Writing for children is a very successful area of New Zealand publishing, so it was fitting that much of Raglan’s writing festival, Word Café Raglan, was dedicated to the art.

The three day festival last weekend hosted a range of established New Zealand writers including crime writer Scott Bainbridge, novelist James George, local writers Andre Ngapo and Kani Te Manukura and Hamilton-based poet Michael Moore.
But it was the children’s writing that really shone during Word Café, with speakers ranging from young adult writer Mandy Hager and well-known children’s writer Dawn McMillan to top selling children’s author Kat Merewether.

There was also a panel discussion with children’s illustrators, which included Deborah Hinde, known for her popular A Kiwi Night Before Christmas series, graphic novelist Paul Martin, and Kat, who illustrated her own bestseller, Kuwi’s First Egg.
“They talked a lot about their work and their processes – how they build on sketches to get a finished product,” said one of the Word Café organisers, Emma Brooks. “Everyone got a lot out of it.”

Emma said there was great interest in the festival sessions about children’s writing and illustrating: “I think even though people may not necessarily want to write them [children’s book], they are very interested in them.”
Raglan’s established children’s writer, Sarah Johnson, said children’s writing was a “hugely successful” area of publishing in New Zealand.

Sarah launched her third book, The Bold Ship Phenomenal, at the festival on Saturday in front of a large crowd.
She also attracted a large audience of children and parents at the Raglan Library on the Sunday at a book reading, where she talked about the inspiration for her stories – one of which was an unusual wind-up musical “Cherry Bestle” bottle she got from a recycle centre.

“What writers do is they find things in the world and they turn them into stories,” she explained to the 50-odd children gathered.
Waitetuna’s Margery Fern also read The New Old Truck, which was one of the books in the highly acclaimed Tales From The Farm series written by her sister Jennifer Somervell and illustrated by Margery.

Dawn McMillan, who read her book Pancake Attack to the children, said there seemed to be a “huge energy” around writing for children. She got a lot of inspiration from the bush and sea near her Coromandel house, while some story ideas were just “gifts that materialise”.

Dawn is also the author of best-seller I Need A New Bum as well as about 25 other picture books and 180 educational books, said she loved every minute of Word Café and enjoyed meeting other children’s writers there.

The festival had a real local flavour, with many local writers speaking and Word Café sponsoring a writing competition, which attracted a lot of entries from local school children [see list of winners below].

Word Café also hosted a discussion on self-publishing versus publishers, featuring self-publisher’s Kat Merewether and Raglan’s Latesha Randall and Pisey Leng with Beatnik Publishing’s Sally Greer.

Kat said self-publishing was not an easy route and required a lot of planning and hard work. She said many self-published books flopped because they were not well-edited and did not have a good marketing strategy, which was very important.

She suggested writers opt for a small print run at first and urged self-publishers to consider other things if choosing an offshore printing company, such as whether staff were paid a decent wage and materials were environmentally sustainable.

“If you’re going to go offshore [for printing], make an ethical choice. Don’t just go on cost,” Kat said.
Sally said Beatnik’s publishing skills lay in quality control and the design and packaging of a book, which could take ideas to the next level.

Beatnik is interested in authors who are committed to writing, not just to ticking off ‘publish a book’ on their bucket lists, and who were realistic about how much money they could make.

“You can dream big, but that [making millions] can’t be the motivation within New Zealand,” Sally said.
Emma said the writers seemed to enjoy the friendly atmosphere of the event and ticket sales were nearly tripled from the last Word Café two years ago, with the audiences having plenty of opportunities to meet guest speakers.

“I guess our aim is that it has quite a personal touch,” Emma said.
Rachel Benn

Wordcafe Raglan 2015 Writing Competition Winners:
Best Open Entry or Most Promising Writer – Kani Te Manukura
Open Poem – Jenny Argent, Telling the Story
Open Short Story – Jenny Argent, Pink.
Children’s Category Winners
Years 0-3 – Shanti Heaton-McKoy, Waitetuna School, Poppies
Year 4 – Iemaja Hassell, Raglan Area School, The Adrenaline Rush
Year 5 – Aria McLachlan, Raglan Area School, Our Family Picnic
Years 6 and 7 – Abby Cranfield, Waitetuna School, Anzac Poem
Years 8 and 9 – Sequoia Gavin-McCabe, Raglan Area School, River on the Horizon.

Images thanks to Adam Blake.