I’m close to death. Oh don’t panic – there’s no shock diagnosis; no big drama. Everyone’s close to death. The news is full of stories of people who wake up to another beautiful day, get the kids off to school then head out to [INSERT COMMON ACTIVITY; ESPECIALLY A FUN ONE] … and die. These stories haunt me. Some of these people I know. I’ve been to their funerals. Worse – is reading their name in the news, or finding out from the TV.
We’re all close to death, via this logic.
And I feel mine often. I’m pushing seventy. I’ve outlived Douglass Adams. I’ve outlived Robin Williams.
And this is my blog. I’ll write whatever the F* I want. No-one reads it, anyway. But they’ll swarm here the minute I’m done.
First off – I’m going to tell some more of my story. The Sad Tale of The Brave Little Writer Who Could, then His Career Died in the Arse. That story.
The best bits are already on Wikipedia: a bare-arsed history of the obscure little genius who suddenly rose to fame and wrote a massive pile of children’s books, briefly held the NZ record for The Biggest 1st Print-run for a First-Time Author – In Any Genre, and was twice finalist in the NZ Children’s Book of the Year Awards.
But for the last 20 years, he has experience a horrible slow-mo trainwreck of failure. Everyone likes a success story. The magazines and newspaper inserts are full of them every damn day. But we never seen the other stories.
The common perception is that geniuses always succeed. Those that try, win! But it ain’t that rosy, and it ain’t that true. Here’s my story – exactly as I wrote it. I sent this to a string of major publications in New Zealand, hoping for some interest. some support. No takers. At best a polite brush-off. at worst: silence.
The Heroic Come-back Story of NZ’s Brave Little Toaster.
“Ged Maybury began his Performance Poetry career in 1979, meeting Play-School actress Shaquel Maybury that same day. She encouraged him into her world of fringe, clown and kids’ theatre. By 1981 he was writing all their material.
In 1984 he secured a contract to write a children’s TV series. The book-version: “Time Twister”, was published in 1986 – launching his career as one of NZ’s most successful sci-fi writers for kids. He now has 28 books published, and has twice been a finalist in the NZ Children’s Book-of-the-Year awards …“
So begins his promotional blurb. And it’s all true – except for the one thing he never puts in – that he has almost entirely sunk from sight in New Zealand; “a degree of public visibility equal to what I enjoy in Australia,” he adds dryly with tired cynicism.
How could one of our rising stars just … sort of … vanish?
“In retrospect; moving to Australia was a career mistake. But let me be clear: I did it for family reasons. It was 1999. We [Ged and 2nd wife Anna] had a severely autistic child-genius who was failing at school, and a toddler showing the signs. Anna was on the internet every day to people in Brisbane with similar kids, but they had access to a host of specialists, funding, and a better general awareness of autism. Also, her family was there. We were very isolated in Temuka. But I expected my career to smoothly transfer across. Heck: I had contacts in Brisbane: publishers, writers and even the local Scholastic rep. It was going to be just fine: I’d work it!”
A few months after settling, Maybury enthusiastically contacted Scholastic Australia [in Gosford, near Sydney] and announced his arrival. “Honestly, I can’t even remember their reply. It was totally ‘meh’. True – I guess I was expecting something like, ‘Oh hoorah, let’s work together!’ Yeah-nah; not even a hint of that.”
He wrote again, offering his skills in school presentations and Book Week events.“I was up for anything. My schools performance was really polished!”
But – zip. Scholastic Australia, it seemed, did not care.
It got worse. “I had a new book coming out, ‘Crab Apples’, and organised a book-launch in Toowong. Wrote to Scholastic, asked them to notify their rep and dispatch a dozen or so of the new books. Guess what: they sent the wrong books.”
The event was a fizzer. The rep didn’t show. No apology.
He did not stop trying. Still pumping out books, he tried getting storytelling gigs in schools and public libraries. In 2003 he endured a difficult audition to get cerified to present his show directly into schools [managed by the Queensland Arts Council]. It was a scripted, polished, fun show, but without being locally known and without a glossy brochure; Maybury only scored about a dozen gigs before his 2-year cerification ran out.
At home, the stress continued. The medical issues mounted. Intellectual impairment, dyslexia, epilepsy, and some genetic mysteries, too. And through all of this, his health slowly failed.
It’s now called ME/CFS – a metabolic dysfunction of the energy-transfer chemisty within the cells. As the muscles work, they generate an abnormal mess of waste-products, while consuming the very catalyst necessary to keep the chemisty rolling. The fatigue cascades and the it affects the brain. Exercise is the worst precription!
Now well-studied in Europe and America, it was declaring a non-existant disease by the Australian Medical Association in 2002. Their attitude remains the same to this day.
There is no cure for ME/CFS. Currently the world is seeing a huge upsurge in the condition – currently called “Long Covid”. It is exactly the same, sypmtoms-wise.
For Ged Maybury it began in 1993 – six weeks after the birth of their first live baby. [Their first, a boy, died in-utero. The stress of the resultant still-birth was crushing.]
“[CFS] just became my new base-line. I ceased paid work, stopped everything except writing and parenting. At that time I had a new series running with Harper Collins [the ‘Seventh Robe’ series], but that turned to shit. We flew to Wellingtom for the 1994 AIM Children’s Book of the Year Awards. That was a buzz, hanging out with all the big-name writers! But generally, those years were hell. In the space of two years we had a dead baby, two cars stolen, two burglaries, a crying baby – well, a screaming baby, really, and I was strugging on – not realising for an entire year that I had CFS. And slap in the middle of all that: the Aramoana Massacre. I’d been in Dunedin that March, we put on a workshop in Gary Holden’s Healing Centre, stayed over in his house, had dinner with his family, I took his dog to the beach – lovely dog he was …. yeah so I knew the place, I knew the victims … as a writer my imagination pulls me into these scenes, I sort of re-live them as if I were there… Do not buy this type of imagination. It’s bad for you!”
“There was this chart at the time – a fad. You added up points for various life-events, 40 points for a divorce, 20 for a car-crash, job-lose/moving house/etc, etc … and if your score for the year was 100 or more – well you were in deep shit, basically. Get help! …”
“Our score was like: 300!”
“So Aus was a blessing in some ways. My regular mid-winter depression was gone, I connected with the local Men’s Movement scene, we had Anna’s parents supporting us in a lot of ways … less crime … the medical stuff … so many plusses.”
“And my books kept coming out in NZ. We got to Book 3 of my ‘Horse Apples’ Series, and I was writing the fourth one – I set it squarely in Australia. It was about then that I got myself onto the Aussie version of Public Lending Right – and wow! Big money! But as I studied the data I realised something bizarre: Scholastic Australia had sold the first in the series, then the third, but not Number 2. ‘Crab Apples’ was missing!”
“I wrote to them, pointing out the anomaly. Tried being positive: like: ‘Hey; Wow; here’s a golden opportunity to boost your sales of the entire series! Whaddaya say?”
“They said fuck-all, actually. In fact I don’t recall any reply at all. So I tried again the next year, citing the actual figures. Nothing. No interest. Zip. Zilch. Huh? What? I had earned that company something in the order of a quarter-million dollars in gross turn-over in the previous 18 years – and they were tossing me aside as if I was some talentless hack? This was the company that got me INTO my career in the first place!” [A Sydney rep ‘discovered’ Ged’s work way back in 1982. She was from Christchurch.]
“So: Book 4: In all I submitted it 4 times, Once directly, twice via different agents and under different titles, And once as if it were a stand-alone book with different title and characters. Four rejections; four standard, dreary, indifferent rejections.”
“So I sent it to Scholastic NZ. They loved it! Loved both the books I sent! And they immediately proceeded, as they always has to do – to submit it to their Sister Company in Aus – just for the customary nod of approval. [NZ is too small of a market, but with Australia combined, a new book will do well.] ‘Hooray’ – thought I, ‘this is finally going to go through!’”
“Then the situation hung. Nothing for an entire 15 months, until Scholastic NZ finally got sick of the wait and phoned them. Apparently it was a brief call. Sydney turned the deal down; no reason given. My kiwi friends wrote to me with this perplexing, crushing news. I read it and roared with fury. I’d never been so angry before. I boiled; I seethed, and in a way I’m still seething. Why The Flick!?”
“I quit writing. I was too broken-hearted. I couldn’t fight it any longer. No amount of positivity and ‘try-try-again’ was going to fix it.”
And that killed it?
No. A few minor books had already gotten off the ground in Australia. ‘Scuttle and the Zipzaps’ came out in 2003 via Banana Books – which collapsed within a year. Then Koala Books took up ‘Nose Bleed’. But they were bought out by a big conglomerate and their junior-book section got swiftly axed. Maybury switched to writing Steampunk and his first book was taken up by a small startup in 2012, which soon collapsed, but the same book was swiftly contracted by another start-up – digital and print editions – but that one sank too, just two years later, taking a whole lot of emerging writers with it.
[Maybury has since published the entire series himself, digital only, but don’t bother trying to find it on Amazon. (“..it’s a loathsome evil company.”)]
‘Nose Bleed’, however, was given new hope in 2013 and the publisher (Scholastic’s rival Blake Educational) hasn’t collapsed! It remains Maybury’s only successful Australian book: a thin quirky novel about a weird kid, set in Maybury’s own patch: the City of Logan – home to half the Kiwis in Australia!
So there it hangs. At 68, Maybury feels exhaused, adrift without agent or publisher.
“I’m a ‘creative’, not a promoter. I have no business-brain. Without Scholastic, I lost all the momentum; the sales, the exposure. My whole career slide downhill despite my autistic, bi-polar, non-functional-adult-efforts to the contrary. IQ is no guarrantee of success. Talent isn’t, either. Attitude? Maybe 10%. Luck is huge! Having money counts, or a spose with a job. Successful parents – that’s good. Connections. Self-belief. All those things play well together. Most writers, I suspect, never notice how much their privilege contributes to their success.”
“Maybe in some corners of adulthood, austism is an assest. In publishing, nope.”
“Maybe that’s it: I just can’t write letters with the right ‘tone’. The right kind of ‘business-speak’. Maybe I came across as a jerk. Or I never hit the right people. Or … maybe I wasn’t the right person. Australia is pretty ‘racist’ towards Kiwis. It’s the best word for it. I saw some celeb once, on daytime talk-TV, absolutely sounding off about New Zealanders. Vile vile woman, she was. ‘Why don’t they all go home!?’”
“It’s endemic. Maybe, by moving there, I suddenly became the wrong kind of writer. They’d happily take my books as long as I stayed away, but by immigrating I’d crossed the invisible line. They weren’t going to give the Kiwi writer a fair suck of the sav. Hell: I was ‘stealing their jobs!’”
“But I speculate. Why the flick? I honestly don’t know. It’s old news now. 15 years. I need to this off my emotional back-burner. A story that needs telling. Now you know.”
And now? In 2021? “I’ve ceased writing. It’s like theatre – without an audience there’s nothing. No laughter. No applause. Why step out yet again and play to an empty house?”
But my books are still out there: Digital. 20 years of work. Six for kids and the big Steampunk series ‘Across the Stonewind Sky’.
And I’d really want to emphasise that Book 4 in the Horse Apple series is finally available, 20 years late! Called ‘Dinosaur Apples’, it follows the continuing (mis)adventures of Piho, Randy, Beau and geeky goofy toothy Tammy as they meet up once more in Outback Australia. (One spoiler: Randy proposes!) And one more FYI: the first three in that series are digitized and available too. The entire series. The whole set! Ludicrously cheap! So give your kids the same fun you had 23 years ago! Cheers!
Aroha, my Beloved Country!”
There: it’s now published! Hah; take that, losers!