Christine Dale stood in her Ellerslie home, phone clutched in one hand, hastily opening a parcel she and business partner Jenny Nagle were eagerly awaiting.
"They're here!" Dale told Nagle, who was on the other end of the phone at the New
Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ) where she is the CEO. Then Dale paused, giving Nagle slight cause for concern.
"What do they look like?" Nagle asked, her eagerness beginning to border on anxious.
"They're just great!" Dale declared, having taken a moment to collect herself.
"They" are the first four releases from Nagle and Dale's new independent publishing company, OneTree House. It will put out 43 titles for children and young adults this year: picture, junior fiction and YA books; bilingual editions — for babies, early language learning and educational resources to reflect New Zealand's growing multiculturalism — and Te Reo Māori titles.
Dale, who has been illustrating books since the 1980s and was once publishing manager at Scholastic NZ, and Nagle, with 30 years' experience in educational publishing and a former owner of a successful publishing company, have long lamented the decline in local children's book publishing. They'd heard from seasoned and successful New Zealand authors who couldn't get manuscripts — fine ones — published. Through work with schools, they knew of the unmet demand for bilingual children's books.
So, last year, on April 2 (World Children's Books Day and the anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen's birth), they started OneTree House, aiming to publish books by established New Zealand authors — a mix of new titles as well as reprints of much-loved stories whose rights had reverted to their writers.
Dale points out, though, that the seed of the idea was sowed for her when she was judging a children's book competition. She came across a manuscript that didn't win, and might not have been published, but decided it was so good, she'd ask the author whether she could publish it.
"I told Jenny and she could see how excited I was; the next time we saw each other, she said, 'I want to start a publishing company with you'."
Dale had recently become Chair of the Storylines Management Committee (Storylines promotes the development of children's and teen's literature in New Zealand) and Nagle, also on the committee, was soon to become CEO of PEN NZ.
For readers, the new venture will mean greater choice — and stories that are about and from New Zealand — by authors such as Brian Falkner, Kyle Mewburn, Mandy Hager, Ngaere Roberts and Pamela Allen. For the local literary economy, it could mean a slight boost, given they intend to print their books in New Zealand.
Several books contain additional information, applicable to the stories they tell. Tina Shaw's Make a Hard Fist, a psychological thriller, features self-defence techniques
included after consulting with Rape Crisis organisations; there's also a list of links to relevant organisations. Cuz, by Liz van der Laarse, includes tips on bush survival, a glossary of terms and maps of the region the characters find themselves in.
The first four books went on sale this week but already the fledgling company is attracting global attention. Dale and Nagle learned last week they've been nominated for Best Children's Publisher of the Year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair.
Now in its sixth year, the prize acknowledges publishers in six areas of the world: Africa, Central and South America, North America, Asia, Europe and Oceania. OneTree House, Oratia Press and three publishers from Australia are in the running for the Oceania prize; the inaugural prize, in 2013, was won by Wellington's Gecko Press.
Although Dale and Nagle can't afford to travel to Italy for the event, they intend to use the publicity as a springboard to making important contacts with international agents and publishers.
Nagle recalls being at an East Auckland school and seeing how delighted an Indian grandmother was when, given a book in English and Hindi, she realised she could read with her grandchildren and improve her own English.
Export potential? For sure, but the books will also promote inclusion, cultural understanding and a sense of partnership between New Zealand families, libraries and schools.
The first books from OneTree House:
OneTree House puts out two new Young Adult and two new junior fiction books this month; all available at $20 each.
Wedlock by Denis Wright: Lucy Sorrenson is the only grown up at her place, in her opinion. Her father acts like a teenage muso; her grandad's grasp on reality is slipping away and she's sick of the responsibility of looking after them. She wants to be in the school play, go to cast parties and have fun with her friends. But on opening night she is called to the stage door. No one would believe the role she now has to play when she is abducted by a cult.
Make a Hard Fist by Tina Shaw: "Lizzie Q why so blue?" Lizzie Quinn receives an anonymous letter in the mail. Then she is attacked. She goes back to school scared of her own shadow. A teacher she trusts finds her a coach for a self-defence class. But the letters keep coming — and she knows the threat is still very real.
Sticking with Pigs by Mary-anne Scott: Uncle Jeremy has been helping the family out for a while now, by dropping off meat he has shot. An offer to go hunting sounds great to14-year-old Wolf, a chance to get away from the family stress. But this hunting trip proves to be more than he bargained for.
Cuz by Liz van der Laarse: River is offered the chance to crew on his uncle's trawler — a coastal trip to get a new engine. He finds his cousin, Huia, annoying — she's all about Māoritanga and he can't even speak the language. When an accident leaves the two cousins stranded together on the coast of Fiordland, they must work together to save themselves.
The last two March releases are Te Reo picture books by Dale and Ngaere Roberts. Ko Kiwi Ma focuses on language learning and maths using New Zealand fauna; Te Whare is a companion book with simple Te Reo phrases and vocabulary moving through a New Zealand home.