BEING PART OF THE AMAZING AUCKLAND ARTS FESTIVAL

Just typing those words is pretty amazing in itself!

Kirsten McKenzie and Andrene Low

On the 18th March I teamed up with the hilarious Hawkes Bay author Andrene Low, and we spent the evening sitting in the window of a shop... Not that sort of shop! We were perched in the window of Antique Alley on Dominion Road as part of the Auckland Arts Festival White Night.

Between the two of us we did live readings from our books, and ran Q&A sessions about writing, publishing and the inspiration behind our books.

People came and people went, and at one stage we had a full house.

Faux Sherry

The tables were prepped during the day with darling silver trays from Antique Alley, and decanters filled with Lipton's Iced Tea. An abundance of antique sherry glasses were washed, dried, and lined up next to the decanters. Up on the stage we had the real stuff in our decanter to moisten our throats for the four hours we were performing. I think if you were one of the attendees who turned up much later in the evening, you may have seen some evidence of that!

And what a buzz it was. Next year though we might add in a couple of other authors, because four hours is a long time for two authors to bounce off each other. 

We also had crystal bowls of popcorn for the punters, newsletter sign up sheets, and piles of postcards and bookmarks showcasing all our books. Huge signs in the window too, as well as numerous copies of our books, on the off chance someone wanted to buy any, which they did. And for their benefit, we had EFTPOS available. Perfect.

There was a real buzz along Dominion Road that night. We had a couple of performance artists outside the shop as well, which really helped. We can only expect the White Night event to get bigger and bigger in the coming years.

Thanks to the Dominion Road Business Association for all their assistance, and to the Eden Albert Board, and of course thanks to the Auckland Arts Festival for putting on such a spectacular event for all of Auckland to enjoy.

 Kirsten McKenzie in the window of Antique Alley for the Auckland Arts Festival White Night

Kirsten McKenzie in the window of Antique Alley for the Auckland Arts Festival White Night

HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCH A BOOK IN WELLINGTON

KiwiBookFeast

Dear Wellington...

Your taxi drivers are very polite.

Your streets are bustling.

You love books.

Thanks for having me.

Kind regards,

Kirsten McKenzie, Author


On the 18th February, I flew down to Wellington for the inaugural Kiwi Book Feast with six other New Zealand authors. The concept being that sharing the costs involved with a launch, and sharing the publicity, and the work load, would make all the more impact. And it did.

Having seven diverse authors all marketing the Kiwi Book Feast to their own networks was far more effective that slathering the city with posters and tweeting into the ether...

For an inaugural event, it was a learning curve, deciding on the run sheet, the catering, the venue, the date, the time, the authors, the layout. A hundred different decisions. For an event we hope to repeat around the country - with future books, some new authors possibly, who knows, it's a fluid thing.

Potentially a library or a bookstore may have been a better location, although holding it in a bar ensured fantastic food, a flow of beverages, and a dedicated sound guy, and a stage. So there were plenty of pluses! 

We had a lovely bookish Wellington crowd, and plenty of Twitter personalities turned up to support us, which was fabulous. And I was blessed by two friends flying down from Auckland to surprise me. I should have worn waterproof mascara...

We were also all very grateful to the support given to us by the New Zealand Book Council. They've just launched their beautiful new website. You should go and have a look at it - NZ Book Council Website

Ten things you need to know for a book launch, anywhere in the world:

  1. Sensible shoes. I sat down once, for about 10 minutes, over the four hours of the event.

  2. Cash - have a float. $10 notes, $5 notes. Just enough to provide change if everyone only pays with $20 notes.

  3. Have a display which is sympathetic with the content of your books. Historical? Have a couple of vintage props. Western themed? Horsey type props. Science Fiction? Not sure where you'd get your hands on some space junk, but maybe cobble something together!

  4. Extension cord... I have battery powered lights which I tuck in the side of my suitcases, but I did note that one of our authors came prepared with a multi plug and an extension cord. Pack it.

  5. Mailing List Sign Up Sheet. I've put that in bold, because I didn't have one. I must pack this into my book display suit case. That's this weeks job. Pack some pens too. Practice signing your book. 

  6. Price List - People don't like to ask the price of your books. They like to see clear signage showing the price of one book, two books, or the complete set. Make it easy for them.

  7. Books. Self explanatory. But also book type things that can be slipped into your books, or into handbags. Nothing bulky. A bookmark, a postcard, all with your book and contact information printed on them.

  8. Don't sit behind your table. I know lots of people feel more comfortable doing this, but I'm more a stand to the side, or stand to the side in front of the display. Its easier to engage. Easier to pass the book to a prospective customer. And on the topic of your table. Buy a table cloth. If you can't afford a table cloth, use your top sheet and iron it first.

  9. Dress to impress: You're trying to portray that you are a professional, that you're serious about your writing. You don't have to go all Annie Hall, but maybe think beyond your usual old jeans and t-shirt. At the first two NZ Book Festivals I went with a long skirt and a velvet jacket. At the Kiwi Book Feast I wore smart jeans and a white cotton shirt, with a brooch. I felt smart and comfortable. The brooch was a nod towards the vintage theme of my books. Something to think about.

  10. Smile. Smile and engage. Ask the people at your table about the weather outside. Ask if it's improved, or if the rain has finally arrived. Weather is a very safe topic. It's an easy opener. Even if you're shy you can say "Has it stopped raining today?" or "Isn't it a lovely day for being out and about". Give it a go. Relax and have confidence in your work. That'll flow through to your own personal confidence. Good luck.

WHO WAS I KIDDING, THINKING MYSELF AN EXPERT?

This is a blog entry I originally wrote for the blog of Tom Williams, author of the Burke series, Cawnpore, and The White Raja. You can access his blog here: http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.nz

An Expert in Antiques?

Enamelled Coins

Fifteen Postcards has just been published by Accent Press. A novel incorporating three continents and traversing two centuries: historical fiction written from a modern perspective. I like to describe it as a blend of ‘The Far Pavilions’, with a touch of ‘The Time Traveler's Wife’, rolled together with a smidgeon of the ‘Antiques Roadshow’. But I haven’t always been an author.

Nine years ago I was working as a Chief Customs Officer with the New Zealand Customs Service. It was a career I adored, and one I appeared to be particularly good at, according to my performance reviews and peer feedback. Then unexpectedly my father died, leaving my mother a widow without an income.

My brother and I quit our jobs. Someone needed to run Antique Alley, the business my father started in 1971. My brother worked full time, whilst I went part time, as my first daughter was born six months after Dad died. The timing was brutal.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ states that the key to achieving world class expertise in any skill requires practicing, correctly, for around 10,000 hours. I’ve roughly estimated that since my father died, I’ve worked in the shop for 5,616 hours. I don’t work full time, and I’ve had two children in the past nine years, but I do know that I now have roughly 5,000 hours of additional knowledge of antiques. With that, I thought I had enough knowledge to sit down and write a novel about a girl who works in an antique shop. So I did.

I sat down, with my MacBook one day, and started writing, with no idea of where to go, or how the story was going to evolve. Who it was going to involve, or what the future plan for my writing was. But damn it, I knew antiques, I liked writing, so it shouldn’t be that hard, right?

First off, I started writing about postcards. One of Dad’s passions. He collected them personally. We sell them at the shop. I know that real photo postcards are more collectable than others. That Tuck’s postcards are highly sought after. And that... That’s when I stumbled. What else did I know about postcards? Highly embarrassing, but I had to turn to Google, to the library, to the reference books at work. Those 5,000 hours may as well have been 5 hours, or five minutes watching the Antiques Roadshow for all I knew about postcards. Fortunately William Main had published an exquisite book titled ‘Send Me A Postcard’ which had somehow appeared on the bookshelf at home. Fate? Google is great, but nothing beats a beautifully illustrated piece of research. And so it continued.

Green stone adzes (axe heads), made by the early Maori in New Zealand? I’m a New Zealander, born and bred, albeit with a British passport as well, I know everything there is to know about Maori adzes. Ah, no. Just like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, I knew nothing. A research trip to Auckland’s world class War Memorial Museum proved how little I knew. These are just two tiny examples of the level of research I did for my novel - the one which was meant to be easy because I knew at least half of all I (thought) I needed to know about antiques.

I can hear your readers asking why I bothered with all that research. Surely ‘Fifteen Postcards’ is a fictional account of Sarah Lester’s life in her antique shop in London. It’s not an autobiographical account of Kirsten McKenzie’s life in an antique shop in Auckland. I’ll tell you why. Because my father would have known.

My father was a walking encyclopaedia of back stamps, and hall marks, of fakes and reproductions. He knew gemstones from glass with barely a flick of his eyepiece. He would have been mortified if I’d placed a Victorian dining chair in a Regency setting (I didn’t). I also expected that people who read historical fiction probably knew as much, if not more, about some of things I wrote about. Given that my father won’t ever read my book, I didn’t want to upset the readers who will. It was embarrassing enough when my editor David Powell highlighted that I’d used the wrong currency to describe when Sarah is counting her coins in her bedroom suite in the Savoy in London. His words are burnt into my brain when he gently pointed out that Sarah probably wouldn’t be using George V coins. But that’s what editors are for, and I am eternally grateful.

I wanted every description to not only be beautifully written, but I wanted them to be accurate. That ormolu on the edge of the table? I needed the reader to be able to see it as it was then - in 1860s India, not how its presented in some poorly funded TV commercial for tea bags.

So instead of pumping out an 80,000 word novel in a few months, I wrote a 130,000 word novel over a period of one and a half years, edited it, had it accepted for publication by Accent Press, where it was edited again (and again) and here we are. I’m writing a blog piece for another historical fiction author, one who understands and appreciates the quest for historical accuracy in his research for the Burke series.

I leave you now to carry on with my next manuscript, where I’m immersed in colonial New Zealand just prior to the outbreak of the Maori wars in the 1860s. Wish me luck.

16 July 2015