Archive for the ‘children’s writing’ Category

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

January 5 question – What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Were you able to overcome it?
I guess I regret turning down two offers from publishers. When I was first starting out and was submitting my children’s manuscripts to editors in New Zealand regularly, there were two yes replies. However, I turned them both down. One said they would publish my picture book, Free Wally, but they wanted to change all the characters’ names. What can I say? I was young and green. My creative soul felt they were going to tamper with my “artistic integrity” by changing the details. Therefore, I said no thank you and imagined I would easily find another acceptance for the story. Yet, I never did. It was the one and only offer I received for that book.
In the 90s a different publisher said they would release my middle-grade fantasy, The Scrifs and Stirrits, but they would only pay me a 5% royalty fee. In those days the going rate for royalties was 10%, and I was miffed. Why were they offering me less? I turned down the offer, thinking I wanted to be paid the same as everyone else. But I never found another publisher for that story so never got the chance.

Looking back at those decisions now, it’s easy to laugh at the folly of youth. What did it matter if they changed the names or paid me less royalty rate? I would still have had two books released by traditional publishing houses behind my name to help me stake a claim to this writer’s life. Instead, I hang in the wind of self-publishing and take the financial/emotional/mental hit of being Indie for every book. As a wide-eyed beginner, I did not know that getting any acceptance at all was fantastic. It took many more years of submitting my work to realize that acceptances are few and far between. And these days there are even fewer publishers accepting unsolicited work.
When I released my trilogy in 2020, I did a bit of research to see how many traditional publishers there were left in New Zealand. If I had wanted to submit my stories for consideration, there was only a handful of children’s publishers still accepting unsolicited manuscripts and after reading the t’s and c’s, my stories would only have been suitable for two of them. Two options? Pitiful. The current situation is very different from what it was when I was young and sending my stories to editors all over the country. I had no idea then how good I had it. But hey, hindsight is 20/20.

Therefore, if I could go back and change one thing about the past, maybe it would be rejecting the publishers’ offers. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Because I did overcome that obstacle. Early on, I made that mistake. Yet, I learned a lot through the years of “failing” that followed. They say if you change one thing about the past it alters the course of history. Would I want to mess around with the perfect plan for my life? Probably not. Maybe I was supposed to go it alone. Becoming an Indie is diabolically hard but it does have its rewards. I made all my own choices about covers, style, and everything for The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, which was satisfying. I’m proud of my trilogy. For the cover art, I collaborated with my nephew, Si, who is a consummate artist. We had such fun in the creative process, brainstorming and tooling around with options. I didn’t have to compromise his vision or question my choices. We had no interference which is a blessing only bestowed upon the self-published.

Looking back now, I have the satisfaction of knowing I did it my way, and there’s something pure in that. I cherish the books I’ve put out into the world so far. Would I have been able to say that if I was under the wing of a publisher? Or would the end result be something mutant and divorced from the original vision? With my name on the cover. No. The more I think about it, the more glad I am that I turned down those offers back in the day. I set myself on course for putting out books that authentically belong to me, and my creative intelligence is my service to the world. It will live on long after I’m gone. No, I’m convinced now I did the right thing when I was young.
So in a roundabout way, I have come back to the first question. What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
What about you, what do you regret most about your writing?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Every story I create creates me. I write to create myself. ~ Octavia E. Butler


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I confess. I like reading children’s literature. For years I’ve said, I have to read middle-grade fantasy fiction because I’m “reading within my genre.” Yes, if I want to have an idea of what’s going on in the world of children’s literature, then I have to read what my contemporaries are doing. If I want to add to the body of that literature, I need to read everything in my genre. Most writers know that. But the truth is the last 35+ years I have learned I prefer reading middle-grade fantasy fiction to adult fiction. Uh-huh.

Now and then someone forces me to read adult fiction and I always regret it. The only adult fiction I enjoy is the classic mysteries like those by Agatha Christie. I would say my taste is eclectic. My sister usually buys me adult literary fiction for gifts. Some of the nonfiction books she has bought me over the years have been a hit. But I confess I am not a fan of literary fiction. There has been more than one occasion where I have opened one of these books, then closed the cover, and never looked at them again. Sorry fans of the art. I just can’t.

As I turn into the crone my interest in middle-grade fantasy fiction is far from dimming. On the contrary. It has grown. Here write my favourite authors of all time, Brian Jacques, Beverly Cleary, C.S. Lewis, Tove Jansson, Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman, Maggie Stiefvater, Philip Reeve, and J.K Rowling. What I love about these stories, apart from the comforting point of view of innocence, is the way the stories move forward and then something special or magical or unusual happens. As the reader, it’s like lifting off into outer space. You are transported somewhere different. In children’s literature, it is a smooth transition, there is no strain or effort. Children are there already, living in the Twilight zone. They accept what happens in cartoons and animations.

It feels to me with this style of fiction as if ‘anything can happen’ and I like the creative freedom that affords me as a writer and a reader. It’s like happy juice.

It transports me to childhood. As one of my favourite teachers, Kiwi, Kate de Goldi, once put it, she ‘wrote children’s fiction to recreate the shaded places of childhood.’ I’ve thought about my writing that way ever since. Reading middle-grade literature is about childhood and it helps me to reconnect with that innocent wide-eyed part of myself, which I cherish. It helps me to connect with my target audience and better understand my readers. The benefits, I tell you, are multifold.


At least, that’s what I tell myself.


What do you like to read and why?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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Reading is dreaming with your eyes open. ~ Unknown


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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

This month’s optional question: In your writing, what stresses you the most? What delights you?
The most stress I’ve been under in my entire life was the six months I spent last year doing the final edits on all three books in my trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver. I believed they were ready to go. At that point, the books had gone through their paces. I’d polished all three with the help of my critique group (twice). I put them through my online editing suite with prowritingaid.com, then paid a professional proofreader and a copy editor. But, a funny thing happens when the actual deadline for publication stares you in the eye. Suddenly all the remaining issues that escaped detection up to that point gained a spotlight.
When I read again from book one, line by line, word by word, I found so many tiny errors that it became alarming. That’s the thing with checking copy, the intensity of focus required to question each word in an 80,000-word manuscript is almost a superhuman feat. Times that by three (volumes), and you start to get some idea of the Herculean task. It seemed like every time I made it to the end of a manuscript, thinking, right that one’s done, I’d re-read and find more errors. I began to fear I was losing my mind.

Electrified by pure panic, I stretched the working hours of the day longer and longer. I had freaking deadlines to meet. I got up earlier, went to bed later. I stopped doing the less essential things, like housework, gardening, exercise, and eating. To publish a novel as an Indie, the layout, cover design, printing, and PR, need to be booked months in advance of the launch date. The printing, likewise. My designer is particularly busy, and if I wanted any hope of releasing the book on the date advertised, I knew the date we would have to start working on it. That was my deadline.
My youngest son asked me, “When is this going to be over?” I gave him the death stare. He said, “You’re no fun anymore.” And he was right. Knowing the kids were suffering added stress, but I was knee-deep in the quagmire, and the clock was ticking. I had to slog on night and day until I thought I would combust.
Six painful, exhausting months later, in September 2020, I released my trilogy.

Party. Celebrate.
A collapse in relief.
A few days later, my brother said, “I know you’re not going to want to hear this, but I’m halfway through reading The Last Tree (3rd book in the series), and I’ve found an error.” No, I did not want to hear that. I was so beyond repair, so frazzled and burned out, I walked away from my laptop for six months and did no creative writing at all.
The youngest son asked with trepidation, “Are you going to put out another book?” Just between you and me, I am still undecided. I told myself I’d write my stories and keep them all in the bottom drawer where stories go to retire. I already have a plastic box in my room full of manuscripts from the last 40 years of penning fiction for children. I may just keep adding to that and die happy.

That was March. I took a pen and paper and sat down to write a new story. And that’s where the delight part kicked in. Like a soothing balm to my weary soul, the sheer joy of creative writing began to fill in the cracks and heal the tears. The bliss of writing a new copy is unequaled. To gambol about in the meadows of my unfettered imagination without the specter of publication hanging over me is akin to stepping back to the giddy glee of childhood. No restraints. No rules. No pressure. Just the daily outpouring of my collaborations with the muse in the heady blooming fields of my mind.
Realigned with my purpose and the delight is effortless. Inspiration needs no electric current. No data. No technological interference. Just a pure connection with life. Just daylight and fresh air. Just time to dawdle.

Give me time to daydream.

Nine months later, I am part way through writing a new children’s series. I’m in the zone. The genesis draft of any story is always the ecstatic part for me. The thought of publishing the result makes my knees knock, so necessarily, there is still no plan to publish the result. At least not yet. I might feel burned out as an Indie, but I have learned in this life “never to say never.” A faint maybe will have to suffice. I’m writing. That’s the main thing and always will be the main thing.


What stresses you most about writing? What delights you?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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You only fail if you stop writing. ~ Ray Bradbury


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I have finished reading my nineteenth novel for 2021, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare. Friend, fellow blogger, and poet Susan Baury Rouchard sent me this book, one of her all-time favourites. I had never heard of it or the author, so this was a terrific opportunity. Now that I have finished The Witch of Blackbird Pond, I can see why it came so highly recommended. Thanks, Susan.

Historical fiction is a rich, rewarding genre. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a young adult novel set in the late 1600s in New England in a society of Puritans. There are so many ways it could have gone wrong, yet Speare never wavers, never falters for a minute. She weaves the depictions of Connecticut and the traditions, the daily chores of the people into the story fabric in a way that makes everything seem real. Fascinating stuff. I almost wondered if the author was born in that era. But no, she published the book in 1958. No wonder this book won the Newbery Medal (1959) and was a Vermont Golden Dome Book Award Nominee (1960).

The story starts, and we are on board the boat, The Dolphin. Kit is fleeing her past in Barbados. She meets two young men: Nathaniel “Nat” Eaton, son of the vessel’s captain, and John Holbrook, a clergyman headed to study with a reverend. Kit’s unexpected arrival in the fictional New England town of Wethersfield and the home of her Aunt Rachel truly upsets the applecart. Kit has only known the free-spirited way of living that she has always embraced in Barbados. She comes from wealth and all the associated privileges of having slaves and owning the finest wardrobe, part of which has traveled with her to virtual poverty in seven trunks. The clash of cultures and lifestyles which follows is powerful, yet never rushed.
Kit knows nothing of the customs that guide New England. She flaps painfully, a fish out of water. As the pampered granddaughter of the most wealthy man in Barbados, she has no idea how to work or do the basic, daily things. We feel sorry for her innocence and yet see her flaws: her sense of entitlement, her lack of stamina for working. We empathize with the pain Kit goes through.
Her grandfather raised Kit with a lot of freedom. He taught her how to read and write, how to swim. All of these things are enough to cast suspicion on the naive girl from Barbados from the start.
‘She feels like a tropical bird that has flown to the wrong part of the world, a bird that is now caged and lonely.’

Used to doing as she pleases each day, Kit soon learns her new family expects her to work every day, all day, and to attend Sabbath Meetings which last nearly an entire day. Kit despairs at the boring services but gains the attention of staid William Ashby, a wealthy young suitor, the most eligible bachelor in town. He is her only possible hope of leaving the house of her severe Uncle Matthew.
We follow poor Kit’s painful adjustment process to the constrictions, the rules of the puritan community, and her uncle’s hard-working household. We see that William Ashby is patently unsuited as a husband. We feel bad that all three girls in the house have their hearts set on the wrong men.
Kit, sore, suffering, lonely, one day discovers the meadow.
‘As they came out from the shelter of the trees and the Great Meadows stretched before them, Kit caught her breath. She had not expected anything like this. From the first moment, in a way she could never explain, the Meadows claimed her and made her their own.’
You feel the healing balm of the moment because Kit has suffered so believably up to this point. It is a piece of prose I read and reread a few times.

In the meadow, Kit meets and is comforted by Hannah Tupper. She learns that the woman is no witch. She is a Quaker, a widow, persecuted in Massachusetts for her religious beliefs. Kit and Hannah become friends with Kit finding ways to visit often, sometimes running into Nat Eaton, who also happens to be a friend to Hannah Tupper.
When a terrible sickness grips Weathersfield, the finger gets pointed at Kit. She gets accused of witchcraft. Who do you think swoops in to save her?
People might call this sort of storytelling “old school,” but I found myself magnetized from the first page, and I couldn’t wait to pick it up and keep reading every time I had to walk away. That’s all you need to know, right there. The ultimate litmus test.

The backdrop of the tension between the English colonists and the New England Men’s fight for independence makes for a dramatic setting. I admired Speare’s tight storytelling. The political drama mirrors and therefore deepens the struggle for Kit between her free rebellious spirit and conforming to what society expects of her. Similarly, the seasons each take their turn. Each season corresponds and mirrors the turbulent journey of Kit’s first year in Connecticut, ending with the dramatic climax when they accuse Kit of witchcraft in the deep, bitter heart of winter. But the book finishes with the return of spring, which I loved. It’s such a clever, complex tale about the conflict between freedom and responsibility, between individual and family/community. A book about the search for identity versus belonging, conforming, and then breaking social rules. Tough, soft, affecting, resonant.
All in all, a cracking read.

Elizabeth George Speare, 1908 – 1994, was born in Melrose, Massachusetts. As well as earning the Newbery Medal for The Witch of Blackbird Pond, she also received the 1962 Newbery Medal for The Bronze Bow. Speare received a Newbery Honor Award in 1983, and in 1989 she was presented with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her substantial and enduring contribution to children’s literature.
My rating: Four and a half out of five stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“Though I had my first historical novel almost by accident it soon proved to be an absorbing hobby.” ~ Elizabeth George Speare


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I have finished reading my seventeenth novel for 2021, Fire and Ice by Shannon Hale. Book four in the Spirit Animals series, which Scholastic has marketed as an ‘epic multiplatform fantasy series.’ It is a book and a game. Readers only need to use the code at the end of each book to play the online game. The series of novels follows four young heroes, the Greencloaks, Conor, Meilin, Abeke, and Rollan. Thankfully, they receive the help of legendary spirit animals in their mission to save Erdas from the Conquerors.
In the beginning, Gerathon, the menacing Great Beast, is at large, massacring people. Our four young protagonists are off to the land of icy tundra in search of the Crystal Polar Bear talisman. They must do what others fear to do, seek out the polar bear Great Beast, imprisoned in an ice cave for the safety of all. Despite receiving little help, the Greencloaks find their way to the polar bear and then deal with the repercussions. They escape and eventually fight for their lives against the Conquerors.

If you ever wanted to read a book where the odds are twenty to one against the heroes, this is the book for you. The situation starts dire and gets steadily worse until the final act. Fire and Ice is book four, after Blood Ties, Hunted, and Wild Born. I’ve read book two, Hunted and reviewed it, and I enjoyed that book far more than this one. I thought Maggie Stiefvater helped us feel closer to the characters and led us through a real adventure to the outcome. Whereas Shannon Hale seems focused on building tension and conflict points, and the character development and the story suffers in consequence. I felt apprised of the odds stacked against them and very little else. The experience is akin to becoming wired, as the tension mounts and with hardly a spot to sit and rest.


Many folks preferred this book to book 3 in the series, calling it an improvement. What I liked about Fire and Ice was the absence of any notable adults. All decisions, actions, and even the fall-out of the bad decisions are the responsibility of the child protagonists. You feel for them in horrendous situations. In this book, we meet a new child character, Maya. Maya’s spirit animal is a salamander which is unusual. A salamander does not seem helpful, then its element of warmth and fire comes in mighty handy when the team starts to suffer from the cold in the frozen wastes. The addition of Maya to our group begins to make sense. The five learn to work together and rely on one another, which is an appropriate moral in these times.


Shannon Hale is a fine writer. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, the United States, she is the New York Times best-selling author of six young adult novels. Shannon won the Newbery Honor book Princess Academy, is a multiple award winner Book of A Thousand Days, and the highly acclaimed Books of Bayern series. She co-wrote the hit graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge and its sequel, Calamity Jack, with her husband, Dean Hale. They live near Salt Lake City with their four children.


I enjoyed this book for the most part, although I prefer books set in warmer climes.
My rating: Two and a half stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”–Winston Churchill


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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

October 6 question – In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?
LOL! I draw the line in so many places there is hardly anything left on the table! One of the keys to writing for children is figuring out how to look at the world from a child’s point of view. When I started, that was one thing my critique partners would always say. ‘This sounds like an adult thinking/talking.’ ‘Your child protagonist seems to be an adult.’ I have worked on it for years to figure out the child-friendly view. One of the things Beverly Cleary attributed her success to was that she ‘had never grown up.’ Cleary maintained a powerful connection to the child view and what they’re interested in that made her able to connect with a vast audience of appreciative readers.
Along with writing at the this age level for a children’s author comes the responsibility to keep the language clean and the topics suitable.

In the first draft of my debut novel, The Or’in of Tane, I had written a romance between the characters of Henny and Dr. Milo Mahiora. My friend and then editor, Maria Cisneros-Toth, pulled me up on the romance and kissing scene. She said, “No, no, no. Not in middle-grade fiction.” I cut the scene out, removing the whole romance. To my surprise, I discovered the story was the better for it and I understood Maria was right. I have not crossed that line since.

In the last few years, I have read the occasional middle-grade novel that has included romance, and it has struck me afresh why Maria told me no. The effect is a shock. It’s not appropriate for kids whose lives still involve bouncy balls, bikes, and games of Go Fish. Yes, okay, kids are exposed to all kinds of things via social media these days. But that doesn’t give license to authors to introduce elements to 8-12-year-old readers that we would be uncomfortable with our children reading. That gave me a gauge for the level of what should be off-limits. What would I want my children of similar age reading? Age-appropriate fiction.

I draw the line at romance in my genre, either reading it or writing it.

As for topics, there are so many contentious subjects these days. The list is endless. Writers fear they might say one wrong thing and attract a backlash. There is a strong sense of staying within the confines of what is deemed politically correct. I have a friend who writes urban romantic fantasy. She included one of the mythical gods from religion in her book and received death threats. This sort of thing naturally scares authors.

At the same time as wanting to stick within the limits, I also feel strongly that the ultimate choice about topics and language should remain in the hands of the individual. In my opinion, the worst thing that could happen to our society would be for the artists to lose their freedom of expression or creative license. I’m mindful of that sublime quote by Jane Yolen, ‘Good stories are dangerous. Dangerous, anarchic, seductive. They change you, often forever…they challenge our vocabularies and our history. Sometimes they challenge our comfortable morality. And sometimes…they challenge our most basic assumptions.’
What about you. What sort of language or topics are off-limits in fiction?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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“No one is born a writer. You must become a writer. You never cease becoming, because you never stop learning how to write. Even now, I am becoming a writer. And so are you.” —Joe Bunting


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I have finished reading my sixteenth novel for 2021, Gods and Warriors, by Michelle Paver. Frankly, I was curious. I kept seeing this author’s name every time I was out buying books. Paver featured in every new and secondhand book store as well as gracing our library’s shelves. Who was this new author?
I’m always looking for middle-grade fiction to read my son with special needs as part of our bedtime ritual. Man, I was not ready for Paver. I was unprepared for the shock value in the opening pages of Gods and Warriors. Paver hits the ground running. In the first five paragraphs, our protagonist, Hylas, has an arrowhead buried in his arm. We learn his sister is missing, his dog is dead, and he is running for his life. By the fifth page, the Crows hurl a boy’s body down the slope in front of Hylas, ‘it was now a terrible thing of black blood and burst blue innards like a nest of worms.’

This unexpected element of shock and gore made reading Gods and Warriors to my nineteen-year-old son, who has the equivalent mental age of a twelve-year-old, a bit awkward. I ad-libbed at random to cover the frightening parts, which seemed more suitable for an older audience. For some more sensitive middle-grade readers, I fear they would suffer nightmares for weeks. If you are an actual middle-grade reader, I warn you to read through your fingers.
Our hero, Hylas, is a 12-year-old goatherd. As an Outsider, the Crows are hunting him and his kind. The terrifying Mycenaen warriors are ‘a nightmare of stiff black rawhide armour, a thicket of spears and daggers and bows. Their long black cloaks flew behind them like the wings of crows, and beneath their helmets, their faces were grey with ash.’ While hiding from the Crows in a tomb, Hylas finds a dying man who gives him a bronze dagger (a priceless gift to a simple shepherd) and speaks in verse about his fate. Hylas takes the dagger and carries on to try to find his sister. Along the way, he meets Pirra, the daughter of a High Priestess, who is also on the run, trying to escape a forced marriage.

Hylas befriends Spirit the Dolphin, who has lost his Dolphin pack. And Hylas has a conflict with his best friend Telemon, the son of a Mycenean chieftain, who is torn between wanting to be a good friend as well as a good son.
What I liked about this novel were the Bronze Age setting and the mythological elements. Although I did feel confused at times by the mysterious “higher” powers: the Goddess, the Earthshaker, the Angry Ones, the ghosts. They were referenced, feared, placated with gifts, yet, they were never fully explained or seen. They provided a vague background threat that sometimes sprang forward to scare the pants off us. However, on the plus side, it was cool the way Paver included the different customs around the Greek Islands in the Bronze Age, depicting the unique ways people worshiped and lived. Paver evoked the time and era with ease.

What I didn’t like was the sometimes shallow feeling to the characters. I didn’t like the head-hopping, especially when we were given Spirit, the dolphin’s point of view. Though a fan of anthropomorphism, it has to be done a certain way. I found the sudden switching from Hylas into the mind of a dolphin a step too far. The other three characters showed great promise, especially Telamon, but they weren’t developed enough for my liking. The issues presented were different for each character, Hylas to find his sister, Pirra to escape her marriage, Spirit to find his pack and help Hylas, Telamon to please his father and his friend. Yet, none seemed truly compelling. At the end, none of the characters achieves their goal except for the dolphin, Spirit, who saves the life of his friend Hylas again and again then finds the other dolphins at the end. I thought the writing was competent. The problem was the story had no grand goal to get behind. It felt like eating junk food, you enjoy it for a moment but once you’re finished, you feel unsatisfied.
Michelle Paver was born in 1960 in Malawi, Central Africa, moving to the United Kingdom at the age of three. She earned a degree in Biochemistry from Oxford University and became a partner in a law firm. Paver’s books reflect her lifelong passion for animals, anthropology, and ancient history. She is most well known for her bestselling Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series.
As for Gods and Warriors, I won’t be seeking out the sequel.
My rating: One and a half stars.

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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A classic children’s book…superb writing. ~ Anthony Horowitz

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

September 1 question – How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?
Without question, success is holding the book in my hand. I guess that is because I wrote stories for half my life before I published a book. Although I started writing fiction at age 17 and had a story and an article published in other people’s books, I didn’t produce a book until I was 50. I think the moment I laid eyes on that first novel is engraved forever in my memory. I was so excited, taking numerous photos and bombarding social media. It was unbelievable, overwhelming and the satisfaction was complete.

To me, it felt like the ultimate vindication and success because the road to publication had not been a straight one. An idealist, I had expected the publishing side of being a writer would be as much fun as doing the writing. Find an agent, grab a great deal with a publishing house, and make lots of money. Easy. In the 80’s I found myself an agent, and I carried on writing children’s stories, thinking the agent would take care of finding homes for my books. Four years later, he still had not sold a single manuscript. I fired the agent and started sending the manuscripts out myself. After many nibbles, I had one story, a re-telling of the folk tale, The Ice Queen, accepted by a traditional publishing house. I waited a year, then they returned the manuscript, saying they had been unable to fit me into their schedule. No way.
Another year I had one of my picture book manuscripts, Free Wally, accepted by a publisher in Wellington. But they wanted to change the names of all the characters. I couldn’t handle that! Give me money, do all the work of publishing, fine, but change the details of my creative progeny? No deal.

I carried on writing (and illustrating) and sending out stories, finally gaining another acceptance for a picture book, The Unsightly Wet Nightie. Whoopee! I thought. Then I read the fine print. They were only offering me a 5% royalty fee, which at the time for authors was usually 10%. I said, No dice.
A year later, I entered my story, The Or’in of Tane into an international writing competition. The prize was the publication of the book. I waited, revisiting the website day and night, waiting for news of who had made the shortlist. The publishers released a statement, saying if you had not heard back from them, you had made the shortlist. Happy dance! I had not heard back and was euphoric. A month later, the shortlist then the winner and runner-up were announced. My name did not appear. When I followed up on my story, they told me that due to the time difference between here and there, my competition entry had arrived a day later than their deadline, and they had disqualified me.

Meltdown. Tears for days. Gloom and doom.
Was I beaten?
Well, initially, yes.
Then I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and decided to take my fate into my own hands. For the first time, I seriously considered going Indie. I began to venture online and learn about self-publishing. And the rest, as they say, is history. I did the spadework and self-published my trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, in 2020. Talk about a moment of triumph. The books were well received, gaining a 9.8 out of 10 ratings by one popular book reviewer.

Every time I see those books on the shelf, I get a thrill.

Holding my book in my hand, that spells success to me. Because I know what it took to get here and all the years of solitary blood, sweat, and tears that went into this. Self-publishing is hard work. However, that’s the buzz, isn’t it? Hard work makes you feel good.
It has been fulfilling to produce something my kids and grandkids can hold in their hands. Now, I leave physical books sitting in libraries and on bookshelves and lodged within the hallowed halls of the National Library of New Zealand. To create is the best, and then to share that creation is ‘reason I am here’ material.
When you take things into your own hands with your career, the world is your oyster! How do you define success as a writer?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Regardless of your genre, your task is to get your book in front of readers. ~ Jaq D Hawkins


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I have finished reading my fourteenth novel for 2021, The Lost Tide Warriors, by Catherine Doyle. Book two in the award-winning bestselling Storm Keeper Trilogy, they translated it into over 20 languages. The Lost Tide Warriors is the sequel to The Storm Keeper’s Island, followed by The Storm Keepers Battle. I have heard it said that book two is not a great entry point to the series, as there is not enough exposition to fill in a new reader as to what has come before. Nevertheless, I did jump in at book two.

When I see books at fairs, charity stores, and second-hand bookshops, I buy whatever appeals to me. I often do not know whether they are part of a series. I would hope that any book should be readable, whether it is part of a series or not. It is something I worked hard on with my trilogy and am doing with my current work-in-progress, making sure each novel can stand alone with its own story.
It is up to the author to make each story in a series accessible to everyone. That said, it is hard to do. I forgive Doyle for doing a less-than-great job filling me in as a new reader to the trilogy. The story was interesting, so I continued reading even though I did not fully understand what was going on. And the magic candles? I was still none the wiser by the time I finished. Perhaps the concept was too fantastic for my brain.

Catherine Doyle set The Storm Keeper Trilogy on the Irish island of Arranmore, a special place where her grandparents grew up. The stories draw on Irish folklore and magical history. In The Lost Tide Warriors, our youthful protagonist, Fionn Boyle, is the new Storm Keeper on the island of Arranmore. With the arrival of the terrifying soulstalkers, Fionn’s secret inner struggle, his seeming inability to wield the Storm Keeper’s magic becomes public knowledge. The threat is real. If the soulstalkers raise Morrigan from the dead, they will take over, and everyone on the island will die, as will many others. Only Fionn believes that with the help of a white conch shell, the Tide Summoner, he might be able to summon Dagda’s army of merrows to defeat the horrifying enemy.

The writing is taut, the setting atmospheric, the danger building, and the characters well depicted so that I imagined I knew them. The story problem was intriguing, and Doyle maintained the tension throughout. It was frightening in parts, and funny (thankfully) in others, and emotional. The strong relationship between Fionn and his grandfather, Malachy Boyle, formed the heart of the story. I love it when a story has a heartbeat. Fionn’s love for his grandfather was believable, palpable, and ultimately heart-wrenching. Their grandparent-grandchild bond was the solid bedrock for the rest of the tale. It was a hard book to walk away from at times which is always a good thing.

Catherine Boyle is forging a formidable career at a young age. Backed up by holding a BA in Psychology and an MA in Publishing, she wrote the Young Adult Blood for Blood trilogy (Vendetta, Inferno, and Mafiosa). Puffin published her re-imagining of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, The Miracle on Ebenezer Street in 2020. And her eagerly-anticipated new YA novel, Twin Crowns, is due for release in 2022.
How would I describe The Lost Tribe Warriors? A scary tale well told. However, I did not enjoy it fully, as the nasty treatment of Fionn by his sister Tara was jarring at times, and I found the soulstalkers amassing, the raising of the Morrigan to be somewhat disturbing. It was a tad too scary for me. I prefer not to read or watch horror in any form. Not to my taste, is all.
My rating: Nevertheless, three stars.


Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“Flickers with rare and wonderful magic…An unforgettable story.” ~ Abi Elphinstone, author of Sky Song


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I’ve finished reading my thirteenth novel for 2021, The Enchanted Flute, by James Norcliffe.

‘A flute that will only play one mysterious song? A strange old man in a wheelchair somehow rejuvenated by this music? A leap from a window into a strange and often frightening world where nobody can be trusted and from which there seems to be no escape?’ So goes the promo material. The mythical base to this story and the new take by placing the protagonists in the modern day and age is solid. However, we readers can often be simple creatures, easily led. Here’s a secret some of your fantasy writers may want in on. As any fan will tell you, merely including a word like ‘enchanted’ in the title guarantees a certain amount of reader interest. I picked up this New Zealand novel purely for the word enchanted on the cover, so I congratulate Mr. Norcliffe on a wise choice.

The Enchanted Flute gives us fully realized believable urban fantasy. Norcliffe, an award-winning poet, author and lecturer in New Zealand, is an assured storyteller. I’m a sucker for anything to do with mythology, so I truly savoured the way he took mythology and more or less wove various strands together to give us a new twist. The Greek tale of Syrinx is about a chaste nymph pursued by the God Pan. Syrinx escapes by turning into some pond reeds. Pan scythes down the reeds and makes a flute to console himself. Mixed in with this key ingredient of Greek myth, the author adds parts of fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel and Jack in the beanstalk. It seemed admirable to me that Norcliffe could look at an ancient folktale in a new way and be bold enough to dare to say, What if I did this and this? I became quite fascinated as the modern story unfolded, reading about characters from mythology, and I really wanted to know what it all meant.

Close-up of a woman playing the flute. Musical concept

The flute Becky’s mother bought at a pawnshop turns out to be enchanted. Becky, herself, as the one who plays its enchanted music, becomes the focus of everyone’s needs and animosities. Because of this mythological flute, Becky Pym and Johnny Cadman literally jump from the realities of modern day life out a window into an ancient world. We experience this strange, scary, Arcadian place as they do, which makes the ride really exciting. It was seat-of-the-pants stuff. There seemed to be a palpable feeling of their entrapment, that there really seemed to be no way out. We were not let off the hook until the end. Talk about suspense.

Born on the West Coast (Kaiata, near Greymouth), James Norcliffe currently teaches at Lincoln University and lives in Church Bay with his wife and ‘an ungrateful cat named Pinky Bones.’ Norcliffe is both an award-winning poet and author of a dozen novels for young people including The Loblolly Boy series (Penguin Random), winner of the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Award, published in the United States as The Boy Who Could Fly. His novel, The Assassin of Gleam, received an award for the best fantasy published in New Zealand in 2006.

Fresh off the heels of his enormous success with The Loblolly Boy and its sequel, The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcerer, I’m sure they expected much of his next title. The Enchanted Flute did not make quite the same splash. The reviews were mostly good and star ratings were excellent. However, some folk criticized the length of the story, as too slow and drawn out. Other people found a little too much juxtaposition between the two very young naive protagonists, Becky and Johnny, and the lecherous intentions of Faunus or Pan.

Those things aside, I dived into the narrative wholeheartedly. The base of ancient mythology, the twist by basing it in modern day, and taking us with the main characters step by step, never letting too much information slip, teasing out the answers so we cannot tear our eyes away, building the mystery and the oppressive feeling of being trapped in Arcadia with them is taut stuff. What a thriller. It’s a master class in fiction. As an author I’m always looking for the nuts and bolts but when the writing is next level, the mechanics become invisible. Am I biased because he’s a fellow Kiwi author? Yes! But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t great fiction. Well done, James Norcliffe. Now I want to read The Loblolly Boy.

My rating: Nearly four stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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“Literature is news that STAYS news.” ~ Ezra Pound

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