Archive for Author Interview

Derek Landy talks about The Dying of the Light

Check out these videos of Derek Landy talking about the final Skulduggery Pleasant book, The Dying of the Light.  Derek Landy is coming to Christchurch on Thursday 2 October and you can meet him.  Read our post about Derek’s tour to find out all about it.

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An Interview with NZ Post Children’s Book Awards Finalist Melinda Szymanik

wintersdayThe NZ Post Children’s Book Awards finalists were announced this week, and I was thrilled to see Melinda Szymanik’s wonderful book A Winter’s Day in 1939 was on the list.

“Adam is 13 years old and lives with his family on a small farm in rural Poland. It is 1939 and the war has just broken out. Russians invade Poland and confiscate Adam’s family’s house and farm. They are sent to live with another family nearby, but are then moved on and put on a train for a Russian labour camp as refugees, prisoners of Russia.”

If you haven’t read this book, you should rush to your library or bookstore now! You’ll be gripped by Adam’s story, which is based on what actually happened to Melinda’s own father. So while you’re getting engrossed in what happens to Adam, you’ll be amazed to know that it’s all based on truth and the things described in the story really did occur!

I asked Melinda a few questions about her writing, and this is what she told me:

TANIA: Congratulations on being a finalist in this year’s NZ Post Book Awards! A Winter’s Day in 1939 was also named as a Storylines Notable Book this year. How are you feeling, and did you have any idea your book would be so widely acclaimed?

MELINDA: I am feeling beyond thrilled. And I am so happy that I have had this opportunity to introduce readers to a little known side of World War 2. You always hope people will like what you have written but this kind of response is like a dream come true.

TANIA: How did you research the book and how long did it take?

MELINDA: My father made about 20 pages worth of notes which I referred to continuously – these provided the main underlying structure of the story. Details were added by referring to books, information gathered off the internet or from my parents. I was keen to focus on a single experience and I think this makes ‘Adam’s’ story a more personal one for the reader to connect with. Research was an ongoing process throughout the writing and the book took me roughly 18 months to two years to write.

TANIA: A Winter’s Day in 1939 is based on your father’s real experiences during the war. How do your family feel about the book? Are they pleased his story is being told?

MELINDA: My family are very happy with how the book turned out. My mother was always telling me to write my father’s story. In the end I saw it as an opportunity to honour his experience and his bravery and they feel the same.

TANIA: Have you visited any of the places mentioned in the book?

MELINDA: No, but I would like to.

TANIA: What new books have you got coming out, and what are you working on now?

Melinda Szymanik

Melinda Szymanik

MELINDA: I have a new picture book coming out in July (The Song of Kauri, Scholastic) which is a little like a Maori myth and is about a Kauri tree. The illustrations by Dominique Ford are stunning. There is also a Maori version of this book. And I am currently working on several new stories at the moment – another historical story based on the Polish orphans who came to New Zealand in 1944 (it’s the 70 year anniversary of their arrival this year) for an intermediate aged audience, and a young adult fantasy story.

Thanks a lot, Melinda, for answering my questions, and good luck with the awards.

If you want to know more about Melinda and her wonderful books, check out her blog site by clicking here.

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Hello From Me!

Thank you for having me as guest author this month!  I’m very glad to be here.

By way of introduction, for my first post I thought I’d share a couple of pics and also a story I wrote so you can get to know me a little.

kitties-on-desk-small

The first thing to know about me is that I’m crazy about animals. I have three cats, which doesn’t help at all when it comes to writing. Here are two of them on my desk. Where’s my keyboard? Good question!  It’s days like this I don’t manage to get much writing done.

As well as writing, I work for a company that makes computer games, which means I get to play lots of games… which doesn’t feel like real work, but hey, who’s complaining?  The main game I work on is a virtual world called SmallWorlds.  Here’s a picture of my avatar in the game firing a toilet paper gun at someone. Yes, I am working hard!

smallworlds

So to finish off my introduction, do you want a story? Here’s one I wrote that won a prize but hasn’t been published anywhere… except right here, right now! So you’re probably the only kids anywhere in the world who get to read this story.  I really hope you like it!

Chemistry in a Yellow Dress

(A short story by Tania Hutley)

Being good at sport doesn’t make me dumb. I can write an essay that makes my English teacher rave. But chemistry’s another thing. All those stupid element names!

Jamie’s top in chemistry and I think that’s why Mr Black paired me with him. “There’ll be no final exam,” Mr Black said. “Instead you can present a project on anything you want. But you have to do it in pairs.”

While everyone else was talking about their projects, Mr Black drew me aside. “This is your last chance, Max. Fail this and you fail the whole subject.”

Feeling sick, I slunk back to my seat next to Jamie. “What project are we going to do?” I asked.

He just stared at me with his arms folded. “I’m not going to do anything,” he said. “Why should I help you? I’ve already done enough this year to get Merit.”

I couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t still be mad, could he? “I said I was sorry, okay?”

“You said it, but you’re not.”

He was right. Just remembering the trick I’d played on him made me want to crack up. His expression when he went to get changed after PE and found his uniform stapled to the ceiling was so funny the whole class killed themselves laughing. “It was just a joke,” I said. “You can’t still be mad. If I fail chemistry they might make me repeat the whole year.”

“So?”

“It wasn’t personal or anything, I was just being funny. And I had to do all that detention.”

Jamie thought about it. “I’ll help you on one condition,” he finally said. “You get your sister to go to the social with me.”

My sister? She was a year ahead of us and so tough I swear she ate small children for breakfast. And she hated me. No way was she going to do me a favour.

I asked her anyway. She made me beg for a while, then laid down her conditions. “You gotta go to the social too,” she said.

“No problem.”

“Let me finish.” Her grin was pure evil. She opened her wardrobe and whipped out a yellow polka-dot dress with frills on it. “You gotta go wearing this.”

“No way!”

“And a wig.”

“You’re crazy!”

“High heels.” She rubbed her hands together. “And makeup. I think bright red lipstick would suit you.”

“NO WAY!”

She smirked. “That’s the deal. Take it or leave it.”

Then it struck me. The social was the night after our project was due. I could just pretend I was going to go through with it until our project was presented, then pull out. Sneaky. I got guilt pangs thinking about it. It would be too late for Jamie to ask anyone else, but he already hated me, so he probably expected me to betray him. At least, that’s what I told myself.

I nodded slowly. “Alright, I’ll do it.”

When Jamie heard, he laughed like a maniac. “In a dress?” he kept saying, then laughing some more. “This is going to be great!”

“Why do you want to go out with my sister?” I had to ask.

He shrugged. “I don’t like the girls in our year.”

“Not even Mandy?”

“Mandy’s a friend,” he said. “But she’s not my type.”

I couldn’t believe it! You’d have to be blind, deaf and totally dumb not to like Mandy. “I didn’t know you were friends with her,” I said. “I’d have asked her to the social, but she won’t even talk to me.”

He grinned. “Mandy’s got taste. She doesn’t like bullies.”

“I’m not a bully!”

I thought he was talking rubbish. But later I started to wonder. Was I a bully? I’d never done anything really nasty; I just liked joking around. My mates thought I was hilarious. But I guess some gags might have seemed mean. I decided maybe I should give the tricks a miss for a while. I’d still clown around, but I’d try not to make anyone else the butt of the joke.

Jamie kept his end of the deal. “Our project should be about Ernest Rutherford,” he decided.

“Who?”

“He was from Nelson. Got a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.”

“Boring.”

“Boring? He was the first person to split the atom.”

“So?”

He stared at me like I was dumb. “The first to get a nuclear reaction.”

I imagined a mushroom cloud over Nelson. “That’s kinda interesting,” I admitted.

“And he was the first person to figure out how old the Earth is.”

“How old is it?”

“Find out for yourself. This is your project too. I’m not doing all the work.”

When I googled the guy, I found out heaps more stuff. “Did you know Rutherford invented smoke dectectors?” I said to Jamie.

“Great, we’ll put that in the project too,” he said. “Want to draw diagrams of his experiments?”

“Sure.”

By the time it was due, our project looked awesome. And I was proud of myself because I hadn’t played a single trick on anyone, even though I’d thought of some really funny ones. I hadn’t told anyone about my resolution, so I got no credit for resisting. But I told Jamie that I really was sorry for the joke I’d played on him, and this time I meant it. He didn’t say much in return. I was hoping he might admit I wasn’t a bully, but he just changed the subject.

When we presented our project we blew Mr Black away. He asked me a million questions, trying to catch me out, thinking Jamie had done the whole thing. No way! I answered everything right and pointed out the diagrams I’d done. His grin when we finished told me I’d passed.

So that was that, right? All I had to do was pull out of that stupid deal I’d made with my sister, and everything would be great.

Just one problem. I couldn’t do it.

Jamie was a mate now, even if he was still mad with me. I couldn’t let down a mate, could I? And he’d been looking forward to the social. If you ask me, having a crush on my sister was like fancying a poisonous snake, but he acted all goofy when she was around. So lame, but I felt sorry for him. Of all the girls at our school, he had to fall for my sister!

So on the day of the social, I pulled on that awful yellow dress. My sister had her fun painting colours on my eyes and lips, and putting a blonde wig on my head. She’d even found a pair of high heels in a thrift shop that would fit me. I told you she hated me!

Five million times I almost pulled out. But I didn’t.

Walking into the school hall wearing a dress was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Word had got out about the deal I’d made, but no-one thought I’d go through with it. The spotlight was on me as I walked in. I almost drowned in the sea of laughter. My so-called mates were on the floor laughing. Then wolf whistles started coming from all directions. I would have turned and run, except for those stupid high heels. I could hardly even walk in them.

Jamie came up to me, grinning. “Joke’s on you,” he said. “Your sister was coming with me anyway. We cooked this up together.”

Sure enough, my sister hooked her arm through his and the two of them sniggered.

I swallowed. Everyone thought of me as a trickster. Getting mad would make me look like I couldn’t handle it when the tables were turned.

“Good one.” I forced a smile onto my face. “You got me, alright.”

I left them looking surprised and hobbled over to the drinks table. I’d have one glass of punch, let everyone have their laugh, then get outta there.

I’d just drained the glass when I felt a tap on my back. It was Mandy, in a white dress, looking so pretty I thought angel wings might suddenly sprout from her back.

“Hi Max.”

“Um. Hi.”

“Nice outfit.”

“Um. Thanks.”

She tilted her head to one side. “You know, I used to think you were a loser,” she said. “But Jamie said you were okay.”

“Did he?” For some reason I’d lost the ability to string more than two words together.

She smiled. “And you look quite pretty in yellow.”

Pretty? My face caught fire.

“Wanna dance?” she asked.

Was she kidding? I glanced around to make sure it wasn’t another joke and saw my mates staring. They weren’t laughing any more; they looked like they wished they were wearing dresses too.
I managed to grin at Mandy and my brain started to reboot after its initial melt-down. “Promise you won’t step on my high heels?” I asked. Not much of a joke, but she laughed anyway.

“It’s a deal,” she said.

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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 www.youngnzwriters@weebly.com  If you’d like to read Ashleigh’s story and others like it, go to www.oceanbooks.co.nz or ask your librarian for a copy of Beyond This Age.

 

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Fast Five with Michael Oehley

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

I wanted to write since I was a little boy. There has never been a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I think I was born to write.

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

Being able to make up a whole world in my imagination and put it to paper. It’s pretty cool.

  • What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Probably the stories of Barry Crump – he wrote really good yarns.

  • What do you love most about New Zealand?

It’s the best country in the world to live in – and I’m not just making that up! Lots of international lists have New Zealand in the top five places to live. We’ve got some of the best schools and hospitals. We’re safe and clean, and Kiwis are rated the friendliest people in the world.

  • What do you love most about libraries?

Libraries are a great place to escape and find another world to read about.

Michael Oehley is the author of The 4 Powers of Daren Saner and The Vitality Code. When he’s not writing Michael works as a doctor in remote Australian hospitals and loves to travel.

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Fast Five with David Hill

Throughout NZ Book Month we’ll be posting lots of mini interviews with New Zealand authors and illustrators.  Our first Fast Five is with David Hill.

  • Why did you want to be a writer?
Became an author partly because i wasn’t much good at anything else. Also because I liked telling jokes and stories to people and making them laugh and listen. Also (No 2) because when our kids were born, I thought they were so special that I wanted the whole world to know about them – so i started writing stories about them for adults.
  • What’s the best thing about being a writer?
When you write a story / poem/ review, you’ve made something that never existed in the world before. It’s an amazing feeling, and it’s one of the special pleasures of being an author.
  •  What’s your favourite New Zealand book?
I’m a great fan of any of Maurice Gee’s books. I love the ways he mixes reality and fantasy. He turns our world into something strange and fascinating.
  • What do you love most about New Zealand?
I like the light of NZ. It’s bright and clear and very special. I also like the fact that so many of our museums, libraries, art galleries, places like that are FREE! It doesn’t happen in many other countries.
  • What do you love most about libraries?
Libraries are gyms for the mind and the imagination. You read books; your mind becomes fitter and more active. You go on trips that people who don’t read will never experience. Books provide you with this. Libraries provide you with those books!
 
My Brother's WarDavid Hill is the author of See Ya Simon, Aim High, Journey to Tangiwai, and My Brother’s War.

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Romy’s interview with Derek Landy

My golly, it was amazing!

Thank you so much for organising the interview with Derek for me. Also big thanks to Harper Collins and The Children’s Bookshop.

It was the best day of my life meeting him in the bookshop. I am ever thankful!

So, my interview was very long but very interesting.  I had to transcribe the whole thing but here it is!

Warning! (Spoilers included)

 

Me: What was your inspiration to write?

Derek: Wow, what a first question. Ho, I don’t know because I was always a writer, because when I was a kid, always writing. It kind of just bled into my teenage years, always writing, and my twenties. I taught myself to read by reading comics. Anything that told a story I loved and basically, if you are a writer, you reckon you might be a writer then you are a writer. It’s not something that occurs to you when you’re 27. It’s a burning passion.

 

Me:How did you come up with ideas?

Derek: The titles are a cross between being really simple and really, really difficult. Like Skulduggery Pleasant, the first book, just nice and easy. The Faceless Ones I knew starting out that it would be called that because that’s what the story’s about. Dark Days was kind of tricky, that took me a while. Mortal Coil, well I knew instantly and Death Bringer, again it’s about the Deathbringer. Kingdom of the Wicked, this occurred to me about a few weeks into writing it and the only title that, I’m not happy with is Play with Fire, which was originally called Praising Cain and that’s what I wanted it to be called but the American publishers were worried that it was too much of a biblical reference. They didn’t want to annoy any religious people, so they said can we not call it Praising Cain and I said but that’s what it’s called.
I didn’t like their title; they didn’t like mine so I just said Playing with Fire. And Oh! We love that! And I mean yeah, it was ok. So if I could go back I would change only one title and that was Playing with Fire.

 

Me: What are the joys of writing?

Derek: The fact that, I don’t have a boss. Because that’s a big thing. So no one could tell me what to do. But writing it’s also the only thing I can do. I was incapable of doing anything seriously, I’m not a serious person and I’m not a highly responsible person either. So, I’m just living for myself because just like all writers are self-centered because we have to be, we have to ignore people and just live in our heads which suits me fine because I hat people, they’re weird and they talk funny! And I’ve got my cats and dogs and I can understand them, I can understand animals and the fans who are a certain type of animal themselves.

 

Me:What character is most like yourself?

Derek: Well, Skulduggery is like me. He’s charming, witty smart, suave, debonair, dangerous, unpredictable, cool and yes narcissi. A lot of people ask am I like Gordon. And no, I’m not like Gordon, I mean Gordon’s like an uncle, a doddery old uncle, and especially because when I started the first one I had no intention of having a char like Gordon but it’s not that when I started writing I became more like him, he has become more like me as he’s gotten older.

 

Me: Any tips for young writers?

Derek: This is one piece of advice I give to everyone who asks me this. If you knock me off the bestseller charts I will hunt you down and kill you with a spoon. That’s my one tip and other pieces of advice include ignore everyone, literally ignore everyone else. You write what you want to write. When I wrote Skulduggery Pleasant I didn’t have a contract I wasn’t paid I didn’t have anything and because of that I just put in anything really, monsters, murder mystery, and there’s fights, there’s comedy there’s this, this and this. If I had looked around at books that are all pretty out there I wouldn’t go oh no I can’t do this because nobody’s done it before so I can’t do it. I just wrote what I wanted to write. And what I wanted was to put everything into one. So that’s what I did. Basically, you write what you want to write and forget about everyone else.

 

Me: At Age 12, where did you see yourself?

Derek: In the mirror.
Oh! I see, I see, what I saw myself doing in the future.
Writing. Either that or an artist because I wanted to work with comics but I wasn’t that good of an artist, I got kicked out of art college, but writing was the one thing that stayed with me.

 

Me: Was there any other purpose of Skulduggery Pleasant other than entertain and amaze?

Derek: No, I didn’t write it as any type of career move, I didn’t write it to educate or teach valuable lessons. I’m not concerned about things like that but there is no message. The only possible message that could be derived from it is how to be a good person. Because Valkyrie is based on a real person and I think she is a decent person and so Valkyrie and Skulduggery behave how I reckon people should behave. So it’s just to be a good person, to be strong and honourable, stick up for a little guy no matter what.
That’s my message. I’m just trying to make the world a better place!

 

Me: What’s the best thing about writing?

Derek: That fact that, you get to do as a career what you would be doing as a hobby. That put simply.

 

Me: Why Tanith?!

Derek: Because I the first book, I was going to kill her off, but my agent told me I couldn’t do that so we made a deal, I said Ok we’ll keep her, but so long as I can torture her in every book since. So, she’s been shot, stabbed, thrown off a building, she’s been nailed to a chair. And really, being possessed is just an extension of that, it’s the logical conclusion. And I have the right to kill her in the last book if I want to.

 

Me: Would you consider making Skulduggery Pleasant into a movie?

Derek: I would consider it, it was with Warner Brothers then the writers wrote back and we’re working on the script with some great people, but I cannot guarantee that a movie will be made and that, if it is made that’ll be any good. And as for who would play Valkyrie and Skulduggery, just an open audition for Valkyrie, around the world. And personally, I think I should play Skulduggery. Just motion capture me, CG, personally, I think I should play all the part. Skulduggery, Valkyrie, I could play the furniture, the trees. Just, they can do amazing things with computers.

 

Me: Are you going to write another series?

Derek: Yes, now, I don’t know what it’ll be. The Skulduggery books: There’ll be nine books in all, and then many people’s lives will be over and end in sorrow but after that I don’t know. I will obviously continue to write but whatever my next series will be it is going to have to tick all the boxes that Skulduggery Pleasant did so it’s going to have the horror, the action, the fantasy, the fun. Characters that speak really fast and annoy people. So I don’t know what it is yet but when I write it, it’ll be bloody brilliant.

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Interview with Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon

Christopher Paolini, the author of the Inheritance Cycle, came down to Christchurch at the weekend for the Armageddon Expo.  Along with hundreds of other fans, I went along to listen to Christopher talk about his books and get some copies of his books signed.  I caught up with Christopher to ask him a few questions about his books and writing.

  • What inspired you to write the Inheritance Cycle?

Boredom, mainly, and the desire to have adventures myself. Growing up, I never wanted to be a writer. No, I wanted to be flying dragons and fighting monsters! But since I couldn’t do that, and since I had a lot of time on my hands after I graduated from high school at fifteen (I was homeschooled my whole life), I decided to write my daydreams down. Fortunately for me, enough people around the world have enjoyed reading them that I get to tell stories for a living.

  • How do you keep track of all the different characters within the world of your books.

With lots and lots and lots of files. I didn’t used to do that when I started Eragon, but very quickly I found myself with so many characters, I couldn’t keep track of all of them in my head. So I started writing them down in a file, along with all of the words of my invented languages, timelines, and so on. It can be a bit tedious, but in the long run, it saves a lot of effort.

  • How did it feel to get your story published when you were so young?

Well, it was gratifying to know that people actually wanted to read something that I had written. And it was really neat to see my books shelved in the library and bookstores just like all of the books I had read growing up. But at the same time, it was a strange experience to go from a rather rural upbringing in Montana to traveling all around the world and talking to thousands of people at a time. Writing and publishing these books changed my life completely, and again, I’m grateful for the opportunities they have given me.

  • The Inheritance Cycle has been a huge phenomenon. Do you feel any pressure from your fans to write something just as amazing, or even better, next?

Not really. I like to think that whatever I write next will be better than what I’ve written before (I’ve learned a lot from each book, after all), but either way, I’m happy with what I accomplished with the Inheritance cycle, and it won’t bother me if my future books aren’t as popular. When I started Eragon, I was just trying to write the sort of story that I wanted to read myself. Moving forward, that’s all I can hope to do. I can’t write to please others, only myself.

That said, I do think you’ll enjoy my next book. 🙂

  •  How did you find the experience of your book being made into a film?

Strange and surreal! I’m glad that the movie was made—very few books are ever adapted into films, after all—and I gave as much input as I could into the process, but ultimately, the movie reflects the director’s and the studio’s vision of the story, even as the books reflect mine. Hopefully we’ll get some more movies in the future, though.

  • What books would you suggest for anyone that loves the Inheritance cycle?

Dune by Frank Herbert, Magician and sequels by Raymond E. Feist; A Wizard of Earthsea and the first two sequels by Ursula K. Le Guin; the Belgariad, the Mallorian, and the Elenium by David Eddings; Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, by Tad Williams; the Gormenghast trilogy by Mervyn Peake; The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison; the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffery; the Pit Dragon trilogy by Jane Yolen, the Redwall series by Brian Jacques; Fablehaven and sequels by Brandon Mull; and many, many more. 

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

Because I didn’t have anything else to do at the time, and because I’ve always enjoyed creating things with my hands, whether it was knives, swords, drawings, chain mail, or books. Also, because stories (both in books and in other media) touch me in a way that few things in this world do, and I wanted to share that feeling with other people.

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

Worst thing? Having to sit down every day and work on the same thing for years on end, even if I don’t feel like it at that particular moment. Best thing? Getting paid to describe my dreams for a living, and knowing that what I’ve written has changed people’s lives all around the world.

  •  If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

A blacksmith, or a professional artist, or a film director. Whatever I ended up doing, I know that I would make things. That’s what I love to do—make things.

  • If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers what would it be?

Hmm. There’s no way I can restrict it to one piece of advice, so here’s what I always tell aspiring writers, regardless of their age:

  1. Read, read, read, read. Good writers are good readers. Read what you love, but also read things outside of your comfort zone, because you’ll learn more than if you just stick with what you’re familiar with.
  2. Write every single day. Don’t wait for inspiration. I only get inspiration about once every three months. In the meantime, I write. I write on weekends, I write on holidays, and I write on my birthday. In short, I write. I do take Christmas off—and of course I can’t really write when I’m traveling—but that’s the extent of it.  Writing is like playing a musical instrument: if you want to get good at it, then you have to practice every single day, even when you don’t feel like it.  So unless you’re in the hospital—and maybe even then—you better write.  Of all the traits an author can possess, persistence is the most important. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. If you don’t practice, you’ll never master your craft. As Calvin Coolidge said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”
  3. Write about whatever it is you care about the most. Writing is often difficult, but if you truly care about the subject material, that’ll help you through the rough patches.  And it doesn’t matter what your interests are. Just don’t let someone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t write. If you want to compose a twelve-volume epic about singing toasters and flying unicorns … then go for it! There are over six billion people on this planet. Through sheer odds, I guarantee that there are lots of other people out there who like the same things you do, no matter how obscure they might be.
  4. Learn everything you can about the language you’re writing in. Grammar is boring, I know, but the better you understand your language, the better you’ll be able to get what’s in your head onto the page and into someone else’s head.
  5. Find someone in your life—friend, family member, teacher, librarian, etc.—someone who is a good reader, who likes the sort of thing you’re writing, and who can help edit your work. As painful as editing can be, I guarantee that you’ll learn more from editing than you ever will from just writing. The trick isn’t just to perform (and make no mistake, writing is a performance), the trick is to perform and to consciously evaluate what you’re doing so that you can improve.  For example, when singing, it’s sometimes hard to hear if you’ve hit a bad note. That’s why every professional singer goes to a voice coach. Sometimes more than one. Writing is no different. Your trusted readers, your editors, are your voice coaches. Listen to them, and you’ll improve at your craft far faster than you would otherwise.
  6. This doesn’t work for every author, but I would also recommend plotting out your stories beforehand. Again, a musical analogy may serve: it’s hard to compose a piece of music while performing it, so first you compose it, and then you can concentrate upon performing it as beautifully as possible. So too with writing. Also, read the book Story by Robert McKee. It’s highly useful when it comes to learning how to understand the underlying structure of stories.  If I try to write without knowing where the story is going, I get instant writer’s block.
  7. As a corollary to No. 2 – don’t give up. It’s incredibly easy to give up, and there are many, many people in the world who will tell you that you can’t do something. Well, I’m here to tell you that you can, assuming you’re reasonably intelligent and willing to put in the work. Sure, you’re going to get discouraged, and there are going to be days when it seems impossible to finish a book or get it published. That happens to all of us. Even once we’re published. The trick is to keep plugging away and trying to get better.
  8. And lastly, try to have fun. You don’t have to have fun every day, but try to have fun more days than you don’t. If you can’t, maybe it’s time to think of a profession in a different line of work. 

 

Thank you for reading my books, and I hope you enjoy my future ones even more.

And as Eragon himself would say, “Sé onr sverdar sitja hvass!”

May your swords stay sharp.

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Our own “Wild West” story

Hi everyone! It’s wonderful to be invited along to chat to you all and I’m looking forward to sharing a bit of my writing journey with you. As you can see from the books I’ve written, it’s obvious where much of my inspiration comes from! I’m animal mad, and that includes all animals – dogs, horses, wolves, cats, I love them all, and many of them pop up in my books. I also love learning about our fascinating past so often I try to weave history into my stories as well.

This is certainly true for my latest book, The Drover’s Quest, which is set in the 1860s gold-mining era. It’s the story of a headstrong girl who disguises herself as a boy so she can join a cattle drove across the Southern Alps to find her missing gold-digger father. During this time, many cattle were driven from Christchurch to the West Coast over the newly formed Arthur’s Pass to feed the miners. Charlotte (“Charlie”) has many adventures and mishaps riding her horse and working her dog across the wild mountain pass.

This story was inspired by the horses in my life and the trekking I do for pleasure. I love riding through the bush and having fun rounding up our pet cow, Bubbles, on my horse. And horses feature largely in our pioneering past. They were the main form of transport of course, but they were also used to move vast herds of cattle and sheep across the land. In some ways, our history in the late 1800s was similar to the taming of the “Wild West” of America. Rugged pioneers, bush cowboys, gun-toting outlaws, and desperate diggers feature in our past too. In The Drover’s Quest, many of these colourful characters gallop through the pages. I hope you’ll enjoy their journey.

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The 13th Horseman Launch Party

On Friday at Shirley Library we hosted the New Zealand launch of Barry Hutchison’s The 13th Horseman.  We had some giveaways, a feast fit for a Horseman of the Apocalypse, and some special launch videos from Barry in Scotland.

If you weren’t able to get to the launch on Friday you can still join in the fun here and find out about this awesome book.  Barry made 3 videos especially for his readers in NZ, in which he introduces The 13th Horseman, reads from the book, and answers some questions.  Come on in and join the party!

Barry introduces The 13th Horseman

Barry reads an excerpt from The 13th Horseman

Barry answers some questions about The 13th Horseman

Thanks so much for the great videos Barry!

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Fast Five with Fleur Beale

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

It happened by accident really. Mum was always writing and telling her own stories and when I’d left home she sent me notes from a writing course she went to. I started writing very short stories for Grampa’s Place which was a radio programme for pre-schoolers. Once you start writing, you get hooked.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Being able to be boss of my own world. It’s also a good thing to be if you’re curious because you always want to know more, you want to find out why and how. I fear that I’m horribly curious.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

That’s a hard one! I love Rocco by Sherryl Jordan, The Changeover by Margaret Mahy, See Ya, Simon by David Hill, The Bridge by Jane Higgins, and I admire and adore Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary books. Marmaduke Duck and the Marmalade Jam by Juliette McIver is another favourite too. I’d better stop . . .

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

I spent a month in London over Christmas and although I greatly enjoyed it, it was wonderful to come home to bright days, green landscapes and space. Yesterday I would have said Wellington’s balmy, beautiful weather, but today there’s a gale force wind again so scrub that. I hugely enjoy being able to go into schools – that’s a real privilege. I love it that the people who write for young adults and children are a friendly and supportive bunch.

5. What book changed your life?

I can’t really claim to have a book that changed my life, although possibly getting my first book published did because it made me want to keep going, to make sure that it hadn’t just been a fluke.

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Fast Five with Johanna Knox

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

When I was about 20, it dawned on me that it was the only thing I could truly spend hours on end doing, week after week, month after month – without getting too bored or frustrated.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

I especially like the thinking stages – where you dream stuff up before you get it down in writing. It feels exciting. I love research too, so I gravitate towards writing projects where I have to do some detective work, or learn about new things. Fun in a different way is going over and editing what I’ve already written. When it’s going well (which it isn’t always), it’s very satisfying.

The other great thing about being a writer is that you have a reason – that no one can argue with – to spend a lot of time reading. (Since everyone knows that to get better at writing you have to read a lot.)

3. What’s your favouriteNew Zealandbook?

It changes almost every day, but today it’s The Native Trees of New Zealand by JT Salmon. Every time I open it I go on a mini bush adventure without even leaving my seat.

4. What do you love aboutNew Zealand?

Lots of things. Most importantly, almost all my friends and family are here.

5. What book changed your life?

So many books have in different ways. I was upset and shocked reading books about World War 2 when I was 11 and 12. They changed the way I saw the world.

More happily, when I was younger, the books that coloured my outlook vividly and permanently were often books of fairytales, folk tales, and mythology … For example I adored my Mum’s books of Greek mythology. (She was a classical studies lecturer.)  When you read those ancient, great tales over and over again, you can’t help it – you start to see the themes and story-lines and character types popping up all over the place in your own real life.

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Fast Five with James Norcliffe

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

I discovered quite early on that not only was I able to write, but that I really enjoyed writing. It was one of the few things I was any good at, so a no brainer really.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

The best thing about being a children’s writer is that it allows you to go on playing long after most people have stopped.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Probably Maurice Gee’s Plumb.

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

Apart from the people I’m close to, the environment we haven’t managed to trash yet. Anywhere, probably near the sea, with trees and a sausage.

5. What book changed your life?

Just one? I’m so impressionable, usually the last book I’ve read has changed my life. The cute answer would be Janet and John because it started me on the reading road. In childhood Tom Sawyer or The Island in the Pines, adolescence it would probably have been The Catcher in the Rye, closely followed by Catch 22. After these, there would be a bit of a catalogue.

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Fast Five with Amy Brown

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

My parents’ house has always had full bookshelves; there are piles of books next to each bed, and even beside the bath. The idea of being able and allowed to write the words in these important objects was thrilling. In Standard Two, I said that one day I wanted to write books for children. After school that day, I asked Mum what she thought I might be when I grew up. When she guessed that I would be a writer, I was delighted at her response. I still am.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

When I’ve been writing for quite a while – perhaps two hours non-stop – the words sometimes begin to come unexpectedly. The chapter unfolds almost as if I am reading rather than writing it myself. Rereading these pages later, I often forget having written parts of them.  This is an exciting feeling.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

I won’t choose a favourite, because it is too difficult. But, I will say that Maurice Gee’s O Trilogy has stayed with me since I first read it nearly twenty years ago. I still have dreams (nightmares?) about Susan Ferris meeting the Birdfolk. I also vividly remember Jack Lasenby’s Harry Wakatipu stories. If you haven’t read them, Harry Wakatipu is a surly talking packhorse who lives with a deer culler in the Ureweras and gets into all sorts of mischief. Recently, I tried to tell a friend the story of when Harry starts illegally tickling trout, but had to stop because I was crying with laughter.

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

I love that, in New Zealand, you’re never too far from the sea. I also love that you can walk barefoot without worrying about snakes or spiders biting you (I currently live in Australia).

5. What book changed your life?

Because I read it so often, and then later used it as a model for my own books, Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson probably changed my life. Its sense of humour, weird 1950s references to Bing Crosby, and brilliant line drawings have no doubt contributed to who I am today. I admit that it isn’t the best book in the world, but it has been important to me.
Amy Brown is the author of the Pony Tales series, including the latest book, Jade’s Summer of Horses.

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Fast Five with Kyle Mewburn

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

I never really thought I “want to be a writer”. Mainly because I was always told being a writer wasn’t a “proper job”. Besides, I knew most writers never made much money, and for a long time I believed making money was very important. (Because that’s what nearly everybody said.) Writing has always been like a bloodhound on my trail. Over the years I tried all sorts of other jobs, trying to throw it off the scent, but I never quite managed it. In the end it caught up with me. Now I realise there are much more important things than making lots of money. Like doing something you love. Or bringing wild and crazy ideas to life.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Getting to hang out with other writers. They are such an entertaining bunch. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d probably have to become a stalker. Or a librarian.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

I didn’t grow up in New Zealand, so I don’t have any all-time favourite New Zealand books. It kind of changes every year. At the moment my favourite books are Northwood by Brian Falkner (which is just such an original thrilling story) and Stomp! by Ruth Paul (because it’s delightfully simple and beautiful).

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

I could say “that it’s next to Australia”. haha (I am, after all, originally from Brisbane.) Otherwise, I’d have to say its size. There’s so much variety packed into a small space. Two hours drive and I can be swimming in the ocean, skiing in the mountains or tramping in the wilderness. It’s unique and slightly magical. Though the flipside is you sometimes have to drive two hours to find like-minded people, too.

5. What book changed your life?

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It’s deservedly a classic. My Year 7 teacher gave me his copy on the last day of school and I’ve read it every year since. If, like me, you love word games and puns, there’s no better book on the planet. It set me off on a life-long quest to write (or invent) the perfect pun. I haven’t done it yet, but boy I’ve had enormous fun trying!!

Kyle Mewburn is the award-winning author of Kiss, Kiss, Yuck, Yuck, Old Hu-hu, Hill and Hole and the hilarious and disgusting Dinosaur Rescue series.

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Fast Five with Sharon Holt

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

I wanted to be a writer because I absolutely loved reading books and being in libraries. I wanted to help other children find the joy that I found between the pages of so many wonderful children’s books.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

There are many great things about being a writer, but the best thing for me is when children come up and say they love a story I wrote.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

My favourite NZ book is The Terrible Q by Tanya Batt.

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

The thing I love most about New Zealand is how easy it is to get to the sea. I love the feeling of looking out over the ocean and imagining what’s on the other side.

5. What book changed your life?

The book that changed my life was a picture book that I was reading at bed time to my two toddlers. I don’t know what the story was but it was probably something by Lynley Dodd. While reading it to the children, I suddenly realised that I had forgotten to be a children’s author! I was already 40 so I very quickly started writing stories and sending them to Learning Media. Before long I was a published author and I haven’t looked back since!

Sharon has been writing for 10 years and has had stories, poems, plays and articles published in the School Journal.  Her latest novels, Sabotage and No Survivors, are  in the New Zealand My Story series and tell the stories of two girls growing up in New Zealand at the time of the Rainbow Warrior bombing and the Erebus crash.  Sharon has also written her own joke book called It’s True! You can make your own jokes, because her son kept trying to make up terrible jokes.

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Fast Five with Ruth Paul

1. Why did you want to be a writer?

Because, well … why not? As an illustrator, being a writer also gives me more control over the total story. Plus I  have only myself to let down if I don’t illustrate the story well enough. Doing both gives me the chance to create a more unified picture book. 2.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Having fun with language. Having fun, full stop. Oh, and getting emails from kids and parents who’ve read my books.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Little Rabbit and the Sea by Gavin Bishop.

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

The space, the climate, the small population, and all the opportunity we have to create a good society and environment to live in.

5. What book changed your life?

Not a book, but stories my father told me as a child that involved all the animals in our street in an imaginary fairyland. They were funny and wicked and naughty and special. They always involved dog poo (there was a lot of that in our street). It made me love the idea of sharing stories.

Ruth Paul is both an author and an illustrator.  Some of her books include Stomp, Two Little Pirates, The King’s Bubbles and The Animal Undie Ball

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Fast Five with Brian Falkner

1. Why did you want to be a writer? 

Don’t know. Just always did. Maybe because I was a keen reader as a child.

2. What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Visiting schools and literary festivals and meeting your audience. Without that, it would be quite a solitary vocation.

3. What’s your favourite New Zealand book?

Aarrgh! Don’t make me choose. Too many brilliant books to choose from.

4. What do you love most about New Zealand?

The people. The climate. Rangitoto. The beaches. Lots of other things. I miss NZ!

5. What book changed your life?

Any one of the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton. These were a revelation for me. It was fabulously exciting (with lashings of fun) to find a new Enid Blyton book was in the library when I was young. I am sure that these books are part of the reason that I became a writer.

Brian Falkner is the author of The Tomorrow Code, The Real Thing, Brainjack, Northwood, and his latest book, Team Recon Angel: Assault.

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Interview with Lara Morgan

Today we’re joined by Lara Morgan, author of The Rosie Black Chronicles, which includes Genesis and the latest book, Equinox.  We caught up with Lara to ask her about Rosie Black, future technology and the best things about being a writer.

  • What five words would you use to describe The Rosie Black Chronicles?

Dystopian thriller with romantic elements

  • What idea/s did the Rosie Black Chronicles grow from?

Essentially from my interest in climate change and how it will affect us in the future, and what I see as a growth in the power and influence of massive corporations within our political and social structure. I wanted to explore what kind of future could arise if we didn’t regulate the way we are going now and the world of Rosie Black is the result of that. I’m also interested in space travel and the possibility of outer planet colonisation so I threw that in the mix as well.

  •  Who is the character of Rosie Black based on?

No one in particular. Rosie has elements of my teenage self in her, but she is also a creation of the world she’s come from – the future Earth. I’m very much interested in the psychology of people, how they become who they are so the type of person Rosie is comes from the experiences she’s had as she’s grown ie losing her mother, being poor in a broken world, as well as just her innate self. I believe in strong rounded characters so I tried to create that in Rosie.

  • If you could have one piece of technology from Rosie’s world, what would it be?

Space ships – her Aunt Essie’s little ship would be a very cool thing to have. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of travelling through space.

  • Who is your favourite author/childrens author?

That is a very hard one to answer, but one of my favourites is Ursula Le Guin, especially her Earthsea stories.

  • Why did you want to be a writer?

It’s what gives me the most satisfaction. I’ve always been a daydreamer and writing is just a way of getting those dreams out of my head and onto the page. I just love making up stories and never feel as at peace as when I can get up from my desk at the end of the day and feel I’ve achieved something.

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

Best is definitely being my own boss and being able to work from home in my pyjamas. The worst is the need to promote yourself. These days being writer means having to be good at self promotion as well as promoting your work, building a known name, and that means talking yourself up at events and gatherings and that doesn’t come naturally to me, or I think most writers.

  • What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Make sure you finish what you start. I’ve spoken to many aspiring writers who focus too much on fine tuning a first chapter, or first few chapters, before they’ve finished writing the story all the way through to the end and that is a fine way to ensure you never finish anything. And you can’t get unfinished work published. It is hard and the temptation is to think that if you just get the first bit right then the rest will be easier, you’ll have a better idea, but really that only works for a minute amount of people. Usually the best way to get the story right is to write it all the way through to the end, not worrying too much about how some things might not quite make sense, or some metaphors are terrible, or your dialogue sucks, but going forward anyway until you finish it. Then you go back and start to refine it. You have to allow yourself the room to make mistakes in the first draft safe in the knowledge that only you will see it. And I mean no one else, really, don’t show it to anyone, not even your mum. That’s what works for me anyway – and for many, many other writers. And read everything. Writers read, it’s essential.

Check out Lara’s Facebook page to find out more about the Rosie Black Blog Tour http://www.facebook.com/therosieblackchronicles

Join Lara tomorrow on the Booksellers New Zealand blog.

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Interview with Charlie Fletcher

Charlie Fletcher is the author of one of my favourite reads of 2011, Far Rockaway, as well as the Stoneheart Sequence.  I caught up with Charlie to ask him a few questions about Far Rockaway, classic characters and writing.

  • Cat and her grandfather Victor, plan to go to Far Rockaway at the end of the subway line.  Is Far Rockaway based on an actual place?

Absolutely, Far Rockaway is based on an actual place. If you’re in New York you can jump on the subway, and take the A-line train all the way eastwards, under the river, through Brooklyn and across Queens on to a long sand spit sticking out into the Atlantic and then you’re on The Rockaways . Then you just stay on the train until it literally runs out of track and America too, and that’s Far Rockaway.

Of course the other Far Rockaway in the book is an imaginary place, but it’s based on two very real landscapes, Solas Beach on the island of North Uist, and the uninhabited island of Mingulay, both in the Outer Hebrides where we go every summer to recharge the batteries. They’re among my favorite places in the world.

  • Cat meets some of the best characters from classic adventure stories in Far Rockaway.  Was it difficult to make those characters sound authentic?

If I did get the voices of say, Long John Silver or Alan Breck right, it’s entirely because I’m a writer, and thus a thief, and I stole from the best, for example,  Robert Louis Stevenson. He’s such a tremendously good story-teller and  he created magnificent heroes and anti-heroes in such a well-crafted and distinctive way that their voices just can’t help but live on in your head. And if their voices live in your head, you can then imagine how they might say things the original author never made them say, which makes reviving them such a pleasure.  I can often be found striding up and down my office having imaginary conversations with myself in the guise of my characters, and doing the voices at the same time. It’s a lot less dangerous than the other times when I’m acting out sword fights or bits of action in order to be able to describe them accurately, but it’s MUCH more embarrassing if any of my family walk in and catch me at it.

  • The main character in Far Rockaway, Cat, is a strong, independent girl who doesn’t need anyone to save her.  Is Cat based on someone in particular?

My daughter thinks I was inspired to write the book FOR her, which is generally true, because I write books for both my kids first. And it’s specifically true in this case because when she was about 12 she fell for a certain series of vampire related books but then suddenly un-fell for them a year later .  When I asked her why, she said well, she’d kinda liked the girly romance thing and everything first time round, but on a re-read realized that the heroine was always hanging about moping and waiting for the glamorous guys to rescue her. She thought that on reflection this was ‘a bit wimpy and old-fashioned’, and that she wanted books with stronger heroines…I could have stood up and cheered. If you want to know how a Real Girl defines herself, there’s a big clue in the last four words on p.403.

  • If you could meet one book character in real life who would you choose?

If it was a female character, it’d be Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Or Scout Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Or any or all of Terry Pratchett’s witches – Granny Weatherwax, Magrat or Nanny Ogg.  Or Eowyn from Lord of the Rings.  If it was a male character, then it’s Long John Silver from Treasure Island or Alan Breck Stuart from Kidnapped. Or  Mahbub Ali from Kim. I was going to say Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, but then I thought that Merlin from The Sword in the Stone might be more fun, since he’s not only a wizard, but is also living backwards in time. It’d be interesting to see what he had to tell us about the future.

  • What were the books that got you hooked when you were a kid?
Going from my earliest recollections, in order: being read to: Dr Seuss and Winnie the Pooh.  And then reading for myself, pre-teen? Tintin. Paddington. Asterix. Any comic I could find, especially The Eagle, Victor, Hotspur or The Trigan Empire strip off the back end of a mag called Look and Learn.  A book called Mary Plain, also about a bear. Biggles. Enid Blyton. The Borrowers.  The Rescuers. Alan Garner. Geoffrey Treece. Rosemary Sutcliffe. Ian Fleming.
  • If you could give one piece of advice to young writers, what would it be?

Read everything and anything you can lay your hands on. If you want to write: do it. Don’t let anyone discourage you about writing – LEAST OF ALL YOURSELF. Keep at it. Pay attention to everything, because everything matters. So does everyone. Keep writing, even when it’s hard. Don’t be discouraged because what you write sounds like something else you’ve read. That’s not a bad thing. Every writer began like that, and the ones that didn’t are lying.  Good luck and enjoy the ride.

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