Author: headlandadmin (page 1 of 5)

Dealing With Not Knowing

An Absence

We wrap up our Issue 13 blog series about ‘absent characters’ with some thoughts from Laura Borrowdale on writing the unseen characters in her story ‘The Wasps’.

Laura is a teacher and writer based in Christchurch New Zealand. Her work has been published in Turbine, Sport, and Takahe, amongst others. She is the founding editor of Aotearotica.

 

Dealing With Not Knowing

I remember reading Emily Perkins’ ‘Story About My Wife’ when I was younger, and being thrilled by her portrayal of a man’s experience. I loved that idea of playing with inside the head of a narrator whose experience is so different to your own. We are so used to men’s voices being used to tell female characters, but for me, it felt a bit transgressive to inhabit the narrator of The Wasps.

As a writer, I habitually explore female experience, and this seemed like a chance to do the opposite. In fact, all the female characters in this story are fairly unknown. Usually in my writing I identify very strongly with the main character, but this story was different. I felt as though she was very like me, even though she is defined by someone else.

Part of what I found difficult to write about in the story was the lack of something.  The partner in this story is an absence, and that was deliberate. The narrator can no longer see his partner and defines her by what he doesn’t know, or what he guesses, which is what allows him to treat her the way that he does. By being a blank space, she becomes a projection of his thoughts and feelings, and by extension, the reader’s. Part of what I wanted was to actively create that space in the text.

I’d love to think that the narrator’s partner does exist as a character in her own right, that she might feel real, and if she does, I think it is likely because of her absence, rather than presence. The narrator can never be sure what she is thinking, which is such a  common experience. We all want to know what people think of us and, particularly, our partners and our partners’ thoughts about our relationships.  We all have to deal with not knowing. Like the narrator.

_____

 

We love how Laura evokes the long hot hot Wellington summer (remember that?) in this story.  Read ‘The Wasps’ and 11 other gems in Issue 13.

Current Issue

“They’re All Dead Now”

There, and yet, not

Some reading to start your week off right, from the talented Becky Manawatu from Issue 13. We’re examining how absent characters work in stories, and how writers make them feel real to the reader, despite their non-appearance.

Becky Manawatu talks about the absent character that helps shape her narrative in ‘Abalone’, in our latest issue.

Becky is a reporter for one of the smallest independent daily newspapers in New Zealand, The News, Westport. She gained a Diploma in Writing for Creative Industries from the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology and now teaches fiction writing at NMIT part time. She was shortlisted for The 2018 Surrey Hotel Steve Braunias Memorial Writers Residency Award in Association with The Spinoff, and has had work published by The Spinoff and NMIT’s literary journal, Kiss Me Hardy. Her novel, Pluck, is to be published by Mākaro Press in May 2019. Her short story published by Headland, ‘Abalone’, was long-listed for the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

“They’re All Dead Now”

You’d be hard pressed to find a novel, story or song that isn’t shaped by a dead, absent, or missing person. It is an imitation of life, really, or your coffee cup. Where would your long-black be without that empty space? You wouldn’t chug it, scalding hot, right from the machine. You’d go without.

One of the characters in my story ‘Abalone’ is a dead father. Not necessarily his death, but his no-longer-being-alive helps drive the narrative.

Most of these books in the shelf beside my bed have dead people in them. And hardly any of those dead people would do absolutely anything for anyone.

I wrote ‘Abalone’ directly after reading Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall at your Knees, which begins: ‘They’re all dead now.’

That is the entire first paragraph: ‘They’re all dead now.’

Ok. Great… If they’re all dead, why the fuck should I care, right?

But of course I did. I just had to know why, just had to know how, just had to know where and when.

But most importantly I just had to know who. Who is dead? Because knowing who is dead, is understanding the space that they’ve left behind.

And it is human nature to want to know that space. We might be secretly choosing the song that should be played at our funeral, and we might secretly hope that more than a few people will shed more than a few tears as that song plays, and we do these things partly because we are often denied a chance to understand.

I once took a selfie in the toilet following a funeral. I don’t know why, in fact I am almost embarrassed by myself, and yet here I am sharing it. I’d been sad, and I had cried, and in the bathroom mirror I had wiped away some mascara which had run a little – but then I smiled a little bit, just a little bit, and I went back out and drank a beer and ate some pāua, and doing those things when someone I’d held dear no longer could felt both very heartbreaking and very good – almost luxurious.

I wiped away some mascara and took this selfie in the bathroom after a funeral

We are interested in the space we’ll leave ourselves. This interest compels us to read, write and watch movies, and we are most attracted to those which include both loss and laughter.

Colum McCann wrote in his book of practical and philosophical advice, Letters to a Young Writer: ‘Never forget that art is entertainment. It is your duty to reflect the world, yes, but it is also your duty to bring a bit of brightness to it too.’ As Nietzsche says, we have art, so we shall not die of too much reality.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a novel, story or song that isn’t shaped by a dead, absent or missing person.

Furthermore, you’d be hard pressed to find a successful novel thick with loss and not lightened by a writer’s touch, lightened by humour – even in the tiniest detail, a flicker, a fleeting image.

The deaths of fictional characters, and their grieving survivors, are the most accessible (and abundant), because when real people die, the space they leave is quickly covered, quickly sanitised. It gets filled with words like, as Sunday Star Times Magazine editor Emily Simpson comically mused in a recent editorial, ‘He would have done absolutely anything for anybody,’ or ‘She was happy-go-lucky, bubbly, life of the party,’ and ‘She was so kind, so thoughtful.’ Dead people are most often the very, very best people that the world is so much worse without.

We can be shunned from the space by terms: ‘the investigation is ongoing and the family requests privacy.’ And, yes, that privacy must be respected.

But, it is still another closed door. It is another door that we can’t help but imagine, and wonder what is going on behind it.

Wonder would drive us to madness if it weren’t for fiction. Even if you only watch movies, it is my guess those movies – in fact all the stories that have shaped society- might have saved you from overstepping a line, from knocking on a door you shouldn’t knock on.

I mean, we’d be barbaric without stories. We’d be barbarians driven mad by wonder.

Fiction waits patiently, to answer every question and satiate any curiosity (to an extent) the real world denies us. While real doors shut, art lets us in. To listen to the aching echo, to feel how deep and desolate it might be – to watch a relative acid trip through a funeral, or to see the Happy Birthday song Bella sung for Ricky Baker before she keeled over, as she was hanging out the washing. That’s art. That’s story.

When I wrote ‘Abalone’ I wanted to explore the space a man’s dead father leaves, and exploit the way his mother tries to fill it. Her extravagant over-compensation. The compulsive way she bears down, fills the space with her excessive presence and intrusion, and desperately tries to protect her son from falling into the void his father left.

I wanted to expose that dark space, but as it is stark reality that will kill us before we’re even dead, I hoped to write something to counter it.

In ‘Abalone’ the mother fills and fills and fills the space her son’s dead father left – until the earth literally cracks at their feet.

____

Read Becky’s story ‘Abalone’ in Issue 13.

Current Issue

Writing Black Bird

Extras: Issue 13

Extras is our special feature accompanying each issue, offering insight and a peek behind a story. For lucky Issue 13,  Breton Dukes tells us about the process of writing his story ‘Black Bird‘. If you haven’t read it yet, get thee to our Current Issue page! It’s a good ‘un.

Breton is a Dunedin short story writer. His two collections were both published by VUP.

By Nick-D – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27673722

Breton Dukes: Writing ‘Black Bird’

Last year my family and I travelled to Auckland for a holiday and stayed in Devonport, very near Cheltenham Beach. I like swimming and I’d go down once or twice a day, when the tide was right, with my son Hector. He was about two then. We’d sit in the sand and dig with sticks and then wander the beach, looking at bits of seaweed and plastic.

We live in Dunedin now, but I’ve lived in different parts of the North Island, so the beaches there – pohutukawa, warm water, native birds – are very familiar. I reckon beaches lend themselves to drama: wildlife; things in the water; heat; waves; and people doing personal things – getting changed, sunbathing, screwing – in a public place.

So that was my setting, but what would I write about?

My  last collection of stories was published in 2014. Back then, I thought fiction was easy. I’d published two books, had good reviews, and secured loot from CNZ. So, when thinking of my next project, I thought big. A sprawling novel – my guiding light was Infinite Jest – that would capture this country, that would capture Aotearoa!

Christ.

Not long after I started, Hector was born.  I was working at a shitty government call centre. I’d get up early and write, then help with Hector, then go to work. Quickly the project got out of control; tons of scenes, tons of shifts in point of view, and no coherent story. But no matter, I thought, at the end I’ll pull it together. I got obsessed with word count. I got further and further into my own arse. At one point – having read about pre-historic false-toothed pelicans in one of Hector’s books– I decided to write a prologue set in pre-human times…

Three-quarters finished, I sent it to my publisher. He wasn’t impressed: Did you know that in the first twenty pages there are eighteen scenes and twelve different points of view?

I did, but, well… Isn’t it edgy? Don’t you see the great sweep of the thing?

No.

I did CPR on it for 18 months, but it was gone, living in the stairwell of some inner-city building, slurping meths from a Fanta can.

So, what next? Back to short stories, quick! To save face, to make up for the three years I’d spent on the novel, I’d dash out a new collection. This time staying close to the ground; I’d focus on stay-at-home dads, the relationship stress of new parents, the anxiety, the depression. I wrote ten stories in about six months and shot them off to the publisher…

Too dark, he said. Exhausting to read. Too much the same. No thanks, he said.

He was right. My wife and I found parenting hard. We’d been selfish, ambitious, hedonists. Now we were up before dawn, blending overcooked pumpkin with mince and spinach… We were sleep-deprived and grumpy. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing. It was a struggle. My bleak outlook and those struggles were too present in my writing – it was gloomy, repetitive and unpleasant, like being hit around the face with a dirty nappy.

Around this time, Trump came, and I couldn’t look away. I got a subscription to the New York Times so I could follow every flick of his tail. With Trump in power I feared for Hector’s world. I still do. Trump and his toads are finger-fucking the planet… Anyway, Trump got into that failed collection,  not personally, but in the form of overt pessimism and excessive anxiety.

But then things got better. My wife and I grew into parenting. We bid a fond farewell to our old lives. Claude arrived, shining, and – holy shit – we knew what to do! Hector started making jokes, doing duck walks, and dancing to Elton John. Labour won. I didn’t renew my New York Times subscription.

Not long before that Devonport trip, I was talking to a friend who’d been talking to the writer, William Brandt. William had said to this friend that he thought most writers basically repeat the content of their first books – they just get more deft at the writing part. He thought readers liked that, liked the familiarity. In my two failed projects, I’d tried to impose elaborate structures on my work, I’d tried too hard with point of view, and I’d made the stories bleak and unforgiving. On thinking about what William had said, I decided to return to what I knew.

Long ago, I did a degree in Physical Education. The first thirty years of my life were devoted to sport, games, and training. And my first collections reflected this. So, on Cheltenham Beach, I decided three young boys would be playing beach rugby. I like sex in writing, so I had a couple cannoodling. I like humour in writing, so I had Raisin. The fisherman is the dark part of my mind. The protestors are there because of #METOO and what I’d read about those resisting Tump.

I laboured terribly over the ending, but I always like stories that get you into the future a bit, so I had a go at that. Lots of seagulls, no false-toothed pelicans, and, I hope, instead of relentless misery, a lighter, more optimistic read.

 

 

Kehua in the Text

There, and yet not there

For Issue 13 we decided to get a couple our contributing writers to tell us a little about their absent characters. The ones that play a role in the story, are even pivotal to the story, and yet do not appear.

Vaughan Rapatahana kicks things off with some musings about the kehua in his story ‘He pahemo’:  Vaughan is widely published across several genre. His poetry collection, Atonement, was nominated for a National Book Award in Philippines in 2016, the same year he won the inaugural Proverse Poetry prize. His most recent collection, ternion, is published by erbacce-press, Liverpool, England. Currently, he is writing a further series of commentaries on Aotearoa NZ poetry, for Jacket 2 (University of Pennsylvania, USA), while he was also included in Best New Zealand Poems, 2017.

 

 

Kehua in the Text

In my short story one of the key characters is never seen, but is a nexus individual because he is a prime influence on the action. A key way to make such invisible characters somehow extant is to describe something about them quite vividly: their habits; their behaviours; or their effects on other individuals in the story, to the extent that they actually influence what happens.

In this particular tale, the character is still around, even though he is never visible. He is a kehua or spirit; someone who does not realise he is dead; someone who still seeks a form of release to depart once and for all. Thus, here, he can be felt as a presence and – more – as a sound. He strongly influences the main character, his ex-wife, even though he is deceased. This is because for us, kehua are in fact existing entities –  they are between worlds, if you will.

For us, it is no surprise that kehua are around; we accept them and attempt to place them at rest. Other characters in this story, because of their cultural belief, also induce their reality – thus the wife’s father and aunt, who both  express the requirement to karakia.  Again, the interface with others brings about the ‘reality’ of a never visible character, a character who is in many ways the ‘main’ protagonist.

 

 

 

 

Read Vaughan’s story and 11 other amazing works in Issue 13.

Extras: ‘The Mississippi Pulls You Under’

Extras: ‘The Mississippi Pulls You Under’

“This really is Memphis – built on the wreckage of pain and dismemberment, building beauty slowly from abandoned places we can’t help but revisit.”

One the stories from this issue that we cannot not get out of our heads is ‘The Mississippi Pulls You Under’ by talented U.S. writer, Aasiya F.M Glover. She is an Asian-American raised in the American South, currently residing in New York City and working as a lawyer. She has published one story in the now-defunct literary magazine Damazine, which was then published out of Syria.

We were so intrigued by her story (a work of fiction), that we asked her to tell us more. If you haven’t read Aasiya’s story, get it now on Amazon in Issue 12.

1. The setting in your story feels like a character too, as it seeps into every paragraph. Can you tell us about your decision to choose Memphis as the setting?

I’m glad to hear that. It was important to me, when writing this story, to render the personality of Memphis, as I see it, as vividly as possible. I remember sitting down to write the first paragraph of the story – it wasn’t even a choice really, just an outpouring of emotion. I was staying at my parents’ home, in the country outside Memphis, while on vacation; the night was thick and it was raining. There is almost nothing as oppressive and as loving as a summer night rain out there. It was necessary, an act of compulsion, to convey what this place — this comforting, suffocating place — means. And ultimately, to tell this story, it had to be in that place – where poverty and wealth, country and town, death and life, are so intertwined. It was important, too, that the narrator have something clear and constant and concrete to reference when reporting about the tragedy – I think the narrator finds meaning through locating the crime in a place like Memphis.

2. Perhaps we’ve been listening to too many true crime podcasts/documentaries, but your story unravels at a perfect pace and feels so real, we had to double check you hadn’t submitted creative non-fiction. How did the story flow you for when you were writing it. Did you set out to write a piece of fiction that focuses on the build up to an horrific crime?

I remember having to leave the story several times, waiting to come back to it with another piece. I knew what I wanted to say about Memphis, and social interactions there, but it was more difficult to order the Inez’s story.  I knew the ending at the beginning; I knew where I wanted to end up. The question I couldn’t figure out was how and why such an event would happen; what pieces would lead to this exact crime on this exact day, at this exact time? When we hear about crimes, especially murders, we can sometimes accept the events as somehow inevitable. I wanted to convey the confusion of looking back on a single moment in time that has such irrevocable consequences, when something as final as death is created by the most tentative, uncertain interactions.

3. Inez Cooper is such a vivid character. You portray her with a fullness and sense of agency that her mother and others around her lack. She stands out for her differences, and total unselfconsciousness compared to her peers. Is this something that I’m assuming as reader (that she doesn’t care) or do you think she’s genuinely uncaring of what others think of her? Can you tell us more about her as a character?

I think Inez is fighting not to care. She grew up around people who cared deeply, about social norms and achievements, about conventions.  Her mother, while ultimately apathetic, still performs the conventions of her role, and in that role dissolves away. She goes about her daily life as she wishes, with knowledge that that agency is truly better than the lack of agency she sees around her.  Inez rejects these norms, sees through them, but cannot help but be pained when she brushes up against them. Often difference and rejection of norms and conventions requires a rejection of routine, of pattern. Even if Inez’s difference is ultimately empowering, it is also painful for her — a little like life is out of joint — to live perpendicular to the stability (both in life and in relationships) that norms and convention taught her to expect.

4. The boyfriend is a shadowy figure in this story. When the reader first clocks the age difference, we feel a sense of foreboding. No good can come of a teenaged girl with a significantly older boyfriend. How did you decide to build tension in this story?

I wanted the threat from the boyfriend to be a slow burn. I wanted the reader to question the initial feeling that the age difference would harm Inez in some way.  Inez has so much agency, seemingly in contrast to those around her, that the reader could be forgiven for stepping back from judgment at her choice of boyfriend. The reader should slowly come to terms with how problematic the boyfriend is, even as the reader learns to appreciate Inez’s own self-awareness, so that when the ultimate crime happens, there is no suggestion that Inez walked blindly into this, or could have prevented it, or should have done anything different. I wanted this to be a story of a strong, intelligent woman who became involved with a man who would eventually kill her, so that, even though the reader sees signs of danger, the reader doesn’t try to make such a sad story make sense, or fit it into a calming pattern by calling Inez stupid or crazy or “lost” or “in a phase”.


5. Can you tell us about Orange Mound and the condemned children’s hospital?  

Orange Mound and the condemned children’s hospital in the story are fictionalized versions of real places in Memphis.  Orange Mound is one of the more impoverished neighborhoods in Memphis, where, like many cities in the South, neighborhoods of poverty and wealth sit in checkerboard squares next to each other. Also like many towns and neighborhoods in the South, it has a storied history of self-reliance and resilience, overshadowed by decades of job loss and physical disrepair. It’s also a physical marker of Memphis’s shame – its long refusal to engage with and revitalize its communities, especially communities of color. I wanted all of Memphis to be present in the story, and I wanted it to be clear that Inez was part of Memphis, all of it.

The condemned children’s hospital is a reference to an old hospital in Memphis that sits on the land owned by the Ornamental Metal Museum just on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi. To get to the Metal Museum, you have to drive through deserted and broken down buildings coming out from downtown, and then (usually) down West Illinois, past the abandoned Marine Hospital. The brick buildings are enormous and beautiful – almost like a castle – but they are surrounded by fence overgrown with ivy and kudzu. They have been abandoned for over 50 years, with signs still standing and lights still hanging, even as the inner walls peel and the wood decays.  (To get a look inside without traveling to Memphis, there are amazing websites with gorgeous pictures, such as this one) It’s harrowing to walk by them on your way to what should be a candy-fluff day of education and ornamental metal – but it’s also a supremely Memphis experience to be able to climb into or through such an old, beautiful building with ghosts standing under every broken light.  This really is Memphis – built on the wreckage of pain and dismemberment, building beauty slowly from abandoned places we can’t help but revisit.

6. Speaking of shadowy figures, your narrator is entirely oblique. Talk to us about the way you structured your story. I like very much that the telling feels like you could be hearing it from a kid in her class. Gossip seems to be a significant currency in this story.

This is a technique I use often when I’m writing about the South – telling a story through the voice of an unknown (or unknowns), who conjectures. The narrator is someone who has a vested interest in the story but is on the outside of the group with all the information. She has to take what pieces she can, what memories she has, to understand. She relies on gossip, and knowing the incompleteness of her knowledge, tries to build in the rest based on what she wishes, or wants, or believes. Perhaps especially when writing about the South, an outsider narrator who relies on gossip and myth and legend seems to me to be the best way to communicate the truth of uncertainty.


7. Is there anything else you would like to share about this piece? If you were to sum it up in a sentence, how would you describe it?

I truly love this piece – it was a personal effort at working through a horrific tragedy at a time when I was leaving the South and trying to understand what I was there, and what I was leaving behind.

In one sentence: It is the story of young woman struggling to understand loss, and to make that loss have meaning.

___

Read Aasiya’s stunning story ‘The Mississippi Pulls You Under’ in Issue 12.

Where I Write

Just Use What You Have

Here’s the final piece in our inside look at a Headland writer’s space, part of our Issue 12 series; three authors share where they wrote their piece in the current issue. We recently posted Carly Thomas’ piece about her “very own room just for writing in.” Last week we shared some thoughts from Isabelle McNeur, author of ‘Holes’, about her “three main writing spaces”. This weekend we’re giving Nat Baker, author of ‘Animal Life’ the last word.

Nat is 36 years old, a mother and public servant. She completed her MCW at the University of Auckland in 2007. She has published short stories and essays in HER, Bravado and Art+Money.

 

Where I Write 

 

I try to write whenever I can because, like most people, I have limited ‘free’ time. This means I end up writing when I’m commuting – on the bus, and in airports and hotels when I’m travelling for work. I have numerous notebooks full of scribbled-down ideas, images or sentences (for this reason, notebooks are one of my favourite gifts to receive). However, my best writing (or my least ‘bad’ writing) happens for me when I’m at home, after dark, when my daughter is asleep (or at least not ‘calling out’… I am often interrupted when writing).

Having a designated space helps me focus, and get in the headspace of writing, but at the same time I’m very aware it’s not always possible for that to be my desk. I’ve had to learn how to be flexible and write in less-than-ideal circumstances – it’s just how it is. If I waited for a completely uninterrupted day, or my own writing room/personal library, then I would never get anything down.

I wrote ‘Animal Life’ in the corner of our living room, tucked in beside our dining table, with children’s art supplies stacked up behind me. I try to keep my writing space ‘sacred’, but this isn’t always possible.  Before I sit down to write, I clear away anything non-writing related (or at least hide it from view). My computer is one that my husband no longer uses, which was bought second-hand on TradeMe ten years ago; the big screen is wonderful for reading back over my work even if the hardware is a little dodgy (I’ve learnt the hard way that I must ALWAYS back up my writing). I find that standing up and reading out loud is a great way to get a sense of where the story is going, and also great when editing. I love to use ‘Focus’ mode in Word, both when I am writing and when I am reading my work aloud.

I have a couple of things that are special and inspiring close to hand: books I am currently reading and love; printed out emails from a writer friend in the US; and an artwork by another friend that I bought at an exhibition a couple of years ago.

 Every fortnight I have a Friday off work. After dropping my daughter at daycare, packing away the groceries and doing some housework (I try not to overdo that – the place is clean enough), I sit down with a cup of tea and some cookies from the supermarket (I often end up eating the lot). I like to write in near silence, with just the sounds of birds and traffic outside, although sometimes when I struggle to ‘get into it’ I will play a song or two out loud and just start putting down words, so I can get past the horror of that first blank page and having no idea where to begin.

I feel lucky to have the writing space I have now – it’s a massive improvement on my former writing space, when I was writing in our garden shed. The shed was quiet, but it was absolutely freezing on winter nights and was crawling with bugs and full of weird smells.

If I was to give writer friends advice about choosing a spot to write in and ‘getting down to writing’ I would say: don’t wait until you have the perfect amount of free/uninterrupted time or the perfect space/desk/computer/pen/notebook… just use what you have, but do try and make it a special place for you. There are oodles of drool-worthy writing spaces on Pinterest but none of them look like they’ve ever been used (at least to me).

I would also suggest trying to write every day – even if it’s only for half an hour, just a sentence. If you can’t write, then try and stay connected to writing in a more abstract way: subscribe to newsletters about writing (I have enjoyed: The New York Book Editors e-newsletter and am currently enjoying BookFox); listen to podcasts (Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert, and The New York Public Library podcasts are always special); and don’t forget the radio (I love Radio New Zealand’s Short Story Club). Of course, reading is always the most obvious way to stay connected with writing, but I find that these other options keep me in the mode of reflecting on my own work whilst giving me some new ideas about writing and how I might take my work forward.

Lastly, I would strongly recommend that you write with the intention of suspending judgement over the quality of your writing as much as you can, at least for the first draft. I find this almost impossible at times, and I have made a rule for myself that if I can agree that my writing is not completely sh*t then I will keep going until the story is finished and re-assess later. Suspending judgment is essential if you’re going to get anywhere (and not just spend what limited time you have writing and deleting your work over and over).

A friend sent me the following quote which I keep close to hand:

It can be found on Brainpickings, which contains all sorts of wonderful content for writers.

________

Read Nat’s story and ten other gems in Issue 12!

Want to join our Headland family? Submit your work to us for Issue 13! You’ve got until 1 June to share your work (wherever you’ve written it) with us. Get writing, and submitting.

 

Isabelle’s Writing Space 

Writing Space #2

Welcome to our second peek into a Headland writer’s space, part of our Issue 12 series; three authors share where they wrote their piece in the current issue. Last weekend we posted Carly Thomas’ piece about her “very own room just for writing in.” This week we’re sharing some thoughts from Isabelle McNeur, author of ‘Holes’, about her writing spots, and getting the work done.

Isabelle studies at Victoria University of Wellington, where she has completed several IIML courses and plans to complete more. In 2015 she won the Margret Mahy Award for Best Folio at the Hagley Writers’ Institute, and in 2017 she won the Prize for Original Composition in at the IIML. In February she was a recipient of the 2018 NZSA / Hachette Mentor Program. Her writing has been published in journals such as Starling and Aoterotica.

 

Isabelle’s Writing Space

I have three main writing spaces; one in my flat and two at my university campus. In all three of these spaces, there’s no chance that someone is getting a look at my screen – in my university spots, I sit with my back against walls, and my apartment spot is in my room. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing on my laptop, the idea of someone watching my screen makes me twitchy.

Writing spot number one, the spot in my flat, is my room. It came already set up with a lovely writing space – a desk big enough to fit my laptop, my tea and the miscellaneous things I fidget with (nowadays it’s a USB or a pair of nail clippers).

As for my spots two and three, at university; one of them is inside the library entrance, off to the side so I don’t get caught in the flow of students. The other is one floor up, in a row of cozy chairs, and I usually go to this spot when there are too many people in my first spot. In both of these spots, I pick a place that’s a comfortable distance away from people and close to a power outlet. The second is a preference, the first is law.

As for ‘Holes,’ my piece published in Issue 12 of Headland, I got most of that done at university in the first spot (spot two) when I should have been doing readings for class.

All of my writing spots are quiet, isolated and controlled. If they aren’t, then I make it that way; sitting as far away from people as possible and putting my headphones in, so that even if it’s loud, I get control over what I listen to. If you’re one of those people who can lose yourself in your writing in a loud, crowded room, then I’m both envious and confused. Tell me your secrets.

The bottom line is to tailor your writing space to suit you. If that’s not entirely possible, tailor it as much as you can – obviously you won’t get a lot of control in a public library, but you can choose where you sit, what you listen to, and what surrounds you.

_____

Read Isabelle’s story in our current issue. 

Want to join our Headland family? Submit your work to us for Issue 13! You’ve got until 1 June to share your work (wherever you’ve written it) with us. Get writing, and submitting.

Stay tuned for the final instalment of this series next week from Nat Baker, author of ‘Animal Life’.

A Space of My Own

The Writers’ Space

“Sadly, the writing life doesn’t always come equipped with an idyllic woodland cabin in which to pen profound prose. For all the authors profiled below, they figured out how to be massively effective no matter the setting. They did the work.” We love this quote from a recent piece profiling the writing spaces of 100+ great writers on The Writing Cooperative by Jared A. Brock.

In this vein, we decided to revisit one of our earliest blog topics – where were some of the stories in our current issue written? The writers’ space is often far over-idealised. In this Issue 12 series we asked three writers to share their own spaces with us. What works for them and why. After all, that what it’s about; work.  Not a Pinterest or Instagram-worthy spot in which you imagine you might write – one day. These three writers wrote great pieces in these spots, submitted them. They did the work. Let’s take a look!

First up is the talented Carly Thomas whose story ‘Dirt’ appears in our current issue. Carly’s story is based on the truth: she owns Nancy’s crazy old house in rural Manawatu, which she inhabits with her three kids, husband and three horses.

A Space of My Own

I am very lucky. I have my very own room just for writing in. When I put down words, I am surrounded by them; there are books on every wall and I hear whispers from the past. This room is old – my study was built in 1884 and I am not the first to have loved it.

The walls are panelled with rimu, the bora plays dot to dot on my desk and I even have a fireplace that spits warmth from logs split small. It is a truly incredible place to be; a wonderful space to create.

 

 

And I know I am lucky, because I haven’t always been. My writing spaces before include: the inside of a wardrobe (as a kid); on the top bunk of a noisy flat in Lyttelton; on the underground commuting to a shitty job in London; and then, when I became a mum, wherever my kids were not.

I write stories that are true for a living and that happens in an office where the light has no ebb and the air has no flow. This room is for the not-true, the fanciful and the lyrical. And it’s a place to hide my posh chocolates from the kids.

 

 

I am very thankful. I now have a room that is just for this; putting one letter in front of the other, making space for the next word and catching them in my backlit screen as they fall. It is a room for dreaming and retreating. It gives the stories in my head a place to breathe.

The carpet is from the fifties and my books are from every era imaginable – Maurice Gee sits next to Agatha Christie and Michael Chabon elbows Sylvia Plath. There are old maps on the walls, there are lists that remind me that if I sit idle they will rebel into long form, and there is tea, always tea.

 

 

What is outside this room matters too. There is a fuchsia bush that threatens to overtake me at any moment; it is Jurassically proportioned and to see beyond it I have to stand, which I do often because I’m not very good at sitting. I check the kids are still alive, pat a horse, a dog, and a cat, all with their differing elevations of comfort. I often find that I write about this house, with its vast, voluptuous garden. I write about the people who might have been, could still be and probably were not.

 

 

And then I make another cup of tea and scoff a soft centred chocolate while no-one is looking. And I begin.

 

Read Carly’s story in our current issue. 

Want to join our Headland family? Submit your work to us for Issue 13! You’ve got until 1 June to share your work (wherever you’ve written it) with us. Get writing, and submitting.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of this series next week.

 

It’s nearly that time again

It’s nearly that time again

New Zealand writers! A gentle reminder from your friendly Headland editorial team that our submission deadline for Issue 12 is fast approaching! Where did December and January go…? If you’re polishing up a story or just starting one, keep Friday 9 February in your mind/diary/list/phone/heart/whatever-place-you-use-to-keep-track-of-this-stuff and send it us. We’d love to read it, and you know that we’d give it a happy home. If you’re like us and sweltering in the New Zealand ‘heatwave’, you’ll be familiar with this list. We hope you have #1 and #7 on yours too. Click here → for our full guidelines.  We recommend you have a good read of them.

Happy summering (and wintering if you’re joining us from the Northern Hemisphere – we’re sending you some of our high temperatures), and reading and writing too.

(Oh, and if you’re looking for some excellent summer reading, it would be remiss of us not to point you to our newest Issue 11, and our awesome back catalogue also).

Guidelines

 

The Young Country

New Zealand-ness?

The final word in our series about what makes a New Zealand story, well, a New Zealand story goes to Andrew Stiggers with his own take on this tricky question. You’ve heard from R.L. Nash and Stephen O’Connor already. We’re delighted that Andrew was able to share his thoughts on this, and we thought his perspective as an immigrant to this country offered a really interesting angle.  Andrew’s story ‘The Book Parade Prize’ appears in Issue 11.  Andrew lives in Auckland. His short stories have been published, or are forthcoming, in various anthologies and literary journals, and his achievements include being the winner of the 2017 Global Ebook Awards (Short Stories category) for his historical-fiction collection: “The Glassblower’s Daughter and Other Tales from Southwest Germany”. He was also the winner of the Trisha Ashley Award 2017 for best humorous story, and a finalist for the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2015. More information about his writing can be found on www.andrewstiggers.com.

Thanks for reading our Issue 11 series, we’ll be back for Issue 12 with a brand new curly question.

 

The Young Country

Without a doubt there are far more capable writers than I who can provide an informed insight into understanding “What makes a New Zealand story feel like a New Zealand story?” And so it is with some trepidation that I offer my thoughts…

I think the answer lies in delving at the heart of the question – feeling. And how the writer conveys feeling connected to New Zealand and New Zealanders across to the reader using storytelling elements such as setting, style, character and theme.

That’s my safe answer. Objective. One which I could expand further by examining use of each element and making reference to our literary heritage.

My alternative answer is more personal. Takes courage. And involves facing the truth, as Katherine Mansfield once wrote.

I believe it’s about writers, from all walks of life and backgrounds, to open up, bare themselves to the world, and share their experiences and emotions as Māori, Pākehā, Pasifika, Asian and other New Zealanders. And yes, this includes us blokes (for whom I know emotion is tough to share, to express), and us immigrants too, often seen and treated as an outsider in global society, particularly more so at this troubling time. I still can’t shake my accent even after twelve years living here in Auckland.

It’s about recalling what we have witnessed or have been told about or imagine could be – from the many nuances to the more stereotypical make-up of New Zealand and New Zealanders, of our way of life, the good, the bad, and the in-between. Footprints in the sand along the deserted beach and memories of childhood spent by the pohutukawa tree. The worshippers gathering outside the Tongan church, dressed in white and grass skirts, all smiles in the sun. The veteran plumber providing free advice to the young couple about what really should be fixed. Fish and chips and ice cream on the weathered lakeside jetty.

The discovery by the boy of the ancient waka on the muddy riverbank and his fight to save the canoe from the elements. A family who have lost everything in the earthquake, and are now starting again, brick by brick. The smirking thieves – loaded with pies – being chased out the shop by the fierce old owner who’s hurling drink cans at them with all her might.

Tin toys gathering dust in the rundown bach. The teenager in the hoodie giving up his bus seat to the elderly widower. Whānau sleeping rough in a convoy of parked cars during the long, cold winter. Traffic held up by the fireman who is rescuing ducks trapped down a drain. In the darkness of the bedroom, struggling to say your final goodbye. The meth house explosion that’s destroyed the neighbour’s motorbike he’d spent years restoring.

The tramper lost in the nearby bush and the herculean effort spent by the local pub regulars to find her. The city worker who complains about the restaurant that only displays signage and menus in Chinese but admits the meals are the best he’s ever had. The childless, third-generation farmer who has toiled on the family land all his life but has no one to pass it on to.

The crumbling façade of the Masonic lodge in the middle of nowhere, and the hidden mysteries within waiting to be uncovered. The Aussie-born builder who takes a ribbing from his mates about the rugby until the most recent match result…

It’s about searching deep within oneself for the raw essence of what it means to be a New Zealander – what drives us; our values and beliefs – and shaping it into an emotional, cohesive force that pervades the story. And in my case, as with other diverse immigrants across the generations, this story concerns a new beginning, a new life in this “young country” (as described by the government minister in my story from Issue 11, ‘The Book Parade Prize’). It’s a story about belonging, embracing the place and its people, becoming one of them, adding my background and upbringing to the mix. Understanding what they, we stand for.

It’s a story about welcoming, accepting others. Having good old-fashioned manners and common decency. Letting everyone have a fair go. Respecting the land, the water, the air around us, one another. Being honest, down-to-earth; realising that our richness lies in the immaterial. It’s about looking up to our older, bigger siblings who have been telling their own stories for millennia but also learning from their mistakes, and stepping up to take our own stand on what really matters. Being innovative, with a can-do attitude. Doing the right thing. Overcoming obstacles together, crossing wide rivers and deep lakes, traversing whole coastlines, climbing the highest mountains across distant seas.

As an immigrant writer I am at the start of my own journey across this young country. I have a long way to go, sure to lose my footing, stumble and fall, but I’ll pick myself up and push on with steeled Kiwi determination. Explore the country as the early Polynesians settlers once did. Ask questions. Discover more about this place, my home, and the people I encounter. Speak about my experiences. Struggle on with my current writing whilst still hopeful of getting my previous work published…

One truth I have already found along my path, and which I have shared in my story from Issue 11, ‘The Book Parade Prize’, is that the future for this young country lies with our children – of all shapes and sizes – and that we must support them to be whatever they want to be in this “white-clouded wonderland,” this New Zealand.

***

Read Andrew’s story and nine other gems in Issue 11.

Older posts

© 2018 Headland | Copyright Policy

Website design by Number 6 Labs Ltd ©