Posts tagged Lee Murray

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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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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The Dreaded Book Review…


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Paula! 

You can check out Paula’s blog at


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Running Writers

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

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

Lisa Tamati

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

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Judging a book by its cover…

When choosing a book at the library, does the cover art influence your selection?

BOBFrontCoverPalmerston North artist Vonnie Sterritt’s artwork features on the cover of my fantasy adventure Battle of the Birds. Already well-known for her stunning atmospheric landscape paintings, Vonnie jumped at the chance to create the cover art for Battle of the Birds. “I like fantasy and the fantastic, and that’s what appealed to me about Lee’s book. When I read the story, I wanted to find a particular part that entertained all the bird characters. I symbolised those characters, looking at each bird’s feathers and stylising them. And I thought the feathers should be bright, especially for children.” When using a story for inspiration Vonnie says she takes a particular approach: “I put everything else away so I can focus on it and just live it. With a story, it’s important to reflect the right feel, personality, and atmosphere.”

For the new book I am co-editing with Piper Mejia, Beyond This Age (to be released on March 22), the cover art is by 19-year-old Samara Kirkham. Beyond this age 300 resI feel Samara’s design beautifully captures the content of the book, a collection of fantasy and science fiction writing by intermediate school students. She has chosen an undeveloped style, using images of a mermaid, spaceship and apple to hint at the stories inside. And the dark colours, the blues and greys, indicate that the stories are not all handsome princes and happily ever after.

These days publishers choose covers, which they believe will entice you to read the book. The following image shows 8 different covers for JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel. Inside the text is the same, only the covers are different. Which one do you prefer and why?

Harry potter covers

PS: It’s the end of the week I’m nearly finished reading my first book by a New Zealand writer, which means I’m on target for my goal of reading four books by New Zealand writers this month. How are you doing? Can’t think of any New Zealand titles? Ask your friendly librarian.

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Writers Behaving Badly


Hello again. It’s me, Lee Murray, in the pineapple.

Have you ever wondered where writers come up with the ideas for their stories? I’m going to let you in on a secret. Writers go to dastardly lengths in pursuit of a good story: we exaggerate, eavesdrop, lie and steal – all the things we tell you kids you’re not supposed to do! Let me explain:   granny

For a good story, writers exaggerate, making everything bigger, louder, and flashier. For example, a story about a granny adopting an adorable stray kitten is all very nice, but not particularly original. But if I exaggerate, dear old granny could find herself caring instead for a sabre tooth tiger, which makes for a much more exciting story.

For a good story, writers steal, taking characteristics from real people, or plot ideas from real life. For example, if I like the way my neighbour warbles Kimbra songs while he mows his lawns, I might steal that characteristic for my story character. If I read in the paper that the mayor fell off the stage while making a speech, I might steal that for my story plot, too.

For a good story, writers eavesdrop, listening in on conversations, not to be nosy, but to ensure their dialogue sounds realistic and appropriate. For example, my megalomaniac baddy won’t be believable if he speaks like the helpful librarian at the local library. The language people use, their tone of voice and their gestures reveal a lot about their character, so some discreet eavesdropping can be a very useful when developing characters.

eavesdropFor a good story, writers lie. Okay, we don’t exactly lie, but we do make things up.  For example: a group of children train as fighter pilots in an attempt to save the world from ant-like aliens (Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card), a rare birth defect gives a girl special abilities (Ghost Hand by Ripley Patton), and a young hover car racer enters a life and death competition (Hover Car Racer, by Matthew Reilly). For a story to work, the ideas don’t have to be true, they just have to believable. Last week, I told the students at St Mary’s School in Tauranga that their school principal moonlights as the tooth fairy. Not exactly a lie…

So lying, stealing, eavesdropping and exaggerating: all part of a writer’s day.

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Interview with Karolyn Timarkos

Hello! My name is Lee Murray and it’s my first official day as your Star Author, the first day of New Zealand Book Month, and the Leefirst day of Karolyn Timarkos’ life as a published author. It’s been 12 years since the moment Karolyn first got the idea for her book, Keeper of the Atlas, which is finally being released today. And here on the Christchuch Kids Blog we are lucky enough to get the very first interview with this exciting new author.

Lee: When did you first have the idea for this book?

Karolyn: In 2001 I was working on a cruise ship, and as we rounded Cape Horn the whole idea for the story starting unrolling in front of me like a movie. I walked out of the restaurant (ignoring the shouts from the maitre d’), went down to my cabin, and wrote down everything I could remember.

Lee: On a cruise ship at Cape Horn! That must have been quite a revelation. Can you tell us a bit about the story (without giving away the ending)?

Karolyn: Fifteen-year-old Briana Ryan, and her Doctor-Who obsessed twin brother Hamish, can trace their ancestry back over a thousand years to the Welsh Princes of Powys and Deheubarth. However, there is a mysterious secret to their ancestry that they are unaware of. The appearance of a mysterious stranger who calls himself the Keeper of the Atlas leads them to embark on a desperate quest, where they find themselves fighting creatures they thought only existed in mythology. And as if that isn’t enough, the twins are also being hunted by an immortal knight who wants to prevent them from saving the world from a terrible future.

Lee: I love mythology! I can’t wait to read about the twins’ adventures. How long did it take you to write Keeper of the Atlas?

Karolyn: Ha! A couple of months to write it, and then about 10 years of editing because I kept changing things.

Lee: That is a long time. You must be very determined! Was it because it was a hard story to write?
Karolyn: The initial writing wasn’t hard. While I did do a lot of research on mythology, I am fortunate in that, unlike most authors, I don’t painstakingly plan out all the characters, plot, etc beforehand (which, the experts say, you are supposed to do). I simply sit down at a keyboard, and the story writes itself. I keep writing to find out for myself what happens. All my characters developed very strong personalities of their own early on, and no matter how much I tried to force some of them into pre-conceived ideas I had about them, they were determined to return to their own individualities.

Lee: I guess it just goes to show that if you have a good idea and strong well-developed characters, then anything is possible. But didn’t you ever get discouraged?

Karolyn TimarkosKarolyn: Writing? No. Trying to get published? Heck, yes. I was rejected by every major publisher in New Zealand, but did have a lovely hand-written note from Dame Christine Cole Catley saying “You have a wonderful style of writing that is quite unique”. She also suggested the manuscript (which has since been cut into two books) was too long for New Zealand publishers, so I tried overseas, and collected a mass of rejections from there as well. The final straw was a hand-written note from the owner of a Sci-Fi/Fantasy publishing company who said “I think your story is very well written and would sell incredibly well, but I personally don’t like science fiction or fantasy stories so will not be publishing it.” That’s when I decided to self-publish. Facebook gave me a lot of encouragement – I manage to amass nearly 200 LIKES for the first three chapters of my manuscript, and it soon became obvious that while the publishers all rejected it, the public loved the story.

Lee: It seems good stories are like inflatable pool toys, eventually they come to the surface. What advice would you give kids wanting to write?

Karolyn: Do what feels right for you. There is so much advice out there, and so much of it conflicting, that I just ignore it all and write how I want to. However, if you are serious about writing, do find a good editor. I have a Canadian author (Holly Bennett) who I use, and she is amazing. No one sees the mistakes in their own work, and there were lots in mine before Holly fixed it all up. I am also a firm believer that self-publishing is the way of the future. When you consider what publishers reject (Harry Potter – rejected 9 times, A Wrinkle in Time – rejected 26 times, Dr Seuss – 24 rejections) it is obvious that many publishers really have no idea what will make a best-seller.

Lee: So, ignore all advice and write what feels right. Thanks for sharing with us, Karolyn. We wish you every success with Keeper of the Atlas.

You can read more about the book at

If you’d like to win a copy of Karolyn Timarkos’ book, Keeper of the Atlas, send in a sentence or two about your favourite mythological creature explaining why it’s your favourite. Or you can describe a new mythological creature that you’ve made up yourself.  The usual Kids’ Blog terms and conditions will apply. I look forward to reading your responses.

Timarkos - Keeper of the Atlas cover 600

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Meet our March Star Author – Lee Murray

Our wonderful March Star Author is New Zealand author, Lee Murray.   Lee Murray used to be a scientist, but now writes fiction for adults and children. Her junior title, Battle of the Birds won the 2012 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Youth Novel.  Lee has also had her stories and articles published in newspapers, magazines and anthologies, and she is proud to be co-editor of Write Off Line 2012, a collection of writing by secondary students.

Thanks for joining us Lee!  We look forward to hearing all about your writing and your books.

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