It's been an eerie start to the year here in Ōtepoti, Aotearoa.
The day dawned ... except, it didn't. The air was thick and yellow-hued. The birds were silent.
'It almost looks like an Australian bushfire sky,' I thought. 'But those fires are over 2000km away in a different country. It can't be that.'
But it was. It is. And it's been a very unsettling way to ring in the new decade - a visceral reminder of how precious our world is, and how connected we all are ... and how badly we are failing our own habitat and the other animals we share it with.
I've seen a lot of people sending thoughts and prayers via social media, but I don't think thoughts and prayers will do a lot. What we can send - those of us with $5, or $50, or whatever to spare - is cash. And if you don't have any spare cash at this rather financially draining time of year, I have some other ideas further down.
Help fund fire services (seems crazy, you would think the Australian Government would be onto this)
Help the people displaced by fires
What else can we do?
Climate change has made these bushfires more catastrophic than they were in the past. It is up to all of us to do our best to reduce our impact on the environment.
As I finished this post I had to run outside to break up a cat fight. I couldn't see a single star in the sky.
Photo: Christian Reusch, Flickr, 2013.
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
It's likely that the Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill will have its first reading next week.
The current wording of the Holidays Act makes it ambiguous as to whether bereavement leave can be taken in the event of pregnancy loss.
The Bill, which is being championed by Labour MP Ginny Andersen, would make it clear that the unplanned end of a pregnancy by miscarriage or still-birth constitutes grounds for bereavement leave for the pregnant person and their partner or spouse, and that the duration of the bereavement leave should be up to three days.
The Bill came about as a result of a letter I wrote to Clare Curran about the ambiguity in the Act.
If this change goes through (after the first reading it needs to get through two more readings and two committees before being put forward for Royal Assent) it will be a small change for employers, but a huge improvement for people bereaved by miscarriage.
Miscarriage is still a taboo subject and this is reflected in how we talk about it (it is barely mentioned in pregnancy books) and in the standard of care that people who experience miscarriage receive (most do not receive the support of a midwife).
I hope that this change will help people bereaved by miscarriage feel supported by society at what can be a very lonely and isolating time.
I also hope that by talking more openly about miscarriage we can help remove some of the stigma from what is unfortunately a very common experience.
If you would like to show your support for the Bill, please add your name to the Change.org petition.
If you or someone you love is going through miscarriage, you can find helpful resources on the Miscarriage Support website.
Wow - I didn't see this coming! I'm thrilled to share that I'm the winner of the Mindfood 2019 Short Story Competition.
The story, Flotsam and Jetsam, (published in the August edition of Mindfood magazine) is described as the 'unexpectedly poignant adventure of schoolgirl Amy and her mother'.
The competition was judged by Rebecca Thorne (HarperCollins), Jenny Hellen (Allen & Unwin) and Michael McHugh (Mindfood Editor-In-Chief), who had some lovely things to say, including:
"A wonderful example of the power of short stories"
"There's a gradual reveal throughout the story, leading to a complex and heart-rending ending that's perfectly pitched"
"I am looking forward to reading more from this talented writer"
The competition will run again in 2020 and I highly recommend entering.
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.
What a strange, fun and stressful week it's been!
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.
A graduate of Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters, I am the winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Short Story Prize. My short stories have appeared in The Sunday Star-Times, takahē, Fresh Ink and Bonsai. My debut short story collection, Pet, will be available from August, and is being released as a podcast. I have also written and illustrated two children's books about my rescue cat, Bruce.