SHARING THE LOVE, OR SUCCESS BY ASSOCIATION

Last week Fifteen Postcards hit #2 on Amazon. Not just in one category, but in two.

Before that happened, I woke up to Fifteen Postcards being #36. And boy was I happy! Next time I looked it was #10. Then, when I was at the supermarket, it hit #4. By the next morning, it had hit #2. 

For someone who was happy with her book bubbling consistently around 300, what did that do to me?

As a starter, I broke out the champagne. Then we broke out the really, really good wine. The wine we'd been cellaring for years. The sort of wine you want to drink before you die, and before it goes off, but the occasion normally never presents itself. 

Moet
SAS Wine

We know someone who died before they could drink all the good wine in their cellar, so we invited friends over, and celebrated the hell out of that #2 ranking!

How did I get there - to the dizzying heights of #2? To start with I was perplexed, but then a number of ducks came home to roost. My publisher had changed my Amazon categories. They'd also asked me to give some love to my blurb. Remember, Fifteen Postcards was published in May 2015, and it hasn't had much love since then. So the blurb was updated, and I updated all the Amazon Author Central platforms, and there are many. Why Amazon doesn't extrapolate that out automatically is a mystery to me.

But my publisher did one other thing. They promoted me to readers of Jodi Taylor's books. 

Jodi is with the same publisher as I am, Accent Press in the United Kingdom. I haven't met Jodie yet, but I know her fans are incredibly loyal, and it was through their love and support, that my books almost hit #1. And what a ride. And I am grateful. If it wasn't for Jodi's incredible writing, and her loyal fans, I wouldn't have hit the highs I hit. Sure, changing the categories, and giving my blurb some love helped, but Jodi helped more.

So, if your books are languishing, have you thought about your relationships with other authors? Maybe not someone with the clout of Jodi Taylor, but maybe link up with someone else, cross pollinate, share the love, and the workload, and that may just be the key.

Be Atlas and shoulder the load. Go out to bat for one of your author friends. Help each other.

And thank you Jodi, and Accent Press. Last week was a wild ride. xxx

Source: https://www.amazon.com/Fifteen-Postcards-T...

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.

WHEN YOUR INTERVIEW INCLUDES QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR UNDERWEAR...

Here's the transcript of an interview I did with the New Zealand based bookshop 'Writer's Plot Reader's Read', an incredible independent bookshop which only stocks work by New Zealand authors. 

What’s your favourite type of takeaway? 

Indian. Butter Chicken. The bastardised NZ version, with a plain naan bread and rice.

Describe your current mental status.

Grieving. This year I’ve lost one girlfriend to Singapore, one to Tauranga, and now one to Perth. All due to job availability. I’m in need of more friends…

I know how I do what I do … but how do you do what you do?

Through the life giving strength of coffee and wine, although not at the same time.

Could you tell us a little bit about your latest work?

The one I’ve just finished, or the one I’m half way through? The one I’ve just finished is the sequel to my first historical fiction novel, ‘Fifteen Postcards’. Titled ‘The Last Letter’, it’s due for publication on the 1st November, which is also my birthday. So I thought everyone could buy a copy in honour of my birthday…

Do you have a favourite coffee or tea?

Just a little bit of wine...

Just a little bit of wine...

There are different coffees? Seriously, I’ll drink almost any version of coffee presented to me. When it comes to tea, I am a little more picky - English Breakfast first, usually Twining's. Followed by Earl Grey (but only if nothing else is available). I’ll drink peppermint tea, which is okay, but I don’t seek it out.

Walk us through a typical day. (Do you make sure you’re wearing your lucky underpants before you sit down to write, perhaps you prefer commando? While we’re discussing your underpants, boxers, briefs, or budgie smugglers. Inquiring minds want to know. Yes, that includes my Admins… we don’t piss off the Admins.)

Underpants must match your bra (or at least that was the case before I had children. Now I’m lucky if my bra is clean…).

A typical day is wake up, drink coffee, make breakfasts, make lunches, tell everyone to hurry up, walk them to school, walk home, drink more coffee, think about writing, faff about on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, read the NZHerald online, faff about on social media some more, kid myself that I’m making connections, make another coffee, make lunch, see that its 2pm, start writing, get into a great writing groove, bash out 500 or so words, then pick up the children from school, forget what my train of thought was, feed children, take them to their after school activities, come home, drink wine, make dinner, put children to bed, faff about on social media, at about 10pm find the motivation to start writing, write about 300 great words, then realise I have to get up in seven hours, so go to bed, and lose train of thought again…rinse and repeat.

Tell us about your main character

I first met Sarah Lester when I was at work in the family antique shop. Oddly, she’s a little bit like me. Although one reviewer described her as a ‘bubble-head’. I was hurt at first, but actually I’ve embraced that side of her in my writing, and I think the reviewer did me a favour by calling me out on that. I like that she misses her Dad so much. I miss mine desperately, and have everyday since he died suddenly ten years ago of heart failure. Through her pleas to her father, I’m really releasing my own dreams for my father to come back.

Who are your favourite writers?

Edward Rutherfurd, he of the massive multigenerational tomes such as London, Paris, Russka, Sarum.

George R.R. Martin - for his utterly amazing character development, and his descriptive passages.

Deborah Harkness. It was reading her Old Souls trilogy which encouraged me to write.

Who inspires you to do better? 

My brother, who in the beginning said I never finish anything, when I told him I was going to write a book…well I’ve finished two books now, signed two publishing contracts, and I am half way through my third one! My husband was all good with my quitting my job, and my children (mostly) leave me to do my writing after I’ve begged time to write “just two hundred more words”.

Do you ever put pants on your dog, cat, or budgie?

We have a fancy Santa suit which we try to dress the cat up in every year. She hates Christmas…

Describe your perfect day

Late sleep in. Breakfast in bed. Move from bed to outside in the summer’s sunshine, with a book, a guava juice, then a dip in the pool, cocktails by the pool, a dinner cooked by someone other than me. Did I mention the wine with dinner?

Who is your favourite fictitious villain? Or are you all about the hero? Who do you love to hate?

I like the cunning of Moriarty. The droll delivery of Professor Snape. And the creepy evilness of Hannibal Lector - where you can’t help but actually like the guy…

Do you have any quirks?

I am an eye roller…got me in plenty of trouble at work. Sometimes I just can’t help myself. Stupid people deserve a gratuitous eye roll…I must work harder at controlling this.

All-time favourite movie and why?

Midnight in Paris. 1/ It’s Paris. 2/ It has the best actors playing some of the best authors and artists history ever gave us. 3/ The soundtrack - I’m listening to it now as I type this.  

Do you enjoy the editing process?

Actually yes. I find it easier than the writing of the initial story. 

If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?

New Zealand seems pretty safe to be honest. And progressive. And clean. And I have travelled a lot. I’d prefer to live by the beach than in central Auckland, but that’ll come in the future. 

Lake Tarawera, New Zealand

Lake Tarawera, New Zealand

Favorite Pizza topping?

Pepperoni. But we have started buying the three cheese pizza, which is fast becoming my favourite. 

What were you before you became a writer?

Writing is my third career. I was a Customs Officer for fourteen years, before my father died. After that, my brother and I both quit our jobs to run the family antique business, which we did for ten years. Now he owns it. And I write full time.

What is the most random thing you have ever done?

Went on an archaeological dig at Vindolanda in Northumberland in England for two weeks. Two of the best weeks of my life. I loved every shovel full of dirt I moved. And I’ll be putting my name down for another go next year.

If you’re not working, what are you most likely doing?

Volunteering on the PTA. For my sins, I am the chairperson. The PTA is not for the faint of heart I can assure you. I have made some wonderful wonderful friends, but it is a lot of work. 

Who is your ultimate character?

Arya Stark in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books. She just gets on with it, and doesn’t wither away in the dark. 

Whiskey or Bourbon? Red or white wine? Tequila? Beer?

A whiskey liqueur - Glayva. Any wine…usually I’d prefer a Pinot Gris or a Riesling for a white wine, and then an Otago Pinot Noir for my red. Never tequila, nor beer.

What’s in your pockets? (Or handbag, whatever you carry your stuff in. Are you apocalypse prepared?)

I have a small country in my handbag. I have two children…

Laptop, PC, Mac, tablet?

MacBook Air

Ebook or tree book?

Any book. I have a Kindle. But I also have a stack of library books, and books from friends, old favourites. 

Favorite apocalyptic scenario?

The Hunger Games scenario seems to be the most likely scenario to descend upon earth sadly…

Where do you do most of your writing?

At the dining room table. I have an office, but theres a better view from the dining room. Which is also closer to the kettle.

What’s the hardest thing for you when it comes to being an author?

Singing my own praises. We have a saying in our house, “be more American”. American’s don’t seem to have any problem singing their own praises. In New Zealand we are all far too scared to being tall poppies and being cut down by our peers.

 

Note: This interview was first published on the Writer's Plot Reader's Read website on 13th October 2016.

 

First Draft Is Off To The Editor

Today I emailed off the first draft of my second book, The Last Letter, to my editor.

Happy Author Face!

Happy Author Face!

When I say I emailed off my first draft of The Last Letter, I actually mean I emailed a version of my manuscript where parts of it are version eight, other parts are version six. Some chapters, mainly the later ones, are versions three or four. Some sentences, nay, whole paragraphs, have gone through so many edits, they bear no resemblance to the very first draft I wrote.

So when I say I've emailed off my first draft of The Last Letter to my editor, what I really mean is that I emailed off the first version of my manuscript that someone other than myself will read. A scary thought. Exciting, and terrifying too.

About twenty minutes after I hit the send button, I started thinking about all the things I could have done to improve that first draft. What about the Raja? Will how I've left things at the Old Curiosity Shop make the readers happy? Thoughts tumbled over and over in my mind, querying my attention to detail, my historical accuracy. Did I have enough tantalising tidbits about antiques? Have I done justice to India? To New Zealand? To my characters and their hopes and dreams?

But, in the immortal words of Queen Elsa (from the Disney juggernaut Frozen), I have to let it go. It's out there now. My editor will tell me, in his gentle manner, whether what I've written is good enough, or whether I need to brood over it for a period of time before I send it back to him. And somewhere along the line we'll go through the manuscript page by page, line by line, where the annotated word document flies through the internet at various speeds, correcting comma's, tenses, removing Americanisms (which tend to creep in), and various other issues.

And so I wait. And in the time it will take my editor to read my 131,000 word manuscript I'll attend to my social media platforms, which I have left forgotten in the corner while I tried to fill plot holes and create characters who pushed their way off the page.

Thanks for your patience everyone. This will now very much be a case of watch this space!

The Last Letter
By Kirsten McKenzie

Author Q&A - When Did You First Get Serious About Writing?

In January 2016, Richard Schiver hosted me for a Q&A session on his website for Fridays5. These are my answers:

1.) When did you first get serious about writing?
A.) When my youngest child was about to start school, and my family started harassing me about what I was going to do with my 'spare time'. Although I was already working part time in my family's antique shop, I'd always wanted to write a book, to leave a little piece of me behind so to speak (other than children), so I sat down and wrote a book.

2.) What is the hardest part for you about writing?
A.) Avoiding the Internet. I sit down at my laptop, fully intending to write until my fingers bleed, but then I get sucked down the Twitter rabbit hole, something interesting pops up on Facebook, or I find a fascinating article about writing on a website somewhere. 

3.) How did you feel upon publication of your first completed project?
A.) Surreal. It still feels surreal.

4.) What is more important to you, story, or character? Why?
A.) The story. The story has to be balanced between good and bad. There has to be a level of "Oh no!", and "Oh yes!" to keep the reader's attention. Of course the characters are equally important, but how can you fully love a character (or hate them), if the story doesn't grip you? A reader can overlook a clunky dialogue between characters every now and then, but they will never forgive you for writing a dire story, with no ebb and flow. Reader's want to be taken hold of, their faces glued to their pages or kindles.

5.) What is a typical day like in your world?
A.)  Get up. Make coffee. Get the children up and off to school. Come home. Have another coffee. Procrastinate on the Internet. Do some laundry or housework. Have another coffee. Realise its lunchtime. Eat lunch. Followed by coffee. Panic that its 1pm already. Actually start writing. Get into the writing mood, then in a really frustrated way, save all the work I've done, and  pick up the kids from school. Think about writing after they've gone to bed. Actually drink wine and procrastinate on the Internet.

Author Q&A - What Is Your Best Advice For Budding Authors?

On August 15 2015, Jim Vines hosted a Question and Answer session on his blog. Here are my answers:

Q: Kirsten...what made you become a writer?
A: When my youngest daughter was about to start school, my family were constantly asking me what I was going to do with my "spare time." I declared that I was going to write a book, as I'd always wanted to leave a piece of me behind when I'm gone. So I sat down and wrote one. 

Q: What is your typical writing day like?
A: Get up, kids off to school, coffee, procrastination, coffee, procrastination, frantic writing, pick the children up from school, family/household stuff, dinner, kids to bed, wine, casual and calm writing, astonishment that its bedtime already, bed. Really I should only write at night, and give up trying to write during the daytime!

Q: Do you outline? If so, how extensive are your outlines?

A: Ah, no. I've never outlined in my life. I've jotted down notes about things I need to resolve, but I've never outlined. My writing is influenced by what happens in my day. What I've seen, or experienced. 

Q: How many revisions will you typically do on a novel?

A: Two by me alone. Followed by however many revisions the editor needs.

Q: What is your best tip for editing a manuscript?

A: Start from the very beginning. One word at a time. Resolve any issues you come across straight away. Don't leave them till later as they will only bother you. 

Q: Which writing habits and/or tricks of the trade have made you a better writer?

A: Save in different places - hard drive, drop box, USB. Save, save, save. Always finish mid sentence - as it gives you something to come back to the next day. Do not create inflexible word count goals. If you only made 500 words, do not punish yourself for not making 1,000 words. Every word on the page is one word more than you had the day before. 

Q: Do you ever suffer through writer’s block? If so, how do you fight it?

A: Yes I do. I can go days without writing anything - although I still find time and inspiration for social media engagement. I deal with it by walking away from the computer, and reading something else. I read a lot. Since joining Goodreads, my reading list has grown out of control. I love seeing what other authors recommend. 

Q: What drew you to write your preferred genre(s)?

A: I don't think I consciously decided to write historical fiction, but its certainly turned out that way. And I love it. My day job is an antique dealer, so there is a tangibility about the things I'm writing about. I can feel them, or something like them. Every day at work I find inspiration from the things surrounding me.

Q: Do you utilize beta readers?

A: I did for a brief time - I used two, one was more forthcoming than the other. But now I prefer going it alone. I could use them, but I'd need to find the right one. I've been a beta reader for a fellow author, and I enjoyed the role. It is something I would consider doing again. 

Q: In your most recently published novel, what’s one scene you really enjoyed writing—and why?

A: I very much enjoyed the scene set in India, where my characters embark upon a tiger hunt (I certainly don't support hunting, but this is set circa 1860). I had a cast of servants, officers, older ladies, simpering young girls, Indian royalty, and rifles. And I had a ball moving them all around like chess pieces. 

Q: What makes the main character(s) of your most recent novel so special?

A: My main character in Fifteen Postcards, Sarah Lester, has semi-autobiographical hints to her. The others I've tried very hard to give faults to, even the good guys. No one is perfect, and it would be a very dull read if you just gave the readers cardboard good vs evil characters to read about. 

Q: What is your best advice for author self-promotion?

A: Engage, engage, engage, but do not spam. You want to make friends with your potential readers, but you don't want to be the equivalent of junk mail shoved under their front doors. And even if your book is months away from being finished, start your self-promotion now. People want to know who you are before you start trying to sell them your book.

Q: How do you deal with negative reviews?

A: Ignore the outliers. For middle tier reviews - take note of their feedback - and learn from them. And bask in the good and great reviews. 

Q: What is your favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: No one is telling me what to write, or how to write it. 

Q: What is your least favorite aspect of being an indie author?

A: Feeling like everyone is getting more support or help from some magic well that you haven't found yourself. 

Q: What is your current writing project?

A: The sequel to Fifteen Postcards. I never intended to write a novel with a cliff hanger, but it happened. So now I have to resolve it!

Q: What are three of your favorite novels?

A: Gone With The WindA Suitable Boy, and The Five People You Meet In Heaven.

Q: If you could have lunch with any novelist, living or dead, who would it be? What would talk to them about?

A: Ernest Hemingway. What would I talk to him about? Paris. His life. His decisions. We'd drink a lot together I'm sure. I spent some time in Cuba, and really felt his vibe there. I think I am in historical love. 

Q: What is your best piece of advice for budding authors?

A: Just do it. And share your journey with others, everywhere. I'm on Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn. I am constantly posting pictures of my current word count, things I've researched, pictures that have inspired me, amusing images - but different things on different platforms. You'll find the general populace is very supportive of people following their dream. And engage, engage, engage. 

Q: What is your favorite inspirational quote?

A: "It is what it is." That's mine. I don't know if someone else said it before me, but its how I live my life.

The link to Jim Vines blog is here : http://jimvinespresents.blogspot.co.nz/ 

HOW TO HANDLE REJECTION AS AN AUTHOR

IMG_3122.JPG

On the 17th July 2014 I received my first rejection letter. It was from a small publisher in Scotland. I was surprised I wasn’t more upset, which may have been because even as I submitted my unsolicited manuscript, I was aware there were some factors against me being published by that firm. One being that I’m not Scottish, despite my surname. Two, I don’t reside in Scotland, or even near Scotland, not even in the same hemisphere. I presume publishers like their author’s to live nearby. Three, and perhaps the key point here, it was an unsolicited manuscript. 

Yes I had researched which publishers accepted unsolicited manuscripts, and the type of books they normally published before I picked them to send my manuscript to. The firm that rejected me only publishes a tiny number of books per year, and I don’t really blame them for not wanting to take a risk with a new author, who has written a cross between the Antique’s Roadshow meets The Time Traveler’s Wife, with a hint of The Far Pavilions, all wrapped up as a love story!

The rejection lead me to research famous authors who had been rejected before going on to literary success, and I found this amazing site:http://www.literaryrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/     

My all time favourite movie is Gone With The Wind. The fated love story between Rhett and Scarlett, and the inordinate amount of time she wastes on Ashley, tore me apart. I still want to give Scarlett a good slap for her stupidity. But I never knew that Margaret Mitchell was rejected by 38 publishers before she found one to publish Gone With The Wind, which went on to sell over 30 million copies.

What I am trying to say is, there is still hope! One rejection is one rejection closer to being published. If that makes sense!

Gone with the Wind
By Margaret Mitchell

17 July 2014

WHAT IS THE BEST WORD COUNT FOR A NOVEL?

George R.R. Martin, author of the fantasy series Game of Thrones to be more precise. I’ve never really been into fantasy books. My mother devours them. I’ve read a few. But I started reading this series a couple of summers ago on my Kindle, and I was catapulted head first, and whole heartedly, into the world Martin created. So much so that I now have the actual books, as well as the less satisfying electronic version.

I’ve written nearly 75,000 words for Fifteen Postcards to date, and I figure I’ll end up with a book which is about 90,000ish words. Martin’s word count is extraordinary:   

A Game of Thrones: 284,000

A Clash of kings: 326,000

A Storm of Swords: 404,000

A Feast for Crows: 300,000

But is it his word count or his words that make the books nigh on impossible to put down? As I’m rereading his massive tomes, I am struck by Martin’s ability to provide a visual feast through his words. He needs that word count to make it real. Even describing a soldiers tunic creates such a vivid picture for you as the reader that you can see Arya driving her sword into the stitching of the leather tunic, you can smell the blood seeping out once she withdraws her sword. And you feel joy on her behalf. Odd I know!

What does this mean for me? For Fifteen Postcards? I know that my newfound appreciation of the perfect descriptive verse will probably translate into extra words for the story I am creating, and I hope that in time you’ll feel that you can almost reach out and stroke the gleaming grains of the Georgian rosewood table.

28 April 2014

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN I VISITED HEMINGWAY'S HOME IN CUBA?

In 2010 I had the good fortune to travel to Cuba. Whilst there we drank mojitos at Hemingway’s bar in Havana, and took a day trip to visit Hemingway's house - Finca Vigia, which translates to "lookout house".

Finca Vigia is located in the town of San Francisco de Paula, a small fishing village. Picture postcard perfect, apart from us, the hordes of tourists visiting Hemingway’s home. 

You may not go into the house, but the windows are ajar for you to peek into the life of a Nobel Prize for Literature winner. You can also meander through his gardens, view his boat, sit by his pool. And you may also view his study where he did his writing. 

For a small bribe, the attendant in the study, located at the top of a set of dubious concrete stairs, will use your camera to take a photo of his typewriter for you. One presumes that the attendants are all quite wealthy given the number of tourists prepared to surreptitiously hand over a few CUC’s to have a photo of the great author’s typewriter. I know I certainly did. 

Its here that Hemingway wrote two of his most celebrated novels: For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. A Movable Feast was written there as well. I certainly don’t profess to have the literary skills of Hemingway, but even just that brief touch of familiarity with Hemingway’s life has encouraged me to follow my dreams.

The Old Man and The Sea
By Ernest Hemingway

10 March 2014

WHICH AUTHOR HAS IMPACTED ON SOCIETY THE MOST?

Has there ever been an author or has made such an impact on a segment of society in such a short space of time as J.K. Rowling?

Yes there are authors whose work is magnificent and timeless, and make it onto every list ever written detailing the most important books we should all read.

I would query whether any other author has made such an impact in such a short span of time. And I would hazard a guess that the answer is no. 

First published in 1997, and translated into 73 languages, the world of Harry Potter has made J.K. Rowling the world’s only billionaire author, and beloved by millions upon millions of readers. A whole generation of children (and adults), Western, Eastern, rich and poor, have followed Harry’s journey. Some readers, like me, wept through the books, and waited in queues for the release of the next instalment, such was the grasp of J.K. Rowling’s imagination. 

In my wildest dreams I cannot imagine achieving even a morsel of her success. But what I can achieve is that I can sit down for hour after hour and put words on a page. And just like Joanne Rowling, I can leverage my imagination, and put in the hard work to create a piece of work that someone somewhere will love. Whether this book moves or inspires a generation of readers is up to you to decide. I’d be happy if you just liked it.

21 MARCH 2014

MORE WRITING AND LESS CANDY CRUSH IS THE SECRET TO BEING AN AUTHOR

Fifteen Postcards is currently at 104,426 words as I embark on the hardest part to date, the ending. Whilst I’ve been writing this story I have at times been suffering from, what can only be described as, Writing Envy.

My Writing Space

Now Writing Envy is not the envy you feel when you read a particularly fantastic piece of prose, where you think to yourself “I’ll never be able to write anything that inspiring”. No, not at all. Writing Envy is all to do with being envious of the dedication other writers have! Envy of the space they use to do their writing in. Envy of the tools they use to write with.

At times, I have honestly felt that I am a lesser writer for drafting my manuscript solely on my MacBook. I vary from writing in the study, writing at the dining room table, writing on my lap in the lounge, and I’ve even been known to write on the deck in the sun.  

Should I have a writing space? My envy of other writers and their dedicated and inspiring writing spaces makes me think so. But then I also have an eight year old and a five year old, who clamour constantly for my attention, and if I hid myself away in the study, who knows what mischief would be created in my absence! 

I love typing on the computer, but I do feel bereft. Inside I feel that I am missing out on some fabulous writing secret that all the best authors know, but which they don’t share.

Tonight, whilst researching some minute detail for a tiny inconsequential plot point, I stumbled across this fabulous post on Flavorwire.com : The Writing Tools of 20 Famous Authors 

And there I found the secret. The secret is that there is no secret. At least twenty of the world’s most famous authors all did it differently. Pencils, ink pens, ballpoint pens, typewriters, note pads, computers. 

Of those, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used a Parker Duofold pen. That made me recall that for my first Valentines Day with my fiance (now husband), he gave me a standard Parker ballpoint pen and had it engraved with my name. For our fifteenth wedding anniversary last month, I received a sterling silver Tiffany’s ballpoint pen, and a notepad, and I’ve been using it. Its not a secret weapon, but it has made writing faster, as I’ve been jotting things down at work, for entering into the MacBook later. Better use of my time. And that is probably the secret to better writing too. More writing, and, well, to be honest, less Candy Crush..

11 September 2014

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

THE HAND OF PUBLISHING FATE

I was very pleased to be asked by UK author Jenny Kane to write a guest post for her blog. I wrote a post about the strange coincidence of fate:

My first book has just been published by Accent Press – ‘Fifteen Postcards’. A novel traversing three continents and two centuries. A blend of ‘The Far Pavilions’, with a touch of ‘The Time Travelers Wife’, rolled together with a smidgeon of the ‘Antique’s Roadshow’. If it wasn’t for my father dying, it would never have been written.

I had a pretty standard upbringing in New Zealand in the 70s. Dad had his own business – an antique shop, and worked long hours. Mum raised my younger brother and I. She was the one who went on all the school trips, picked us up after school, and took us to our after school activities. In the school holidays, my ideal day was helping Dad at the shop, Antique Alley – a literal treasure trove, and described as an Auckland icon. A shop heaving with stock, which invariably overflowed onto the floor, and filled the corridors, very much like how I described ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’ in ‘Fifteen Postcards’.

Initially I was allowed to sit in the corner and sell postcards. As I got older I was promoted to serving behind the counter, helping customers choose gold bracelets for gifts, or give advice about which dinner service looked better. I worked off and on at the shop, and at antique fairs up and down the country, right through school and university. By osmosis I picked up a small amount of knowledge about a lot of things.

Then in 2005 Dad died.

My brother and I both quit our jobs (I was a Customs Officer), and started working at the shop. Ostensibly to provide our mother with an income, but it was also a job I had once loved, and although I’d never pursued it, I was more than happy to stand behind the shop counter and carry on where I’d left off in my late teens.

Working at the shop was a way to reconnect with my father. Antique Alley was such a part of his personality that walking into the shop became a way to keep his memory alive. Even today, nine years after his death, when I unlock the front door, and close the world off behind me as I sprint inside to turn off the alarm, I’ll murmur “Hello Dad”. Often followed by a little “Let this be a good day Dad!”. That may make me sound slightly nutty, but it gives me a sense of connectivity with my father, whom I miss everyday.

Writing ‘Fifteen Postcards’ in 2013 was part homage to my father, and part the realisation of a long held desire to write a book. Scattered throughout the book are snippets of his life and his quirks. My parents really did live above the shop before I came onto the scene, just like ‘Sarah’s parents in the book. My grandmother papered the lounge room upstairs in an appalling mixture of prints and floral paper (as described in the book), which Mum still detests to this day (there’s so much stock in that room now that it would be a marathon effort to strip it all back!). It was amusing remembering all of Dad’s foibles and fantastic sayings, weaving them into a plot worthy of his knowledge and expertise in the antique industry. It also became abundantly clear that my ‘small amount of knowledge about a lot of things’ wasn’t at all sufficient for a historical fiction novel, but that’s the basis of another blog post!

They say finding a publisher is one of the hardest parts of writing a book. I had rejections, five to be precise, but one of the publishers I submitted to, Accent Press, offered me a publishing contract. Which I signed. Why did I submit my manuscript to them? That was partly to do with Dad. He was born in Wales, moving to New Zealand when he was three. As an adult he returned to Wales to work and to reconnect with his extended family. I like to think Dad had a small part to play in me choosing Accent Press, who are based in Wales, and in them choosing me.

This is where it starts getting slightly more ‘Twilight Zone’. Bear with me as I talk you through it… David Powell was the incredible editor who worked on ‘Fifteen Postcards’. Without him, my book wouldn’t be anywhere near as awesome as it is. Weirdly, my father’s name was David. Fate? Coincidence? It keeps going. Accent Press released my book on the 21st of May, Mum’s birthday. Yes, yes, a strange collection of coincidences, but as someone still living with the grief of losing my father unexpectedly, these coincidences have given me some measure of solace, a belief that there has been a higher power at work, helping and guiding me.

The only time I haven’t felt Dad’s presence at work, was when I was held up at gunpoint in 2009. With a gun to my head, I was forced to sit on the ground whilst two men stole the jewellery from our cabinets. When Dad was alive, he’d always counseled that nothing in the shop was worth my life, and if anyone tried to rob the shop, I wasn’t to fight back. With that counsel firmly imprinted in my brain, I did just that. I sat there. I screamed a few times, hoping to attract the attention of someone outside, but stopped when they told me to stop screaming or they’d shoot me. I shut up after that. The armed robbery also made it into the pages of ‘Fifteen Postcards’. Writing that part of the manuscript was more difficult than I initially imagined, but also cathartic. I’ve never watched the CCTV footage of the robbery although I can give you a frame by frame playback, as the memory is still so vivid. Putting it down on paper has helped me get over it. Many, many bottles of red wine have also helped…

I am in the wonderful position of loving my job, as my father did, selling other people’s treasures. Everything in the shop was once loved and desired, all just waiting for their new home. It’s the ultimate in recycling. But isn’t that what writing is? The recycling of memories?

The writing of ‘Fifteen Postcards’ has captured some of my memories, hidden amongst the fictional plot and a cast of nefarious characters. And for that I am truly grateful to the hand of fate, or the confluence of coincidences.

22 July 2015

WHAT TO DO WHEN A GUN IS POINTED AT YOUR HEAD

How many bottles of red wine does it take to get over an armed robbery? I’ll let you know when I’ve finished drinking them.

On a September morning six years ago, I was at work in my antique shop on Dominion Road when a well-spoken young man entered the store, lifted the corner of his T-shirt, and took out a black pistol from the waistband of his trousers. He pointed it at my head, and ordered me to the ground. I was holding a handful of wristwatches in various states of repair. A customer was looking around down the back of the shop.

I said to the gunman, “You’ve got to be joking.”

He wasn’t joking.

When the police asked me how long the gunman and his accomplice were in the shop, I estimated four to five minutes. CCTV told a different story: 50 seconds. I’d had a gun pointed at my head for 50 seconds while another man helped himself to our antique jewellery, stuffing trays of gold rings into a bubblegum pink sports bag. I recall screaming at him not to take the men’s rings. Men’s rings were always so hard to get.

The last words the gunman spoke to me were, “You’re okay now.” Then he ran out of the shop. I ran out behind him, calling the police, the wristwatches still in one hand.

My memory is a little hazy after that. The neighbouring shopkeepers, undoubtedly alerted by my screaming, came out to help. It’d be interesting to hear the recording of my 111 call. I remember asking the woman from the Vodafone shop to check that the customer I’d left in the shop wasn’t stealing anything.

Hours later – after I’d relived the robbery second by second with the police – I was delivered home into the waiting arms of my first bottle of red wine. Victim Support rang to offer their assistance, but I had my mother, my husband, and my wine. I was fine.

Fine apart from the fact that after the robbery I never – and I mean never – sat down at work anymore. I was constantly on edge every time a customer entered the shop. I was always up and about, hovering by the newly installed panic button, calculating the intentions of everyone entering the shop.

I never watched the CCTV footage of the robbery. I didn’t need to. It played in technicolor glory over and over in my mind.

After my youngest daughter started school, I decided to write a book. They say write what you know, so I did. I wrote Fifteen Postcards, a novel about a girl who works in an antique shop. You could almost describe it as the back story behind the antiques in the shop – the journey those antiques had been on before languishing on the shelves. Before I knew it, without planning it, my protagonist was looking up the barrel of a gun.

I knew guns. I’d had a fair bit to do with rifles through the Air Training Corps – the Lee Enfield No 8 to be precise – and then the much lesser quality Norincos. I’d even passed my range safety officers course through the New Zealand Defence Force, and I’d qualified for my marksman badge. I used to seize the things when I worked for the New Zealand Customs Service. When I looked at the end of the gun pointing at me, I wondered whether it was real or a replica. But regardless of how familiar you are with weapons, when your whole world shrinks to the size of the barrel of a gun, you’re simply not in any position to make a rational judgement.

Writing about a traumatic experience can go two ways. It can act as a trigger to something similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. Or – and this was my experience – it can be cathartic. By writing about the robbery, it’s mostly ceased to be the big scary bogeyman that I’d allowed it to become since it happened. I allowed my protagonist to escape from the hold-up when I wrote about it in Fifteen Postcards, and it was as if I’d escaped too.

Trust me, though, when I say I much prefer my fictional ending. It remains the single most traumatic experience I’ve ever had.

As a tribute to my Welsh father, who started Antique Alley in 1971, Fifteen Postcards was published by Accent Press, based in Wales. Having the book published has done more for my recovery than the New Zealand Pinot Noir industry – although credit where credit’s due, their grape also helped immensely.

Note: This post first appeared on The Spinoff : http://thespinoff.co.nz/

29 September 2015