Jacquie McRae puts a dream into action

Jacquie McRae

Jacquie McRae's success in last year's Pikihuia Awards motivated her to keep writing

For me, the whole process of writing has been a long journey. I thought about writing this book eighteen years ago. Somehow I got waylaid by life but on the way I kept adding to my dream: a writing correspondence course in 1994 (I only managed 10 out of the 15 assignments), one paper at varsity in 2000, a continuing education writers’ week in 2006 and a contemporary Māori writers’ paper in 2008.  

 I had a birthday that made me realise that if I didn’t commit to writing now and give it my all, it may always remain a dream. I read somewhere that a dream is just a dream but if you add action, it can become reality. I quit my job at the school library, enrolled in an e-learning course for a year at Wairiki. My point in telling all this stuff is that when you focus on something amazing things can happen.   

My entry for the Pikihuia Awards in the middle of last year was chosen as a finalist. This was incredible feedback to get. Up until this point, I think most people presumed I was just dicking around, as my husband said: “Being a writer is the perfect job; No one can tell if you’re working or not”.   

This past week I have been working on my project. It’s called Behind the Varnish but that may be up for review. Having a mentor onboard is invaluable. I am incredibly lucky to have Renée. I get the sense that she will get the best out of me, even if she has to wring it out! Getting feedback on your writing from someone who has knowledge and doesn’t know you keeps it real. A mentor will question all sorts of things, and if I can justify why it is there, I get to keep it.   

I have spent the week with all the characters I have in the book. I am amazed that I wrote several drafts of this book but failed to really know why the characters did what they did. If I didn’t know, then a reader is never going to work it out. I have to know what they eat, what they like to do, what their childhood was like – even if it never comes to light.   

By knowing the characters more it made the story change. I’m still not a hundred percent sure that I have the best possible storyline but will go with it for now. At the Papa Tupu hui in Wellington someone suggested reading The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. This is an amazing book about archetypes. I am only half way through but can see that most writers would benefit from reading this.   

Lastly, I would also like to say how grateful I am to be on the Te Papa Tupu programme and the sponsors, Māori Literature Trust, Huia Publishers, Creative New Zealand and Te Puni Kōkiri.  A lot of thought has gone into making this programme, as supportive, nurturing and inspiring as possible. A day spent in like-minded company, meeting my mentor and having Huia Publishers (in the shape of Brian Bargh) cheering us on makes the daunting task ahead seem possible.

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