Wednesday 2 December 2015

Best books for kids: 2015

Wow! Very pleased to see my Waitangi Day book included in the Listener's list of this year's 50 best books for kids.


Tuesday 10 November 2015

Karori Services Cemetery, Armistice Day 2015

The Karori service cemetery is only small, but the men (and some women) buried there were involved in so many different aspects of World War One.

When the headstones stretch away into the distance, you have to keep reminding yourself that every single grave represents a person, a family, a life with hopes and dreams cut short.

Armistice Day 2015

Thanks to Barbara Mulligan ( for her thoughtful tour of the Karori Services Cemetery this morning to mark Armistice Day.

We walked round the graves listening to stories about the men (and some women) buried there, and then gathered at the lychgate for our two minutes' silence. 

The first grave in the Karori services cemetery, 1918...

...soon followed by many others as the influenza epidemic struck. 

Memorial wall to those who died and were buried at sea

The steps commemorate Rifleman Kane "and his comrades" who died at Passchendaele

The inscription over the lychgate: "Peace with honour" 

Thursday 8 October 2015

10 favourite quotes from Tinderbox 2015

1. "I write where my heart wants to write " - Susan Kaye Quinn (on Skype from Chicago) about "having a life that is fulfilling and creative and finding your place in the world."

2. "Get them to do what you want in a way you're not expecting" - Andy Griffiths on the trick to working with illustrators (actually, the whole of his speech was made up of quoteable moments).

3. "I'm pretty sure we all tell stories; we all gather and compose, whether in words or images; we share the same desire to create layers of meaning" - Penny Fitt, Toi Whakaari...

4. ... who also quoted from How to fly a horse by Kevin Ashton: "Creators must expect rejection. The only way to avoid rejection is to avoid making anything new. Rejection is not a ticket to quit. It does not mean the work is bad. It does not mean we are bad... Rejection is about as personal as gravity. At its best rejection is information. It shows what to do next."

5. "If you know your destination, it gives the journey more shape" - Mandy Hager's workshop on Iceberg thinking.

6. "Our job as writers is to feed the emotional word and take the reader's heart on a journey to the end of the story, so the character lives on in the reader's mind" - Mandy, again.

7. "Think of yourself as people who traverse both printed and digital worlds" - Alexandra Lutyens on the possibilities provided by social media.

8. "You've just got to be confident to let your imagination go wild" - a schoolboy involved in one of Kiwa Digital's Slam storytelling workshops.

9. "I don't ever write for children when I write for children" - Dave Armstrong.

And lastly, one of my favourites -

10. "That's awesome, Maureen!" (as we unveiled yet another Tinderbox surprise) or was it "that's awesome Maureen"?  - either would work!

Wednesday 7 October 2015

The next best 10 things about Tinderbox 2015

I said I might need another list...

1. The Wellington weather. We're used to it. (More or less.) People coming from further afield were worried and wanted advice about what clothes to pack to cope with all possible eventualities. We provided style advice (courtesy of Adele Jackson ) - but it was hardly needed. The forecast rain didn't arrive, the sun shone and people even ate lunch outside! (OK, there was a bit of wind.)

2. Our fantastic sponsors. The Children's Bookshop, Wellington Combined Taxis, Four Winds Foundation, Gordon Harris, Forest and Bird Association, Flight coffee, Whittaker's chocolate, Skinfood, Trilogy, Healthpak - so grateful to them all for filling our conference bags, helping out our budget, topping up our caffeine levels and providing extra treats that made everything even better and more delicious.

3. Connections. Did I say that before? But it was just so good to put faces to names and profile posts. I tried to get round everyone to say hello; I think I missed about 10 or 12 people (sorry!) but I had wonderful conversations with so many others.

4. Special guest visit from Andy Griffiths, described by Kim Hill as "the punk rock star of children's literature." How lucky were we!!!!! (I know you're not supposed to go overboard on exclamation marks, but Andy Griffiths is worth a few.)

And the sessions, of course. Because I couldn't clone myself and go to everything, these are just some of the sessions that I managed to get to. I know from overhearing other people's conversations (something writers are good  at doing) that other sessions were equally brilliant, and you can read more about our speakers here. But here are a few:

5. Spontaneous Combustion, or Lightning Talks - 7 talks, 8 people (because 2 shared a spot), 10 minutes each and a very strict time keeper; great way to find out what people are doing in a short time - too short - we could have happily listened to them all for much longer (if not for the timetable) (and the strict time-keeper).

6. Sharon Holt - human dynamo - flew in for the day from another conference and  bowled us over with the story of the development of her te reo singalong books.

Book 10: KĊrero Mai

7. Social media with Alexandra Lutyens, who demystified  the whole process, told us about social platforms we'd never heard of and helped us to identify which ones might be most helpful for us.

8.   Penny Fitt, Associate Director at Toi Whakaari, talking about Stories we tell ourselves and Failure as a normal part of the creative business for all of us. ("Am I being creative at all," she asked, "if there's no risk of anything at all?")

9. The non-Illustrators among us only have photographic evidence to prove it, but the Illustrators Day on Monday sounded like a roaring success. If you were in town on Monday afternoon, that was the happy band you noticed, wending their way from studio to studio down Cuba St.

The Art Room set up ready for Illustrators Day

10. Meanwhile, any of the writers who were still in town (and not too exhausted) had a more sedate visit to the National Library, hosted by several charming librarians (thanks to Joan McCracken, Mary Skarott and colleagues). We saw the trolleys that trundle along the overhead tracks, carrying books to and from the basement shelves (apparently there's a Youtube trolley's-eye-view version, but I can't find it) and went down into the vast basement itself to see the Dorothy Neal White and Children's Collection. Afterwards there was lunch at Home cafe and more connection-building.

And now it's all over...

The last of the AV system, moving out

Or is it? The connections are continuing and I think the reverberations of Tinderbox 2015 will also continue for some time yet.

Tuesday 6 October 2015

The best 10 things about Tinderbox 2015...

... or possibly more than 10:

1. The amazing organising committee. I know they were amazing because I worked with them. Unflappable, generous, competent, helpful, friendly, welcoming - and a whole lot of other wonderful attributes.

2. The atmosphere created amongst everyone who was there. Collaboration was an underlying theme of the conference, and there was collaboration and cooperation in spades. People were willing to share what had worked (and hadn't worked) for them, and were truthful and honest about both successes and failures. Sometimes their honesty was breathtaking and humbling.

3. Inclusivity was another outstanding feature. Whoever you were - the newbie writers and illustrators who worried beforehand that they felt like "frauds", or the most experienced and award-winning amongst us - there was total equality and respect shown to everyone.

4. Connections - before, during and afterwards. People started to link up on our Facebook page and through our Sparks project from the moment that registrations opened. Some people arrived on Friday morning not knowing anyone else at all, but by Friday afternoon the conversations were buzzing and it got harder and harder to send everyone off to the next sessions on time after a break.

5. Positivity. I've been to a number of writing-related events in the last few years where the mood has been one of discouragement and uncertainty. We weren't ignoring current trends in publishing and bookselling that can lead to that kind of thinking - but the overall mood this time felt quite different: lighter, more hopeful and with a sense of more possibilities out there.

6. Creativity. That wasn't even on my original list of 10, but how can I leave it out -

What the Illustrators were busy making, hidden away in the Art Room....

7. The venue - almost as quirky as Capital House, the venue for the Spinning Gold conference in 2006 (and nobody who was there will ever forget that.)

8. The delicious food, served up for morning teas, lunch and afternoon tea by Frances and her wonderful band of Year 12 helpers.

9. The cocktail party on Friday night, hosted by John and Ruth McIntyre at The Children's Bookshop in Kilbirnie; drinks, nibbles, shelves crammed with tempting books, and many of the authors and illustrators on hand to sign them; what more could you want, except for a few of John's many pearls of wisdom (and Julia Marshall, suddenly appearing in the doorway like Mary Poppins at a crucial point in his speech.)

10. The conference dinner on Saturday night: more good food and wine, even noisier conversation and the party tables still going strong when the rest of us left; Fifi Colston's hilarious talk about the story behind the Amazing Activity Book (which included ambulances, an unposted letter delivered on the spot after 15 years, a gift-wrapped parcel to Helen Clark and a secret meeting in a carpark) and an equally fascinating talk by Julia Marshall and Kate de Goldi about an exciting new Gecko project.

That's 10, and I haven't even got to the sessions yet, I think another list might be needed.

Monday 28 September 2015

Once upon a time....

Some of you may remember the "Once Upon A Time" competition held to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Brothers Grimm’s book of fairy tales. The Goethe-Institut New Zealand, in association with the NZ Listener and the IIML at Victoria Uni, invited people to write a Grimm fairytale for modern Aotearoa New Zealand.

The story had to begin with the words “Once upon a time . . .” and over 300 entries were received and posted on the Once Upon a Time blog.

Twelve of the fairy tales have now been published in a book which was launched last night at the Goethe-Institut in Wellington. It was a lovely occasion (with delicious wine and nibbles) and great to meet German teachers, students and others passionate about German language and culture.

I'm very pleased to have my story "The four brothers and the ungrateful princess" included in the collection. Congratulations to all the other authors listed here, and I'm looking forward to reading (or re-reading) their stories.

Thursday 25 June 2015

New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults - Children's Choice!

The Children’s Choice Award shortlist has been chosen in a different (and much more exciting) way this year. Instead of choosing from the judges' shortlist, more than 6,500 children and young adults from 106 schools from throughout the country have made their own list of finalists, by voting on 149 books submitted for the Awards. 

I think this is a fabulous idea, and needless to say, I'm delighted to have a book on this list - chosen by the children it was written for!

My book Waitangi Day: the New Zealand story is a finalist in the non-fiction section, and voting is open until 31 July - so please go ahead and click below to vote - but you have to be at school!

Monday 18 May 2015

Auckland Writers Festival

Still readjusting to ordinary life after five wonderful days at the Auckland Writers Festival. Huge thanks to the AWF staff and volunteers who remained helpful, cheerful and unflappable in the face of endless questions and crowds, regardless of the time of day (or night). Thanks also to the bookshop staff, presiding over those enticing piles of new books, and to the tech staff who managed lights, sound and other fancy gear with techy confidence and cool.   

Highlights for me on my first ever AWF

  • Spotting other people poring over the programme from the moment of stepping onto the plane
  • The non-stop buzz of conversation and activity everywhere within the Aotea Centre
  • Sharing a table with complete strangers and striking up conversations within seconds (hint: all it takes is one or all of the following questions: What have you just been to see? How was it? What are you going to see next?
  • Bumping into people I knew, often quite unexpectedly (and not just Aucklanders); meeting people who had come from Whangarei, Hamilton, Rotorua and even Queenstown, just to be there for the weekend; getting to meet writer friends and make some new ones
  • Finding time to catch the Billy Apple exhibition and Lisa Reihana video installation at the Art Gallery (I know, not the Festival, but just up the road). 

And that's without starting on the sessions...

  • Straight Talking at the opening NZ Listener Gala Night: eight lots of seven-minute treasure, starting with Amy Bloom's very funny account of what to do with her mother's ashes
  • Atul Gawande, his compassion and wisdom and common sense, his advice to a medical student about the things you can and can't fix
  • Haruki Murakami, his T-shirt and jokes about cats, his description of how he found his own unique style by writing in English and translating it back into Japanese, his story about spending four weeks in Oslo - so many fascinating stories (has someone asked him to spend four weeks in NZ??)
  • Margaret Pointer starting her talk by greeting us and the Niuean members of the audience in Niuean
  • Philip Ball, Atul Gawande, Charlotte Grimshaw and Xinran trying to find ways to change the world late on Sunday afternoon
  • C K Stead talking about living near Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame in Takapuna
  • And the work of some great chairs. I think being a chair must be even more challenging than being a presenter. You're addressing a range of people, from those who have come to hear their all-time favourite author to those who have never read of any of their work, and it's easy for audience members to be critical. I was especially impressed by Middlemore Hospital ICU specialist David Galler finishing his session by inviting Atul Gawande and the audience to toast those who work with the elderly, including the often underpaid and undervalued aged care workers.   

More highlights
Seeing bus-loads of students crowding out the Aotea Centre for the Schools Programme, and getting to meet and listen to Morris Gleitzman, Laurie Halse Anderson and Anthony Horowitz.

More thanks
To the parents, grandparents and caregivers who brought their kids in to Sunday's Family Day 
To the teachers and librarians who came up after my Schools Programme session to say how much they and their students had enjoyed it 
To the tech team in the Herald Theatre who believed that yes, I could manage the intercom in the green room, a hand-held mike, the clicker to move the slides on, and to not fall over any of the props scattered round the stage for that night's show 
To all the children who came up to get their programmes, books or bookmarks signed, or who lined up behind the mikes in the ASB Theatre to ask questions - something I would never have been brave enough to do at their age.

Favourite question 
All authors have people who have supported them - who would you like to thank? (what a thoughtful question from that young student! I loved being given this chance to publicly thank people who have helped and supported me.)

Not being able to see everything
Not seeing Carol Ann Duffy in particular (named as their favorite session by several people) 
And the friend who has asked me to come up to the AWF for the last few years, saying I would love it, being out of town for the weekend - but at least now I realise why she has always raved about it.  

Wednesday 6 May 2015

School visits and questions

I love doing school visits, especially for the questions I get asked. I often promise the students that if they ask me a question I've never been asked before, I'll write it down - one of the reasons for doing that (I don’t tell them!) is to give me some thinking time! Some questions come up frequently, but a new one can still stump me.

So thanks to students at a number of schools recently for these intriguing questions:
Do you like chocolate cake? (not an entirely random question, based on my book The great chocolate cake bake off)

Did you personally know the lighthouse family? (from the book Lighthouse family)

Do you plan on being an author forever?
And a similar one: do you think you will keep writing forever?

Do you have any relatives who were in the war? Have you got anything of theirs, like medals?

Did any nurses die in world war one?

Were the Turkish trenches the same as the Anzac ones?

If you could go back and stop the Anzac troops invading Gallipoli, would you?
(Answer seems obvious, but then led to an interesting discussion on the "butterfly effect")

What was your favourite part of going to Gallipoli? What was the worst part? What new foods did you try? Would you go back?

Have you ever met an Anzac?

What is your favourite colour?
What is your favourite country that you've been to?

Have you ever tried bully beef?
(I said no and I didn’t think the sort they ate back then would have been very nice, but that I had an excuse not ever to try it, or anything similar, because I'm vegetarian.)
Next question:
Why are you vegetarian?

I especially like writery questions like these:

What is the hardest book you have written?
Which is the book you have enjoyed writing the most?
What is your biggest responsibility as a writer?
What is your favourite topic for writing about?
Do you have any goals for yourself?
What do you do for writer's block?
How do you make up your characters? Is there a character like you in any of your books?
Do you do the covers of your books? Have you ever had a cover you don't like?

And this must be one of my all-time favourite questions:
Have you ever inspired any children to read?

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Anzac week 2015

This was my Anzac week:

Book tour in south Taranaki: lots of great kids and librarians, library displays, the Hawera water tower lit up at night, the beach at Opunake, small town war memorials everywhere, Ronald Hugh Morrieson memorabilia!

Anzac parade, and the little children loving the red poppies, scooping up armfuls of them afterwards.

Arriving at the 5.30am dawn service at 5am and finding it already packed.
Visiting the new Great War exhibition in the old museum.
Reading messages left at our local war memorial.

Watching the dawn service at Gallipoli on the big screen, exchanging messages with last year's Gallipoli Volunteers - wonderful people (here are some of them!) - and all of us thinking about this year's Red Coats, working hard but having an amazing time!