The epic struggle of our time – pitting characters against the climate storm

Apple blossom to illustrate hope in cli-fi Image by Ruby and the Blue Sky author Katherine Dewar

Like Amitav Ghosh, I’m fascinated by the role of novels in exploring climate change.  Though over 100 have now been published, collated here on GoodReads by Karl Friedrich Lenz and by Dan BloomAdeline Jons-Putra and Ted Howell and among others, they tend to assume we fail, using a climate-ruined world as a dystopic setting.  As literary scholar Howell asks, “where are the utopian visions of the future?”  Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior is a notable cli-fi exception, as a contemporary story of hope in the struggle, and I’m on a constant look out for more.

My fascination became an inspiration, so I recklessly centered my debut novel in the heart of the climate storm.  As a theme, it proved compelling and rewarding to write about, pitting my characters into everyday dilemmas against an epic backdrop.

Ruby illustration from the cover of Ruby and the Blue Sky by Katherine DewarLike many young people, my protagonist, Ruby, vents her frustration at climate inaction one weekend.  Less commonly, as a Grammy-winner, she has the power of “the mic and a global feed to millions” when she does.   Her words inspire a greek chorus of eco-groupies to chase and chivvy her to do more than speak out. Nevertheless, Ruby at first feels powerless to make a difference, as do most of us in our climate-wrecking society.

Responding to climate change, or not, is essentially an inner conflict, generally expressed as an external one.  It disrupts our everyday decision making if we choose to let it.  If it’s raining, will I walk the 800m to buy a pint of milk or will I take the car?  Will I fly or spend an extra day travelling and take the train?  Will I buy an imported mandarin because I love their citrus zing or settle for a local apple’s crunch today?  Good climate choices can often still be more difficult, inconvenient, or expensive, so dependent are we on fossil fuels.

Climate change isn’t something we can attack; it mostly requires us to exercise restraint in what we buy or what we do.  It requires us to relish the heady pleasure of the wind in our hair at 10km/hr on a bicycle rather than 100km/hr in a convertible, to extend Ghosh’s metaphor for cultural desire.  It is an daily struggle in our hearts against a threat we can barely imagine, until the local river floods or our rains fail.

Externally, powerful forces, including the oil and coal giants and much of the car industry, are obvious in preferring our dependency.   Even as I was making final edits to Ruby and the Blue Sky, my feminist climate change thriller, new evidence of the oil giants’ duplicity was revealed.

Less obviously, our whole economic model, founded on consuming, is pitted against the finite loveliness of Earth.  To meet even the Paris climate change targets we’ll need to do more than switch to buying fair trade, organic stuff.

In my business-life, our team support organisations working to be less bad and there is work internationally to shape businesses that benefit society and nature, as well as shareholders.  In my political life, I volunteer for a Party striving to move my country onto a footing our land, rivers and oceans can endure, where everyone has enough to eat.  I undertake both these roles carrying a silent scream inside me; while everything we are doing is worthy, it is not enough and far, far too slow.  Writing my novel let the silent scream become a cathartic, urgent roar.

But I like to entertain and polemic alienates me personally as a reader so, while it’s based on fact and science, you won’t find complex climate explanations in the pages of Ruby and the Blue Sky.  You will find a story about the epic struggle for power over our climate future and the sacrifices it asks of all of us.

I found, in the heart of writing it, the potential for humility; a humble remembering that while we have altered the future of our planet, we are just a temporary beast on its surface.  Our lair is overheating under the blanket of gases we have made and, like Ruby, each of us must decide how much more hot air we’ll tolerate.


Ruby and the Blue Sky


Ruby and the Blue Sky is a feminist, climate change thriller. Katherine Dewar‘s debut novel, it’s a tale of fame, power, sacrifice – and tea.  Where to buy >

Insights from a 1st-time indie author

The first box of copies of Ruby and the Blue Sky

How I tackled my first self-publishing adventure

In July 2016, I unleashed my debut novel, Ruby and the Blue Sky, on the world. Here’s a summary of what I learned and the decisions I made along the way. I hope it helps in your own adventure.

Stage in publishing journey Approach used for Ruby and the Blue Sky
1 Who are you publishing for?

Knowing the audience you want your book to have will help shape your  decisions.  You might want to publish for a handful of family members, a local audience or for a particular type of reader worldwide. Think about who they are, where they are, how many of them there are. And how they like to read.

My first novel, Ruby and the Blue Sky, is a feminist climate change thrillerI wanted it to be as widely read as possible by this international niche audience. I also wanted it to be easily available to my networks in the UK and NZ. This drove my choices to publish in both eBook and print format and to choose suppliers with international distribution.Katherine Dewar reading from Ruby and the Blue Sky UK launch July 2016
2 Developing the content

A book can be anything from 20 pages of family history to a seven volume epic, but you have to write it. This takes time so start – now. Write to delight yourself and to honour your target reader.

I love writing fiction and particularly the dual freedom and discipline of crafting a novel.  I wrote Ruby and the Blue Sky in my spare time over a four year period with a year off to develop and launch the Sustainable Marketing online course.  I write for a progressive adult audience who want intelligent, inspiring escape that reflects their concerns and has characters they can relate to.
3 Don’t be annoying

The most frequent gripes by readers of self-published books relate to the quality of the editing – or the lack of it.  Shape and fine-tune the content until it’s great, get it read and re-read by people with fresh eyes and vigilant red pens, select or commission images with care. Typos, continuity glitches and poor images undermine even the best story.EditingSymbols

My goals included creating an attractive and credible end-product and keeping costs down, so the book could become self-funding.  This meant I drew on friends with professional skills in three waves during the process.

  1. I got my third draft read by avid readers and a couple of writing friends I could trust to be critical, including a couple of topic experts.
  2. I had two new friends, with professional editing skills, kindly volunteer to read the fourth draft.
  3. The final draft was proof-read for typos and layout by three more friends with fresh eyes.

Lastly, I printed the whole thing out and spent a weekend re-reading it very, very carefully and making the last corrections.

4 Your cover counts

Book purchase decisions are made in a fraction of a second based on how a thumbnail of the cover looks on a smart phone.  It had better be good.Screenshot Ruby and the Blue Sky Fishpond on phone

Having spent 25 years commissioning professional design work, I knew early in the research I wanted to commission a professional cover.  I considered friends with art and design skills but book design is a highly specialist skill. I looked at online services but decided to make a buy-local procurement decision and gave the project to one of NZ’s top cover designers, Keely O’Shaunessy.   The cover design was by far my biggest financial outlay in the publishing process.
5 Format and production

This stage is the most technically tricky part of the journey, with each decision branching into new options.  It merits its own article but in short these are the questions to resolve:

eBook or physical print?

If eBook, for Kindle only (MOBI) or other formats too (ePub, IBA)? BookFunnel provides an extremely low cost way to let people download a range of electronic formats including PDFs, great for review copies, promos or for small audiences .

If physical print, will you get 1,500 printed or have copies printed and shipped ‘on demand’ (PoD)?  Hardback or paperback only? What trim size?  White paper or cream?  Standard cover or a varnish?

What about an audio book?

Again, your production format decisions should be guided by what your target audience reads.

Each format has its own requirements in terms of book file creation, and these are also shaped by the channels you choose for distribution. Each option also has its own requirements in terms of text layout and the format of the output files that will be uploaded.Image of desk with a laptop on it

To make Ruby and the Blue Sky widely available I published it both as an eBook and a paperback. I decided to produce the eBook as MOBI format for Kindle sales and in the ePub format which is offered on Apple’s iBooks app alongside their proprietary IBA format.

For the physical print, upfront outlay,  environmental impact and ease of logistics were important, as well as availability to as many readers in as many markets as possible.  I didn’t want 1,500 copies in my garage.  I wanted copies in readers’ hands as easily as possible, anywhere in the world, with minimal waste.

So I chose print on demand (PoD), where a copy (or copies) are printed and shipped when a customer orders from an online bookshop or if a bookstore or library order a supply.  As the publisher, I get a special rate per book for any I order directly, as ‘thankyou’ copies for my talented friends, for example.

I made the size ‘Demy’ (216 x 138mm) a standard format big enough for bookshops and libraries to carry but lower cost than the largest formats.  I selected cream paper, the classic option for fiction, and a matte varnish for the cover.  If people buy a physical book they like it to look and feel good.

These choices meant I had to layout and format the final, edited text into four different files for upload to my chosen production partners. I’ve had requests for an audio book but have shelved (!) that for now and may consider crowd-funding one in the future.

6 Where will it be sold?

The world of online book retail comprises Amazon/Kindle and the rest.  ‘The rest’ ranges from book specialists, like Kobo, to generalists like Fishpond. It also includes niche online bookstores, some of which are independent and some affiliates, feeding orders to the big players.

Offline, there are bookstore chains (Whitcoulls and Paperplus locally, for instance) and independent bookstores.  Libraries also buy and stock books for readers.

Physical bookshops and libraries mainly order through wholesalers.

Different eBook distribution companies and book printing companies have relationships with different wholesalers and retailers in different markets.

Yes, it’s complicated.

You might also of course choose to sell the eBook or physical copies yourself, at events or through your own online store, in which case you will get the customer information, unlike with the options above.Katherine Dewar author at Paiges Whanganui

Again, following my goals and research insights I chose a two-pronged approach which reflects the structure of the market; Amazon/Kindle and the rest.

For Amazon/Kindle, I dealt direct. My research suggested this path is smoothest.  Amazon does have fish-hooks in its contracts so I set up the Amazon and Kindle arrangements last.  I am also mindful of their ethics to authors and staff but their reach is huge, so I’ve made that compromise.

Before setting up anything with Amazon, I created an account and uploaded files for production with IngramSpark, my print and distribution partner for ‘the rest’.  I chose Ingram because their background is in printed book distribution which means they have arrangements with wholesalers as well as retailers for eBooks and printed books.  They work with most online retailers, including iBooks, Kobo, Fishpond etc and will also supply through Amazon if you want them to. There were a host of administration stages amongst all this including:

  • contracts with each partner,
  • tax forms for US sales
  • Author income payment mechanisms (by antiquated cheque from Amazon!) and
  • ISBN numbers to secure (free for NZ authors from the National Library of NZ).

Only after publishing did I discover IngramSpark, via IngramContent Australia, does not yet have strong supply relationships with NZ-based retailers, most of whom have supply contracts with US or UK-based distributors, which means they pay more for shipping and wait longer than they would if they ordered through Ingram in Australia.

7 Pricing 

You need a pricing strategy for your book, the same as for any other product.

For an eBook where you want to maximise distribution it might be FREE, priced at a low 99c, or sold at a few dollars per download to generate revenue.

You might choose to price your physical book to just recover costs, though be wary of hidden hazards like international currency fees, exchange rate fluctuations and local GST legislation, or to make a profit.

As the publisher, you get to set the Recommended Retail Price and can choose what discount, if any, you’ll offer retailers (the preferred trade standard is 55%).

I needed to price Ruby and the Blue Sky at the quality fiction end of the market to generate a margin after per-copy production and distribution costs.  As an unknown author, this is hurdle but I figured my target reader would pay to read it if they found the cover and blurb compelling.

The unit cost per copy to the publisher is lower if you print 1,500 copies or more upfront, rather than Print on Demand, but you have to carry the outlay upfront.

I took a format-agnostic view to pricing which means I get ‘a couple of bucks’ NZ for every copy sold, regardless of currency, platform or format.

I also offer the maximum 55% trade discount to support book shops who want to order.  It’s $3.99 on Kindle or $39.99 incl GST in NZ, if you’re keen!)

8 Marketing

Like with any product or service, production is only the beginning.  Marketing as a self-published author is a slow road because the large publishing companies still dominate the industry, awards and media opportunities.  However the opportunities for digital promotion are endless and an entire indie-infrastructure has evolved with free and paid for services for everything from reviews to specialist social media and more.

One young indie author spent 100 days last year wearing a sandwich board in the streets of Leeds to promote his book.

Knowing your audience and connecting with them through your shared networks can build to tremendous reach, over time. Reviews anywhere really count.

Preparing a Title Information Sheet  is an essential tool to start with.

Great photos are gold.

Having a good book helps, of course.Katherine Dewar on KickArts Planet FM

I’ve sometimes felt there’s a tension in my life between writing fiction and having a marketing career.  In self-publishing Ruby and the Blue Sky, I’ve learned it’s the perfect profession.

Tasks from book metadata creation to tagline development, writing a blurb, organising a photo shoot, creating and sending press releases, speaking at events, running social media, working with retailers and planning campaigns are things I’m trained and experienced at doing.

Global online sales mean there’s no problem with me running marketing ‘after hours’.  But the global is balanced by the hyper-local.

Regional centres have been brilliantly supportive in print media, radio and artistic community support for a debut indie novelist.

I was tremendously supported at launch events with with over 30 people in Leeds, UK, where the novel is set, in Whanganui, as part of their Winter Wonderfest, and in Auckland. Dunedin library hosted me when I had a chance to visit in October. Each event was a great chance to build a relationship with the local indie bookstore.

It might be a wide world for an author, but the community library and the local bookshop are at its heart.

Ruby and the Blue Sky

I’m extremely grateful to everyone who helped, encouraged and read, at every stage in the adventure of bringing Ruby and the Blue Sky into the world.

If you’d like to see what we made you can find out where to get your copy here.


Festival trifecta!

Author Katherine Dewar with a copy of Ruby and the Blue Sky at Paige's Book Gallery Whanganui

La Fiesta 2017 promo posterThis week, I’m taking part in three events at the fabulous Whanganui festival, La Fiesta (gotta love alliteration!).  Can you make it or do you know anyone who might like to come?


THE FLOOD – Thursday 23rd February

7:30pm at the Education Room, 83 Maria Place, Whanganui – KOHA.

I’m excited to be alongside Annette Main, Tanea Tangaroa and Rachel Plank in a panel discussion about extreme weather, climate change and the role of creativity with esteemed MC Nicola Patrick.  Please bring your questions and join us, whatever the weather!


INSIGHTS FROM A FIRST-TIMER – Friday 24th February

10:30am to 12:00pm at Ladies Rest, 75 St Hill Street, Whanganui – KOHA.

In this workshop for writers of all kinds, I’m going to be sharing my experiences as an indie author self-publishing for the first time. Bring your questions and come ready to do some thinking about how you might reach an audience for your own stories.

PERSUASIVE MARKETING – Friday 24th February

1pm to 3pm at Ladies Rest, 75 St Hill Street, Whanganui – FREE!

I put my professional experience as a marketer to use every day as an indie-author. Please join me for the first delivery outside Auckland of my popular workshop on writing messaging for your organisation.  Practice putting your passion into compelling words to attract support, customers or funders.

You can read more about all three of these events in the Wanganui Chronicle here.

To ask me any questions or to register click here.

River City Press write up about Katherine Dewar workshop
River City Press preview article February 2017

To ask me any questions or to register click here.

Love the discovery

Digging to discover - image of spade in earth courtesy of Goumbik on Pixabay

I’ve realised my curiosity is a big part of what makes me an author. I want to write and I want to imagine, but I also want to find out.  In my ‘day job‘ we call it the ‘discovery stage’ and its one of my favourite activities – unearthing the intricacies that make an organisation tick and understanding them.

I’m in the ‘discovery phase’ of a new novel right now; exploring ideas imaginatively but letting them lead me into research, to find the intricacies that ‘furnish’, as Stephanie Johnson said last week, a character’s life.  This interplay between imagination and curiosity often seems to give me the inspiration that propels the characters through the plot.

As an author at the start of 21st Century, I have tools available no other story-teller in history has enjoyed.  I can visit a street in Leeds from my desk here in Aotearoa New Zealand in the flicker it takes my screen to load with pixels; I can look down on it from above, as if I were one of the city’s owls, taken flight from the town hall, or swivel on the street, looking around me.  I can dive into the complexities of veterinary care for polar bears in zoos, harvesting kernels from academic papers and expert websites, or watch people’s smart phone videos as they experience a flood,  like I did writing Ruby and the Blue Sky.

As I write, here in this remote part of an island 2000km from anywhere, the world at my fingertips, I’m full of respect for pre-internet authors and their patient library work and with gratitude for the internet which, at its best, can fire understanding, the empathy that follows and sometimes, for a short time, satiate my curiosity.

Affirming feedback to a flash

Flash explosion of a star to illustrate flash fiction and the short short story. Image: NASA

Flash fiction – read my winning 127 word story below

I belong to the NZ Society of Authors for the fellowship and their commitment to free speech. Having attended my first Auckland branch meeting in December, I was pleased to receive the details for the first 2017 meeting.

The invite included a monthly members’ competition, to write a poem or flash fiction story of fewer than 150 words on the topic “Playing at ‘god’, with a small g”.  I had an instant sense of what I could write; typed, slept on it, tweaked and sent off the entry.

I enjoyed Friday’s meeting, especially author Stephanie Johnson‘s witty wisdom on writing novels but had to leave before the competition result.  The following morning, I got a voice message from the member who’d arranged the contest to say my entry was the winner.

As I’m in foothills of my second novel, squinting up at the mountain of a task ahead, positive feedback, like a fistful of scroggin, is essential and motivating. Thank you Auckland NZ Society of Authors.

This is my winning 127 word flash fiction short short story. If you want to share it please link rather than copying, thanks.

Playing at ‘god’

She wrote in the darkness, carving words until light bled into the page. Where there had been a gnawing void, she created; the tick of time, the sprinkle of starlight and the swell of ocean. She described the land and wove in the details of tussock grass and restive trees. Between the trees and the waves she laid words for birds and fish and animals, finding nouns to name them and verbs to move them around the world. At the end of the week dialogue hung in her nib, waiting for a mouth. She wrote a man but his voice droned on about his accomplishments until even she was tired of them so she crossed him out and wrote a woman instead. It was time for action.

© Katherine Dewar, 2017

Feedback welcome in the form below.  You can listen to the kind feedback from the NZ Society of Authors Auckland judge in the recording here >

If you’d like more from me about writing, my debut novel and my new novel-in-progress you can sign up for email updates here or follow me on Twitter. See you there!

Stephanie Johnson on writing novels

Katherine Dewar tweet on writing by Stephanie Johnson

On Friday 3rd February, historical and contemporary novelist Stephanie Johnson spoke at the Auckland branch of the NZ Society of Authors meeting.

Stephanie’s 1996 novel, The Heart’s Wild Surf, was one of the first New Zealand novels I read on emigrating here twenty years ago.

A pithy feminist, Stefanie spoke with wit and wisdom. I tweeted some of the gems I most appreciated. Here they are for those of you not on Twitter.


Stephanie did reveal she was enjoying particular new success writing under her pseudonym but no, she didn’t reveal her nom de plume.

If you’d like more from me about writing, my debut novel and my new novel-in-progress you can sign up for email updates here or follow me on Twitter.


The three things I’m getting asked most, as a new author

Katherine Dewar - notebook with work in progress towards her next novel

It dawned on me yesterday that, as an indie author of six months, I could see a trend in what I get asked about writing my first novel, Ruby and the Blue Sky.

The most common question is ‘how long did it take?

Really I want to answer ‘a lifetime’. It feels two blinks and a heart beat since I was writing Hobbit fan-faction featuring giant spiders aged 10 and since I gave Crime a human form. There’s a been a lot of practice since then and a lot of learning. Much of it under the talented tutelage of Dame Fiona Kidman in her classes that later became a Whitirea Polytechnic course. I’ve had a couple of dry runs at novel writing, photocopied and shared with  whanau. One whispers to me from its box under the spare bed. One day it might entice me to unleash it on you.

Nicola Patrick and author Katherine Dewar
Nicola Patrick interviews author Katherine Dewar

What people really want to know is how long did it take me to write the 75,000 words that are this novel and, implicitly, the 75,000 more that were scrapped along the way.  The collection of scribbles that became Ruby and the Blue Sky started to accumulate in my notebooks around 2010. They settled around the ‘What if?’ question. What if someone with mass popular appeal really worked to lead change?  As I’ve written int he guest-blog here, the novel didn’t take shape until the following year, when I visited Leeds and the city crystallised the scribbles into the drafts that became the book.

I set it aside for most of a year at one stage, finding myself failing to progress either the manuscript or a non-fiction publishing project, an online course in ethical marketing. Once the course was launched, I revisited the draft with fresh eyes and the novel is better for its fallow time.  By December 2015 it was written, rewritten and a year of major edits complete. From then til I published took another six months of research into how to self-publish, commissioning the cover design, proof-reading, copy edits, layout, file formatting, completing tax forms and launch organising.  So, about four years writing, very part-time, around running one business and launching another, and six months to publish, all told.

The second most common question has been ‘how much is autobiographical?

Ruby illustration from the cover of Ruby and the Blue Sky by Katherine DewarWhen people have read the novel, this is frequently focused on the music; Ruby, the protagonist, fronts a band, singing and playing guitar. I don’t do either but it pleases me immensely I could imagine it well enough to make Ruby so convincing.  The only elements drawn from my life are a passion for nature, living in Leeds, which I did for nine years, and working in groups to make change, which I do to this day. The rest is made up. Except for climate change of course. THAT IS ALL REAL, whatever the US president might think. All the science is as accurate as I could make it, including the geo-engineering.

Thirdly, and easiest to answer; ‘are you writing another one?

Yes, dear reader, I am.

Katherine Dewar - notebook with work in progress towards her next novel

Editing the flood – from fiction to fact

On Boxing Day 2015, when I was at the final editing stage of my debut novel, Ruby and the Blue Sky, I got a disconcerting surprise.  The novel is set in Leeds, in the near future of 2021.  I was expecting to start last year taming the semi-colons and line-breaks identified by my kind and ruthless proof readers. Instead, I had to confront a flood I had invented as fiction, based on a historical event from 1866, happening for real.

You can read about the Leeds Boxing Day flood, how I handled it in editing Ruby and the Blue Sky and how that all led to my novel as a museum piece in my guest blog published today on Leeds Big Bookend, here >


My thanks to Fiona Gell for featuring the piece. Read the full story on Leeds Big Bookend >


I’m a novelist but …

Millennial voting map US Nov 2016



You have had your time old man

Raised behind cold barricades

Fear fills you

Inheriting the earth

You saw the pinnies stripped away

Left you naked

Made you afraid

You take a last gasp of easy power

Parading trophies to win applause

Voicing your dark doubts to hear them echoed back


But we are not afraid

We have been bonded to our sisters and our brothers

Since birth in hot pot families

Since we could slide a sticky finger across a screen

Since we learned our fight for home is not against each other

We know what must be done.

You have had your time old man.


© Katherine Dewar  – 11 November 2016 –


I ‘m a novelist but sometimes things bust out as poems.  I’m Gen-X so this is for many of us and many of our parents, but mainly for most millennials. I’m not american but we are all in this together.

Where less than half of voters in the 2016 USA election voted for the new President, the proportion of support from younger voters was significantly lower. This reflects a global trend towards more tolerant values among younger people who are more likely to be concerned about climate change and see themselves as citizens of the world.   The character Ruby, in my novel Ruby and the Blue Sky, was inspired by ‘millennials’ I’m fortunate know. 



Reviews of ‘Ruby and the Blue Sky’

Ruby and the Blue Sky - The Women's Bookshop review card

The Women’s Bookshop’s esteemed and wonderful owner, Carole Beu, has this to say!

Ruby and the Blue Sky - The Women's Bookshop review card

“Ruby is a wonderfully sassy character! This lively novel by an NZer features lots of social and political action – Ruby is going to change the world!!  It also has some serious and disturbing moments.  Very Good.”  Carole Beu, The Women’s Bookshop

In January 2017, journalist Greta Yeomans chose Ruby and the Blue Sky as her ‘recommended read’ in The Star, with this review.

Ruby and the Blue Sky Review by Greta Yeoman

On 28th August 2016, Kickarts host Richard Green reviewed Ruby and the Blue Sky – listen at the 31 min 30 sec mark to hear about my book, but the whole show is great!

On 27th July 2016, Culture Vulture in the UK reviewed Ruby and the Blue Sky:

“Have you ever read something you enjoyed so much that you didn’t actually want it to end? I was very disciplined to not just stay up all night and devour this one in one gulp.” 
Lianne Marie Mease, Culture Vulture, UK

Twitter post about Ruby and the Blue Sky review on Culture Vulture

You can read the full Culture Vulture review here.


GoodReads rating 4.7 for Ruby and the Blue Sky Jan 2017Ruby and the Blue Sky  has a rating of 4.7 on Goodreads as at 29th January 2016.


GoodReads latest reviews Ruby and the Blue Sky

You can read all the Goodreads reviews and ratings for Ruby and the Blue Sky here.

Find out where to buy your copy – available worldwide in paperback and all eBook formats.