Frequently Asked Questions

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  1. Who are your favourite authors?
  2. Where do you hunt for books?
  3. How can I get published?

Who are your favourite authors?

My Kiwi inspiration comes from Margaret Mahy and Keri Hulme. They’re my heroes. I have nearly collected a copy of everything Margaret Mahy ever wrote – and that’s a lot of books and stories! Edith Howe was another, long ago, local writer of fairy tales with considerable charm. These women have a fresh and imaginative voice that I love.

New Zealand has a rich tradition of writers of fantasy, many of whom are women, and all of whom seem to give me plenty to aspire to.

Looking beyond our shores I enjoy reading Robin Hobb, Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman. Other favourites are Diana Wynne Jones, Garth Nix, and Philip Pullman. Forthright and Nalini Singh are brilliant.

Of course, there are a bunch of wonderful former writers, who have filled up my bedside table, and my imagination. They include Elizabeth Goudge, Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, C.S Lewis, and J.R.R Tolkien.

Where do you hunt for books?

Our libraries are a wonderful resource, of course! I regularly sit on the three legged stool meant for children, at Scorpio Books, in Christchurch. Perched there I read children’s books, or fantasy, or books about tree houses while the bookshop dogs come snuffling over to say hello. Scorpio Books has a wonderful owner, with big fluffy eyebrows and eccentric  hats, and Helen (who manages the shop) lives in the upper reaches of a disused library.

Smiths Bookshop is a second-hand bookshop in Christchurch that I haunt whenever I can. I am not the only one: a few years back my favourite professor was enjoying a browse and, during an especially good read, he quietly keeled over dead. If you go into Smiths you can see his picture up behind the counter because “The Press” wrote a story all about it! When I go and have a good read in Smiths, I am certain that professor is looking over my shoulder and smiling at my choice of story. Smiths is a great spot for finding out of print Margaret Mahy books, and the stories of that wonderful New Zealand writer of fairy tales, Edith Howe.

There is a young man with twinkly eyes who works in Smiths bookshop. He wears a beard which tapers to a point and curls up at the bottom, a splendid Sherlock Holmes hat, a pinstriped waistcoat and round eye glasses. I once peered into a second-hand bookshop on Lambton Quay – in Wellington – and it looked just like Smiths inside! There, seated at the old fashioned desk inside the window, was the same young man with the curled up beard who works in Smiths. He told me that he had travelled to Wellington to look after the shop for friends. I am not sure I believe him. I suspect that perhaps the inside of the bookshop shifts location from city to city randomly and there is a closed sign up whenever the real insides of the shop ‘aren’t there.’ A room which shifts from location to location like that is called a ‘Trod.’

But I digress! I also enjoy browsing in Borders! The big overstuffed armchairs and the huge selection of books, DVDs, and stationery send me into sugar shock.

I’ve also found books in rubbish bins, on park benches and plane seats, and often on friend’s shelves. In short, I hunt for books everywhere.

How can I get published?

Persevere. It seems to me that the more I speak to other authors, the more I realise how individual the route to becoming published is. Everyone seems to get there by a different means. Some people swear by agents, some swear about them. Many authors start out selling stories to magazines, others never write in short formats as it doesn´t suit them. Some writers get published the first time they send something to a publisher and others send in hundreds of submissions without any luck. I think the biggest thing is to have a great story to tell. Eric Flint recently commented that this is all it really takes because there just aren’t that many great stories out there for publishers to choose from. There are some basic tips to keep in mind around hard copy (but always follow the publishers own guidelines first) :

  • Be aware of the submission policies of the publisher you are sending work to and stick to them like glue!
  • In hard copy submissions print on one side of the page, double spaced, with no extra gap between paragraphs. Identify every page of your manuscript with your last name, the title of the manuscript (or a word from it if it is large), and the page number. Usually this will go in the top right hand corner.
  • Make sure you are sending your manuscript to an appropriate venue. It’s no good submitting the best ever romantic novel to a publisher who only produces books on technical drawing!
  • If you hear from a publisher you will have many questions – be polite and professional!