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.
What a roller-coaster ride the past few weeks have been!
Changing Covid-19 alert levels put paid to my book launch plans - but luckily Newsroom (and No.1 Family Estate Wine) came to the party with an online book launch!
You can check it out here.
Sophia from Mary Egan Publishing (and dog, Gus) even recorded a special launch speech, above.
The Pet podcast is also available now! Thanks to OAR FM, Creative New Zealand and NZ On Air, the podcast is available via your favourite podcast app - and from the OAR FM website here.
Thanks to ace publicist Sarah Thornton, the books have been getting some great media coverage too. If you're interested, you can check out these articles:
Where to find a copy
If you'd like to get your own copy of Pet, you should be able to find it at your local bookstore. Otherwise, you can get it online from a number of outlets, including:
We've cancelled the Dunedin book and podcast launch for my short story collection Pet due to Covid-19 alert level uncertainty - but never fear, Newsroom has come to the rescue with an online launch, and there will even be goodie bags!
Yes, I have figured out how to have wine and chocolate at an online event!
The link to the online festivities will be shared on the night. Hope to 'see' you there!
Join the Facebook event for updates.
I think I must be the luckiest writer in the world because I have not one but TWO books available for pre-order now!
Music by bensound.com.
Lockdown was no barrier for award-winning Port Chalmers writer and illustrator Kathryn van Beek, who has two new books available for pre-order from Thursday 18 June.
“Lockdown didn’t make too much of a difference to me because I would have spent my evenings and weekends inside working on the books anyway,” Kathryn says. “Being a bit of a nerd worked in my favour!”
Both books will be launched in August in collaboration with The University Book Shop – but that’s where the similarities between them end.
Bruce Goes Outside is an illustrated children’s book. The second in a series about Dunedin’s most famous cat (Bruce, who has 74,000 online fans), the book shares messages of kindness and standing up for what’s right. The first book in the series, Bruce Finds A Home, was selected for the Little Landers Literature programme with The Highlanders, and is described by NZ Booklovers as “a wonderful addition to any child’s bookshelf”. Quality approved by the children at Port Chalmers School, Bruce Goes Outside promises to be just as delightful, and can be pre-ordered here on the Kickstarter website.
Kathryn admits she never thought a story about going outside would be so topical.
“After lockdown I think we can all relate to Bruce’s joy, fear and excitement as he explores the big, wide world.”
Pet is an illustrated collection of literary short stories that is definitely not for kids. Described by Steve Braunias as, “Hectic, chatty, very modern New Zealand, very, very readable,” the dark and humorous stories explore our relationships with children, lovers, and other animals. Pet can be pre-ordered here on the PledgeMe website.
Kathryn has been honing her craft as a short story writer for years – winning the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Short Story Prize along the way.
“It seemed strange not to acknowledge the global pandemic in the collection, so at the last minute I sneaked in a micro story about lockdown,” Kathryn says. “In a nod to all the birdsong I’d been hearing, I illustrated the story with a soaring welcome swallow.”
Kathryn says that both Pet and Bruce Goes Outside have been labours of love.
“I’d actually started working on Pet before my life was turned upside-down by finding Bruce as a day-old kitten on the side of the road almost five years ago,” Kathryn says. “I’m thrilled that I’m finally able to share both of these books with the wider community.”
Exclusive rewards are on offer for those who pre-order, including quality art prints and beautiful book plates (printed locally in Port Chalmers by DigiArt and Design). People can also choose to donate copies of Bruce Goes Outside to support the fundraising efforts of the Cat Rescue Network Dunedin, a charitable trust committed to helping stray and abandoned cats and kittens.
Get your copy
Bruce Goes Outside is proudly supported by Pet Doors R Us, Olive’s Kitchen’s Moggy Daily, and BlackCat Education.
I think I might be the luckiest writer in the world - I have not one but TWO books coming out this August!
Pet is a dark and humorous short story collection that explores our relationships with children, lovers, and other animals. In these 18 stories we meet a girl in a standoff with the neighbourhood goose killer, a druggy who turns possums into pop culture icons, and an emotional support animal gone wild.
Visit Goodreads to learn more.
Bruce Goes Outside
Kate’s tiny kitten wants to go outside. He struggles with the cat flap, annoys a bird . . . and ends up on the wrong side of the fence. What will Kate do? Bruce Goes Outside follows on from Bruce Finds A Home, which is based on the true story of Bruce the Cat.
Visit Goodreads to learn more.
I wrote and illustrated both of these books, which have both been labours of love. Bruce Goes Outside took me about two years to finish ... and Pet took a few more years than that! I hope you enjoy them.
Pre-orders will be available soon ... watch this space!
After waking up to an orange sky on January 1, I didn't think 2020 could get much more dystopian - but I wasn't counting on a global pandemic.
Life is pretty good in my 'bubble', but it's also filled with contradictions. I'm flat tack with my paid work, and bitterly envious of everyone who seems to have time to bake bread and learn new crafts ... but I'm also so grateful to have a job. I'm following 'the rules' to protect my health ... but in my efforts to stay two metres away from an oncoming pedestrian, I slipped on some slime and smashed both my elbows (I had just had surgery on one of them). I'm experiencing the little griefs that come with being on lockdown ... but I'm so lucky to live in a country where most of us won't lose people we love.
Being in the midst of a shared, global experience, trying to simultaneously acknowledge my personal disappointments and my privileges ... it's discombobulating, to say the least. It also feels hard to help. I cared for a self-isolating family member for two weeks, I've taken a couple of older neighbours under my wing, and I've made a donation to a local food bank ... but it doesn't feel like there's much I can do to be of practical use.
My Bruce Goes Outside picture book (which I've worked on, on and off, for about two years), and Pet, my collection of short stories (which I've worked on, on and off, for many more years than that) will still be published this year ... but quite when, or quite how I will celebrate their releases, I'm not yet sure. I hope that in-person friends and snacks will be involved.
I decided to illustrate each of the stories in Pet with a little black and white thumbnail image, and working on these in the evenings has been a welcome break from the computer screen. Above are two of my favourites so far - a kitten and a couple of possums. The stories are relatively dark, so I'm trying to make the pictures as cute as possible as a counterbalance.
I have also applied for funding to turn Pet into a podcast series. If my application is successful, perhaps that will be a little way in which I can support others - even if it's only by giving them the ability to take a mental break from COVID-19 for a little while. (I know I am appreciating podcasts for that reason at the moment!)
He waka eke noa. I hope you're all doing okay.
Although it sounds a bit like some kind of swearword, 'Complete MS' is actually an abbreviation of 'Complete Manuscript Assessment'. Being a recipient of the programme means being matched with a literary guru who reads your manuscript and provides feedback on your work.
This year thirteen lucky writers were beneficiaries of the programme - and I was one of them!
The assessment couldn't have come at a better time for me. I was putting the finishing touches on my short story collection, Pet, and it was exciting to print out the full manuscript, get it boxed up and send it off to Auckland, not knowing who would read it or if they would like the cut of my jib.
I included a brief cover letter for my assessor, asking for specific feedback on:
A few short weeks later I received a detailed eight-page report filled with suggestions and advice. I received useful feedback on the above points and many more. I also had a Skype meeting with my lovely assessor where we discussed the feedback in more detail.
As a result of the assessment I have a bit further to go before submitting my manuscript to publishers, but I have an eight-page road map to help me get there.
The changes I have made, or am making, include:
As a result of my Complete MS experience I feel confident that my collection will be stronger and more professional when I do pitch it to publishers. My assessor has also left me feeling hopeful that I am on the right track with my writing.
A huge thank you to my assessor, and to the New Zealand Society of Authors (who run the Complete MS programme) for this opportunity.
Find out more about the Complete MS Programme.
Meet the other 2019 programme recipients.
It's been a delightful two weeks at Eramboo Artist Environment in Sydney Australia's Terrey Hills. I've written the final short story for my collection, Pet, and I've re-drafted a couple more. I put the finishing touches on the stories I co-wrote with Dunedin school children as part of the Little Landers programme earlier this year, and I've also done some work on a Port Chalmers project I'm involved with. So, it's been a pretty productive two weeks!
It's also been nice to have the chance to do some reading. I've read two and a bit books, Billy Bird by Emma Neale (a beautiful, inventively-written novel about a marriage in crisis - excellent), Evie's War by Anna McKenzie (a meticulously-researched young adult WWII novel - also excellent) and I've made a start on The Omnivore's Dilemma (absolutely horrifying, but also excellent).
I would highly recommend Eramboo to any writers or artists looking for a beautiful, affordable and inspiring environment in which to develop creative work. We've had the use of a studio bedroom with a little desk in it, and also the use of 'the teaching space' - a long, sunny room with desks, a couch and a well-stocked bookcase. There's also a gallery space, which I've been able to use as a Pilates space in the mornings. There are wallabies in the garden, along with an incredible collection of birds including kookaburra, cockatoos, magpies and our favourite, the cheeky butcherbird. If you're lucky, the friendly brush turkey might also function as your alarm clock by scrabbling around on the porch with its dinosaur claws.
Several artists have permanent studio spaces here, and everyone we've met has been welcoming and kind.
The township of Mona Vale is a relatively short drive away, and features an art supply shop, a great library (where you can do printing) and an excellent bookshop. Mona Vale beach is worth a visit, as is the glorious Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. It's also fairly accessible to central Sydney, and we spent a weekend in the city soaking up the art galleries and an opera.
A culture shock warning for fellow kiwis - I've never before stayed at a place where I couldn't just go for a stroll when I needed to stretch my legs. Eramboo is on a fairly busy network of roads with no footpaths, and we couldn't find any walks nearby. Having to get in a car to go for a walk was an adjustment - and the best walking spot we found was the National Park, which has a $12 entry fee. (Totally worth it, but not very sustainable for repeat visits.) Be sure to hire a car, otherwise you might find yourself going a bit stir-crazy.
However, we've still managed to see beautiful sights, have cultural experiences and do plenty of our own creative work - and we leave this beautiful environment feeling thoroughly inspired.
Thank you, Eramboo!
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.