Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Children, Education and The World

I awoke  this morning to the news that a young girl in northwestern Pakistan had been shot in the head by the Taleban for daring to assert her right to education. Yes, she was an activist, you can read some of the blog that she started to write when she was just 11 years old here, but is shooting her really going to achieve anything but condemnation? As I write this, the news agencies are reporting she has undergone surgery to remove the bullet. No doubt many are praying for her recovery, I wish her this and hope her spirit has not been extinguished. 

Also, this evening a radio documentary told me about the corruption in provincial South Africa that sees money supposed to be spent on schooling misappropriated and children forced to attend school without textbooks. Whilst other people are ordered to shred, yes SHRED, brand new textbooks for goodness only knows what reason.

Education, is it not the right of all people, young and old?

But in the midst of this news day, I received an email from a wonderful American woman. Let me share her story. About six months ago, I received an email from this lady asking me how she could get hold of a copy of my book The Stuck There Forever Boat which is a story about global warming set in Tuvalu. 

It seems that this visionary grandmother and her six year old granddaughter, Peyton, had decided to travel the world through books. They pinned up a world map and armed with a box of red dots and a library card started to read books from different countries of the world. They placed a dot on their map to represent each one as they went.  Since the book is now sold out, and a reprint undecided, I sent her one of my few remaining copies. As well as a copy of Curly From Shirley about a dog in post-quake Christchurch.

Their "read around the world" is complete and they have created their own book about the journey. Peyton and her grandmother have kindly agreed to allow me to share it here. This is a reminder of the value of reading, of love and of a journey. In a few short months, this little girl has received an loving gift, of joy and education, much more than the other girls I started writing this blog about. 

Where is the equality in this world? Thanks goodness that some children live in a free world, where education and reading are valued. And perhaps more importantly. have loving older relatives to show them the way.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Applying (unsuccessfully) for grants

I have become accustomed to success with my health research grant applications. Usually 9/10 that are submitted are successful. So my first foray into applying for writers grants was always going to be interesting. I knew it would be harder; it was. I knew I would be competing with some pretty serious writers; I was. And most importantly, I knew the world would not end if I didn't get the grant: it didn't.

So what was a I applying for? It was one of the Copyright Licensing NZ's $35,000 non-fiction grants. The winners are amazing authors, with amazing projects. Congratulations to them.

But I won also. As part of the process, I was required to write a full proposal, with chapter outline, and some sample chapters. "It would be helpful to have letters of support from a publisher"  the application form read, so I did.

Now I find myself holding a pretty good book proposal; I have a couple of key individuals all queued to help; and most importantly, I have a publisher who says they are still keen to explore publishing the book.

So an unsuccessful grant has a positive lining and I don't think I have wasted a single minute (or in this case days) of my life. Although, I do not deny that the money would have made the writing easier.

As Bill Cosby said, "in order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure."

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Something to yarn about

Last year, I entered a local knitting art exhibition and a group of women who call themselves "THE MATAYARNAS" who live in a small town called Matakana, not far from where I live, entered a series of wine cozies. A wine cozy, is literally a cover for a wine bottle with similar attributes as a tea cosy, but with none of the thermal properties. Of course it has thermal proporties but they are nowhere near (or even at all) useful. So I left the exhibition scratching my head ever so slightly. Lovely as they were....

Fast forward a year when The Matayarnas' creative leader, Sharleen Greer, prompted me to enter a competition she was guessed cozies! They had a category that challenged you to create a cozy that represented a local vineyard or wine. Well, that got me going - Ascension Vineyards' Passion? Takatu Poppies? Vestil Vrigin? Ooooh the opportunities were endless.

Takatu Poppies was my first entry. A crocheted base with knitted wool flowers and beads on wire.

Omaha Bay Vineyard was my second. It is all crocheted and includes a green hilly landscape with, blue bay, and grape vineyards in the foreground with glass bead grape bunches.

These are the very first wine cozies i have eve attempted and I was surprised to receive a merit award for both. I am inspired to start again for next year.

All of the cozies (and there are some truly magnificent pieces of art) will be on display at The Vintry in Matakan for the month of September. What a great reason to visit and sample a glass of their wonderful wines.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Purposeful Reading

I know that when I have a reason to read, I read differently.
I don't skip pages - it makes me feel guilty. I read with a post-it pad and a pen and jot down notes all the way through - I have yet to succumb to writing in the book margins. I think while I read - I am looking for interesting quotes or sections.

So why am I doing this? I started out writing book reviews and have found I really like it.
And you know, it feels a little like work, but I like to work too. Maybe that's my problem, I like to work too much. Workaholic - of course! But who can complain when work leads you to wonderful books?

So what am I reading in my "purposeful reading moments"?

I have recently read two great non-fiction books, which I have reviewed fro the NZ booksellers blog.

The first one was The Ant and The Ferrari by Kerry Spackman. In this really easily-read book, he tries to explain the meaning of life and the universe, and simultaneously debunk creation as a theory. He does a pretty good job. You can read my review here.

The second was a slightly longer and more involved historical biography about an 18th century Polynesian navigator, who turned out to have a pretty important role to play in the life of Captain James Cook. You can read my review here.

The book cover won the PANZ Book Design Awards for the best cover. It is a sumptuous book, and the book is a finalist in the NZ Post Books awards to be announced very soon.

So my purposeful writing takes me on journeys I might never have embarked upon, and for that I am really, really grateful. But I must say, I feel a need some really good fiction coming on...... Happy to take any suggestions....

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Faith Restored

Caroljean Brune, of Kansas has restored my faith in humankind. Take a look at this little gem of an idea. It's a free library that is open 24 hours a day/7 days a week. The rules are simple, take a book out, put a book in. I hope that her community value what a great initiative this is. It seems, though that the "owner" of this library has long been interested in salvaging mankind, you can read about her protests here.

I do think it an important part of our modern society that people give freely of their time to improve the world we live in. I think it is particularly valuable when personal sacrifice (including financial) is made for beliefs. Many of us are busy working to keep the banks at bay and creating (books and artworks) to keep the mind sane, but I hope that one day I too will have sufficient means and time to offer my free services to society. In the meantime, I will treasure these gems.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Portraits in Crochet

Every now and then, one comes across a web page that simply cannot be ignore; that you want to crawl inside and touch; that you want to I have.

Jo Hamilton's crochet is simply beautiful. Nothing more to say on the subject. Here are a few little tastes...but to see her work, be sure to visit Jo's website.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When worlds collide

The SCWBI stand at The Bologna Children's Book Fair
It is rare that my two passions - fibercraft and writing - come together. But recently at the Bologna Children's Book Fair That is exactly what happened. I am international member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (or SCWBI as we like to call it).

New Zealand SCWBI members' books

Our display of New Zealand books was wonderful. My own picture book The Stuck There Forever Boat is lying flat in the middle of the table. I'ts a story of the impact of climate change on a small South Pacific Island.

Since New Zealand is too small to have its own chapter, we are joint members of the Australian and New Zealand Chapter. But, as in any situation where one partner is naturally larger, we always feel a little inferior. As if to prove my point, please note the size of the Australian flag compared to ours!

Chris and Frances flying their respective flags in Bologna

Gillian Torckler with crocheted kiwi

Not to be outdone, I was asked to create a Kiwi (small flightless bird that is our national symbol) to compete with their large, strong, bouncy kangaroo.  So here are he and I getting ready to go to Bologna - actually he's going, I am not :(

For those that are interested, he is crocheted in a wool/mohair blend (to give the appearance of fine feathers), with beak and leg accents.

My kiwi has not come back though....he has been kidnapped by US author Kirsten Carlsen. Well perhaps kidnapped is too strong a word, but he is enjoying a long sojourn in the top half of the world with all of our blessings!

The very talented Kirsten Carlsen makes a new friend

So what is even stranger about his story is that Kirsten writes books about the ocean and its creatures...which starts to feel frankly a bit spooky, since thats what I do mostly. Kirsten spent some time in New Zealand some time ago...hence the kiwi connection.

So all of this makes me think about connections and how different worlds collide. We all have different aspects of our lives (family, work, hobbies) and for some these can be numerous. We are the central connection to those different areas of our lives, so although my different life strands seem utterly sensible to me, when I meet people, they often look perplexed when I am introduced as Gillian the Medical Scientist, to someone who know me as Gillian the Children's Author. Then, the retired ladies that I take crochet classes with enter the equation and all bets are off! I am left with the impression that people think I am confused about who I am.  Sometimes they sigh with empathy for me! On the surface, it is difficult to see how these worlds coexist, rather than collide. But they do, and for me its rewarding to see the serendipitous relationships that arise from these interests. And my next book....well I am  working on a crochet one as I type. Back to it....

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hungry for more Hunger Games

I can remember the second to last time I stayed up all night to finish a book. It was Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres. I was in hotel room in Dallas, puffy eyed, tearful and extremely tired as I turned the last page at 4:30 am knowing I had an 11 o'clock meeting the same day. To make matters worse I had been traveling for 20 hours prior to arriving in Dallas from my home in New Zealand. That was at least a decade ago and I have (or should say had) come to my senses about such things.

The last time (and possibly only ever time) I have read all night was last week when I completed The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in a single sitting. The four am finish is the only similarity however. I was not at all emotional (strange given that so many young people lose their lives  for seemingly insubstantial reasons. To describe this book as a page-turner is inadequate. Gripping is insufficient. Suzanne Collins has created a story and characters that are incredibly engaging and accessible, so it is surprising that the emotional hooks were not present. They couldn't be of course, otherwise the book would simply be too, too depressing. This is consummate story-telling and writing at its best.

Once I recover, I shall read the second book with similar gusto I suspect, since I am already anticipating the story of Katniss' return home.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

When is it reasonable to give up on a book?

I think I was nearly 40 before I got the courage to stop reading a book I didn't like. I have no idea why I persisted. In the hope that the story would improve? To find out what happened? Or simply because it felt guilty to not finish?

When I was a child I read voraciously - books came home,  books went back to the library in a  seemingly unstoppable pattern. I finished every book I took out of the library. I would no sooner have left a book unfinished than left food on my dinner plate.  Unfinished dinners are an entirely different topic, but I am sure that my inability to stop eating even when full is related to the obsession to "clear my dinner plate." But back to the topic....

I can now put down a book unfinished.  I stopped reading the second Harry Potter book around page 81 - I was sick of waiting for the story to begin. It just seemed so repetitive of the first book, which I loved.  I have to live with the fact that I am the only person I  know who has not read the entire series. And soon, I will be an outcast in my own home as even my youngest child catches up!

Speaking of the youngest offspring, he seems unburdened by any sense of conformity. At nine years old, he has requested I again start reading at night to him - it seemed to go by the wayside when he could read junior novels himself. We started a month ago with Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick. What a treasure. My son was a bit put off with my choice (I'm choosing the books if I'm reading!) but he soon became entirely engrossed with this WONDERFUL story.

We are currently thoroughly engaged with Henry and The Flea by Brian Falkner, also known as The Flea Thing in USA. I have read this before and really enjoyed it. It's been offered many times to both boys, but in the style of "never-read-anything-your-mother-suggests" had been rejected it. The youngest son is begging me to not stop reading each night. I suspect I will wake up one  morning to find he's finished it.

But back to the between these two wonderful books, we stopped reading a book that simply wasn't holding our attention. I'm not going to mention the book title, because that is not the point. The point is that my nine year old has learnt one of the most important lessons in life, and he did so decades before I did. Life is too short to read a bad book - there are just so many fantastic books to read that you can move on, and do so without a moment of guilt. How liberating.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When is a book not a book? When is a phone not a phone?

I have just taken possession of a new iPhone 4S. In reality the telephone functions are not that great - there are no dedicated call and quit buttons; the email functions are fairly challenging, and  I like the keyboard on my Blackberry better. But, you don't buy a phone cause you want to call someone easily right? Its all the OTHER stuff.

The screen is divine - crystal clear and huge. The apps are plentiful and having said I would not download any, I have already downloaded several. They are simply irresistible! So, the first one was the Kindle app. So I can now access my kindle books on my phone...nice! And the screen is very readable. Then it was Facebook, Goodreads, an online auction site....and the latest ones  tonight - I downloaded an interactive periodic table, a night sky app and the Lion Brand app. Mental note - look up eSty and Ravelry!

So the phone is not a phone after all.

Copyright Guy Laramee
Copyright Guy Laramee
And books, well they've been morphing into a digital form for a while. So when I came across French Canadian artist Guy Laramee, I just had to share. The exquisite carvings created from "real' books are astounding.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It is possible to successfully self-publish?

I am intrigued by the factors that make a book a bestseller. When my first book was published in 1999, I was introduced into a whole new language - trade press, international rights, special book rates, and the seemingly evil "vanity publishing." Vanity publishing, when it was heard, was always preceded by a pause and a slight curl of the lips, and followed immediately by a know-all smug grin.

You see, last century, vanity publishing was something you did because a "real" publisher would not accept your book. It implied that your book as not good enough. Self-publsihed authors were not celebrated, their books were not eligible for awards, and in general they were second rate. And in fact, they often were. Many were not edited, nor proofread, and lacked quality design. To be honest, you could spot a self-published book at fifty yards - they screamed amateur at you.

Fast forward to 2010, bookshops and publishers have merged, liquidated and down-sized. Most publishers have cut their lists and e-books have taken flight. There are numerous platforms for self-publishing. And to be honest, its difficult to understand why you would not do it.

In the past, you might receive 10% of the retail price of a book. So, if the RRP was $9.99, AND you sold 10,000 copies, you might received $10,000 in royalties. If you self-publsih, the royalties on an e-book might be as high as 70%, but lets say its 50%, you only need to sell 2000 books at $9.99 (Amazon's seemingly desired level) or if you do sell the book for $2.99, a level that people choose to take a chance, and you sell only 5000 books, the royalty cheque will be $7500.  And you are likely to see the money sooner, since the lead time for a mainstream publishing contract is considerably longer.

Ultimately, whether the book becomes a bestseller, depends on many factors - some in your control and some not. So when you hear that a self-publsihed author has sold 1.5 millions copies of her book, you know that self-publishing is neither vanity nor poor quality anymore, well not according to the 1.5 million people who paid to read her book. Amanda Hocking is young author who has (against all odds) made it work.

No doubt vanity publishing will continue, but no longer will it apply to ALL self-published books.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wonderful man-made clouds

I wish I was this creative and tenacious. These carefully constructed clouds use mathematical principles to create cumulous clouds using nothing but a crochet hook and wool. And lighting of course. In this display the lighting is what makes it really special. The light creates the shadows and depths of real clouds.
Image: Phase One Photography

Take a look here

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What is inspiring me today?

I have been reading a great book called 100 Flowers to Crochet and Knit by Lesley Stanfield. I borrowed it from a friend six months ago (yes, Jen I have remembered it's yours!) and will have to invest in my own copy soon I think.

None of my flowers look at all like these I must admit as I have substituted wool types, needles and crochet hooks; I have taken parts from one flower and combined with another. The flowers in the book are more "anatomically correct" but just as I am not inclined to political correctness, I've forgone botanical anatomy for art's sake. Here are a few to look at - these have been made into brooches and the sizes range from 7-10 cm across.

A wider selection can be viewed here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What I've been reading....

I recently read a great book by NZ author Deborah Burnside, called Yes!
Here is my review on the blog.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Recent exhibition - Knitcetera

Kintcetera was the brainchild of Jennifer Kipfer ( Jennifer gathered together a group of unknown ladies and through evenings and days of laughter, we slowly accumulated an eclectic bunch of offerings. I was inspired by the session we did knitting with strips of plastic bags, and has an idea for a oversized plastic handbag. I ended up using 12 or so large plastic rubbish bags to create the body, which was crocheted in double crochet (10-15 cm side strips of plastic) and used a 12 mm hook. I have to say I will NEVER crochet plastic again. It is so non-malleable. The flowers and leaves were made of plastic raffia.

Crocheted bag, made of plastic, 1.2 m across. Available for purchase.

My other large piece was an underwater garden picture. The background is felted pure New Zealand wool. The rocks, sand, kelp, anemones, starfish, jellyfish, and fish are either pure wool or acrylic and are crocheted and knitted. This was such a fun piece to create. It was inspired by the kelp gardens of New Zealand.
Underwater garden, 1.5m by 0.7m, available for purchase

Close up detail of starfish and kelp

Close up detail of jellyfish and fish