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Zee’s Photo Challenge #1

I’ve been listening to some photography podcasts, and watching some YouTube videos. There’s a lot about settings you can change on a DSLRs that simply don’t apply to me, so I’ve been trying to pick out the information that does (mostly composition). With both my painting and my writing, the point (other than creative satisfaction) is to encourage the viewer to feel something, which is what I’m leaning towards with my photography. There’s also something Jane Thorne said in her interview for I Am An Artist, that she notices things that other people don’t necessarily see interest or beauty in (to quote, like “a gorgeous brick wall”). I hope that my photos can bring attention to some things that are otherwise overlooked.

Crit #1a: Drosera binata

1a: Drosera binata

I took this photo after a re-potting, as documentation of my sundew (Latin: Drosera) collection. They are very small plants, but the close up and focus tries to show how delicate the ‘dew’ (mucilage) is on the plant.

I think this could have benefited from an even closer shot, with a darker, simpler background. I am not sure how effectively I can do this when I eventually swap to my point-and-shoot camera.

 

 

Crit #1b: Ponsonby sapling

1b: Ponsonby sapling

I was sitting on a bench getting my earphones out when this little green thing caught my eye. This was actually the second of two shots – the first had too much debris close to the sapling, which drowned it out completely.

I like this shot. Slightly off-centre seems to work, even though it’s not quite rule-of thirds (Ro3) either. I think because the green is such a juxtaposition against the grey/brown, it doesn’t need to be in the centre / Ro3 to show that it is the subject.

 

Crit #1c: Hunua Falls

1c: Hunua Falls

This was about the third shot. I first took one over the railing off the falls, and thought that it’s no different to any other photo of the falls, so what’s the point? I already have some good photos from the last time I visited.

I remembered something I’d heard about giving context with foreground, so I tried keeping the railing in the shot, and was pleased with the outcome. When I look at this shot, I feel like I could be back at the balcony right there in the photo. I’m not sure if a flash illuminating the railing would have worked better – it does seem a bit dark.

News

On allowing creative play even though I’m a ‘grown up’

As you will all know by now, I have recently established a new publishing company called Blue Mushroom Books (if you visit the About page you can read about why I started it etc.). Initially, this was to separate my fiction and non-fiction (i.e. personal writing and commercial writing), but it has also afforded me significant creative freedom.

I feel that as long as I allocate time and energy to growing Blue Mushroom Books in alignment with its primary goal (i.e. sharing the awesomeness that is New Zealand), I am ‘allowed’ to do things with my personal creative practice that are just for fun.

Creative letter making with washi tape, scrapbooking memory cards, and found art.

This year, prompted by fellow creative Catherine Mede, I have begun making flip books and sending letters. I bought some fun children’s puzzles and a Harry Potter snitch 3D model, as well as an old 35mm film point-and-shoot camera to eventually take over my 365project photos. And I picked up my ukulele again! It’s been awesome to give myself permission to do these things – just for fun.

‘Cause Harry Potter.

It also means some changes on this blog. It’ll be less writing focused (though to be fair I’m not sure how writing focused it was in the first place!) and more about whatever creative stuff I’m doing, reading, watching, or possibly a reflection. I certainly haven’t given up on fiction, so you’ll still hear about my books as they happen, but it will be more about my version of ‘the creative life’ than anything else.

I’m not sure how my newsletter will fit into all of this, or whether I’ll ever really get my YouTube channel off the ground, but for now I am enjoying the freedom – and learning – of play.

News

One Word 2018: Trust

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!

 

News

Looking back and looking forward

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’s Couragemaker’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.

 

Blue Mushroom Books, News, News & updates

A new direction: Focusing on Non-Fiction

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).

For Love or Money

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.

Crafternoon Tea, March 2017

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.

The extinct huia bird.

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.