Pop! Bang! That’s what happened – literally – when a group of New Zealand children’s authors and illustrators presented inspiring talks to hundreds of Canterbury school children, just ahead of the announcement of the 2017 winners of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
Several of the nominated authors and illustrators toured the country speaking to school children about their work and craft. Hosted in conjunction with WORD Christchurch, they addressed primary and intermediate students who came from across Canterbury to hear them speak at St. Margaret’s College. They talked about what it takes to be a writer and/or illustrator and what keeps them inspired and shared their working processes, all with the aim of sparking readers and the next generation of writers and illustrators. We share some of the highlights here.
Session One: Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot
“Any change for good is powered by fury and passion to make the world a better place” says Tania Roxborogh, and this idea is a driving force behind the story in her book about the Bastion Point occupation for Scholastic’s My New Zealand Story series, told from a child’s point of view.
Through the process of researching and writing this book, Roxborogh was reminded that: “Retelling history is never straightforward” because “people lie, self-edit, and mis-remember” and that “people remember different things.” She added that there is also the problem of bias in New Zealand media – from the right wing as well as the left wing – which she had to take into consideration when researching for this book.
When Roxborogh visited Bastion Point to help her find her point of view for the story, she found herself humbled, prompting her to ask: “What right do I even have to tell this story?” She realised, however, that regardless of who she was, the story of the protesters was a story worth telling.
Roxborogh teaches English and Drama at a Canterbury high school and has written over 50 books.
Snark – Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock … and its tragic aftermath.
Elliot’s illustrated book was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, and the Jabberwock and his presentation of museum-like artefacts and the stories he told about them would have had some in the audience wondering if his tale of the mission to discover the snark was true or not.
Elliot says he spent time living in a cottage inside Edinburgh Zoo and you have to wonder if this influenced his work illustrating weird and wonderous creatures.
For The Impossible Boy, Agnew asked: “What if a kid believes in something so much that his faith in it makes it real?” like Peter Pan’s belief in fairies, and on the flipside, “if you were an imaginary friend, what if you discovered you weren’t real?”
Agnew recommended using a little bit of non-fiction to make your fiction more real. In this case, she used the war-torn streets of Beirut in Lebanon as the inspiration for her setting of the story.
Various authors at the event talked about the hard parts of writing, when you feel like quitting or at least taking a break. Writing can take time! Agnew wrote 100 drafts of her book over 6 to 8 years. She says if you’re stuck, consider what Einstein said: You don’t solve a problem by looking at it in the same way, try looking at things from a new angle.
Agnew fits writing into her job as a primary school teacher by getting up at 5:30am to write before the school day starts. What inspired her to become a writer? Agnew “grew up in a house full of books” and her dad was a journalist who writes non-fiction, but really, she says, she “just wanted to do it.”
In the first session with Tania Roxborogh, Leonie Agnew and David Elliot I felt an overall theme of the elusive – of capturing the elusive writing spark, capturing the Snark, and elusive invisible friends. Another theme that came through for me was the theme of imagination: imagine if someone was trying to take your land, imagine wondrous creatures and lands, imagine how an imaginary friend would feel if they discovered they weren’t real. Imagine.
Session Two: Des Hunt, Jenny Cooper and Simon Pollard
Des Hunt has a love of adventure stories, science, New Zealand animals and he combines all of these into his stories. Sunken Forest was inspired by a real life summer camp he went on when he was 15 at Lake Waikaremoana, a trip that was memorable partly for sparking his interest in geology. The lake was formed during an earthquake landslide that drowned the forest. Standing tree trunks eerily remain there underwater today. Also trapped there are eels which can’t make their way back to sea to migrate to the Pacific islands to lay eggs. Unable to leave, they grow exponentially large.
In Sunken Forest, one such eel befriends Matt, who is sent to boot camp after his father, a boy racer, is sentenced to prison. At camp, Matt has to deal with bullies and getting the blame for things he didn’t do.
In his talk, Des Hunt totally engaged his audience from beginning to end, by which time he had them on the edge of their seats. He cleverly demonstrated the idea of building tension in a story by blowing up a balloon… about to burst at any moment. How do you really build tension in a story? He says: Add conflict and injustice, a disaster and… Pop!… an explosive climax.
While many of those who spoke at the event started writing or drawing as early as their primary school years, surprisingly Des only published his first fiction book when he was about 50 years old but has since written heaps of books. His passion for writing is now so strong that he can’t imagine doing anything else and he hopes to be an author until he dies. This is good news for my young son who was so inspired by Des Hunt’s presentation he immediately went and read Sunken Forest, despite never having independently read a chapter book without pictures in it before. Des certainly inspired him reader to take his reading engagement to a higher level.
It was fantastic to see instant booktalking success in action! Des tours schools doing writing workshops so see if your school can be added to his schedule.
She especially does a lot of research for illustrating the war stories, hiring models and WWI artefacts and taking hundreds of photos to draw from so she could get the details correct. The war stories she works on are “hard to illustrate because they are so sad” but equally she says, they are “really satisfying.” She added: “Sometimes the hardest and most challenging things you work on were the most rewarding.”
This was a sentiment shared by several of the speakers. Getting to a finished product takes times and many drafts! She tries 6 – 10 layouts before she has a rough drawing and after that, a finished painting may take up to 6 hours.
Pollard is a spider expert, lecturing as an adjunct professor at the University of Canterbury and he has been working with spiders for 30 to 40 years. He is interested in telling stories about what spiders get up to and recently worked with WETA Workshop on the impressive display of oversized bugs for the Bug Lab show at Te Papa Museum.
Pollard is an engaging speaker and really brings bugs to life. He told stories (complete with eek-inducing pictures) about the jewel wasp that immobilises and enslaves a cockroach so it can use it as a living nursery, laying its eggs in it to hatch. Ingenious, but gross. We also heard about the clever Japanese honey bees that kill their enemy, the Japanese hornet, by gathering together in a ball around one and quivering – the heat of their buzzing wings stops the wasp from secreting their signal for more wasps to attack them.
Then there’s the insect that looks like a spider, but isn’t, just to scare off predators. After learning all these fun facts, we were left marvelling at the magic of the natural world.
Primary and intermediate students from all over Christchurch lined up to ask lots of questions of the authors and illustrators after they spoke. Here are their inquisitive questions, and answers aimed at inspiring young readers, writers and artists.
What were some of your favourite books (growing up and now) and what writers would you recommend?
An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories (and pizza). Kids can pick up their reading challenge cards at Christchurch City Libraries (until December 2017).
“Characters burst off the pages, delighting us at every turn,” say the judges of this year’s New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. They have selected 35 finalists for the 2017 awards, out of 152 submissions.
“This year’s shortlist reminds us that books are powerful vehicles for helping children make sense of their world and gain a better understanding of themselves and others. At times the vividly descriptive writing was brutal and heart-breaking, providing moving portrayals of life through the eyes of children and teenagers. All finalist titles are convincing in their realism, skilfully laced with honour and honesty throughout,” says convenor of judges Pam Jones. Many of the books submitted dealt with serious issues. “War featured highly, alongside other topical themes like teenage pregnancy, surveillance, abuse, homelessness, racial tensions and bullying. Coming-of-age stories and characters that are living with extended family members highlighted the meaning of family and love,” Pam Jones says.
The awards are administered by the New Zealand Book Council on behalf of the New Zealand Book Awards Trust. The final award winners will be announced 14th August 2017.
A special Kia Ora to Canterbury finalists:
Gavin Bishop – illustrator, Helper and Helper – Junior Fiction
Jenny Cooper (Amberley), Gladys Goes to War – Illustration
Simon Pollard, The Genius of Bugs – Non-Fiction
Tania Roxborogh, My New Zealand Story: Bastion Point – Junior Fiction
The Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction finalists will capture the imagination of every young reader, either immersing them in another world or reality, giving them a problem or mystery to solve or causing a laugh-out-loud response to witty conversations. “We’re pleased to see these books feature an equal mix of strong male and female characters from different races, ethnicities and backgrounds,” say the judges.
The judges enjoyed delving into the world of teenagers via the books entered for the Copyright Licensing NZ Award for Young Adult Fiction. “We immersed ourselves in the issues that plague young people—family, school pressures, relationship woes, sexuality and the looming adult world. Authors are not afraid to explore dark themes, but also to inject humour when it’s needed.”
An integral part of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is the HELL Reading Challenge, now in its fourth year. It has been hugely successful in getting kids reading and enjoying the pleasure of stories (and pizza). Kids can pick up their reading challenge cards at Christchurch City Libraries (open until December 2017).
Meet a finalist…
Come see bug genius Simon Pollard at South Library during KidsFest Do you like bugs? They may be small, they may be creepy, but bugs have super-sized powers! Join Simon Pollard, author of the wicked new book The Genius of Bugs, as he takes you into the world of the everyday and the extraordinary, the grotesque and the mysterious, with bug tales, facts and figures that showcase insect ingenuity and reveal astounding bug behaviour. Be entertained and amazed and bring your best bug questions. Ages 7-13.
When: Tuesday, 11 July, 10.30-11.30am Venue: South Library, Colombo St Price: FREE
Organised by WORD Christchurch
Every year at around this time, the Man Booker Prize Long List is published. Thirteen new fiction books, each and every one selected to push you to your limits as a reader. All with engaging titles and eye-catching covers that scream out Pick Me! Read Me!
The long list is for the real die-hards, here’s what I fancy this year:
The Many – Wyl Menmuir’s novel is my top choice because it is by a first time author who had just completed a creative writing course when he wrote the book, and it was written from a campervan on the Cornish coast. It is seriously the underdog entry.
Hot Milk – Deborah Levy. I cannot wait to read this. It explores the cross over between a daughter’s over-developed sense of responsibility towards her mother, and her need to take risks and live her own life. And I love the cover.
Serious Sweet – A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet sounds like just my kind of book: two characters (with all the first world flaws we know and love) find one another in London. He’s a ‘bankrupt accountant’, she’s ‘shakily sober’. Together they do their best in a world intent on doing its worst.
The Schooldays of Jesus –J.M. Coetzee. A South African-born writer who has already won the Booker prize twice. He’s the heavyweight of the list. This novel (a sequel to The Childhood of Jesus) is about growing up, parenting and life choices. It’s allegorical writing, so don’t read too much into the cover – chances are that’s not Jesus learning to pirouette at a dance school.
As I bash out this blog on the keyboard, I swear I can feel the sinking of the collective heart of all my book club ladies over the years. Long have they loathed my Man Booker choices. When pushed they will give me the ‘too’ list: Too weird, too literary, too boring, too obscure, too depressing. “Nonsense” I retaliate, “Man Up”!
The long list has a short life span. Soon it will be culled from this baker’s dozen, to the six of the short list and finally down to the eventual winner. And at least a couple of these lovelies are sure to make it into a book group near you!
It’s more exciting than rugby. No really, I’m not kidding, it is!
This award is presented every year for a novel written in English or translated into English and is now in its 20th year. Nominations are submitted by libraries in major cities throughout the world and it’s fascinating to see what favourites other librarians have picked.
A Year in Reading started out well; January, February and March have ticks beside them. But then things went to pieces. By April I was trying to make Mary Poppins do double duty – as a book that has been made into a movie (already checked off in March) and a re-read from childhood. Cheating on my reading challenges – that’s what it came to.
There were some books I did read, but not in the month assigned to them:
A book from another country – Sydney by Delia Falconer. (I think Australia counts as another country).
An award winner – Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín (actually it’s only been nominated for the Costa so far, but if there is any justice in the world it will win every literary prize going in 2015.) Cheating again – it’s a slippery slope.
Reading Bingo was marginally better, but again with the cheating.
The full list of winners of the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults is:
New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and winner of Best Picture Book category: Prizes: $7,500 for the New Zealand Post Margaret Mahy Book of the Year and $7,500 for Best Picture Book The Boring Book by Vasanti Unka (Penguin Group (NZ), Puffin)
Not long now until the winner of the Man Booker Prize is announced. Kia ora Eleanor Catton and best of luck. From me and all of us at Christchurch City Libraries – librarians and library users alike. I wonder what the Man Booker equivalent of Break a leg is – Bust that Man Booker?
The Man Booker Prize will be announced at London’s Guildhall on Tuesday 15 October 2013 – 7 to 11pm (BST). So we will be at our desks or having breakfast here in NZ – the event starts at Wednesday, 16 October 2013 at 7am.
NZ Listener will be there:
We’ll be tweeting live from the 2013 Man Booker Prize ceremony in London. Coverage starts around 7am this Wednesday, NZ time.
The panellists presumably accept the value of prizes as there was no discussion regarding the rationale behind prize giving, or the impact of elevating some titles over others. The discussion instead focused on the mechanics behind prizes such as The Man Booker and the New Zealand Post Book Awards.
The perfect short-list size? The consensus was that 5 titles gave enough scope.
The qualities desirable in a judge? Stephen Stratford likes common sense judges from a variety of backgrounds and careers. “Academics are terrible judges”, he said, as they worry too much about their reputation. Stella Rimington quoted the Man Booker mandate “to appeal to average, intelligent readers” and the judges likewise she felt should be average, intelligent readers outside of the established literary milieu.
What are the challenges of being a judge or chair? Stella Rimington said the recruitment process for the panel “was like joining MI5, someone sidles up to you and says “pssst, do you want to be a judge?” ” Stephen Stratford aims to be in a compatible group and found it frustrating that initially there is so much secrecy about the panellists. He had to hide mountains of submitted books around his house so no one would twig he was a judge. Ok if your house is big but Elizabeth Smither has such a wee house that she eventually stopped letting any one through the front door! The role of Chairman both Rimington andStratford agreed is to keep an eye on factions, prejudice and to ensure no single voice dominates the discussion.
What are the impact of prizes on sales? Stratford rearranged a few feathers when he declared that from the point of view of small town and mall-based booksellers there was very little. “WOFT” (Waste of F***ing Time) was the delightful phrase a “friendly, local bookseller” chum of his used but Stratford also acknowledged the situation may be different in “brainy book shops”
Rimington talked about the publicity machine surrounding the Booker prize and its need to generate controversy and therefore column inches. The 2011 Man Booker long-list, short-list and eventual winner Julian Barnes’s Sense of an ending were the highest selling titles of any previous year.
A one-eyed but highly entertaining look into the world of prize-giving.