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July 12, 2010 | by  | in Books |
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Doing it for the kids

Books

The world of publishing is a weary one, filled with discarded manuscripts and the kind of crushing rejection that epitomises the starving artist. Amy Brown—young, celebrated and published, has defied the statistics and Salient is here to document the start of her promising career. A graduate of our very own VUW, Brown marched off into the literary distance with an MA in creative writing and the Biggs Prize for Poetry. In between working as a book reviewer and contributor to The Listener and The Lumière Reader, she published her poetry debut, The Propaganda Poster Girl, a soul-bearing collection which was shortlisted for Best First Book of Poetry at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. Now at 25, with an impressive CV and the validation that comes with critical acclaim, Brown has turned her attention to authoring a series of children’s books entitled Pony Tales, the first of which, Jade and the Stray, has been launched this month.

Brown is humble about her success, citing luck and an eagerness to take opportunities as the driving factors. “During my Vic Uni years, I wrote a lot; I tended to say yes to things (such as Salient and Lumière) without thinking through how much time they’d take or whether I’d be capable of doing a good job. Getting into the habit of saying yes to writing opportunities helped breed more opportunities. For instance, it was through writing for Lumière that Philip Matthews (the then-books editor at The Listener) read my work and asked me to do some Listener reviews. In that sense, I was lucky—many good opportunities came, and are continuing to come my way.”

When confronted with the ‘starving artist’ stereotype and asked if she had experienced any scepticism for following her creative instincts, Brown is undaunted. “Perhaps I just ignored it? I guess, until The Propaganda Poster Girl was published I never referred to myself as a writer (let alone a “poet”!), probably to guard myself from potential sceptics.” Then there’s the obvious question. With poetic praise firmly in her grasp, what inspired the idea for a children’s book? She recalls that a recent birthday present from a friend reminded her of how much she enjoyed pony stories as a kid. “I used to be obsessed with riding and horses. I originally just wrote the first book for myself—for fun, and to see if I could do it. But, once I read back over the first draft, edited and decided it might be worth sending to a publisher, I saw that it would probably work best as a series.”

Although the comparisons are there for the making, with horse books as diverse as Black Beauty and The Pony Club series dominating the children’s fiction market, Brown is certain that her series will resonate with its New Zealand audience. “Jade and the Stray will be familiar to New Zealand readers because it’s set in the central North Island in 2009; from the place names to the films Jade watches, to the price of ponies and the way the pony club rallies are conducted should be familiar.” And she would know. Brown spent her youth attending many a gymkhana in muddy, rugby-hued showgrounds all over Hawkes Bay. While Jade and the Stray pays homage to her East Coast hometown, Brown doesn’t downplay the importance that her time at Victoria has had on her writing. The ex-Salient book editor credits her involvement with our splendid publication for teaching her how to “believe in my own opinion more readily, without agonising over what people will think of me. It also taught me my limits; reading and reviewing several books a week on top of uni work just isn’t possible. Well, it is, but it’s impossible to do a good job of it.”

As for the university itself, having weathered a BA in English and philosophy, a first class honours degree and an MA, Brown simply says it was “hugely influential”, adding that she fondly remembers lecturers such as Damien Wilkins, Harry Ricketts, Ismay Barwell and Anna Jackson. Yet the scholastic odyssey is far from over. As you read this, Brown is doing her bit to dispel the lazy Arts student cliché by undertaking a PhD in creative writing at the University of Melbourne, putting all of us academic slackers at Salient to shame. After finishing her doctorate and penning three more Pony Tales books, Brown plans to put her sharpened reviewing skills back to use by returning to “reviewing and editing with the energy I once did, during the Salient and Lumière years”. You’re welcome back here anytime, Ames.

Pony Tales: Jade and the Stray, by Amy Brown
HarperCollinsPublishers, RRP $18.99, July 2010

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Comments (4)

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  1. Teh Grammerz says:

    “Soul-bearing?”

  2. smackdown says:

    all the single ladies
    all the single ladies

  3. Fairooz says:

    I’ll try try harder next time

  4. Asp says:

    Why does it seem wrong that you can do a doctorate in creative writing? – “Wow you have a doctorate? Yeah in creative writing, suck it.” Maybe its because I always thought of creative writing as coming from the heart/soul rather then a piece of paper handed out by an institution. Maybe its because it breaks away from a centuries trend. Maybe its because the best writers shouldn’t have to prove themselves through a PHD like that (And I don’t mean to say Amy isn’t among the best or can’t be the best by saying that) When was the first creative writing “qualification” like this introduced? Just a conservative quirk of mine? ARGHHHHH!

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