Saturday, 15 April 2017

A week of thank yous

This week I’ve visited three schools who have been taking part in #NZReadaloud and reading The Bold Ship Phenomenal: Selwyn Ridge in Welcome Bay in Tauranga, Knighton in Hamilton, and Marist in Mt Albert in Auckland.

Look at all these amazing thank you cards that the students kindly made for me. 

The jar in the middle is full of messages-in-a-jar (rather than a bottle). So cool!

It’s me who needs to be thanking the teachers for inviting me, and the kids for being so interesting and interested. I really enjoyed hearing their ideas about the story; in particular, where the ship had gone and what was sunk beneath the buoy. Some of them even offered to write the next book for me!

Here’s some close-ups of a few of the wonderful cards.


One of my favourite thank you messages was from Theo who said: “I enjoyed how the story was kind of dull then BAM! At chapter 28, PLOT TWIST.”

Chapter 28! That’s two-thirds of the way through the book! I’m so sorry Theo that you had to wait so long for it to get exciting. I promise in my next book I’ll put a plot twist much nearer to the start. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Thank you Koromatua and Bankwood schools

This past week has been busy. On Wednesday, I attended Bankwood School's whole-of-school production of Wooden Arms. It was absolutely superb, with some very funny additions (like dancing gumboot-wearing farmers). You can see the video here.

I was really moved to hear my words being performed back to me: taking on a life of their own.

Then on Saturday, I was at Books For Kids in Hamilton East, helping Anne and Helen celebrate the bookshop's 45th birthday. Lots of the Bankwood kids came in, and they made this fabulous artwork to decorate the shop.

Sunday, I was at the Raglan creative market with Deb Hinde, selling books. Deb was selling her latest book, Hare (as well as several others), which has only been out for two weeks!

Then on Tuesday, Sherane from Koromatua School sent me these fabulous pictures of all the artwork her class has been doing since I visited last month. I love those ship-in-a-bottles! Sherane tells me they are easy to make, so I'll have go this weekend. I doubt mine will look anywhere near as good as the kids though.

Thank you Bankwood and Koromatua Schools. I have had such a fabulous time sharing writing with you this year.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Octopus in a rock pool

Recently, at the rock pools in Tairua, I had an amazing encounter. Octopi! Two of them, in the same rock pool.

That in itself is worthy of note: to find not one, but two beautiful octopi on the same day. But what happened next was even more amazing. One of the octopi, the larger one, raised its head to the surface of the rock pool and spoke…    

So here I am, an octopus in a rock pool.

It is not, to be fair, the most flash rock pool I’ve been in.

For a start, there are the shrimps: whiskery, flibberty creatures that pester an animal when he’s trying to hide. The anemones too, wink, stare.

Yet, in the absence of a larger claim to occupation, a seal say or an eel, I fancy I may call it my own.

What is that you say? You consider a rock pool not the safest place for an octopus to reside.

On the contrary! Note the abundance of nook and crevasse; perfect for containing a body soft as an over-ripe fruit. A fluid body, lithe and unencumbered by meddlesome bones.

You disagree? Claim a soft body can be disadvantage, in the presence of, say, a spear.

Oh, I see, you have one there.

Ah, yes, and here it is. You brandish it before you like a toasting fork over hot coals.  

Yes, yes, that is close enough; I assure you, I see your point.

Perhaps that is the downfall, after all, of a rock pool – no immediate means of escape.

Although containment can, itself, be offset by the proximity of the sea.

Yes, that’s right, the sea.

We are, after all, talking of a temporary inland outpost; the connection to the mother water remains.

You snigger, yet I would not expect you to understand, land lubber as you are, with your parcels and packages of tidily allotted ground. With the sea we take a broader view: connection rather than fence. Pool to sea to tributary, animal to animal, it is all as one.

Take, for example, my large friend here.

 Where? There. See there, where he rears behind you

Yes, indeed, he is an orca. Note the black and white warrior markings, the musculature of the sides.

Good idea, drop the spear, you’ll find it serves you little use now.

Now then, as I was saying…

So here I am, an octopus in a rock pool.       

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Junior fiction finalists: New Zealand Children's Book awards 2016

A photo from the 2016 New Zealand Children's Book Awards ceremony, held at Circa Theatre in Wellington on 8 August 2016.


These are the finalists for the junior fiction category: Jane Bloomfield, me, Stacy Gregg, Kate De Goldi, and David Hill. Kate won our category with her novel, From the Cutting of Barney Kettle.

The photo reminds me what a fabulous time I (and my boys) had on the night, meeting all these New Zealand authors we admire so much. For me, that was prize enough!

Thanks to Matt Bialostocki who took the photo.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Joy and books at school visits

It's the season for school visits and I've had several fabulous ones recently, with more scheduled for next month.

The wonderful photos below were taken during my visit to Te Mata School, when I was kidnapped by this cut-throat band of pirates. The whole school had dressed up for the occasion - what a treat!

One dedicated teacher (Tanya) at Bankwood School in Hamilton created this Glogster for her class to use in preparation for my visit. By the time I got there, the kids knew more about me and my books than I did. I really appreciated that effort.

Tanya says she's happy to share the Glogster for other teachers and librarians to use. You can download it here, and when I update my website (shortly) I'll include it on the school visits page as well.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Bold Ship shortlisted for the New Zealand Children's Book Awards


I'm so excited that The Bold Ship Phenomenal has been shortlisted for the 2016 New Zealand Children's Book Awards.

There are four other shortlisted titles in the junior fiction category. I've read most of them (and will set about reading the other) and am honoured to be listed alongside them.
  • David Hill - Enemy Camp
  • Kate De Goldi - From the Cutting Room of Barney Kettle
  • Jane Bloomfield - Lily Max: Satin, Scissors, Frock
  • Stacy Gregg - The Girl Who Rode the Wind.



The awards ceremony is in August, and I'm feeling star-struck already. Many of the shortlisted authors from across all of the categories are my writing heroes.
Here's the awards shortlist.

And here's the judges' report.

And here are the lovely folk from Smartwork Creative who designed the book.

Three of the shortlisted books are their handy work, so they have every reason to feel pleased with themselves!


Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Stumbling upon the sources of story

I love to walk, and lots of ideas for new stories and snippets for stories I am working on come to me when I am out and about. This is not unusual. Many, many writers find that walking has this effect.

Recently I had the reverse experience.
While out walking, I stumbled across this dark thicket of tree ferns.

The track I was walking on is called the Lynch Stream track and it runs from the ridge of a hill on the East coast of the Coromandel (near Sailor’s Grave) down, down, down to Otara Bay. All the way you are crossing and re-crossing the Lynch Stream, which is great fun, then about halfway down you come to these ferns.
Now I have walked this track several times, but this time I pulled up short and thought ‘Ah-ha. Of course!’

You see, in my children’s novel, The Bold Ship Phenomenal, my protagonist (Malachi – the hero of the story) hides in a dark thicket just like this in Chapter 32, when he’s running away from some baddies (called the Jarrods).

Malachi leapt, dodged, scaled, sidestepped, burrowed and crashed. Vines whipped his shins and roots trapped his toes. Twice he stumbled, the second time jarring his right wrist so badly that he cried out with pain. Yet he couldn’t shake off the Jarrods, and the sound of their crashing and swearing followed him, like a bad-natured echo, through the bush.

He was almost too tired to carry on when he spotted another path. Gratefully, he took it, following its narrow passage until he reached a thick stand of ponga.

The tree ferns’ inky trunks made a pool of darker shadow within the dim undergrowth. Malachi veered off into them, heading for the gloomy heart of the stand where the shadows looked almost black. But when he reached it, he found the blackness wasn’t shadows, it was a cave.

The cave was tucked under a low hillock and had a wide shallow mouth. Dead ponga logs and fronds were piled around it. Almost, thought Malachi, as if someone had tried to disguise the entrance. He dropped to his knees and crawled inside, inching into the darkness until he was sure he couldn’t be seen from outside.

Although I didn’t realise it when I wrote it, this must be where my fictional stand of tree ferns came from.
I had a similar experience a couple of weeks’ later when reading one of my own childhood favourites – The Borrowers, by Mary Norton – to my son.

For those of you who don’t know the story, the Borrowers are a race of tiny people who live in the floors, walls, crooks and crannies of houses, and make their living by ‘borrowing’ from the houses’ larger occupants.

Naturally, they have to remain hidden, and the family of Borrowers that the story is about (the Clocks) have the main entrance to their under-floor home concealed under a large grandfather clock.

When I read the story to my son, I had another ‘Ah-ha’ moment.
In my other children’s novel, Ella and Ob, I also have a clock, and as soon as I re-read about the Borrower’s clock, I realised I had ‘borrowed’ it for my own story.
Here’s Jenny Cooper’s fabulous picture of my clock on the cover of the book.
And here it is being walked into (by a ghost) in Chapter One.

But this was no ordinary bump. This was the kind of bump that, if you were awake and alone in the house, would make you jump, and yell, “Who’s there?” Bella had been asleep, but this bump made her sit bolt upright in her bed, and stare around the dark room. Because this bump sounded like someone had walked into the grandmother clock.

            Bella’s father had shifted the clock from the lounge that morning, as he could no longer bear to be reminded of time passing. It now stood in the hall outside Bella’s bedroom door.

            There was another bump and this time Bella jumped right out of bed. “Who’s there?’ she whispered into the darkness.


            Then, bump.

            The clock’s springs pinged and its pendulums knocked softly against its wooden sides. Bella grabbed her torch and tiptoed towards her bedroom door. She eased it open.

            “Curses,” grumbled a quiet voice. “Who put that there?”

            Bella peered through the crack she had made, but all she could see was the stretched and skewed shadows that always accumulated in the hall at night. 

            “I mean to say, what a stupid place to put a clock!” the voice continued. “Now I’ve gone and messed up my feathers.”

That’s how stories work (at least for me). Little bits and pieces – from places you’ve been, things you’ve read, things you’ve heard about or thought about or seen – join together in your head until you have a spark of a story. At first it’s usually just a tiny spark, but once it’s ignited other bits join it, and it gets bigger and bigger until it’s ready to be written.               
And all this often happens while you’re out walking!