Kate B. Gordon is a New Zealand author and the founder of Kiwi Kids Read Kiwi Books. She talks to NZ Booklovers about her new venture and her writing.
Can you tell us a little about Kiwi Kids Read Kiwi Books?
It’s an online bookstore and community dedicated to books for children and teens (ages 0-15) written and/or illustrated by New Zealanders. The website offers parents and others buying books for Kiwi kids an array of quality fiction and non-fiction books in one easy location. It helps support New Zealand authors by ensuring they get a healthy percentage of the sale of each book, because we don’t have a warehouse or associated costs – the books are distributed directly from the author to the buyer. The website has already become a hub of talented Kiwi authors creating all kinds of books for these age groups, which also helps our children have ready access to books set in New Zealand, featuring characters and situations they can relate to.
What inspired you to create Kiwi Kids Read Kiwi Books?
When I published my first book, a fantasy novel for 8-12 year olds, it was really hard to know how to effectively reach New Zealanders buying books for this age group. It occurred to me that other Kiwi authors faced the same issues. I was heavily involved creating an online store for my husband’s business, so the two things came together into the concept for the Kiwi Kids Read Kiwi Books online bookstore.
As a parent, it can be hard knowing which books are the good ones. In what way is Kiwi Kids Read Kiwi Books going to be helpful to Kiwi parents?
It was important to me that Kiwi Kids Read Kiwi Books reflects the quality I know many New Zealand authors are producing as indie or self-published authors or through a traditional publisher. I am fortunate to have the support of a group of authors who are savvy in terms of book marketing and assessing books for the quality of writing and production values, and they bring this knowledge to our selection panel. We aim to showcase a diverse array of quality books created by Kiwis and many of these may not be available in mainstream bookstores.
You have an independent selection panel choosing the books. What are your criteria when accepting submissions?
Our selection panel looks at each book in terms of its cover and interior illustrations being up to a high standard and that the content is well-written, well-edited and laid out to a professional standard.
Kiwi Kids Read Kiwi Books a very warm community. What are some of the fun things you have happening on the site and on your social media?
Since the site was launched last November, our authors have enjoyed connecting and supporting each other. We’ve hosted two big book giveaways which have attracted hundreds of entries and some great comments on social media from enthusiastic entrants. Some of the winners have sent us photos of the book prize with their children which is really nice. We love seeing kids enjoying books!
Can you tell us a little about the selection of books on offer?
There’s quite a range already and growing every week. We’ve got picture books for the littlies about funny animals, how to deal with our emotions, and real life situations like the first day at school, beach adventures and helping our friends. As readers advance, we have longer picture books and short chapter books. For older primary school children, there’s all kinds of fantasy and unicorns, adventure and magic, award-winning humour and contemporary stories. Teens also get to enjoy fantastic contemporary novels with friends overcoming the odds, fantasy, adventure and even books written by other Kiwi teens. Our non-fiction and activity book selections are growing too.
Who are some of the authors featured on the site?
It’s great to have authors from virtually all over New Zealand including Donna Blaber from Whangarei with her engaging Kiwi Critters series and two new books for older readers. We have several authors from Auckland like Kate S. Richards who’s a school librarian, and the clever duo of Rose Stanley and Lisa Allen with their emotional literacy books. Two Rotorua authors joined us last month – Tom E. Moffatt with his joke books and bonkers short stories and Jenny Chapman, an educator who creates books to help teach us New Zealand Sign Language. Mt Maunganui’s Mr Mac, aka Andrew Macdonald, is another teacher who tests the humour of his graphic novel on his students. Tauranga’s Rachel Weston draws on her family orchard for educational books like her Bumblebees have Smelly Feet. Deborah Hinde, from Waikato, has listed several beautiful books she’s illustrated with other authors. We have two teen authors – Denika Mead, age 17 from Wellington, with her fantasy series and Ben Spies, age 14 from Kapiti Coast, who also writes fantasy. Kate Lattey, from Foxton, is our most prolific author to date with 14 teen novels set in the New Zealand horse show jumping scene. So far, I’m the only author from the South Island so that’s something I need to address!
Your own novel, Lily and the Unicorn King is on offer. Can you tell us a little about your book?
Lily and the Unicorn King is the first in what will be a trilogy about three brave friends who help hide a herd of unicorns from a witch determined to capture them. The pony-mad girls ride into a moonlit adventure to help their beloved unicorns defeat their evil magical nemesis.
The story is filled with all kinds of mythical creatures like pegasuses, rocs (enormous birds of prey), zilants (a type of dragon) and concludes Lily calling on taniwha to help protect their homeland from the invader and her bewitched army, and ultimately preserve the unicorns’ freedom.
KidsBooksNZ blog said: “It is great to see a story set around creatures from European mythology can work so very well in a New Zealand setting, and with Maori mythology and lore. The plot moves along at a good pace, and laced with daring midnight rides. The characters are well written with backstories that are interesting and give them depth, making them more believable and relatable; think overbearing mothers and parents in approaching divorce. All in all, a great read that will be enjoyed, and more stories to look forward to.”
Can you tell us a little about yourself as a writer?
I’ve been writing for most of my professional career – articles, newsletters and website copy. Learning to write fiction has been a whole new ballgame and quite a journey, physically and emotionally, to create a 50,000 word book!
For years, I’ve been sketching out new story ideas with inspiration coming from all directions, while trying to learn the craft of writing fiction for children and also book marketing. I’m not sure I’d have believed before I started Lily’s story just how much there is to learn about indie publishing and book marketing – I thought writing and editing the book was hard enough!
My next challenge is deciding what to write after the second book in the Unicorn King series, which is nearly finished. Will it be the third unicorn book or something new like the high country pony series I’m itching to write? Or will I start the kids’ mystery series which has been noodling around in my brain for several months?
Writing can be a lonely occupation. I am hugely grateful to the author friends I’ve made over the years. Weekly video calls with a fellow Kiwi author and fortnightly calls with two Australian author friends make all the difference in terms of encouragement, support, understanding, nutting out story ideas and characters, and bouncing book marketing ideas around. Writers are awesome people. I feel fortunate to have made many great friendships through writing.
What inspired you to write Lily and the Unicorn King?
One day a question popped into my head – what if you went out to say goodnight to your pony and found a herd of unicorns in his paddock? As stories do, especially if horses and unicorns are involved, it galloped on from there.
What research was involved?
I had a lot of fun reading about unicorns, rocs, zilants and Maori herbs, and dreaming up the magical world of the witches and the unicorns. I talked with author friends about vital grammatical things like the plural of pegasus. Is it pegasi or pegasuses? I went with pegasuses. I was able to find a student studying Te Reo at our local high school to help translate the karakia that Lily uses to summon the taniwha.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include?
I’m terrible with song names, but something dramatic from a movie that evokes feelings of great magic, both good and evil, of night-time adventures, peril and bravery.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
I can’t think of any specific Kiwi actors, but they’d need the riding abilities of New Zealand’s famed Wilson sisters!
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
I gave myself time over the summer break to really get back to reading for my own enjoyment – over the last year or so, it’s somehow turned into ‘work’. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo has been around for a long time and I’ve been meaning to read some of Kate’s work. It was fantastic, a wonderful read. I loved seeing life through Opal’s eyes. I also enjoyed Who Killed Miss Finch? which is billed as a quirky whodunnit in teen mysteries. I thought it was more an adult cozy mystery, but nonetheless I enjoyed it a lot – and it was kind of a ‘work’ read as I get my head around the children’s mystery genre.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
To finish writing Sasha and the Warrior Unicorn which is the second book in the Unicorn King series, and then edit, edit, edit before it goes to my author friend and editor Donna Blaber for her red pen suggestions and corrections. The cover is ready when I get the final edits and proofreading done.
Having said that, my own writing is kind of on the sideline as I work to grow Kiwi Kids Read Kiwi Books. There are always author queries to respond to, social media content to be created and orders to be paid to authors. I was pleased to have an application for Regional Business Partner funding accepted so I’m working with a local digital strategy agency to finetune the design and SEO of the online store. I’m always learning at present and it’s great fun. I have big dreams and plans for Kiwi Kids Read Kiwi Books so watch this space!