Tag: Auckland

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.

 

 

Extras: Jack’s List

Extras: Jack’s List

Each issue, we bring you an extra, something that gives you insight in to one of the stories. For Issue 9 Headlander Allan Drew chose Daniel T’s story ‘Sanctuary’ featuring Jack, a young music producer, navigating his industry and life Auckland, producing “beats and tracks for people”. Jack also loves classical music and jazz, and is a skilled pianist which adds something special to this story:

I like the feeling. Muscle memory. Nostalgia. Remembering how Chopin’s études feel on my fingers. I wonder what’s in the playing that captures me. What’s in the stave that makes it all worth it? There’s so much promise here. Can it counter what I see in Michael’s tripe? This feels like the beginning of something good. My teachers taught me about the promise and the marvel of an overture. This is mine.

Here Daniel’s character Jack talks about what he’s been listening to, and how he connects with the music.

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Neutral Milk Hotel – Naomi

Quintessential indie hipster tune. Play it for the first or last five minutes of any film about a geek or anything geeky and it totally fits. For some reason, whenever I hear this, I think about the books I read in my late teens. Bertrand Russell essays and the like.

Ekali & aywy – Contempt

Slick ambient tones and crisp clicks and hi-hats. I don’t mess around with music samples, I sort of have a rule about that sort of thing, but this Let Me Love You chop is sweet.

What So Not – Gemini EP

The tracks Gemini and Oddity are dangerous, man. These guys recorded a car revving, a jug of water being filled, and what I think was a putter sinking a ball. Dope sound design.

I used to only go into a booth to record sounds I didn’t have. Marbles clacking, paper rustling, the spraying sound from a cologne bottle, the sawing sound of a knife cutting a can. Now I’m in there on upright pianos or taking mics to record a grand piano in a hall.

Eminem – My 1st Single

The dude had diarrhoea noises in a song, man. It’s a throwaway track that he did for fun when he was probably high as hell. I heard this when I was young and getting into music and I wished I could make music without caring. And then I started to. Make music, I mean.

Chick Corea – Spain

A friend of mine is really into Chick and that old Return to Forever sound. Most times I see him with his sax he plays the riff from this song and takes me back to school uniforms and performance practice.

George Benson – Affirmation

My old man had this on wax and he played it to death so the version burned into my brain is a grainy one. The melody translates well to brass for those that don’t know. It’s the kind of track that transforms a place.

Sonny Rollins – St Thomas

I nearly broke my own code and sampled this song. Then I had dinner at a McDonald’s with a saxophonist. St Thomas has the same transformative property that Affirmation has. I’ve never been to the States, so this’ll sound stupid, but this song can make Queen Street feel like Frenchmen Street.

Miguel – …goingtohell

When we weren’t working in the studio this track was one that Link’s crew would play. The cover of the album this song is from inspired the art for Link’s mixtape. The influence is clear in the music video for Sharks.

Tyler, The Creator – Sandwitches

Tyler knows his mixes suck but he doesn’t care. He has bars. Back at school, when I wasn’t practising piano, I’d be with the boys and Tyler’s lyrics became a kind of chant. I’d play the chords and the boys would shout the words.

Cos I ain’t got no home meal to come to

So if you do I’m throwing fingers up screaming ‘fuck you!’

It’s a tricky thing making songs when you’re angry, because every subsequent song is like calming down. The tracks I made in my own come down periods were the ones that got me work with Gen and The Shells.

Kanye West – Spaceship

College Dropout touched a lot of people and this song stands out to me. Maybe because it’s a rap song in six-eight time. Probably because I used to work at a clothing store and I hated my boss.

ScHoolboy Q – Fuck L.A.

Probably one of the roughest voices in hip-hop and he’s representing gangsta rap. Link’s a massive fan and he wanted to show it with the ‘H’ in his mixtape title.

Future – Shit

This is the stencil Link drew himself with. It flows like fast deep breaths.

When you listen to a lot of trap type beats right in a row you start to notice how a lot of the sounds are compressed. The loud bits don’t change but the quiet bits are boosted. Which only means there aren’t sounds to go looking for in the back corners of the track.

Chief Keef – I Don’t Like

A popular banger. The running hi-hat gets the crowd going. People don’t want depth, don’t want volume from a hi-hat, so we compress it to hell. A hi-hat is clenched teeth. It’s the whirring of the anvil that’s about to bury Wile E. Coyote.

Flume – Skin LP

I think Harley’s a saxophonist. I know he’s classically trained. This whole album is amazing but the production in tracks like Lose It and Take a Chance really stood out to me. He engineered the best kicks and hi-hats, and the way those kicks cut through the synth is incredible. The dude sidechains reality with those kicks, man, it’s like a ship hitting waves when that drum bumps and the synth dips.

Albums like this are why I’m still making modern music with VSTs and sample packs. I’d be a straight Luddite if Flume and his ilk weren’t cooking.

Yuna – Unrequited Love

Since I’ve started making ‘my own’ music, I’ve had to put myself in the position of being the biter. The sampler. The copier. I played this song for Gen, my partner, and she felt like this was the perfect middle point of where our tastes met.

The percussion has a delay, the bass ebbs like fluid, and Yuna harmonises with herself. It’s a good style to model yourself after.

Marina and the Diamonds – Numb

Gen might not have Marina’s range but she tries. We sometimes lie down on the floor of the studio listening to tunes like this.

Beautiful work with the strings in this piece, though I would like to know if the pizzicato is real or a VST. Not that it matters. I mean, it matters to me, but that doesn’t really matter.

Frederic Chopin – Etude No.9 in F minor, Op.10

I might’ve given myself a bit too much credit when I tried to learn Scherzo. Shorter songs are more my speed. Those marathon pieces are difficult when you don’t have a skinny, sixty-year-old man, wearing a forest green sweater and brogues, telling you what to do.

 

I wasn’t planning on this list being a trip but I guess it turned into one. From country flannel jackets, to ‘where-ya-at’ bandanas, to plain coloured thousand dollar shirts, back to ‘where-ya-at’ bandanas, and then turbans and liquid pen hearts on cheeks.

Anyway, that’s me. That’s what’s in my head.

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About Daniel: He is 22 years old and, having grown up in Auckland, the city often tends to be the setting if not the focus of his writing.

Read his story and more in Issue 9 of Headland.

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