I was delighted to visit May Road School on Friday of NZ Book Week.
What a great day!
At lunchtime I read stories in the library to a large, enthusiastic gathering of children.
After that I was in for a treat – May Road’s Book Character Parade. Wow! There were some fabulous costumes – witches, super-heroes, fairy-tale characters, and a whole class of crabs!
To finish off there was a special assembly where I helped the principal, Mrs Stuart, hand out certificates and prizes. (See if you can spot me - I may be wearing a wig). Then the whole school watched a hilarious play written by librarian, Andrea, and acted out by the staff. The children were rolling around in hysterics.
Great to see so much book love!
Thank you May Road School.
A new year, a new step in my writing journey. I now have an agent: the wonderful Essie White of Storm Literary!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
(I know it’s bad form to use so many exclamation marks, but I’m so excited I can’t help it).
The reason for my excitement is my life as a writer is different from how it was a short time ago.
As well as being knowledgeable about the children’s book market my agent is a great communicator and a lovely person, so I’m extra grateful for that. So far, she’s sent my book out to a raft of editors at top publishing houses – something I would never be able to do.
My fingers are crossed.
With all this positivity, I’m itching to get back into my writing. I only have to survive the last week of the school holidays first!
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an online challenge that takes place from November 1st to 30th each year. The goal is to write 50,000 words in total or 1,667 words each day.
“Are you crazy?” that’s the usual response when I tell people I’m attempting to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. This is usually followed by, “How on earth do you do that?” and/or, “Why on earth would you want to do that?”
Maybe I am a bit crazy but I have a number of quite rational reasons why I participate in NaNoWriMo:
This is my second NaNoWriMo and admittedly my first attempt is still languishing on my computer in a slightly stuck second draft. I’m a bit too scared to tackle it at the moment, but when then the time’s right I'll pull it out and lick it into shape.
At the moment I’m more excited about my latest baby, an as yet untitled, middle grade novel which is currently a healthy 27,761 words. I plan to put it away for a while. I’ll be sick of the sight of it by the end of November I’m sure.
My plan is to put it away for a few months. Sometime in the new year I’ll rip it apart with fresh eyes, and stitch it back together with magic patches and invisible thread. Then, when it’s sparkling, I’ll send it out to the world.
Hooray for NaNoWriMo!
I remember sitting on my grandmother’s knee while she read fairy tales to me. We owned a hardcover edition with lovely illustrations called Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Fairy Tales. My favourite stories were Hansel and Gretel – because of its magical elements, and The Wild Swans - a lesser known story with a courageous heroine. [The princess takes a vow of silence while she weaves shirts of stinging nettles (with her bare hands) to restore her twelve brothers from swans to Princes]. I imagine everyone has their own favourites.
In 1812, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm first published ‘Children’s and Household Tales’ a collection of stories that had been handed down by word of mouth, that later became known as the 'Brothers Grimm' anthology. These stories are a strong influence in modern children’s literature (and adults literature too), and it’s amazing to think they are still so popular, hundreds of years after they were first told.
To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the publication the Goethe-Institut New Zealand, in collaboration with the NZ Listener and the International Institute of Modern Letters (Victoria University of Wellington) invited New Zealanders to write their own Grimm fairy tale for modern Aotearoa.
There were more than 300 entries, and each day a new story was posted on the Goethe-Institut’s blog. I enjoyed reading these stories and what struck me was just how different they were from each other.
The winning story was The Cry Baby by Renata Hopkins. The two runners-up were Little Red Riding Hood Does Over the Big Bad Wolf by Wendy O’Malley and Evil Fairy Tales by Alice and Pagan Tawhai. Judge, Kate de Goldi, said ‘what an amazing range of approaches, narrative perspectives and subject matter’.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I found out my story, Michael and the Magic Tree, had been selected as one of twelve to appear in the published collection.
Es War Einmal ... Grimm Fairy Tales for Aotearoa New Zealand was launched in Wellington on 28 September.
Here’s the contents page. Having read all of the stories again, I feel quite honoured my story is included.
Well, I'm half way through Julie Hedlund's 12 x 12 picture book challenge, and absolutely loving it!
The challenge is to write twelve picture book drafts, one a month (and there's the extra challenge of aiming to revise a manuscript each month too).
There's three levels of membership, depending on what stage you're up to in your writing career. There's a forum where writers can discuss craft, and other topics, and a Facebook page. Each month there are posts from guest writers/illustrators, and a seminar from an industry expert. (I've learned some real nuggets of picture book wisdom from these seminars).
Probably the best part of it, is the community and support of other writers ... 650 odd of them. If you ever feel like you're on your own out there ... you're not.
For me, the best things about 12 x 12 are:
So far, this year I've drafted seven new picture book manuscripts. Hooray! (I'm not saying they're good, in fact a couple are seriously bad, and the others need some work ... but, hey, that's what writing's all about, isn't it?)
My writing journey officially began four years ago when I had a little time on my hands. My older children were at school and my youngest was at morning kindergarten. It was the perfect opportunity to reinvent myself.
I’ve always loved children’s books, especially ones that stimulate my imagination. I believe books can take children to magical places. And, it seems to me, children can go places that adults can’t because their minds are still open. My first ever writing project was a middle grade fantasy novel. Why? Because that’s what I liked to read most, when I was a kid.
I started writing, and I started researching what it takes to become a children’s author. (I’m still working on both of those). I scrolled through endless author posts hunting for that gem of wisdom that would boost my writing to bestseller status. But I haven’t found it. So, if you know what it is ... please tell me.
A competition caught my eye, a picture book competition. I’ve always loved picture books but I had not a clue how to write one, or even how to write a short story for that matter. Somehow I wrote a story, submitted it, and was shortlisted in the competition.
‘This is easy,’ I thought. ‘I’m a natural.’ I consulted a manuscript assessor, worked on my story some more and sent it off to publishers. What followed was a bidding war – they all wanted to publish it. And after that first lucky break I was propelled to picture book mega stardom...
Oops, I've drifted off into dream world, again.
Actually, no one wanted to publish it.
I couldn’t understand why, it had been shortlisted in a competition hadn’t it?!
It took me a while to realise there’s a whole lot more to a good picture book than a good idea. I discovered I had a lot to learn about the craft of writing.
Now that I'm slightly wiser I know writing is an evolving thing. I may not be there yet, but I’m improving, and in the meantime the writing itself gives me enormous pleasure. I hope I never get to the point that I’ve finished learning.
Sadly, none of my picture books have been accepted for publication by major publishing houses (yet). That single word ‘yet’ makes me feel more optimistic.
Sometimes, I feel down about the rejections, but I try not to dwell on it. There have been a few rays of light – I’ve published short stories for children in magazines and journals. Each time I get an acceptance it buoys me up and keeps me writing. And, I'm working hard on revising my middle grade fantasy novel.
If you’ve read all the way to the end, here’s my gem of wisdom: success is a magic brew of years of hard work, a sprinkling of talent and I hate to say it, a pinch of luck.