Topic: Bookrapt Seminar 2015: Fiction, Fantasy, and Fun

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On Saturday 1 August 2015, the Bay of Plenty Children's Literature Association Incorporated, otherwise known as 'Bookrapt' held their annual seminar at Tauranga Girls’ College. Report and photographs by Debbie McCauley.

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With over 40 attendees, the seminar featured Ali Teo, David Hair and Mandy Hager. Books were donated by Gecko Press, Books a Plenty, Jean Bennet and Mauao Publishing for several raffle prizes. The seminar was introduced by Pat Osman.


Ali Teo

Illustrator Ali Teo was introduced by Penny Guy. Ali’s work has appeared in the School Journal and a variety of Ministry of Education publications.  Her talk centred on bringing a story to life. Ali lives in Tauranga and children’s book illustration is the favourite part of what she does. Unfortunately she can’t make enough money at it to earn a living in New Zealand so does freelance illustration to earn a crust.

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Penny Guy introducing Ali Teo. 

Ali is quite selective about which books she chooses to illustrate. Her focus is on animal and environmental themes.  She earned a graphic design degree in Wellington and specialised in illustration. It was there that she met her husband, John O’Reilly, who works as a commercial illustrator designer and has worked on book projects with Ali.

Ali has done product design, booklets and lots of School Journals. She also participated in the Build a Squid project with Te Papa and work for the Christchurch rebuild with the Department of Conservation.

Her first children’s illustration job was with Huia, Nga Mokonui a Rangi (Rangi and his Dinosaurs). This was followed by Tekiteora, Kei Heao Hu? (Oh Hogwash, Sweet Pea!). Her other work for children includes Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck!Barnaby Bennett, Tahi: One Lucky Kiwi, Duck’s Stuck and Melu. At the time Kiss! Kiss! was published in 2006 the illustration was dynamically different to other books on the market.

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Ali Teo signing her book 'Duck's Stuck'. 

Ali found that she wanted to control the whole design process. Her and husband John work well together as a team. She finds thumb-nailing the story and seeing where the text is going to go is a very important process. She also makes up miniature books of the roughs so she can see visually how the whole project is going to flow. Ali tries to makes the book a complete package.


Ali Teo showing her thumb-nailing technique.

Part of the process is scanning Ali’s pencil drawings and then cleaning them using the computer. She and John have photographed many textiles and grass etc. which they upload onto the computer. They can then use those pictures to assemble their illustrations, this is especially helpful when doing collage type work.

For Melu Ali gathered 50s style artwork and physical pictures for inspiration. Melu is an anagram of Mule! She scanned in her sketch of a mule and traced over the top using a digital pen and pad – she doesn’t use a mouse. She uses the programs Photoshop and Illustrator.

Ali believes that a well designed book enhances the reading experience for the reader. She likes to make the books as fun for the adults to read as for the children. Ali hasn’t worked on a children’s book for the last few years as she and John had a child four years ago – but she is getting plenty of experience reading children’s stories aloud!

Ali has won several awards, including the Te Kura Pounamu Award, the Children's Choice Award (twice) and the Picture Book Category (twice) at the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. Her favourite book she has worked on so far is Kiss! Kiss! Yuck! Yuck!

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Chris Baskett from Books a Plenty.


David Hair

David Hair was introduced by Amanda McFadden. David was born in Tauranga in 1965 and adopted. He was raised in Te Puke and Hawkes Bay and spent a lot of time in Wellington. David has a degree in History and Classical Studies, and lived in India for three and a half years. Since 2013 he had lived in Auckland. During his life he has mainly worked in the financial services area.

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David Hair.

David penned the Young Persons novels The Aotearoa Series, a six-book fantasy series set in New Zealand, and The Return of Ravana, a four-book fantasy series set in India. He has also written the adult fantasy series The Moontide Quartet.

Years ago he attended writing classes in Wellington where he learnt to write a short story like it was the first chapter of a book. He wrote the first draft of The Bone Tiki in 2001. It was rejected and left in a drawer for quite some time. At the prompting of a friend he sent it to HarperCollins and they liked it. At the time he was living in New Delhi, India. David was not able to work as he was the husband of a diplomat, so he decided to write. During that two year period he wrote six to seven books for young adults. David says it was like a pent up force was released. He was also studying extramurally through Massey University at the time.


David Hair.

David likes writing about parallel worlds, what the land remembers and places where magic works. For his imaginary worlds he likes to think “How does this society function?”

Whilst in India he saw the difference between the dirt poor and incredible wealth. He speaks of it as a very old culture, an “intoxicating and inspirational place to be”. He experienced the “absolute chaos of Delhi” from which he could retreat to the “blissful paradise” of where they were living.

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Books a Plenty display.

His Young Adult Ravana series is India based – his books published by Penguin India.  He was inspired by a visit to the Mehrangarh Fort, located in Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan. There can be found the palm imprints made by the queens who burnt themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands.

David’s series for adults is The Moontide Quartet, the first book being Mage’s Blood. He describes the series as The Game of Thrones meets The Crusades or East meets West. David says that for a long part of his life he “was a Dungeons & Dragons nerd” and was even Dragon Master. On the strength of The Moontide Quartet he is now a full-time writer! David has a contract to write a four book series, The Sunsurge Quartet, which will be set in the same world as The Moontide Quartet, but set six years afterwards. The Moontide Quartet is now available on audio and in four other countries.

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Karolyn Timarkos womaning the PowerPoint displays for the authors.

David’s next project is the Kiwis At War series which he was invited to contribute to. This will be his first non-fantasy work! He is writing 1916 which is about the Maori Pioneer Battalion at the Battle of the Somme in September of 1916. David has found that there is more work in writing about a fantasy world than a real world situation. This is because when he invents a fantasy world he has to make up all the rules of the world.

For David YP is not a genre but a target group. He finds writing for this group open and dynamic because of their “wide eyed innocence and sense of wonder which meets the bounds of reality”. They are a group interested in dynamic and vivid things but it’s quite tough to get the attention of a teenager. His idea has to be a “wow” one. David finds that around 40 to 80,000 words are optimal for YP. The protagonist must be a teen – he recommends spending time with teens. He believes that the story has to move with urgency and have no more than three to four major incidents. Perhaps a big start and two crucial acts with a thrilling climax.

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Donated books ready for the raffles! 

David advises people to be passionate and write fearlessly. Work on your character development. Make a character profile: lists of what they like/dislike, what is important to them, what they think about things, what is it that the character believes at the start of the story that turns out to be untrue. 

Currently David has 14 books in print bit is often “distracted by life”. The Aotearoa series is around 70 to 80,000 words per book – apart from The Last Tohunga which was 90,000 words. The Moontide Quartet books are around 250,000 per book. His 1916 book will be around 45,000 words.

David has won Best First Novel (Young Adult Fiction section) at the NZ Post Children's Book Awards, the LIANZA Young Adult book award, and was rated one of the top SFF authors of 2013 by Amazon.

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 Barbara Murray with her raffle prize of free books.


Mandy Hager

Mandy was introduced by Jacqui Kerr, who helpfully pointed out that Mandy’s last name rhymed with ‘lager’. Mandy started her professional life as a teacher, before specialising in the teaching of people with learning difficulties. She believes strongly in the power of fiction. Strong emotions are the core of what makes a good story and reading that story should be a powerful emotional experience.

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Mandy Hager.

The story is the means by which was investigate, interpret and understand the world - communicating things that help explain our place in the world and how that character fits into the world of that story. Mandy believes that fiction is either a mirror or a window. She follows the work of Joseph John Campbell (1904-1987) and Christopher Vogler. We view the world through the lens of what we have grown up with - thinking about the person at the end of the story and how he/she arrived there - what to undergo in order to overcome.

Twenty years ago Mandy’s husband died leaving her with two children, aged 6 and 3. She tried to find a book to help her children cope with the death of their father, but there wasn’t anything suitable available. Two to three years later she sat down to write a story about the stages of grief for children. There was nothing like that available at the time and the book, her first, was published. Tom's Story is the story of how Tom copes with the death of his father and, with help and love from his family, learns how to be happy again. The book was illustrated by freelance illustrator Ruth Paul – her first time illustrating a book. “One book can really make a difference to someone’s life” says Mandy.

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Jenny Argante.

Mandy has seen bibliotherapy (the use of books as therapy) in action through her books being used in the DARE program. Run for the Trees is Mandy’s book that covers the themes of sabotage, intrigue, self-reliance and courage. It was her first book for Young Persons and was used along with her book Smashed by the DARE program. “Books are the vehicle into their issues” says Mandy.

Her book Dear Vincent covers themes of intergenerational damage, suicide, survivor guilt and rape. Mandy received a moving email from an 18-year-old girl about how the book had changed how she felt about similar issues in her life. Mandy’s book Ash covers politics, grief and disability. The story came from her knowledge of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

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Karolyn Timarkos and Bookrapt Patron Phyllis Johnson.

Mandy’s Blood of the Lamb trilogy gives alternative voices about power, control, racism and refugees. It is a dystopian series loosely based on the culture, flora and fauna of Kiribas. The first book in the series is The Crossing. Her latest book, Singing Home The Whale, covers the treatment of animals, conservation, whaling, social media and salmon farming.

Mandy has an Advanced Diploma in Applied Arts (Writing) and an MA in Creative Writing. Her books have won several awards, including the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship. She is currently the 2015 Writer in Residence at Waikato University, and has a strong desire to ‘say something’ through her writing.

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Pat Osman thanking Tauranga Girls' College library staff Jocelyn (teacher) and Mavis (librarian).

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Bookrapt Seminar 2015: Fiction, Fantasy, and Fun