Colleen Maria Lenihan hails from Te Rarawa and Ngāpuhi. She is a fiction writer, screenwriter and photographer, and a graduate of Te Papa Tupu and The Creative Hub. Her first book Kōhine, proudly published by Huia, was launched in August and has been warmly received by readers across the motu. Colleen is based in Tāmaki Makaurau and writes for TV.
Congratulations on the fantastic reception to your stunning pukapuka, Kōhine. How has the journey been since your book was launched into te ao mārama?
Ngā mihi! To be honest, I was very anxious about how my pukapuka would be received. I was worried I’d be judged and some might hate me. It’s nerve-wracking putting yourself out there, especially with work this personal. I felt very vulnerable. I’m so happy and grateful that these stories have resonated with others. I’ve learned that people want truth; or more specifically, emotional truth. It’s been a very busy and exciting time, and I feel a huge sense of relief to have finally released it.
Kōhine is ātaahua rawa to touch and behold. What was it like to hold a copy of your book in your hands for the first time?
I think it must be a really beautiful moment for every first-time published writer – you pour your heart onto the page and now finally after all that hard work, here it is; your love and care made tangible and ready to share with the world. It’s both thrilling and terrifying. I was working in a Teams meeting when it arrived and had to take a moment, camera off, to sit with the feelings. The design team at Huia, led by Te Kani Price, did an incredible job and I’m so grateful to them – their mahi truly elevates the material.
What do you think your tīpuna would think of Kōhine? What would their reactions be?
They are proud of me. I tried my best. They might side-eye a few things though, lol.
Kōhine opens with ‘E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea’, why was it important to you to start the pukapuka with reo Māori?
This whakataukī guides, comforts, and inspires; and perfectly encapsulates what it means to be Māori.
What are your hopes and dreams for this pukapuka?
I hope Kōhine will inspire other kaituhi Māori to play and experiment, and that it sparks ideas around creative and stylistic possibilities. I loved how Michelle Rahurahu used the phrase “Māori realism” as opposed to magical realism when reviewing my pukapuka. I also hope it will help me realise my dream to go on to create something with global impact so I can keep myself in the style in which I want to be re-accustomed to.
Which book, by a Māori author, have you read lately that you loved and what did you love about it?
Rangikura, by Tayi Tibble. The flow, the depth of feeling. It’s sexy and stylish. She’s so clever. I’m looking forward to Talia Marshall’s forthcoming book; she’s another exciting writer – sharp, funny and insightful.
What advice do you have for emerging Māori writers?
Believe in your work. Befriend and support other writers. Be tenacious; this is a tough gig, but if it’s your calling, you’ll find your way. Be grateful when offered an opportunity, and work your arse off.
What tips do you have for building relationships in the Māori writing community?
Don’t beef online. Simply lurk, silently judge and settle scores later in your mahi. Jokes, I’m here for the discourse, lol. But seriously, I didn’t become a part of the Māori writing community until I was selected for Te Papa Tupu, which was amazing for me. And then later, I met lots of inspiring kaituhi Māori at the Te Hā Māori Writer’s Hui in Porirua and had a great time. I met one other kaituhi from Te Rarawa there, and of course, she was my cousin, Anne-Marie Te Whiu. Definitely go to the next Te Hā hui and attend any workshops/talks/festivals by or featuring Māori writers and hang out. In the writing classes I took prior to Te Papa Tupu, I was the only Māori which kinda sucked. Some would complain when I would include te reo in my work without providing footnotes for translations. It’s always a relief to be around other Māori in pretty much any situation. Oh, and check out this resource I worked on with Paula Morris, Shelley Burne-Field and Hēmi Kelly: https://www.maorilithub.co.nz/
What projects are you working on now or hope to be working on in the future?
I like to keep future project ideas close to my chest – I feel if you talk about them too much in the early stages, there’s a danger of dissipating the energy, kind of like stealing your own thunder before it even exists. I want to keep writing for TV, hopefully overseas at some point, and I’m planning another book. I’ll try not to die before achieving these two things.