The University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence - Previous Recipients
- James Norcliffe, 2012
- Kyle Mewburn, 2011
- Karen Trebilcock, 2010
- Joanna Orwin, 2009
- Bill O'Brien, 2008
University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2012
Looking back, December 2012
This has been a magical time, quite appropriate really for a writer of fantasy.
I came to Dunedin with three projects in the forefront: a fantasy story in the form of a book within a book I think then provisionally titled Into Axillaris; the story of the very first loblolly boy to follow my two loblolly boy books (this would necessarily be set in the 1740’s and involve life at sea during the War of Jenkin’s Ear thus involving quite a lot of research) to be titled The Loblolly Boy and the Astrolabe; and finally to finish the editing of a collection of poems for an anthology aimed at younger readers with background material and writing prompts.
These three projects consumed the first few weeks and all went very well. The first novel (50,000 words) title settled as Felix and the Red Rats was actually completed before my first month was up and then I managed to complete the 70,000 words of The Loblolly Boy and the Astrolabe within another two months. Meanwhile the required editing of the poetry was finished as well in this timeframe and that book Packing a Bag for Mars was published before the end of the year. With time now to spare and my guilt chest empty I conceived another book, a ghost story set on the west coast (Moana / Lake Brunner) which was fun as it was intricately plotted and I’ve managed to complete its 50,000 words as well. This is called The Crate. I’m currently well into a 5th project perhaps born of Christchurch’s woes, a darker fantasy called The Lost City and I’m 40,000 words into that.
One of the great pleasures of the residency has been the opportunity to talk to schools and to older groups and to conduct writing workshops. My novel the Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer was short listed for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards this year and so I was involved in many school visits associated with children’s book week a number of these being further south as the NZ Book Council asked whether they could exploit the fact that I was in the neighbourhood as it were. Accordingly, at that time I spoke to groups in Otago and Southland, and visited about 14 schools in the area.
I had two visits to Invercargill to run junior workshops for the Dan Davin Foundation and was involved with the Storylines Children’s Family Day at the library.
For grownups I have spoken at the New Zealand Society of Authors, at the Meet the Fellows Session, and I have featured at the Circadian Rhythm Poetry Readings and the Love Poetry readings at the Dunedin Public Library. I have been interviewed on local TV, and on community radio both here and in Invercargill, and on Lynn Freeman’s programme on national radio. I have been interviewed by the university journalists and by ODT, D Scene, and Gore Ensign.
Some of my time had to be devoted to two books published this year: The Enchanted Flute (Longacre Random) which was released in May and a poetry collection Shadow Play (Proverse). The latter, published in November, came with a CD of the entire book and I thank the college for facilitating this recording at the studios on Union Street.
So. I have been busy, and this perhaps explains how the time has flown. I cannot repeat often enough how friendly and helpful the college staff have been. I have been made to feel special and valued and I’m going to miss this fellowship and warmth tremendously.
Writing is a fraught business and in these straitened times it is not easy for creative work to gel with commercial realities. However, I am confident that some of the work I have completed will eventually see publication*. No blame should be attached to the residency if it isn’t but all thanks to the residency and to the College if it is.
*Update: Felix and the Red Rats will be published by Longacre/Random in May 2013
On my computer at home I had two barely developed ideas for novels for my target audience of bright young readers of all ages. One was the concept of a book within a book, a story in which intersecting chapters loosely related at first but which would become inextricably bound together. I wanted it to be funny, quirky and full of surprises.
The other was a book I’d more or less been challenged to write. When my Loblolly Boy was reviewed in NZ Books, Diane Hebley, as many people have, looked up the meaning of the original loblolly boy (an assistant to a ship’s surgeon in Royal Navy warships in the 18th and 19th centuries) and wondered whether there was a connection. In his review of The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer also in NZ Books, Geoffrey Miles was even more explicit and suggested a book set in the 18th century on a ship of the line or some such would be a good idea.
A couple of years ago, I’d been invited to a poetry festival in Medellin and while in Colombia visited the beautifully preserved fort city of Cartagena de Indias the scene of a famous naval encounter between the British and the Spanish in the 1740’s.
Thus I had a setting and a prompt for one book, and another intriguing idea for another, but alas no time. I had nibbled at outlines and written perhaps four or five pages of text for each piece but they remained stalled. My day job at Lincoln University keeps me busy and I’m the sort of writer who needs paddocks of time to work on a book. Work? I mean live, breathe, sleep and dream a book.
The news then that I had been offered the Writer in Residence at the Otago University College of Education was a consummation devoutly to be etc. I was overjoyed. It was perfect. I would have the time, I would have the accommodation, and I would have Dunedin again, a city and university I have such fond memories of.
The reality has more than exceeded the anticipation. The Robert Lord Cottage has proved to be convenient and cosy and the trustees so helpful. Part of the helpfulness has been a complete refurbishment including heating, insulation and a magical skylight. Trish Brooking and the team at the College of Education have been equally warm and welcoming. The wider writing community of Dunedin including former fellows has drawn me in as well. The walk between the cottage and the college is lovely although I am probably a danger to traffic as it’s also a time of pondering, wondering and creativity.
More pertinently, I have the office in the tower block and untrammelled (largely) time, so much so that in the first few weeks I have laid down thousands and thousands of words to cut and polish, and time to chase across the fields after new ideas and fancies.
The stay has coincided with my Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer’s being a finalist in the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards and this in turn has allowed me to visit schools and colleges around Dunedin and all around Southland. My diary includes further visits as well and this role as an ambassador for children’s writing has been an enjoyable by-product of my time here so far.
I am so grateful for this time and these opportunities. I am at the more or less half way stage of the fellowship and I trust the second will be as productive and stimulating.
University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2011
The call came on a cold Friday morning in July.
“Congratulations, dude! You have been chosen to be the OUCOE/CNZ Children’s writer-in-residence for 2011. Isn’t that like totally awesome, or what?” (Okay, that may not quite be what Kim said, but that’s kind of how it sounded in my head.)
“Jolly good show, old chap,” I effused. Then hung up with a hearty: “Cheerio!” (Allowing a small degree of artistic license.)
I’d been at my desk working on the second episode of my Dinosaur Rescue series, wrestling with the unexpected intricacies of my latest sophisticated poo joke. There was a deadline looming. I needed to get it done and dusted asap. I couldn’t afford to be distracted ...
I let out a fulsome cheer then raced up to my wife’s studio to tell her the news. All the way I couldn’t stop singing: “For I’m a jolly good fellow!” I just assumed that’s what every new Fellow did when informed of such joyous news. But I may be wrong.
We moved to Dunedin at the beginning of February and I quickly settled into an urban lifestyle in the cosy Robert Lord Cottage in Titan street. A fifteen minute morning stroll through the University to my office at the College. Write until mid-afternoon. A return stroll to Titan street, detouring via UBS and/or Meenans. A cold drink in the cottage courtyard followed by a walk to/through the Gardens. Another drink in the courtyard. Then the daily debate. Cook dinner, go to a restaurant or get takeaways? Go to a movie or rent a dvd? Decisions, decisions. It was almost too much for quiet country folk like us. How do city people manage?
My writing project for the duration of the residency was to finish my first Young Adult novel. It had already been over a year in the planning and drafting. With no looming deadlines and six months in which to focus solely on my project, I’d polish it off in no time.
Ahhh, the best laid plans of mice and writers ...
I did manage to make steady progress – for a while. But my Dinosaur Rescue series was proving popular, so the publishers asked if I might care to write (I guess ‘demanded’ is a tad harsh) two more episodes. ASAP!
A month living in the mind of an 8-year-old evolved Neanderthal boy later, and I could once again turn my attentions to the travails of my 17-year-old contemporary YA hero. I realise there may not appear to be much difference between an evolved Neanderthal and a contemporary teenager, but it proved to be quite a struggle flipping between mindsets.
I had just begun to make some serious progress when disaster struck! My picture book Hill & Hole made the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finals. There’s nothing quite distracting as good news. Very hard to focus on the task at hand when your mind’s whirring with grandiose visions of what might be. The downside of having an over-active imagination, I guess.
A mini NZ Post tour of the West Coast and a glittering awards ceremony in Auckland followed. Sadly my Hill & Hole was pipped at the post (the NZ Post, haha!) by Margaret Mahy and David Elliot’s book The moon and Farmer McPhee. Oh well, there’s always next year.
In the meantime, back to my novel.
Progress was further stalled by the joint launch of my picture book Hester & Lester and my junior novel DO NOT PUSH! , which the College so graciously hosted. Then there were the various edits and re-writes which result from having nine titles published in a single year. Not to mention the hours spent lingering in the Staff Room chatting to the ever-interesting staff.
Before I knew it, it was August. My residency was at an end. I was back on the street … or at least the creative equivalent. You rather get used to the notion of being handsomely, and regularly, paid for doing what you’d be doing anyway. It’s a shame you can only be a Fellow once.
So here it is, five months later, with this enriching, rewarding, engaging and utterly memorable year drawing to a close. My YA is nearing completion, at last. Barring any major interruptions, I’m hoping to finish it by Christmas. The first draft, at least.
Next year promises to be another big year for me, with ten more titles already due for release, two international promotional tours in the pipeline and, hopefully, my first YA novel accepted. Exciting stuff.
Yet I know already it can’t top this year. And when I recall 2011 (which I undoubtedly will a lot in the years ahead), it will be the wonderful new people I met who will most stick in my mind.
It was a jolly good year.
And so say all of us!
University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2010
Explaining to friends and family exactly what it means to me to have this residency has been a tricky, but at times hilarious, task. Many keep on referring to it as a job as in “when do you start your new job?” and others ask “but what are you going to do there?” The comment “and you’re going to get paid for that!” also pops up fairly frequently. I have consoled myself that maybe the general public have yet to realise writing fiction for children is important and yes, should be paid. It is not a job, but a craft – a creative process – and gives stories to our children and teenagers that encourages them to extend their reading skills, explore other ideas and worlds, and of course, to dream.
Maybe I just need new friends. My family, I know, I’m stuck with. They’ll get it eventually.
For the record, during the residency I will be writing a teen thriller I’ve called Absorbed which will be set in Dunedin and Australia. I’ll be aiming for between 50,000 and 60,000 words so yes, for the six months of the residency, it will keep me very busy. The novel is about global warming and how teenagers could react to having to reduce their carbon footprints to save their way of life. (Imagine a teenager without a set of wheels!) I also will be writing a blog about the creative process as part of having the residency is to teach and inspire children to read and to write their own stories.
I promise I will not get sidetracked by film or stage scripts or anything else I usually write. Well, I sort of promise.
Please visit my blog, which is under my pen name 'Ella West', at http://ellawest.wordpress.com/
End of Fellowship words, August 2010
It’s been six months of an office, a computer and a view over the Leith before it flows into the harbour. I’ve written a book, started another and written a play. The pile of paper in the corner has risen steadily higher – I print out everything I write not only for the feeling of safety it gives me (just in case anything happens to the computer file) but also to proofread. After six months of writing, the pile measured more than 40cm high. Waiting for the printer to do its thing in the stationery room, I got to watch from the window the stadium for next year’s rugby world cup slowly being built. The giant roof trusses were lifted into place as I dumped the pile of paper into the shredding and recycling bin next to the printer from where it came, the residency over.
It has also been six months of morning teas with university staff, catching up with the other arts fellows and the odd lunch. At the end of July I got to talk to the many English classes at the College of Education, both at its Dunedin campus and the one in Invercargill, hopefully dispelling a few myths about writers and their books (really – it’s not that hard to write a book!). The first-year students were required to read my first novel Thieves as part of their course and luckily (for them) most had enjoyed it although several were annoyed they had to read the other two books in the trilogy to find out what happens. “We are trying to get children to read,” I tried to explain to them. “If a teenager picks up Thieves then they end up reading hopefully not one book but three. As teachers and writers isn’t that what we want?”
While I have worried and written and worked, the Leith has flooded and gone down, the leaves have left the trees and the students have tramped past my office door in search of their lecturers and explanations for their marks. It has been a strange environment to write a book in, even though it was a book set partly here at the university. I would have to shake myself free of whatever predicament my characters had found themselves in and walk through the corridors to the staff room for morning tea and to discuss electricity prices or baking or the latest antics of children, grandchildren, partners and pets. To be invited into other people’s workplace so warmly, and to share their lives, has been a humbling experience and I have promised I will visit regularly now the fellowship is over.
The future? I’m now writing full time from home, a publisher is reading my book and the play has been entered into a competition. My half-written adult novel must be finished and the young adult novel I started during the fellowship needs to be developed further. There are lots of other projects to dream about too. The fellowship has changed me from a part-time writer to a fulltime one and for that, I am very thankful.
University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2009
Profile, April 2009
Writing is a solitary and self-absorbed occupation, and it’s often hard not to feel defensive when people ask – as they still do – ‘but what is your real job?’ It doesn’t help that most New Zealand writers still do have a ‘real job’ in addition to writing, simply because starving in the garret would become a reality without some more reliable income than that provided by publishing a book every year or so. The downside is that it’s easy, and sometimes essential, to give the paid work priority over the writing, so both time and creative energy are soon swallowed up. Being awarded Otago’s Children’s Writer in Residence is therefore akin to being given the keys to the kingdom. Not only am I formally contracted to work on a creative writing project for 6 glorious months – and therefore required to give it priority over everything else, I am also provided with an office in a stimulating environment where everyone around me believes in the value of writing for children. That and the kudos of joining the list of writers awarded this Fellowship is great affirmation to someone easily besieged by self-doubt.
While I’m in Dunedin, I have the privilege and pleasure of living in the Robert Lord Cottage, immersed in the history of its 100 years , Robert’s palpable presence, and the challenge of mastering a coal range. The cottage is within 10 minutes of the Ross Creek tracks, giving me respite from sitting at my desk. Landscape forms an integral part of my work and is often the trigger for new story ideas. Exploring Otago’ s natural surroundings with a local tramping group as well as relishing the city’s rich cultural opportunities are bound to feed into future projects.
The project I’m working on is a three-part story for teenagers set in a time several hundred years after cataclysmic volcanic eruptions on the Pacific Rim have destroyed life as we know it. Isolated small societies have developed in different environments and with different structures and cultures. I’m loosely basing my story on pre-history Polynesian life styles and mythologies, using them to explore what leads isolated societies to failure and the role of religious and political power in that process – Easter Island history being the trigger idea for this book. My characters will experience adventure and hardship, romance and sacrifice, and become leading players in a self-destructing society.
Launch of book Collision in September 2009
The University Book Shop is very pleased to have held the launch for Collision by award-winning New Zealand writer, Joanna Orwin.
Published by HarperCollins, Collision is about the violent impact of opposing forces; the clash of two different world views and cultures.
In 1772 a disastrous collision in the Southern Ocean saw French expedition leader, Monsieur Marc Joseph Marion du Fresne, bring the tall ships Marquis de Castries and Mascarin into the Bay of Islands, northern New Zealand, seeking fresh water and new spars.
Through the eyes of André Tallec, a young ensign, and his counterpart, Te Kape, favoured protégée of local chief Te Kuri, the events of the next two months unfold with harrowing tension and a sense of impending doom.
Blinded by the apparent goodwill of the Naturals and his belief in French superiority, Marion misunderstands their interactions with local Maori. Each day, the French unwittingly transgress further. With gathering frustration, the local chiefs find their mana increasingly compromised and their spiritual wellbeing threatened. Te Kuri and his fellow chiefs try every means at their disposal to encourage these strange tipua from the sea to leave them in peace, until only one course of honourable action remains. In a superb retelling of a collision of cultures doomed to end in tragedy, Joanna Orwin cleverly interweaves Maori and European perspectives, providing a vivid and compelling tale of loyalty, friendship, bloodshed and revenge from the age of encounter - when European and Polynesian first measured each other face to face.
Closing report, Joanna Orwin
Grey skies, wind and rain through most of a bitterly cold May, June and July – some say this has been the worst winter on record (and not just in Dunedin). Despite donning merino long johns, cranking up the coal range, and still struggling to keep warm enough in the 100-year-old Robert Lord Writers Cottage, when I look back on my 6 months in Dunedin, I’ll remember only warmth – the warmth of the welcome I’ve received and the friendship of the people I’ve met.
My time here has been productive beyond all my expectations of what I might accomplish. With such easy access to the wonderful University library and printing/photocopying facilities, I have completed all the research I planned for the project I’ve been working on – a three-part post-apocalyptic story for teenagers set several hundred years after cataclysmic volcanic eruptions on the Pacific Rim. During the 6 months of the Residency, I have also finished writing the first part of this story – the fastest I’ve ever written a 62,000-word novel. This has now been submitted to my publisher.
This in itself is a measure of the benefits of holding a Writer’s Residency. Despite indulging in Dunedin’s many delightful diversions of cafes, theatre, bookshops, and long day walks with a local tramping group, the real focus of my time here has been writing. Having financial freedom and continuity of time and effort to spend on one project has meant my writing has progressed without any disruptive setbacks (apart from my usual need to rewrite several times the first five or six chapters while I found my way into the story and developed the characters). As a result, although normally when I’m revising, my scientific editing background gives me a ruthless eye and a trigger finger on the delete button, the completed draft needed fine-tuning only.
As well as being able to focus on my own writing, I’ve contributed in small ways to programmes at the College of Education and the wider University and have enjoyed the sessions talking to the public, students, and staff. I also had the pleasure of launching my latest novel Collision in Dunedin towards the end of the Residency, a successful and well-attended event at the University Book Shop.
I’ll miss Dunedin, its environment and the people I’ve met here, but will go home to Christchurch feeling I’ve made the most of the opportunities provided by being awarded the 2009 Children’s Writer in Residence.
University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence 2008
The obvious advantage of being appointed Children's Writer in Residence is that it affirms that I am now a serious and credible writer of quality material. There is also a degree of personal satisfaction one can take in being on the list of recipients for this Fellowship. A less obvious advantage is being able to work on a project in a totally different atmosphere to what I am used to. For most writers, particularly those writing more or less full time, it can be a rather solitary existence. Being able to work in a university setting is refreshing. There is a 'buzz' about the place that is absent when working from home. While this can be mildly distracting to the creative writing process it is outweighed by the benefits of working among professionals for whom writing/reading/language is a passion. Here there is an opportunity to explore other ideas and points of view - like minds working together is a welcome change from working alone.
The project I am working on during the residency is an adventure novel set in 1903. It tells the story of two close friends who detest their life in a remote coal mining town on the West Coast. They have made a firm commitment to each other that at the first available opportunity they will escape their existence rather than be faced with a lifetime of working in the mines as their fathers have done. Just when it looks like they might achieve their dreams tragedy strikes. One of the boys has to make a choice whether to remain behind to support his family or abandon his responsibilities to pursue his ambition. The situation is resolved, but not before a dramatic event occurs that throws the two friends into a life and death situation and a stern test of their friendship. The time and setting lends itself perfectly to heighten drama and tension.
I deliberately chose the particular West Coast town following a visit there to research some family history. As with other books I have written for children I am also mindful of the need to try and attract the attention of reluctant boy readers.
Bill O Brien, March 2009
My six month Fellowship was over very quickly. I must say I did enjoy the Residency and managed to complete the task I set myself to write a children's novel. However, like any creative work there is much polishing to do once the draft is finished and I am still working on the project. Because it was written as part of a University Fellowship I want it to be just right.
For me, working at the College of Education had many other benefits, not the least being communication with staff and students. I was fortunate in being able to take about 20 hours of lecturing in creative writing and the interchange with young minds was refreshingly challenging. Similarly interaction with staff over the broad spectrum of teaching disciplines was invaluable. It would be self evident that writing is, by and large, a somewhat solitary occupation and it had been almost a decade since I was in the mainstream work force. Having a chance to daily hear other points of view was quite stimulating. I feel that I too was able to contribute to the daily life of the College and able to bring experiences and another viewpoint to discussions. I hope so anyway.
Personally I met some wonderful people and had experiences that were far removed from just sitting in a University office and writing all day. I am certainly better for having had this chance and am indeed grateful for the opportunity.