Thursday, January 28, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: Our Favourite Book Covers

New Zealand is kind of an unusual place for book covers. Ours come from three different markets: Australia, the UK, and the US. Or four, if you include covers designed locally for NZ books. With an internationally published book, we usually get whatever Australia goes with. If there's a cover especially for Australia, we almost always end up with that. If there isn't, it almost seems to be a fifty-fifty thing, whether we get the US one or the UK one. Probably vaguely swinging towards the UK. Our Harry Potters have the English covers, rather than the US ones. However, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld is out here with the US cover.

So my favourite covers have always come from all over the place. For me, the best covers are the ones that drop a few mysterious and wonderful hints, rather than the ones that are trying to tell as much about the book as possible. Actually, I believe in 'show, don't tell' with book covers a bit more than I do with writing. (There's a whole other post in that, actually. Which I'm not going to write now. Remind me sometime, ok?)

Part of the reason I own most of Sarah Dessen's books is because for me they're the reading equivalent of high quality chocolate. When I'm depressed and need cheering up, when I'm unwell, when I'm longing for something familiar, I go back to her books over and over. They make me happy. But the other reason why I own them is because I love the UK covers so much. Deeply, deeply love them. I love the overall look, how they're a bit sixties in the best way possible, I love their colour scheme, I love how the artist has taken little details from in the books and incorporated them. Love love love. It's impossible not to buy books when their covers are this beautiful.

I also love covers when they're moody and dramatic. You know, like a thunderstorm in the middle of winter.


 And also, whimsical covers are awesomeness. I really need to read this one, actually.

Find out about more beautiful covers at YA highway!

ETA: I forgot to mention my favourite NZ cover! It's a wonderful book too.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Blogging About Blogging About Blogging

Scene: Me and Josh are sitting at the dining room table on respective laptops. Josh is Typing Important Transport Related Things. I am Staring At The Screen As Though It Is About To Explode.

Me: Josh! If you were me, what would you write a blog post about? If you were writing a blog post, like, right now.

Josh: I dunno. What are you trying to write a blog post about?

Me: I dunno. I keep starting blog posts and they all sound like crap.

Josh: What were you trying to blog about?

Me: I tried writing about the cats and it got all boring. I tried writing about how hard it is to write a blog post and it got even more boring. And I've already written about forty boring blog posts about how hard it is to write a blog post. So now I am staring at the blank box on the screen feeling empty. Empty, like the box.

I Lean In Closer To My Unsuspecting Computer and Eyeball The Empty White Blogger Screen Thingy Intently. Eventually, Some Nonsense Arrives In My Head and I Type Out The Nonsense.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: The Best Books No One's Ever Heard Of

This Wednesday, we’re blogging about obscure books that we love. So, this post is about some books that I rave about to people only to get a blank but polite expression in response most of the time. That’s my definition of obscure, and it’s a fairly loose one. Also, I’m half awake. So this post will be all rambly and half awake Leila-like and I’ll probably find some way of nonsensically repeating myself halfway through. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte.

Yeah. I meant it when I said it was a loose definition. But, let’s face it, if you bring up the Brontes, everyone who doesn’t think of Wuthering Heights thinks of Jane Eyre, and everyone who doesn’t think of Jane Eyre thinks of Wuthering Heights. And Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are all well and good but The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is possibly one of the bravest books of its time, and because of that I’ve always had a soft spot for it. Also I once read it when I was really, really ill, and it was a good distraction. I can't normally read when I'm sick, especially dense Victorian prose, but I somehow managed to read and love this.

Think Victorian times, when female writers were still frowned upon simply for being female writers. Think of the ideal of the saintly housewife, keeping house so beautifully that not even one single speck of dust is out of order, always abiding by her husband’s wishes, accepting her lower position without any fight, because, naturally, her husband knows best. Think of marriage as even more binding than it is today, something you rarely get out of except by death, something you are honour bound to continue with even if it kills you. And if it's killing you, then you don't admit it. Ever.

And then you get Anne Bronte, who goes and writes a book about a woman who takes her son and walks out on her drunken, domineering husband, sets up in a house in a new town, arising the suspicion of most of the locals, and earns her own living as an artist. There’s a lot more to it than that, but seriously, if you can handle Victorian prose and you want to read something compelling and difficult and at times brutal, give Tenant a try.

The World to Come, by Dara Horn.

This is possibly only going down as obscure because I don’t really hang in literary fiction circles much these days. But anyway. My sister and I are both in love with this painter called Chagall, who painted dreamlike surrealist scenes, full of flowers and flying lovers and animals with guitars and cloudy blue night sky. Looking at them is like watching a slow and beautiful dance where things might not make sense at first, but drift perfectly into place all the same. And that’s what this book is like. It starts with a guy stealing a Chagall painting from an event at a museum in New York, and it goes in all sorts of directions from there.

A Fistful of Sky, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman.

I can’t really do this book justice in a description, but basically, in Gypsum’s family, all the children go through transition during adolescence and become mages, like their mother. When Gypsum reaches twenty and her transition still hasn’t happened, and she’s pretty much accepted that her life is going to be a non-magical one. Until she discovers that what she thought was the flu was a transition of her own. But unlike her siblings, her power is dark.

I seriously have no idea why more people haven’t heard of Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Her way of writing fantasy is whimsical, psychological and wonderfully bizarre.

Everything Beautiful, by Simmone Howell.

Again, this is cheating, because while a lot of people in Australia, NZ and the States don't know this one yet, this book is totally going to be huge once the YA community catches on. And I seriously want to know what it is about Australia that makes them produce so much excellent YA, because this is no exception. For me, Everything Beautiful was the equivalent of a big block of chocolate. I carried it around in my bag for a while and snacked on it whenever I needed cheering up. Unlike chocolate, it didn’t melt or go stale. Always a plus.

Riley is outspoken and atheist, and when her stepmother organises for her to be sent to a Christian summer camp, Riley is sure there will be no conversion story happening here. In fact, she’s pretty much convinced it will be hell on earth. And she’s certainly not wrong. But being stuck at Spirit Ranch Holiday Camp also means that she meets the mysterious, wheelchair-bound Dylan. I love how this novel is at turns funny and serious, I love how it somehow manages to be both realistic and larger than life at the same time, and I love Dylan and Riley and their banter.

To read about more brilliant novels that you should read, visit YA Highway!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A few odd things

- Yesterday we went to see Avatar in 3d. I've never seen anything feature length in 3d before. Today when I blink I keep seeing those blue creatures. It's a bit distracting.

- Last night we were watching a documentary, one of those documentaries which make you feel like a grown-up. It was about economic growth and its effect on cities and countries, and how it can happen unevenly and leave people poor if they come from the wrong place. Basically. Somewhere quite near the end, my cat Cali leapt on top of the tv and sat there, staring at us. Then she started licking her leg. She was extremely matter of fact about the whole thing. Like, yeah, I'm on top of a tv. What's your problem? As she leapt down her paw hit the volume, and suddenly we were hearing about economic growth very loudly.

- In the early hours of the morning, I had a dream about being in England with my family, and staying in the same house as one of the members of the Sex Pistols. He was very nice. We all chatted a bit, and then my siblings and I went out to Cafe Cezanne because we figured that he was a rock star and he wouldn't really want to hang with us. (Cafe Cezanne was somehow in England, but it all seemed very logical at the time.) But next thing, we were sitting in the cafe and we saw him walking past, then he saw us, smiled, and wandered over to sit down with us. And I realised, hey, we're friends with a rockstar. I have to text Amber and tell her. They were reuniting with a new lead singer, and they had a new album coming out, and later on he gave us a preview of some of the tracks. They were indie and melodious and full of unusual instruments. None of it sounded anything like the Sex Pistols, but I didn't say anything, because I was being polite.

- I wrote a blog post about my work at the bookshop for YA Highway, my first highway post for the year. There are going to be many more. I've filled up a whole incredibly crammed notebook page with ideas for posts. There are so many that some of them are at the side, in little tiny letters, which is kind of a note-taking quirk that I have. I probably should have gone on to a new page, but there is something about little tiny half-readable notes and my brain that I can't even begin to understand. Anyway, what I actually meant to say was, I will be blogging more, and about interesting things. Or things that seemed interesting when they were in little tiny notes. So yeah. Keep an eye out.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Road Trip Wednesday: Things People Say

This week we're blogging about the things people say when they find out you write young adult novels. So yeah, I rant about writing novels all over the internet (internet, how do you like being ranted all over?), but in person I am generally pretty cagey about talking about the whole writing thing, especially the whole writing novels thing, and even more especially the whole writing YA novels thing. Because then most of my conversations turn into this sort of thing.

The 'Leila is deluded but I have to be very polite about it' conversation:

This is the one where they think to themselves, look at her. It is not particularly likely that she could ever earn any money from writing, really, and she already looks like she doesn't eat enough. She needs to not give up her day job, because she needs to put food on the table, and she needs to be able to afford a table so she has somewhere to put her food, and she needs to be able to afford a roof over her head so she has somewhere to put her table. I will feel guilty forever if I don't drop a hint.

To be honest, these days I'm very pre-emptive. Almost as soon as I tell people I want to be a writer, as my job job, like the thing that I spend all day every day doing, I tell them about how I'm after a career in publishing, which is true as well. Even though getting into publishing is not a hugely lucrative or easy career to get into either, I love books. Finding manuscripts with potential and helping them become polished and wondrous is something that I would adore. Also I like the idea of being a librarian, or the idea of venturing further into bookselling. I tell people all this stuff in a huge awkward gush, because if I don't, they either straight out say that I shouldn't quit my day job, hahaha, writing is hard, you know (you reckon?), or they politely ask what my real career plans are, or they ask me whether I'm going to go into teaching. Always teaching.

I think there's this assumption out there that there's nothing you can really do with an English degree except being a high school English teacher, which to begin with is a completely wrong assumption. And also I think that to be a teacher, you have to really really want to be a teacher. I would like being a tutor or a university lecturer, especially in creative writing, but I would have to be published and highly regarded before I could have any hope of going there. And high school English? Nooooo way. I loved my high school English teachers. They were brave, hardy souls and I have the utmost admiration for them. But at the moment, I'm just not courageous enough for that sort of thing.

The 'OMG fame and fortune' conversation:

This is the one where they either seriously or somewhat sarcastically name an Author Who is Seriously Famous. You know, DanBrownJKRowlingStephanieMeyerStephenKingShakespeare. That author. And start talking about how I'll be ever so rich and famous too.

All I can say is, 'That would be nice.' Because yeah, it would be. It is also extremely rare. I sometimes point that out too.

The 'OMG I have this idea!' conversation:

Often follows on from the 'OMG fame and fortune conversation'. This is the one where they have this amazingly amazing idea for a book, which they could share with you so that you can write it, and then you can share all the fame and fortune, and then you can both live happily ever after.

Fact: the idea is the easy part. I get ideas for novels all the time. I wake up in the morning with fresh new shiny ideas in my head that I already don't have time to write for at least, you know, ten years, what with all the other ideas I have. The writing part is the hard part. I'm always telling people that they should go write their amazingly amazing idea themselves, because I have plenty of my own and I wouldn't do it justice anyway. And then they have all these excuses, all this oh no, I don't have time, I don't know how.

No one in the world knows exactly how to write novels. That is because there is no right way. And no one has more than 24 hours in their day. But I want to lie on my deathbed and be able to say, I wrote novels dammit, not I had this amazing idea once and I never did anything with it because I didn't know how and I was a bit busy.

I don't usually say this to people.

The 'give me juicy details' conversation:

Some people would like to know everything. You know, the publication date, what the cover will look like, whether I've included a villain based on them*, what it's about.

Which usually has to turn into me saying, I don't have an agent yet. Publication takes a long time and I don't know when it will happen. And I don't base my characters on real people that I know, because that's not how things work for me.

However, I really, really need to work on the 'what's it about?' response. Because it is something that people are going to ask me for the rest of my life, and I need to have everything contained in a nice catchy sounding line so I can give them my line and leave it at that. Also I need to not be so embarrassed. It's quite hard telling people I write YA, the fantasy sort of YA, the magic and supernatural beings sort of YA, because people either get all awkward about it or start talking about Stephanie Meyer. Or both.

Sometimes I think life would be a lot easier if I did write the sort of books that people with English degrees are expected to write, with lots of characters you don't feel particularly sorry for who are all committing adultery with each other and remembering their childhoods in a very literary way, the sort of books that are generally only read by other people with English degrees.

The 'I'm writing something myself' conversation:

Seriously, this depends entirely on who I'm talking to.

I used to be very wary of this conversation. In the wrong company it can have kind of a patronising vibe to it. As in, you're writing YA fantasy eh? Well, I'm writing a screenplay/postmodern amorphousness/a novel about people remembering their childhoods while committing adultery. And then we end up sort of smiling at each other awkwardly for a bit. And then one of us has to excuse themselves.

But in recent times I've discovered in the right company it can be completely and utterly awesome. I can't emphasise how wonderful it is to find other writers who understand, who go through similar struggles themselves, who share the same dreams. And yeah. They're also so freaking talented that it's actually kind of scary.

Sometimes talking about writing can be a very good conversation indeed.

You should go to the highway right now and read about what people say to my fellow highwayers when they find out they're talking to a writer.

*No, seriously. I've actually been asked that more than once. I'm not sure whether it's people mistakenly thinking that I have some kind of grudge against them, or wanting to be all badass and tell people at parties that a writer based a villain on them so that they can get laid. Or both.

Friday, January 08, 2010


The view from the beach house at Mangawhai Heads

Between Mangawhai Heads and Te Arai Point

Trying to skim stones at Helena Bay


Taupo Bay

Matai Bay

Josh at Karikari Beach

Boatshed Cafe, Rawene


Rush hour in Northland