book-related talent and creativity here in the Waikato as in some of the larger urban areas. The exhibition is also a celebration of all the wonderful books for children that are being generated here.”

I am taking part in the exhibition (with my picture book Wooden Arms, illustrated by Scott Tulloch), as is fellow Raglan writer Andre Ngapo and Raglan illustrator Margery Fern. Other featured writers and illustrators include Deborah, Dawn McMillan, Alison Robertson, Des Hunt, Sharon Holt, Ann Neville, Claire Ashmore, Doug Wilson, Judi Billcliff, Kat Merewether, Michael Oehley, Paul Martin, Scott Pearson, Talia Evered, Tamsyn Rose, Fiona Williams and Yvonne Milroy. Together they represent writers and illustrators from across the children’s literature genres and age groups.

The exhibition’s official opening is at 5:30pm on Tuesday 1 April 2014 in the exhibition space on Level 2 of Garden Place Library, Hamilton. Everyone is welcome so please come along and bring your friends and whanau.


Tuesday, 11 February 2014

A fun night for children's book lovers

The Waikato Children’s Literature Association’s AGM is on this Thursday 13 February.

If you live in the Waikato and you don’t already know about this great organisation, it’s worth checking out their web page, then joining. Its purpose is to “work in the community to generate a love of literature and reading amongst children”. What could be better than that?

The association organises regular seminars and other opportunities to meet children’s writers and illustrators, and hosts the annual Waikato Kids’ Lit Quiz and an annual NZ Post Children’s Book Award review night.

I am giving a talk at the AGM about my work, alongside the talented Yvonne Milroy (Jimothy) and Tamara James (The World is Your Oyster). It should be a fun night, and I am looking forward to hearing more about their work. See you there.