Can cool girls wear pink?

A couple of days ago, I was talking to my neighbour and asked him what he believed his daughter would think of the new cover for “The Uncontrollable Flying Carpet.” His reply was a surprise.
“She wouldn’t like it because the girl is wearing a pink dress,” he said, “and she says that girls shouldn’t wear pink.”
I do get his daughter’s point – traditionally, pink is associated with gender-stereotyping, with encouraging girls to be weak, feminine home-makers. Make no mistake, I am all for smashing down such demeaning and diminishing attitudes. Girls and boys are surrounded by societal expectations of what they should wear, how they should act and speak, what things they should do. And that is why I created the character of Sabrina Summers. She’s a tough girl; she is resourceful and brave, and, by coincidence, she happens to live in sneakers and shorts and she hates her ruffled, pink bridesmaid’s dress. I hope she’s a great role-model for girls who don’t otherwise get told that it’s OK to be who you are and need encouragement do the right thing.
Sabrina does love her pink sneakers, though, and it troubles me that, if this was real life, someone might make her too embarrassed at the ‘girlyness’ of her practical, comfortable footwear. Why, exactly, can’t girls wear pink anymore? Do they think, in order to be accepted at school or in their friend-group, they should be more like our stereo-typed image of boys? In short, do they think that, in order to succeed, they must be like boys? Are they ashamed of being girls? It seems as though, in order to conform to new expectations, they feel that they actually are not allowed to wear pink, nor to like unicorns and kittens or in any way be ‘girly’.
So, what, exactly, is wrong with being ‘girly’? Well, nothing of course. Isn’t the person who loves kittens more likely to grow up to be an animal lover who’ll rescue cats from vivisection laboratories? Isn’t the unicorn-lover more likely to have a wonderful imagination and see things as they could be, instead of passively accepting how things are no matter how bad?
Here’s the thing – pink is just a colour. Anyone at any age should be able to wear it. Girls are allowed to be girls and shouldn’t feel ashamed of that. What matters more is that boys and girls both know that. They can wear whatever they like, in fact, and what matters is that they are true to themselves.
So yes, cool girls, and boys, can wear pink. Or not. It’s up to them.

 

In support of hybrid publishers

If you’ve been looking to get copies of the Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers from Amazon or Kindle recently, I’m afraid you’ll have been disappointed, but for a great reason. I have just signed a contract with Morgan James, a well-established hybrid publisher based in the States, who have agreed to publish The Uncooperative Flying Carpet!
So, why Morgan James? Why not a traditional publisher? Well, that takes me back to why I chose indie publishing in the first place – generally speaking, a traditional publisher does nothing to make books available to readers who are dyslexic. Morgan James have not only let me keep the copyright of my own books, but are happy for Shropshire Lass to continue to publish the way I am consulted during a weekly phone call about marketing, editing, the cover, sales etc. They’re keen to actively support me, but best of all, when I was talking to their lovely Fiction Acquisitions Editor, she said they wanted to work with writers who, like them, wanted to make the world a better place.
So, why Morgan James and why not continue publishing independently? Indie publishing is tough (especially the distribution side), lonely and it’s very easy to put things like earning money first! With MJ, I’m in a partnership where not only am I given the support to give me the confidence to get out there myself, they actively promote my books in bookstores throughout the States and the UK (leaving me to focus on NZ and Australia), send copies to be reviewed, provide promotional materials and have a supportive community of authors who have shared beliefs and goals. Of course, they are in publishing to make money, and good for them because so do I, and the cost of having a book edited well, a decent cover designed and promotions is a shared burden with a hybrid-publisher. With so many small publishers going under or being taken over, and with the big publishers being reluctant to take a chance on a new author, they are doing something different to respond to a very fast-changing environment.
Their Morgan James Kids imprint is fairly new, and they only take 12 titles a year, so I’m incredibly honoured to have made the cut this year. I’m looking forward to the journey – watch this space!

Empty Nests

Empty nest syndrome is when your children grow up and leave home, leaving their parents alone in the family nest. I believe writers have the same emotions when they come to the end of a character. At the moment, the last in the Strange Sagas of Sabrina Summers is at the editor. I feel as though she has gone away to university and will return to make a few appearances with her bags of dirty laundry in the holidays before that’s it forever. She’ll be back in the new year for me to finish off the formatting and implement any changes the editor suggests, then she’ll be published.

So, how can I deal with my “empty nest”? Well, Autumn Pugh is already being developed but I still can’t let go of Sabrina and her friends. And so, welcome Sabrina’s little sister! When I spoke to a group of Gifted & Talented students in Lincoln, NZ a few weeks ago, one child asked for stories for younger readers. I took her request seriously, and Sally Summers is on her way!

She’ll be starring in her own short story soon, but who knows – she might have her own books too.

Oh yes, one more thing – Merry Christmas!

Witchy Wu

I’ve recently been asked about Witchy Wu, the out and out baddy of the Dralfynia sagas, and why I made her a Chinese shaman instead of a Grimm Brothers witch. The name popped into my head first, and I looked up the meaning afterwards. According to Wikipedia, a wu is a Chinese shaman who is a spirit medium practising divination, prayer, sacrifice, rain making and healing in Chinese traditions, dating back over 3000 years. Like European witches, they can use powers for good (healing) or bad (sacrifice). In the case of my character, Witchy Wu starts her life at school planning to use her powers for healing, but after a specific event (detailed in The Uncomfortable Glass Slippers, which I would hate to spoil here), the taste of her bitterness becomes so strong, only the taste of sugar (and children) can temporarily relieve it.

In effect, I’ve combined the mythology behind two types of witch; as a writer, I wanted to flex my creativity and develop a character that was an evolution of the ones in stories I grew up reading, making the books bi-cultural. The more I have written her, the more I adore her! Of all the characters in this trilogy, she is the one I planned the fate of first. I hope you like what happens to her!

A Writer’s Companion

I am well underway with writing Sabrina Summers’ Second Saga, and having great fun plotting things to do to the Beast and to Witchy Wu. I am being kept company by Cleo, who has taken over the best chair in my study, and Twinkle, who has made a nest from the brown paper that wrapped up a delivery of the dyslexia-friendly version that arrived yesterday.

I recently wrote a short story for the New Zealand Society of Author’s Canterbury branch’s upcoming anthology on Cats. It was a diary of a typical day in the life of a writer who is kept company by her cats (I didn’t have to stretch too far to think of a subject matter!) But it started me thinking about how perfect cats are as companions for writers. They are someone to talk to (because I think it is slightly less crazy to discuss plot points with a cat than to talk to thin air, don’t you?); they add interest even if it is sitting in tiny boxes or standing next to a closed door and then walking away when you open it; and they love and appreciate you. Cleo and Twinkle were rescue cats, and as I say in the print versions of  “The Uncooperative Glass Slipper”, animal rescue centres are desperate for kind and loving homes for their charges, and I am sure that my two cats are happy to be with their forever family. And, because my cats are on an expensive diet food from the vets, they keep me working hard at my writing to pay for their needs!

Words, Words, and longer words

A reader who is almost 13 recently asked me about the third word in “The Uncooperative Flying Carpet” which is “slanted”. I explained it meant that the rain came down in a slant because of the strong wind, but it started me thinking about extending readers by including words they haven’t come across before and using the context to work out the meaning. I chose to use mostly short and familiar words so that readers aged 8 to 12 would enjoy the story, but I left in a few longer words too, such as “noxious”. This was a deliberate decision because I realised that when I was growing up, my own vocabulary was extended because of the books I read. Like many pre-teen girls, I knew that “Titian” was a word used to describe red hair, because some descriptions of Nancy Drew  used that word. I had to wait a bit longer before I realised he was a real person, mind you! So anyway, I hope that some of my readers get to learn some new words or new uses for old words 🙂

Indie publishing for dyslexic readers

Having taught for some years, I am aware of the difficulties that dyslexic readers face and while I try to make my handouts accessible for my current creative writing students, including those who are dyslexic, I needed some up to date advice when it came to indie publishing. E-publishing was easy, as readers can change the font and screen to suit them, but when it came to print on demand hard copies, it was a different matter. I approached the Christchurch NZ branch of the Dyslexia Society, who are funded by Cookie Time, a local cookie company, and was given really helpful advice. Because of that, this post should be in comic sans, blue ink, size 14 font and  be in double line spacing. A specialist font called Dyslexie is also available, which was developed in the Netherlands.  I also contacted the team at Create Space, Amazon’s print on demand arm, who could accommodate almost everything I wanted to do so that I could have a dyslexia-friendly version of “The Uncooperative Flying Carpet”. That book will be available soon!

Location, Location, Location

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Lochmara Lodge

I’ve just been lucky enough to spend a week in the northern part of New Zealand’s beautiful South Island with my husband. We spent a night at Lochmara Lodge in Queen Charlotte Sound, which is stunningly beautiful, quirky and fascinating. You can only arrive by boat or by walking for some hours along the Queen Charlotte Track. They have a terrific eco presence, and have a couple of llamas, pigs, free range chickens, and breed endangered birds. I was thrilled to see glow worms for the first time in my life, and sea phosphorescence which looked like sparklers under the sea. I came away thinking “Wow, it would be a fantastic setting for an old fashioned murder mystery” but I’m sure their other guests were less gruesome than me.

Planning the Second Saga

While I am waiting for the first Saga to come back from the wonderful editor Sarah Nisbet (http://www.inkshededitorial.com/) I have started plotting the middle saga of the Dralfynia trilogy. At the moment, I am at the “what would happen if …” or “what would this character do if …” stage, which is very exciting. I am also choosing the traditional fairytale characters that the team of Sabrina, Olive, Persis and Rory become on their return to Dralfynia, and hope I am thinking ‘outside the square’ with some of my ideas. No spoiler alerts, though, because it’s all at the preliminary stages.  This trilogy has made me reflect on how popular the traditional stories are again. TV shows such as Grimm and Once Upon A Time, movies such as the upcoming Cinderella as well as old favourites such as  Enchanted (one of my personal favourites because my stepdaughter loved it when she was six years old and so I’ve watched it dozens of times) and Ella Enchanted, and newer movies like Into The Woods, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Mirror, Mirror are evidence that we still love a wicked witch, stories with magic, and good overcoming evil. There are plenty of twists on these stories which date back hundreds of years, but the Dralfynia Sagas are, I believe, the first trilogy where people from the modern world have to understand what it’s like to cope with being a fairytale character.  Some amazing actors have played the wicked witch and I wonder who would be a great choice for Witchy Wu!

 

What’s in a name?

I recently had a question on my amazon author page, which I thought I would share. I was asked about the inspiration for my character’s names, and I know that many writers also struggle to choose names that really suit their characters. I even downloaded a great app to my iPad Air which gives me the option to roll a pair of dice again and again until I name I like comes up. In the first Dralfynia Saga, I spent a long, long, time picking the right names. For the family name, I knew I wanted something seasonal to fit in with the other two book series that I have under development (my teen girl detective Autumn Pugh, and my mother and daughter detective team, the de Winters Women) – Summers was an easy choice. As for Sabrina herself – well, the Latin name for the River Severn is Sabrina, and that’s the river that flows through Shrewsbury, my hometown. Also it means “from the border” but the reason for that will become clearer as the Sagas progress! The same goes for Rory (which means “the red king” and fits with his red hair). Olive and Persis are named for my late grandmothers, but both are great, strong and unusual names making a come back. Other names honour family members, and the di Kristi royal family celebrates my favourite crime author when I was growing up – Agatha Christie. As for Bridget Bishop? You definitely need to Google her to find out why I chose her name. It might give you a clue about what Melas is an anagram for. And Dralfynia? Another anagram – see what you come up with 🙂