Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Winning



“Some are born great, 
some achieve greatness,
and some have greatness thrust upon 'em.
Malvolio, reading, from Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ (Act 2, scene 5)

‘Are you winning?’ is a question an old boss used to ask. It was a colloquial form of ‘How are you?’ but, for him, was also about whether you were winning the battle against the pile of planks to de-nail, the fenceline staying plumb, or the job being finished before the weather packed it in.

Like my old boss, the motivational experts tell us winning is about not giving up; it’s overcoming obstables; it’s about picking yourself up when you’ve fallen. Which is all very good to try to encourage you when you are finding life hard, there are problems which seem to get in the way of success or when you fail.

But winning in the true sense of the word, as in, first place, the best in your class, a prize which cannot be earned just by showing up and doing the work, that’s a whole other matter. Especially in a world that feeds off headlines or putting people into catagories: first class, No. 1, champion, award winning...

I’ve written previously about the pain of rejection; about the delight in acceptance; not about how it is for me to win!  I feel a weight of responsibility with this win. And felt it leading up to the announcement. It is as if the wairua/spirit of the story of the fight for land for Ngāti Whātua and for all iwi stood behind me. My win or loss was going to be part of the narrative.

This blog post is an attempt at just that. To put into words how it felt to have my book Bastion Point win its category in this year’s NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Firstly, after the immediate giddy delight, fumbling acceptance speech, tears, kisses, hugs, there was still a shadow of disbelief: Seriously? Am I like, good? Better than just good?

Secondly, there is guilt – for the disappointment the other contestents will no doubt be feeling – I have been there and that sort of gut punch is unpleasant and not wished upon others I admire and respect. Whose books I loved (more than mine but that's because of the 'familiarity breeds contempt' syndrome) and who I was convinced were more worthy.

Finally, there is fear mixed with relief: that that is ‘it’ – there is nothing more to strive toward. I’ve made it. I’ve done it. I’ve managed to snag that elusive ‘best in show’.

In talking with other ‘winners’ (past and present), it seems that we share this in common. There’s also the surprise at onlookers’ surprise when we say ‘we didn’t expect to win’ – as if we are being falsely modest. We’re not. See Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davies ruminate on who they expect might win their book’s category and then watch their faces when they learn they won!

It’s a strange beast, this writing lark: on the one hand, it’s all on us, the writer, to do the business. Yet on the other hand, we just couldn’t do the work justice without our Beta readers, our family, our cheer leaders, our agents, and our amazing editors. To miss out on an award is to feel disappointment for ourselves but also that we have let the team down; to win, like I did on Monday night, feels like I have given the best compliment, the best return of invested time, energy and talent to those who have continued to cheer me on. I’m sorry that in doubting myself, I doubted you. William Shakespeare has the best advice for us all hidden in this observation of human nature:
 "Our doubts are traitors,  and make us lose the good we oft might win,  by fearing to attempt.”
Measure for Measure




Saturday, July 8, 2017

ACCEPTANCE

A little while back, I learned my lastest novel, Bastion Point: 507 Days on Takaparawha, was shortlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults - in the Esther Glen (Junior Fiction) Category.


I cried. Such an honour to have my peers (the judges this year who are top of their game/know heaps of stuff about writing and reading and children's reading) say: we liked what you did there. This book is good. Those tears were also for the people of Ngāti Whātua whose story of the protest I tried to recreate; whose lives were not a made-up story but were filled with frustration, and determination, and grief, and, finally, finally, triumphant (bitter sweet because the win never should have been needed).

Then I saw the list of others in my category and I got hot prickles of anxiety - these are great books (I've now read them all and loved them all) and wondered if I was a pretender; if I would be caught out being a fake.

I've had some really wonderful reviews by people saying things like, 'Tania's done a terrific job' (a special-to-my-heart response from a great man who, very sadly, died suddenly not long after this broadcast).

I've tried to ignore a review which has criticisms my te reo Māori accuracy but the accusation rankles because the reviewer is wrong and I've had the most highly regarded language experts check my usage. Words matter to me and the words 'significant errors' sting. I can assure you, there are no errors in the novel.

Overall, the shortlisting (and a recent monetary award for my Charlie Tangaroa novel) affirms what those of us in this business know: rejection comes with the territory but, the more you fling out your art, the more likely you are to snag something good.

The awards ceremony is in Wellington on the 14th of August. I am so looking forward to the event and catching up with our very supportive whānau of writers and illustrators for children.

Meanwhile, it's school holidays and, despite being struck down with a strain of flu not covered by the injection, I fully intend to have the first draft of Charlie Tangaroa and the creature from the Sea finished before school starts again.

May I commend the shortlisted titles to you for your reading pleasure. NZ punches well above its weight when it comes to quality books for children and young adults. Then, tell others about what you've read - spread the word and write reviews.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Rejection


Even when you suspect it might come, it has way of getting a kick into your guts before you have time to put up defences. My latest rejection arrived just as I’d finished uploading a lovely selfie of my husband and me at the airport on the way to a concert in Napier to see the Dixie Chicks. The email came in on my phone. I was excited to hear from my agent. But before I could arm myself, the blow of his ‘they don’t want it’ hit me. Hard. Followed closely by the hot blanket of disappointment.

I had been mindful during all of this past week that a shadow of waiting was hovering in the scary rooms of my mind: rooms I have labelled ‘Doubt,’ ‘Poor self-esteem,’ ‘Billy no Mates aka No one loves you and you will never be good enough.’ Those rooms have plenty of boxes of disappointments.

What did I do? Told hubby, who worried. (He got his tissues from his pocket – he is an old hand at this). Then I contacted a couple of writing buddies. They too have trod this well-worn writing/creating path of hill tops and troughs and said just the right things. No dismissing the disappointment but an acknowledgement that rejection ‘sucks…and blows.’

On the plane, an hour later, I thought about the others in my writing life who may also be affected by the sting of this rejection. Firstly, my agent who got the news before me so he’s had to sit with it longer. (We probably mutually hate having to be the cause of letting each other down. I feel bad that I’ve failed him; he probably feels a bit like that too but I would hazard that, just as I would tell him not to be silly, he would say the same to me.)

Secondly, my beta readers who have given up lunchtimes to sit around school desks to enthusiastically discuss and argue the merits of why Charlie must, should, could say/do/believe something. I feel I have let them down, too.

Finally, fellow writers who look to me as a beacon of hope. As an exemplar of how persistence and hard work get you there in the end. I hate having to show them that, no matter how many times there are wins, there are always gut dropping losses.

Currently, many of my students are working on assessments. Some of them are doing everything I’ve asked of them, and I know they will do well; some of those still won’t gain the mark they want. One or two have not paid attention in class, have not been engaged with the learning, and/or have clashed with me. And yet, despite this, will do well with little study or effort. Most writers I know confess to holding a small seed of resentment toward people like this who seem to do little toward the hard, physical labour of constructing a beautiful narrative and yet everything they touch blossoms and wins ‘best in show.’ My attitude toward these writers, like those students of mine who succeed in spite of me, is to acknowledge that not everyone has to struggle to achieve success. That natural ability is a gift. Lucky them.

Thankfully, I’ve been around the traps long enough to eventually wear each publishing rejection with pride. I’ve only ever had one novel ‘accepted’ straight away. Every single novel, bar Bastion Point, has garnered at least one rejection. Some of these initially ‘rejected’ novels have gone onto be best sellers and win awards. I remind myself that a rejection slip is no measure of my worth or the worth of my characters. They are in good company. So am I.

Thank goodness for writers like Chuck Wendig who provides 'comic' relief for such times. Read his post on dealing with rejection. Warning about language because it IS Chuck.

It still hurts. I gave my very best and I love what I wrote but someone else did not love it as much as me. I don’t yet know the details why but that won’t change things now. I will do what I tell my writing students to do – write it down. Use my words to make sense of my feelings and thoughts and then share it with the world. Oh, and keep writing my novel. It’s a good one. Promise.





Sunday, April 2, 2017

Birthright is (re) born!


I'm very pleased to finally announce that, Birthright, the third installment of A Crown of Blood and Honor, is available in both kindle and paperback editions.

You can go here (US folks) or here (Aussie folks) or here (UK folks) to get your own copy.

It's been a long wait for some and I share your frustrations at having to wait for 'the next episode' in a story. I suppose that's why I like watching Netflix programs which allow me to go to the next episode without having to wait a week - or, like a number of really good series (Stranger Things, Glitch, for example) having to wait until the next series is finished being filmed before we get to see even the first episode.

The cover of Birthright is beautiful (as are the covers for books 1 and 2) and I hope it is as warmly received internationally as it was here in New Zealand in 2013.

Although some of the characters still linger in my mind (Bree and Henry in particular), my writing time is now spent other worlds with other (as delightful) protagonists.