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Good news! If you have an avid short(ish) reader in the house, I have a signed copy of my middle grade novel Shot, Boom, Score! to give away. 10th person who emails me will win.

Here’s what the book is about:

“Toby, if you get twenty wickets and ten tries before the end of the year, Mum and I’ll buy you a new GameBox V3.’

Can you believe it? One minute I’m in trouble for double-bouncing my sister and the next Dad is telling me I’ve got the new GameBox V3! And it’s not even Christmas. Shot!

Toby thinks this will be easy — after all, he gets Player of the Day all the time. But he hasn’t reckoned on Malcolm McGarvy. McGarvy is one of the biggest kids in the school and he’s got a huge scar which he got in a shark attack — he wears one of the teeth around his neck. You know McGarvy is near because you get goosebumps up your arms. And he’s going to make sure Toby doesn’t get that GameBox V3…

A hilarious story about a boy who is promised a Gamebox V3 by his dad if he scores 20 wickets in cricket and 10 tries in rugby, but is foiled at every turn by the class bully.

shot boom score

Harry Potter

Philosopher’s Stone – 77,325
Chamber of Secrets – 84,799
Prisoner of Azkaban – 106,821
Goblet of Fire – 190,858
Order of the Phoenix – 257,154
Half Blood Prince – 169,441
Deathly Hallows – 198,227

Lord of the Rings

The Hobbit – 95,022
The Lord of the Rings – 455,125
The Two Towers – 143,436
The Return of the King – 134,462

Other Famous Books

22,416 – The Mouse and the Motorcycle – Beverly Cleary
30,644 – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
36,363 – Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
46,118 – Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
47,094 – The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
49,459 – Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
59,900 – Lord of the Flies – William Golding
63,766 – Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
64,768 – The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
66,950 – Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
67,203 – The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
67,707 – The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
73,404 – The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
78,462 – The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
80,398 – The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
84,845 – Gilead – Robinson, Marilynne
85,199 – The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
87,846 – Pere Goriot – Honore de Balzac
87,978 – Persuasion – Jane Austen
88,942 – Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
91,419 – Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
97,364 – Anne of Green Gables – Lucy Maud Montgomery
99,121 – To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
100,388 – To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
112,815 – The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman
123,378 – Atonement – Ian McEwan
127,776 – Life on the Mississippi – Mark Twain
134,710 – Schindler’s List – Thomas Keneally
135,420 – A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
138,087 – Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe
138,098 – Snow Falling on Cedars – Guterson, David
138,138 – 20000 Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne
144,523 – One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
145,092 – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith
145,265 – Cold Sassy Tree – Olive Ann Burns
145,469 – Last of the Mohicans – James Fenimore Cooper
155,887 – Emma – Jane Austen
155,960 – Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
156,154 – Watership Down – Richard Adams
157,665 – Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
159,276 – The Kitchen God’s Wife – Amy Tan
161,511 – Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier
166,622 – Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
169,389 – White Teeth – Zadie Smith
169,481 – The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
174,269 – Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
183,349 – Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
183,833 – Little Women (Books 1&2) – Louisa May Alcott
186,418 – Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
198,901 – A House for Mr. Biswas – V.S. Naipaul
206,052 – Moby Dick – Herman Melville
211,591 – Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
316,059 – Middlemarch – George Eliot
418,053 – Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
591,554 – A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

facebook-exchange-thumbs-down-hed-2016

I don’t have shares in Stayfocusd but I wish I did. It’s a Chrome app. Here’s how they sell it. ‘StayFocusd increases your productivity by limiting the amount of time that you can spend on time-wasting websites.’

I downloaded it because I was addicted, mostly to Twitter and Facebook. I’d jump in first thing in the morning and before I knew it I was stuck to the newsfeed like chewing gum on a car seat. Here I was trying to write a treatment for a doco, or trying to finish a scene in a novel, but instead I chose to effectively work for Facebook and Twitter. For free. I was their slave – but I had shit to do.

Since downloading the Stayfocusd app, life is far cheerier, thank you very much. I have limited myself to ten minutes of social media per day. Sounds pathetic, right? Na, come on. It just means I need to get a hurry on. It’s a quick hit. Like getting served in the pub when you’re 15. In those ten minutes I can see all I need to see, check notifications and even upload a status.

Perhaps not this piece.

Most importantly, I get shit done. The app will tell me when I have 60 seconds left. There is no aimless wandering. It also tricks your brain into having to think of another sentence or thought over the typical reaction of heading to the URL bar and typing www.fac….

If you want to get really gnarly, turn the wifi off at the source. I know, crazy, right? I’ve told myself I’m only allowed another hit once I’ve reached 1000 words on whatever project I’m working on. No email, no web, cold turkey. Please note, this technique is not for the faint of heart, but trust me, make it through to the other side and the feeling is akin to that well-deserved first cold beer after mowing the lawns.

Damn, I’d love to devour those little red notifications right now but that bloody app won’t let me back in.

cleese

In almost every Neil Gaiman interview I’ve seen or heard he is inevitably asked the question all creative types despise. Where do you get your ideas from? At least Gaiman has a sense of humour. In the past he has answered this by saying, ‘From the Idea-of-the-Month Club,’ or ‘From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis.’ Nowadays he keeps it simple: ‘I make them up. Out of my head.’

Because the truth is no one knows where ideas come from. I once heard a poet say his best poems fizzed past on a runaway train and if he didn’t grab them with both hands, at that very second, they would be gone forever, never to return.

I always loved the way John Cleese and Michael Palin used to write. They knew ideas don’t arrive fully formed. It takes work to find them. The stars of Monty Python would sit in a cabin in the woods and talk absolute shite, sometimes for hours, before the bare-boned idea for a sketch popped out. They’d worked out the magic ingredient. Riff and talk and riff and talk and risk.

Sometimes you’re lucky. Sometimes, for whatever reason, ideas do just arrive. But it doesn’t mean they’re any good. How many times have we scribbled down an idea at two in the morning and woken too embarrassed to even read it aloud to the dog.

The master of surrealism Salvador Dali pushed the limits of creativity, almost forcing his brain to dance on the spot. He used to slouch in his chair and in his right hand he held a key. Beneath his hand was an upside-down plate. The second he fell into a deep sleep, his hand released the key which clanged onto the plate, at which time he awoke to a fresh pallet of ideas. Which is cheaper than drugs.

Feel free to share what works for you in comments. I’ll think about what’s worked for me and post some more ideas next time.

Over and out.

Justin

As a writer, I keep all sorts of notes in all sorts of little black books. Thinking being, these notes might come in handy for a book one day. Months later when I find these notes I have to wonder what we were thinking. Here’s a select few:

=====

‘Should the hippo fart or burp?’
‘Fart.’
‘No, I think it’s too silly.’
‘But the bubbles are coming from its butt!’

=====

‘Can we swap feelings?’
‘What have you got?’
‘Anger.’
‘Oh no, I don’t want that.’

 =====

‘I was useless at maths, ask me anything.’
‘Whats 2 times 2?’
‘Wellington.’

=====

‘Mum, is Sophie in charge of the bread?’

=====

‘Hey let’s name our ears. I’ve got Lilly and Ryan.’

 =====

‘Dad, I just need some penguin time!’

 =====

Have a great weekend,
Justin

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Women’s cricket needs a need a villain, a cheat, someone to hate (preferably not from these shores). In my latest article for Newsroom I interview Anna Peterson from the White Ferns. While we’re on the topic of cricket, here’s an article where I disprove the theory ‘Never meet your heroes.’

On another note altogether here is how our family recently survived the trauma of a renovation and how we stumbled across what we thought was a little known reptile park north of Auckland.

Enjoy!

 

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For a word lover the Auckland Writers Festival is about as close to christmas as you can get. One brilliant mind after another, speaking to hoards of wide-eyed readers, flat-white in one hand, moleskin notebook in the other.

For me it began on Friday as I watched Noelle McCarthy, John Boyne, and Irish poet Paul Muldoon describe Ireland’s uprising in ‘From 1916 to Here.’ The mature lady next to me, shoes already off and pen at the ready, asked if I might be able to ‘give her a nudge if she nodded off.’ She did nod off, but I felt mean robbing her of sleep.

Later that day Elanor Catton spoke with Edward Carey, author of the Iremonger Trilogy, where its inhabitants live in Heaps, a vast sea of lost and discarded items collected from all over London. Edward’s illustrations are dark, gloomy, cold, depressing and brilliant. Cha-ching went the till.

There was a Michael Grant talk, Tom Gates author Liz Pichon, a tribute to Vincent O’Sullivan and a lively Bill Oddie telling a packed house why he threw Jesus out and kept Elvis. Long story.

In the VIP lounge I met Petina Gappah, the charming and hilarious Zimbabwean-Genevan lawyer turned novelist. What a mind! I was introduced to Michel Faber and we talked music. He likes to be challenged when he’s writing, nothing nostalgic, something gripping, like Coil or Current 93. Then I discovered his latest work ‘The Book of Strange New Things.’ Cha-ching went the till.

The Herald Theatre is a beautiful space in which to talk. I spoke on Sunday afternoon, but why was I so nervous? Didn’t I do school talks often? Yes, but this was a theatre. 30 minutes flew by, thanks to a hilarious crowd of kids, happy to turn bananas into penguins, tea towels into chickens, each clutching a copy of ‘Shot, Boom, Score!’ which I was more than happy to sign.

Festival staff: 10/10. Keeping 65,000 people happy can’t be easy.

What a bugger. Having to wait another year and all…

 

Pixar movie Up

The team at Pixar often spend years on a single script. This is heartening for any writer who has wondered whether their story carries any weight. Here are my top 5 picks from their 22 storytelling tips which I refer to when diving into a new plot for a children’s novel. Essential reading, I reckon.

#5: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#4: Keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer.

#3: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#2: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#1: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

Happy Monday.

Justin/

Back in the day I used to be a stand-up comic. The love affair lasted seven years. I performed around my home country of New Zealand, in London, and Johannesburg when I was backing packing and ran out of money.

Talk to any comic and the topic of worst gigs always comes up. Mine? Engelbert Humperdink at The Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington. It was so dire I wrote about it in my book UK on a G String.

Three of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do:

1. Do the opening act for Engelbert Humperdinck.
2. Sell my Mini even though I knew the lights weren’t working.
3. Door-to-door busk my way around the UK in the middle of winter.

THE FIRST HAPPENED on a cold night in Wellington, New Zealand. I had been asked to do 15 minutes of stand-up comedy before the great Engelbert came out on stage. This is my break, I thought. This is the big time. Just me and Engelbert. I’m even staying in the same hotel; only he’s on the eleventh floor and I’m on the first, looking at the back of a butcher’s shop.

But that doesn’t matter. I’ve got a mini bar and nice little chocolates on the bed, just like Engelbert. And I’ve got a room-service menu and Sky TV in my room, just like Engelbert.

Then the panic set in. All the material I normally use on stage is targeted at young, drunk people on a Thursday night. As I looked around the Michael Fowler Centre there wouldn’t have been a human under the age of 86; this was to be my downfall.

I was devastated when I found out they were sober.

Most were ladies with purple hair, their sons by their sides looking at me as if to say, ‘You’d better be funny and you better not offend my mum. I paid $80 for this ticket.’ After singing my first song, entitled ‘Kentucky Fried Kitten’, I could see that I had indeed offended his mum and most of the audience. I’m sure if they weren’t asleep the complaints desk would have been inundated.

Before the gig started I had great visions of Engelbert and me touring the country together, playing golf, drinking, and singing songs other than ‘Please Release Me’. Instead, I never met him. The next morning I was just glad to be alive. It was as if I had been thrown into the comedy equivalent of going over the top of the trenches. I lay in the bath, eating chocolates and watching ‘The Karate Kid’.

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[Englerbert Humperdink. Without the author. Who he never met. Nor played golf with.]