Mark Sweet wakes the sleeping Zhu Mao
Brian Bargh of Huia left a message. He asked I return his call. ‘It’s good news,’ he said. I went all goose pimply, and great gulps of excitement came tinged with fear.
I began writing Zhu Mao three years ago at the start of the Diploma of Creative Writing course at Whitireia Polytechnic. When I applied I submitted a short story, one of many, inter-connected, which I wanted to shape into a novel. But the opportunity to write a new novel was too much, and Adrienne Jansen encouraged my fresh idea.
It was based around two experiences of traveling in China in the 1980s. One involved infanticide of baby girls, the other, execution of criminals. The story grew and at times took on a life of its own. I spent a month in Wudangshan, the birthplace of tai chi, and found a setting for the story. I loved the process. In the end I rushed to finish and was awarded a C+. I was gutted and let Zhu Mao sleep for two years.
During that time I came to see my final assessment as fair. And learned a big lesson. Anna Rogers was my mentor, and assessor, but I took scant heed of her opinion. Now I see that all she told me was sound advice.
Late last year I met the author Elspeth Sandys, and asked her if she would critique my manuscript. She was encouraging but highlighted major problems with structure and genre; much the same as Anna.
I’d been dabbling at rewriting Zhu Mao for a few months, growing increasingly frustrated at my lack of editorial crafting skills, when my sister emailed about Te Papa Tupu incubator programme.
Being chosen for the programme is a gift for which I am deeply grateful. The opportunity to work with a mentor, and the means to concentrate on writing for six months, makes the completion of Zhu Mao an achievable goal.
My thanks to those in the Māori Literature Trust, Huia Publishers, Creative New Zealand, and Te Puni Kokiri, who have developed and promoted Te Papa Tupu.