For the last few years I have been using the idea of ‘one word’ as a type of New Year resolution. With my birthday so close to January 1st, I don’t usually do resolutions, but use my birthday as a day of reflection and planning. However, I embraced One Word and have found it helpful.
In my second year of One Word, I chose the word ‘sparkle’. This was a particularly good one because when I didn’t feel like I had any energy (or hope) it reminded me to find what little spark was there to hold on to.
Last year my unofficial word was ‘experiment’. My experiments have shifted my career path and my health significantly. While I still enjoy the wondrous, imaginative world of fiction, my career focus is on the factual wonders of the world, and I allow more time for creative play. I look after myself better and am firmer with my boundaries.
This year I settled on the word ‘trust’, which has meaning in several ways for me: to trust myself; to trust in my talents, intelligence, and creativity; to trust that everything happens for a reason; to trust others, especially in the light of current and upcoming collaborations; and to trust that life / my life has a purpose, even if it is one that I concoct for myself.
I wrote a letter to myself with these and other thoughts to pull out when I am feeling down, and it’s already been used so I am grateful to past Zee for doing it!
Note: It’s been a while since I blogged, and you can expect my blog posts to be more sporadic in the coming year – with my generous use of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, I find that I say a lot of what I want to say there. I haven’t yet decided how frequent my newsletter will be.
Every year is an interesting year: I find that what I am learning most of all is just to enjoy life, and allow myself to be myself.
This year, I decided to pull back from selling at markets so much, work less at the day job, and allow myself to have more time actually off. For a while I loved following Inger Kenobi’s idea of ‘Fun Fridays’, and Meg Kissack’sCouragemaker’s podcast has become a place to find voices of encouragement and wisdom. On social media, I have particularly appreciated the positivity of my dear friends Amanda Staley, and Jonathon Hagger.
The decision to sell less in person has obviously affected my sales – in fact, this year they’ve almost halved on the previous year – but I still feel like it’s been a successful shift in terms of my own wellbeing and happiness. A few years ago this was my New Year ‘resolution’ and it continues to be first and foremost in my decision making processes.
I signed up for the Auckland half marathon, and while I didn’t do as well as I had wanted to, I’m proud of myself for having done it, and for being able to do some fundraising for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, a charity I feel very strongly about for many reasons.
I published I Am A Writer (Feb), Ramble On (Oct), and just yesterday picked up copies of the 2018 NZ Young Writers’ Anthology, Nature. Yay! There’s been less published this year (but still, three books!) because I’ve a) taken time off, and b) done a whopping 17 school visits, mostly supported by my lovely supporters on Patreon (learn more about this here).
These books reflect my move into non-fiction, especially with the launching of Blue Mushroom Books, which will include books from other authors. By having a press with a strong & clear focus, I am better able to decide which ideas I follow up on, and which ideas I let go for someone else to pursue. My own projects (the dollhouse book, The Train to Nowhere; (wo)manpower & other zines; The Caretaker Series) will have loose deadlines and will pretty much just be for my own enjoyment. I feel incredibly good about this decision.
So looking forward to 2018 is working more with other writers and celebrating the talented people and beautiful places of New Zealand through Blue Mushroom Books. For me personally it’s about continuing to peel off the layers to just be me, and allowing my own wonderfully weird brand of creativity.
Changing direction can feel like failure. You know, we’re taught to stick to things and not give up, to persist, to be consistent. Giving up is like admitting that the challenge has beaten you; that you’re not made of strong enough stuff.
So if I change my mind – if I stop persisting and give up to try something else – does that mean I’m not made of strong enough stuff? Is it the same as giving up?
This reaction emerged when I sat down to write this blog post. Goodness knows how many times I’ve blogged about changes. Why can’t I just stick something out?
I’ve realised that the sweet spot between my skills and my passions is creative non-fiction (including, perhaps, working with other authors as a publisher). This is quite a move from children’s fantasy fiction, and involves a change of audience as well.
So is this just me following a shiny new idea because fiction has ‘beaten’ me? Is this just giving up in a blue mushroom disguise?
I hope not.
I only started writing about five years ago. I hadn’t written a word of fiction before that since intermediate school, so I pretty much dived in head first, and everything I’ve published has been in that five year window.
So how on earth could I have expected to know what I wanted from the start? I couldn’t. Of course there were going to be changes! I was writing stories that were personal and creative, playing with zines, testing collaborations – in a word, experimenting.
And what’s the whole point of an experiment? That you don’t know what the outcome will be. It might be to find out if something is true, or to discover something new. After five years of experimenting, I am closer to something that will work for me.
Of course, the experimenting isn’t going to stop. It’s a bit like editing. First, you check the story as a whole – does it make sense? Is it exciting and engaging? Then you get into finer and finer details. At the moment, I’m refining rather than all-out experimenting.
This isn’t me throwing in the towel. It’s evaluating the outcomes of my experiments to create a business that is fulfilling, rewarding, within my skill set (but still challenging), and revolves around something I am incredibly passionate about: the beauty and wonder of our natural world.
And it’s not to say I won’t ever publish fiction again. I have The Train To Nowhere still in the works, and I’m sure there’ll be some more chapter books in my future, too – you can’t get rid of me that easily!
I am not going to see myself as a failure because I am open to change. In the words of Walt Disney: “Progress is impossible without change.” I am a work in progress, and I am proud of my work.
I’m starting a new publishing company called Blue Mushroom Books. Everything is still a work in progress right now, but this is the story behind the move:
For love or money?
Some time ago, my writer friend and official encourager J. C. Hart put me in the direction of a book titled For Love or Money by Susan Kay Quinn. There seemed to a be a divide in the indie publishing space – either you wrote for the love of it (and made little or no money) or you wrote to trend, made lots of money, and were considered a sellout.
We all know that life is never that black and white, but Quinn’s book not only built a bridge between the two, it showed that really there was only one side to it. Quinn talked about an author’s ‘wheelhouse’, that is the strengths of an author; what is easy for them to do well. She said to take the skills in our wheelhouse and see what successful genre it may match (disclaimer: I read this aaaages ago, so I might not be 100% accurate, but this is the gist of it anyway).
From then to now
I’ve been thinking about my wheelhouse ever since. I’ve published a fairly wide range of books, and it’s been fun experimenting. Looking back, my mindset has shifted significantly. At first, I was in it to be a children’s author. I love reading children’s novels, so that’s what I wanted to write. I held children’s authors in high esteem. But I also tried wordless picture books, non fiction, zines, anthologies, and colouring books.
I loved writing those books, but I think I’ve got them ‘out of my system’, so to speak. Like, I’ve said what I needed to say. Now I’m just forcing myself to write more – and that’s not good for anyone. I enjoyed the colouring book art, but it wasn’t challenging enough to keep me interested long-term. The zines were also fun, and I intend to keep making them, but I only really played the publisher role so I wasn’t involved enough.
My author wheelhouse
What I’ve realised is that my wheelhouse is semi-collaborative non-fiction. I just have so much fun with it! It’s fun discovering new things, it’s fun publishing other people’s work, it’s fun illustrating, it’s even fun formatting (except when it’s not, then it’s extremely frustrating).
I’m focusing on New Zealand. New Zealand is a fascinating place. We have a ridiculous number of native / endemic plants, animals, and fungi, and some places that are still largely untouched by humans. I’m learning about the weirdness of nature, and I get to share my fascination and excitement with other New Zealanders. I get to draw on the expertise of people who know more than me – people who may not otherwise be published – and describe the wonders that make New Zealand worth celebrating.
Blue Mushroom Books
I had a couple of options before this name was chosen. First was White Pine Press, inspired by the kahikatea (which interestingly, isn’t actually a pine) but that was taken. I then tried Pohutukawa Press, since the pohutukawa feels like a sign that I am home. That was taken, too. Recently, I’d heard about these blue mushrooms (entoloma hochstetteri) which are native to New Zealand, but also found in India (for those of you who don’t know, I am an Indian-born New Zealander). It seemed like a good fit.
And it wasn’t taken! I registered the domain straight away, and over the next week started building the logo and the book topics. I’d done Ramble On, and I will also be including I Am A Writer / I Am An Artist in the Blue Mushroom Books catalogue, as they are based in New Zealand.
Following on from these I’ll be writing about our plants, insects, fungi, sea and river creatures, slugs & snails, and a whole raft of other things. The leatherback turtle book will also be published with Blue Mushroom Books, as well as a picture book about our native carnivorous plant, drosera arcturii. I don’t know whether I’ll branch out to publishing other people’s work.
Obviously I’m only just starting out, but I’d appreciate if you could follow me on Instagram and Facebook where I’ll be posting interesting stuff about New Zealand’s natural world.
Thank you again to everyone who played a part in the launch! It was by all accounts a wonderful afternoon (you can read Mayur’s account here) and there were many wholesome conversations about walking, mental health, and the importance of connecting with the outdoors.
The librarians were amazing. They made trees, stole borrowed pot plants, set up and packed down, made tea and coffee, and generally put a whole lot of energy and effort into the day. I look forward to working with them again!
Contributors to the book Mayur Wadhwani, Grace Penlain, and Anya Forest all spoke, reading some of their contribution, and we were treated to an awesome stop-motion video (below) by Theo Foyster.
Shout out to the goody bag sponsors: Auckland Transport, New Zealand Walking Magazine, Blants, and PhysioLogic; and to the spot prize sponsors: Louise de Varga, Keitha Smith, J. C. Hart, Erena Waho Thompson; and to the event sponsors: U Go Aloe, The Magic Brush, and Auckland Council. Thanks for making the day fantastic!