Monday, June 12, 2017

Of Totaras and Saplings

 more than a bookseller

This is the briefest post I’m likely to write. I have problems with getting character counts down to Twitter brevity but it’s been 2 weeks of everything from the highest point to the lowest. Follow all the links to read the full stories.

Janine McVeagh and I launched a new book ‘Grandad’s Guitar’ at the Children’s Bookshop. Makaro Press published it and the champion of children’s books, John McIntyre launched it and we all had a great time with music, laughter and joy.

I got my Wearable Art entry off for judging. It’s in the science Fiction Section and if it doesn’t get into show, I’ll be questioning my very existence (part of the creative process). This is my 22nd year with 27 entries… Here’s a pic of my studio after tidy up.

Torty and The Soldier got shortlisted for the NZ Children’s and Young Adults Book Awards, so Jennifer Beck and I are very happy, and now I get to wonder what to wear at the award ceremony.

Possibly black...


This weekend John McIntyre passed away.

I’m heartbroken.

He was the best.

You can support the bookshop by Buying a Book for JohnThrough the bookstore. Go directly to the bookstore, do not pass The Warehouse on the way. If you do, drive right on past. Aim for quality and service.

That’s it, the two weeks that was. RIP.

xxx Fifi

Monday, May 01, 2017

Are you are Design Star?!

Each year for the past 3, I've been one of the judges for Brother Design Stars, and I'm doing it again this year!

I love this competition because I get to see what amazing, creative, fun things kids from all around the country send in. The prizes are pretty awesome- as a student I would have been floored with happiness to win something to help me carry on making and creating AND the schools get to win too with a massive injection of sewing technology for the school classroom.
And as if that isn't enough, the top 12 entries will be showcased on the runway as part of New Zealand Fashion Week’s Graduate Show supported by Brother!  

So...all you arty, crafty and fashion mad students, get creating and enter online now
Cos...I want to see your work up close and personal :)
xxx Fifi

PS, here's a vid to get you excited about your work strutting down the catwalk!


Friday, March 31, 2017

Mad March, much magic!

So quick as I am to post on facebook, I sometimes forget to blog! I am going to rectify that starting now!

As March ends, it's marked a busy month. We, Jennifer Beck, Scholastic and I, launched our new title, Torty and the Soldier. We are very proud of it, and think Torty, who is 200 years old, thus making her the oldest WW1 veteran would be too. She's still alive and well in the Waikato and came out of hibernation in time for the launch party!

And here is Torty herself!

If you want to make a tiny version of Torty, head on over to my Craft of the Month page.

I've also been travelling around Whanganui being a Duffy Role Model. 11 Schools in 4 days, and South Taranaki in a weeks time. It was a joyful and humbling experience to tell kids about how reading made a difference in my life, and see the excitement on their faces as they received their books. It's a great scheme and I'm proud to be a Duffy author as well as hero!

Reading is cool and achieving is cool!

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Airbrush Master

me aged young and ambitious holding air and sable brushes

I was watching Netflix tonight- a series called Abstract. Looking at the illustrator Christoph Neimann, and it made me think about my influences as a new gal on the illustration street.

When I was a design student more years ago than I care to admit to, there was a guy in the year ahead of me, quiet, gentle, kind and so very talented. His name was (and still is) Nigel Buchanan.
He was the top illustration student- there weren’t formal places you understand, but everyone knew he was the best. There were almost-as-good-as, and they were pretty stunning, but Nigel had that something. A way of looking at the world and producing imagery in a way that we all envied and tried to copy. And on top of that, he was one of the nicest people in the School of Design. Back then, it was Wellington Polytechnic, now it’s Massey University and about as far removed from our faux Bauhaus days as it can be. That might be a good thing, though I have an enduring fondness for the old school that will never fade.

One of the hardware features of our pre-computer-age classrooms, were compressed air outlets for airbrushes. One student did a deal with the then, Niven's Art Supplies (became Littlejohns) and got us a collective bargain on Aerograph DeVilbiss super 63 airbrushes; state of the art equipment. Temperamental as hell and fiendishly expensive; I still have mine, thrashed to death over the years. Nigel bought one, and whilst we, the inept, cursed over splatters and bleeding ink, bent needles and clogged tip assemblies, Nigel started producing the most beautiful illustrations, just for fun and to see what ‘that mechanical hand’ (our tutor Roger Hart’s nickname for his pet hate) could do.

I remember one evening (all our best work was done at night when the tutors had given up on us for the day) watching him spray, remove a mask, spray, remove another mask and again and again until the final reveal. A woman in a 1920’s bathing suit, rosy cheeked, curls escaping from a cloche cap. I was entranced, it was perfect. For Nigel, it was merely a test piece.

A year went by, he graduated. Another year went by, I graduated. I started trying to find work as a graphic designer. I was terrible at it and making no progress at all.  One day I visited Nigel in his studio, surrounded with his airbrush, gouache and illustration board. He told me he JUST did illustration work. ‘What?’ I said ‘no fiddling about with getting things ready for print? No type spec’ing? No Bull gum? No waxer? No overlays?’ (note, only designers over the age of 50 will understand any of this terminology). ‘No’ he said ‘I draw and airbrush stuff,' then pulled out some of the work he was doing. I knew in that instant that if I couldn’t actually BE Nigel, then that’s what I wanted to do, and set about mastering the Devil(biss), by trial and error, practicing, practicing and practicing until I had some idea of what I was doing. It finally led me into all kinds of illustration work from photo retouching and product pictures to book illustration and the occasional portrait commission. I worked through the 80’s and 90’s and retired the mechanical hand when pixels became the paint medium of choice. I wasn’t world famous, but I enjoyed a good and varied living as a commercial artist, TV presenter, writer and illustrator.

My body of work spanning nearly 40 years now, has morphed and changed until it’s barely recognizable from my first ambition (to be him). I still have my trusty old compressor but I use a cheap Trademe airbrush on occasion to work magic on wearable art and props commissions. I could not have imagined, all those years ago, looking over Nigel’s shoulder, in awe, where my creative skills would take me. I never got to illustrate the cover of the New Yorker, but I’m glad I’ve taken the paths I have. Later this year, I've been invited to show a retrospective of my work (more on that in a few months) and I will have fun trying to make sense of my many layered career.

Nigel went onto live in Sydney, than back to new Zealand I believe, and carry his on his work as a highly-regarded editorial illustrator. The airbrush made way for the Apple Mac. His client list includes The Wall Street Journal, MTV, The New York Times, TIME magazine and the New York Observer. He is still a genius in the art of illustration. He’s still my hero and you can see his work here.

Nigel Buchanan

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Leaving facebook- harder than you'd think

I’ve done something so unbelievable for me, that I have shocked even myself. No I have not got a job in an office, I have suspended my personal facebook account.

For those of you who can’t even remember their log in, this will seem an odd revelation. But for those of you who, like me, got sucked into the vortex and loved every minute of it, you’ll be reaching for your device and checking, just to make sure that I’m not just attention seeking by saying something outrageous. Because I am, as Tommy Honey once said, and I quote: A promosexual. Someone who seeks every opportunity to say ‘Look at me!’ and facebook is perfect for that. And I LOVE it. I can exercise my wit, and have my opinion noted, which as I realise, in the famous words of Harry Callahan in Dead Pool (1988) ‘Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.’ 
So skip forward a few years to now, and why the change of heart? 
Well, it’s not just because of Black Mirror Season 3’s ‘Nose Dive.’ (watch that and you'll put down your phone...)

It started out innocently enough. It always does- reluctantly joining, getting the kids to show you how, just 9 friends for a long time including my family… then 5 years later, ending up with over 300 fb friends, not because I’m wildly popular, but because I meet people I want to follow and they don’t have a separate public page for their work, so I friend them and (uncomfortably) they just post their work and links to events, but are party to my political opinions, family moments, and occasional rants, most of which are written to amuse my actual friends and family, you know, the ones you hang out with.

But last week, I had an issue that I’d been simmering about. I vented on facebook, to my friends (I never go public on the settings) and to cut a long story short, social media bit me in the ass, after I had willingly bared it. Waved it even. I won’t go into details, because I’m STILL RIGHT. You know? But it had repercussions that I was uncomfortable with and made me feel bad about myself in the world. 

Note to self: just because people aren’t liking or commenting, doesn’t mean they aren’t noting everything you say and sharing it well beyond your internet walls.

When I took down the somewhat out of hand thread, I considered all the time I spend on facebook. I reach for it first thing in the morning, before I pee (TMI I know, sorry). It’s at the breakfast table with me on my tablet (this outrage with poor grammar was in The Herald, share), and in the traffic jams on my smartphone (just as well I have this great coffee from Raglan Roast! share). When I’m working, it’s there on my desktop (I have this major deadline, share) and with me again whilst cooking dinner (My Food Bag, facebooked plated deliciousness, share), binge watching TV drama (can you believe how ridiculous the plot is for TheKettering Incident? share) and the last thing I see before I sleep (I’ve got this great book, click, share). Not much of a compliment to my husband… (he’s snoring, share).

I’m a writer but I barely read anymore. That little red notification icon is like crack. I can’t ignore it, it draws me in. Distracting me. The FOMO is unbearable.

It’s ridiculous.

So I decided to commit facebookicide. I warned all friends who cared to notice that I was shutting down my account and would be offline by 9pm. They could get hold of me the usual way, by email and phone, and bumping into me at cafes. Then I went about the deactivation process.

Hah! It’s not as easy as you think. Facebook asks you every step of the way, Why? Are you sure about this? Would you like to speak to someone? Would you like to leave your estate to someone you care about? Download your digital life for posterity. Don’t go, it pleads, don’t LEAVE US!
In the end I opted for suspending it, for a time. It was such an ordeal to leave, I figured it would be the same to log back in. Phew, safe from myself. Then I had a sudden panicked thought ‘My public pages! My hard won 1000 plus followers. MY WORK!’ I had literally made myself redundant by shutting down my facebook account which had several pages linked to it.

I rushed to my husband’s computer and looked at his facebook page, luckily logged on and searched for myself. As his wife and friend I was gone- no trace of me. He could start afresh if he wanted to. With a new wife. My children were motherless; I was invisible to myself and the world. But Fifi Colston Creative, the public woman of no political persuasion, just fun art, what of her? I logged into my pages manager on my tablet. Well helloooo from facebook. You're back! (no I'm not!) She was there- thank the gods! But untouchable unless I was me. I couldn’t post on my own page. I was like a memory of myself, before I ruined my life by opening my big mouth.

I considered the options and considered appointing the husband as an administrator. But that was clearly not going to work, as it meant logging into his account and whilst we share pretty much everything, he still won’t tell me his password (I think in truth he’s forgotten it.) The only solution I could come up with in the end was to create another personal page as a fictitious persona, then log back into my own account, friend ‘myself’ and grant the new ‘me’ admin status. 

I made my new self 20 years younger and with a much more interesting degree.

I logged back in to my old personal account, hating myself for doing it, waiting to answer the trillion fb questions about why I was back so I could access myself. Pressed enter and… welcome back Fi! 
Like I’d never been away. The red notifications beacon told me 97 important things had happened since I’d been away for a day. I nearly looked at them, but pulled myself back and kept on with what I was there for. Get in quick, do the business and out again, leaving no footprints.

I’ve been 6 days without facebook now. That’s a lie of course, I have my new account with 4 trusted friends who know the ins and outs of why I left. I have only liked one public page- my own. The friends friends have already tried to friend me (why? I’m not actually real) but I remain aloof and unfriendable, all my controls locked down to ‘only me.’ I don’t post (except for my public page). I have got on with work deadlines, I might even read a book, and finish that novel I’ve been writing. It’s liberating as hell. I might never go back.

And anyway, there’s always Instagram.

the cat

Saturday, September 24, 2016

My WOW 2016

The World of WearableArt 2016 season is upon us- and what a spectacular show, once again.
The award night was last night and whilst I didn't win anything, I was honoured to be in such a stellar line up of creations- plus I got to hug the totally gorgeous, terrifically talented and sweet Reuben Paterson on whose work, the show's aesthetic has been based. He said he liked my manaia and that I will hug to my creative heart :)

So here it is, my creation and how it came about.

Poutini's Mother Lode

Poutini the taniwha captured beautiful Waitaiki, laid her down in the bed of the Arahura River and turned her into pounamu before fleeing to the sea.

I was intolerably homesick when we lived in Britain for a while.
A New Zealand friend came to visit and bought with her a piece of Ngāi Tahu pounamu. I wore it every day until we returned; it is my own taonga.
I wondered at the Maori mythology behind the West Coast greenstone and found an intriguing tale of misplaced love and abduction; how Waitaiki became the mother lode of all pounamu in the Arahura River.
I wanted to animate the story and create a manaia inspired by Maori bone carvings, that moved and swayed and held his captive tight.
This is essentially a giant puppet- with the models real arms in the head and the arm of the taniwha.

You can see how I made it on my facebook page here and if you like it, you can also vote for it here  at The Breeze and be in to win something too! They say you just need 1000 true fans to make it in the creative world- I'm currently sitting at about 999. You could make all the difference in the my world ;)

xxx Fifi

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Last Post

Hi all,

I’ve written a lot of blog posts here over the years, pouring put my thoughts and feelings, sweating over my grammar and writing style. I think I probably always secretly hoped that it would be picked up and I would get a regular column/following. It didn't! But I average 4000 post views a month- mostly for free templates I've put up.

Blogging was fantastic in its day, and there are many I still follow. Maureen Crisp’s Craic-er excellent links on writing, Melinda Syzmanik’s I Should be Writing, for when I need a fellow author to articulate how tough this children’s book industry is and feel not so alone, Jane Bloomfield’s Truth is Stranger Than Fiction  which is funny, irreverent and really should be more widely circulated, and of course Emily Writes Mama Said , she is the Chuck Wendig of motherhood- everything I wanted to say and was too afraid to... and I am not easily terrified. She makes me lol, which apparently is such an old hat expression, I am showing my age.
There are many more besides that I read and get a laugh/information/inspiration from, but the blogosphere has changed for me as a medium.

When I first started, it was all about being able to have a say, somewhere people might ‘hear’it. It's so hard to get published and it was such an instant medium, I was instantly gratified. I think that was true for a long time. But as Facebook, Instagram and twitter have taken over, so have my means of self-expression. I adore Facebook- I post on my personal page (no sorry you can’t join me there unless I know you very well) on everything from the weather, our cat’s antics and my horror at various international politics.

But I do I post on my public page  about my art, useful links to things I like and events I’m involved with (yes, please like me there!). I am getting to grips with Instagram.  I tweet because you are supposed to as an author, but really just go there to get breaking news. I have a LinkedIn profile, but rarely go there- it’s a bit dry for me and it keep suggesting jobs for me like CEO of manufacturing companies (how can their algorithms be so out?) Pinterest is a fantastic resource and I put some of my wearable art and various crafts up there. I also have many secret boards for inspiration. I am, at heart, a squirrel. 

So I have a few bases covered.

So, this blog, as a means for my news, opinions and brags, is kind of redundant. In the spring I’ll revamp it so it becomes a dedicated website for seeing my portfolio and services. You will still be able to access my old blog posts. I think I’ve grown as a writer since my first post 11 years ago. 
Certainly, now I have glasses.

See you in other media J

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Cards on the Table- or 'I finished that sucker!'

my MA thesis submission cover- I got my daughter to pose!

I've recently been shortlisted for the Tessa Duder Award for YA Fiction; here's a bit about it and the shortlisted titles. My manuscript is one of 4 to make the cut and whilst I am confident that one of them is the winner and it isn't me, I am also over the moon that I got this far with my first draft. I also know that I have a lot of work to do on a second draft before I submit it to another publisher, but with the fantastic report and feedback of editor Anna Golden (sorry I can't link her anywhere but she's in Wellington and is just brilliant, thank you Makaro Press) I have definite things to go to work on to make my novel a piece of work that not only grips the reader but also makes sense!

So, can I tell you a bit about it? Not the plot and story- you'll have to wait for that, but how I came to write it. Just in case you think this is a flick of the wrist thing I just knocked off in my spare time. Like everyone, I have no spare time.

Wild Cards started as my Masters thesis project for the Scriptwriting MA I did at The International Institute of Modern Letters in 2003. This was a year I took out from freelance work to immerse myself in writing. That year I launched my first junior fiction novel 'Verity's Truth' (which had a contract before I started my studies) published by Scholastic. I also wrote 'Janie Olive- a Recipe for Disaster' that year in my uni break, as a holiday from writing. It was also subsequently published by Scholastic, and followed by 'Glory' a couple of years later. 

But Wild Cards, my thesis doc, the kids TV drama series with young teen protagonists sat with it's meritous grade, getting dusty on the shelf; my characters trapped inside in their world, mid dialogue, falling down plot holes.

I had a brilliant idea; why not write it as a novel? I addressed this in a post in 2008 here called A Novel in a Week which outlines my attack method. So given that was 8 years ago, what happened and why did it take so long? (I love this clip from Family Guy- Stewie on Brian's novel which best describes a writer's progress).

I started all fluff and feathers, full of squawk and thought I'd nail it for the Text Prize. That yearly deadline came and went. Several times. I thought that being a published novelist, I'd be in line for a Creative New Zealand grant or a funded residency to finish it. After unsuccessfully applying for several of these, and getting all bitter and twisted in the process, I gave up. The novel lay fallow, Jono, Becka and Evie once again in suspended animation. I'd pick it up every so often, write another chapter and get distracted. Wonderful author and friend, Melinda Szymanik cracked the whip every so often and I reported back with word counts. I gave my WIP to too many people to read and they all gave me different feedback. Then I felt like I had shown everyone my ratty undies and felt a bit embarrassed about it all. I had, as Stephen King says in his excellent memoir 'On Writing', let the steam out. It was all limp and soggy.

Then last year, at the Margaret Mahy Day where I received a a Storylines Notable Book Award for  my non fiction book, Ghoulish Get Ups (just thought I'd slip that in, still proud!), it was announced that the Tessa Duder Award would now be open to previously published authors. That's it, I said to all around me, I have a reason to finish that flippin' novel! I need crazy deadlines in my life - this is why I am not a fine artist, a result of my design school training in commercial art back in the day.

I had it all mapped out; I was going to finish my Wearable Art entries, do the Storylines author tour, and then get stuck into it. Except suddenly all my work came at once; a puppet for Maori Television, two more for a Corporate video, a huge commission for the new Waitangi Museum and craft items ongoingly for The WotWot's Pinterest page, not to mention a myriad of little illustration jobs and a picture book contract. I had a window of less than 8 days to get it done and submitted, if I worked really, really hard. It seemed highly unlikely- not the working hard, I'm good at that, but the time frame. However, I am nothing if not bloody minded.

So I did, but not alone. I asked my dear friend and highly successful author Tania Roxborogh, in the midst of her getting the family house ready to sell and move cities, (good god I owe her one) to read through my chapters as I wrote them, look for typos and inconsistencies, track changes and rough edit. I got up and was at the keyboard at 6am every morning (unheard of for me, being awake at that early hour). I wrote all day until midnight, every day. Tania my angel, sent through the edits, I'd make changes and get onto the next chapter. I wrote up to 8,000 words a day. In one particularly caffeine fuelled session I wrote 10,000. I was on fire. Nobody got fed and the house was a tip. I didn't go out, I lived in a tee shirt and jeans (I do not believe in pyjamas for writing and I have none, so there) and the cat took up residence in a filing tray beside my computer. 

And I finished it. I got it printed out and sent. The feeling of achievement was immense; like getting my wearable art creations in a box and off to Mainfreight for judging in Nelson. And I felt like I had released my characters into the wild, fulfilling their destinies and living their dreams. And in that process, done the same for myself.

To coin a few well worn slogans and phrases.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, don't die wondering. Just do it. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Student's Guide to Grocery Shopping

The students are in town, clogging up the supermarkets in confused packs. First years who didn't get into a hostel due to lack of foresight, money or a general cock up at the Uni end of things, or second years flatting for the first time since vowing never to stay in halls again because the food was so bad (you left My Food Bag at home with your blankie).

So here it is (having nutured 2 kids through tertiary education and flats):

The Student's Shopping Guide

Before you go to the supermarket, sit down with your other 5 flatmates and decide what you are going to buy. This is essential to the sanity of everyone else at New World who can't get past all 6 of you having a group think in the cereal aisle. Be especially wary of middle aged women trying to get past you; they have a tendency to let the trolley run over the back of your jandals, and pause whilst leaning heavily on the handle, inspecting the coffee specials. Or pretending to.

Whilst you are about it, catch a bus to Pak n Save in the burbs. You can't afford New World Metro right now; not until you are a law grad interning at Bell Gully. You will also change your career option 15 times over before you finish uni. So just get on that bus now and learn to love the stick man.

Back to the cereal aisle. Froot Loops are not cereal, neither are Coco Pops. They are fabulous for eight year olds birthday treats, and the munchies, but as you are 18 and don't know where to get weed in your new uni city, you will have to find something else. That gluten free cereal at $8 a box your family indulged you with is not a goer, so ditch the faddiness and buy porridge oats. Cheap as. Fills you up. Be Scottish. Macbeth wasn't gluten intolerant. He was never angry and bloated. Well, maybe, just a bit.

In your first flat, you will have a shelf each in both the fridge and the pantry. Your flatties will steal your favorite foods and leave you with yellowing broccoli and an empty marmite jar. If there is one thing you should buy over and above your budget, it's laxatives and Fix and Fogg chocolate peanut butter. Mix the two and leave on your shelf. This will out the thieves. Also buy extra toilet paper, but not the 3 ply awesome, silken- to- the- touch stuff at home. Get the budget stuff. They need to suffer.

You will probably buy huge packs of noodles, cheese and corn chips. This is standard fare for students. You will put on the Fresher Five kgs within days of flatting and it-will-never-go-away. Ever. Work out if you like the look and shop accordingly; you might well look better with it. In which case, Trident and Dorito and Rolling Meadow are your friends. Embrace them, and get bigger pants. Your mother WILL mention it when you go home for midterm break but it will be cloaked in solicitous terms of 'Are you eating properly?' whilst making you a salad.

Alcohol: forget craft beers, even if you are mature enough to grow a lumberjack beard. Ranfurly is within your budget. Student years are no time for snobbery, unless you ditch your arts degree and go brewing instead. Excellent choice by the way. 

Vegetables. Yes, those things you avoided for years and your mother spent countless wasted hours making smiley faces with, in the fruitless hope that you wouldn't get scurvy. You will think that potatoes are vegetable. They are. They are also best served deep fried with grated cheese (refer fresher five). Try some green things. Bottles of Mountain Dew don't count.

And whilst we are at it, fruit. Any is good. If you have a predilection for blueberries, you can have 2. That will deal to the entire grocery budget for the week.

Let's get personal now. Shampoo, conditioner and soap; use them. It will improve your chances of coupling at a dimly lit party. If you throw in a plastic bottle of Boysencider, you are quids in, with anyone. Unless they have their period, in which case give them tampons. They are so expensive; she will love you forever. Better than flowers or Michael Hill zircons. Anything is better than Michael Hill jewellery, to be fair. And before any guys here say 'But I need money for condoms!' let's get real here. They will go crusty in your warehouse stationery computer work station well before honours year, when if you very lucky, someone might give you the opportunity you've been waiting for. It probably won't involve prophylactics, but if you've kept your Python in check, you might just turn your deep dream into reality. In the meantime, hand over your share of the 'intimates' grocery budget to your female flatmates. It's a bitch running out.

Cleaning materials. I'm not going to spend any time here; you will not clean the toilet ever, the shower will grow species of mould you never knew existed, not even in Micro 101, and your sheets will crust over. You will hope pointlessly, that having a roster for chores means that your flatmates will stick to it. Especially if you used Comic Sans. That you used Comic Sans, in a flat full of design students, is the biggest reason your roster will be laughed at. You may as well pack up and find a bedsit now. Same goes for Lucida Handwriting.

I think that about covers it. You will at some point run out of food. Here are a couple of recipes my fellow students ate to get by, back in the day when faced with the same.

Cabbage Sammies:  a large raw cabbage leaf between two slices of budget white bread. Or vice versa if the bread is in short supply because your flatmate made toast with remainder whilst stealing your Fix and Fogg chocolate spread.

Swotting Stew: hot water with a pinch of mixed dried herbs, salt and pepper. 
And bam, the fresher five melts away, just-like-that!

Enjoy your first year of fending for yourselves. Next year, you'll have it sussed. Or sautéed.

Love, your Mum x