Archive for March, 2013

Book clubs and bye!

Lee Murray (2)Have you ever belonged to a Book Club? My mum does. In my mum’s book club for grown-ups, members pay some money to belong, and then each month they read a book chosen for them by the library. Afterwards, they get together to answer comprehension questions about the book. Oh dear! That sounds so boring!  But Book Clubs don’t have to be official with lots of prickly rules, and they definitely don’t have to be boring. It can just be you and a group of your friends, say three to six people. You could give your club a quirky name, and agree to read a book each month, or fortnight, or week, depending on how quickly you all read. Then comes the fun bit: choosing some books to read. There are lots of ways to do this. You might decide to read an entire series, like the Hunger Games books or the Harry Potter books. If you like spies and adventure you might compare Zac Power books with the Jane Blonde spy-let series by Jill Marshall. Enjoy fantasy stories whose main characters are rodents? Then why not compare the Tale of Despereaux (Kate de Camillo), Geronimo Stilton and Time Stops for No Mouse (Michael Hoepe)? If you’re finding it difficult to choose a theme, ask your librarian who’ll be happy to help you. When you have chosen your book(s) and everyone has had time to read it, make a plan to meet at school interval or at lunchtime to talk about what you liked, or didn’t like, about the book, or whether the film version was better. If this sounds too nerdy, just open your ears and have a have a listen at lunchtime. You’ll find there are lots of people already talking about books and films. As a Book Club member, you’ll be certain to have an interesting book in mind to discuss. And if you’ve just moved to a new school and you haven’t had time to get to know anyone yet, then opening a conversation with a comment about a book you’ve read lately is a terrific way break the ice and make a new friend.

Well, the month has flown past and suddenly it’s my last day as your Star Author here on the Christchurch Kids’ Blog. I can’t believe it’s already over, especially as I still have a whole list of topics I want to discuss with you. Things like:

  • What makes a good book film trailer?
  • What’s the best position for reading: lying on the floor with your feet on the sofa, with your knees tucked up on a squashy armchair, snuggled in bed?
  • The best place for reading: in a hammock, on a window seat, at the beach?
  • What exactly is an ebook?
  • How does writing for TV and stage differ from writing books?
  • Working with an illustrator: who is the boss?
  • Writers’ block: does it really exist?
  • What is plagiarism?
  • Graphic novels: the new comics
  • My new YA book, Misplaced, coming out later this year…

Sadly, there just wasn’t enough time, but perhaps I’ll be able to come back one day. In the meantime, even though New Zealand Book Month is over for this year, I hope you’ll keep reading and recommending books by our New Zealand authors. Thanks for having me! Lee


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It’s practically the end of the month and I have just squeaked in my fourth book by a New Zealand author, which means I have reached my NZ Book Month reading target! Released in print only last week, the final book on my list is a high fantasy tale called Guardians of the Shimmer: DreamTime and is the first of a new trilogy by Tauranga writer Garth Lawless.  Garth works in computers, but he’s not your typical office worker: I once saw him out and about in Tauranga dressed in a cape. So definitely someone with an penchant for fantasy! I wonder if he spends a lot of time daydreaming?Guardians of the Shimmer -1- DreamTime final Front Cover

In any case, Garth tells me that releasing Guardians of the Shimmer has been a dream of his, and the enthusiastic reaction he has received from readers has been a dream too. Garth says, “I was inspired to write from all the reading I had been doing and thinking ‘I’ve got a story to tell that I’d like others to read, too.’ And I like writing for the 10-14 age group as they have really have great imaginations. And they like adventure, excitement and action in their stories, just like the ones I like to read.” Garth’s story includes all of those things. It’s a young adult novel featuring Cole and Lily Fletcher, a couple of Kiwi kids who are on their way home from a camping trip with their parents when an accident catapults them into DreamTime, the place where people’s dreams exist. As if that isn’t enough of a shock, they then discover that their parents are part of the Blue Ghost, long time Guardians of the shimmery barrier that separates reality from dreams. The Guardians serve to protect sleepers, ensuring that they return safely to their RealTime selves. The only problem is the VELI, dark and sinister monsters of nightmare, who are no longer prepared to dwell in the shadows. Well, that, and the fact that nobody seems to want to tell Cole and Lily what’s going on! An atmospheric story which hurtles along, this is a wonderful debut and a great read for fans of fantasy. Why not ask your librarian to reserve you a copy?

And if you haven’t made your four target books yet, there are still a couple of days left in March and the Easter break is here, so it’s not too late to get cracking. Of course, there’s nothing stopping you extending your NZ Book Month reading into April and beyond; there are so many great Kiwi writers to choose from.

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Kids’ Books: picks from our latest newsletter

Hey kids, looking for some great new books to read? Check out these cool titles from our March Kids’ Books newsletter:

Cover: Treasure on Superstition MountainCover: A Hero for WondLaCover: Face BookCover: The Secret Order of the Gumm Street GirlsCover: Aladdin and the Enchanted LampCover: Three Times LuckyCover: Return to the WillowsCover: The Annotatated Phantom Tollbooth

Subscribe to our newsletters and get our latest titles and best picks straight to your inbox.

For more great reads for kids, check out our Fun to Read page – it links you to reading lists, if you likes, interactive quizzes and lots more.

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Book Launch!

Lee and AbbyWhat a busy weekend I had with lots of ‘writerly’ activities going on. On Friday evening I was thrilled to attend the Oceanbooks New Zealand Book Month event, Celebrate!, which included the launch of Beyond This Age, a collection of speculative fiction written by intermediate school students, edited by ME and my colleague Piper Mejia (that’s her hiding behind me in the photo below).

Book launch

It was fun to meet some of our student contributors, many of whom were having stories published for the very first time, a cause for great excitement. Believe me, no matter how old you are, it’s still a thrill to hold a book in your hand knowing that you have played a part in its creation, and especially to see your name in print.

Our competition winners, Ashleigh (right) and Helena (left) received flowers from the very glamorous Susan Brocker, one of Tauranga’s best-loved writers for children. The author of titles like Restless Spirit and Saving Sam, Susan was one of the Beyond This Age competition judges, who helped behind the scenes to select the winning stories, as well as those which would go into the anthology.

Launch photo

Apart from our intermediate school  writers, a number of other writers were also there to launch their first book in print, including Kathy Berger Sewell who launched Hāere Ra Harry, a picture book beautifully illustrated by artist Andria Brice, and Garth Lawless, a new talent on the fantasy scene, who released Guardians of the Shimmer, the first of a trilogy.

Des Hunt gives a talkAlso attending was Des Hunt, well-known New Zealand author of favourites like Cry of the Taniwha, The Crocodile’s Nest and Crown Park. Des delighted guests with books he had enjoyed as a boy and imparted an important message about the need for quality New Zealand literature to educate, inform and inspire our young people, a significant theme, I think, for New Zealand Book Month.

And then on Saturday, I met with the central branch of the Speculative Fiction Writers of New Zealand. Just like sports practice, writers’ groups are great for keeping writers motivated, helping us learn new techniques, and providing new information about books and publishing. It was also a great day to sit on the deck and eat chocolate cake!

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Fast Five with Melanie Drewery

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

Because I have always had a vivid imagination, and when I was small I was a real chatterbox with lots of ideas to share. Writing is sort of like talking a lot on paper.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

I can put my ideas into a story and they will reach heaps and heaps of people I may never even meet! My words might make someone laugh or cry, they might even teach them something or change the way they look at the world. That’s pretty amazing.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Under the Mountain.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

Oh I can’t just love one thing, I need at least two, so I’m going to cheat here. I love our beaches, and being able to swim or walk by the sea every day. I also love our own unique culture, and how much more Te Reo Maori and Maori expressions have become part of everyone’s culture.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

I love being able to read lots and lots and lots of books. Is it weird to say I also love the bookish smell of libraries, yum, all those words wiggling around in their books and making their own special smell.

Melanie Drewery is an author, illustrator and artist who writes primarily for children. Koro’s Medicine was a finalist in the Picture Book Category of the 2005 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults, and the Maori translation of this title, by Kararaina Uatuku, won the 2005 Te Kura Pounamu Award. Melanie won the Picture Book section of the 2008 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults for her book Tahi: One Lucky Kiwi.

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Fast Five with Sarah Johnson

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

Stories are one of my favourite things in the whole world (as are books), so it made sense to me that I would enjoy writing them, and I do. I have carried the stories I read as a child with me into adulthood, and as I got older I read stories that I considered so incredibly beautiful (or moving, or sometimes funny) they were like sunsets or landscapes or other natural wonders. That’s a pretty amazing impact to have, and I wanted to give it a try. Imagine being able to create something that had that effect on another person! I haven’t managed it yet, but I’m still trying.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Writing stories. Entering, and dwelling in, the fabulous zone they come from. Playing with the words (endlessly) until they make patterns and poems on the page.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Oh, hard. For children, it’s probably Peter and the Pig by Simon Grant, because every single time I read it, I laugh. I wish I could write something that funny! For adults, anything by Patricia Grace, but then she writes wonderfully for children too.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

The colour and clarity of the light, the emptiness of the sky, the smell and the air of the bush. I lived in Scotland for a while and these were the things I missed. They were in my bones and they sung to me while I was away.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

How excited I feel every time I enter one. All that interest, all those stories, all that knowledge, sitting on a shelf waiting for me to find it. And knowing that I’m going to walk out the door with a book in my hand and a new possibility in my life. Libraries are portals. They should house them in a tardis.

Sarah Johnson is the author of Ella and Ob and the winner of the 2011 Joy Cowley Award, Wooden Arms.  Sarah has also written books and stories for grown-ups

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Beta Mean Better!

How are you all doing with your NZ Book Month Reading? I’ve read my third book, so I’m pleased to say that I’m on target to read four books by New Zealand authors before the close of the month. This week, I was lucky enough to read a book that isn’t even available in stores yet! It’s one of the things I love best about being a writer: other writers send you their brand new books to read before they are published. It’s called beta reading and I believe the term comes from the computer industry. When a software company makes a new product, it tests it first in-house for bugs and problems. This is called alpha testing. Then, when they’ve fixed all the problems they can find, the company sends the software out to some test companies who beta test the product to see if there are any further issues to be resolved. So, in the same way, an author writes the best story they can and edits it themselves (alpha reading) and then they send it out to specially chosen beta readers for their perspectives and suggestions on how the story might be improved. Stim

I love beta reading. It’s the coolest thing. Firstly, it means another writer values your opinion enough to share their work with you. That’s pretty exciting. Then, you get to read a brand story that no-one else has read yet. Imagine reading a Percy Jackson book or the latest Anthony Horowitz title before anyone else? That’s pretty exciting. Next, you get to make suggestions that the writer might then incorporate into their story. That makes you an important part of the writing process. More exciting stuff. And finally, when the book is released you get to see whether or not everyone agrees with you about how fantastic the book is.  Kevin Berry

The story I beta read is called Stim, a young adult novel by Christchurch writer Kevin Berry, last year’s Sir Julius Vogel Award Winner for Best New Talent (with Diane Berry). Since Kevin is an award-winning writer, I knew Stim would be good but it was something else. Stim is AMAZING. It’s the story of Robert, a Canterbury university student who makes a bold plan to get himself girlfriend, which would be fine except Robert is an Aspie –  he suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome – which means he finds interactions with other people, and especially girls, rather difficult. Luckily, Robert has a friend, Chloe and a flatmate, Stef, who help him though some of the awkward bits. Hilarious and sad at the same time, Stim is a window on the everyday struggles of people with Asperger’s.  It’s  a great book, due to be released later this year by Bluewood Publishing.

I’ll bet you’re all cross now. Here I am raving about a book that you can’t even get out of the library yet.  Luckily, Kevin and Diane Berry (KD Berry) have written some other great titles, which ARE available in the library, including high fantasy novels Dragons Away and Growing Disenchantments, fun reading for the meantime.

DA and GD


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Guest Author: Melinda Szymanik on A Winter’s Day in 1939

Today we’re joined by the wonderful Melinda Szymanik, author of the powerful new book, A Winter’s Day in 1939.  Based on her father’s experiences during World War II, A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds. Melinda has written a really interesting post for us about why and how she wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939.

Why and How I wrote A Winter’s Day in 1939

When the Soviet soldiers come and order them out, Adam and his family have no idea where they are going or if they will ever come back.  The Germans have attacked Poland and the world is at war. Boarding a cattle train Adam and his family embark on a journey that will cover thousands of miles and several years, and change all their lives forever. And mine too. Because Adam’s story, the story told in my new novel A Winter’s Day in 1939, is very much my Dad’s story.

I often heard fragments of this story from my dad when I was growing up.  It was shocking, and sad, and amazing.  My Dad’s family was forced out of their home and taken to a labour camp in Russia. It was freezing cold, and many people died from disease or starvation. Even when the Soviets finally let them go, they spent weeks travelling around the USSR , were made to work on Soviet farms and were still hungry and often sick, with no idea of where they might end up next.  As a child growing up in a peaceful place like New Zealand it was hard to imagine the real dangers and terrible conditions my father experienced.

I didn’t get to know the full story until I was grown up with children of my own and was regularly writing stories for children.  I wrote a short story, also called A Winter’s Day in 1939, based on a single event I knew fairly well  from my Dad‘s childhood – when Soviet Soldiers first come to order them off their farm, the only home my father had known up till that point in his life. The story was published in The Australian School Magazine.  I showed the short story to the publishers Scholastic who liked it too. They wondered if I could turn it in to a novel.  This was a chance to tell my father’s story. By now I knew it was an important story that should be shared

Luckily my Dad had made notes about his life during World War Two; about twenty pages all typed up.  However I know people’s real lives don’t always fit into the framework of a novel and I knew I would have to emphasize some things and maybe leave other things out.

I read and researched to add the right details to the story. And asked my parents lots of questions. How cold was it in Poland in January 1940? Who or what were the NKVD? What were the trains like? What are the symptoms of typhoid? How do you make your own skis? Some information was hard to find. Some of the places that existed in the 1940s aren’t there anymore. And people didn’t keep records about how many people were taken to the USSR from Poland or what happened to particular individuals. But what I wanted to give readers most of all was a sense of how it felt to live that life.  So this then is the story of a twelve year old Polish boy in the USSR during World War 2 that all started on A Winter’s Day in 1939.

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A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik

Taken from their home, forced to leave their country, put to work in labour camps, frozen and starved, Adam and his family doubt that they will ever make it out alive. Even if they were to get away, they might freeze to death, or starve, or the bears might get them. For the Polish refugees, the whole of the USSR becomes a prison from which there is seemingly no escape.


A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a story of family, the harsh realities of war, and the fight for survival against the odds.  Adam and his family are ripped from their safe, comfortable life in Poland and transported to prison camps in Russia, in freezing conditions and with little to eat and drink.  They get transported in dirty, stinking train carriages with a stove and a pipe as a toilet, live in cramped barracks with many other families, and are forced to work for the good of Russia.  People die of exposure to the freezing conditions and disease is rife.  In these conditions you need to have to will to survive, and for Adam and his family, this is what is keeping them going.

The story is narrated by Adam, so you see everything through his eyes.  You feel how much he wants to survive and how important his family is to him. You get a real sense of how desperate their situation gets as time goes by, especially when it comes to food.  When a clerk at one of the evacuation centers apologizes to Adam for the lack of food, Adam says ‘He sounded sorry about it but that was no help to us.  You couldn’t eat ‘sorry.” You want so much for Adam and his family to survive the war and be able to return home, but you don’t know if their story will have a happy ending.

One of the things that stands out in Melinda’s story is the sense that Adam, his family, and the other refugees around them, hadn’t done anything wrong, yet they’re treated the way they are.  Adam says this himself, ‘We were being punished but I hadn’t done anything wrong.  None of us had.’ These people have been thrown out of their homes and sent to prison camps for no reason what so ever.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 is a war story that hasn’t been told before and it will have an affect on readers of all ages.  Stories like Melinda’s help us to remember all those people who died during this horrific period of history and I’ll certainly remember Adam’s story for a long time.

4 out of 5 stars

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Fast Five with Kath Beattie

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

I’ve been writing since I was a small girl. Telling stories is just something I do and want to do and as a small child had to do. We didn’t have many books…we were poor (as many were way back then) so we wrote our own stories (and illustrated them!). We loved writing to the children’s page of the NZ Herald…and later as I grew I wrote stories for the local newspapers and various magazines.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

I think the greatest fun is finding a way to tell a story in a new way or to find a new and different character. I still love the story I wrote where one of the characters in the story talks to me the writer! She gets mad because she doesn’t want to say what I want her to say! So I threaten to write her out of the story…sadly the story has never been published!

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

I always dislike this sort of question. I love many many books for many many different reasons. And there are SO many marvellous books written by New Zealanders.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

Again I have many reasons for loving NZ. I particularly love the outdoors…our beautiful wild coastline, the lush and glorious bush, rugged mountains and hills country and the growing interest in our ‘wildlife’. I also love that we have so so many opportunities for education, sport, the arts etc. and rejoice that we can have very full and interesting lives as well as helping the less advantaged.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

When I was much much younger I used to find libraries a little daunting…no longer.  Libraries these days are so welcoming. The staff are wonderfully helpful and almost any book we would like to read a librarian can find it or order it for us. Libraries don’t just have books…there are CDs and now electronic readers. I have written a couple of historical fiction books and the archivists at the libraries I have visited have been wizards at finding me information. Libraries are busy friendly places. Make sure you get to know yours. The books are free as well!!

Kath Beattie is the author of two books in the My New Zealand Story series, Gumdigger and Cyclone Bola (released this month).  Kath has also had her stories published in anthologies, including Dare and Double Dare and Mischief and Mayhem.

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The Dreaded Book Review…


If you’re like me then you love to read, to get lost in a new world where you feel so close to the characters that they feel like old friends. Those are the sort of books that you want to tell your friends about, send them a link, show them where they are in the library, perhaps even lend out your own precious copy. “You should read this,” you’ll say. “It’s a great book. I really liked it. I couldn’t put it down.”  But when your teacher asks you to keep a reading log and write reviews about books, even your favourite books, do you groan inwardly? Does analysing a book – summarising its good and bad points – make you shudder? I know for a lot of people, this is the case.  Some say it spoils the reading experience for them, but not Paula Phillips. By day, my friend Paula is a softly-spoken bespectacled city librarian, but by night Paula turns into the Phantom Paragrapher, writing hundreds of book reviews every year and posting them to her blog, one of the most trusted book review blogs in the world. Good heavens! Does she even sleep? What makes her want to do this? Let’s ask her some questions about being a super hero.

Hi Paula. How many books have you reviewed this year? To the middle of March – 93 books reviewed this year.

Yikes! That is a lot. What sort of books do you review? A wide mixture of different genres from mysteries to romance, as well as children’s, tween’s and teen fiction, and the odd non-fiction book for all ages.

Why are book reviews even important? Book reviews are important as they not only help you, the reader, with your writing skills, but they give you the ability to read between the lines. Who reads them? Anyone who has a computer and loves to discover the titles of new books out there to read and buy.

What do you look for when analysing a book? What makes a 5-star review? The first thing is to decide whether I can read it or not as I hate books that are BORING, and this is decided if I can make it through the first couple of pages/chapters. If it succeeds, then it is all down to holding my attention. If a book manages to not only hold my attention but it turns out to be a book that I cannot wait to finish reading and finding out what happens – then more often than not that is my 5 star review. When reviewing books I look at:

  •  the story – is it fast reading or are you finding yourself falling asleep?
  •  the language – is it something that you can understand, free from all technical jargon?
  •  the cover – is it an amazing cover and totally to die for?
  • then, I rate the story on how it makes me feel when I am reading it.

If I am I tempted to skip parts but don’t, then the book might get a 3-star rating.  A “I finished the novel but I’m not jumping up and down” gets a 4-star. Five-stars is a really amazing read but it’s still missing something important, and then a 5-star plus a silver star means the book is like totes amaze-balls and I cannot stop raving to the world about it.

What’s your favourite thing about being a reviewer? My favourite thing is getting to read the new books that are being published before everyone else and meeting an awesome lot of friends through Facebook.

Some of our readers have book reviews to complete for their homework and we were just wondering, can you be bribed? Actually, yes! Sometimes people donate money to have me review their books, but it doesn’t change the rating I give the book, which depends on how much I enjoy the story.

Thanks Paula! 

You can check out Paula’s blog at


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Guest Author: Barbara Else on The Queen and the Nobody Boy

We’re very lucky today to be joined by New Zealand author Barbara Else.  As well as writing novels for adults and editing several short story collections for children, Barbara is the author of the magical adventure stories set in the land of Fontania, The Traveling Restaurant and The Queen and the Nobody Boy.  Barbara has written a wonderful post all about The Queen and the Nobody Boy and her wonderful new character, Hodie.

When you start work on a new story, usually you decide on the main character at once. But sometimes you might find your first choice isn’t the right one. It’s perfectly ok to change your mind.

This happened to me with my latest novel the second tale of Fontania, The Queen and the Nobody Boy. The obvious choice for main character was the Queen.  In the first tale, her brother has a series of adventures when he turns twelve. I thought that when she turned twelve, little Sibilla would have adventures of her own.  Because I didn’t want to simply repeat the same sort of story, I came up with the ‘nobody boy’ Hodie, who is the odd-job boy at the Grand Palace. I thought that I would use him as the main character for some sections and Sibilla in others.  The technical way to put this is, I would use two point of view characters.

Being a queen, Sibilla has some big problems – people gossip about her and keep expecting her to do great things. That can be very hard for a person to cope with. But when I wrote about her in her point of view she sometimes sounded too sugary (argh!). Sometimes she sounded like a spoiled brat (double argh!). I also worried that because she’s already a queen, readers might have thought, What does she have to complain about? Did I think she was sugary or a spoiled brat? Definitely not. But writing from her point of view didn’t show her in the right way.

For me, the passion and grip of story come from the troubled heart of the character. In his sections of the story Hodie was working well as a character in this way. So I rewrote the whole story in his point of view, in his thoughts, in the way he sees everything (even though it is 3rd person). Through his eyes, Sibilla began to shine. She became more interesting and much braver.  She became more vulnerable and charming in her own often very funny way. The whole story raced on much more smoothly.  That’s part of the fun of writing – gradually figuring the best way to tell your stories.

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Mirror, Mirror


AshleighIn Year 9 at Katikati College, Ashleigh Templeton likes to draw, play hockey and squash, and read vampire stories.  It turns out Ashleigh’s also a pretty good writer, winning the Year 8 section in last year’s Beyond This Age national writing competition with her fantasy suspense story, Mirror Mirror, which is to be released this week in Beyond This Age a collection of science fiction, fantasy and horror stories by New Zealand intermediate students.

Initially, Ashleigh’s story started out as something the class was doing, part of their school work, but Ashleigh says she took the story home and did lots of work on it, discovering that writing was ‘quite fun.’  That doesn’t mean to say it was easy. Ashleigh admits that she finds finishing stories hard, a problem encountered by many more experienced writers. However she offers this writing tip for other young writers: ‘Put your writing away and think about it for a while, and then come back to it.’

Ashleigh has two younger siblings, a brother and a sister, but she hasn’t included either one of them in her prize-winning story. Instead, in the tradition of famous stories such as Snow White and Alice through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll), Ashleigh’s story explores the sinister ‘side’ of mirrors, everyday objects found in almost every room of the house.

‘Mirrors are quite creepy,’ Ashleigh says. ‘I always wonder what’s on the other side of a mirror because you don’t actually know.’

What does she think about the experience of entering a competition for the first time?

‘Entering the competition was amazing – having a story published. It’s amazing having a book finished, something that other people can enjoy.’ Ashleigh says she didn’t have any particular readers in mind – just other kids her age. She’ll says definitely be entering some more competitions. Beyond this age 300 res

 Beyond This Age is a writing competition for intermediate school students held annually in Term 4 with the best stories (chosen by a panel of writers) included in an anthology of the same name.  If you’d to know more about writing competitions for students take a peek on  If you’d like to read Ashleigh’s story and others like it, go to or ask your librarian for a copy of Beyond This Age.


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Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

Meet Timmy Failure.  He’s the founder, president, and CEO of the detective agency he had named after himself: Total Failure Inc., ‘the best detective agency in town, probably the state. Perhaps the nation.’ His business partner (and idiot best friend) is a 1500 pound polar bear, named Total, who is often not very helpful, and gets paid in chicken nuggets. There is no case too big or two small for Total Failure Inc., whether it’s solving the mystery of the missing Halloween candy or discovering who stole his mother’s Segway.  Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is the first book in the hilarious new series by Stephan Pastis.

Take eleven-year-old Timmy Failure – the clueless, comically self-confident CEO of the best detective agency in town, perhaps even the nation. Add his impressively lazy business partner, a very large polar bear named Total. Throw in the Failuremobile – Timmy s mom s Segway – and what you have is Total Failure, Inc., a global enterprise destined to make Timmy so rich his mother won t have to stress out about the bills anymore. Of course, Timmy’s plan does not include the four-foot-tall female whose name shall not be uttered. And it doesn t include Rollo Tookus, who is so obsessed with getting into “Stanfurd” that he can t carry out a no-brain spy mission.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is the funniest book for kids that I’ve read in a long time.  The story by itself is funny, but add in Stephan’s cartoons and you get a book that has you laughing out loud.  The funniest parts of the book are when Timmy is explaining something and then he draws a picture to show you what happened.  There is a part when Timmy visits Molly Moskins’ house and he meets Molly’s cat, Senor Burrito, that made me laugh so hard (you’ll have to read the book to find out why).

One thing I loved about this book was the weird and wacky cast of characters.  First of all you’ve got Timmy, who is the one who is supposed to be looking for clues, but he’s completely clueless himself.  He speaks like a detective and is always trying to convince his mother that his detective agency needs to upgrade their offices or get an administrative assistant to handle the paperwork.  Jimmy’s best friend, Total, doesn’t talk (because he’s a polar bear), but he provides some of the funniest moments of the story through his antics.  Molly Moskins is the weird girl that has a crush on Timmy who has mismatched pupils and a tendancy to use words that do not exist (like ‘wondermarvelously splendiferous’).  Then there is the ‘Evil One,’ Timmy’s nemesis and fellow detective, Corrina Corrina.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is only the first book in Stephan Pastis’ new series and I hope there will be many more to come.  I guarantee that you will laugh out loud at least once while reading this book.  I recommend it for anyone 7+ who likes a good laugh and quirky characters.

5 out of 5 stars

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Running Writers

RIMG0019When I’m not writing, one of the things I love to do is run, particularly long distance runs. So far, I’ve completed 22 marathons including the New York Marathon and Honolulu marathons, although I’m a slow ploddy sort of runner because the marathon is a long way: 42.2km. To give you an idea of how far that is, it’s exactly the distance around Lake Rotorua. And because I like to run, my first book for adults, a novel entitled A Dash of Reality, is the light-hearted story of a group of people who participate in a marathon as part of a reality TV series. In writing the story, I drew on my own funny and not-so-funny experiences as a runner (and some of my friends’ experiences), incorporating them into the story’s plot. But writers don’t just rely on real-life experiences, we typically research our topic so that our stories are realistic.  When researching A Dash of Reality I read a number of non-fiction books by inspirational marathon runners like Dean Karnaze, Dave Keuhls and John Bingham to ensure that the marathoning information I included was accurate.

Running to ExtremesOne of the books I read was Running Hot the story of my friend and ultra-runner Lisa Tamati. A Taranaki girl, Lisa doesn’t just run marathons: she runs ultra-marathons, which means she runs distances that are further than a marathon. Her training runs often include running up and down Mount Taranaki, and she’s even run from one end of New Zealand to the other, admittedly over a few weeks. Lisa is an amazing athlete – okay, maybe just a little bit crazy – but she’s a lovely person too, working hard for a number of charities, in particular CureKids.

Lisa Tamati

Lisa’s latest book Running to Extremes (co-written with Nicola McCloy) was released just before Christmas and is the second in my New Zealand Book Month reading list. In this book Lisa attempts to answer a question people ask her every day: why do you do it? Even though I love to run, I’m still not quite sure I understand why she does it, but then I haven’t quite finished reading the book yet! So far, it’s a great read: full of training tips like how often to change your running shoes, and what foods to eat, and especially Lisa’s personal experiences as she runs races in the some of the most inhospitable terrains imaginable, including La Ultra, a 222 km non-stop race over two Himalayan mountain passes. There are some great images in the book too, such as a photo of Lisa running through a riverbed while on Day 3 of the Gobi Desert run, and another of her sitting on her bed at home inside an Hypoxico Altitude Training tent. Lisa had an adventure involving one of these tents, but I don’t think I’m going to tell you about it here. Check out the book Running to Extremes at the library and let me know if you find out what happened.

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Fast Five with Lindy Fisher

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

I can’t seem to help making images. I’ve done it forever! I enjoy texture and colour and playing with it. Sometimes my images are used to illustrate children’s stories, sometimes to feature on NZ postage stamps and other times on peoples walls in their homes.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Being able to do what I love for my job and introducing other people to the fun I have so they can enjoy it too. Either using their imagination to interpret my pictures or using my techniques to make their own new ones.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Always the one I am working on or have just had published. At the moment it is “Remember that November” by Jennifer Beck.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

Living by the sea on its gorgeous coast line under some pohutakawa trees.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

That books are free! BUT I never want to take them back!!

Lindy Fisher is an illustrator who has created the illustrations for stories by Jennifer Beck and Dot Meharry, including Nobody’s Dog, A Present from the Past, and Remember That November.

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Fast Five with Donovan Bixley

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

I wanted to illustrate things that I was really interested in, which doesn’t always happen when you illustrate other author’s stories. So I decided to write my own stories.

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Coming up with ideas is very exciting. The hard part is the months and years it take to make those ideas good enough. Through a lot of hard work they get turned into a finished book.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book? 

“Sydney and the Sea Monster” by David Elliot. I also love “The Word Witch” by Margaret Mahy and David Elliot.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

I love that we’re a small country, with a population not much bigger than a city in most countries. New Zealanders are fairly humble and relaxed people on the whole, and not too stressed out. I love being able to enjoy our lakes and mountains and coasts with my family.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

I like browsing the shelves and finding books that I would not normally look at. I still like to get reference books from the library. The Internet is not quite the same.

Looky BookDonovan Bixley is an author and illustrator who has created the illustrations for his own books and for books by other authors.  He has created Kiwi versions of The Wheels on the Bus and Old MacDonald’s Farm, and his latest book is the wonderful Kiwi-themed puzzle book, The Looky Book.  Donovan has also illustrated Brian Falkner’s Northwood and Maddy West and the Tongue Taker, and created the Dinosaur Rescue series with Kyle Mewburn.

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Fast Five with Tania Hutley

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

I think most writers start by being enthusiastic readers, and I’m no different.  Through reading I discovered how much I loved the feeling of falling into another world, of living another life, becoming someone completely different to myself.  Writing is just another way of visiting different worlds – ones that I can control!

  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?

The best thing about being a writer is when someone reads your book and tells you how much they enjoyed it.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

That’s a hard one – there are so many great New Zealand books!  One that stands out for me is Salt by Maurice Gee. I love the characters and the way he has made the world they live in come to life.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

I love our beautiful beaches!

  • What do you love most about libraries?

All the great memories of when Mum used to take me and my brother to our local library once a week all through my school years.  Being allowed to check out five books a week gave me the freedom to try lots of different authors and types of books, so I read a lot of wonderful books I would never have discovered otherwise.  Come to think of it, that hasn’t changed!  I still love going to the library and checking out books I wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to read.

Tania Hutley has published short stories for adults and children, which have been published in Pick n’ Mix and Great Mates. Tania has also published two novels, Tough Enough and 99 Flavours of Suck.  

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The Reading Crusade starts today!


The Reading Crusade starts today, so make sure you grab a copy of the reading log from your library.  You can also download the reading log from the Reading Crusade website.  For details on how to join the Reading Crusade and what you need to do to take part, check out the blog post at the top of the page.

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Lee Murray smallWhat a great sun-filled weekend here in the Bay of Plenty!

One weekend last year, I attended a talk by one of my favourite authors, Anna Mackenzie, who hails from that other well-known New Zealand bay – the Hawkes Bay. Many of you will know Anna as the author of books like High Tide, Out on the Edge, Shadow of the Mountain, The Sea-wreck Stranger, Ebony Hill, and Finder’s Shore. (Wonderful stories – and more ideas for your New Zealand Book Month reading list.) Anna told our group how she’d been passionate about writing from a young age – she even showed us an exercise book full of stories written while she was at primary school, all beautifully illustrated in colour pencil. What struck me was that very early on, Anna had cottoned on to the idea that for a story to be successful it needs conflict. This was made very clear, because in her now-tatty exercise book of handwritten stories, little Anna had spelled out the word BUT in bold capital letters. Already, Anna had realised that there is no story without BUT, no story without conflict.

Take a look at the following story ideas. Can you see that it’s not until we reach the word BUT, when the conflict is introduced, that they start to get interesting…

  • Tara and Mikey head off to the beach with Dad BUT the car breaks down outside a creepy farmhouse…
  • Aroha leaves her potato bread in the laundry to rise BUT when she comes back, something else has grown instead…
  • Jonathan goes to footie practice BUT he’s had to bring his gear in his little sister Gemma’s pink backpack and now the guys on the team are laughing at him…Cattra's LegacyYou’ll be pleased to know that Anna has a brand new book coming out in just a few week’s time. Called Cattra’s Legacy, it’s the story of 13-year old Risha, whose father dies suddenly, leaving her an outcast in the mountain village where up until now she’s lived a simple life. BUT Risha disguises herself as a boy, leaving the village with traders on a quest to discover the truth about her mother, Cattra, and her heritage. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I’m going to pop into the library and reserve a copy…

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