It's amazing how fast the months at the start of the year can go by - as fast as the ones at the end of the year!
I'm underway with an exciting new project that I can't say too much about at the moment, but I'm enjoying working on it very much.
We've also had the first meeting of the Wellington Children's Book Associaton, which I'm on the commitee for, and we've come up with lots of good ideas for the year ahead. Check out our blog.
This is always such a busy time of year that it's easy to feel swamped by lists of things to do. But I'm going to suggest you add one more thing to that list (or perhaps it's already on there) - and this is something that's fun and enjoyable!
Make a commitment to Buy Books for Christmas. Make time to visit one of our wonderful indie booksellers. Ask the staff for recomendations if you're not sure what to get! Ask for an exchange card if you don't know whether the person you are giving to might already have the book, but buy a book! Preferably a NZ book - support local authors!
Books are always a perfect gift and they make great holiday reading. I hope you get some for Christmas!
A few weeks ago, I was delighted to find that I had won 2nd prize in the Cultural Icons & Vernacular Lounge Non-Fiction Writing Competition. The wonderful prize was $500 of books from Random House.
Another highlight of the past month was doing a school visit to St Oran's College and helping to judge their "Dress up as a Book Character" Book Parade. It was great to see so many inventive costumes - even some of the teachers had dressed up!
And it's great to have my copy of Great Mates - 30 New Zealand stories for children (one of which is my story "Extra special moments")
I'm very pleased to be on the shortlist for the non-fiction section of the Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize in Creative Science Writing (which must be the longest name of any competition in the country!)
This year the topic was Chemical world and my entry is called "The nature of Weetbix." All the shortlisted entries will soon be up on the RSNZ website.
I'm also looking forward to finding my copy of the Great Mates anthology in the mail box. This book has just been published by Random House. It contains a great selection of stories from New Zealand children's writers, all on the topic of friendship, and including my story "Extra special moments."
The big event in Wellington last month was the snow. From where we live, I could hear the excited shrieks of the children up at school as it started to snow on Monday morning and they were let out into the playground to play with it. And I love this snow video in Cuba mall as it captures so perfectly the delight and joy that people felt in witnessing such a beautiful and unexpected event.
Another event - but one that that I missed last month, was the reunion for my third form year at high school. You can tell that was some time ago as nowadays it would be called Year 9. I was Philippa Brinsley back then, not Philippa Werry. I sent a greeting to those attending, so if anyone from the EGGS reunion would like to get in touch, please contact me!
It doesn't snow very often in Wellington, and we missed it! While everyone else was shivering in a cold snap with flurries of snow, we were enjoying a week of sunshine in Niue. If you're not sure where that is, look on the map for a small dot in the ocean, inbetween Tonga and Rarotonga.
Niue is quite different from other Pacific islands. Apart from a few small sandy beaches, most of the coastline is made up of coral outcrops, caves and chasms and caverns. The island rises straight up out of the sea (they call it "the Rock") so the water gets deep very quickly outside the reef. Between June and September, humpback whales migrate there to calve, and they come very close inshore because of the deep water. We saw whales almost every day (sometimes only a few hundred metres offshore), as well as going on a boat trip and swimming with them. How amazing an experience is that! And how can such huge creatures be so fast and graceful in the water?
Some humpback whales travel through Cook Strait on their way from their summer feeding grounds in the southern ocean to their winter homes, so the ones we saw in Niue may have swum past Wellington! Read more about amazing humpack whales.
This month's highlight was Appetites - a book evening for Brooklyn School. This is the third time the school has held one of these book evenings, with a variety of speakers, but always with the same title. "Appetites" is a word that is enticing but vague enough to support many different ideas, and it's always interesting to see what the speakers come up with.
This year I was asked to take part, along with Jenny Bornholdt, Craig Cliff and Mike O'Donnell. I've helped to organise the last two evenings so it was a strange experience being on the other side of the table. The's organisers did a fabulous job, getting sponsorship and putting on a wonderful evening of good food and wine, conversation and laughter. Outside it was a cold, wet blustery Wellington winter evening, but inside the buzz of conversation got louder and louder as the evening progresed. Jenny read some poems from her new book The hill of wool, Craig talked about how being disappointed in an a ambition can actually increase your desire for it, and Mike gave us some great insights into the implications of the world wide web and how it is changing the way we live our lives. Special thanks to Murry Pindar from Millwood Books who gave up his evening to come and staff a book table at the event.
The beginning of June means Queen's Birthday weeeknd. If you live in Wellington, it also means the national finals of the University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival being held this year for the 20th time.
This is a fabulous event and it's always inspiring to see the energy and talent that the young perfomers have, and the passion they put into their productions. The standard is so high that - as I know from watching the Wellington regional event - there are also many amazing pieces that don't get through to the national finals. This year I only managed to watch for part of Saturday (the Festival runs over the whole weekend) but highlights were Kristin School's production of Hamlet Act III scene ii, and a very funny extract from A midsummer night's dream, from Garin College in Nelson.
During the school holidays, I enjoyed taking two creative writing workshops at Katherine Mansfield Birthplace in Thorndon, Wellington. The workshops were a lot of fun, and the setting was wonderful.
There is something very special about KM House. Every time you go, there seems to be something new to discover - the rooms are so full of fascinating objects (and such tiny rooms! How did all the family fit in there?)
I find it amazing to be able to look at her very own typewriter, sitting in a glass case at the top of the stairs. I love all the photographs, especially the childhood ones with her brother and sisters, and an owlish, round-faced ten-year-old Katherine (Kathleen, of course, back then) with glasses.
There are other writer's houses that you can visit around the country - for example, Janet Frame's childhood home in Oamaru or Frank Sargeson's cottage in Auckland, but we're very lucky to have this lovely house here in Wellington.
This month I've been lucky enough to attend Spinning Tales, the second national conference for children's writers and illustrators (following on from Spinning Gold in 2009.) It was a great opportunity to get together with other writers and illustrators from all over the country - and children's writers (and illustrators) are such a nice bunch of people! They are incredibly generous at sharing their writing experiences, both good and bad, and they are a lot of fun as well. Nobody who was there will ever forget the many hilarious moments at the Saturday night Literary Feast. The weekend included the Storylines annual Margaret Mahy day (attended by Margaret herself) which you can read about.
It is hard to write anything at the moment without mentioning the Christchurch earthquake, and hard to know what to say when you do write about it, especially for those of us who are far away and only know what we see on the news, read about in the papers or hear about from our friends who live there.
One thing I would say was how moving it was to hear the same words being repeated over and over again, on the afternoon of February 22nd and the following days, that "I just wanted to get home to my family" or "I just had to see that my family was all right." As one radio commentator said, "family" can mean different things to different people. It can be immediate family, parents and/or children, brothers and sisters, or neighbours, members of a church or other community. But for many of us all over the country, this terrible tragedy has made us rethink our priorities and what (or who) is really important in our lives.
March is New Zealand Book Month - a time to celebrate books and reading, so if you have a $5 book voucher (lots are being given out), please try and put it towards a book written by a local author! Here in Wellington, the start of NZ book month was marked by the annual Janet Frame Memorial Lecture, this year given by Joy Cowley. Joy gave a wonderful speech and you can read my write-up on it here on Beatties book blog.
Joy has "an ability to laugh at herself that is rare in NZ literature." Despite the many awards she has received, she remains warm, down to earth and imbued with a rare and gentle wisdom – all qualities which the audience responded to with enthusiasm.
There are lots of other events going on all round the country for New Zealand Book Month, so check out their website and see if you can get along to one of them.
One of the lovely things about writing is the connections it makes.
A few years ago, I wrote a story which was published in the School Journal (it's Part 3 no 3, 2006, if you want to look it up.) Saying goodbye focuses on Carlo and his grandfather Poppa Joe who live in the Italian community of Island Bay, and it refers back to the true story of the Santina, a fishing boat that sank with the loss of four lives in 1933. Late last year, I had an email from someone in Island Bay. Some descendants of the Santina's crew were planning to put up a memorial seat, and they'd heard about my story in the Journal, and wondered if I would like to come along to the unveiling ceremony. You can read more about the ceremony here. It was held on a beautiful Wellington afternoon and followed another lovely Island Bay tradition, the annual Blessing of the Boats.
Another connection that this story holds for me is that Saying goodbye was illustrated in the School Journal by fellow Wellingtonian Adele Jackson. Adele also came along to the unveiling ceremony, and you can read her account of it and see some of her evocative illustrations here.
December is always a hectic month, but one of the things I most enjoy about the Christmas season is catching up with news from friends and family here in New Zealand and overseas. Sometimes it's just a few lines scribbled on a card, sometimes it's a letter several pages long with photos, sometimes it's an email. There is a definite art to Christmas letters if you don't want them to end up sounding either boastful or totally out of touch with the rest of the world, but there are some that I always look forward to receiving because they manage to be funny, honest and insightful at once - no small feat.
January feels like a brief hiatus, time to take a breath and look at the year ahead, after the December rush. Our extended family celebrates a number of January birthdays, and in the middle of one birthday celebration, my five-year-old niece said in astonishment, "everyone in this family is just getting older and older!" That's right - life goes on, and there are always changes. I'm looking forward to having our family all together again, after their holidays in different places, and to getting involved in some new writing projects. I hope 2011 holds plenty of good things for you.
Being a writer can involve a lot of waiting, patience and often disappointment. A manuscript that you have worked hard on goes out into the world, and then, some months later, comes back plop into your letterbox. Or - with less noise, but the same sense of letdown - a polite "no" turns up in your email inbox.
But every so often you get good news. It's not necessarily a manuscript that has been accepted for publication, although that's always a thrill. Sometimes it's feedback about how people regard your writing, that they think you are doing something worthwhile. Last week I was invited to help judge the Year 5/6 speech competition at our local school, and when I asked who had read any of my stories or plays in the School Journal, almost every hand in the room went up. That was a thrill.
Last week I also got an email to say that I have been selected as the 2010 recipient of the NZSA (New Zealand Society of Authors) Mid-Career Writers Award. You can read more about that award here.
I was asked to write a comment about what winning this award means to me, and this is what I said: "Being chosen as the 2010 recipient of the NZSA Mid-Career Writers Award is a great boost to my confidence as a writer. At the same time, I wish there were many more awards such as this, because I know there are so many wonderful writers working away on their own with little public recognition. In particular, I'd like to pay tribute to the fantastic community of New Zealand children's writers and illustrators, whose books enthral and captivate each new generation of readers. Their encouragement and support have helped me enormously."
Pick 'n' mix: assorted Kiwi stories is a new collection of stories published by Scholastic, with illustrations by Jenny Cooper, and it's in the bookshops now. Look out for the pick 'n' mix sweets on the cover!
This is the first volume - watch out for volume two, coming out early next year.
There are stories by lots of top Kiwi children's authors, and I'm very pleased to have my story Net jumper included.
During the school holidays, I really enjoyed talking about my books to children at Miramar and Brooklyn libraries. You can see a photo of my visit to Brooklyn.
I also had two pieces of exciting news. My play Boss of the Beach was runner-up in the Playmarket Plays for the Young competition.
And my essay The weight of memory has been shortlisted in another competition, which must have the longest name ever: the 2010 Royal Society of New Zealand Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing. You can read it, along with the other shortlisted entries.
I'm very pleased to have a place on another shortlist. This one is for my play Boss of the Beach, which has been shortlisted for the Playmarket Plays for the Young competition.
Playmarket is an agency that works on behalf of New Zealand's playwrights, and this is an annual competition to try and build up a collection of plays for young people, from small children to teenagers.
I've taken my children to lots of children's theatre over the years, and there are some productions that we still remember and talk about.
I'm also looking forward to talking at Miramar and Brooklyn libraries in the school holidays.
This has been an exciting month, with the official launch of my new book A girl called Harry. There are a couple of reviews out already, but the best review is when someone tells me that they loved the book so much they couldn't put it down - and I've had a couple of those comments already too.
I also took part in a couple of sessions at the Storylines Family Day in Wellington. If it looks as though I'm doing both things at the same time in the programme, I'm actually not - we swapped the story reading session to a later time. It was a fun day, and the organisers did a fabulous job.
A few weeks ago, I was very excited to get a phone call telling me I had been shortlisted for the 2010 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing. This is an annual prize awarded to an outstanding unpublished manuscript by an Australian or New Zealand writer. You can read more about the prize, and other four shortlisted authors.
It's a big thrill to be shortlisted for an award like this, even if you don't win. Sometimes you have to wait on tenterhooks for a long time to find out – but fortunately this time the wait wasn't too long. Congratulations to Jane Higgins, the winner (and another New Zealand writer.)
My new book is now on the website! A girl called Harry is due out on June 21st. We're busy organising the book launch at the moment. A book launch is like a birthday party for a new book and it's always an exciting occasion.
I had a great time visiting Belmont School recently. The Belmont School children had some great questions to ask. Often people ask the same sorts of questions, but I love getting asked something I've never been asked before. It really makes me think about what I do and how I write.
I'm also looking forward to speaking to SLANZA - the School Librarians Association of New Zealand. I think librarians are fabulous people and I'm very pleased to have been asked to speak to their Wellington branch.
Congratulations to all the winners of the NZ Post Children's Book Awards 2010. There's a fabulous account of the award ceremony here:
Congratulations to all the finalists, too. There is such a lot of great children's literature being published in New Zealand that just to make the shortlist represents a huge achievement.
Did you vote in the Children's Choice awards? Did you enter the writing competition that was being held at the same time? The top 50 pieces selected are going to appear in a professionally illustrated book to be published later this year. Earlier this month I was on the initial judging panel, helping to sort out some of the top entries from the thousands that were sent in. There were some wonderful stories and poems, so the book will be worth waiting for.
Next month, I'm looking forward to visiting Belmont School in Lower Hutt. A few weeks after that, I'm going to talk at a meeting of SLANZA (the School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa). Librarians are some of my favourite people so I'm really looking forward to that, too.
Lastly, greetings to the children in Room 11, Hamilton East School, who have been reading Enemy at the gate. I hope you've been enjoying it!.
Recently I was asked to speak at a meeting of the Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection. Dorothy Neal White (1915-1995) was a librarian in Dunedin and one of the founders of children's librarianship in this country.
Here are a few other interesting facts about her life, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography: her father was a tram conductor; when she got married, she kept working for a while as Miss Neal, because the city council expected women to resign once they got married; she was a friend of the writer Janet Frame.
Her work was recognised by the National Library when it named its collection of children's books published prior to 1940 "The Dorothy Neal White Collection." You can have a look here for more information on the Friends of the Dorothy Neal White Collection website.
It is always special to talk at meetings like this, where people know about and care for children's books. I could see lots of heads nodding as I talked about some of the books that had meant a lot to me when I was young.
The New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards ceremony is getting closer. Last year, I was there as a finalist in the Junior Fiction section with Enemy at the gate. Good luck to all this year's finalists!
Today I received the advance copy of my next book. The moment when you get to hold a new book in your hand for the very first time is always an exciting one, but it's a bit scary, too. All those hours of writing and rewriting and editing have finally resulted in a real book - a book that other people are going to read. That's the scary bit.
This book is already having its very first reading from someone in our household. So far the first reader is up to pg 256, and the second reader is impatiently waiting to take over.
The advance copy comes out several months before the book is released in bookshops, so this one will be on sale from June. I'll have more details about it soon on my Books page, although if you go there now, you can find out what the title is. For now, I'll just say that the cover looks - wonderful.
I'm working on a few other projects at the moment, including a short history of a local medical centre. This has involved interviewing a number of people who worked there when it was founded, back in the 1960s. There are some fascinating (and often very funny) stories of what medicine was like fifty years ago, as well as stories from someone who grew up in that house in the 1950s, before it was sold and became the medical centre. The booklet is being launched soon, to coincide with opening an extension that has just been built.
I've enjoyed visiting several schools recently. The children of Paparangi School put on an amazing welcome for me. At Northland School, my visit coincided with the opening of their wonderful new library.
I went on tour to Wanganui for the NZ Post Children's Book Awards.
I helped to organise Spinning Gold, the National Conference of Children's Book Writing and Illustration, held in Wellington in September.
I've also spoken to several writers' and other groups, including the annual Bookrapt seminar in Tauranga.
A highlight was being asked to speak at the annual conference of the Post Polio Support Society of New Zealand. These are people who have had polio in the past. It was very moving to be in the same room as people who had experienced many of the things I write about in Enemy at the gate.