With so many of you asking the same questions I decided it was time to compile a FAQ file. Because underlining is ugly and whole sentences of it are difficult to read, I disabled the usual feature for underlining links on this page, but the links work the same way as underlined links on all the other pages.
Even if the answer to your particular question is on this page, I still love hearing from you, so keep your comments, opinions and anything else rolling in by
No, this isnt a frequent question. (I should be so lucky!) But what author could possibly resist a question that had such a heart-warming comment attached to it? Neither could I resist putting this question (even though its such a recent one) on top of this page. The reader asking the question was referring to such awards as the EPPIEs, the Independent eBook Award, the Frankfurt eBook Award. The answer is simple: there is always a fee to enter a book into these awards. I live in a jobless household and at the moment the fees range from about a fifth to three-fifths of our total net household income for a week. Sometimes a hard copy of the book is required. This means more money for a print-out, followed by a large sum in postage from New Zealand.
Since writing the above, I came across one award for which the entry fee of US$12 is relatively reasonablethe Dream Realm Awards. The Obsidian Quest was therefore entered. It didnt win but reached the finals. For those who are curious, the winner was a historical novel about American Indian children who were dragged from their homes to be civilised.
Well, writers are always being asked this question. Its a real curly one. Ideas come from all sorts of sourceseven from television. News items are often a good source because I frequently find myself asking why? and not getting an answer from the news reader. I therefore have to make up a why!
Something that someone says to me often sparks off an idea. The experiences in my own life are another source. This may seem a very strange statement coming from a fantasy writer, but its amazing how many real-life experiences can be turned into something utterly fantastic. Also, fantasy can sometimes make a point about the struggles and problems of ordinary life far more effectively than realistic fiction. And my stories always seem to start from home: even the suburb in Auckland where I lived until just over two and a half years ago was a perfect setting for magic to happen. Both Mark Willoughby and the Impostor-King of Lazaronia and the Earthlight series start off from the house where I lived. The Impostor-King begins with my hero flying a kite in the school groundsand that school really exists. Unfortunately, the playing field is no longer as it was in 1992 (which is when I started this book) but has been largely swallowed up by school buildings.
And of course writers read a lot. The Little Dragon Without Fire was inspired by a book called The Dragons of Kilve by Beth Webb. In this story a little dragon without wings was born. The other dragons called her Treasure. And straight away it popped into my mind: I could write a story about a little dragonnot without wings but perhaps without well, what else is important to a dragon? Yes, fire! Thats it! Next morning I sat down to write with little more idea of the story than that one fact.
Well, the answer to the previous question more or less answers this one. However, I usually have some idea of whats going to happen at the endin fact I often have the end worked out before I start the book. But I dont plot before I startI do that as I write. Unfortunately it does mean I have to do a lot of rewriting even before Ive finished the story.
I do make a lot of notes, usually such a jumble that no one but myself could possibly understand them. I also make such things as maps of my imaginary world and time charts to keep my characters ages correct.
I tend to rewrite and polish as I go, but this still doesnt mean I dont have to make draft after draft. By the time Im finished with a story I almost hate it: you cant read through something about 200 times without starting to feel a bit this way. Try reading your favourite book this number of times with little or no pause between readings and see how you feel about it then!
On weekdays Im at my computer from about 8 am to 5 pm, with breaks for lunch and making cups of tea and coffee. A lot of this time, of course, Im not working on my books. Theres correspondence to deal with, for instance, and various other computer chores. My weekend is actually Friday and Saturday and these days are devoted to shopping, washing, cleaning, and other horrible household tasks. Whats then left of the day is spent at my computer. Fortunately my husband helps with the cleaning.
Well, as a child I preferred fiction that was as little like real life as possible. Real life was pretty boring. We had no TV, no motorcar, no bicycles even, and with four daughters to raise both my parents had to work to put food on the table and clothes on our back, so they had no time to entertain us.
Another answer to this question is that I consider the imaginations of todays children are being manipulated by adultstelevision, videos, etc. Children have naturally vivid imaginations that any adult would envy. However, if they dont exercise their imaginations by reading imaginative fiction they are going to land up as dull, unimaginative adults. Its people with big imaginations who do best in life.
A third answer is that fantasy allows a writer to address injustices and problems in the real world which, if written as realistic fiction, would more than likely be downright boring.
I always had my nose in a book. Real life was pretty boringespecially school. As for what I read, that question is probably best left unanswered! And the reason for that is that Mum and Dad were far too busy attending to our physical well-being to even consider our intellectual welfare, while all the teachers did was tell us what we shouldnt be readingthat is, they viewed our comic books with glowering disapproval. These comics were actually magazines devoted to school stories. Since the schools were mostly boarding schools in England (nearly always with foreign princesses among the pupils) they were so far removed from the reality of my own school life that they might as well have been fantasy stories. I also remember reading The Phantom. And of course we all loved Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
My sisters and I went to school right next-door to a branch of the Auckland Public Library but, because we didnt live within the boundaries of the Auckland City Council,we werent allowed to borrow books unless we paid an annual fee. Mostly Mum couldnt afford the fee. However, I do remember borrowing a lot of Enid Blyton books, and we were great fans of Jack London (Call of the Wild; Wild Fang; Silver Chief, Dog of the North). I also remember enjoying Little Women and its sequels, King Solomons Mines, and Heidi, while the Anne of Green Gables series completely bowled me over, not only for its story but also because its heroine spunkily asserted that she was Anne with an e, while my teachers (who sternly insisted on correct spelling from their pupils) spelt all three of my names wrong and I was too cowardly to object, because I would probably have been punished for being brazen.
I know now that the librarians could have pointed out the best childrens books to me: its part of their job. But I was far too shy to askif it even occurred to me, which I doubt. In my childhood days, you see, it was almost a crime to talk in libraries and I was nearly as much in awe of librarians as I was of my teachers.
I also remember that we read whatever Mum and Dad were reading. Dad liked a magazine called Wide World. My memories of that are mostly of stories set in the jungleexciting stuff. Then there was another magazine called With Alan in Africa. We always waited impatiently for Dad to finish his magazines. He also read authors like Alistair McLeanso we read them. But what I remember most is the Dennis Wheatley novels that Mum read: The Devil Rides Out, for instance. Spinechilling! We loved them. Im not sure whether Id like them now.
My first decent read was at the age of twelve when someone lent me Jane Eyre and I kept my eldest sister awake for hours because I wouldnt turn out the light. I didnt discover Charles Dickens until I was 17. I found him a very wordy writer but he told a rattling good story. And the world of Victorian England seemed almost like a fantasy world to me. I was fortunate that at 17 I was still reading very much the way a child reads. Children and adults read differently. Children literally become the hero of the story and their wonderful imaginations take them right into the storys setting. The real world just disappeared for me as a child and I didnt hear my mother telling me to come and get my dinner. I didnt even hear her come into my room.
One of the things I remember about childrens books when I was young is Why do I have to read more than two-thirds of the book before something exciting happens? This applied even to Enid Blyton. If I felt this way, then obviously other children do, so I always bear this in mind when I sit down to write.
First, Ive got a lot of catching up to do on the books I missed when I was a child. I resent the fact that I was an adult before I even heard of The Hobbit. I need to keep up with the books that are being published for children at the moment too. And of course there are adult books Id like to read as well. I naturally read as much fantasy as I canalways keeping in mind that its important to read as widely as possible. My favourite New Zealand writer is Sherryl Jordan and I also enjoy the work of the late Gaelyn Gordon, another New Zealander. Other favourites (in alphabetical order) are: Joan Aiken, Lloyd Alexander, Annie Dalton, Alan Garner, Maurice Gee, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula le Guin, CS Lewis, Caroline Macdonald (who was also born in New Zealand and died in 1997), Margaret Mahy (although Im not all that taken with some of her recent work), Geraldine McCaughrean, Garth Nix, Philippa Pearce, Tamora Pierce, Phillip Pullman and (of course) Tolkien. And thats just a handful. Ill put more names here as I think of them.
A rather special writer who deserves a paragraph all to herself is Lisa Vasil. Lisa is a New Zealand writer. She was only thirteen when she wrote her first book, Just an Ordinary Kid, which tells the story, in fiction form, of her struggle growing up with cerebral palsy. Now on the face of it that sounds very boring, but Lisa writes with great humour and had very little trouble getting published. After all, what publisher could possibly turn down such a wonderful gimmick? Three more books followed, published by a different publisherCollins, now HarperCollins. These were Dark Secret, Escape from the Future and The Apprentice Devilall highly entertaining. In fact, I much preferred these to Just An Ordinary Kid. But I heard recently that publishers are now sending Lisa nothing but rejections. It seems very unlikely to me that Lisa, who received the AGC Young Achievers Award in 1996 and has had at least one book shortlisted for another major award, should suddenly start producing nothing but totally unpublishable manuscripts.
But Id better not say any more about that! You just let me know what you thinkpreferably, but not necessarily, after reading at least one of Lisas books by emailing me.
This question gave me a good chuckle. The answer is, of course, that bedtime is the only time I get for reading. Sometimes, however, Im simply too sleepy and drop off to sleep with the light on after reading less than a page. Other times I wake up in the middle of the night and cant get back to sleep so I read for an hour or so. Sometimes this even helps me get back to sleepprobably because it takes my mind off whatever was keeping me awake, enabling me to relax.
And by the way, rejection letters no longer make me lose sleep. In our house (where the television remote control is referred to as The Gun, with which we shoot down commercials, along with other objectionables, such as politicians and vocalists who sound as though suffering from bellyache) we call rejection letters literary nasties. (Ill leave you to work out my inspiration for that one.) Unfortunately, Im not very happy with the word literary but cant think of anything else.
Since writing the above Ive received the suggestion editorial nasties, which sounds good to me. But if you think you have something even better, please let me know.
Oh dear! This is a questionlike the How much money do you earn from your writing? received by published writersthat instantly provokes the response Mind your own business. But its usually asked by those wanting to be writers, who I think have a right to know what they almost certainly will have to face. Anyway, my curiosity was sufficiently roused to make me count my rejections, and the total came to 65. Since that count Ive received many more. I think the total now must be well over 100. Because many publishers these days dont bother with the courtesy of addressing authors by name let alone stating what is being rejected, its hard to tell how many of these are for what is now Mark Willoughby and the Impostor-King of Lazaronia but I think its 32. (See the previous question for more about rejection letters.) I also have at least 20 rejections for The Little Dragon Without Fire.
Ah, now, wasnt that cunning? Until this question came along, Id never really thought about it. But I have to say that, having now thought about it, I think I do have a favourite: Silvranja. If youve explored my site thoroughly the reason might be obvious. But getting shortlisted for a major prize isnt the only reason for my preference. Silvranja of the Silver Forest was the most difficult piece of writing Ive ever done, for three reasons:
It was basically a rewrite of Albishadewe: Quest for the Unicorn, changing the viewpoint from that of two humans to a single animal;
I had to incorporate the main action of the former book (which was a full 40,000 words) and also quite a lot of new material, and still keep within the 40,000-word length;
During the main action from the former book I had to keep to Silvranjas viewpoint and I wasnt sure if my solution to this problem was working.
In fact, almost to the end I was unsure whether the book would work. Only Silvranja herself (brave little soul!) and all that I had put her through forced me back to work during the times I nearly gave up on the story. Having finished it, I also nearly didnt submit it to the award. Clearly I didnt have Silvranjas courage!
Fourteen completed novels for older children and one not quite half written. One of these fourteen, Albishadewes story, could actually be published as two books; 40,000 words simply wasnt enough to tell the story. These fourteen are the ones of which excerpts appear on this web site. Then I have two for adults, one not quite finished and the other to be published around September 2005, and a dozen or so short stories, one of which is The Little Dragon Without Fire, plus a few picture book style manuscripts. Im not counting destroyed manuscripts: all the stuff I wrote at school and the one novel I submitted to a publisher in my earlier twenties.
This question, from a reader in the upper age bracket, was an unusual one but was so thought-provoking that I finally felt compelled to include an answer to it on this page because its an opinion that a surprising number of children seem to share. And I have to admit I find theres a lot of truth in it: childrens fiction writers are increasingly being asked to provide moral messages in their stories so that fiction is expected, for instance, to teach children how to cope with the problems in their lives (such as the break-up of their parents marriages) and to be tolerant of people who are different in any way. The main objection I see in fiction that usurps the job of your teacher, your parents and maybe your minister of religion is that its nearly always downright boring. Only humour in such a story can stop the reader from dropping off to sleep. Well, that might not happen to youyou probably simply throw the book across the roombut its what invariably happens to me because the only time I read is in bed.
I personally feel that the job of a childrens fiction writer is solely to entertain children. If children stop finding stories entertaining they will simply stop reading. That would be disastrous. But I for one couldnt possibly blame them.
By the way, if you didnt enjoy a book youve just finished readingor have given up onwhy not write to the publisher, telling them why you disliked the story? You, the reader, should be dictating what you want to read, not the publishers. After all, adults dont have to read what publishers insist they should, so why should children? If you think I should practise what I preach, please read my letter to Bloomsbury.
Story-Go-Round, a site maintained by Lorraine Orman, a qualified New Zealand childrens librarian, is a good place to help you find something that you will enjoy reading. Lorraine recommends and reviews childrens literature from all over the world.
Ouch! This question hurtbecause it was a local one. Im including it since its closely related to the previous question and maybe visitors to my site from other countries feel the same way about the childrens books winning prizes in their countries.
First, I must say that if you have a mother like this youre very lucky. My mother had neither the time nor the know-how to find out what were the best childrens books being published. We mostly received books with titles like Schoolgirls Own Pet Annual. Although we enjoyed them, they were hardly prize-winning literature.
However, to answer this question, in 1996 (I think that was the year) a really wonderful book won both the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Childrens Fiction Award. It was Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. This is one of those childrens books that all but the weirdest adults will also enjoy. But if youre an American visitor to my site you should look for it under the title The Golden Compass. Its now available in Scholastics Point paperback series. The first sequel, called The Subtle Knife, is also in book shops and The Amber Spyglass was released in late 2000. However, Im bound to admit that I cant come up with another recent prize-winner thats given me anything like the pleasure I got from this book, so perhaps the asker of this question is right.
Anything by Philip Pullman is worth reading, incidentally.
I must admit it does seem that publishers are getting increasingly out of touch with what children like to read once theyre past needing their fiction illustratedwhich is maybe why childrens books are not making any money for publishers. Children read solely for the plot or story (the Whats going to happen next?) and are likely to be bored stiff, for instance, by rambling character studies of the heros family, no matter how brilliant the characterisation. This is maybe why the Goosebumps series is so popular, and why Enid Blyton has made such an impressive comeback. If publishers demanded stories from todays fiction writers for children, rather than character studies focusing on the problems facing children today, both publishers and writers would be making money, instead of virtually nothing.
Phillip Pullman, for instance, has stressed many times that he is, foremost, a storyteller. The story is paramount, he said in his 1996 acceptance speech for the Carnegie Medal, Englands highest honour for childrens literaturea statement that echoes my own sentiments exactly.
In a book for children, you cant put the plot on hold while you cut artistic capers for the amusement of your sophisticated readers, because, thank God, your readers are not sophisticated, he said. Theyve got more important things in mind than your dazzling wordplay. They want to know what happens next.
But it isnt only children who need a good yarn, Pullman said. Theres a hunger for stories in all of us, adults too. We need stories so much that were even willing to read bad books to get them, if the good books wont supply them. This last statement applies even more to children than it does to adults. A good childrens book is capable of enchanting an adult every bit as much as it does a child.
Interestingly, Charlotte Bingham, judge for the short story section of the Bridport Prize 1998, complained in her judges report about lack of story in the majority of entries. Apparently a mere handful of the vast number (probably well over 5,000) submitted had even a point let alone a story, making them more essays or, worse still, passing comments. The poor woman must have been bored out of her mind!
Incidentally, if you didnt like a book youve just finished reading, how about writing to the publishers and telling them so? But before you do so, sit down and list the reasons why you didnt like the book: a reasoned argument is more likely to urge a reply from a publisher than just the bald statement that the book was boring or preachy.
What do you think? Maybe you have an opinion you would like to share with me. If so, Email me.
This is a question adults, rather than children, keep asking me, but I thought you might be interested in it. Many other writers have told me frankly that they write for the money. Fair enough: I am strongly of the opinion that one should be well paid for ones work, especially hard work like writing. However, for myself I can only answer this question with another: Why do drug addicts keep sticking hypodermics into themselves? I often wish some kind person had been around to dissuade me before I got myself so immersed in the Earthlight trilogy that I couldnt stop writing. Preferably this fairy godmother should have been around when I was a child.
There are two answers to this question. The most important one is that if an entire novel is published on the Internet, and therefore read free of charge by an audience of possibly millions, publishers are not likely to be interested in it. The second answer is that my Internet provider allows me only 10 MB for my web site and there just wouldnt be enough room, even without the illustrations. The only way a writer can make money publishing on the Internet is through electronic publishers who pay royalties. Ive been working on italways remembering that its possible Ill have no more luck than through traditional publishersand after a year of submitting have finally made a breakthrough. My first book, The Obsidian Quest, is now with Hard Shell Word Factory. Read the first chapter and my blurb.
This question was asked many times during a reading session to a class of 10-year-olds. I tried to simplify matters (ignoring, for instance, the fact that 12.5 percent of the cost of a book goes to the New Zealand Government in goods and services tax, which we call Grab Snatch Take) by telling them if a book costs $10 the writer might get around $1 from each book sold, but it was nearly always much less for childrens books, usually 75 cents per book. There was a wide-eyed chorus of Oooo! When I asked did they think that was too much or not enough, they indignantly cried in unison, Not enough! It is possible for a childrens book to earn a great deal of money, but this is usually because the writer has become extremely well known and has published many books over a long period, say twenty years. Long-established authors can also demand higher royalties. Occasionally a first book becomes a best-seller, as in the case of Joanne Rowlings Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone in its American edition) but its very rare. Too few childrens books sell more than about 5,000 copies. I know of novels that should have sold in considerably greater numbers than this but for some reason didnt. One thing I do know: the fault didnt lie with the author.
There isnt anything in Harry Potter to dislike. On the other hand, I didnt enjoy the first book enough for my tongue to be hanging out for more (as it did after I read the first book of Philip Pullmans His Dark Materials trilogy). I can certainly see why young people go crazy over Harry, though. Hes likeable enough and (just like Enid Blyton before her) Joanne Rowling doesnt preach to her readers as too many writers of childrens fiction do these days. Best of all, she gives Harry plenty of adventures and problems to solve.
Also, if my own experience in looking for books for a fantasy-mad 11-year-old boy is anything to go by, this type of fiction for young people was very hard to find around the time the first Harry Potter book came out. I believe this is the main reason for the success of the series. Children do want fantasy, but few publishers seem to want them to have it. You only have to read their manuscript requirements (instructions to writers on what sort of stories they want) to realise this. As a demonstration of how narrow these are, following is a brief summary of the type of novels Scholastic New Zealand is seeking from writers:
SportMax series: Stories must centre on one particular sport and include a clear understanding of how its played and some insight into the rules. Main plot to be the focus without significant subplots. Limited number of main charactersno more than five. Readers should feel they understand the sport by the time they have finished the book.
Extreme series: Main plot to be fairly linear, without significant subplots. Plot to focus on physical danger/survival. Possible ideas: disasters (avalanche, flood), outdoor adventure or sports where danger is likely to occur. The main character (preferably a boy) prevails and learns about himself in the process.
For Girls series: Main plot to focus on friendship, either with other children or with a beloved pet. The main character should learn about herself or discover aspects of her friend that she wasnt aware of before.
Interesting stuff (I dont think!) when youd rather read something that stretches your imagination, that allows you to escape from the boredom of everyday life in the real world.
So, if you want more stories like Harry Potter (stories about wizards and magic and similar subjects) let the publishers know. The name and address of the publisher of the book youre reading will be on one of the pages at the beginning of the book.
Im decidedly bemused by the narrow-mindedness of those who refer to Harry as evil (simply because there are witches and wizards in these books). Everyone should know these are no more real than fire-breathing dragons. Children who are old enough to read Harry do know the difference between real life and fantasy.
However, Im just as bemused by the fact that the first Harry Potter book was short-listed for the Carnegie Medal and that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban won the Whitbread Childrens Book of the Year for 1999. The writing in both books simply isnt good enough. Im starting to lose my faith in these awards. The judges, after all, are supposed to be judging the books for the quality of their writing. However, one of the first things I noticed about Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone was that its peppered with words that are regarded as weak, words that Im always trying to weed from my own work: a little, quite, really, fairly, ratherto name just a few. These particular words dont necessarily appear in the first Harry Potter book; theyre just examples of weak words. Sometimes they do need to be used, but most of the time the sentence is best without them. I wasnt looking for them when I read the book. They leapt out at me.
Another thing I noticed is that Joanne Rowling continually tells the reader how dialogue is spoken, even when it would be obvious (either from the words themselves or from the fact that they were shouted or whispered). Whispered quietly and shouted loudly are particularly unacceptable. Shouted angrily is also stupid; the words themselves and the fact that they were shouted is enough to let the reader know the speaker was angry. I didnt necessarily find these particular adverbs in the Harry Potter books; theyre just examples of the type of things I found.
A little editorial assistance would have helped Joanne Rowling make her books so much better. Its a pity she didnt get such help.
I was also disgusted with the American publisher for assuming that American children are so stupid they wont know (or guess from the contents of the book) what the Philosophers Stone is. American publishers of childrens books are continually insulting the intelligence of their readers in this way.
If you enjoyed Harry Potter, why not try something better? Phelim, the hero of Geraldine McCaughreans The Stones are Hatching is, like Harry, an orphan and (again like Harry) has to live with a cruel relative, his sister Prudence. Prudence is clearly embittered by having to provide from her pitiful earnings for both her small brother and a father who appears to be in his dotage. (The father is no longer with them when the story starts. She tells Phelim he diedjust one of her endless acts of verbal and psychological abuse.) There are many amusing characters in this book. Phelim has to find three others (the Maiden, the Fool and the Horse) to help him in his quest to save the world from dreadful monsters, the Hatchlings of the Stoor Worm, which are already creating terror and chaos. Sweeney, the Fool, is an extremely funny character whom you wont forget in a hurry, while Im sure the Obby Oss will prance through my dreams for the rest of my life.
Geraldine McCaughrean chooses her words with care, making every one count. Because of this, the reader has more sympathy for Phelim than for Harry Potter. In the end you will even feel a twinge of sympathy for the Stoor Worm.
If you found the Harry Potter books scary, youll find this one even more so. Why? Mostly, perhaps, because of the skill of its writer.
Many adults (narrow-minded ones anyway) will no doubt criticise the way Geraldine McCaughrean deals with Prudence at the end of the book. But how else, we must ask ourselves, could Phelim escape the horrors of having to live with her? What would we do in Phelims place?
To submit your own questions, or make any comment, please Email me. For suggestions on good books to read, visit Story-Go-Round, a site maintained by Lorraine Orman, qualified New Zealand childrens librarian and author of several books for children. Lorraine recommends and reviews childrens books from all over the world.