What’s Cooking?

Readers told me they loved the food in The Travelling Restaurant and hoped there’d be more delicious feasts in The Queen and the Nobody Boy. Well – most of the food there was rather awful, like stale potatoes and the mess in the dining car of the wind-train.

The third book, The Volume of Possible Endings, is due out in November. There’s a horrible lunch which seems to be cat food on a slice of bread. But there is also the main character’s favourite fish dish, spotty plumpoe (you can only catch spotty plumpoe in Fontanian rivers.)  It is followed by lemon slice which really is very good and I make it here in New Zealand. One young man I know ate so much of it that he threw up.

I wrote about another dessert in The Queen and the Nobody Boy. It is Um’Binnian Cabbage Cream.  The recipe was printed in the back of the book with this note: I don’t think it is actually very nice. But try it with ice cream if you like. Your choice.

Several people have told me they’ve tried it and really liked it. Their choice!

Um’Binnian Cabbage Cream:
Find a cabbage as big as your head.

Cut it in half (Yes, dear, I mean the cabbage) and put both halves in a pot of cold water.

Put the pot on the stove and let the cabbage cook for 15 minutes. (Watch that it doesn’t boil over. If it does, you’re the one who has to clean up the mess.)

Pour off the water. (Don’t let any cabbage slither into the sink.) 

Fill the pot again with boiling water from your kettle.

Boil it for 20 more minutes.

Drain the cabbage dry, then chop it into very little bits.

Put the bits into a bowl, add three big knobs of butter and sprinkle in 12 dessertspoonfuls of brown sugar.

Add a heaped teaspoon of cinnamon and half a teaspoon of nutmeg.

Stir it all up.

In another bowl beat three fresh eggs and half a cup of cream.

Stir the eggs and cream into the cabbage.

Put it all into a baking dish.

Bake the dish in a medium oven until the cabbage is brown on top.  (No, no, you can do it in a small oven or a very big one. I actually mean a medium temperature, which is about 180o C).  It should take about 20 minutes.

Short listed for NZ Post Children’s Book Awards

Good news! The Queen and the Nobody Boy is on the junior fiction short list for the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  Winners are to be announced on 24 June.

It’s exciting to think that Hodie’s adventures on the wind-train will be read by a wider audience here in NZ over the next 2 ½ months.

Have a look at Best Friends are Books blog  to see why Hodie became the main character.

I’ll be travelling in the South Island to promote the Awards.  More details later.

And what a great time this is for the wonderful Gecko Press, publisher of TQATNB.  Last  week at the Bologna Book Fair Gecko won Best Children’s Book Publisher in  Oceania. I’m calling it Best Publisher in the Watery World.

Also Gecko has a total of three  books on the NZCPA short list. Jack Lasenby is there on the junior fiction list with Uncle Trev and His Whistling Bull and has just been awarded a White Raven for it as well.  Gavin Bishop and Margaret Mahy’s Mr Whistler is on the picture book list.  That’s a gale of joyful whistling from all concerned.

Here’s the full short list.

Launch speech for The Queen and the Nobody Boy

Thank you – John and Ruth McIntyre (Children’s Bookshop),Barbara Murison for launching the book, guests – family and friends …

It takes a very stubborn person to be a writer. There are nicer words than stubborn: determined, persevering, tenacious, or dedicated. There are far worse words than stubborn: obstinate, mulish, pig-headed, self-willed, obsessed, bloody-minded.  Any of you who have had much to do with writers are very likely to agree with the second list and could add to it effortlessly.

To my mind the main cause for celebration tonight is the very existence of people who are determined to produce books and who each in their own way help that to happen, and then the people who help put books in front of the reader.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy is dedicated to good companions. Books definitely need good companions and champions. And what a gathering of wonderful companions is here tonight. I’ve already thanked John and Ruth who do fantastic work for children’s writing.  And Barbara Murison, a highly enthusiastic champion of books for children whose expertise I have relied on and always trust.

I’ve always been grateful too for the support of librarians, school teachers, booksellers, and that’s especially been the case with The Travelling Restaurant. I’ve been astonished by the warm response to it over the last year and a bit, and it has been enormously encouraging. And I noticed especially how  impressive children’s librarians are, people with a very special calling, who work so hard, and so creatively too, to find ways to match books with the right child.

In a way it’s the characters of The Travelling Restaurant themselves who have been very stubborn, insisting that there is more of the story to tell. And here it is, The Queen and the Nobody Boy in delicious orange, almost edible, and though it’s rectangular it reminds me very much of a gothic jaffa!*

I must thank Emma Neale, my daughter and a writer-editor with very keen instincts who read an early draft of The Queen and the Nobody Boy. I must absolutely definitely thank Chris Else for reading several drafts – my husband and excellent companion in our life very stubbornly centred around books and writing.

Jane Parkin – editor of several of my books now, and a great champion, a queen among editors.  Thank you for your careful eye and superb instincts.  And thank you for telling me that we needed rather more about the Ocean Toads. (p 268) That was fun.

I thank Sam Broad again for his inventive and affirming art work for the cover and maps inside, that told me that I’ve pitched aspects of the story in the way I’d hoped. There’s an interesting creative loop going on here – when I see some of what Sam does in his art work for the book it inspires new thoughts and ideas on my part.

And heartfelt thanks again to book designer Luke Kelly, for his vision of how the book should look, down to the tiniest matters, for instance like the significance of the smallest of characters, the squirrel.

Jane Arthur of Gecko – thank you for your attention to detail and ability to keep all the strands of book production under control – it really impresses m. In particular I thank you for your insistence that the text and artwork is checked and checked and re-checked. And then checked all over again.

Above all, I thank Julia Marshall, Gecko Press, for her vision, her single-mindedness, persistence, devotion to quality production in every book she deals with. It doesn’t hurt at all to say you’re part of the Gecko stable! I especially thank you, Julia, for your belief in the continuing tales of the characters of the little world of Fontania.

One example of writerly ruthlessness, perhaps? In this new book I wanted an element that would take the place of the 2 year old Sibilla in The Travelling Restaurant, something to reduplicate that quirky warmth in its own way.  So – the rough draft of The Queen and the Nobody Boy began with an elephant. I soon realised that was a most unwieldy character. It became a cat. No – too tame, I thought. A monkey? No, I’d done monkeys in The Travelling Restaurant.  A parrot filled the role for a while. At last I tossed them all away and settled on a squirrel. That was, I think, a good choice.

This is a book about Hodie – his journey in five parts all about bad choices. Many of the characters are by turns wrong-headed and constant.  I’ll read just a bit from the opening, slightly edited in the interests of brevity.  Hodie is nobody. He would like to better himself, but it is not easy. Things get in his way, especially in the form of a warm-hearted but wrong-headed and stubborn companion.  Here is how his story begins:…

I thank you all again, very much, for coming along tonight. I hope you’ll decide it was a good choice.

(* jaffa: a little ball of chocolate surrounded by an orange-flavoured, orange-coloured shell.  A national treat.)


Design Awards short list!

Very good friend Joan Druett called my attention today to the short listings for the PANZ Book Design Awards 2012.

Among the six categories is the Scholastic New Zealand Award for Best Children’s Book.  The Travelling Restaurant is on the short list of three. Yay!  I’ve got an ear-to-ear grin to see marvellous designer Luke Kelly and artist Sam Broad recognised like this.

It may seem odd to some people though sadly it won’t to many others – this is a designer and artist who actually read the book before starting work on it. Too many just rely on a publisher’s brief, and too many publishers rely on photo shop, which result in too many disappointed authors. I know that economic factors come into the equation. But how can it do anything except help a book – on which a writer has probably spent at least a year and in the case of TTR over 18 months – to have careful and creative presentation? Luke and Sam – both highly enthusiastic and meticulous in their craft – with their design, the cover, internal illustration and the maps (oh, those maps!) helped highlight quirky elements in the story and make it all a fabulous package. I’m so happy that they’ve also been working on #2 in the Fontania sequence.

The two other books short listed are Bruiser (Gavin Bishop: Random House), designers Gavin Bishop and Carla Sy; and Two Little Bugs (Mark & Rowan Sommerset: Dreamboat Books) designed by Rowan Sommerset.

And lovely friend Joan’s magnificent book Tupeia: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator, designer Saskia Nicol, short listed in two categories: The Hachette New Zealand Award for Best Non-illustrated Book and The HarperCollins Publishers Award for Best Cover.

Look at www.bookdesignawards.co.nz for a great video about all the short listed books!