Thursday, November 13, 2014

Books in the Making

Books in the Making

It has been a busy year. In February, New Holland Publishers released my picture book called 'The Last of Maui's Dolphins'. It is a fictional story about a Maui's dolphin saving its friends from a set net.  Some reviewers have called it a creative non-fiction book but I call it a picture book. It made me think about the definition of what a creative non-fiction story is. More people are aware of the term now but it is being used for books that don't technically fall into that category. I believe it is has to be about something factual but written in story format.  For example, 'Rangitoto' is about the birth of a volcano and it is written using story techniques. I also have a creative non-fiction story in 'The Call of the Kokako' a true story about how one man saved ten kokako.  'The Last of the Maui's Dolphins'  has been popular and sold well all year.

While I was thinking of marketing opportunities for the dolphin book I was also teaching a 'Writing for children' paper at Massey University. I then spent three months writing a teaching resource for Essential Resources. It should have only taken six weeks but for the first time ever I had writers' block. I've decided it is essential you have down-time during the Christmas break instead of working through or else you tend to burn-out.  I tried everything to get through this block from sitting at the desk every day to writing a journal to setting goals but most days I just banged my head against the keyboard.  In desperation I tried a bach flower remedy that is supposed to help you get over blocks. I also had to read an affirmation aloud every time I took the drops. It worked and I finished 'Critical Essay Writing'; a book that helps teachers teach essay writing across the curriculum. It might have been timing and I had got over the block or else ... spookier things have happened. If you're desperate and want to give it a try it's called 'Essence of D'Light' the "Manifestation" flower crystal/homeopathic remedy.

In August my book 'New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame' was released by New Holland Publishing. I've been thrilled at how popular this book has been. It sold out within three weeks and had to be reprinted. The kids are loving reading about their heroes featured in an easy-to-read format with action photographs and talented Marco Ivancic's illustrations.  I was interviewed by numerous radio stations around the country about the book. I found it amusing that they asked me the question whether I had a sporting background and when I told them I did ballet and competed in national ice skating competitions, they said, so you don't have a sporting background. Ummm, team sports no, but creative sports - yes. Some of the radio announcers liked the book so much they were encouraging kids to buy it for their fathers for Fathers Day.  The most popular question was: Who were my favourites? I answered that I was impressed with sports people who had overcome incredible obstacles in the beginning and yet came out top in their fields such as Valerie Adams - both her parents died before she turned 20 years old; Cindy Mosey - the only survivor in a plane crash that killed all her family and she excelled in three sports including being World champion kite surfer three times; and of course Sophie Pascoe - who had a terrible accident at two years old that resulted in her losing her leg but has won more world champion gold medals than anyone else in New Zealand has ever won. Of course, I have Richie McCaw, Sonny Bill Williams, and Sir Russell Coutts and other amazing athletes in the book. See if your favourite sport star is in there too.

For the first time I published two books under my imprint Long White Cloud BooksFor years booksellers had been asking me where they could buy 'Rangitito' which had been published by Penguin New Zealand but had gone out of print.  It had been republished digitally last year by Pixel Book and I loved how they include slide shows and audio. We called it 'The Rock Standing in the Ocean' to reach a wider audience. However, we needed a print version as well. The printed book is bigger than before. Illustrator/designer Heather Arnold has changed some of the illustrations and design elements such as no white space at the bottom - the text space is now more blended with the illustration; I had up-to-date information about how scientists think field volcanoes erupt so Heather altered the diagram in the middle of the book; we also changed the page that featured all the different styles of volcanoes; and we included all 55 volcanoes. When the book was first published there were only 48 volcanoes known. A professor of geology in Australia saw the book and endorsed it, and a geology scientist in New Zealand fact checked it. The text was only tweaked but we still had it checked by an editor and a proof reader. The end result is - it looks fabulous and we're really proud of it.

The other book published under the imprint Long White Cloud Books is 'Operation Nest Egg Chick'. This is the first time this book has been published in print but it had been digitally published by Pixel Book last year. The digital version includes a video and lots of fabulous slide shows. The printed book is glossy, in a large size, with a creative non-fiction story, and a fact box on each page. It is illustrated with Bruce Potter's half-cartoon-half-real illustrations drawn on the computer, and includes lots of photographs with the text boxes.  Bruce Potter has drawn the eyes of the kiwi much bigger than they naturally are and he said he deliberately did this because he wants children to empathise with the kiwi chicks in the story.  The story is about two kiwi chicks; one survives to become part of the Operation Nest Egg programme that is saving kiwi all over New Zealand.  You'll have to read it to find out what happens to the other kiwi chick. To complement the book Heather and I put together some photographs and videos of kiwi releases on Motuora Island and published it on a webpage here.

I launched three of the above books at the National Library along with two great friends: Heather Arnold (she published 'Draw New Zealand Birds' under the imprint Dragonsauce Books) and Victoria Azaro (she published 'Sage' and 'Super Saffron' under the W4 imprint).  The three of us have worked together giving each other feedback on our books, writing/designing our publicity sheets, and promoting our books together.  We've also made sure we've included all the publishing process and had our books professionally designed, edited and proofed. The books are being distributed by South Pacific Books. We also set up shops on our websites so that people can buy direct from us too.  I've included all my books in the Long White Cloud Book shop as some are still in print but hard to find in bookshops (that tend to only stock the latest books nowadays). It is very exciting getting book orders!

Several smaller projects I worked on this year have been an article in the latest Magpie Magazine about Betty Brownlie author/illustrator of the Life Cycle series; and two articles for Kiwi Conservation Club 'Wild Things' magazine one about bullies (not the ones you think) in the Issue 123 Winter and another about conservation dogs in their next issue. Editor Johanna Knox is doing a wonderful job with this children's magazine - I highly recommend it for the home and school library.

At the moment, I'm researching an ANZAC book that comes out in 2016. I was extremely fortunate in receiving a Creative New Zealand WW100 grant that is enabling me to travel to Australia for two weeks to research the Australian soldiers in the book. For the first time ever I'm getting paid for every hour I work on the book too (due to the grant). I am thoroughly enjoying researching New Zealand and Australian soldiers. Their stories are awe-inspiring and sometimes tragic. My challenge is to make their stories exciting and also impart how difficult it was for the soldiers. We're calling the book 'ANZAC Hall of Fame: 25 Heroic Soldiers'. It is part of the New Zealand Hall of Fame series but I've included Australian as well as New Zealand soldiers (it is a truly ANZAC book), and some of the design elements are going to be different. We'll let you find that out when it is released in March 2016.

I hope you enjoy my books!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Children's Book events at Wellington Festival

I left it to the last minute to hop onto a plane to Wellington to attend Writer’s Week at the New Zealand Festival – and I’m so glad I went. I find I learn something new at every literary event I go to – perhaps you’ll pick up something from these notes from the talks I attended or find an author/illustrator/book you hadn't considered reading:

The very talented Fifi Colston and I stumbled into the first session on Sunday morning by good luck. We’d meant to pick up our tickets for Ulf Stark’s talk and go to one of the many café’s nearby before attending the session. Anxious to fill seats, the publicist gave us free tickets and we were ushered to the front row for a session on how to read a classic picture book in te reo Maori. On the stage teacher storyteller Te Kahureremoa Taumata began a haunting shell call to welcome us in. She then read Kei reira nga weriweri to the quiet adult audience.  At this point, I had wondered what I had got myself into. Why were there no visuals on the screen behind the presenter and where were the children? Ten minutes later, she had us all up stomping and waving our arms while repeating after her Maori words; demonstrating how she engages restless children. Te Kahureremoa continued to give us tips and then reread the story how she would read it to children. She asked questions, pointed out figures, sang phrases, acted out the words – you could see how little children would be entranced. She emphasised that pre-schoolers don’t need the whole story read to them; gauge how interested they are and get them interacting with the book. We both took away something we could use in our own storytelling.
Multi language talks continued into the next session. Julia Marshall from Gecko Press translated Ulf Stark’s answers while his wife asked the questions. Ulf Stark told us the startling news (perhaps only astonishing to English first language) that only one percent of Swedish books are translated into English. Julia translated and published Can you whistle, Johanna? several years ago. At the time, Ulf didn’t even know where New Zealand was. He said with books you have a way of flying a bit – and now he has flown all the way to New Zealand.

Ulf began his writing career as a poet. He said poetry is similar to writing children’s stories – you have a small amount of space to say something. He doesn’t set out to include issues in his stories but said the world looks a certain way and it is his job to describe the world, including bodily functions and death. “Death is a part of life and every child and adult will have to meet it one way or another. You don’t win so much from trying to bury it.” He said it is a good way to meet some of these sad things when you are a child – often adults are more afraid of these things than children are. A writer can rebuild their childhood transforming people into characters and making fiction out of it. When asked what he would never write he said detective stories – there are too many in Sweden. “It is important to go into the deep – with detective stories so much is happening on the surface you cannot go deep.”
In between talks the children’s literary community went from one favourite coffee café to another. We ate burritos, beignets (yummy type of doughnut) and biscuits. That night we attended the launch of Mary McCullum’s book Dappled Annie and the Tigrish in a crowded St James Theatre. Present were Gecko’s New Zealand and international authors.  We heard that illustrator Annie Hayward and Mary collaborated on the story from the start; and the picture book transformed into a junior fiction chapter book over two years. Julia Marshall and the Gecko Press editor both sung its praises and then it was launched. The room hummed with librarians, teachers, booksellers, publishers, writers and illustrators talking and networking.

On a crisp Monday morning, I attended Leo Timmer’s session at Hannah Playhouse. Leo told us ten years ago he saw illustrations moving to the computer but he was not interested. He likes the physical aspect of painting and you can’t do that on the computer. He kept painting and noticed those that jumped to computers have switched back to painting. He says it is a very slow medium and slowness is a good thing – it gives you time to think, whereas, computers are too fast and you can take shortcuts too easily. He likes reworking his illustrations - for him time passes and they get better. “Drawing is like a puzzle with many elements that fit together.” All are carefully constructed and he likes to tell a story with each picture.
Leo believes printed and digital books will co-exist. He says it is too easy to show everything in a digital device. He sees children growing up with devices being over-stimulated with movement. He worries about that. Can they concentrate, be still, be quiet and read? Children need a wide variety of experiences. When everything is presented for them on a digital device they don’t need to use their imagination. Books stimulate your imagination and encourage problem solving.

With a graphic artist and advertising background, Leo didn’t know he could paint for a living. He ended up never working in design and advertising – in fact, he has never had a job. Over those years, he experimented and found his style and voice. He realised in the early stages it is all about ‘idea’. Every day he draws in a book developing ideas, as an exercise in telling stories. He’ll let those ideas rest for a month or so and then looks back at it. Some work, some are not ready, and some are so bad they’ll never been seen. He says this method takes the pressure off him.
Leo started writing out of frustration. He’d receive stories he felt he could not do anything for. It took him a long time to dare to write – he had such respect for writers. The first book he wrote won an award and from then on he felt he didn’t need to worry.

Animals are a key motif that comes through with his work. Leo says animals create distance. He uses animals to talk about things kids’ experience. It is not a direct reflection on a child – it is more like a metaphor. He likes to play with colours and shapes with animals too. For example, Leo got the idea for his ‘Bang’ story from a movie. He took from it that it looks like we have to crash into each other to feel something. He wanted to turn this idea into a picture book. He put his animal characters into cars rather than be alone. He drew the simple fast layer first and then put other things into it for kids to discover over many readings.  Leo said, “Picture books are not an illustrated story – it is visual story telling.” His stories have many layers. Children look more carefully at everything, whereas, adults tend to focus on just one element.
Leo does like to tell a message in his stories. “Problems children have are no different to our problems.” He likes to play with ideas that apply to everyone: belonging, having friends etc. His bigger message is often about ‘who are you’ and ‘what makes it, who you are’. Leo was naughty at school – he was dyslexic and considered not very bright. He couldn’t read, spell or count – everything was in reverse. Because of that a lot of his stories often have the message of ‘outsiders who want to fit in’.

Illustrator designers Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinsky have however, embraced print and digital media. They believe that the digital medium is in its very early stages, though. They don’t believe digital books should be even called e-books – they have nothing in common. A book designed for print can’t work for a screen. Some digital books are one tap away from the game ‘angry birds’.  They believe game designers will transform digital stories. It is not surprising Daniel believes that, as he has a background in animation.
Daniel and Aleksandra met at the entrance exam at a Polish design and illustration academy. They began commercial work in their third year (of a five year degree) to earn money.  They find it easy to work together because they’ve had the same teachers. Their styles are so similar they often cannot tell who did what in their books. They have faith in each other’s work but are not averse to giving each other feedback.

They like to make their books interactive. That’s why they included icons in H.O.U.S.E and D.E.S.I.G.N. The icons also enabled them to shorten content. In a book are two languages: image and text. Sometimes they see no need to include both – that’s overdoing it. So they put in icons children can refer to and save space as well. It enables children to learn something new and read it in many different ways.
Over the years they’ve developed four type-faces. They don’t believe in patenting them, though. That just involves a lot of legal tangle. To encourage questions from the audience they offered to give away the use of some of their fonts for one year. I was the lucky recipient of one of their fonts. I wanted to know the name of the app Daniel said sits in-between print and e-stories. It is a Scandinavian game/story called Year Walk and I found a review of it here:

After a bit of time-out from the hustle and bustle of literary talks and cafes down at the wharf sunning myself I had time for a wine with friends before attending Gavin Bishop’s State of the Nation speech.
Gavin focussed his talk mostly on his illustration experience and how it has influenced him and how it relates to the literary world he finds himself in. He says the whale in the Pinocchio film transformed his life at four years old. The story became a touchstone for him and was the title for his lecture: ‘The mouth of the whale’. After seeing that film he realised the power of illustrations. The cinema taught him the use of visual storytelling – where the imagination has to do a lot of work.

Maurice Sendak once said, “A picture book is a damned difficult thing to do.” Gavin agrees - you need to make it look easy – the mystery is the artist’s business. Like a movie; words and pictures don’t say the same thing. The pictures should not be just an echo of the author’s words – otherwise they are doing the same thing. You are never just decorating.
Gavin says lots of modern books are lean and mean; stories simplified to satisfy a quick fix. People are producing what they think children want and include talk about bodily functions.  Tessa Duder said to enshrine those in books is sad.
Dr Libby Limbrick told Gavin she is optimistic, however. This year when choosing books for the Notable Award they had plenty to choose from. In one category they’ve chosen 13 because there were so many good ones.

Gavin shared his early experiences with publishing – his desire to set his stories firmly in New Zealand. When he did have two stories published for the American market they were warmly received there but New Zealand reviewers were critical – where were the New Zealand references.
Though publishers are moving overseas and there are fewer outlets for writers and illustrators to be published Gavin said there is more support nowadays. He named Storylines, NZSA, Te Tai Tamariki, NZ Book Council and other organisations. Gavin recognises a need for closer ties with Australia and would like to see a children’s laureate here in New Zealand. Later he said we need benefactors to enable a children’s laureate scheme to happen. It would have many advantages for the children’s literary scene.

Picture books are here to stay, said Gavin. Technology may change the format but its current make-up of 32 pages is successful. “The mouth of the whale will forever be open in astonishment and delight.”

We toasted his talk afterwards at a café and then local bar.  Wellingtonians are a hospitable lot (especially Fifi Colston) and Wellington is understandably the creative epic centre of New Zealand. I’d highly recommend travelling to the next Wellington Festival. Other centres will also have their Literary festivals later in the year – get yourself along to one by yourself or with the kids:

Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival 6-11 May

Auckland Writers & Readers Festival 14-18 May

Christchurch Writers Festival 28-31 August

Storylines Family Day Festivals

·         Saturday 23rd August in Dunedin

·         Sunday 24th August in Christchurch, and Wellington

·         Saturday 30th August in Northland, and South Auckland

·         Sunday 31st August in central Auckland

Saturday, March 1, 2014

What Lies Beneath Exhibition

'The Last of the Maui's' picture book has had its outing at the What Lies Beneath Exhibition at the National Library (from 20/1/14 - 20/2/14). Now it is at Takapuna Library until the 28th March when it goes on show at the Gala Night, What Lies Beneath exhibition, National Library (8 Stanley Street, Parnell, Auckland) 6pm.  All invited (rsvp mariagill at It is a chance for you to see all 16 exhibits together for one night only.

What does the exhibition reveal? Authors and illustrators in the exhibition will share what inspired them, you'll see drafts, storyboards, and proofs.

Writers are inspired by many different things. It might be something we are passionate about (like my Maui's dolphin story - I wanted to do something positive to spread the word that we need to help save them). Illustrators go through a different process. They'll research like us but are more likely influenced by visual images and they'll obsess over shape, colour, perspective, and sometimes font.

At the Gala night, you'll also hear authors and illustrators talk about the process of creating a book. Some will also share sneak peaks of books yet to be released.

There will be wine and nibbles, books for sale (and authors and illustrators available to sign them), and all the exhibition on show. Entry fee - gold coin donation. We look forward to seeing you there. Here are some images of 'The Last of the Maui's' picture book on show.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Exciting new book about Maui's dolphins

From yesterday onwards my latest book - The Last of Maui's Dolphins - is available in shops.

I am rather thrilled to announce it is a picture book about a young Maui's dolphin who is warned by his pod to never go near the dark shapes; the ever present threat of fishing boats. One day he has to ignore their pleas. Can he save his friends: Squiggles the octopus, Spotty the snapper, and Puru the Blue penguin and not get caught himself?

When I heard that there were only (at the time) 111 Maui's dolphins left - a story began stirring in my mind. I had to write the first stanza that night in my hotel room (I was away touring at the time).  I tweaked the story over two years and by the time it was accepted by New Holland Publishers for publication we found out there were only 55 Maui's dolphins left!

At the back of the book is a fact page that tells readers what they can do to help Maui's, Hector's and other dolphins. Fishing boats aren't the only problems dolphins have to face: boat strike, pollution (liquid and rubbish), ghost fishing (nets left in the water that continue to catch marine animals), and over-fishing. I encourage (commercial and recreational) fishermen to use pingers, and be sure they don't leave any lines or nets in the water. People tend to point the finger only at commercial fishermen (a lot of them are very responsible - they have pingers on their nets, and make sure they don't leave any netting in the water). There are many more recreational fishermen - that's you and I - and we need to all make sure we're responsible when out fishing too. If you want to do something right now - be part of WWF's Maui's campaign.

I believe Maui's dolphin population has reached critical level and we all need to do something to help them. We definitely don't want their extinction on our hands ...

Where can you get the book? From all good book shops, of course!  RRP $21
And if you're wondering who did the fantastic artwork - it is Bruce Potter - his underwater scenes are stunning!