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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