Wednesday 27 November 2019

Storylines South Island tour: November 2019: Day Five

Day Five! Our voices were only just holding out and we were feeling pretty exhausted, but Anne drove on steadily and we covered a few more schools before heading back to Christchurch for our afternoon flights home. Paula went to Grantlea Downs School, Vasanti and Eileen to Waimataitai School (where they made the local news!) and I visited Beaconsfield School.

Timaru was already getting ready for Christmas...

... and just down the road from the lovely old Grosvenor Hotel where we were staying is a building that is now offices, but was once the Werry Temperance Hotel.

Beaconsfield School, in the country a few kilometres outside Timaru, was an absolute delight. The big news of the day was that the wooden merry-go-round in the school playground was fixed. When their teacher announced the exciting news, all heads swivelled around to look out the back window. The kids were so thrilled to be able to play on it again!

I told them that I had wanted to be an author when I was 8 years old, and asked if they knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. Hands shot up straightaway and there was a huge range of answers. Vet, Silver Fern, builder, truck driver x3, pig hunter, doctor, scientist, All Black x 2, NFL player, ballerina, horse rider x 4, teacher, fossil hunter, paleontologist and aquarium keeper, among others. It turned out that they had recently laid down a time capsule and had all been thinking about what they might do or be in the future.

I also asked them at one stage to close their eyes and think about an animal they might like to write a story about, then open their eyes again and tell the person sitting next to them what their animal was. They had nearly all thought of a different animal! They had such great imaginations.

Getting ready to leave Timaru. Such a great tour!

Thank again to Storylines, and to my lovely travelling companions, and if you are a teacher or school librarian, keep an eye out for a Storylines tour coming to you in the next year or two! Here's where they will be going in 2020.

I was so impressed with all these lovely schools and their close and supportive communities.

One last comment from the kids themselves. I often ask them what they think are the best and worst things about being a writer. Shall we start with the good things, or the bad things, I ask. It can go either way! They come up with some great ideas (you get to be creative! you don't have to go out of the house and talk to people - I guess for some people, that would be a bad thing), but I especially liked this one:
Best thing about being a writer?
You can be proud of yourself!

Storylines South Island tour: November 2019: Day Four

Thursday was another big day for us with three school visits each and a lot of driving for Anne to get us to Timaru by the end of the day.

My first visit was to Heaton Normal Intermediate School. This was a shared talk with Eileen to a "self-selected group" of about 30 students who were super attentive and had some great questions. I told them that I also went to a Normal Intermediate School for one year in Auckland, and that we had separate playgrounds for boys and girls. They looked astonished at such a quaint idea!

Next for me was Darfield High School and then Ashburton Netherby School, while the others visited St Alban's Primary, Elmwood Normal School, Darfield Primary School, Ashburton College and Ashburton Christian School. The time spent in the van was great for debriefing each other about our sessions and what went well or especially well (or sometimes not quite so well!)

We also enjoyed our coffee stops - thanks to teachers and librarians who gave us recommendations for good places to try, and we even managed to fit in a stop at the Temuka shop on the way to Timaru.

One of my favourite parts of Thursday was an early morning, pre-breakfast walk around Christchurch. I've seen the 185 Chairs memorial before, but it is always very moving.

I loved the other street art I came across, especially the Resilience and Grit sculpture and the Urban Sheep.

I also found these rabbits nibbling concernedly on the other side of a fence in an empty lot, and then hopping along the pavement in front of me. Apparently other people have spotted them too!

Going for an afternoon walk in Timaru around Caroline Bay was another treat, even if we were too tired to come back later to watch the penguins returning home.

Questions of the day:

  • Have you convinced anyone in your family to be a writer? 
  • Have you ever thought of doing anything different?
  • Would you rather be an author or an illustrator? 
  • Do you wait for inspiration?
  • Have you written any Christmas stories? Or any stories set in Germany in World War Two? Any books set overseas? Any books with you or your family in them? (very precise requests) 
  • How many schools have you been to? 

Monday 25 November 2019

Storylines South Island tour: November 2019: Day Three

Wednesday was a big day, with three school visits for each of us through the day, as well as an evening session at Burnside High School library.

It was a big day for Anne, our driver, who covered lots of extra kilometres as she dropped us each off in turn, then circled back to pick us all up again (without forgetting anyone!) and also had to cope with a massive thunderstorm as we headed into Christchurch at about 4pm, and rush-hour traffic on the way over to Burnside High School. (At least we didn't get the golf-ball sized hail stones that were hitting Timaru.) Anne was our navigation and timetabling guru for keeping us on time and on track. The rest of us had to constantly consult our itineraries to work out which school we were going to, what time our talk was and when we were being picked up again.

My first school on Wednesday was Sefton School, another lovely school that is obviously given strong support by its local community. Lots more great questions from the kids here.

... followed by a shared talk with Paula to Rangiora Borough School Y6 students at the Rangiora Library, and a visit to Woodend School in the afternoon. I like to read something out loud if there's time, so I did that at  the end of my session at Woodend School. The kids all lay down on the carpet and looked so relaxed that I felt like lying down too! When I'd finished, one student said, "Did you really write that? It was amazing!"

Meanwhile Vasanti, Paula and Eileen visited Waipara School, Ashley School, West Eyreton School, Kaiapoi High School students at the Kaiapoi Library and Leithfield School. You can see what a mission it is to line up all those schools and libraries and work out an itinerary that fits them all in, so thanks again to Storylines for making that happen.

Thanks also to the many wonderful school and public librarians we met through our tour, who do such an incredible job of making books accessible and enticing to their school and local communities. At Rangiora Library, we were even given a copy of the latest issue of Catalyst, produced one by one of their librarians. The Burnside High School librarians were equally  hospitable in sharing their space with us and hosting the evening talk. It was great for all of us to have a chance to hear each other speak - also very nice to see that Burnside High had my Antarctic book on their New Books display - right next to Greta!

More excellent questions:
  • When did your passion come for writing?
  • Were you good at writing or did you practise?
  • Were you forced to do writing as a child?
  • Who is your biggest critic?
  • Do your family get to read your books first?
  • What was the worst part of your career?
  • Do you get help from other people?
  • How do you know if your ideas are good enough?
  • Is it fun writing for all ages?
  • What was your hardest book to write?
Most unexpected question:
I often get asked Which is your favourite book (that you've written). But - Which is your least favourite book????
It's hard to answer either question! I often answer the first by saying it's like asking their teacher to choose his or her favourite student. There can be some hilarious responses to that!

Sunday 24 November 2019

Storylines South Island tour: November 2019: Day Two

We all loved our stay in beautiful Kaikoura, and especially our fabulous dinner at The Pier Hotel, where we sat outside in the late evening sunshine and pulled two tables together so we could all face the view over the bay and the mountains behind.

First stop for Eileen and me on Tuesday morning was the delightful Rotherham School, where we were greeted by two Year 6's who were waiting for us.
"How many of you altogether in Year 6?" we asked.
"Four !" they said.

We appreciated our delicious pick-me-up morning tea of cheese and crackers and grapes, and we loved going into one of the junior classrooms after our talk to hear the Year 1's read some of their stories to us.

Next stop was Hurunui College, where the amazing librarian Paul had created a display of some of my books. He also had a most delicious lunch prepared for us, and even had his Year 9 barista ready to make whatever tea or coffee we wanted.

(The Storylines tours are free for schools, and all that is asked of them is to provide morning tea or lunch for us. We so appreciated the tasty treats that many people had taken the trouble to make.)

Meanwhile Paula, Vasanti and Eileen had been to visit Waiau School, Amuri Area School and Waikari School, and then our expert driver Anne took us on to Amberley for the night. The roads on this leg of the trip were winding and a little carsick-inducing, but the scenery was stunning! Today and yesterday, we were all taken aback to realise how much work is still being carried out on the main highways, post-earthquake.

Many excellent questions so far:

  • Were you alive in the Depression?
  • Have you ever used a fountain pen?
  • Did you ever get a telegram?
  • When schools were closed for polio would it be like being in lockdown? (#signofthetimes)
  • What emotions do you feel when you are writing? (That's a great question!)
  • What is the funniest book you've written?
  • How long do you stress for about getting ideas?

Storylines South Island tour: November 2019: Day One

Thanks to Storylines for a most amazing week! Before I went on tour last week, someone who had recently been on a Storylines tour around the East Coast told me it would be "exhausting but exhilarating". Or maybe he said "exhilarating but exhausting". Either way, he was right!

We visited 30 schools down the East Coast of the South Island, starting in Blenheim and ending up in Timaru. Thanks also to my lovely companions Vasanti Unka (picture book writer), Paula Green (poet), and Eileen Merriman (YA novelist), and to Libby Limbrick (Storylines rep) and our wonderful driver Anne Dickson.

The Taylor River Writers' Walk in Blenheim made for a lovely place to start our journey.

First stop for me on Monday morning was Seddon School, home of the Snazziest Class ever for 2018, and also temporary home of a week-old pukeko chick!

I've never talked before to the background cheeping of a baby pukeko. It was very cute and after my talk I stayed a while to watch it exploring the classroom. 

Second stop was Kaikoura Suburban School. We thought that the definition of "suburbia" in Kaikoura must be quite different from elsewhere! Like many other schools we visited, this was a delightful small country school with a warm and welcoming family atmosphere.

Roll of Honour, Kaikoura Suburban School. Such a lot of names from one small area. 

Meanwhile Paula, Vasanti and Eileen also visited Ward School, Kaikoura  High School, Kaikoura Primary School and St Joseph's School before we stopped for the day and enjoyed a walk around Kaikoura in the afternoon.

Vasanti Unka and Eileen Merriman in Kaikoura 

Friday 7 June 2019

New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2019

Very excited, in fact thrilled and honoured to be on this shortlist with The Telegram!

(Image via New Zealand Book Awards Trust )

Thursday 2 May 2019

Thank you, Michael King.

This is the Michael King Writers Centre on the southern slopes of Takarunga Mt Victoria in Devonport, Auckland.

Michael King never lived here (the house is actually the old Signalman's House) - but after  he died in 2004, the Michael King Writers Studio Trust was formed to honour his memory, and this is the result. Sixty eight New Zealand writers have held residencies here since the centre opened in 2005, and I feel very fortunate to have spent two weeks there over Easter. 

The view from the top of Takarunga Mt Victoria is amazing. The road is closed to most traffic now and every day there was a constant stream of people walking up past the house, both locals (often walking their dogs) and tourists. Every evening, people would gather on the summit to watch the sunset over the city.

Maungauika North Head is also a great place for a walk, with equally fantastic views and the added interest of mysterious tunnels.

And Cheltenham Beach is another beautiful spot nearby.

But the main reason people go there is to write! It's astonishing how much work you can do in two weeks with all the usual distractions removed. I loved going outside each morning and unlocking the writers' shed in the back garden.

And it's both moving and inspirational to be surrounded by paintings and photographs of Michael and his wife Maria, and photographs down the hallway of all the other writers who have lived and worked here.

It's a beautiful spot. Thanks again to Michael King, the Michael King Writers Centre and the Michael King Writers Studio Trust.

Sunday 3 March 2019

What do these two books have in common?

A non-fiction book about Antarctica and a young adult novel set in the last stages of World War One - what do these two books have in common?

I guess the answer is me! These are my two latest books, out now or soon to be released, and I'm very proud of both of them.

Antarctic Journeys tells the story of an amazing part of the world, and one that we in New Zealand feel a special connection to.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to go to Scott Base in Antarctica, and one of the things that struck me was that it is a place of journeys.  Antarctica has no native inhabitants, no indigenous language or culture of its own and even today, nobody lives there permanently. People come for a summer or winter season, or several seasons, but everyone journeys there from somewhere and then leaves again.

This book tells the stories of Antarctic journeys, big and small, animal and human, scientific and practical, journeys of art and objects and memory, journeys through the landscape and into the far distant past. It is full of photographs, maps and illustrations, and some of them are mine!

You can read more about Antarctic Journeys here on my website.

I was going to say that The Telegram is quite different, but actually the heroine of this book, Beatrice (or Beaty), reminds me in a way of those early Antarctic explorers - she shares their qualities of courage, determination, endurance and resilience and she has her own journey of self-discovery to perform.

Beatrice is a telegram girl in a small New Zealand town in World War One. It's her job to bike around town delivering telegrams to people's front doors, and often the telegrams contain the worst of all possible news to the families of soldiers who have gone away to war. Rumours of peace start to spread, but Beaty's work continues all through the Armistice, the peace celebrations and the dreadful influenza epidemic. At the same time, she's writing to her friend and neighbour Caleb, somewhere on the Western Front - until his letters stop arriving.

Bob Docherty says that Beaty is a "treasure", and I think she's brilliant!

You can read more about The Telegram here on my website.