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.

Spending time on creativity


In some ways, everything I do is creative – but in some ways it’s really not. Writing a book, drawing an illustration, painting a picture… these all sound creative, and by all means there is creativity in the process, but a lot of it is just doing the work (and supporting the work with admin and sales).

I’ve realised that my artist dates are like the days that I actually get to be creative. They’re one day in the week when I give myself permission to do whatever I want. I’m allowed to spend the day walking around a garden and ‘waiting for inspiration’, following that shiny new idea that’s been trying to distract me all week, or sitting in a cafe and writing about things that I might do someday. Or, if I feel like it, I can just let my feet (and mind) wander all day.

It’s a bit like that 20% rule of Google’s (that may or may not exist, but I like it in theory). Or in some schools, where they’re allowed one block a week to work on a ‘passion project’ or learn a new skill. I’m committing this time to myself on a weekly basis (though there’s bound to be the occasional day where I’ll choose to work instead, and that’s okay too).

zr southcombe zee eden garden artist date winter

At Eden Gardens, an exotic garden in the middle of suburban Auckland.


Trusting our creative purpose

creativity, Thoughts & Ramblings

It’s not unusual for me to describe my chapter books as ‘weird’. My friends and readers prefer ‘creative’ or ‘imaginative’ or ‘fun’. But with my stories being a bit off mainstream, I find it hard to own their weirdness as a good thing sometimes.

Which is silly, for many reasons, but one in particular: it was never my aim to write a book that slipped into the main stream of children’s fiction. In fact, I actively avoided it.

My goal was to write for people like me. Who I am and who I was. I was a reader. I devoured books, but I quickly found children’s books to be simplistic and patronising. Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis were my remedies to this, amongst others, but when I started writing I promised that I wouldn’t talk down to children.

I wanted to write books that were creative and thrilling, emotionally real with no-holds-barred adventure. They were for young readers, sure, but young readers with maturity and intelligence and imagination who wanted more from books than what most books gave them.

Somewhere along the line, I lost faith in my creative purpose. Maybe my stories were too strange; maybe I should be using smaller words and slowing down the pace; maybe I should’ve scrapped the whole adult-protagonist-in-a-children’s-story thing.

But then I received the reviews below, and I remembered why I write the stories I do.

And now, all is well in the world.

“My son is in second grade, he has excelled at reading since the moment we began teaching him. He does not “like” to read though. I knew if I found the right books for him that he would change his mind and become a book lover. The caretaker of imagination is exactly what he needed! He was eager to read it every night before bed and was excited to tell me about the book. He is now reading the second book in the series. I highly recommend this series and will be buying everything written by Z.R. Southcombe for my little reader!” By Kari for The Caretaker of Imagination (see review on Amazon)

“These books are great, so many different things going on to keep the imagination going.” By Kari for Beyond the End of the World (see review on Amazon)


In the Studio: New art & creativity book announcement

News, Uncategorized

I’ve been wanting for a while to create a non-fiction book, and I knew it would have something to do with my own journey and something to do with creativity. What I’ve come up with is not quite what I expected. In fact, it’s quite unlike anything I could have expected, and I am incredibly excited about it.

It will be titled Art Workshop.

It’s about exploring the process of artmaking in a way that a ‘real artist’ might, keeping an art journal, and learning to make art that is authentic and original. Throughout the book will be extracts from working artists with their advice, comments and thoughts on each topic.

I will be creating videos with ideas for participants’ art journals, and I might vlog about my own processes as I work through the tasks pre-publication. I’m also looking at having some PDF templates for some of the tasks. These will most likely be free.

The intention is to set up a weekly email course that readers can choose to opt into, or they can just do the email course instead of buying the book. It will be paid but will cost less than the book (as it’s digital, not a tangible book).

I’m aiming it at tweens, but I’d like it to be ‘adult friendly’.

Right now, the exciting part (for me) is that I’m testing all the tasks myself. Today, I took a drive to Devonport (one of the places I feel most connected to myself) and took photos of anything that took my interest. Tomorrow I will choose another place to take photographs, and in this way slowly build my ‘inspiration box’, which is the first task in the book.

I am looking forward to sharing my journey as I create this book, to finding collaboration partners and beta readers, and to inspiring people to tap into their inner artist.


Zee xx


In the Studio: DIY Zine Kit


I’m heading over to the Tauranga Zinefest this weekend, and since it’s strictly a zinefest I’m not allowed to exhibit my fiction books. So, I figured this is a great opportunity to stretch my brain and fill my table with something else.

For a few weeks, I had a poetry and art zine in mind, but I barely made any progress and I know it sounds like a lame excuse, but I just wasn’t feeling inspired.

And then I had an idea. A number of people have been quite interested in the zine-making process, and some creative friends – Amanda, Inger and Karyn – have all taken the zine format into their own hands. I love being able to kick-start creativity!

Enter the DIY Zine Kit.

I like researching my ideas, and seeing what else is out there. I was surprised to find that there weren’t many zine kits available, so I had to resort primarily to my own imagination. It also made it hard to price so I’ve gone with materials + time = NZ$5 – get yours here.

And here’s the zine kit!

Four blank mini zines, all cut and folded and ready to go.
Two coloured felt pens
Eight stickers
A Zine Idea Generator mini zine, to get you started

You can purchase the DIY Zine Kit from Felt or Etsy.