Monday, August 12, 2013

Medals and being batsh*t crazy.

Last week, I was honoured to receive The Esther Glen Medal for junior fiction at the LIANZA Book Awards. It's New Zealand's longest-running literary award - established 1945 - given to "the author of the book which is considered to be the most distinguished contribution to literature for children aged 0-15, by an author who is a citizen or resident of New Zealand." Esther Glen was a Christchurch children's writer, who lived just down the road from where I now sit. She was "part of a close and lively literary circle in Christchurch" (which I'm trying to be; if only other writers weren't so busy writing and were more inclined to form a circle. I think I see more writers in Wellington and Auckland than I do here).

I love libraries and I love librarians, so to be given an award by them is a huge thrill. As I explained on the night, I wrote my last two books in libraries around Christchurch and continue to write there today (I'm at the Tuam Street library right now in fact). I refer to the Tuam Library as my office. I am the unoffical Christchurch Libraries Writer in Residence, having worked in the Central, Peterborough, Shirley, South, Tuam and Sumner libraries. (The only time I don't like working in libraries is when strange men come and sit next to me and pretend to read magazines while staring at me - that just happened. When I moved places, he left. *shudder*)

When I got back to Christchurch and told my kids I'd won an award, they looked at me blankly. So then I told them I'd won a medal. Now that was something they could relate to. It was a shiny thing they could hold in their hands. They made me take it out of the box, put it on a ribbon and wear it around the house like an Olympic athlete.

When I accepted the award, I admitted that I was somewhat surprised. Just why I was suprised is complicated. A lot of people - librarians included - have told me they love Red Rocks, but as a good friend once said, writing makes you batshit crazy. You write a book from the heart and you let it out into the world to be read, judged, praised, admired, hurled across the room, depised and loved. You are constantly being compared to other writers, many of whom are your friends, without asking to be. You compete against other writers, many of whom are your friends, for funding and for awards. And inevitably you will sometimes be found wanting. All writers I know can quote whole lines from negative reviews, but they can't quote any from the glowing reviews. Some of my friends will get one bad review and seven great ones; then they will always think of that book as being 'poorly received'.*

All this means that it pays to have a thick skin. And yet. In order to write, you need to have a thin skin, don't you? If you were not at all sensitive, you wouldn't be aware of all those subtle emotions that go into being human; all the things that you write down to build characters; all the little details you notice about the world and about people that help you build a story on the page.

I wonder if that's why it always takes me so long to get into something new once I have a book published. I put up my shield and it takes a while for it to come down again. Winning an award like this gives you a boost. It blocks out the negative voices that you think you hear in the opinions of others, but more importantly the ones you hear in your head.

Anyway, it's given me fuel to forge on. I'm working on an adult novel and a children's novel, so it may be quite some time before they are finished. I've been joking to my Red Rocks fanbase that by the time I finish the next kids' book, they'll all be too old for it. But I hope not. Here's a picture of my glamorous life. The day after the awards, clutching a beautiful bouquet of orchids that I couldn't bear to part with and planned to smuggle on to the plane, outside the Booklovers' B&B in Mt Victoria (where I didn't stay)... waiting for a bus to the airport.

* For a much more eloquent and entertaining analysis of writers' anxieties and insecurities, I highly recommmend Sarah Laing's graphic blog Let Me Be Frank.