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.
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've finished Pet, my manuscript of short stories! Next steps are yet to be determined ... but I'm sure I'll get it out into the world somehow.
In the meantime, I've been getting back into my Bruce the Cat children's book series. I"m working on the second book, Bruce Goes Outside. And in a stroke of perfect timing, I was part of the Wild Imaginings National Children's Writers and Illustrators' Hui this weekend.
Notes from the hui
I co-presented this with the inspirational Fifi. I talked about my early illustration (rock band posters) and how finding a kitten on the footpath changed the course of my writing career. I also talked about my crowdfunding journey. Fifi talked about an extraordinary career that spans illustration, writing, costume design, wearable arts, mascot-making and more! The incredibly talented Fifi lives a courageous and creative life, and I think everyone was uplifted and energised by her talk.
Kate de Goldi in conversation with David Elliot
Different routes to market
We heard from a range of authors and publishers.
Gathering images with Robyn Belton
The incredible Robyn Belton shared her life's work in this extraordinary session. Robyn puts heart, soul and magic into her beautiful images. Robyn is an absolute genius ... and also the nicest person you'll ever meet.
Pathways to imagination
I was a bit late to this session after sticking around after Robyn's session with all her other groupies to get my books signed, but I did turn up in time to hear Kyle Mewburn ask why everyone is trying to climb Mt Everest, when we could be getting pleasantly lost in a forest. Melinda Szymanik then freaked me out by saying that the imagination is a muscle and you have to use it regularly and train yourself to spot ideas. Yikes! I haven't used my imagination for at least a week - it's probably gone soft!
The dinner was wonderful. We heard from several past recipients of The University of Otago College of Education/Creative New Zealand Children's Writer in Residence (try saying that after a few drinks). Professor Tony Ballantyne gave a moving account of what reading, writing and children's literature has meant to him. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Kyle was hilarious as the MC and should be the MC for everything, ever.
Writing for the classroom
I don't know anything about writing educational books and early readers, so this session with Fifi, Maria Gill and Dame Wendy Pye was really useful for me.
Our journey to publication
With Stacy Gregg and Rachael Craw, chaired by Kate de Goldi. Stacy and Rachael have very different working styles, which made for an interesting session.
Otago gold slam - place and creativity
The final session was a fun session with several Otago authors and illustrators who gave Pecha Kucha-style presentations about place.
All in all - a truly wild and imaginative weekend. A huge thank you to the organisers for an inspirational event.
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.
WOW - my book Bruce Finds A Home is going to be part of the Little Landers Literature programme! Along with illustrator Robyn Belton (whose beautiful book The ANZAC Violin is in stores now), I'm going to be teaming up with The Highlanders to bring the joy of reading to Dunedin's children.
Visit the Otago Daily Times website to find out more about Little Landers Literature.
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.