Tag: New Zealand

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.

 

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.

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

The Setting

A Sense of Recognition

What makes a New Zealand story feel like our story? Makes it recognisable to you? What does ‘a New Zealand story’ mean to you? These were questions we put to some of our Issue 11 writers. In the previous post, R.L. Nash ruminated in Writing Aotearoa that it’s many things that add up to this sense of belonging  and recognition in the story. For Stephen O’Connor, writer of ‘Red Rock Creek’ it’s firmly rooted in the setting. His story takes place on a New Zealand farm, something he has first hand experience of growing up. Stephen is a lecturer who takes his mind off things by trail running with his border collie.

 

The Setting

 

Do you like to be alone? It’s an odd question to ask and usually prompts negative answers. Growing up on a sheep farm in the Wairarapa, there was a lot of space and time to be alone. The place was big enough not to meet neighbours on a regular basis and many of the ongoing menial jobs like fencing were predominantly solitary. When I consider my childhood, I find myself thinking of the craggy hills and plains that influenced my family in how and what we did. In other words, my values have taken shape and were tested and adjusted by this setting.

I feel that because of our closeness with the landscape, New Zealand literature would be pretty much unimaginable without their settings. It has influenced not only the characters and their actions, but the tone and style of the writing. This would include not only the farm or the bush, but also the suburbs in the cities and towns. I can still remember some favourite short stories and poetry introduced to me while I was in high school that I enjoy re-reading. Witi Ihimaera’s Yellow Brick Road reverberated with me in how central the symbolism of Wellington as Emerald City was to the overall development of the story and effects on the characters. Even though Wairarapa wasn’t Waituhi, it sure felt like it at the time. Katherine Mansfield has many themes in her story The Garden Party, but the Sheriden family’s house and garden paradise helped to shelter and isolate the children from the have-nots down the road. Even with our poetry, Denis Glover’s The Magpies ensured a bitter lesson for all the farmers – the land endures no matter what we do. It is this isolation and its relation to the geography of the land that really sticks in my mind and was the reason that I made the setting the centrifugal force in my story.

Throughout the story of the father and son, I have highlighted certain aspects of the setting in order to evoke the isolation and the enduring power of nature. The kea, rather than just an observer like the magpies in Glover’s poem, acts as the initiator of the farmer’s problem, and it really personifies nature as it appears throughout and endures with success at the end, taunting the farmer, changing the relationship dynamics. I tried to also use other objects in combination with the sounds and the language used to build up a vivid picture of the isolation. The shovel making a ‘dull thud’, the land rover- a workhorse for the rugged country in New Zealand, the twine- a hardy string, and even the shears – portable for usage in isolated places when not in the shearing shed. Even the setting of the late 1960s be-spokes a more simplistic time, without all the technology that can make us feel less remote. The conversation between the father and son is at a bare minimum. The age difference and also the close proximity of working together day in, day out encourages a simple familiarity in their dialogue brought about by the context of isolation.

This father and son relationship on a farm is special. By the end of the story, I endeavoured to show how close the bond can be between the two and how it changes. At the beginning, the landscape and what it throws at them puts obstacles in place that allows us to observe the contrast in character between the sensitive boy and the more pragmatic father. However, by the end of the story, there is a sense of understanding and a shift in the responsibility between the two, brought about by the actions of nature and their reactions in response to it.

I like the notion that our setting in New Zealand has a strong connection to our physical geography. Whether you were a writer in the 1920s or a flash fiction writer in the present, our physical space here in Aotearoa is extremely enduring and makes it easier for the plots and characters to write themselves into the stories.

 

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Read Stephen’s story and more in our current issue: Issue 11.

Writing Aotearoa

What makes a New Zealand Story, well, feel like a New Zealand Story

“What makes a New Zealand Story, well, feel like a New Zealand Story. Is it setting or style, character or theme? Or something else entirely?” 

This is the question we put to a few of our Issue 11 authors to mull over. First up with her take on this is R.L  Nash. Her story ‘The Porcelain Cat of Bordertown’ is set in Australia, but retains its Kiwi flavour through her New Zealand character, a contractor working long stints away from home. R.L is a Dunedin writer. Her short stories featured in Takahē magazine while she was studying speech and language therapy. She has a novel manuscript looking for a home and is drafting another.  In between bouts of writing, she’s kept busy mothering, working in unglamorous admin, and sewing wonky seams.

Writing Aotearoa

Quite the puzzle and since people have been telling stories in Aotearoa New Zealand in a mixture of ways and forms for a very long time, to attempt an answer I must first narrow my focus. So, in an optimistic bid to keep this meaty topic simple, my context is written NZ stories that are contemporary fiction in English for adults. But I am not good at riddles and my list of ‘to-be-reads’ is always growing. Clearly, I would need advice.

 

 

I started with a quick informal survey of friends, librarians and other random people but after a few strange looks it all played out like some sort of NZ Lit Housie: Have you got: “Isolation”…“Postcolonialism”…“Location”…“Jandals!…“Space – but not as in, like, astronauts” and then: “I have not read one.” Ouch – unhelpful but not untypical.

Well, lesson learnt, I would ask a prolific reader. I’d ask my Mum. I’d be general. I’d ask about the vibe.

“Depressing”, she said

“Charming,” I replied.

“No, not that.”

Bingo, the ever present darkness in all our bright southern light chestnut. Except I read a lot of genre novels written by NZ authors which I’ve enjoyed too much to fully embrace that theory. Then again, there’s an abundance of crime writing and literary fiction from these shores – there’s bound to be stylistic similarities and uniting biting themes beyond the potential mention of custard squares. However, as there are observers and courses a-plenty attempting to sum that up and track social commentary, and since it deserves research, foot-notes and name-checking of people described as eminent, I’ll leave that one alone.

 

 

Location was mentioned (and more than three times) in my survey and it is tempting to say setting is the main marker of a NZ story. It’s a definite contender and can be as broad as our landscapes. Scenic drive scenery, small town dairies, the Auckland CBD at 3am, the way up Bealey Spur, forgotten suburbs – all of that and more. But then does it have to be set in NZ? Survey says: Yes. I’m not so sure.

I identify with the travelling New Zealander and he/she crops up a lot when I write – to the point I’m wondering if it’s high time I confiscated my characters’ passports and made them stay put for a change. Perhaps having a Kiwi abroad character is almost cheating? The nationality they take for granted is suddenly overt, you’ve isolated them and they will think of home, it’s inevitable. My characters are always looking back, one way or another.

But I wonder, does a writer sit down at their desk/kitchen table, crack their knuckles and announce to the curtains/fruit bowl: “And today, I shall write a Neuw Zearlaund story”. I hope not, because I believe whether something feels like a NZ story has far more to do with the reader than the writer, and trying to define what makes a NZ story feel like one is like trying to define a New Zealander. What feels like an authentic NZ story to me might not resonate at all for someone else. Aotearoa New Zealand is a complex, layered nation and our perspectives and stories reflect this. No one reads the same story the same. Luckily, I’m not aware of any rules – if a story feels like a New Zealand one to you then, for you, that’s exactly what it is.

For me, realistic dialogue helps a lot but it really comes down to that moment when I think: I know people like that, or of people like that. I work with them, they’re my whānau, my neighbours. This could be happening/have happened across town or along State Highway 1. When I feel a connection to a place or a piece of history – a flash of recognition of something shared. That’s about now or that’s about here. It’s taken more planning, less whim, but since my resolution to read more New Zealand writers, the novelty hasn’t worn off – whether it’s observations from a new immigrant or someone with history in this soil, from the perspective of two friends struggling to run a Northland café or a pensioner doing the groceries in Timaru, I appreciate these stories more because there’s some little stitch linking them all together, though I’m not entirely sure why.

 

Detail from a dress by Jill Bowie, made from broken CD cases. The dress won the recycled Category in the 2016 Hokonui Fashion Design Awards. Image used with permission of Jill Bowie.

Another question to end with, but an important one I think – if something is thought to be a New Zealand story does that then narrow its appeal? Should we even care if it does? Well this at least I have a firm answer for – No, because you can only ever be yourself, even when you’re trying to tell somebody else’s story. You can never forget where you come from.

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Read ‘The Porcelain Cat of Bordertown’ and more in our current issue.  Want to become a Headland alum? Submit your work for consideration in Issue 12 by February 9. Check out our guidelines for more information.

 

 

Two Tūrangawaewae

Exploring Sense of Place – Do We Write What We Know?

In this Issue 4 series, we asked a few of our writers to reflect on whether they write what they know, and share their thoughts on how this applies to setting and sense of place in their stories. Google ‘write what you know’ and a plethora of think pieces and advice articles will come up. To paraphrase, they range from from ‘DON’T – your only limit is your imagination’, to ‘stick to your own range of experiences for authenticity’.

In Seeds of a Story, Jane Percival said “To make it real I have to put myself in the picture and draw from my own experiences.”.  David Morgan O’Connor took us on a trip to his places and their meanings in Names of Place and Sense.  For our final post in this series, Antony Millen, author of‘ The Homeless Men of Mahuika’ talks about his new setting through the lens of his country of birth, and how this informs his writing.

Antony is a Canadian living and writing in New Zealand, having shifted from his beloved Nova Scotia to the storied town of Taumarunui in 1997. He has published two novels since 2013, both of which feature settings in the North Island of New Zealand: Redeeming Brother Murriihy and Te Kauhanga: A Tale of Space(s). In 2014, he won the Heartland short story competition and was highly commended for his entry in the New Zealand Society of Authors Central Districts competition. His work features realistic, intriguing and even slightly mysterious events in rural, small-town New Zealand. Antony is currently completing his third novel. He also writes reviews and blog posts at antonymillen.wordpress.com

 

Two Tūrangawaewae

Cover

 

I think a lot about place. I’m an immigrant to New Zealand—an expatriate from Canada although when I think of expats, I think of Ernest Hemingway or Katherine Mansfield in France and it connotes a rejection of homeland which I would never do. However, the concept of homeland is challenged by emigration and immigration. We migrants experience a perpetual duality as we live in two places at once, a sort of bilocation of the mind and spirit. We have two tūrangawaewae—two places to stand—a foot in both camps. Even after eighteen years in New Zealand, I still start sentences with, “A buddy of mine back home…”. I’m aware of how obnoxious it can be, but I am always interpreting my current physical setting through the lens of the former—a life of continual comparisons and contrasts.

 

There is an advantage for a writer in this. You become an astute observer of human behaviour and language. You notice inflections and habits, and others notice them in you. People who live in small towns naturally do this as well, comparing city life with our rural, remote situation. Small towns are my preferred settings, not only because they’re all I’ve ever known, but because these observations are made on a continual basis by their inhabitants, often to convince ourselves of our lifestyle supremacy over that of city-dwellers. “Parking is easier,” we say and, “If you wait for three cars, it’s a traffic jam here.” We note the stars in the sky after returning from a visit under the bigger urban lights and count our blessings we don’t need to listen to traffic as we drift into our provincial slumbers. In Taumarunui, we don’t live in the middle of nowhere, we live in “the middle of everywhere”.

 

So, a writer does write what he knows, but, like the immigrant and the small town observer, he does so by comparing it and contrasting it. I write a story about a mother and daughter fishing the Pungapunga stream in Ngapuke, New Zealand but the river resembles the brook behind my grandparents’ place in Nova Scotia and I draw on memories and feelings from there to communicate familiarity and belonging. If I create a scene around a boy ostracised by his peers, I draw on similar experiences from my youth or from those I’ve witnessed as a teacher, though the circumstances, culture and setting are completely different.

 

In New Zealand, I’ve learned the concept of tangata whenua, a concept our writers here and elsewhere should consider when discussing a sense of place. The famous whakataukī from the Whanganui River area says, Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au—I am the river and the river is me. What does that mean to a Nova Scotian mind? What does it mean to identify with a mountain or a river when you introduce yourself in your whaikōrero? In New Zealand, I have associated myself with Ruapehu or Hikurangi, with the Whanganui and the Pungapunga, for these places have connected with me, surrounding me during my time here. I greet the Whanganui when I arrive alongside it during a bike ride. I acknowledge the presence of imposing trees in Ohinetonga and in other bush walks. In a way, it is not me who has chosen them as significant, but in a form of whāngai it is they who have adopted me, though I am aware of the limited connection and understanding I have compared to those whose ancestors have lived here, inspired and nurtured by them for generations.

 

But, originally, my maunga is Green Hill in Pictou County, Nova Scotia and my awa is that brook behind my grandparents’ house or Middle River whose shores hosted the field upon which I played softball. They bear less exotic names and exist without the grandeur and myth surrounding the Waikato or Taranaki, but it is in coming to this place and learning of tangata whenua that I feel the connection to the maunga and awa of my Canadian childhood. In his song about Taumarunui, my son writes of the Whanganui and Ongarue, “two rivers that melt into one”. That’s me—two homelands melted into one. I believe it’s also symbolic of the multiple iwi who reside here. It is a mystery rivalling the Trinity really and that is a good thing.

 

And that is a good thing for writers who are creating a sense of place. Place, like time, is mysterious. Try and describe the place you are in as you read this and you will find the options for doing so are limitless. Do you list all the objects and colours you see? Do you include elements that will appeal to all five senses? What about the history of the place or the background to how you arrived in it? What about its future? What will it be like when you no longer occupy it or when it is inhabited by another soul? What about the souls who have breathed and loved and raged and created in it before you? What place do they still have in the narrative of your place?

 

In describing place and creating a sense of it for readers, we must be selective and in doing so, I believe we do write what we know, but not always in the obvious sense. It is one thing to set your story in an actual town you’ve lived in, comfortably detailing street names and landmarks, but more often we are selecting aspects of places with which we are familiar for other reasons. Websites and Google Maps are invaluable tools for sourcing details about unfamiliar settings, but that sense of place comes from the author’s familiarity with the atmosphere and significance of another place entirely, from their own experiences or from those they have encountered in books or on screen, comparing and contrasting them. Even the most imaginative world-building must consist of familiarity for the writer and for the reader so they can inhabit the world together—two in one.

Read Antony’s story and more in Issue 4, available on Amazon.

Feeding the Page

Editors’ note: New Zealand author Jillian Sullivan talks about her writing in our latest post. We would like to note that Jillian just received a London Book Festival 2014 Honourable Mention for a Spiritual book, for her ebook, A Guide to Creating. Congratulations! And thank you for telling us a bit about you and writing. Jillian’s story ‘Underneath the Motherland’ appears in Issue 1 on sale now.

 

Jillian Sullivan

Lately I haven’t been writing on my big projects. I’ve been making mud and plastering mud, and this morning there was a trout to rescue in a diminishing pool in the Ida Burn on my boundary. But not writing means I’m doing things I can write about. That’s one of the best things about being a writer – everything feeds the page: remorse, trout, my middle of the night hospital job, grandchildren coming to stay, broken love, and tiling.

And the other thing about not writing is the renewed surge of longing to write. When you can’t wait to get to the page. Sitting at the computer, finally, when you’ve got a room to yourself, is like easing into a hot bath after a long day hammering. The bliss of it. Because the flipside of that bliss is doubt.

Doubt can go away at the moment. Tomorrow the latest batch of mud is four days old and needs to go onto the wall. That means lugging buckets and smoothing mud on with trowel and hand. So time becomes precious. In between night shifts and building, carrying buckets of water down to the glasshouse, and standing to watch the sunset flare on the clouds over the Raggedies in the southwest, there are lines of poems, a character waiting for a story, and two unfinished books making their presence felt.

Deadlines work well for me. March is the cut off for my code of compliance. Hence the mud and lime. I like journals with cut off dates for submissions, and competitions; they bring forth work, on time, and sometimes unexpectedly. The long haul book length projects have no deadline and have slipped behind slaking lime and nailing bracing. Poems are easier to manage. And notes jotted in a notebook and on scraps of paper, they’re the lifesavers in all of this. They keep a record, they keep slivers of inspiration alive, they keep the pen moving. My favourite hint: to grab a pen and notebook, or the laptop, and write without stopping for twenty minutes, on anything –on a character, on a poem, on a scene, on a memory. Sometimes that all it takes.

Jillian Sullivan lives and writes in the Ida Valley, Central Otago, where she is finishing her strawbale house. Her latest books are the poetry collection parallel, and the Ebook A Guide to Creating, both from Steele Roberts Publishers. www.jilliansullivan.co.nz

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