Archive for May, 2013

Goodbye from Raglan and thanks


Well it’s Wednesday and I’ve already had a busy writing week. On Sunday, I went to a writer’s meeting, expecting to hear a talk by a local bookseller, and was delighted to find he had been replaced: not because I didn’t want hear him, but because the new guest speaker was children’s author Janice Marriott.

Janice is one of those clever writers who writes everything. Novels, school readers, non-fiction, plays, and TV and radio scripts (she was one of the writers for the award-winning TV programme ‘The WotWots’, produced by Weta Workshops).

It was very inspiring to hear her talk, especially about her belief that writing is something that happens on top of life, and how important it is for writers to have another life, other than writing. This cheered me up, as fitting the time to write into the rest of my life is something I struggle with constantly (as I know do lots of other writers).

It was also very exciting to hear that she thinks her best book is Thor’s Tale (which won the junior fiction category of the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in 2007), and then to go home and find it on my eldest son’s bookshelf. The story is about an 11-year old boy, Thor, who works on a sub-Antarctic whaling station where he encounters Shackleton and his fellow explorers as they set out to explore Antarctic. I am looking forward to starting it tonight.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of talking (on Skype) to a wonderful group of kids from Dyer Street School in Lower Hutt. They are all part a book club of keen readers that meets once a week to discuss and research books and writers. And they found out about me on the Christchurch Kids Blog!

We had a lovely chat (even though there was an enormous thunder storm going on in the background here) and they asked some great questions, such as: Why do I like poo so much? (oh no!); Who is my favourite author? (a tough one, but in the end I said Margaret Mahy and Kyle Mewburn); and Why hadn’t I written more books? (which made me think I need to get on with it).

Tomorrow, I am off to Golden Yarns, the biennial children’s writers’ and illustrators’ hui in Christchurch. I will be attending workshops with some of New Zealand’s top children’s writers and listening to publishers and booksellers talk about what’s hot and new in New Zealand book publishing.

I’m really looking forward to it, although it means this will be my last post as Star Author. So I wanted to say, thank you very much for having me. I’ve really enjoyed the blog, especially because, as with all writing, it has opened up new paths and ideas for me to ponder and explore.

Happy reading and goodbye for now from Whaingaroa Raglan (in the picture).


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Kids’ Books: picks from our latest newsletter

Here are some great picks from our May Kids’ Books newsletter:

Cover: Information EverywhereCover: The Wrath of the GodsCover: Hold FastCover: My Grandma's KitchenCover: White Fur FlyingCover: Mistakes Were MadeCover: Little Kitchen Around the WorldCover: Eat Your Math Homework

Did you know that you can subscribe to our newsletters and get our latest titles and best picks straight to your inbox? It’s easy and you get to be first to see our new goodies!

For more great reads, 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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Carmangling storyscrunching divvytrips

Our car broke down a couple of months ago.

Between Raglan (where I live) and Hamilton (which is the nearest city), there is a range of large hills. To get from Raglan to Hamilton (or the other way) you have to go up and over a pass in these hills. People in Raglan call this “going over the divvy”. (Divvy by the way, is short for deviation. I assume the Raglan deviation is called that because there used to be another, older road, and when they built the new one it followed a different path, so it was a deviation.)

Anyway, our car, which was rather old and very decrepit, made it all the way up to the tip top of the deviation, then died.

This was OK. Raglan is a small and very friendly place and lots of lovely people stopped to help. Our car was towed away to the scrap yard and we got a new one. The new car is just the same as our old one, except that it is even older, but rather less decrepit. This makes things a touch confusing, as it means our new car is actually our old new car, or our new old car, and our old car was our new old car, or our old new car. It’s a good thing it’s been scrapped!

But the best thing about our new old, old new car is that it has a CD player. So now when we’re making the long drive over the divvy and back, we can listen to stories, and this week we’ve been listening to Roald Dahl.

Now I love Roald Dahl’s stories, and the reason I love them is that they are so BIG. Everything about them is big. They have fabulous fantastical plots, tons of action, wacky language, amazing ideas and larger than life characters. It is as if he has taken a normal story (beginning, middle and end) and crammed as much as he can in. Then a bit more. And then an incy-wincy bit more. Then he’s sprinkled on a handful of fun and craziness, just to be sure, and he’s slammed the story shut.

So far, we’ve had The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Enormous Crocodile (with his cunning plans and clever tricks), Esio Trot, Danny the Champion of the World, and The BFG.

I have especially enjoyed The BFG, because somehow I have managed to get all this way through my life without ever having read or heard it. (If you haven’t read it yet either, BFG is short for Big Friendly Giant.) Also because it is very funny and full of huge (literally) characters. Not only is there the 24-foot high BFG, who catches and bottles dreams, then blows them into the bedrooms of children who need them, but there are nine other revolting people-eating giants (Fleshlumpeater; Bonecruncher; Manhugger; Childchewer; Meatdripper; Gizzardgulper; Maidmasher; Bloodbottler; Butcherboy). There is also Sophie, a little girl in her nightie who helps the BFG stop the people-eating giants, and the Queen of England.

Fantastic! My kids have been so inspired by the stories they have drawn some great pictures. Here’s a selection; perhaps you’ll add one of your own?

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W.A.R.P.: The Reluctant Assassin book trailer

The reluctant assassin is Riley, a Victorian boy who is suddenly plucked from his own time and whisked into the twenty-first century, accused of murder and on the run. Riley has been pulled into the FBI’s covert W.A.R.P. operation (Witness Anonymous Relocation Program). He and young FBI Agent Chevie Savano are forced to flee terrifying assassin-for-hire Albert Garrick, who pursues Riley through time and will not stop until he has hunted him down. Barely staying one step ahead, Riley and Chevie must stay alive and stop Garrick returning to his own time with knowledge and power that could change the world forever.

If you’re a copy of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series you need to grab a copy of The Reluctant Assassin, the first book in Eoin’s new W.A.R.P. series.  Reserve your copy at the library now.

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My Brother’s War by David Hill

My Brother’s War by David Hill is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  This was one of the books that I hadn’t read at the time it was released, but I read it recently as part of my challenge to read all of the 2013 finalists. 

My Dear Mother,

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve joined the Army!

Don’t be angry at me, Mother dear. I know you were glad when I wasn’t chosen in the ballot. But some of my friends were, and since they will be fighting for King and Country, I want to do the same.

It’s New Zealand, 1914, and the biggest war the world has known has just broken out in Europe.

William eagerly enlists for the army but his younger brother, Edmund, is a conscientious objector and refuses to fight. While William trains to be a soldier, Edmund is arrested.

Both brothers will end up on the bloody battlefields of France, but their journeys there are very different. And what they experience at the front line will challenge the beliefs that led them there.

My Brother’s War is a compelling story about two brothers who have very different opinions and experiences of the First World War.  William feels very strongly that he needs to play his part in the war and so he enlists in the army.  The people in his town commend him for being brave and doing his part.  He believes he is doing what is right to protect his country and the people he loves.  He can’t understand his brother and thinks that his refusal to enlist is ‘wrong and stupid.’  His brother, Edmund, is a conscientious objector who believes it is wrong to go to war and kill other people.  The story switches between their two points-of-view so you see the huge differences in their experience of war.  The story is mainly told in the third person, but each of the characters write letters to their mother which gives more of an insight into their thoughts and feelings.

You experience the build up to the fighting and the horrible conditions of the battlefield through William’s story, but it was Edmund’s story that shocked me.  I knew a little about conscientious objectors before reading this book but Edmund’s story really opened my eyes to how horribly they were treated.  Conscientious objectors like Edmund were labeled cowards and treated like second-class citizens.  Edmund constantly refuses to obey army orders, but in the end really has no choice.  He’s put on a boat and taken to France where he is forced on to the battlefields.  In the training camps he is locked away with little food and water, and he also faces excruciating punishment for not following orders.  Edmund is incredibly strong-willed though and stands by his principles.

A quote from Edmund towards the end of the book sums up war perfectly , ‘I never knew some men could do such dreadful things to one another, and I never knew some men could be so kind and brave.’

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House of Secrets by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini

Chris Coloumbus is the writer and director of some of my favourite movies, including Gremlins, The Goonies and Home Alone.  He’s a gifted storyteller for the screen who has now delved into the world of children’s books.  His first children’s book is House of Secrets, co-written by Ned Vizzini, and I was interested to see if his books were just as good as his movies.

A secret history… A mysterious family legacy… Dark magic of untold power… And three kids who will risk everything to bring a family back together. The Pagett kids had it all: loving parents, a big house in San Francisco, all the latest video games … But everything changed when their father lost his job as a result of an inexplicable transgression. Now the family is moving into Kristoff House, a mysterious place built nearly a century earlier by a troubled fantasy writer with a penchant for the occult. Suddenly the siblings find themselves launched on an epic journey into a mash-up world born of Kristoff’s dangerous imagination, to retrieve a dark book of untold power, uncover the Pagett family’s secret history and save their parents … and maybe even the world.

House of Secrets is an action-packed blockbuster of a book about three children who are transported into the world of fiction.  There’s something in this story to appeal to all kids – adventure, mystery, magic, witches, giants, warriors, pirates, and fictional characters coming to life. Most readers have wanted to actually be in the world of a story at some stage, and this is exactly what happens to Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor (even if it was the last thing they wanted).

Chris and Ned have said that the story was originally going to be a screenplay for a movie, but they thought it would be too expensive to make so they adapted it into a book.  I thought this came through quite clearly as the story really reads like it should be a movie.  It’s quite fast-paced and there is lots of action so it will definitely keep kids’ attention.  I can see why it would have cost so much to make this story into a movie, because it’s quite epic and there would be huge special effects involved.  The house that the children find themselves transported in is much like the Tardis (‘it’s bigger on the inside’), with lots of hidden passageways, and it gets battered about by witches, giants and pirates.  There are many different fictional worlds, filled with different creatures and characters.

The plot races along right to the end and leaves the story hanging for the next book in the series.  I’ll be looking forward to discovering what comes next for the Walker children.

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Some wonderful Waikato authors and an equally wonderful bear

I promised I would tell you a bit more about some of the fabulous children’s writers who appeared at Word Café with me. But before I do that, I have to put right a terrible oversight…

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and realised I had forgotten to mention something, or rather someone very important in my last post. Can you guess who?

Winnie the Pooh of course! Now the Winnie the Pooh story’s not about poo at all, but Pooh Bear himself has got to be the all-time most famous poo of all, and terribly lovable and funny to boot, so I was sorry that I had forgotten him.

But now that I’ve remembered him, I might just reread his story, and his second story The House at Pooh Corner, and also some of his poems, my favourite of which goes:

Wherever I am, there’s always Pooh,
There’s always Pooh and Me.
Whatever I do, he wants to do,
“Where are you going today?” says Pooh:
“Well, that’s very odd ‘cos I was too.
Let’s go together,” says Pooh, says he.
“Let’s go together,” says Pooh.

Do you know it? It’s called ‘Us Two’ and it’s from A.A. Milne’s book Now We Are Six. A.A. Milne is the author of all of the Winnie the Pooh books, but the stories will always belong to Pooh.

Speaking of authors, I had the good luck at the Word café festival to present a workshop with a very talented author called Andre Ngapo who also lives in Raglan, like me. Andre won the Sunday Star Short Story Competition in 2008 for his story ‘Te Pou’. The story isn’t a children’s story as such, but it is about a child. After that, Learning Media contacted Andre and he has been writing stories for the School Journal ever since. Keep an eye out for him. He has a story out this month, and several more in the pipeline.


I also did a reading with another clever Raglan local, Margery Fern. Although she was reading her books, Margery is the illustrator, rather than the author. The author is her sister Jennifer Somervell who lives in Oxford in Canterbury (they’re the ladies in the picture: Margery is on the left). Together they produce a series of picture books, called Tales From the Farm about their amazing childhood growing up on a farm in the Hawkes Bay.


There’s a funny one about their father blowing up the cowshed with gelignite (a true story) and another about an old truck that they had in shed, which is now the only working truck of its kind in the world. Their next one, Josephine, is about an amorous pig (I hate to think) and then they have a book planned about an eel hunt. Now I happen to love eeling (I don’t kill them; I just haul them up on a piece of string to get a closer look at them), so I’m really looking forward to that.

The last children’s author who was there was Tui Allen. Tui doesn’t live in Raglan, but she lives in Te Pahu at the foot of Mount Pirongia, which is close by. Tui’s written lots of books for children, but her best known is probably Captain Clancy and the Flying Clothesline, about a city clothesline that escapes its city existence to live on a tropical island. Although Tui published it nearly 20 years ago, the story is still a favourite on National Radio’s story time.

For Word Café we asked all three of these wonderful storytellers what their advice was for aspiring writers and illustrators (that may be you). Here’s what they said:


Write from your experience, from what you know, where you’ve been — not necessarily physically — cover the emotional landscapes you’ve traversed. Write from the heart.


Practise, practise, practise! Team up with a writer, trial create a book together and just give it a go!


Find a great critique group. Either in the flesh or online. Make full use of it. Do your share of critiquing and develop trust within the group. Listen to them, especially their criticisms. The most important thing you want to hear is what’s wrong with your work – not what’s right with it.

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