Books & Reading, Children's Fiction, Children's Non-Fiction

Turtles, dollhouses, and plants – what’s next?

With Ramble On in its final stages (celebrate the release at Auckland Central Library, Sun Oct 15) I’ve been busy planning my next projects. Here they are!

The Caretaker Series is, I’ve decided, just for me. These are books where I get to be as deep, dark, weird and fantastical as I like. It’s about getting ideas out of my head and into a story that other people can interact with. I’m up to Book Five of the series at the moment, about halfway through the draft, and have a couple of beta readers lined up to give me feedback.

The Train to Nowhere is an idea I’ve had for a while, and I’ve recently worked out how to best do the illustrations – with a miniature dollhouse! I wrote a blog post about it here if you want more details, but this is going to be a longer term project. It’ll probably be ready for photographing in early 2018.

And now for the new one… I’ve been playing with the idea of making a picture book about turtles for a while now, and returned to this idea a couple of weeks ago. I did a search for turtles in New Zealand, and the DoC website told me that the most common wild marine turtle is the leatherback. I’d never heard of them before, but they’re fascinating! They don’t have a hard shell (hence their name), and there’s still a lot we don’t know about these jellyfish-gobbling, dinosaur-age giants.

The storyboard is 95% complete, and I’ve been inspired by Jeannie Baker’s work to do this one in collage. Looks like I’ll have a few picture books in my future.

The final project is another long-term one. I feel like I didn’t give myself enough time to research for Ramble On, so I’d like to remedy that with my next adult non-fiction, which will be on New Zealand plants.

Yes, plants. Because they’re also fascinating. There’s this tree on this island that’s the last of its kind ever, and a native carnivorous plant that only flowers for like a week a year, and a kiwi botanist whose research of seaweed was important during WWII… like I said. Fascinating! So I’m giving my time to research this fully and will probably look at putting it together in late 2018, or possibly even 2019.

Well, you can’t stay I’m not staying creative. Looking forward to the journey these projects bring, but for I’m off for a walk and then the day job… have a happy day! xx

Business Blog, Children's Fiction

New books on the way (finally!)

Okay I know I’ve been super slack with getting these new editions done, which is for several reasons. One is that these editions won’t be illustrated (there are still the gorgeous, limited run Illustrator’s Editions available though – see them here), the other is that there’s a price hike which I feel bad about, and the other is just time.

Illustrator’s Edition: Limited Run Hardback

Time has felt scarce lately, though to be honest a lot of it has been spent worrying, procrastinating, and consumed in self-doubt. With a little help from friends, a lot of positive self-talk, and some time reflecting inwards I am now on the upward with this. There will be some changes in my lifestyle so I make sure I am enjoying what I do, though part of it was just adjusting to new challenges.

The other two reasons are just about money. I first published in 2015, and at the point I had only been writing and publishing for two years. That’s not a lot of time to learn how to write, edit, publish, and market! So I’ve been learning on the job, which means I’ve made a bunch of mistakes. One of them was underpricing – I had thought most of my sales would be eBooks so I could price my print books lower but it’s the exact opposite. I also hadn’t thought too much about the bookseller/wholesale discount, and I would like this to be an option while still making a profit.

So. I’m putting my business hat on and making these difficult decisions. The upside is that those of you who have the illustrated editions are extra lucky πŸ™‚ Just FYI – there are still plenty of book 3, Beyond the End of the World available. You can buy them online or from the Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop.

I’m still working on The Caretaker of Imagination cover art, but the other titles are done. You can also expect to see You Can’t Cure A Witch’s Curse in print – I know I’ve been promising that for like a year! So thanks for your patience.

On a positive note, I’ve played around with the covers a lot and I think that these ones reflect the tone of the stories, my voice, and that they’re fantasy/adventure that’s a little bit different. Yay πŸ™‚ They should arrive in a month!

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

Long term thinking and believing in yourself

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,Β 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.Β 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 aΒ career that I am proud of, and contribute my unique voice to the literary landscape.

Children's Fiction, Events, News, News & updates

A note from a superhero author and an update on the NZ Young Writers’ Anthology

So the super creative young writer, Ella, has written the most awesome foreword in history. Or something like that. Read it here (opens in new window).

In case you’re not familiar with it, the NZ Young Writers’ Anthology is an idea I dreamed up to help encourage young writers. We all know I have issues with the phrase ‘when I grow up’ and one of those issues is that being a child should be reason to not be a writer / artist / scientist / dancer / yogi etc.

From its first year (last year) I started calling it an annual, mostly so I wouldn’t have an excuse to give up on it if it didn’t meet my expectations. It’s now in its second edition and quickly gaining momentum.

Speaking of gaining momentum, there’s another exciting annual: The NZ Book Festival. I’d already decided to match this up with the anthology and release it on the day, but then I was informed that one of this year’s winners, Poppy, was flying up to be here for the festival. After a brief chat, we decided: what better way to celebrate young authors by getting one of those authors to read their story?

Poppy Nightingale-Ayson, age 11, will be reading an extract from her story, Endangered, at the NZ Book Festival Storytime at 11am, and will be available for a short Q&A afterwards.

All my books will have festival-only prices, and I’ll try to get some bundles together as well, so if you’ve been thinking of picking up any as gifts, or haven’t gotten round to buying one for yourself yet, the festival will be the best place to get them.

As always, I’m happy to sign them or write a personal message for the recipient πŸ™‚

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Children's Fiction, Events

Out and About: Onehunga Primary School Book Week

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with the staff and students at Onehunga Primary School. After every visit, I’m always re-inspired and motivated to get back into my own writing.

This time, there were two students in particular who really touched me.Β Here were their questions. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know I was holding back the tears!

But how couldΒ I become an author?

What if you’re not good at anything?

The first question was asked by a girl who came up to me after the Q&A session. I told her that an author was basically someone with a book published, so to become an author you write a story, you get feedback, you edit until you’re happy with it, and you publish it. Case closed. I don’t think she was quite convinced, but I can hope that I’ve planted a seed of possibility.

It re-inspired me to get into my non-fiction art book,Β I am an Artist, because people need to know that being a creative isn’t just for the chosen few; we should all be able to find and nurture our creative souls (and yes, I believe we all have one).

The second question was asked during the Q&A. I thought it courageous to be able to ask this in front of his peers, but more than anything I remembered the times that I had asked myself that question – there’s nothing I’m good at, so why bother? My advice was to find things that he enjoyed doing, find the people who liked it, and let other people worry about whether it was good or not.

Obviously this is advice that I try to tell myself every day!

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From the Onehunga Primary School Newsletter

(I also had a session booked at New Windsor Primary School, but I’ve been sick so I had to postpone. I’m looking forward to visiting them on Thursday!)