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Friday, 27 February 2015

Evan Andrew on 'Catton-gate' and Harper Lee's latest.

While our lovely hot summer rolls on, I am about to take a break and head away to the Coromandel for a few weeks' holiday. As I write this, there has been plenty of media  news recently regarding authors and their books, or perhaps books and their authors.
Catton-gate is still raging as I write, with letters to the editor, journalists and radio talk-back hosts all having their opinion on the media frenzy of what she said, or how it has been interpreted, with everyone from fellow authors, book judges, and politicians all wading into the fray.
Sadly, it appears to come across as petulance that she wasn't awarded NZ's top prize, whatever that was, or may mean as far as the general public is concerned. For her book sales are still climbing, and a reprint is happening.  Lucky girl!

Meanwhile, there is all the brou-ha over the announcement of frail, reclusive, eighty-eight year old Harper Lee's newly found second book, 'Go Set A Watchman.'
This has all the ingredients for what will become another book, Hollywood film, TV show, stage play, and so on, which I am quite sure will happen.
Is it really her book, or a plant, or just an unedited manuscript?
How could Harpers, (her publishers,) have ever lost a second book, by their best selling author? This is of course a publicist's dream, and whatever happens, the book when released will make someone a fortune. The whole world will follow this with interest. Did she, or didn't she?That is the question.
The chances are, we may never know the true answer.


Evan G Andrew

Friday, 20 February 2015

Author Interview with Jenny Harrison

The first in our series of Author Interviews where NZ Indie writers explain their writing lives.

What inspires you to get out of bed each day? Coffee! No, really. The rich aroma of good coffee and I’m out of bed in a flash. Otherwise I tend to drift on in a dreamy state doing nothing, thinking nothing. In any event I’m pretty dozy until about 10 o’clock. But coffee helps.

What is your favourite book from childhood? Tell me about it. My favourite children’s book has to be Wind in the Willows. Such a tender book filled with gentle stories of friendship and adventure. Written by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by E H Shepard and published in 1908, this book is timeless, a long-gone pastoral England with characters one comes to love; Mole, Rat and the irrepressible, conceited Mr Toad.

What are you currently reading? Tell me about it.
I’m not a book snob. I haven’t read The Luminaries and probably won’t. My research at the moment is sombre; the Holocaust, so I need light reading to centre me. I have belatedly found Susan Hill’s crime novels, a nice balance of whodunit with complex inviting characters. Her ghost stories are excellent too and, I suspect, will become the inspiration for my own paranormal stories. There are no vampires or zombies. No one’s scared of those! They don’t make you look over your shoulder or double-lock your door at night. But a subtle story; a ghostly hand clutching yours, an indent on the bed when you know you’re alone, a shadow across the windowsill – now that’s the stuff of real fear.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? Why does it stick in your memory? The first story I wrote was a book, Debbie’s Story. It was a bestseller and that’s probably why I remember it. It was a biography of childhood sexual abuse and it came out at just the right time and right place for a dialogue to begin about what some children are put through by evil adults. Radio, television, magazine and newspaper reviews – all heady stuff. I wondered if writing and publishing was always going to be that easy. I came down with a crash.

What’s the best thing about being a writer? Ian Rankin said; ‘I think most writers are just kids who refuse to grow up. We’re still playing imaginary games with our imaginary friends’.
Bam! Kerplat! Take that, you scoundrel! Saddle up, Tonto, we’re outta here!  It’s wonderful to create characters and to live with them for as long as it takes to complete the book. There is a kind of childlike pretension about writing and about slipping into the ‘skin’ of someone else, even if that someone is made up.

What is your writing process? I try to write for at least an hour a day and I keep a record of the number of words I manage in a writing session. Sometimes it’s a thousand and that feels very good. Sometimes it’s only a page – not so good. I don’t have any superstitions about writing, although if have a little stuffed frog on the computer whose black eyes stare at me and remind me to ‘get going, already’.

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time? I read a lot and I play classical guitar. I’m not only a double dipper (two books going at a time), I usually triple-dip, meaning that I will have one non-fiction book I’m reading for research and then two, at least two, novels. I might even have a ‘how-to’ book on the sidelines, something like Solutions for Writers by Sol Stein or Plot by Ansen Dibell, two oldies but greaties. When I get stuck those sorts of books become my butt-kickers.

What are you currently working on? Explain. At the moment I’m researching a book on the Holocaust. Jewish friends of mine lost their entire family, except one, in the Holocaust. All they had was a bunch of letters written in Polish. A good friend translated the letters and slowly a tragic picture is emerging. I’m hoping to have a first draft by the middle of the year (2015 that is!). We would like to call it Out of Poland : when surviving is the best revenge.

Do you belong to a group? About thirteen years ago I joined a fabulous group of writers. The Mariangi Writers Group in Auckland has been going for about thirty-five years and is a powerhouse of inspiration and encouragement. Every writer needs a group where they can throw ideas around, get good critique and have understanding friends. MWG has been that for me.

List of Books by this author:
Debbie’s Story
A New Life in New Zealand
To the Child Unborn
The Lives of Alice Pothron
The Falling of Shadows
The Indigo Kid
Accidental Hero
Rusty and Slasher’s Guide to Crime
Rusty and Slasher and the Circus from Hell
Links to books:

Contact: Email:
Thanks Jenny for kicking off our introduction to the members of Mairangi Writers - such a varied bunch!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Barbara Algie escapes the summer heat on the Tranzalpine Express

All agree it’s been a stupendous summer but not stupendous for the brain, for every author I’ve spoken to has had writer’s block in a big way.   Hot airless nights – not easy to sleep, even in the skimpiest nightie (or even less) with a teensy sheet covering only ones toes.   God help anyone who finds me if I cark it in the night – not a pretty sight– nude.   And doesn’t hot weather do strange things to people?   Some of us even seriously consider murdering our lovers who seem able to snore away non-stop and insist on cuddling up.  High time for single beds.  

What I can recommend is a train trip – somewhere – anywhere.   No luggage hassles, no watching the road for idiots who don’t understand the rules of the road – just a pleasant ‘sit back and listen to the commentary’, indulge in an occasional cold slurp from a well-stocked cafĂ© car and drift into an ‘enjoy the scenery mode’.   What more could one ask?  

I’m talking about the Tranzalpine – Christchurch to Greymouth.   You can do it easily there and back in one day.   Make sure you get a window seat.  Even the endless Canterbury Plains have a magic carpet of colour from burnt sienna to brilliant yellow with a splash or two of white daises nodding happily as the train flashes past.   Further on, the commentary tells you the mountains you are about to enter are steadily pushing themselves ever upward at what might sound like a caterpillar pace.   It’s only when you are surrounded by them that  you know they mean business as they appear to be striding towards the train, eager to crush it into little pebbles like the ones far below in the braided rivers that wait for rain.  

There are gasps as the train dashes in and out of tunnels and the terrible thought of what might happen during the endless darkness of the  Otira Tunnel should there be a breakdown or a fire.   Another gasp of relief, this time as the train breaks free into the sunshine once more.  

At Arthurs Pass station a mob of foreigners disembark with their luggage whilst the watchful hills sulk in the distance.   From then on you sit back and relax again, wondering if that solitary figure you glimpsed in the distance was the ghost of the Irish miner who died during the gold rush days and has been seen walking - always eastwards - towards home out of the Pass.   A garish red Warehouse sign flashes past and you know you are entering  Greymouth.    Nearby a tiny old cottage on the hill has an inflatable Santa sitting on the porch waving to the train.   Ah well, it was romantic- for a while.   Now for that whitebait fritter.

 Barbara Algie


Friday, 6 February 2015

Vicky Adin with 'What should be at the front of your book/ e-book?'

Traditionally, design specialists will tell you that before the story starts you should have a half title page - that only has the title on it – not the sub-title, log line or author name. Next comes a blank page, or frontispiece  - illustration, series title, books by this author (on the reverse side) followed by:

Title Page – with log line and author name.
Copyright page
Optional pages that should be included – dependent on whether it’s fiction or non-fiction:
Table of Contents (but never a list of chapters with no heading, setting or date)
Table of Illustrations
List of Tables

Got the idea? There’s heaps of them.
The problem with this format and therefore, formatting e-books, is that readers want to get on with the story. If they have downloaded a sample of say 10 or 15% only to find that much of that sample is lost with what to them is irrelevant, then you have likely lost them for good. Don’t take the risk.

With a print book, it is much easier to flip the pages over and start the story at page 1. With an e-book, yes, you can push the button or touch the screen and turn the pages, but often these starter pages are double-sided, so one page in a print book equates to two in an e-book.
Even if you only have the top list – half-page, frontispiece, title page, copyright page and dedication, that’s five clicks to turn the pages. Add in acknowledgements, a contents page, maps, images, timelines or anything else and it could be as much as ten or twelve pages to wade through before you get to the story.

There is a high risk that the potential reader will be turned off by all this pre-story information. If they are unable to read enough of the story in the sample to decide whether to buy it or not, many will not bother.

These days the argument is in favour of putting as little at the front of your book as possible. The acknowledgements can go at the back, so too can images, timelines and other such references. Information about the author, additional information adding to the background of the story, and other books by the author can and should now be placed at the back. Let the reader get to your words – the ones that will excite, enthral or scare them.

Which brings me to the argument of To Prologue or Not to Prologue.
The dictionary definition of a prologue is: a separate introductory section of a literary, dramatic, or musical work. And synonyms include introduction, foreword, preface, preamble. You can give it pretty much any name you like and it all adds up to the same thing.
There is a school of thought that believes prologues and epilogues frame a good story. Prologues are designed to foreshadow events to come, add excitement and tension, put context to an event that occurs outside of the story line but may have relevance or offer a different perspective, often by a character whose point of view is not in the main story.
These are valid points, but do they fit today’s readers who are short of time and want action in the first few paragraphs? As authors, we want to make sure readers keep turning the page.

You need to ask yourself:
Why do I need a prologue?
What is my purpose for using one?
Is the information necessary?
Will it move the story along?
Is it exciting enough?

Because if the answer is no to any of the above, then why would a reader bother with it and if they don’t and skip it anyway, why is it there?
An epilogue is defined as: a section or speech at the end of a book or play that serves as a comment on or a conclusion to what has happened. Synonyms include: afterword, postscript addendum.

Sometimes an author may decide that the ending of the story leaves too many loose ends and will choose to write an epilogue that ties up all those ends. Again, ask yourself why? Do all stories need to have a neat, tidy, happy-ever-after ending?

If the ending is so ambiguous that readers wonder why it has ended right there, than have you, as the author, written the best ending you can? If you think you need an epilogue, then take a look at your last chapter first and see if you can rewrite it with a better ending. If you think the epilogue adds something to the story, or is a precursor to the next book, then epilogues are a more viable option.

By the time the reader has reached the end of your story, if they liked it, and your authorial voice, then they are more likely read the extra bits of information you’ve supplied.

Question: What should be at the front of your book?
Answer: As little as possible.

Get on with the story.
Vicky Adin