It's been a long time between blogs — partly because I'm just not the regular blogging type, but also because this is my busiest time of year for sending books to print. All the books that hit the shelves in time for Christmas are going to print now and over the next few weeks. Last week, I sent five titles off to the printers, and in three weeks' time I'll send another batch. So, it's busy busy busy at the office!
But I haven't been stuck at my desk all the time. Last month, I attended the fabulous KidLitVic 2018 conference and next month I'll be heading to Brisbane for the CYA conference, so I've been preparing a lot of manuscript assessments. There's also been time to indulge in some non-work-related bookish fun. Dunedin's Regent Theatre hosted a 24-hour book sale from midday Friday, 8 June right through the night until midday Saturday, 9 June. Thousands of books were on sale — many for as little as a dollar! — and it's no surprise that quite a few found their way home with me …
Running at the same time as the sale, was an incredible exhibition of 'Books as Art'. I've posted just a few pics I took of the exhibits below — I can't imagine how many hours of work must have gone into these. Maybe something for me to try when I'm a quieter part of the year?
Just a quick update that I'll be attending the following conferences in the coming months, in my role as Publisher at EK Books:
KidLitVic — Saturday, 19 May 2018, Melbourne. I'll be part of a panel discussion on 'The Perfect Picture Book Partnership', as well as providing some one-on-one manuscript assessments.
CYA Conference — Saturday, 7 July 2018, Brisbane. I'll once again be providing one-on-one manuscript assessments.
If you're an emerging or established children's book writer, perhaps I'll see you at one of these fantastic events!
This picture shows 1100 schoolkids, all playing their ukuleles (well, actually holding them up in a 'uke salute') to welcome Ed Sheeran to Dunedin in New Zealand's South Island. Ed didn't actually attend his welcome concert, but that's not really the point. Instead, the point is that this is also a pic of my new hometown. At the end of last year, my family and I moved to Dunedin — and it's been pretty much non-stop adventure ever since! (Hence why this blog has been so badly neglected … )
My husband and I have always loved New Zealand. Every time we came here on holiday, we talked about how we could see ourselves living here 'one day'. I feel more than 'at home' here; I feel right here. I have read about people finding countries that feel like their 'soul home' (and, interestingly, it's quite often not the country where they were born) and it seems I'm one of those people. New Zealand feels like it's where I'm meant to be. So, before our daughter hit high school, and while I had a work opportunity to give us a secure financial start, we decided to take the plunge and move to Dunedin, UNESCO City of Literature and NZ's 'wild life capital'.
Its magnificent coastline is home to sweeping beaches and sheer cliffs, inhabited by seals, sea lions, penguins, and albatross. Its streets are lined with impressive Victorian buildings. There is more 'culture' than you poke a stick at, plus it's a student city (the University of Otage is NZ's oldest) which adds to the vibrant hum.
And the truly incredible thing is that everything seems to be within 10 minutes drive of anywhere else in the city. At first I didn't believe this could really be true, but we've tested it time and time again and, invariably, we're wherever we need to be in under a quarter of an hour. My daughter's school — 2 minutes. My work — 7. Mountain biking tracks — 10. Hiking trails — 5. Shops — 4. Beaches — 6. I could go on but it would get boring. Having moved from rural Australia where everything was at least 40 minutes' drive away, it's staggering how much more time we now seem to have in a day.
The end result is that I now seem to live my life just outside my comfort zone. With an infinity of outdoor experiences quite literally on our doorstep, my adrenaline junkie husband and daughter are in paradise. Me, I'm more of a book nerd, so I'm bravely going where I've never gone before! Hiking (or tramping I should now say, as the locals do) is something I've always enjoyed. Hiking up and down vertical cliffs (or at least that's how they seem to me), not so much. There's a very real fear of falling that kicks in at such times! But I'm getting better — I find a steady mantra of 'You're not going to die, you're not going to die' helps me to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and the stunning scenery is ample reward.
Packrafting is entirely new to me. It's also new to my husband and my daughter, but he's kayaked before so brings a certain level of competence to it, and my daughter is fearless and a quick learner. They've soon moved on to tackling gentle rapids. Me? I'm just trying to stop turning in slow circles. But again, I'm getting there!
Of course, we've only been here so far in the summer. Days in the mid-20s are much more conducive to getting out and about than in the scorching Australian heat we're more used to, and we've all loved the cooler temperatures. But our Dunedin friends have warned us about winter. Actually, everyone here has warned us about winter. Some are optimistic: 'As long as you have the right clothes, you'll be absolutely fine. It's beautiful in winter — crisp and invigorating; and the ski fields are so close!' Others have been prophets of doom: 'The cold here eats your bones from the inside out. But just when you think it's going to break you, you get a day or two that's better and that gives you the will to go on.' Gulp …
At least there's lots here to occupy ourselves with indoors if the winter does start to 'break' us. An incredible library, museums, theatres, galleries, sports centres, umpteen restaurants and cafes. Dunedin does the unusual and the quirky brilliantly — from street art to lantern festivals — so I doubt we'll be bored!
Of course, we know that nowhere is perfect. And we're realists — there'll be things we don't like and times when life doesn't run smoothly. But just like the challenges we've encountered in our lives so far, we'll tackle them as best we can, as and when they arise. In the meantime, we can't wait to keep exploring our new home. Making new friends. Enjoying new experiences. Pushing our boundaries. Embracing our Kiwi life!
For me, the perfect picture book combines an original idea with inventive storytelling and captivating illustration. Danny Blue's Really Excellent Dream ticks all of those boxes — in fact, it's so awesome that it's a book I wish I'd published myself!
Danny Blue lives in a rather blue world. He has blueberries for breakfast, eaten from a blue bowl with a blue spoon. Danny's full name is Daniel Periwinkle Blue, his favourite movie is The Blues Brothers, his favourite animal is the blue-tongued lizard. His father, Mr Blue, makes paint colours — they're all blue. You get the picture …
Then one night, Danny has a dream, about a blue whale, except that it's NOT BLUE! He tries to tell his dad about it but he actually has no words to describe it. But he can't forget about it, because it was such a Really Excellent Dream! So Danny sets about creating that extraordinary colour that was not blue.
Quirky humour leaps off every single page of this inspired book! My daughter and I both absolutely adore it. Max Landrak's word play is sensational (Danny riffs on his blues guitar, inspiration hits him like a bolt from the blue!) and his illustrations are packed with character. This is his first picture book — I hope there are many more to come.
Right now I feel as if I have as many books as this library! We've sold our house and will soon be moving — which means we have to sort through all our books and decide which ones to keep and which ones to sell or give away.
And we have THOUSANDS of books! They're piled in virtually every room of the house. There are bookshelves wherever you look. My husband even built our bed so that it incorporated bookshelves around the base!
But, we have decided that we are going to part with most of them. Increasingly, we're leaning towards a more minimalist lifestyle, with less 'stuff'. And while books are, of course, right at the top of my list of 'important stuff', they are still 'stuff'. It's simply not feasible for us to transport all of them to our new home.
So, I've developed two key questions as I sort through the shelves:
1. Do I love this book?
2. Will I read it again? (There are some I love that, for whatever reason, I know I won't read again.)
It it's not a 'yes' to both, then that book is moved to the 'set free to be enjoyed by others' room. It's a long and exhausting process, and I'll be very glad when I've finished.
I am a huge fan of Brené Brown's work. For anyone not familiar with her, she's a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, empathy and shame. She looks deep into the human spirit in her research and then responds by writing books that, for me, capture the essence of what it means to be truly human. I also highly recommend her TED talk on the power of vulnerability — it's been watched over 31 million times and is an internet phenomenon.
Her latest book is called Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. The publisher's blurb describes it as: 'A timely and important new book that challenges everything we think we know about cultivating true belonging in our communities, organizations, and culture …'
I'd describe it as essential reading in this time of political, racial and gender turmoil. Everywhere I look at the moment, people seem to be hurling abuse at anyone who doesn't share their particular viewpoint. There's little room left for rational debate or even basic respect. Social media now means that hurtful, degrading, insulting and downright vile comments can be dashed off in seconds with the writer never having to come face to face with their victim. We urgently need to come together, to find a way to be true to our beliefs and ideals without fostering division and hatred along the way.
Braving the Wilderness offers us a blueprint for how to do just that. It's certainly not an easy path that Brené Brown outlines, but I think it's an important one, and one that I intend to embrace to the best of my ability. She bases the book around the acronym 'BRAVING':
B - Boundaries. You respect my boundaries and when you're not clear about what's OK and what's not OK, you ask. You are willing to say no.
R - Reliability. You do what you say you'll do. At work this means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so that you don't over-promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.
A - Accountability. You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.
V - Vault. You don't share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept and that you are not sharing with me information about other people that should be confidential.
I - Integrity. You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practise your values rather than simply professing them.
N - Non-judgment. I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgment.
G - Generosity. You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words and actions of others.
In isolation, this might seem a bit idealistic, but Brené Brown's gift is the way she combines her research findings with real-life examples and case studies to make the theoretical completely practical. She also writes with warmth, humour and in a thoroughly down-to-earth style that is wonderfully 'real' and enjoyable.
As anyone who listens to the news or reads the papers will have seen, this is apparently the 'worst Australian flu season on record'. My family and I can vouch for that.
First, my husband went down … as if he'd been hit by a truck … which then reversed back over him. It's probably the sickest he's been since we've been married and for five days he was little more than an uncommunicative aching ball of misery.
Next, my daughter succumbed. It was the cough that brought her to her knees, with night after night of interrupted sleep leaving us all bleary-eyed and brain-dead.
And then the flu turned its sights on me. But, I have refused to go down without a fight. So far, I have resisted the raging temperature, rattling lungs and streaming snot that crippled my husband and daughter. Instead, I've endured a week of feeling pretty average that I'm hopeful will not develop further.
So, what has got us through the past fortnight? Books. Propped up in bed or curled up on couches, we've all turned to good books to perk us up. The husband has burned through Inheritors of the Earth: How nature is thriving in an age of extinction, which I will be reading next. The daughter has devoured books 3 and 4 in the Wings of Fire series. And I have been lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow.
With a cover quote promising that 'readers will feel as though Harry Potter is meeting Alice in Wonderland', I had high expectations for this book and I haven't been disappointed. It's the debut novel for Australian author Jessica Townsend, and the book has already been sold in 28 territories, with film rights pre-empted by 20th Century Fox. While I'm still about 100 pages from the end, so far it's a wonderfully entertaining piece of world-building with endearing characters and an engrossing storyline. Look out for it online and in bookstores from October.
Today, I received an advance copy of each of the titles that Exisle Publishing and our children's picture book imprint EK Books will be publishing in November this year. Seeing an advance copy is both exciting and terrifying. In my role as Publisher for Exisle and EK, I'm responsible for each and every title — from receiving the initial manuscript to managing the editing and design process, right through to sending the final files off to the printers. It's a long and often involved process, with many opportunities for error. And even though everyone involved always does their absolute best at every stage, it's not until I've held an advance copy in my hand and made sure that I'm happy with it, that I can finally feel as if I've done my job properly!
I'm pleased to report that November's titles are both absolutely gorgeous and I can highly recommend them for your Christmas shopping list!
Feed Your Brain: The Cookbook is the ultimate resource for anyone wanting to eat in a way that maximises brain health. It's not just for people hoping to prevent dementia but for anyone looking to reduce stress or simply have more clarity of thought. Numerous studies have also shown that the right foods even have the ability to improve how our children learn. Best of all, the recipes in this book are DELICIOUS! Seriously delicious and easy too. Over the course of production, I've cooked many of them and they've all received the tick of approval from me, my husband and my daughter. The fact that they cater to those on gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan diets is just an added bonus.
Grace and Katie is a delightful picture book about twin sisters who disagree on just about everything. They both like art and drawing — but Grace likes to be neat and orderly, while Katie loves bold, bright colours. Not surprisingly, when they decide to draw a map of their home and street, it doesn't go entirely smoothly! Written by Susanne Merritt, the author of the much-loved and Speech Pathology Awards shortlisted Don't Think About Purple Elephants, and illustrated by multi-award-winning Liz Anelli, this is a fun-filled story of individuality, sisterhood, creativity and appreciating each other's strengths. Perfect for readers aged 5 and up.
So, that's the advances wrap-up for November 2017. Sadly, I won't receive an advance next month as we don't publish any titles in December, but I'll be back with a preview of January 2018 as soon as that long-anticipated parcel arrives!
This week I had to have my photograph taken, so that I could send through a media shot for my new book that's being released early next year.
Ideally, as the book is about happiness and features teapots, the publicity team wanted the pic to include me — looking 'happy and natural' – and a red teapot.
Well, my friend took several pics of me with a red teapot in shot, but they didn't come out nearly as well as this one. And while there might be no teapot, the gorgeous Dalmatian, owned by my friend, is appropriately enough named 'Happy'!
I have a new book coming out next year. It's due to be released in March 2018, and while I can't give away all the details yet, let's just say that it's about happiness and involves teapots — specifically, red ones.
Book production is a pretty long and involved process, so the design and layout of the book is already well advanced. And this week I got the call from publicity — 'We're soon going to be preparing our next catalogue; we need a pic of you, preferably with a red teapot.'
As someone who is much more comfortable behind a camera than in front of it, this is not a request I wanted to hear. I've managed to use the same 'media shot' of me for the last four years, and I guess I'd hoped to get a few more years out of it yet. But no, it seems the time for an update has come!
So, I have lined up a friend with a good camera, with whom I know I can relax and hopefully enjoy the process. Her brief is to capture me looking 'happy and natural'. She's got a tough job ahead of her as my 'natural' look in photographs tends more towards 'rabbit in headlights'. I will, of course, share what we come up with …
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