Learning to love Blue: How a book became a symbol of its own ideas.

Learning to love Blue has won the Young Adult category of the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Three significant things happened one week in April this year: I took a positive pregnancy test, followed by a positive covid test and then received an email from the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, telling me my little blue self published Young Adult novel was a finalist in the 2022 awards. I was sworn to secrecy, but put on a mask and stood in my partner’s office doorway to tell him. I couldn’t help myself.

Drafted when I first arrived in Melbourne in 2016, Learning to love Blue quickly felt like a symbol of my own difficult migration. I wrote 1000 words a day for a few months, while also completing my third poetry collection, Photos of the Sky, but it came at the cost of making real life friends and actually enjoying my new home in the way that my character, Paige, manages to. The first draft was rather introspective and waffly and reflected my own constant contemplation of my recent decisions.

Things changed, months and years past and I slowly began to feel comfortable in my new home. Thanks to work and dating apps, I started to meet people and each time I revised Blue I added more life, more joy and more drama to the otherwise quiet life of Paige. Life and the novel were becoming more and more how life and a novel should be.

Then life really took off: I found love and friendships, went on adventures, had a baby. Things were rolling along as the manuscript lay untouched. And then… it was 2020. Our baby was born in January, just before the world as we knew it ground to a shocking halt. We had new challenges to face and faced these in isolation from not only our overseas families, but even just our nearby friends. Life shrunk down to our bubble of three and we focussed only on looking after each other.

I took two years parental leave from my job as the first year flew by in a blur of ground-hog day lockdowns, and by the second year I could see just a little bit further beyond our four walls and front gate. I was ready for the challenges of wider life again.

So I dug out the long neglected manuscript and gave it a shake. I read it, enjoying the memories of exploring a new city again, just as I was starting to show my daughter the joy of the city we’ve chosen to live in. The music venues and cafes of Paige’s world were struggling to stay open and the novel felt like a love song to the city we all fall in love with when we first arrive in Melbourne. Thrown into yet another lockdown, I had time and curiosity, so I investigated self-publishing.

The whole process from editing to holding the printed book in my hands was a matter of a few short months and I truly thought I would be happy if just a couple of my facebook fans were able to hold their own copy too. I did not have lofty ambitions for this book and was feeling content in the rhythm of my Melbourne life, hopeful about the opening up to come.

While judging the poetry category of the Ockhams in September and after some positive comments from said facebook fans, I realised that the judging process for book awards is fair and objective: books arrive in a stack that the judges work their way through carefully and every book is given a chance. As publisher of my own work, it was up to me to back it and I thought at the very least that’s a couple more people in the world who will know about the book. I packaged the required number of copies up in a tatty old green shoebox, somehow managed to misspell ‘New Zealand’ in the address label and sent it off, only imagining the possibilities I was opening it up for.

When I told my partner about the shortlist from a safe distance in April, we were just about to go to New Zealand for a holiday. Travel was stressful and the idea of us all going again so soon for the awards ceremony was somewhat unappealing. I decided I would go alone and just for a couple of days. I wanted to take this Wellington-to-Melbourne book back to Wellington and was representing both author and publisher. By the time I travelled I was five months pregnant, so not really alone at all.

The awards last week were thrilling. Being in a crowd again, being part of a celebration again, being with my New Zealand family knowing my partner and daughter were in Melbourne live-streaming in the kitchen was buzzy and flustering. Sharing a stage with Children’s Literature greats such as David Hill, Eileen Merriman, Gavin Bishop and their esteemed publishers was beyond my wildest dreams. This little blue book had taken me far from its lockdown origins.

I’m still reeling from this win. I was kindly reminded recently that judges spend hours deliberating these things and it’s not the random fluke it felt like on the night. If the book lacks the action and adventure of the other finalists, that’s because it’s supposed to. It’s a quiet book. It’s a book about listening, slowing down, considering other people’s points of view and of course learning to love all the great music that exists in the world already. I am indebted to Joni Mitchell for her wonderful album Blue – a gentle yet powerful reminder to feel all the feelings of being alive. Melbourne is alive again and we go out and exist in the world with purpose, exploring the city anew. Learning to love Blue is out in the world too and I’m over the moon that it’s being read and loved and having its own adventures.


I’ve glued my daughter’s hair clips back together
pink fabric ripped, but salvageable and
a small blue heart from my own broken earrings.

I could ride my bike to the mall right now 
buy them ten times over, buy the brightest ones
the most expensive ones, ones that will survive 

small fingers and curiosity. They’ve lasted less than two months 
the trip to Kmart her first time using a public toilet, everything 
an adventure after months of lockdown, everything an adventure 

when you’re not-quite two. I could buy her new hair clips 
every day, but I won’t because one bedtime meltdown
she’d been moved away from the cat, who

puts up with more than he should, though loved
puts up with so much she thinks his tail is fair game.
She’s still learning not to squeeze so hard. I took her 

to her room, wiped streaks of tears sat opposite,
a pale green swaddle from newborn days draped
over her head and mine as she calmed, held 

my face with the gentleness I know she has
gentleness I hope for her, but hope will not be her undoing
as it so often has felt like mine…

Thank you for my joy, Mummy I checked I’d understood, Your joy?
Yes. Thank you for my joy. Thank you for dinner, Mummy.
hands still gentle, the same hands that dissected hair clips

beat fists on the ground, made the cat flinch (but never leave, 
I really feel he should sometimes just leave)
Thank you for my sparkly hair clips from Kmart, Mummy.

So I’ve glued them back together, adding a piece 
of me, knowing we’ll break and renew each other
twenty more times before morning.

Sleep no more

This was first written in July 2020 but lost and abandoned due to sleep deprivation. I may have once had vaulting ambitions for it, but here it is.

Most years around this time, I’m digging out my Macbeth notes and introducing another wide-eyed bunch of fifteen year olds to the Scottish play. In my early years of teaching I asked a colleague how I should start and she very generously stopped what she was doing, swivelled her chair over and explained her entire approach to teaching Shakespeare lesson by lesson. I’ve been doing it this way ever since:

We read the play together as a class, stopping for clarification and amazement at the use of language. We note down the references to sleep, notice how death is compared to sleep, how lack of sleep causes madness and hallucinations; how after the Macbeths murder Duncan, we rarely see them again in daylight, suggesting that perhaps they are ranting and scheming all night. They’re not sleeping. Although Macbeth’s first hallucination comes before the murder — the dagger of confirmation bias that leads him to commit the deed he claims to be in two minds about — after the murder these ramp up. Right away he swears he could hear someone say “Sleep no more, Macbeth hath murdered sleep.” And then sleep no more he does.

My job teaching Shakespeare is on hold for a while, but my current job is making me an even deeper analyst of the themes of sleep.

Every morning for the last 6 months I’ve been subconsciously adding up the sleep I got over the previous night. At first I would crawl into bed so exhausted I had no trouble falling asleep, but later I would lie awake waiting for our baby to wake and need me. Most nights I was clocking between 5 and 7 hours though, albeit in snippets. I would fall asleep with the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star roving around my brain, or the steady chant of the first two pages of Goodnight Moon. Babies crave routine, they tell me. Routine makes the days blur and bleed into each other, indistinguishably. In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon, damn spot.

A Facebook post about my lack of sleep garners responses from parents far and wide, “they all have ptsd” my partner says. A friend calls and tells me how useful controlled crying was for their first. We switch to video so he can see my baby trying to crawl and he sings a waiata to her. She bursts into tears. A few days later another friend sends a long message about the complete opposite approach his family used. I don’t even know if I’m confused anymore.

Some nights our baby doesn’t sleep because she wants to be in someone’s arms and how can you blame her? How can you refuse? She’s so very few months out in this vast unembracing world. Other times she’s just wide awake. I hold her and sway in that baby-holding way, while her big eyes glisten in the shafts of street light that find their way through the venetian blinds. She stares at the patterns it makes on the wall, scurries her fingers over my chest or moves them through the bedroom air. She’s calm in these moments, but I have no idea how to get her from awake, alert, curious and calm to deeply asleep in her bed. 

Parents’ group share their brief frustrations with sleep in our Whatsapp chat, but it’s always attributed to a scheduled sleep regression, teething or the catchall cry of “wonder weeks!” No one’s admitting that sometimes babies defy the structure of night and day, sometimes they’re in shitty moods, sometimes they’re just amazed to be here and want to see it all for themselves.

The less sleep I get the more scheming a Macbeth I become, trying to cover the tracks of my absolute naivety in parenting. We wake and debrief, add up the hours and make a plan for the next night. How can she not love sleep? we ask no one. We crave the coaxing and cuddling, the singing and swaying for ourselves. We crave the sleep she’s refusing. Oh sleep, Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, / The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, / Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, / Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

Until eventually, we dream of it.

Already I’m starting to think fondly of our time locked down together.

Yesterday our neighbours came over to say goodbye. They’re moving to their own house after renting the place with the enviable backyard since before we moved in. I remember our first chat over the fence with the neighbouring two year old showing us his dance moves on the picnic table and the older boy telling long stories about pre-lockdown trips to the beach and the sheep clock he has in his room. Lotus, all cheeks and six months old, looked on with wonder – we hadn’t met many new people in her life. 

She was just starting to get mobile. Figuring out her own way to crawl about the house we had moved to during lockdown from a small windowless square of life: couch, baby mat, bassinet, repeat. Everything was shutting down, but our world was opening up to a much bigger house with doors that swing out onto a deck and a tree-framed garden below. 

As restricted weeks and months went on, we would rush to the fence when we saw our neighbours playing in their back garden or hanging out the laundry. Standing on tippy-toes and holding Lotus aloft was how we often had our only live conversation for the week. 

After a while, we started seeing them in the driveway, in the street, organising times to walk with them or inviting them into our front yard when we were allowed. A family from parents’ group live a few houses down next to the laneway and their little one is now Lotus’ best friend. Lockdown walks and front yard plays cemented that friendship as we would often walk past hoping to see them and stand at the gate to chat. The little ones learnt to play together, learnt to talk and tell stories to each other. Their hugs on greeting or departure are emphatic collisions of joy.

We’ve learnt the routines of our street’s dog walkers and exercisers. There was worry when one neighbour’s elderly dad stopped walking past (he moved to a retirement home) and excitement when a pram full of toddler moved in across the road. There’s a couple whose names we still don’t know, but we quickly learnt their boisterous dogs are Louie and Boyboy.

Having to stay close in our neighbourhood, ironically, kept us going. People in our street and the streets nearby have given Lotus toys and books. We have found cake on our doorstep, collected oranges and lemons from outside people’s houses, gathered herbs, feijoas and guavas from the food forest and communal spaces. I built a street library to share books and give something back to the community that has been so generous to us. Although we missed our dear friends and family during lockdown, we are so grateful to have built new connections and friendships. 

Now that things are open, we bump into our street friends less frequently. We can go to the zoo, the city, friends in other suburbs, so there’s less need to hang hopefully around the front gate or laneway. 

Apart from our (now ex) neighbours visiting – Lotus no longer amazed to see other people, but excited and chatty, showing them how she decorated the Christmas tree and saying “it’s a bit sad” when they asked about our New Zealand trip – yesterday was a lockdown throwback day. Lotus and I walked to a cafe with our keep-cups then played at one of our favourite playgrounds. I had never noticed playgrounds before lockdown, but as they were one of the few things open for so many months, we have become experts in which is best on which sort of day. 

In the afternoon, we walked along our street, Lotus carrying her unicorn and giraffe under one arm to show (but not to touch, we’re still learning to share) her friend and when they weren’t in their front yard we walked down the laneway, now overgrown with green, until they heard us and came out to play.

Summer’s here and already we have had adventures, weekends away and invited as many people as we could think of to our house. But some days call for the simplicity of a walk down your own street, revisiting the things that, for us, made isolation a time of community.

Anxiety poem

We count out the things taken from us
handed back nestled in conditions 
permissions and we’re so grateful,
so grateful for the simple gift
of driving to the supermarket 
sitting up in the trolley like an adventure
choosing snacks for our drive back home
we’re so grateful, so lucky
to be able to drive to the supermarket together.

We walk around the block, hoping to bump into someone
never dobbing in the neighbours, we’re happy to see them
happy to stand in the street and talk to
their aunty, their mother, their entire family
the pavement becomes our meeting place
kids sharing toys, drawing worms and flowers
drawing hearts and rhinos and we’re so lucky
so grateful for the company, so lucky to have each other.

Our radius expands and we could go to the city
but our circle is set, not ready to be stretched and besides
we’re so lucky, so grateful. It’s a numbers game as always
one shot, two shots, dates and percentages 
kilometres from home, hours of exercise 
how many friends can you fit on a picnic rug?
how many friends do you still have and we’ll get there
we say, we’re counting on it, counting and counting
conversations edited to how are you getting on
we’ll get there. We’re lucky, we’re counting, we’re lucky.

Any other year of my life, I say, any other year and this 
would be unbearable. We can’t know what it’s like 
for everyone else, but we know we’re lucky, grateful
counting our lucky stars, counting our blessings
counting and counting and counting.

An Interview with my Self-Publisher

After having four books published through small independent publishing houses in New Zealand I have just released my first self-published title. My experiences have all been positive, but have ranged widely from the quintessential bookstore book launch, to crowd funding, to author collaboration and carrying boxes of books home to sell myself.

I decided to self-publish Learning to love Blue as it’s the sequel to my debut YA novel Lonesome When You Go and was proving tricky to find a home for. I was also curious about the self-publishing process.

Thanks to some very supportive Facebook groups and an inheritance from my grandparents, I was able to figure out an approach that seemed, well, approachable. I chose to use Ingramspark’s print on demand service, and set up the imprint Record Press

I was interviewed by my self(publisher) over on Medium – have a read!

11 Tracks from Learning to Love Blue


Taylor brings me a drink and then takes a guitar off someone mid-strum. He starts playing out a familiar riff – The Strokes’ ‘Someday’ and soon we’re all singing it together, tapping out accompanying beats. I wonder if it’s like this here every night.


 Why didn’t I just go back to sleep and catch the tram to work in the morning like a civilised normal person? I’ve slept on couches before. I could have handled it. 

I start humming ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ to myself, walking along my own road, taking comfort in the ‘it’s all right’ part. It’s also the best song about moving on ever written.


I’m humming, and it takes a few minutes to recognise the tune as one off Blue. The one about a flight, set to a frenetic beat that I tap out anxiously on the armrest. I watch the animation of the plane creeping to the edge of the Tasman Sea, closer towards Wellington. The familiar shape of New Zealand on the screen gives me a strange surge of patriotic comfort. 


As I park my bike and lock it to the railing, I hear a busker outside the shopping centre. He’s playing The Smiths, ‘There Is a Light That Never Goes Out’– one of the darkest and yet most optimistic songs ever. I walk closer and realise that not only are the lyrics familiar, but the voice is too. It’s Taylor. 


‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is blaring out of Lou’s room. She’s been playing Simon and Garfunkel all day and I have reached my absolute limit. 

I storm through her door.

She’s sitting cross-legged on her bed with her eyes closed and the most blissed-out expression on her face. Is she meditating? With this racket going on? She seems to sense my presence and holds up a hand to silence my not-yet-uttered protest. Then, as if conducting me, she moves her hand in a welcoming gesture, drawing me into the room and pointing to the seat next to her. There’s half a beat’s pause in the song and then the next verse starts, the crescendo rising again. There’s no use trying to speak, so I sit and close my eyes with Lou, let the song fill me. God, I hate Simon and Garfunkel.


Lou flips through some CDs and puts one in her chunky old Sony stereo.

‘I love that you have a CD collection,’ I tell her, my voice calming.

‘I love CDs. They’re so old school. Listen to this.’ She hits play and something familiar, yet strange and synthy starts playing.

‘What is this? Is that an accordion?’ Drums burst out like controlled explosions.

‘This is “The Boy In the Bubble”, from Paul Simon’s Graceland. This is his best solo album.’

His choir boy voice has changed into something stronger, and there’s a sense of urgency and an optimism in the rising major shifts.

‘After he split with Art Garfunkel, his career was dwindling and he got very depressed, but then he had a stroke of genius in the mid-80s and wrote this album in South Africa. It’s my number one top favourite album of all time,’ Lou says.

I raise my eyebrows at her. ‘Really?’


I pull out Blue. ‘Now this is one I’m still learning to love,’ I say as I slide the vinyl out of the sleeve and place it gently on the turntable. ‘Last year when my mum came to visit, she gave me this album. It’s her favourite. Dad must have said something about me liking records, but I was surprised she liked something so folky. She says it’s poetry.’ 

I set the needle down and ‘All I Want’ jangles out with the determined, sweet, melancholic first chords. 


‘Too cheesy?’ I ask.

‘Just cheesy enough. Where is he? He should be throwing himself into your arms after that.’

I bend down to retrieve my scarf. ‘I don’t know.’

‘Ah,’ Caz’s tone changes.


‘It’s like a Pixies song,’ she says, nodding towards something behind me. 

I turn and there he is. Caz pats my shoulder and slips away.

He’s gorgeous, a dimply smile twinkling like the fairy lights. ‘Paige …’ he starts.


I’m on the brink of pulling out of the Alanis tribute show when I turn up to work and Jagged Little Pill is playing.

‘Who put this on?’ I ask, before I even greet anyone.

‘It’s on random,’ Caz winks at me.

‘No it’s not. And this would never be on a Vinyl playlist anyway. It’s nowhere near Triple-J enough for us.’ It cheered me up a bit though. Caz starts singing along to the chorus of ‘You Learn’ rather melodramatically. I laugh and join in.


I’m listening to Blue and tapping on my phone when Spike appears in my bedroom doorway.

‘Is this Joni Mitchell?’ He puts down his guitar case and lies next to me on my bed.

‘Yeah, ‘My Old Man’. One of my favourites.’


We’re pretty messy and I don’t blame the passers-by for passing on by, but it’s so much fun. We run through our living room repertoire: Dylan, Nirvana, our Alanis song. I try the opening chords of Joni’s ‘All I Want’, but give up. That one’s going to need more practice. We sing our way through Ryan Adams’ ‘To Be Young’ – Spike loses it trying to do falsetto in the bridge and I get the lyrics all mixed up. 

Learning to Love Blue is available 31st July 2021