Releasing two books seems like small fry in the context of a year that also included an operation, an accident, a family emergency, a devastating restructure at work, a security threat that impacted my place of work, oh and the small matter of a global pandemic.
It's hard to know what to make of this year.
On one hand, I'm so lucky to live in Aotearoa and to have been so lightly touched by the pandemic. And I'm even luckier to have so many amazing supporters who pre-ordered my children's book Bruce Goes Outside, and my collection of short stories, Pet, and made the publication of them both possible. Thank you so much!
On the other hand, it has been such a hard and disappointing time. Looking for photos for this update, there are few of me celebrating with others. There are no photos from the Pet book launch, because there wasn't one. The only images in my Pet folder are jaunty invitations to cancelled celebrations.
My books seemed to come out at the worst possible time - when magazines that review books weren't being published, just a few weeks before the Kete book review site launched, and when Level Two and Three restrictions made it impossible to celebrate with in-person launches. I had four launches scheduled for the year (in Dunedin and Auckland) and we were able to go ahead with one.
However, a really positive thing that came out of the pandemic was a change in arts funding that led to my surprise project of the year - a podcast!
Thanks to Creative New Zealand I had the incredible opportunity to work with 17 extraordinary talented actors and the amazing Otago Access Radio (OAR FM) crew to create a podcast for Pet. Creating that podcast and getting to meet so many wonderful people was a highlight of my year.
Other highlights included Steve Braunias and Newsroom coming to my rescue and enabling me to have an online book launch for Pet (thank you!) and the children at Port Chalmers Primary School following up on a workshop I held with them by presenting me with a book of their stories. Another highlight was being asked to be the guest speaker for a School Library Association of New Zealand event. The event organisers made me feel as though I was Stephen King! And my lovely work colleagues organised a spontaneous Pet book launch for me in an office space, complete with flowers and donuts! There is plenty to be grateful for this year.
So, 2020 has left me with a lot of complicated feelings - but here's my 'annual report'. It follows the same format as last year's.
Last year I had a goal to send away 100 submissions. This year I was too busy crowdfunding to write or submit much new work. I made eight submissions to journals, competitions, residencies and funding bodies, and had six declines. I received CNZ funding to create a podcast, and one submission is still outstanding.
Although my number of submissions was small, two of them were for opportunities that I desperately wanted. On the strength of Pet and its reviews I also approached several literary festivals, but haven't been invited to participate in any as a short story writer. Another disappointment was having to crowdfund my books. After the success of Bruce Finds A Home (lovely reviews, and 2000 copies sold) it would have been great to have received funding to assist with the publication of Bruce Goes Outside. And I would have dearly loved to have found a publisher for Pet. Crowdfunding is not a sustainable arts practice - something I might write about in an essay one day.
But as with everything this year, there have been silver linings to my disappointments. I was thrilled to be able to work with the extraordinary team at Mary Egan Publishing to release Pet, and I just love the cover design! The team at Mary Egan Publishing is amazing and I can't recommend them highly enough. And crowdfunding gave me the opportunity to connect directly with people who wanted to read my work! Wow! It blows my mind that there are people out there who are interested in reading what I write. Thank you so much for your support, it has meant the world during this challenging year.
Last year I said, "In 2020 I hope to publish both Pet and Bruce Goes Outside, and get a little further along on my doctorate of professional practice."
So what do I want for 2021? I'm not sure yet. I would love to write and illustrate a third Bruce book, but the sales of Bruce Goes Outside haven't been as strong as they were for the first book, so I don't think it would be practical to do so. I hope to have finished, or be close to finishing my doctorate this time next year. And on the writing front, I'm not sure. Will I focus on trying to become the best short story writer that I can be? Or will I follow the scent of a novel idea? That's something for me to mull over during the summer break.
As I finish this update I hear sirens. I look out my window to see what looks like the third serious house fire in my little town this year.
I hope 2021 is an easier and happier year for us all.
As a valued stakeholder of 'Kathryn van Beek: writer', please find your copy of my 2019 Annual Report below. The report is structured as follows: submissions, disappointments, successes, a tribute and a summary.
My goal was to make 100 submissions to journals, competitions, funding bodies etc, and I came close this year with approximately 81 submissions made.
These 81 submissions yielded 9 successes and 38 declines. Twenty-three submissions still await their fates, and I withdrew 11 submissions after the stories were accepted elsewhere.
Of those 38 declines, I would say that 35 were 'oh well' moments, while the other three led to full-blown 'what is the point in going on I should just impale myself upon my pen' crises.
I am also disappointed in myself for not finishing the illustrations for the second Bruce the Cat book (working on them now!).
A tribute to David
Writing the 'Best Book in the World' piece was one of the highlights of my year, and a real testament to the wonderful man behind the series - talented journalist and really nice bloke David Loughrey. Unfortunately David passed away recently. I don't know what to say except David, in the short time that I knew you, you really enriched my world. Thank you.
Summary ... and hopes for 2020
Though I didn't get the exact feather in my cap that I really wanted this year, I did pick up a bunch of other very nice feathers.
In 2020 I hope to publish both Pet and Bruce Goes Outside (my second children's book), and get a little further along on my doctorate of professional practice.
A huge thank you to everyone who has supported me this year. I love Aotearoa's literary scene - everyone I've met has been so generous and kind. Wishing all of you a happy and successful 2020.
I live in historic Port Chalmers, Otago, and my neighbour Andy Thompson happens to be a very talented photographer. We teamed up to create a photo essay about three historic Port Chalmers pubs that are still thriving today: The Portsider, Mackie's Hotel and Carey's Bay Hotel. After spending a lot of time interviewing the publicans and sifting through Papers Past, we are thrilled that our story, Local Legends, has been published in local magazine Down in Edin today.
Read the Local Legends story here
See more of Andy's beautiful images here
I was honoured to be asked to read at Ōtepoti's National Flash Fiction Day today, where a group of local writers celebrated the shortest day by reading some extremely short fiction - the winners of the Flash Fiction and MIcro Madness competitions.
I read the Micro Madness piece Donor, by Tim Saunders from Palmerston North. I chose to read Tim's piece because there were shades of human / animal connection, a hint of death and a sense of history and future all contained in 46 words.
You can read all of the top Micro Madness stories here.
The Micro Madness winner, Susan Wardell, read her winning story Tī kōuka to us.
I also had the opportunity to read Over the Fields from Ballyturin House, 1921, by Rose Collins from Canterbury. Rose won second prize in the flash fiction competition for her mysterious and haunting story about an IRA ambush in Ireland. Tim Saunders came third, and I really enjoyed his dark yet humorous story, T is for Tiger.
The full list of winners can be found here.
It was a real treat hearing so many stories written, and read by, so many different writers.
A huge thank you to the wonderful Iona Winter for organising the event. Thank you also to Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature, Otago University Press, Dunedin Libraries, the University Book Shop, and everyone else who contributed to the day. I'm already looking forward to next year's event!
This year the New Zealand Society of Authors AGM was held in beautiful Dunedin. I attended the afternoon sessions at the library - here are my rough notes.
To podcast or YouTube – getting your voice out there: Vanda Symon
Thanks, but no thanks – why agents turn people down: Chris Else
Getting the good word on copyright: Paula Browning
Te Reo in your writing – a when to, how to guide: Iona Winter
I was thrilled ... and terrified ... to be invited to contribute to the Otago Daily Times and Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature assignment 'the best book in the world'.
The first three pieces appeared in the Otago Daily Times today, and a further three will appear next weekend.
Naturally the best book in the world is my pick, Charlotte's Web, but E B White did face some pretty stiff competition in the form of The Third Policeman (argued for by David Loughrey) and The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (argued for by Emma Neale).
Read the first instalment of The Best Book in the World here.
What a weekend! I was fortunate to attend three Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival events (I would have liked to have gone to thirty!) and I've had a wonderful time catching up with friends, meeting people and learning new things.
Gala Showcase: Distracted
The writers seemed a little distracted from the theme of distraction, but the evening was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Akala, John Boyne, Marcus Zusak, Clementine Ford, Tina Makereti and Chris Tse, and to be entertained by MC Michele A'Court. None of the writers really addressed 'guarding creative space amid today's digital noise', but instead spoke on their own passions and obsessions, which was just as interesting.
Point of view: workshop with Paula Morris
In this workshop we learnt how to choose and use a point of view to dramatic advantage. Here are some rough notes:
Short, Shorter, Shortest
With Paula Morris, Iona Winter and Michael Harlow. Chaired by Maxine Alterio.
This was a delightful event. Below, some no doubt very poorly-summarised notes:
I have already read Iona's wonderful book 'Then the Wind Came'. I picked up a copy of Paula's 'False River' at the festival, and I'm looking forward to getting stuck into it.
A huge thank you to the festival team for organising such a wonderful series of events for Dunedin writers and readers.
I was delighted to participate in 'Little Landers Literature' with master illustrator Robyn Belton again this year.
Run by Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature, 'Little Landers Literature' brings our local rugby team - The Highlanders - into schools to read books to the children. My book Bruce Finds A Home and Robyn's book Herbert The Brave Sea Dog were chosen. (When I say Robyn's book ... I mean one of Robyn's SEVENTY books!)
Following on from the sessions with The Highlanders, Robyn and I visited the schools to talk about the process of writing and illustrating.
We visited Brockville, Bradford, Pine Hill, Concord, Carisbrook and Bathgate primary schools. They are all wonderful schools and we were so impressed by the teachers and the students.
Of course most impressive of all was Robyn, who captivated me during each session with the delightful true story of Herbert.
Over the past few days I have really enjoyed creating stories with the children, spending time with Robyn and being so well-supported by the magnificent Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature team.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.