Behind the Scenes, writing

New project: A miniature dollhouse style picture books

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.

Children's Non-Fiction, News, writing

I Am A Writer – learning from my contributors (Part I)

One of the benefits of picking the brains of awesome people for your book is, well, picking the brains of awesome people! As they share their advice and experience with children, I learn a lot from them, too.

Some of my biggest learnings from the draft of I Am A Writer at the moment are coming from a place of gratitude, and creating manageable projects.


One of the writers in this book is Helen Tau’au Filisi. I met Helen through a mutual friend, and it was through my self-published books that she was encouraged to publish her own books. She says, “I never dreamed that writers would be able to self-publish… Now I’m able to make choices about the type of books that I want to publish, their covers and also the layout of the books. It is a creative process that I greatly appreciate.”

Recently, I was listening to a podcast about nature, diversity and happiness. They discussed how when we have luxury or ‘treats’ often, they become part of our baseline – they don’t feel like a treat anymore. I think that somewhere along the line this has happened with my creative work. I have forgotten to be grateful for the privilege of making art – the space, the energy, the income, the support from friends and family.

Also, I find that when I come from a place of gratitude, I’m also coming from a place of enthusiasm and excitement. These are wonderful ingredients for creative making!

Manageable Projects

Both Izak and Becky (from Izak Smells) talk about having manageable projects. Like their three-comics-a-week webcomic site. But the lightbulb moment for me was when Izak said: “Every now and again we compile our favourites into books… This is possibly the easiest way to make books. We just push ahead in bite-sized, manageable chunks until there’s so many of them that they turn into a book all by themselves.”

Mind. Blown. Possibly the best advice I’ll get all year.

“I Am A Writer” will be launched on Saturday the 18th of February, 2017 at Meow Cafe in Wellington.

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creativity, News, Thoughts & Ramblings, writing

The Freedom of Writing Non-Fiction / Making Art for Me

Last week I held a stall at the Oratia Markets with my mum. There was a wonderfully creative group of people, and one of them (a visual artist) and I started talking about art, and art careers, and art education.

Her son’s an artist too, and she said that he’d become disillusioned with, and cynical of, the art world (which can be easy to do, unfortunately).

But there is a happy ending – when we make art for ourselves first, that is when it is successful.

When I started writing, I wanted my stories to be something that a younger version of myself would have loved, and that’s what I kept in mind as I was writing The Caretaker of Imagination, and Lucy’s Story. It wasn’t about following the rules or taking genre guidelines into account.

But when I started drafting the third book, Beyond the End of the World, I also started thinking more about what I should (and shouldn’t) be doing.

My writer-friend Cassie (J.C. Hart) labels these “should-isms”. They should be avoided, squashed, or otherwise destroyed.

You may have noticed that I’ve taken a HUGE break from my fiction. My last release was in June 2016, and I didn’t make much of a deal about it. I then got about a third of the way into a new draft, and put it aside.

I decided to take a break from it because I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t want to know why, I just wanted it to be okay again. While I was letting those feelings settle, I worked on non-fiction instead (I’m pretty good at avoidance strategy). For some time, I’d wanted to do a sort of memoir about my ‘journey’. This morphed into an art course, which morphed into an art book.

I am an Artist was born, and it has become something I am incredibly proud of. It is inspiring, encouraging, down to earth, and practical.


I’m now working on I am a Writer and a small non-fiction series about writing, starting with Where Do Ideas Come From?  These books are specifically for other people. They come from the things that I get asked at school visits and by my non-writer friends.

Having these books that are written for others frees up space for me to write my fiction just for me.

Now I can treat my fiction-writing the way I treat my art-making: it doesn’t actually matter what other people think about it, as long as it tangibilises the emotional blueprint I have planned for it. The people who resonate with the ideas in my writing will love it, and the people who don’t will find other things that they do resonate with.

And that’s totally okay.

What lessons have you learnt about writing? Do you write just for you, or for a specific audience?

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