Sunday, 30 May 2010

Guest blogger: New Zealand children's author, Melinda Szymanik

This week I'm very pleased to welcome award winning New Zealand children's author, Melinda Szymanik, as guest blogger on tall tales & short stories.

The Were-Nana (Scholastic NZ, 2008)

Winner Children’s Choice Award - NZ Post Children’s Book Awards 2009.
Nominated for the Sakura Medal 2010.

Stella Rosa’s older brother loves to frighten his little sister with scary stories. When their grandmother comes to visit from her home country, this is a wonderful opportunity for Simon to tell Stella Rosa that Nana is a monster in disguise. Is she really a Were-Nana?

The Were-Nana addresses family relationships and childhood fears of the unknown.

Clever Moo (Scholastic NZ, 2006).

Margaret cannot stop sneezing. She’s allergic to grass. How will a cow with hay-fever manage?

Jack the Viking (Scholastic NZ, 2008).

As if bombing out at the interschool swimming champs wasn’t bad enough, now Jack’s become the target of the school bully. How he wishes he was an all-conquering, fearless Viking warrior, like the ones in his favourite book. But Jack discovers how dangerous wishing can be when he wakes to find himself in a strange and desperate world – Norway in the time of the Vikings, 900 years ago. Can he survive? How will he get home?


Melinda has written four pieces for the blog and they'll be posted consecutively over the coming week.

  • 10 Tips for understanding the publishing world…

  • What did you call me?…

  • Anonymous Gripes writes…  If my manuscript was the publisher’s girlfriend and they seemed to be getting along fine, why did they just break up?

First up,  Melinda tells us where it all began...


Author, Melinda Szymanik - Where it all began

Probably in the womb. My mum has always been a big book reader. My siblings are all book readers so I suspect we were all bathed in some kind of amniotic page-worship.

We all love to talk, we all love words but despite my siblings also exhibiting a certain flair with the written version, I am the only one of four to pursue a career in writing.

I grew up a sickly child with twins Asthma and Eczema as constant childhood companions so I got more opportunities to read than most. Of course once I started I found reading highly addictive.

I adored books. I adored myths, legends and fairy tales. King Arthur, Robin Hood, Ulysses and Jason rocked my world. I loved Frodo, Ged and Laura. But my favourite authors were either dead or from far away countries. New Zealand has a long history of importing everyone else’s culture here through overseas books but being unable in the most part to give our culture back to the rest of the world in the same way. So writing books was something done far away by shadowy, mysterious and incredibly talented folk like Tolkien, Le Guin, Hinton, Lewis and Ingalls-Wilder.

My writing ambitions were consequently a secret. After all it wasn’t a real job for local folk. But no matter what else happened in my life: studying science at university, getting married, working in Hospital administration, having children, my desire to write never diminished. As much as children can take away many of a parent’s freedoms, my children were a wonderful reason to give up the paid employment for which I felt I had the social skills but not much else and free me up to pursue my dream.

I started a BA in English Lit. by correspondence. I went to a lot of author talks which I found inspiring and depressing in equal measure. How wonderful the business sounded, but where was the magic ingredient that would turn me into one of them. I went to a weekend course run by a successful New Zealand writer and made a writer friend with whom I shared my work (which looking back on I now feel was one of my first important steps). I began to submit my literary dabblings without success. As I understood writing for children much better than writing for adults, this is the kind of writing I did.

My breakthrough came when I did the Writing for Children paper for my BA degree. I had to read several passages from different books (including The BFG and the first Harry Potter book) and look in-depth at what the writing was achieving. Previously I’d always just read for the sheer pleasure of it and yes I did absorb many of the rules of writing subconsciously. But now I had to examine the word control exerted by Dahl and Rowling. Without completely understanding how it all worked I went away and wrote three short stories for an assignment.

I never got short stories as a child. I didn’t like to read them, let alone write them but suddenly they were the perfect vehicle for my experiment in writing. I think I got a B and the lecturer made some semi-positive noises. Despite this lukewarm response I boldly sent the stories off to the local educational publisher and got my first ever yes. The editor loved my stories. She took only one as the criteria for selection is very specific, but suggested other possible publishers for the other stories and another story was sold to an Australian educational publisher shortly after.

Since then I’ve had ten short stories published (or bought for publication) by educational publishers and in trade anthologies, including three in the anthology, Pick ‘n Mix, to be published by Scholastic NZ in November, two picture books (one of which won the Children’s Choice Award at the 2009 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards) and a mid grade novel. I’ve written a sequel to Jack the Viking, five more picture books, and I’ve just finished a mid grade mystery/ thriller. I’m now at work on a YA novel and starting a new mid-grade historical as well.

Looking back on how I got started would I recommend taking the same path?
Even though I wanted to touch authors on the shoulder and somehow magically absorb their skills and talent during the author talks I attended this was obviously never going to happen. I incorrectly reasoned that author talks would provide some particular insight or advice that would instantly transform me into a successful writer. What actually transformed me into a writer was a) glueing my bum to a seat (metaphorically of course) and actually getting on and writing and b) discovering what it was that made my favourite pieces of writing effective and using these techniques in my own writing. I didn’t do this consciously. It was probably a combination of trying to adopt aspects of my favourite authors’ styles in conjunction with developing my own voice and the right tone for the story.

I also learned to trust my writing instincts, partly honed by years of reading and partly by a baseless but determined belief in karma, fate and myself. So read lots, go to author talks but don’t expect instant transformations from doing this, write whenever you can and feed your self-belief and your passion. Doing writing courses and university papers can help but won’t necessarily result in magic transformations either. As with any other job or creative discipline, it’s practice and hard work that reap rewards.

My publisher
Scholastic NZ
Publishing Manager – Diana Murray

1 comment:

kangaroobee said...

What a wonderful article, I love your advice. You can spend too much time listening to others opinions about conferences, workshops, courses, networking, and then you are left with no time to write. Believe in yourself, have your own goals and take it slowly. I love NZ by the way. I lived their for four years before moving to Canada.
Good Luck

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