Shelley Chappell is a writer of fantasy fiction and fairy tale retellings for children and young adults. She is the author of Beyond the Briar: A Collection of Romantic Fairy Tales (nominated for a Sir Julius Vogel Award), and various short stories. Today we are talking to her about her recent project, Wish Upon a Southern Star, an anthology of retold fairy tales by New Zealand and Australian authors, which is scheduled for release on September 2nd, 2017.
Hi Shelley, thank you for joining us today. What was the inspiration behind Wish Upon a Southern Star?
I was invited to meet with the Christchurch Children’s Literature Hub to speak about fairy tales. I had already published my own collection of retold fairy tales, Beyond the Briar, and it was great fun to share my passion for fairy tales with the group. One of the activities involved leading the group through the process of rethinking and rewriting their own chosen fairy tale and that gave me the idea of editing a collection of writing by other authors in New Zealand and Australia.
Can you tell us about some of the stories?
Every author has their own unique way of reinterpreting the original tales and it’s fun to read how they reshape the original characters and plots. I met some very memorable characters walking through these pages and enjoyed their adventures. With twenty-one stories, it’s hard to pick one or two to highlight but I can say that there are stories set in this world and stories set in other places, comical stories and stories that pluck at the heart-strings. With such a range of different stories hopefully there will be something to appeal to everyone!
Would you be able to share with us a little about the anthology creation process?
The anthology began with a call for submissions nearly a year ago, which I sent out to all the writing groups I could reach in New Zealand and Australia. Once the submissions came in, I got to enjoy the process of reading them all. I read lots of great stories, including some I had to decline because they just weren’t ultimately a good fit for the collection. The editing process came next, and I really enjoyed working with the contributing authors to get their stories ready for the collection. With twenty-one contributing authors this took some time to complete, but once a final draft was ready it was time for proofreading and formatting the manuscript for Createspace and Kindle (the publishing platforms for Wish Upon a Southern Star). After that came the marketing and advertising in preparation for the anthology’s release.
The official book launch is Saturday, September 2nd. Where is it, and what can we expect?
The book launch will take place between 2 – 4 pm on Saturday 2nd September in the Sydenham Room at the South Library at 66 Colombo Street. Seventeen of the contributing authors will be in attendance, some coming from the North Island and Australia, so it should be a really fun occasion. The launch will start at 2pm with some speeches and author introductions, followed by a mix and mingle with light refreshments, allowing guests an opportunity to purchase and sign books and meet the authors.
Thank you Shelley, looking forward to meeting you and the other authors there.
Michele Clark McConnochie is a Christchurch-based children’s author with over 25 years’ experience in education. She teaches creative writing and is a freelance features writer for local newspapers. Her trilogy, The Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers, was first published via Createspace, but the first book, the Uncooperative Flying Carpet, was recently picked up by Morgan James Kids.
Welcome Michele, and thank you for joining us today to answer a few questions.
Firstly, can you tell us a little about the Sabrina Summers series?
It’s a middle-grade trilogy which, although each book has serious messages for readers, is designed to be funny and engaging. Sabrina Summers and her friends are accidentally sent to a strange and mysterious land where they find that being traditional fairy-tale characters is really no fun at all. The books follow a traditional quest format but turn fairytales inside out. Once the magic objects are found, a battle ensues with the kingdom of Dralfynia at stake. Along the way there is treachery and betrayal, and the traditional happy ending where a character becomes a ruler is given a very 21st century twist. I want children to think for themselves and learn to take responsibility for what they do, but to enjoy themselves at the same time.
I have also seen that your series has been released in a special dyslexic-friendly format. Are you able to tell us a little about the difference in style, and how that is helpful to the reader?
I contacted the Dyslexia Foundation of NZ. They recommended dyslexie font and I bought a publisher’s licence from them. As well as using that font, the books are on cream paper and have a ragged, not straight, right-hand margin. I also deliberately used short chapters with cliffhangers to encourage reluctant readers.
You’ve also put a lot of thought into creating additional resources for the readers, such as teaching notes. Any advice to other middle-grade authors who might want to include some of their own? Does it help to be a teacher?
Well, all teachers pinch ideas from other teachers, so take a look at other author’s websites and see what looks like a good match (David Walliams and Roald Dahl both have tons of resources). You don’t need to be a teacher, just be creative. I was going to link my worksheets to the national curricula of the UK and NZ, but it was quite complicated to do both.
When your third book was released, you held a book launch, which I attended. Do you feel book launches are important? How much planning and organisation is required to make it successful?
I absolutely think they are important, even though many authors are introverts and dread public speaking! I launched at the NZ Society of Author’s Book Buzz, and they’re happy to give you a platform with another couple of authors and organise the room booking etc, but I also launched at a local library, after running a Canterbury-wide children’s story and drawing competition. Helen Mongillo was incredibly generous and did heaps of the organising, and arranged for Gavin Bishop, Heather McQuillan and Bob Docherty to be the judges. I got entries from around Canterbury, it was heaps of fun, but I found it was a ‘loss leader’ and a lot of work. It’s easier if you work with someone else (a friend is a photographer and we talked about a joint launch/exhibition but the audiences were too different), and it helps if you have a gimmick such as a raffle or food. Basically, ask for help – the Guild seems incredibly supportive!
Any tips on inviting in new readers to introduce to your series?
Because I write for children, I’ve tried getting my books on the catalogue for Scholastic (they said ‘no’) and I’ve done some teaching in schools and donated the dyslexia-friendly copy of my books to the dyslexia foundation which did lead to publicity and sales. Copies were donated to libraries in the UK (thanks Mum) and here and again, both led to sales. AllbooksNZ are great to use for schools and libraries, I think Scorpio have a publication and if they stock your books, they’ll include it (but I haven’t got that far yet).
What other sorts of promotion and marketing have you done for your books?
I’ve done some Facebook advertising, have a blog (which I hardly ever do) and have my Twitter and Instagram accounts linked to Facebook. Sending copies to be reviewed is good, but I think you have to be a ‘dripping tap’ and keep on getting yourself out there to maintain, or extend, the shelf-life of your book.
Can you tell us a bit about your publishing deal?
Yes, it’s very exciting. Having self-published, I was a bit reluctant to hand over the reins to a traditional publisher and, although I did contact a number of agents in the UK as well as a couple of publishers in the US (who all rejected me), Morgan James Kids was a perfect fit. Their background was in old-fashioned ‘vanity publishing’ and they still offer a similar service for their non-fiction books, but they recently branched out into children’s books. They take 12 new publications a year and the copyright remains with the author. We work together for marketing (they get the books on shelves in the US and UK and I have books for sale via my website), and their authors are treated as equal partners, which is fantastic. I have input all the way through the re-editing, book design and cover process, and in return, they ask authors to ‘put some skin in the game’ by taking a number of books at cost and selling them to generate buzz. I approached them, heard nothing for a while then got an initial email. That was followed up with a phone call with their fiction acquisitions editor before the book went to their reading committee to be voted on. The reason for the call is they want to make sure they are dealing with authors who also have a sensible, commercial approach and are prepared to go out and do school visits etc. They have agreed to publish book one of the Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers, The Uncooperative Flying Carpet and that is released early 2018.
And finally, what other projects are you working on now?
I’m still chipping away at a travel book, working titled Big Boots, based on a trip I took last July and August to sites associated with classic children’s books such as the actual Pooh Corner and Secret Garden, and for light relief, I’m developing a book of short stories based on the background characters from the Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers.
Thank you for your time, Michele.
And if you wish to read her books, or learn more about Michele Clark McConnochie, please check out her website: http://mcmauthor.com
We have compiled a selection of local and national opportunities for authors. Please note that these are not Guild-affiliated, for further information, please refer to the links provided.
SpecFicNZ is seeking submissions to a new anthology titled, Te Kōrero Ahi Kā, an unthemed anthology that will showcase the best work from members of the SpecFicNZ organisation of writers, poets, artists, and creatives.
You need to be a member of SpecFic NZ to enter, you can join or renew here.
Submissions close: 31 October 2017.
New Zealand Society of Authors are running the Heritage Book & Writing Awards, with two categories open for unpublished authors: poetry and short prose. The theme is “Finding Our Way.” Authors are encouraged to approach the theme broadly.
Each short-form category awards a prize of $200 for first place.
There is a $15 entry fee.
Submissions Close: 15 August 2017
For more information, please visit their website.
William Taylor Memorial Heartland Short Story Competition is being held for 2017. Monetary prizes of $300, $75 and $50 respectively will be awarded.
Entries should be fiction in any genre and be up to 1,000 words in length.
There is a $10 entry fee.
Submissions close: 30 September 2017
The Storylines Awards are hosted annually, with three categories for unpublished authors of children’s fiction. These awards come with an offer of publication from well-renowned Australasian publishers for the winning entrant.
Tessa Duder Award: for teenage/young adult fiction.
Tom Fitzgibbon Award: for middle grade readers (7-11 years)
Joy Cowley Award: for a picture book manuscript
Please note: an entry fee applies.
Submissions close: 31 October 2017
Pantsers write “by the seat of their pants”, not following a set structure but letting the story take them on a wild, sometimes chaotic, journey. It is also known as “Discovery Writing”.
Plotters plan out the novel in advance, sometimes in meticulous detail, setting out the story’s structure and following it from beginning to end.
Which of the two are you? Is one way better than another? While I would never dictate how anyone should write, it is true that each method has its pros and its cons, and also that many writers tend to fit somewhere between the two.
Here are some tips and tricks our members shared during our Monday night discussion:
- It helps to know where the story begins, and have some idea of how it will end.
- Consider your plot points to be “signposts” designed to move the plot in the right direction.
- Be flexible: if characters, or the plot, behaves in an unexpected manner, be prepared to move these signposts.
- Use the first draft of your discovery written novel to determine the structure of the second draft.
- Many writers (especially those that are also dedicated readers) will find themselves subconsciously following the traditional story structure.
What are you? A plotter? A Pantser? Or a hybrid?
Do you have any tips and tricks of your own?
Share them with us on Twitter: @chchwriters or comment here!
We are also happy to take suggestions for our Monthly themes!
What is a blurb?
A blurb is a brief description of your story, a text-based advertisement to attract a future reader. It either appears on the back cover or inside the front cover on a printed book, or is the second piece of information you will find on a website (after the cover and the title).
Why is it important?
Because, after the potential reader has admired your cover and clever title, they want to know what the book is about. If your blurb does not entice them, then they’re going to put it back on the shelf, or move on to the next option.
How can I write a compelling blurb?
- Keep it short, generally between 100-150 characters.
- Write in third person, present tense (generally, however, exceptions may apply).
- Be true to your genre and use words that cater to your audience. ie: If you are writing a romance, your blurb shouldn’t make it sound like a thriller.
- Your first sentence has to hook the reader, most easily done by getting them interested in the character or intrigued by the setting.
- Once the attention has been gained, it must be maintained. One easy way to do this is by following the basic formula below:
A. the main character (generally including one defining feature).
Here are some examples randomly selected from my book case.
- Nine-year old Bruno has a lot of things on his mind.
- When the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus is summoned by Nathaniel, a young magician’s apprentice…
- Pi Patel, a God-loving boy and the son of a zookeeper has a fervent love of stories…
OR: the setting
- London is on the move again.
- Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten.
- In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive…
With the character, you are seeking a way to connect with the reader, establishing the main protagonist as someone they wish to learn more about, and with the setting you are establishing a mystery: ie: is London literally moving? (yes, yes it is). You are endeavouring to engage with the reader and hook them in.
Tip: When trying to decide whether to focus on character or setting, ask yourself: which is more interesting? If unsure, write both and ask your friends/writing buddies/random strangers which they prefer.
Follow up with:
B. The problem
What goes wrong?
Tip: This is likely to be connected to the inciting incident of your story: it is the situation that takes your character from their previously predictable and reliable life and plunges them into the plot.
- Alas, the ship sinks – and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger.
And connect this with your protagonist and the actions he (or she) will have to take:
- Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi. Can Pi and the tiger find their way to land?
You must end with mystery – don’t spoil the end!
Tip: Although many blurbs do end with a question, if the answer is simply “yes” then your blurb may have more power if, instead, the reader is made aware of the cost to the protagonist should they fail, or the price they will have to pay to succeed.
C. The Mood
Finally, many blurbs choose to conclude with a final paragraph conveying the Mood and indicating the intended genre or audience. Here, if you have not previously, the setting can be mentioned.
- Set in a modern-day London controlled by magicians, this hilarious, electrifying thriller will enthral readers of all ages.
Tip: Whilst it may seem logical (and is perfectly permissible) to start with the mood, you do run the risk of the reader going “oh, it’s a thriller, I don’t read thrillers” and proceed no further. Also, some readers may read the first sentence and the final paragraph before determining whether to read the middle.
What about Non-fiction?
Non-fiction blurbs are very diverse, depending on the genre.
- Memoirs and biographies can be written in much the same way as fiction blurbs.
- Manuals or guides for specialised topics can begin with:
- the author and their credentials (third person, present tense).
- with a series of questions (second person).
- by informing you (the reader) why you might like this book (second person).
Important things to note about writing non-fiction blurbs:
- Reach out to your intended audience and make your premise clear.
- Demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about (list credentials/give an example).
- Include testimonials if you have them. Of not, it won’t hurt to get some!
Tip: If you can make an outrageous, but substantiated claim, then that is a great way to attract the reader’s attention. However, never lie or mislead your reader!
I intend to publish traditionally; do I still need a blurb?
Whilst it is true that, if traditionally published through a reputable publishing house, it is unlikely you will be writing your own blurb, first you have to get that publishing contract! Therefore, you still need a brief and enticing advertisement for your book.
Tip: Read a lot of blurbs before writing your own! Pick some randomly from your bookshelf or the library (or browse Amazon) and look at the structure. Try to determine what makes you pick them up or put them back. Specifically target books written in the same genre as yours: what do they have in common with each other, what are the differences? Are some more compelling than others?
Also, TEST your blurb, write several attempts, share them on a writers’ forum or with your friends, get feedback and make alterations accordingly.