New project: A miniature dollhouse style picture books

Behind the Scenes, writing

The Train to Nowhere is a story idea that has been waiting for attention for about the last five years. I had a dream about a train that goes round and round in circles, with people living on it. This girl gets on accidentally, and ends up in Nowhere. I actually used this train idea at the start of Lucy’s Story: The End of the World, but there’s a ‘fuller’ story that I’ve been wanting to write in a picture book format.

The idea is still fairly true to my original story. Once the girl gets off, she ends up at Nowhere –  a place where lost and forgotten things end up (think Harry Potter‘s “Room of Requirement” in its “Room of Hidden Things” incarnation). She makes friends with the little characters in the house and meets the Maker, who brings them to life. She then has to decide whether she’d rather stay in this fantastical world or return to her ordinary life.

Room of Hidden Things – source:

There’ve been a couple of things holding me back, one of them being that I didn’t really know how I wanted it to look. I knew what feeling I wanted to create, but which medium would be able to do that?

It was at my writing class the other week that I realised what would work. We were discussing ways that we could illustrate our work if we weren’t super confident about drawing, and looking at collage options. One of my students had some retro wallpaper (her story was set in the 70s) and so I showed her Lauren Child’s Princess and the Pea. I also admire the illustrations of Mouse Mansion (I’d really love to do something like this for a whole series one day! If you’re interested in Mouse Mansion, see their website about how they built it).

Princess & the Pea – source:

Mouse Mansion – source:

I realised that miniature dollhouse or diorama would be perfect for The Train to Nowhere, so I went on YouTube and watched everything I could find. I also found out that the North Shore Miniature Society was having a show and sale, so I went to that too. I bought a few small pieces, and when I came home I began building an open dollhouse structure from illustration board.

The first thing I did was decide what each of the rooms were going to be (I later added a cupboard beneath the stairs with a nod to Harry Potter), and then drew up a rough plan. The plan changed quite a bit as I started building, but I’m happy with where it ended up. The next day I bought some filler to patch up gaps, even out walls and strengthen the structure. I re-drew my plan so it looked like the finished piece, and created a colour scheme. I’m now ready to paint and fill the rooms!

I also have another picture book I want to work on, and this weekend I’m heading to Tauranga Zinefest but also using it as a writing retreat to work on my next chapter book. Heaps of stuff in the works, guys, so I hope you are looking forward to them as much as I am! – but first, I must finish Ramble On and get that to my printer. Please pray to the Technology Gods for me.

Long term thinking and believing in yourself

Behind the Scenes, Children's Fiction, creativity, Depression & Anxiety, Thoughts & Ramblings

And following on from Monday’s little rant / big lesson… I was listening to Joanna Penn’s podcast the other day (which I haven’t been listening to as much as I used to), and it was an episode about author mindset. I think it was just after she’d released her book on that topic.

Anyway, she was being interviewed and she talked about one of the ‘problems’ that many indie authors have is not thinking long-term. When I finished The Caretaker of Imagination (TCOI), my intention was to keep publishing books in a loose series (which I have), at a rate of 3-4 per year (which I haven’t). She emphasised that if you stick with it, you’ll have a backlist in no time, and that’s the best thing you can do for your career.

Helen Wadsworth (whom I now work for) introducing my books at my first launch party.

Originally, my vision was that by my 31st birthday, in January 2020, I would have a backlist of about 20 books. This would be a solid platform for myself as an author.

So what went wrong? When writing TCOI, I was a bit nervous about my lack of writing experience, but confident that with constructive criticism, lots of editing, and my love of children’s literature I would be able to produce an acceptable book. I did, and then I wrote another one, Lucy’s Story: The End of the World, which I was actually really happy with (see video below).

And then I hit a snag. I received some very un-constructive criticism, and I started comparing my work unfavourably against others. I was told the way things were done, and they weren’t always what I was doing. I started taking any feedback that was given and using it to reinforce the belief that I sucked at writing. I started listening to the rules and becoming scared of breaking them. I wasn’t making a profit, and I took that as meaning I was a failure.

Because I’m stubborn, I dragged myself through a couple more books, but they took a long time, and I was dealing with the voice of self-doubt on a constant basis. I wasn’t as proud of them as I was of TCOI or of Lucy’s Story, because the criticism and rules of other people were always in the background, ready to speak up at the hint of any praise.

What comes to mind is that old adage – the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago; the next best time is today. If I’d stuck with my original schedule, I’d have about ten books in the series by now. I have four – not even halfway.

I don’t regret the non-fiction books I’ve published in the meantime, I love that I made time for painting, and for playing with zines. Both I Am A Writer and I Am An Artist were fun to write, helpful to other people (both children and adults, surprisingly), and it was a great opportunity to work with people whom I admire. But my day job is part time, and I only started studying this year. If it hadn’t let the criticism get to me, there’s no reason why I couldn’t have done both the fiction and non-fiction books.

Four of the artists from ‘I am an Artist’: Zee, Anna, Jane & Megan (photo credit: L. Simpson)

So this is me committing to myself. I know my books have value, and I know there are readers who love my weirdness. There are many, many more stories I want to tell, so I’m going to plant that tree today to grow my backlist, build a career that I am proud of, and contribute my unique voice to the literary landscape.

On artist dates and daily habits

Behind the Scenes, creativity, Out & About

I was introduced to the idea of an artist date from Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artist’s Way.  Spending a day on my own has always been something I’ve enjoyed, but it was nice to have a name for it, and to feel like there was more of a purpose than escapism.

From Julia Cameron’s website:

“The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.”

Often, I’ll go for a tramp*. I’ll pack a lunch, make a flask of tea, and make a day of it. I might stop and do a short meditation part-way through. Nature is incredibly inspiring for me, so I usually get back home physically tired, but mentally rejuvenated and emotionally  clear.

My weekly schedule is a bunch of part-time jobs: part artist & writer, part tutor, part student (and sometimes part bookshop assistant). What works for me is dedicating a day to a certain role. So, Mon-Thurs is tutoring in the afternoons, and the mornings are spent on my work in progress, accounting, exercise, housework, and networking – whatever needs to be done, really. Saturday is for my artist/writer role, and Sunday is for study. Friday is my ‘day off’.

So last Friday I caught a bus to Parnell and took myself out for brunch and a delicious tea (Nepal Masala by Tea Total). I spent the morning wandering around the museum, especially the natural history section. I realised I’d missed something from Ramble On – flightless birds! So even for that it was worth the visit. I then took a hot chocolate and sat outside, reading a book on crowdfunding (which I’m considering for Ramble On).

After that, I walked down to the Wintergardens and did some sketching. I’ve been commissioned to do some colouring art for a project by The Happiness Idea and Wellington Botanic Gardens so this was my research time. I found myself most fascinated by leaves, of all things! There were so many different shades of green, variations in shape and size, and intricate patterns. It was truly fascinating. I sat and sketched for about an hour, and then took a walk through the domain to town.

My two big aims at the moment are to rebuild my writing habit, and to exercise daily (especially for my half-marathon training, but also for my mental health). I bought two packs of stickers, so that every day I write 500 words, and every day I go for a walk or run, I get a sticker to celebrate each achievement.

I had a thoroughly good day, which felt like a bit of an adventure, so I’ll be aiming to take on the advice of Julia Cameron and make this a weekly endeavour. May the fun continue!




On irregular blogging, and the year so far

Behind the Scenes

So this weekly vlog thing isn’t working very well, but I am not giving up yet! I still get excited about doing a video, but when I go to actually record it I feel something akin to stage fright and it doesn’t happen. Hopefully, admitting it here in this public space will spur me on! I am aiming to record every Friday. Routine helps.

In other news, I’m enjoying the creative freedom I have given myself. I Am An Artist and I Am A Writer have been received well, and I enjoyed them so much I am working on a new non-fiction book. This one is on an activity I can spend hours doing: walking. It may or may not be titled Ramble On.

My picture book, The Train to Nowhere, has been outlined, but I’m not sure when I’ll start working on it.

SONZA is off to a great start! The artists I’ve interviewed so far have dug deep for me, and I hope that I can broaden the range of artists. “The Arts”, I think, are incredibly broad, and I would like to reflect that.

I’ve had an entry for the NZ Young Writers Anthology and it’s had a fair bit of exposure. I hope to get as many wonderful stories and poems as last year!

Unfortunately, I’ve been quite groggily tired for a while, and it’s intefering with my enthusiasm and energy. I am hoping that more walking and a better diet are the cure!

I’m already behind on my university readings (sigh) but I still have time to catch up. I have some art workshops coming up soon that I am looking forward to (mandala drawing, and a learn how to draw session) as well as teaching creative writing.

All in all, it’s been a creatively satisfying start, with enough books sold for me to feel like there is an audience who like & want my books. I have a few things to catch up on, but I do have time on my hands (or I will, once I can drag myself out of bed at a decent hour) and the bottom (three) line(s) are that I’m enjoying myself, I’m learning, and I’m helping others. That’s what matters 🙂

Off the radar

Behind the Scenes

I’ve been quiet for the last week or so because I’ve been sick (nothing major, just lingering) and needed to rest up for two months of busy-ness ahead.
I have been productive though, so I’ll share a bit about what I’ve been doing:


There are a few I’m working on. The first is a collection of some of my most popular blog posts.

The second is a recollection of my writing journey – how I got started, why I went indie, and a little on marketing.

The third and fourth I’m still working on. One is titled ‘don’t give up’ and is about motivation, and the other is a selection of interviews with some inspiring NZ women who all work in the creative industry. I’m really excited about this one!


I’m slowly working through my next chapter book, Beyond the End of the World, and starting to let the ideas come together for the next series. Beyond should be published in Feb-March 2016 🙂


Knowing what I’m working towards – and WHY I’m working towards it – is essential for me. I’m taking some time to adjust and refine my vision so it becomes a stronger driving force in my day-to-day decisions. I’m also learning to recognise that even though I’m aiming ever higher, right where I am is pretty good, too!