New Zealander of The Year Local Hero Award – Literacy and Community Service efforts

A few weeks ago, I was presented with a Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Local Hero  Award.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, Eileen Mueller and Kiwibank CE,Paul Brock
Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, Eileen Mueller and Kiwibank CE,Paul Brock

These awards are given to kiwis who make a difference in their communities through volunteer work.

So what did I do?

Over the past seven years, I’ve organised numerous community service projects in my role as Director of Public Affairs for my church, but the highlight has to be ‘Books For Fiji.’

Books For Fiji: In 2011, I ran a campaign that collected over 45,000 second hand books, which were donated to 82 schools in outlying islands of Fiji. See the video below.

Books for Fiji came about after I found out that Her Excellency Ms Mere Tora, Acting Head of Mission for the Fijian High Commission (Wellington, New Zealand) bought books at garage sales and school fairs all year long. Every year at Christmas when she visited Fiji, Ms Tora took boxes of books home and donated them to local schools.

I was impressed with her dedication to children’s literacy and wanted to help.

Although my initial idea was to collect a few boxes of books to give to Ms Tora, my vision grew as enthusiasm from the kiwis spurred me into action. Books came flooding in. Local schools cleared out their libraries and donated boxes packed with books. Business donated stationery and provided free advertising. The media jumped on board, and books kept piling up. The community wanted to help raise the English literacy of Fijian children.

Secretary of Fijian High Commission Niraj Mudaliar, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Eileen Mueller with the Mayor's childhood books that she donated to Fijian school children to improve their literacy
Secretary of Fijian High Commission Niraj Mudaliar, Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Eileen Mueller with the Mayor’s childhood books that she donated to Fijian school children to improve their literacy

Wellington Mayor Her Worship Celia Wade-Brown donated her childhood books, and Porirua Mayor His Worship Nick Leggett provided his libraries as collection points. All across the lower North Island of New Zealand, Mormon Helping Hands volunteers took donation boxes to their schools, workplaces and local supermarkets.

A deluge of donations came in. Then the hard work began. We sorted every book by hand, categorizing them into subject matter or, for fiction books, age categories. We created a mix of books for each school, so they received a balanced shipment containing board books, early readers, chapter books, novels, encyclopedias, dictionaries and reference books about  a variety of topics.

Sorting 43,000 books!
Sorting 43,000 books!

I worked with the Fijian government to ensure we targeted the most needy schools. Then we shipped the books out the door and sighed in relief that the hard work was over!

While the books were en route to Fiji, a camera crew from church headquarters became interested in our project. I met them in Fiji to present the first shipment of books to a school on Bau Island, the chiefly island of Fiji – an area steeped in prestige and tradition.

The best part of the entire project was seeing the children unpack their books and start reading. They opened the boxes, and with wonder in their eyes, each took a book off the top, sat down on the grass and started reading. They didn’t rummage through the boxes or yell in excitement. They just sat down and started reading.

Children on Bau Island with books from Books For FijiTheir quiet page turning bought more joy into my heart than any shouts of excitement could have. They wanted those books. They loved those books. They were reading English books and had previously had none on their island. They were being taught English, but had no materials to read. Their literacy could take a leap forward, thanks to the kindness of their neighbours – kiwis in New Zealand.

How can we make a difference?

Eileen with 100 items made for Wellington Neonatal Unit.
Eileen with 101 items made for Wellington Neonatal Unit.

Often a need is right under our noses. We don’t have to organise thousands of books to make a difference in the lives of those around us. If you see a need, contact a local volunteer organisation or charity and ask how you can help.

I have been lucky enough to have Mormon Helping Hands volunteers enthusiastically embrace every project I’ve organised. We’ve quilted for neonatal babies, cleaned the local homeless shelter (Wellington Night Shelter), baked cookies for its guests, and assembled hygiene kits for them. Thousands of trees have been planted across the region by keen volunteers, schools have been made over – not just tidied, but demolition work done, buildings, rooves and libraries painted, chairs upholstered, and carpet laid. Volunteers have blazed trails, mulched and weeded in the hot sun, and battled with gorse (thorny bushes) to provide recreational area for the local community.

Community service is also about building relationships with those you would never otherwise meet. For two years I was a member of The Wellington Interfaith Council Executive, putting time and energy into building more love and understanding between those of different faiths. We talked together, planted trees together, sang and danced together, and walked in each others shoes a little as we learned more about one another. It was a rewarding and fulfilling experience to see Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindu, Buddhists, Sikhs and Baha’i planting trees on the slopes of Wellington, laughing and getting to know one another.

Planting, trail blazing, blackberry eradication and planting in 2013 with local rangers, politicians and a few volunteers. (Eileen is far right, back row)
Planting, trail blazing, blackberry eradication and planting in 2013 with local rangers, politicians and a few volunteers. (Eileen is far right, back row)

It was humbling to accept my New Zealander of the Year Local Hero medal, knowing that although I had brainstormed and organised these projects, none of them would have happened without hundreds of volunteers seeing the vision of a better community and giving their time and effort to make it happen.

I’d like to thank my generous husband and cool kids. Without their support and enthusiastic participation, I would never have gotten one project off the ground. Thanks to them a childhood dream I’d had of helping those in a less wealthy country has come to fruition.

Cook Strait News ran a story here about my Local Hero award.

I’d also like to thank politicians, church leaders and the many organisations that have assisted with projects. My thanks and deep appreciation go to the amazing helpers who have donated their time, sweat and service to help make our community a better place.

You can be a local hero too

We are all part of the jigsaw which makes up our community, our country and our world. I encourage you to look around, see a need, and contact a local organisation to see how you can help to make our world a better place. Who knows, maybe one day you will be a local hero too!

Article on Mormon newsroom

More information about New Zealander of the Year Awards can be found here.

KurtX’s Got Talent – New Zealand’s Got Talent Semi-final

KurtX rocked the stage at New Zealand’s Got Talent (NZGT) this week in his semi-final performance. KurtX may be the first musician to play harmonica to dubstep – a modern dance music genre that originated in Britain.

What’s astounding is that he underwent heart surgery shortly after his NZGT audition to correct a congenital hole in his heart that was discovered a few weeks before he went on stage.  See the full story of Kurt’s heart surgery in the Dominion Post, one of New Zealand’s leading newspapers.

KurtX's surgery detailed in Dominion Post
KurtX’s heart surgery was detailed in Dominion Post, a national NZ newspaper

Although Kurt needed six weeks to fully recover from the catheter procedure used to insert a device into his heart wall to block the hole, he was soon back on stage again for another high energy performance.

 

One of New Zealand’s top magazine’s, NZ Woman’s Weekly,  ran this article on their blog. It holds a family secret – revealing what made KurtX turn back to his music again.

KurtX, harmonica hero from NZ's Got Talent
KurtX, harmonica hero from NZ’s Got Talent

Wellington Newspapers, The Wellingtonian and The Cook Strait News, also ran articles on KurtX. He was on local radio station Classic Hits on Monday morning and busked in town during his lunch hour so he could meet the public.

New Zealand’s Got Talent backstage blog also reveals what KurtX’s favourite ice cream is – although he doesn’t eat ice cream before going onstage – so he won’t damage

KurtX plays cool tunes on his Memphis Meltdown at NZ's Got Talent.
KurtX plays cool tunes on his Memphis Meltdown at NZ’s Got Talent.

his lips before a performance. In this link, you’ll also get to see his fellow semi-final contestants – Jenny, Oceana, Geordie and OK Krew – in action!

KurtX had a fabulous time with them – doing push ups with Oceana on his back, gifting one of his back up harmonicas to a member of the OK Krew, (and teaching him how to tune it on the spot) and hanging out with Geordie and Jenny.  It was a tough show – all the contestants were talented. The results will be announced this Sunday night.

KurtX in Semi-final lineup NZGT
KurtX in Semi-final lineup NZGT

Too see Kurt’s Original audition here’s my earlier KurtX post.

Fore more harmonica fun check out KurtX.com

I’m published! Baby Teeth launches in Wellington, New Zealand!

Tomorrow night is the pre-Halloween launch of ‘Baby Teeth – Bite-sized Tales of Terror.’ My first published short story, ‘Dad’s Wisdom,’ is in this anthology!

Group Bench 1mediumres
Wellington Authors Back L-R: Michael Parry, Paul Mannering, Dan Rabarts, Sally McLennan. Middle: Jack Newhouse, Eileen Mueller, A J Ponder. Front: Jenni Sands, Darusha Wehm.
baby-teeth-cover-20130820
Baby Teeth cover

Baby Teeth is an odd concept. Inspired by the creepy things that kids say, these horror stories are raising funds for children’s literacy in New Zealand, via Duffy Books in Homes. What a great way for writers to raise funds for children! When I heard about the charity aspect, I wanted to be involved. Two years ago, I organized a project to help children’s literacy in Fiji, so this was a cause close to my heart.

Before submitting,  I read some of these stories and was so creeped out that I nearly decided not to submit! Some of the Baby Teeth authors have been doing horror for years and do it very well! However a story about a little boy having fun with a monster caught my eye. It was creepy but really funny. Voila! I had my inspiration. Thank you Paul Mannering for showing me that horror can be hilarious!

Mine is a quirky, humorous tale about a boy who finds a dragon under his bed and goes to Dad for advice – with unexpected results! I’ll be reading ‘Dad’s Wisdom’ tomorrow night. Paul Mannering will be reading the tale that inspired me to write about creepy things kids do to raise money for kids’ literacy.

Dominion Post’s Capital Day page features Baby Teeth

New Zealand press have been intrigued about this odd collection of stories helping kiwi kids so I was able to place four articles in these newspapers. The Dominion Post (national NZ newspaper) ran this feature today  The Wellingtonian ran this article. The Hutt News ran this story. Cook Strait News published the article below .

 

Cook Strait News post launch article.
Cook Strait News post launch article.

 

Come to the Quality Hotel, 223 Cuba St, Wellington. Drinks from 5:30pm. Readings at 6pm. Join our Facebook event.

 

See a review by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand (SFFANZ) 

To purchase Baby Teeth go to http://www.paperroadpress.co.nz

baby-teeth-wellington-launch-poster-lores-1

Balancing Writing and Family – When a Mess Hits, Keep Smiling.

We try balancing writing and family, but sometimes life just happens! Our family has been extremely busy in the last few weeks. We had a TV crew filming my husband (see my last post about KurtX on New Zealand’s Got Talent) a massive plumbing leak, and lots of kids’ activities. With four kids, we’re always busy. Among all that, I had set myself some writing goals that challenged and extended me.

With a week’s notice, TV said they were coming to film KurtX at home! I decided to do a little spring clean (can you hear my family rolling their eyes?) Then two days before the TV crew arrived, a pipe burst! Yep, a plumbing leak! TV were coming with soggy, stinking carpet, 5 holes in the wet wall downstairs and two more in the ceiling.

Plumbing disaster
Plumbing disaster – dried out!

When the TV crew turned up, there were 4 large industrial fans running and an enormous dehumidifier humming away in the background. One of the fans was in our #HarmonicaHero’s sound studio. Of course we had to turn them off to film, but the carpet was still emitting a pungent aroma, reminiscent of wet dog! Luckily it was only television, not smellavison, so we avoided the soggy areas and the holes in the wall, and kept smiling.

My kids, especially the two youngest, thought the fans were a blast. Here’s a video of them having a ball – at the expense of the poor plumbing, battered walls, and sad carpet! My kids showed me that whatever mess life throws us, we should still have fun. I learned from their sense of hilarity and adventure. Aren’t kids great?

Note for Health and Safety Officers: By the time the kids were allowed downstairs by the fans, the TV cameras were long gone and the carpet was nearly dry!

What has this to do with balancing writing and family? Despite TV, leaks and mad, slapdash family life, I’ve had a productive time, writing-wise. For me, the best way of balancing writing and family, no matter what is going on, is to:

  • take time to exercise, preferably in fresh air (in windy Wellington the air is always fresh!)
  • spend time with my kids and husband

    Get outdoors to exercise - balancing writing and family.
    Get outdoors to exercise – balancing writing and family.
  • see a friend occasionally (often to exercise)
  • do something writing-related most days
  • have a day off from writing occasionally
  • set writing goals to focus me.

Setting goals for writing helps me in balancing writing and family life. My goals need to be challenging enough to keep me motivated, but not unachievable. In one of my former lives, I was a performance measurement consultant for a large IT business, so my old habit of utilising SMART goals, is automatic. SMART goals are:

  • Specific,
  • Measurable,
  • Achievable,
  • Results-driven
  • and Time-bound.

So what goals have I achieved since last blogging? And why haven’t I blogged for so long? What have I been doing?

  • Firstly, when I set up my blog, I decided not to commit to blogging weekly. I didn’t want my blog to take away my precious writing time. So I’ll blog when I have something cool to share.
  • I’ve sent out my writing newsletter, Write On!, each week. (Sign up in the blue and yellow box if you’d like to receive it.)
  • Completed revising a novel and submitted it.
  • Completed three short stories.
  • Finished a children’s picture book and submitted it.
  • Done some more work on my paranormal romance novel (sizzle, sizzle)
  • Plotted an adventure chapter book for 8-12 year-old children.

But I haven’t blogged. Although I’ve written about 6 blog posts in my head. I had a brilliant post planned about a porcupine we saw attacking a bunch of meerkats at the zoo. We caught the prickly dude on camera. But when we searched for the video, someone had deleted it. So that blog post wont eventuate! (Sigh!)

Write on the ferry.
Write on the ferry.

The key to balancing writing and family is ensuring you write often. I have a friend who has a half-hour commute on a ferry across Auckland harbour each morning and evening. That’s his writing time. He uses it EVERY day. That’s the only time he gets. The rest of his life is for work and his wife & kids.

Write on the bus - balancing writing and family
Write on the bus!

I was speaking to another writer recently who said she only has a two hour block every Sunday and can’t find any other time. I wrote my first novel by becoming a time-thief, stealing minutes everywhere. So I encouraged her to find  a small ten-minute slot each day to churn out a few words.

“Ten minutes?” Her face lit up. “I can do that, even if it’s during my lunch hour, or on the bus.”

So soggy carpets aside, one of the best ways of balancing writing and family is to make sure we write! A novel grows a word at a time. If there are no words, there is no novel. How do we carve time out from our lives to write?

  1. Set manageable goals with time-frames.
  2. Monitor your progress.
  3. Do something small every day. Or five days a week. Or every Saturday. Squeeze it in when you can.
  4. Creative activity makes us feel great. Doing a little in regular bursts sustains that feeling!
  5. Start with EASY goals.
  6. If you don’t achieve them, don’t beat yourself up, they’re there to motivate you, not weigh you down!
  7. Count your successes! I keep an excel sheet of all my milestones and writing activity, so I can see what I’ve done!
  8. Celebrate milestones with your friends and family! Keeping them involved in your successes motivates them to encourage you to write.

Soggy carpets, TV crews, kids leaping in fans, and family commitments non-withstanding, I hope you find some time to write and to enjoy life with those you love most.

KurtX rocks New Zealand’s Got Talent! – #Harmonica Hero #NZGT

KURTX rocks NZGT with his harmonica
KURTX #hamronicahero at NZGT

KurtX played his ‘wee instrument’ last night for New Zealand’s Got Talent, generating a storm of music with his harmonica. He started with a slow haunting lyrical line, but the judges’  faces soon changed as a rock number hit the sound system and KurtX ramped it up, showing us just what can be achieved with the tiniest of instruments, and earning himself the nickname #harmonicahero.

 

What’s my vested interest?  He’s my husband. I fell in love with a recording of his harmonica playing before I ever met him!

The following quote is from the New Zealand’s Got Talent’s ‘Tip Top Naturally Talented Moment’ page:

This week’s Naturally Talented Moment was 50 year old Swiss, Kurt X who has been playing the harmonica for decades but has only recently started playing publicly.  “I have been working on my harmonica for 20 years but I am very much a closet artist. I entered NZGT because I finally felt that I was ready to share my talent with the world”

The IT Specialist amazed us with his ability to lose himself in the music, getting dub

KurtX rocks the harmonica at New Zealand's Got Talent (NZGT) 2013
KurtX at NZGT 2013 qualifying for semi-finals

bed #HarmonicaHero for his resemblance to the game Guitar Hero. “I feel like I’m melting into one with my harmonica, it is totally a part of me. It’s so physical – my technique and style. It’s all about the music and the moment”.

Here is the link to the Tip Top Naturally Talented Moment advert for episode 3. Yes, KurtX again!

To support KurtX, please visit the you tube site, tweet, and leave comments below.    Tweet about KurtX with #harmonicahero & #NZGT  KurtX you tube link

I can also blog about how KurtX got so good at harmonica. Just request it via comments.

Children’s picture book workshop with Ruth Paul

Ruth Paul
Ruth Paul with her children’s picture book, ‘Stomp.’

Author-illustrator Ruth Paul taught a children’s picture book workshop at The Children’s Bookshop in Wellington last weekend. I was excited to attend because she’s one of my youngest daughter’s favourite authors and is an inspiring speaker

Ruth entertained over 25 participants with advice about writing, illustrating and publishing  picture books in New Zealand and for the international market. Here are some of her tips:

Immerse yourself in current picture books and notice the latest styles, language, themes and content.

Ruth said the biggest rule is: There are NO rules! Someone will have broken all of these rules and been successful! Having said that, Ruth mentioned several ‘NO’s when writing picture books:

  • NO digression
  • NO adjectives
  • NO description
  • NO author intrusion
  • NO explanation

The images need to do the talking and often tell a second story. If we don’t obey the above rules, the text is not tight enough to sustain children’s interest or doesn’t give the illustrator enough freedom to insert their own sub-story into  the pictures.

To rhyme or not to rhyme? Non-rhyming picture books are much easier to write, and to translate for foreign markets. If you insist on rhyming, Ruth gave some great guidelines to follow:

  • Rhyme needs a strong, consistent structure
  • Don’t let the rhyme dictate the story
  • The rhyme must be the servant of the story, a musical tool which enhances the story
  • Use vocabulary that empowers parents as they read to their children
  • Only break out of the rhythm if has been established well.
  • Your nonsense MUST make sense.

I’m not an illustrator, so I can’t wear that hat, but it was interesting to note that Ruth encouraged tight text from writers and loose initial illustrations from artists.

Ruth’s workshop was jam-packed with information, personal anecdotes,  and practical advice about how to go about creating a children’s picture book. Both authors and illustrators attended and we had a lot of fun. She gave us homework to hone our editing and story-tightening skills, and handouts that will help us enhance our next picture books. Thumbs up for Ruth Paul – she’s dynamic, vivacious and motivating. I hope those of you that live in Wellington have a chance to attend one of her classes (see below).

Ruth has been writing and illustrating picture books for ten years. Her stories are lively and full of fun. My kids LOVE them. Check out Ruth’s website here.

Thanks to John & Ruth McIntyre of The Children’s Bookshop for creating this opportunity to learn.The writers and artists that attended enjoyed Ruth Paul’s workshop immensely and learned a lot. John and Ruth play a huge role in mentoring local talent. If you’d like to attend their next children’s picture book workshop with Ruth Paul on 13 October 2013, please email childbkwgtn@xtra.co.nz

3 short stories accepted in 1 week!

Wow! I am ecstatic! I’ve just had three short stories accepted in one week – to two different anthologies.

At the end of last week two of my short stories were accepted for a fantasy anthology about Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum. ‘A Wizard in the Works’ is a night-time rollick through the museum. ‘Lucky Brake’ is a coming of age story about a boy facing a tough a decision. I’ll post more about these later.

babyteethfinal-v3-w-logo-copy-230x300
Cover of Baby Teeth

This week my flash fiction piece ‘Dad’s Wisdom‘ was accepted for ‘Baby Teeth’ – bite-sized tales of terror! I don’t usually write horror, but when I realised this anthology was raising funds to support Duffy’s Books in Homes charity, I was keen to be a part of it. I’m passionate about reading and children’s literacy and have done work in the past to aid kids’ literacy in developing countries (more about that later in another post!)

Instead of scaring myself witless by writing a blood-chilling psychological terror story, I penned ‘Dad’s Wisdom  which is a humourous take on childhood fears.

Baby Teeth will help Duffy’s Books in Homes to give books to underprivileged children in NZ. It utilises crowd funding via this site. Once the book is published ALL proceeds go towards children’s literacy in New Zealand. Authors have donated their time and energy so we can make a difference in children’s lives by providing them with books to read. Donations close on 10 August. To donate, please click here.

 Thanks for supporting Baby Teeth and helping more kiwi kids to read.

WARNING: ALTHOUGH MINE IS NOT, SOME OF THESE STORIES ARE DISTURBING-TYPICAL OF THE HORROR GENRE.

Free Writing Course!

Free writing course
Free 3-week FLASH fiction writing course

Sign up to Write On! my writing newsletter & get a FREE 3-week FLASH FICTION COURSE by an author who has published over 30 novels and developed a novel writing school. You’ll get the course link, and access to a flash fiction writers’ forum in your first issue of Write On!

Since taking this free writing course, every story I have submitted has been accepted! This flash fiction course has changed the way I write. My fiction is tighter, shorter, and packs more punch! And this is a free writing course! Yes – free! This course is for novelists too – you’ll create more compelling scenes using these techniques.

Within weeks of doing this course, I had three short stories accepted for anthologies. It works!

Write On! is my newsletter sent a few times a month. I’ll share writing resources, recommend courses to improve your writing, and provide links to interesting articles, useful downloads and writing forums. I’ll also share my experiences, grammar tips, quotes, and what I’m learning on the job.

Sign up using the form on the sidebar to your right. Select “Write On!’ from the drop down menu. When you subscribe to Write On! you’ll also receive updates about my books and stories.

Au Contraire – Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention in Wellington

SpecFicNZ at Au Contraire Wgtn
The new & old SpecFicNZ committee including Elizabeth Heritage, Dan Rabarts, Liz Gatens, Marie Hodgkinson, Grace Bridges, Beaulagh Pragg, Darian Smith, Darusha Wehm, Simon Petrie, and others. What an incredible team!

The New Zealand National Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention – Au Contraire – took place in Wellington 12-14 July with 200 Sci-fi and fantasy buffs attending. Although I’m not in this photo of the new and old SpecFicNZ committee, my claim to fame is that I took it!

 It was amazing to meet many of the NZ authors that I had only seen online. And to meet those who organised the contests that I recently won!  Au Contraire was an amazing event, full of education, fun, and frivolity! There were book launches, panels with well-known writers giving us their versions of reality, plenty of opportunities for mingling and 200 people to talk to! If you know me well, you’ll be laughing – 200 people to talk to?  I was in my element!

What were my highlights?

Grace BridgesMeeting Grace Bridges, the President of SpecFicNZ and owner of Splashdown Books, who gave me a fantastic critique as part of my SpecFicNZ Going Global 1st place prize.

Jennifer FallonGoing out to dinner with the Guest of Honour, Jennifer Fallon, who discussed her new self-publishing ventures with me for three hours – yes 180 minutes! And every minute was great!
beaulah-akaroa-smallDarian SmithA fun and informative class on psychology of our friends and family, um, I mean characters, taken by the hilarious team Beaulagh Pragg and Darian Smith.

Phillip MannA flash fiction workshop by Guest of Honour Phillip Mann. Believe it or not, I never spoke once. I’d signed up late and was only there as an observer! So observe I did, and heard some great flash pieces from NZ authors.

phoenix2Meeting Phoenix Writer’s Group members whom I had emailed many times – Alicia Ponder, Lorraine Williams, Rob Campbell, and Lynette Howell.

SJV AwardTo cap off the weekend, the Sir Julius Vogel Awards were presented to the best writers in many categories and genres. See the winners here. It was great to make so many meaningful connections with writers. Au Contraire has given me many new writing opportunities – some which I’ll mention soon! Watch this space!

Wow! Thanks to you, I won a 2nd SpecFicNZ Competition!

Wow, you guys are amazing! Thanks to all my loyal friends who voted for me in the SpecFicNZ Pimp your Profile competition. After my novel won SpecFicNZ’s Going Global competition, I thought I’d better add my writer profile to SpecFicNZ’s website!  I did so in the nick of time— just before the profile contest closed.Sunflowers-14

The votes were counted. *drum roll* I won!

My loyal friends had spread the word on Facebook and voted for me.  A huge thank you and bouquets for you all! 🙂 What a boost to a writer just beginning her journey. I hope you all enjoy my stories when they go live soon.