Sunday, April 17, 2016

Standing at the edge...

I can see you'all already in the water: waving; calling; saying: it's fine once you're IN!

I believe you and I am envious of your splashes and happy noises; envious of those of you swimming strongly and with beauty out to the far buoy. I can do that too and have swum that swim many times but....
I am afraid.
I am tired.
I don't want to be like the one who is bobbing, head just above the water or the one swimming against the rip, getting nowhere except exhausted. They make me afraid of this word ocean.

Because, I know that it's easier 'once you're in'; I know it's fun and I have the fitness and finesse to swim almost as beautifully as those who are right now swimming lengths of the bay.

But, I also know what it's like to be caught in a rip of writing that saps my strength and will; to be so weighted down by the demands of being a writer that I am thinking twice.

My latest novel, a children's historical fiction set during the time of the Bastion PointOccupation, has had its bum smacked and sent to the publisher. It is now school holidays. Two whole weeks of free time lies before me like that shining expanse of calm.

I've come in from the ocean, dried off, and now the sun warms me. 

The day is not over and there is still plenty of swimming time left:

I want to dive in; I don't want to dive in. If I don't, then these pressing characters, these noisy scenes will continue to build up in my brain - there will be no peace.

If I do, then I commit myself to at least a year where I am consumed by story, by research, by the physical demands of going from my day job to my night job, where I feel overwhelmed as if I have homework every night and I know I will feel guilty whenever I don't spend every spare moment in that world.

So I wet my toes in the shallows: this blog post; a speech to a writing group; discovering books in second hand stores which will inform me about this next project; torturing extended writing/swimming metaphors 

I love writing swimming but sometimes watching movies/reading lying on the beach holds more appeal.

You'll hear my squeals for sure, when I start my new novel get back in and I'll be calling back to you who stand on the edge: just do it! It's beautiful. Yes, a bit cold but fine once you're in. You won't regret it.

Photo credit: Daily Mail, UK

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Writing and Teaching: teaching writing, writing about teaching

So, I'm back in the classroom. 

Back in my happy place being kept on my toes by reluctant 14 year old boys who can't but help stare out the window or eager girls who have so many ideas they just. Can't. Stop. Them. Bursting out and into the chaos that is sometimes our class discussions.

I'm back spending more time thinking about my students than my husband or myself or my writing deadlines. Back feeling guilty that I’m not organised enough, don't know the needs of the kids well enough, don't have enough time.

In the past, people have asked (actually still do) 'How do you/have you/did you find time to teach AND write?'

I joked then and sorta do now that I don't exercise, garden or dust. I don't play netball or golf or belong to a book-wine club. I teach and I write.

What's good about me being teacher who is a writer is that the energy and ideas and responses I get from my students FUELS me. I write mostly with the YA world in my head so, while I was out of the classroom for two years finishing my degree, those voices, that attitude, waned to the point of almost invisibility. Now, it's back in Technicolor discordant wonderfulness. I've easily found the right name for some character who has popped into my story. I've overheard and stolen snippets of intense and important conversation; I've been reminded of what is really like in Feb in a hot classroom in New Zealand, at the beginning of the year when teachers are trying to set the tone but the boys just want to sleep or go out and play rugby.

What's good about me being a writer who is a teacher is that I'm taking a senior English class focused on writing and reading, another class is 'doing' creative writing, I'm taking a junior writing club and overseeing a Theatre Sports club. These feed my writer soul too because while I'm teaching the students better ways to write, I'm reminding myself; when I look for blogs or places with helpful hints and tips (I always start at this blog first), they help me too.

 my manic board work trying to teach the importance of logical sequencing in action and NOT doing the overkill in dialogue

I have done a lot of research for the novel I'm working on now. It hasn't been easy because there isn't a 'book' on the topic (The occupation of Bastion Point). I've had to read through screeds of old newspapers, bander copies of notices from the occupiers for their supporters. I've interviewed some key people and sent follow up emails. I've watched film footage and documentaries and listened to radio interviews. The more I've read, the more I've spoken to people, the more I've seen evidence that people do what historians know: they miss-remember, they self-edit/self-censor; they make mistakes.

Which brings me to how I connect both my working worlds of teacher and writer:
I have to teach research skills to my Year 10s (14 year olds). I could do a literature based one and I'm sure the girls would mostly be into this. But, I've been looking at doing something which really engages the boys as well. 
 I guess it's NOT poetry, then.

Years ago, I used to do a really successful unit called 'What happened on the day I was born?' This was before Google and YouTube. The students loved it: it connected them with their parents/grandparents in a way that delighted all generations; it was special to them - it was THEIR day after all so learning about who were the leaders of the world's countries, what was popular etc., what was news, what was going on at the moment that THEY entered the world was of enormous interest. 

So I have great buy in.

I'm hoping the same this week with my two year 10 classes. This time, I'm going to introduce them to the idea of research via the work I have been doing on Bastion Point. I will show them some clips from the news, my time line wall chart, 

and explain the process - the highs and lows and the reason for it. Then I will give them their own research assignment. To find out what happened on the day they were born: in their family, in their city, in their country, in the world. What was cool? What were the global concerns? What movies? Songs? Books? People?

I want them to learn how to map out a research task. How to go about gathering information (primary and secondary sources); how to evaluate that information for reliability and usefulness; how to 'translate' data and use it to make judgments about the information; how to interview/talk to people (a biggie for teenagers these days); how to present their findings in a way that is of interest to others and easy to understand.

I'll let you know how we all get on.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Bloodlines launched internationally!

I pinch myself that I got the chance to tweak Bloodlines (settle the matter of a certain horse going missing and the like) and now it's out everywhere for many other readers to get to know the characters who still linger and have hung around for almost eight years.

Here's my launch speech when we released the NZ version back in 2010 (apologies for the undignified hitching up of my pants). It tells a little about the process and does go some way to show how much I have needed the support (and input) of exceptional people.

The thing which struck me, re-watching that video five and a bit years later, is remembering how much I was going through at that time and yet I did not give up doing what I was passionate about: writing, supporting my family, teaching teenagers. I'm quite a different person now (though still lively and friendly and honest like I am in the video) and I believe I am a much better writer.

You know, many days I wish I wasn't a writer because there is a restlessness I can never assuage - there is always something I could do to improve what I've written and, even if I finish a book, my mind is incessantly combing over the details looking for burrs and ragged threads. I never get that sense that 'it is finished'. Much simpler life to spend time in the veggie garden and come in at the end of the day, job done.

Both Banquo's Son and Bloodlines have received some amazing reviews on Amazon and Good Reads - amazing to me in that one person can absolutely love the novel and give it four or five stars and another can hate it and give it one. This situation of 'becoming more known' has forced me to pull back from the books. I cannot be responsible for how a reader will react - I have let the novels out into the world and they no longer belong to me. I don't LIKE getting bad reviews but I appreciate that someone somewhere thousands of miles from me has read my words, sentences, stories; met my characters and watch my battle scenes and has engaged. There's something strangely cool about that.

So, I raise up my cup of coffee to Fleance, my boy, who is no longer mine and wish him and his band of brothers good heart and health as they suffer the slings and arrows made by the pen of this outrageous author*

*apologies to Will

Saturday, December 12, 2015


I recently had a few weeks of far too much excitement. I'm sure it is true that one has a certain allocation of happy/good/exciting things for any one stage of life and that perhaps I've gone into overdraft. Hei aha tāu! I'm not complaining.

Firstly, Banquo's Son received a wonderful review from the Historical Novel Society. The reviewer said: "Banquo’s Son is superb historical fiction that this reader hated to end. Readers will be eagerly anticipating the next novel in this series by this very skilled writer!" You can go here to read the rest of the review.

Then, the advance copies of Bloodlines arrived in a huge box (and one teeny tiny box) all the way from Seattle.

Then, Banquo's Son went on a promotion gig for the month of December and quickly made it to number 24 on Amazon's Historical Fiction List:

Then we sold our house in Dunedin (it was only on the market a few weeks). A gorgeous 100 year old Kauri Villa. You can go here to see the pretty pictures.

Then, (yes, there's more - I told you so), twenty mins after we signed the sale agreement, I got a call from the principal of a school I was dead keen to teach at: they would love me to come be a part of their community. Whoop. This is the school. We move back to the city of my birth, Ōtautahi/Christchurch, in January - something that I was not ever expecting to happen but, just like in writing novels, sometimes even the author is taken by surprise.

Then, (true, not making this up), my publishers Thomas & Mercer let me know that Bloodlines is being made into an audio book and, narrated by the awesome Napoleon Ryan, will be available in March.

Finally (this week), I graduated from the University of Otago. Thirty years ago, as a fresh faced 19 year old, I was at Massey University studying for a BA in Humanities to become an English teacher; today, I have graduated with a BA in Māori Studies to become a Kiwi who can speak one the three official languages (and our first language) of New Zealand.

(I am wearing a korowai, a tradition Māori cloak, made of feathers woven into fabric.)

What has this to do with writing or the trilogy? 
Life continues to move forward outside of the world of writing but, for me, still within the world of books and story. Even with this whirlwind of excitement and the start of 2016 meaning a new home, town, school, I have still been writing, still been reading and still plotting the next series of books: set just before, during and just after the battle of Hastings.

As a heads up: Bree and Henri are more than somewhat involved.