Posts tagged New Zealand author

Star Author: Barbara Else – How much research do you do when you’re writing a fantasy story?

Really annoying answer: it depends.

Sometimes you need the exact facts about something in your story. Like, if you want to set a story in the real Paris or an imaginary version of it, you might need to know the name of the river that flows through it (the Loire), what the French call their money (the lire) and those sorts of practical details. It never hurts to check facts or tiny details. For example, I did some research about ocean currents when I was writing The Travelling Restaurant. After all, I figured that sort of thing would be true whether it was the real world or a fantasy.

Other times, doing some research can help your fantasy ideas get bigger and better. When I was writing The Queen and the Nobody Boy I wanted an unusual flying vehicle so I looked on the internet for the history of air travel. I learned that one early inventor thought that a plane would never be able to get off the ground so he imagined it being attached to a tower. People would climb up the tower into the plane, then the engines would start and off they’d go. I used that information as a basis for the wind-train that Hodie and Sibilla use to escape the Um’Binnians (except it gets them into more trouble).  For The Volume of Possible Endings I wanted to have the first submarine built in Fontania. So I looked up the history of submarines and found heaps of fascinating stuff that happened in our own real world.  For instance, centuries ago someone invented a submarine that used oars – underwater!  It wasn’t a great triumph.

The not-so-annoying answer to today’s question is: no matter what you’re writing, it doesn’t hurt to find out what is possible and use the facts however you like to help your own story.

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Star Author: Barbara Else – Where do the ideas for stories come from?

Answer: ideas come from everywhere and anywhere. The first idea for The Volume of Possible Endings came from a fairy tale. It isn’t one of the best known ones, but I’d been interested by it since I was about ten or eleven. It’s a story of a girl who has either six, seven or twenty-one brothers depending on which version of the story it is. A wicked witch changes all the brothers into swans and the spell can only be broken if the girl sews shirts for them all. I remember thinking what a lot of work that would have been – especially if it was twenty-one brothers. She didn’t have a sewing machine, either. It all had to be done with a needle and thread. Yikes. What really grabbed my interest was how much she must have loved her brothers.

But of course, it would have been hard work for me as well to manage twenty-one brothers in a story. I decided that three brothers would be plenty for my story, thanks. And – this isn’t a spoiler – the brothers in this novel don’t get turned into swans. But there is magic involved, and magical wickedness.

Anyway, maybe there’s an idea here that you could use for writing one of your own stories. In fairy stories you never get a lot of information about how the characters feel. They just do things, or things just happen to them. So why not start thinking about why the characters in a fairy story come to do whatever it might be. How do they actually feel? Choose a fairy tale you especially like, say, Red Riding Hood. Why would a mother could send her precious child into a forest all by herself? Does Red Riding Hood really want to go into the forest? Or, think about how the wolf feels. For instance, how long is it since he had a good dinner? Or is he just a greedy-guts? Or a bully and a show-off? Could you tell the story from his point of view? That might be fun.

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Star Author: Barbara Else – Titles

Titles are important, aren’t they? A book need one that makes a reader intrigued as to what the story will be about. But if you’re writing a story, you don’t have to have the title right away. Sometimes the right title will just pop into your head at some stage while you’re working on the piece.

When I was writing the first Tale of Fontania, the title was pretty obvious as soon as I decided to have a sailing ship as a restaurant a sailing ship. ‘The Sailing Restaurant’ wouldn’t have sounded quite right, but The Travelling Restaurant sounded good to me. It’s at least a bit intriguing, to think of how a restaurant would travel about. (And apologies to American readers who spell travelling with only one l – traveling.)

With the second Tale, at first I thought the title would be ‘The Queen and the Elephant Boy.’ That idea soon got tossed aside when I realised it was going to be tricky having an actual elephant in the story. How could my characters have the wild adventures I wanted if they had to take an elephant along? So I made the elephant one that had died and been buried years ago. ‘The Queen and the …something … Boy’. Hmm. I had to choose a good opposite word to queen. Well the boy in the story had been ignored by everyone, treated like a nobody. So there it was: The Queen and the Nobody Boy. Opposite ideas in a title that can catch a reader’s interest.

I had no idea what I would call the third Tale. The novel opens with a boy as the main character in the first chapter. Then chapter two moves to a girl, Dorrity, who is the only child in Owl Town on the edge of the Beastly Dark. The citizens boast that their town is magic-free. But Dorrity discovers a book on her teacher’s table. When she opens it, the title page is blank at first. Then words appear on it – ‘The Volume of Possible Endings.’ Pages continue to turn on their own and stop at a list of five endings headed ‘Dorrity’s Tale.’ Magic most certainly exists in the town! She’s scared and offended at being lied to by grown-ups.

I was still wondering what to call the novel when I thought – ‘Du-uh! There’s a perfectly good title already there in the story – the title of the book in my book!’ Just as the title of the magical book revealed itself to Dorrity, the title revealed itself to me.

If you happen to be struggling to find the right title, have a look at what you’ve already written for your tale. Maybe it is lurking in a paragraph just waiting to be found.

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Little brothers

web cover low resI have two brothers, both younger than me, but only one that I think of as my ‘little brother’. He’s called Andy and he was born when I was six and going to Karori Normal School. My brother Pete is so close in age I can barely remember a time in my life without him (he was my first best friend), but I remember the day Andy was born. I drew a picture at school of what looked like a tadpole with a baby’s face – Andy in his white blanket. You couldn’t see his fuzz of red hair. I wrote underneath about ‘my baby’, and about how I liked bathing him and looking after him.

When he started walking I was Andy’s unpaid protector, dragging him from the edges of bush tracks and wharves, sure he’d die a terrible death (and convinced my mother wasn’t paying enough attention.) Later, I rolled my eyes when his little friends came over and played cars and Lego – brmmm, brmmm etc. Boys!

Andy liked collecting things, small things. He ate the cuffs of his jerseys. He was loud and sticky. His hair got redder and redder, and he got taller … and taller.

When I was writing Dappled Annie and the Tigrish, I gave Annie a little brother called Robbie. He’s six years younger than Annie – he’s 4 and Annie’s nearly 10 – and like my brother Andy, he’s loud and sticky, and likes collecting small things. He collects them in his pockets so that when he walks he rattles. His father calls them the shinies.

I hadn’t expected Robbie to be such an important character in the book. When I first wrote it, he stayed at home with his mum while Annie went on her adventure with the tigrish. But he didn’t like that. Neither did I. I kept feeling something was missing.

So I rewrote the book and found that (without being asked) Robbie charged off on the adventure too. Much to Annie’s annoyance at first – because he is loud and he is sticky and he is 4 … but, like all little brothers, she discovers he has his moments. When they’re stuck in the Giant Wood with all sorts of scary things going on, Robbie’s collection of shinies and ‘commando moves’ help save the day.

Robbie has a lot of my brother Andy in him, but he has other important little boys wrapped up in him too: especially my son Adam and godson Ned – who were/are both loud and sticky and smart and adventurous. There are glimpses too of my brother Pete and son Paul who did less of the loud, sticky, physical thing and more talking, and two little boys who came regularly to my house when I was writing: Lincoln and Carter.

Boys! Who’d be without them? As a big sister of two, and a mum of two (and a girl too, my youngest), I know I wouldn’t. Above all else these lovely boys have given me a lot to laugh about. Here’s a taste of Robbie in the book. He and Annie are visiting Mr and Mrs Hedge who are part of the hedge at the end of the garden. There’s a nest of baby fantails for Robbie to see, including Bud, the smallest …

Robbie climbed up so his blue shorts were level with Annie’s eyes. She could see his back pocket had bulgy bits where he’d put his little things, what he called his shinies: small stones and bottle tops and dice and Lego bricks and walnut shells. They weren’t all shiny, really, but their dad said Robbie was a magpie and magpies liked shiny things, so that’s how they came to be called that.

Annie could see the way Mrs. Hedge had cupped her branches around Robbie and was watching him closely. Just a glimpse of her eyes, and then they were gone.

“Bud’s the littlest one,” said Annie. “The one with the wobbly head.”

“Getting bigger,” said Mrs. Hedge, “and noisier—listen to that squeaking! They think you’ve brought worms, Robbie.”

“One, two, three, four, five,” said Robbie, counting. “There are five baby birds.”

“They’re hungry,” said Mr. Hedge. “Bud especially—he misses out. He’s small and the other babies push him aside.”

“Worms,” said Robbie, and he pushed one hand into his back pocket. Out came a broken rubber band. Robbie wiggled it in front of his nose, sniffed, then pushed it back where it had come from. He fiddled around some more. A cotton reel. String. Then a fat thing that was brown and pinkish. It wriggled.

“Here, Bud,” Robbie said, and dropped it into the nest.

All Annie could hear were the cicadas. Then:

“He did eat it!”

“Yes, he did,” said Mrs. Hedge. “Thank you, Robbie.” And the leaves parted, and there were the leafy eyes. Robbie didn’t see them—he was too busy watching the nest.

“In one gulp!” said Robbie.

“I would think so,” said Mr. Hedge. “That was a nice fat worm.”

“I’ve got my worm-hunting tee-shirt on,” said Robbie, “that’s why I found it,” and he waved towards the rose bush. “You know, Mrs. Hedge, birds are cute dinosaurs, too.”

That’s when the leaves around Robbie shivered and shivered. Then they shook and shook. And a sound like a huge wave rushed towards them. Annie tugged hard at one of Robbie’s back pockets.               “Let’s get down.”

Robbie stayed as he was.

Annie tugged again—sharper this time—and the pocket wriggled. A cute something was in there. She let go.

The wave of sound made her feel like she’d jumped into a pool of icy water—there were goosebumps all over her arms and neck. Whatever it was, it was coming closer, sweeping the wire fence and crashing across the lawn…

Wind. Sending the wire fence twanging, billowing the sheets on the line, pushing and shoving its way between Annie and Robbie and the Hedges, roaring in their faces. Mrs. Hedge’s mouth moved but didn’t make a sound as she struggled to keep a grip on the nest. Mr. Hedge gripped Mrs. Hedge.

“Robbie,” yelled Annie over the torrent of air, “get down!”

from Dappled Annie and the Tigrish (Gecko Press 2014)

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Meet your favourite authors, illustrators and storytellers!

I’m going to be one of many authors, illustrators and storytellers at the Storylines Festival Family Day in Wellington this weekend.

These free family days are great fun. It’s a chance for you to meet writerly types and listen to magical stories. Plus there are fun competitions to enter too.

So come along and join in the story fun. There are family days being held in Wellington, Dunedin, Christchurch, Whangarei and Auckland. 

Find out more about Family Days at the Storylines website.

Talk more soon 🙂

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Get set for super (duper) perigee moon!

Guess what? This year, there will be not one, not two, but three perigee supermoons. The first happened in April. The next is due early morning Monday 11 August, and the third will happen in November.

Which begs the question, what is a perigee moon, and why on earth did I end up with one in my book about Tilly Angelica, The Night of the Perigee Moon?

A perigee moon is when the moon is at its closest point to us here on earth. A supermoon is when the full moon and perigee happen together. Because it’s so close, and it’s the full moon, it looks amazing. Big, golden and HUGE. You can read more about supermoons here.

And a perigee moon ended up in my book because I happened to go stand on my back doorstep one night and saw one staring back at me. I was so taken with it that it ended up in my story.

That’s how I find my stories come together. I settle on a central idea, and then all sorts of other funny everyday events and happenings end up bossing their way in too.

When I started writing my book, I had no idea that a supermoon would end up being central to the story. That’s one of the things I love about writing – it’s an unfolding surprise, with moons, stars and all sorts of other enchantments wrapped up in it.

Now, go check out that moon!

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How to become an author – start writing!

Hi, Juliet here – star author for August. Writing that sends a shiver down my spine, because:

  • skip back five months ago – I wasn’t an author
  • skip back four years ago – I wasn’t an author, although I had started writing stories
  • skip back five years ago – I wasn’t an author, or a writer … although I *loved* to read (and I secretly, desperately wanted to write).

But I was too scared.

And distracted.

Plus I was convinced I wouldn’t be any good if I tried it anyway.

So it’s probably no surprise that my heroine Tilly and me share a similarity or two. Tilly starts off at the beginning of my first published book Night of the Perigee Moon petrified she’ll inherit some bizarre-o magical talent on her thirteenth birthday – she doesn’t want to turn into a weirdo.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying I’ve always been afraid of being overtaken by some strange, magical talent. Rather, what Tilly and I do have in common is getting distracted by the wrong things.

I’ve known for the longest time that I wanted to be a writer – since I was eight or nine – but I got distracted by the idea that this was impossible.

Writing stories was hard.

Hardly anyone gets published.

What if I didn’t have the imagination for it, anyway?

Still, whenever I sat down and read a book – Margaret Mahy in particular, whose writing I adore – I’d feel the whisper and pull of all those beautiful words. And this insistent tap on my shoulder. This voice saying I want to do that. I want to be that.

Just like Tilly, I had to work out that you’ve got to push past the distractions, and that when you do, you can transform yourself into anything you want to be. Even, it turns out, into a published author.

So, if you’re like me, and you’ve been feeling an itch or a tap on your shoulder to do or try something, but you’ve been ignoring it – try a Tilly on for size, and push past the distractions. Turn around and give that itch or nudge a good shove back.

It’s amazing where it can lead.

Talk more soon 🙂

 

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Meet our August Star Author – Juliet Jacka

Our awesome August Star Author is Juliet Jacka.  Juliet is a New Zealand author, whose debut novel, Night of the Perigee Moon, was published earlier this year.   Biography for author Juliet Jacka.   Juliet has wanted to write for years, in large part inspired by her love of Margaret Mahy’s young adult books. Escaping the call of writing would have been hard, as she comes from a family of bookworms and crossword fanatics.

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

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How fast the world can change

This is my last post on the Christchurch Kids blog. Thanks so much for hosting me – I’ve had lots of fun putting together my thoughts and pictures. I hope you’ve enjoyed them as much as I have writing them!

No one in Christchurch needs to be told how the world around them can change within minutes.

1. Sumner library The Press

But for some reason, we assume ancient ruins fall to bits really slowly. Sometimes that’s true, but often it happens much faster. The Parthenon, perched on the Acropolis in Athens, was incredibly well-built. It looked like this for over 2000 years.

2. Parthenon replica Wikipedia

Then the Turks conquered Greece. In 1687 the Venetians attacked the Turks, and the Turks stored their ammunition inside the Parthenon. When the Venetians shelled the Acropolis, a cannon ball hit the magazine and the whole temple blew up.

3. The Parthenon explosion httpict.debevec.org

Since then, the Parthenon has looked suitably ruined, but not because of the ravages of time.

4. The Parthenon today httpwelshmattsmith.blogspot.co.nz

Here’s another example – the great hall at Mykenai, where Atreus pardoned his murderous brother Thyestes in Chapter 11 of Murder at Mykenai. This is what it looks like today. You can still see the round pillar bases and the central hearth.

5. Mykenai great hall today  Cath photo

Compare it to this artist’s impression of King Nestor’s great hall at Pylos. Compare the four pillars and the central hearth with the previous photo. Atreus’s hall would have been every bit as glamourous.

6. Nestor's great hall reconstruction Piet de Jong

The palace of Mykenai burnt down in about 1200 BC, because of a massive earthquake like Christchurch’s. In one night it went from being a fabulous building to a pile of ashes. Nestor’s palace was destroyed around the same time, through enemy invasion.

War and earthquakes have ruined much of what people built in ancient times. But we tend to assume the land has stayed the same. Geology measures change in millions of years, right?

Yes and no.

In 1991, 12-14 million cubic metres of rock and ice fell of the top of Mt Cook/Aoraki. Our highest mountain is now 10 metres lower than it was, the rockfall probably triggered by an earthquake. This kind of event is more common than we realise. Often it’s big, catastrophic events that shape our countryside.

7. Mt Cook Aoraki rockfall Bob McKerrow blog

Here’s something similar that happened in Greece. In my last blog, I mentioned I was staying in a fishing village. It’s called Korfos and it’s one of the few good harbours on a mountainous coastline. I was searching for the ancient Mykenaian port nearby, because I’m planning an enemy invasion on this coast for my next book.

I assumed the port would be on Korfos harbour. Instead I found it way over the hills overlooking a funny little headland. That’s it on the right of the picture, with Korfos on the left.

8. Korfos harbour area Google Earth

I was really puzzled till I found out that, in the Late Bronze Age, Korfos harbour was a swamp. About a hundred years after the ancient Mykenaian port was built, an earthquake lowered the swamp into the sea and turned it into a harbour. And part of the Mykenaian port disappeared into the sea too, like the lost city of Atlantis, taking its own harbour with it.

9. Lost city of Atlantis lukzenth via Photobucket

There’s lots more I could write about. The lake in The Bow has vanished. The town round Tiryns fortress is buried under 10 metres of flood debris. The Narrows, where Laertes’s ships held the evil king Thyestes at bay, is the gap between two tectonic plates that are moving apart … the list goes on.

If you want to know more, you can email me on cath@catherinemayoauthor.com  or visit my website www.catherinemayoauthor.com.

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Same but Different

Same but different

When I arrived in Greece at the end of May, I expected some things to be different but other things to be much the way they are back here.

Different:            Ruined temples
Everyone speaks Greek
The street signs look weird
They drive on the other side of the road

1. Athens street sign

The same:           Jeans and tee shirts
Motorbikes and cars (lots of motorbikes)
Coca cola
Cell phones

But then I got some real surprises. Like thunderstorms.

I love thunderstorms. When I was a kid, I’d stand on the dirt road outside our cottage on Waiheke, with the rain pelting down and the mud squishing up between my toes. After each flash, I’d count the seconds till the thunder came – BANG!-rumble-BOOM-BOOM-bump-thud-grumble-mumble. Then silence for ages, apart from the splish of the rain in the puddles.

In Greece last month, I was chased through the hills by a thunderstorm as I searched for an ancient road to Mykenai. I stopped the car and got out to watch. I soon realised this was different to any thunderstorm I’d ever experienced.

2. Thunderstorm over Limnes

For a start, I couldn’t see any lightning. But for the 15 minutes I stood there, the thunder never stopped. It groaned and muttered and growled away without a break, as if the sky god Zeus and his wife Hera were having an argument, with both of them insisting on having the last word.

And then there were the seagulls.

NZ seagulls drift through the air crying gkeee gkeee, when they’re not strutting about screaming Kaar Kaar Kaar at each other. That’s what all gulls do, right?

3.  NZ seagulls

Wrong. After I’d finished searching for my ancient road, I returned to the fishing village where I was staying. By now I was hungry, so I walked along the waterfront to a taverna. As I sat there, I heard a mewing sound. I looked about for the cat – Greek tavernas always have at least one cat and often about six.

5. Cat in a Greek taverna

But there was no cat to be seen.

After a while I realised the noise was coming from the seagulls sitting out on the water – you can see them as white dots out beyond the fishing boat. Close up they look just like NZ gulls.

4. Greek fishing boat and seagulls

Then I remembered reading some English story or poem, years and years ago, which talked about the “mewing of gulls”. The phrase had passed me by – it was so unlike anything I’d heard gulls do and I put it down to poetic fancy (ie: silliness).

This morning I decided to look up the Oxford Dictionary and there it was: “mew n. the characteristic cry of a cat, gull etc.” In fact, in England, another word for “seagull” is “sea mew” or just plain “mew”.  So European gulls are not the same as ours after all.

Sometimes it’s the big, obvious things that take you by surprise. But it’s just as much fun when some small unpredictable thing happens. It makes you look at everything in a fresh way, even the things that are the same.

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Stranger and Stranger

A few weeks ago I was wandering through a Greek olive grove, searching for a 3300 year old city (as you do). The first thing I came across was a herd of goats.  Soon after that I came across the goatherd, and when I asked him – in my very bad Greek – about the ancient city, he beckoned to me and set off through the trees.

Goatherd

I decided he must be leading me to some spectacular ruins, but instead we ended up at his camp, an untidy clearing with a rickety tin shed, some goatskins over a pole, a very friendly dog and her two young pups. By now I was starting to wonder what was going on.

Goatherd's camp

I soon found out. The goatherd produced a battered saucepan into which he poured some white liquid from a 20 litre plastic container. When he handed it to me, I knew I had no choice but to drink. It was fresh goats’ milk and it was absolutely delicious. This from a man who had almost nothing – by our standards. But because I was a stranger, he wanted to give me something.

What I’d just experienced was a Greek tradition called xenia that goes back thousands of years. In Ancient Greece, kindness to strangers was a sacred duty. The sharing of food and shelter bound people together almost like family. In Homer’s Iliad, the Greek hero Diomedes and his enemy Glaucus, a Trojan ally, stop fighting and swap armour because they find out their ancestors were guest friends.

Diomedes and Glaucus

And early on in my new book The Bow, Odysseus and Diomedes know they can trust each other for the same reason.

My Family and Other Animals book coverIf you’ve read Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals – surely one of the greatest (and funniest) books ever written – you’ll remember how Durrell was plied with food and wine by the peasants he met .Tourism is eroding this deeply embedded tradition, but you can still find amazing generosity in Greece if you travel off the beaten track – as I did.

These days, we’re increasingly careful around strangers.  A famous Dame Edna Everage quote goes: “My mother used to say that there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet. She’s now in a maximum security twilight home.”

Dame Edna Everage

I think my goatherd would have agreed with Edna’s mum.

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Hi from Catherine Mayo

Hi! I’m really pleased Christchurch Library has asked me to share some of my writing adventures with you this month.  Writing – and reading – can be an incredible adventure, even when most of it happens inside your head.

I should say, because most of it happens inside your head. How else can you go back in the past or forward into the future or sideways into another world? How else can you “become” someone else and experience all their fears and dramas and successes, and wake up safe and sound in your own bed the next morning?

Just occasionally we can actually travel to that other place and experience it face to face. I have just come back from a couple of weeks in Greece, where I visited some of the places I wrote about in Murder at Mykenai and The Bow – the fortresses of Mykenai and Tiryns, the site of the lake and the river in Argos, and the secret cave that occupies the middle of The Bow.

Mykenai, even in ruins, is huge and rather spooky. The fortress walls are made of enormous blocks of stone, some of them longer than me, and a good deal heavier. ImageHere I am standing in the entrance – it makes you wonder how people 3300 years ago ever put that huge capping stone over the gate without modern cranes and machinery. The Classical Greeks later thought it must have been built by giants – by  Cyclopses.

Even the doorways to the tombs are huge. Image

The lake my heroes hide in, in The Bow, has silted up, and people now live on it and grow their crops. But the river is still there, and the reeds. Image

The shingle spit is there too – it was pretty freaky to find something I thought I’d made up – though the weather was too calm to make lots of waves.

The big excitement of the trip was going down into the cave, which was explored in 1893 but forgotten about since. I met up with a bunch of Greek cavers and we had a fantastic time exploring it. Here’s a photos of me and Elissa at the far end, just before the crevice which … but I’d better not say any more, so I don’t spoil the story for you.Image

In the next blog, I’ll tell you what we found down there …

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Meet our July Star Author – Catherine Mayo

Our fantastic July Star Author is Catherine Mayo.  Catherine’s first book, Murder at Mykenai, is a Young Adult book all about the early life of Odysseus, the hero of The Odyssey.  The sequel, The Bow, has just been released and is available at the library now.  Catherine is one extremely talented woman, not only is she an author, she is also a musician and a luthier (a violin maker and restorer), she loves gardening, horses and she’s been to Greece 3 times!

Thanks for joining us Catherine.  We look forward to hearing all about your books, your writing and your other interests.

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Saffron calling from Uruguay again!

Hola again,

Remember Saffron’s story from Uruguay? Here is what happened next…by Saffron

 

This is what happens when I take my two little sisters for a walk in Colonia del Sacramento:

‘Why is everything so old?’ Sage asks

I tell her that Colonia is very old and precious and that that’s why it needs to be preserved.

But Sage is not listening and keeps complaining about everything being really old. She keeps saying that there is no one around and that she feels scared.

We start walking around the block. Then we stop. Then we try to walk. Then we stop again.

‘Saffron, I told you this place is all broken,̕̕ Sage says.

The street is all made of sharp pointy stones. Star Anise’s pram is completely stuck. I can’t move it. She starts crying. Sage starts whining. I tell Sage and Star Anise to be calm. I tell them that we are just stuck in a charming street. I also tell them not to worry because we are definitely protected by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.’

 

‘Saffron, are you sure you are all right? Your little sister seems very distressed.’ Lovely lady says on the phone.

‘Yes, I am quite excellent at the moment. Mum’s uncle Bonifacio is meeting us in an hour to take us around the tourist attractions in Colonia del Sacramento. Bye now. I might call you later.’

 

Star Anise’s crying is getting really loud now and Sage is saying she needs to go to the toilet straight away. I keep pushing the pram but it’s still not moving. I think my little sisters need me at the moment so chau, chau for now.

Oh, forgot to explain: chau chau means bye, bye in Spanish.

Image

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Lovely children

Hola again!

One of the cool parts of my job is going to schools as a guest author and illustrator. Last week I was lucky enough to visit Al Madinah School in Auckland and what a lovely group of children they are! The best thing was that they were celebrating their book week so every day they were having a different activity to do with books.

From the moment I arrived teachers and children welcomed me into their school. Have a look at this:Image

I am the author on the right, the one on the left is lovely Sally Sutton who had visited the school the day before. I was so impressed with the children’s enthusiasm for books and for the craft of writing and illustrating. A real treat for me to see!

Do you have Book Weeks at your school? If so, what kind of activities do you do?

Victoria M. Azaro

http://www.victoriamazaro.com

http://www.saffron-sage.com

 

 

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Hola again!

Last night I was deeply asleep when the phone rang at midnight. It was Saffron. We had a nice chat and this morning she sent me this photo and this note. Have a look:Image

 

Right now I am in Uruguay.

This is what happens when I call Victoria at 3 p.m. my time:

‘Hello… This is Saffron, calling from Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay!’

‘Oh yes, yes, hello,’ she says

She sounds really sleepy. I am sure this is not a problem. So I just start telling her all these really interesting things.

This is what I tell her:

I am quite excellent at the moment. I am speaking perfect Spanish and doing all the right things. Mum is so impressed with me. I don’t think she is impressed with Sage though. Sage keeps complaining about having to travel all this way for Star Anise’s Baptism.

We are baptising Star Anise in the same church that I was baptised at. It’s a very special occasion for the whole family.” Mum says.

All of Mum’s cousins and relatives have come from Argentina.

They are all practicing this very high pitched song for the baptism and they are all hugging and kissing each other, ’specially Mum. Dad is also hugging and kissing everyone. He keeps checking his little notebooks for things to say.

I tell Sage to come to the corner to avoid all this kissing. I also tell her that UNESCO has declared Colonia a world Heritage site and that it is full of history. I tell her that UNESCO is very important. I am not exactly sure what UNESCO is but it sounds really interesting.

Sage says, ‘Dad says UNESCO is the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.’

Of course I already knew all of that..

We are staying at a charming hotel in the historic quarters and I decide that I should take Star Anise and Sage for a walk to make sure my little sisters appreciate all the history and to stop Mum’s relatives kissing me all over my face.

OK Victoria, I will write you again later to tell you what else is going on.

Bye, Saffron

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Hopefully Saffron will contact me really soon and I can share it with you here.

Chau

Victoria M. Azaro

 

 

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Star author for June – Victoria M. Azaro

Hola! I am Victoria M. Azaro and I am so happy to be the Star Author blogging this month!

I am supposed to talk about my books, my writing and my illustrating….hmmm…where do I start?

I guess I can say that I am a writer that writes about things that have happened to me, or to my friends or to my children. I also have this need to laugh every day. At least a minimum of 20 times a day. I would also add that I really need to feel very strongly about something to write about it.

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Last month I launched “Super Saffron”, which is the fourth book in the “Saffron” series. It’s a compilation of the three previous books plus a lot more new material at the back. The series has been in the market for the last 5 years so I have had a chance to talk to many children, teachers and librarians and discover exactly how they were using and enjoying the books in the classroom and at home. I found out that children were eager to learn more about Geography.

Like Saffron, children told me that they wanted to know what country was in what continent and what city belonged to what country. They also told me that they were really interested in some of the foods that Saffron ate in the stories and they all wanted to learn a bit of Spanish, just like Saffron too.

So, with all this in mind I created a section at the back of the book.

One of the pages looks a bit like this:

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When I look into what really grabbed me to write this new book, it’s very clear to me that I am passionate about children learning about other cultures, their foods, their dress, their customs and traditions through a humorous and fun approach.

We are so lucky to live in New Zealand at this time in history, where different cultures are embraced and celebrated. I have a son that is at Intermediate School and in his classroom alone there are at least 14 different nationalities. It’s not always easy to accommodate and celebrate customs and traditions that are foreign to us but the more we learn about them and the more we discover about them, the more tolerant and open minded we will be.

Sometimes little Saffron is not as open minded as I would like her to be. Have a look at this:

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Throughout June I will be sharing with you different little adventures that my character Saffron has had to overcome in different parts of the world. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!

Chau

Victoria M. Azaro

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Five ways to have an adventure

Hello again. Any violin players out there? A little piece of sad music if you please, because May is almost over so this is my final blog post. Okay, one, two, three and off you go … oh this is too much, pass the tissues.

For my final post I’d like to ask you a question: have you ever had an adventure? What do I mean by “adventure”? My dictionary says: “an usual or exciting, typically hazardous, experience or activity.” Well let’s just skip past the “typically hazardous” part, shall we? It is perfectly possible to have an adventure without falling off something or getting lost. (I quite appreciate that you Christchurch children might be thinking, “Actually, Sue, we’ve had enough of adventures thank you very much!” Point taken. We can all do without shaky-rumbly adventures. But please do read on – my suggestions are hazard-free!) (Okay, you can stop playing the violin now. Very nice thank you.)

When I was your age I read a lot of adventure stories and could never understand why the houses I stayed in on holidays didn’t have secret passages; why, when we went for walks on moors, we didn’t see mysterious lights; why, when I dug a hole in the sand, my spade didn’t chink against something that turned out to be a box with, at the very least, a message to be decoded inside. Do you sometimes feel that way?

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Well it is possible to make your own adventures, if you use a bit of imagination. My basic adventure recipe is:

1 x activity, preferably outside

1 x active imagination

A friend or two

And here are five ways to use your adventure mix:

1.  Build a den. In a forest is best, but in a garden will do (or even under the table if it’s pouring with rain). When it’s finished, decide where you would like it to be, e.g. on a desert island (do you need rescuing? are there poisonous fruit? do you need to catch fish to survive?), or halfway up a Himalayan peak (is there a yeti? are you lost?), or in the jungle (poisonous snakes? a rampaging rogue elephant?). Now have an imaginary adventure.

2.  Go for a bike ride (for older children only – and ask your parents first!). Get a map of your area and identify something that looks interesting, then work out a route. Check it out with your parents first. When I was a child in England, my friends and I spent many days searching for what was marked as ‘Old mill’ on a map. We never found it, but we had some great adventures searching.

3.  Go for a bush walk – this one you should do with your parents or a caregiver, but that doesn’t have to spoil your fun. Ask them to let you navigate – if you really want to impress them and every single person you meet coming the other way, then learn how to tell which direction you’re going in using a watch. It’s quite simple (click here for a simple guide) – this will dazzle the socks off everyone.

4.  Turn unusual situations into adventures – be on the lookout for adventure opportunities. A power cut? Don’t moan that you can’t use your computer or watch the TV. Instead, gather everyone round and have a ghost story telling session by candlelight. I guarantee that after an hour of that, going to the loo by yourself by candlelight will be a proper adventure!

5.  Get to know nature. No, I’m not trying to turn you into a tree-hugger – think about this, though. If you were out in the bush and you saw a bird that was really rare, as in maybe only 100 left in the world, would you know? Or would you think, ‘Oh look, a bird’. Being outdoors is much more of an adventure if you know what you’re looking at, and New Zealand’s natural world is awesome. Learn the difference between a town pigeon, which does nothing much other than poop all over nice buildings, and the beautiful kereru, New Zealand’s native wood pigeon. Is that really a stick, or could it be a stick insect? Have you ever seen a lizard in the wild? An adventure playground doesn’t have to be a jumble of steel at your local park, it can be your local forest reserve.

Well guys, my time is up, but if just one of you goes out and learns their NZ birds and how to tell where north is just by looking at your watch, then I am a happy bunny. The children in my stories have adventures, and I’d love you to get to know them sometime. And I’d absolutely love to hear from any of you – tell me about your pets, your favourite books, your latest adventures. Click here to visit me! It’s been a blogging blast, Christchurch kids – thanks for having me!

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Tog Blog

Hello, me again. So … hands up those of you who still have at least one Easter egg left. What? No one? How about a bit of an Easter egg. No? Not even a tiny smidgeon of chocolate?

Me neither. My husband, Michael, hasn’t even started his yet, and has put it on display in the kitchen just to annoy the rest of us. He is the only one in our house who can resist chocolate – and I’m including our very own Easter bunny, Tog, in that list.

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Now I know chocolate isn’t what your vet would recommend you should feed your rabbit. Pizza probably isn’t a good idea, either. Or cake. But before you start feeding Moro bars to your bunnies, we do only give him the occasional nibble. Most of the time he’s eating carrots and bunny food and – oh yes – my garden.

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Tog is a free-range bunny. When he was a baby, he broke his leg. He looked kind of ridiculous and cute at the same time with his leg in a bright blue plaster cast. It was the middle of winter, so the vet told us to keep him inside while he was recovering.

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It’s not just cats that enjoy a warm fire

During that time we house-trained him. Yes! You can train a bunny to poop politely. It wasn’t exactly as we’d have liked. We put a tray in a hidden corner of the living room, but he didn’t like it there. No, he wanted his tray in front of the TV. We had a mini-battle, which he won. His tray has been in front of the TV ever since.

By the time he was better we were so used to having him around the house we decided to see if the whole free-range thing would work. The first few times we let him into the garden we followed him around, waiting for him to try and tunnel his way out under the fence, or make a break for it when someone opened the garden gate. But it never happened. Eight years on and he has the run of the house and garden, only going in his hutch at night.

He’s the friendliest bunny in the world, I reckon. When someone comes through the gate he’ll run up to them, then escort them to the front door. I find it hard not to laugh when I answer the door to a stranger, like a courier, and see Tog sitting at their feet. Some visitors think it’s lovely; others just look confused. Oh yes, and he plays football. No really, he does!

Tog has become quite famous in our neighbourhood. My children took him to their primary school every Easter, where he would preside over dishing out eggs, and he was the main attraction at the school’s Business Day on the ‘Pet the Rabbit’ stall.

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School Business Day – 50 cents a cuddle

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Hare and make-up (geddit?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Party animal

My children are now at high school, and Tog remains a firm favourite with their friends. At my son’s 16th birthday party (movie and pizza), Tog stared through the glass doors of the living room until someone let him in, then sat on the sofa watching the movie with them, nibbling pizza crusts.

One concern we had at letting him roam free in the garden was the local cats. Cats = predators; rabbits = prey, right? Apparently not. When new neighbours on one side brought with them a cat called Random, we went on high alert. When she first appeared in our garden I shot out to stand guard. However, Tog ran up to Random, somehow said, in his silent rabbity way, ‘Hi new neighbour, wanna be my friend?’ and so it was. They hang out together; favourite place is side by side on our front deck.

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Tog and his BFF, Random

There was a cat on the other side too, Leo. Whereas Random is his garden friend, Leo would come into the house to say hi.

Leo sadly left, and we have a new neighbour cat now, but we have seen her in the garden only once. She took one look at Tog and shot back over the fence. We haven’t seen her since.

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Tog and Leo

I’ve enjoyed telling you all about Tog. Do you have a funny story about your pet? Leave a comment if you do! See you next time!

PS Did I mention we have mice, too? Here are Pam and Maisy having fun in my daughter’s dolls house.

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“Aw, do we really have to go back in our cage?”

 

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Hello from Sue

Hello there! What a treat to be invited to have a virtual chat with all you Christchurch booklovers. I hope we’re going to have plenty of fun together over the next month. Fun and … spine tingles. Do you believe in ghosts? Oh yes, and rabbit chat.

By now you’re probably wondering, who is this slightly mad-sounding person who’s invaded our blog? Well, your lovely library is calling me a “star” author. That’s a bit of an exaggeration. I’ve written a few books, but I’m not exactly J.K. Rowling or Margaret Mahy. On the star scale they’d be red giants, whereas I’m more of a white dwarf, visible only through a powerful telescope.

Like most authors (apart from the red giants), I have another job as well as writing. Mine isn’t quite as exciting and cool as last month’s star author, Tania Hutley, who makes computer games. No, mine is, ahem, book editing. You know how your teacher goes through your wonderful stories and covers them with annoying red scribbles, correcting your spelling and telling you when you should have started a new paragraph? Something like that. Sound boring? Well it isn’t really, because think of it this way – my job is READING BOOKS!

But back to the writer bit of me. I’ve written a few educational books (no yawning please), and several (cue spooky music) ghost stories. Do you like ghost stories? I’ve always loved them, though I’m a complete chicken when it comes to things spooky. I’m the one who jumps the most in scary movies, and I need to hug at least two cushions to get me through the creepiest parts (you know, where someone goes into a haunted house and you’re shouting “Don’t go in there!” at the telly.)

My most recent spine chiller is called The Ghosts of Young Nick’s Head. If you know what/where Young Nick’s Head is, award yourself some chocolate for general knowledge smartipantsness. If you don’t … well, you’ll have to visit me again over the next week or two, when all will be revealed. If you fancy a read of the book in the meantime, you can of course request it from your library, or head on over to NZBooklovers.com to be in to win a copy.

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My other recent book you may have seen is Our Children Aotearoa. Writing this was a dream project, as I got to travel all over New Zealand interviewing and photographing children from all walks of life. It made me realise what a fantastic place New Zealand is for kids to grow up in – I hope you realise how lucky you are! (Actually, when I say “all over New Zealand”, there was a certain city I didn’t manage to visit. You can guess which one. I’m sorry, Christchurch, all right?! I’ll make it up to you I promise!)

What else can I tell you about myself? I live in Auckland, and have two teenage children. We also have a dwarf lop-eared rabbit called Tog, who likes to sit at my feet while I’m writing. I will tell you more about him in my next blog. Here’s a photo of Tog to be going on with.

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I’ve lived in New Zealand for some years now. I came here from England, where my home town is Rugby. Yes folks, that’s where your favourite game began. There’s a big posh school, Rugby School, in the centre of town, and nearly 200 years ago a group of schoolboys were playing football when one of them, William Webb Ellis, caught the ball in his hands and ran towards the goal. Or so legend has it. (I always wonder why the other boys didn’t just yell “Foul!” and send him off!)

In between leaving Rugby and arriving in New Zealand, I worked at London Zoo (yes, it was as much fun as it sounds), travelled the world for a year, and then worked at Dorling Kindersley Children’s Books – you know, they produce those really cool non-fiction books, like Incredible Cross-Sections. Because of my background at the Zoo, and general obsession with animals, Dorling Kindersley gave me natural history books to work on. The first series involved photographing lots of creepy crawlies, and so it was that I found myself encouraging a tarantula out of its hidey-hole, and being asked to hold a giant prickly stick insect while the photographer sorted out his camera. See – “editing” can be exciting!

So there you are, a potted history of me. I will be back soon with more on ghosts, rabbits, books, and anything else that springs to mind in May. Catch you later!

 

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