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Coin Toss

I’m not a nautical person but that never stopped me taking to the sea. When I was a kid my stepfather had one of those tin boats that sat so low in the water the waves used to slosh over the side and mix together with the guts and blood of the fish, tainting the salt water pink around my ankles. I’d spew and spew over the side and vow never to go out again but for some reason I couldn’t help myself. I’d hear Dad getting ready outside the tent in the dark and I’d drag myself shivering with cold and climb up onto the wooden plank in the boat. Sitting there under my lifejacket, teeth clenched, we’d bump our way down the road in the darkness, diesel fumes and blood and vinyl choking my nostrils. I could already taste the vomit rising. It wasn’t Tangaroa that called me but the promise of time alone with my stepfather. I wanted him to be proud of me, his fishergirl, the Chunderguts.

I’m not a nautical person but I married a guy who loved the ocean. In the years we were together we owned kayaks and boats and all manner of things that float. I wanted to love the ocean like he did, because he did, and I thought it was that simple. I thought love was simple. The year before we separated, a fishing boat capsized while trying to cross the bar in the Kaipara. Eight of the ten men on board were killed and the skipper was blamed. On the news, boaties shook their heads in disgust and called him a cowboy. ‘You don’t mess with the Kaipara,’ locals said. When the force of the outgoing tide meets the muscle of Tāwhirimātea coming in, near vertical swells rise up against the massive underwater hills. There’s a channel through the bar, a safe place to cross, but it changes shape and location all the time, even in the space of a day. The coast guard on the T.V. that night looked grim in front of the debris. ‘They should have stayed out at sea and ridden the storm out,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘They would have been cold and hungry the next day, but they would have been alive. It was a coin-toss.’

I’m not a nautical person but I stayed another year after the boat crash in the Kaipara because I’m not the gambling sort. The next summer we crossed the Cook Straight on the Bluebridge Ferry to the Queen Charlotte Sounds. Te Moana o Raukawa ki Toronui. We booked a lodge accessible only by boat and stayed for ten days. I wanted to love it because he loved it and I thought love was that simple but I was already studying the bar. I was up early every morning watching the channel, the shape of the underwater hills, lightly discernible if you pay attention. On the second day of that holiday, a yacht sailed into the little bay and hitched up to a mooring. We instantly connected with the family on board, spending several days together, laughing, eating, swimming. It was easy. The kids were happy. For a moment I considered changing my mind. I remember thinking: I could stay out at sea, couldn’t I? Everyone is happy here. Can’t I be happy here? But I was seasick and tired, and the time had come to admit that I really just didn’t like the ocean that much. I wanted to feel the earth solid beneath my feet, I missed the smell of soil and rain and wet leaves. I longed to go home.

I’m not a nautical person but writing a book is a lot like I imagine sailing solo must be. Setting off in the sunshine with all the hope and anticipation in the world, tanks full of fresh water, crisp new sails, what can possibly go wrong?

Everything.

I was bailing water before I even hit the open ocean. It wasn’t just that I doubted my ability, it’s that I was uncertain where I was going. Was I writing memoir or essays? Was there a difference?

Luckily, I wasn’t the only one out there on the ocean. I let off a flare or two and always, without fail, the other Te Papa Tupu interns held up a torch in the darkness. I have this image of us setting off together nearly eight months ago, sails up, blue skies. We sat in the conference room in front of the flash pens and little booklets Huia Publishers provided feeling like minor celebrities. We had our photos taken standing in front of the hedge by the pool looking all authorish and then they told us about all the places we were going: from a stodgy conference room in Kilbirnie to book festivals and writer’s forums in Auckland, Sydney and then who knows where? We gawped and stuffed our faces with free food. All we had to do was finish writing our books, how hard could it be? We didn’t exactly put our hands in the middle and do a team-chant but we left our egos on the threadbare carpet of the Brentwood Hotel and promised to help each other out. Writing is complicated. It’s better not to be in competition with each other; there’s wind enough for all of us.

I’m not a nautical person but I don’t know if there’s a better metaphor for a mentor than the image of a lighthouse. They’re the ones who let you know where the rocks are so you don’t smash yourself up on them. The mentor is to the writer as the lighthouse is to the sailor. Intermittent but constant. He toka tū moana.

John Huria, whom I met at the first workshop, drew a little compass on a piece of paper, telling me that my writing is full of heart and strong on narrative, two things that he said seemed to come naturally to me. A writer can go a long way on a little bit of encouragement. When I’m feeling shitty about my work or stuck on something, I still look at that diagram. John pushed me to explore the aesthetic, the scope and breadth of metaphors that can straddle two intellectual worlds at the same time. He also introduced me to the phrase ‘pre-loved language,’ a gentle way of pointing out the clichés that had a habit of creeping into my work (‘John, I hope this whole nautical metaphor doesn’t sink like a stone’).

I’m grateful to Paula Morris whose close-reading of my work helped me to sift through my stories to find those that were worthwhile polishing. I know that other mentors like to work to strict deadlines but that wouldn’t have gone well for me. I was crossing the bar and my family needed me, my kids needed me.  My manuscript couldn’t be the priority all the time and Paula understood this and gave me space to work at my own pace. Her feedback was always precise and articulate, and I know my work needed the kind of detailed critique she offered.

Diane Brown read my manuscript before anyone else more than two years ago. What I remember most from Diane’s mentorship is our friendship. I don’t think I could have handled a lot of harsh critique, back then. I needed to know just that my writing wasn’t terrible and that the stories were worthy of being told. Diane reassured me they were. In her emails she told me she’d crossed the bar too, years ago, and that it gets easier. Marriages fail, poetry falls out, blue skies return.

Not all our mentors are hand-picked. Some of them find us. Anahera Gildea is like that. I was out there in the ocean headed for darkness and I could see where everyone else was going but I just wasn’t convinced that was where I needed to be. I was looking for others who write and sound like I do. Anahera was one of the first. She’s chartered these waters before me.

I don’t know if it’s because the stories I’m writing are true or because of my anxiety, but fear has been a constant since I started publishing. One of the first personal stories I ever shared was about my father and it was meant to be a mihi to him, but it was my mother who was hurt. Three days before Christmas we spoke on the phone and she said: ‘you write beautifully, Nadine, but you tell lies.’

It cut me up. I never wanted to weaponise my words. I wanted to uncover and make things known, but it’s not about settling scores. It’s about breathing. It’s about holding hard things and good things in my hands at the same time. It’s the opposite of telling lies. The manuscript I sent to Huia Publishers six weeks ago is around 55,000 words and before I hit submit, I asked myself: Is this beautiful, is this true?

The trouble is, some truths cannot be made beautiful, no matter how many ways we rewrite the story. At some point, we have to let go of how our words will be received. We can’t control how the reader will interpret what we’ve said. This lack of control is awful. It’s more awful when you’re Māori. We write with authority about our lives and with all the authenticity we can muster but people will always pick it apart and mine our words for truth. None more so than those closest to us. These are the waves; this is the sense of drowning. This is when I heave my guts over the side of the tinny boat, not a yacht at all, who was a kidding thinking I could sail?

On days like this, mentors throw out just enough light to help you stay on course. One mentor isn’t enough. The ocean is treacherous. It’s not just about where you’re going, it’s about why you want to go there in the first place. If you’re a writer and you’ve got something to say I think you need to know why you want to say it, at least before you make landfall.

There are other mentors, too many to name, but especially: Karlo Mila, Annette Morehu, Alex Keeble, Cassandra Barnett, Leonie Hayden, Stacey Morrison, Victor Rodger, Kennedy Warne, Tapu Misa, Whiti Hereaka.

And of course, my kids, who don’t exactly understand all of this, but support me with unwavering faith: Bobbie: See her brave Liam: Have you finished your manuscript yet? Cormac: Writing a book is like having a baby, you can’t stop pushing half way through.

I’m not a nautical person but lately I have begun to feel like I’m arriving. I can see the outline of the hills ahead of me and the water is shallow enough to make out the little ridges in the sand beneath. It’s calm and quiet and I know the other Te Papa Tupu interns are already there on the beach. In a few days’ time we will find out who among us has done enough to earn a contract for publication then we’re all off to the Sydney, dragging our suitcases behind us and striking poses that look authorish. It makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. It’s terrible to want something and also not want it. It’s terrible to want to go out in the boat with your Dad even though you know it’s going to make you sick. Or to want to leave your marriage when you know what you’re gambling with. It’s terrible to want the things you want.

I’m not a nautical person but there are some days when I feel good out on the water. It’s a coin toss. It really is.


Like many New Zealanders, Nadine Anne Hura (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine) has grown up with a foot in two worlds: te ao Māori and te ao Pākehā. She joins Te Papa Tupu eager to work on her manuscript of essays about identity, language and belonging. She has three children and lives in Porirua.

Media Release: Pikihuia Awards 2019 – now open!

MEDIA RELEASE
13 February 2019

Pikihuia Awards 2019 Search for Māori Writers

The search is on – the Māori Literature Trust invites Māori writers to submit their short stories for the 2019 Pikihuia Awards.

There are six new categories in this year’s awards. Robyn Bargh, Chair of the Māori Literature Trust says, ‘We have restructured the Pikihuia Awards this year to encourage Māori writers to enter regardless of what level they are at. We want to identify new writing talent, to encourage those emerging writers who have already shown promise, and finally we want to find the best of our published writers’.

The categories are:

  • First-time writer in te reo Māori
  • First-time writer in English
  • Emerging writer in te reo Māori
  • Emerging writer in English
  • Published writer in te reo Māori
  • Published writer in English

The winner of each category will receive a cash prize of $2,000, and two highly commended finalists in each category will receive a cash prize of $500 each. In addition, selected winners and finalists will be published in Huia Short Stories 13 – a series of contemporary fiction by Māori writers published by Huia Publishers.

The sponsors of this year’s awards are Creative New Zealand, Te Puni Kōkiri and Huia Publishers.

The competition closes at 5.00 p.m. on Monday, 8 April 2019.  The Awards ceremony in September will be a chance to celebrate the best of Maori writers.

Details about the awards and downloadable resources are available at www.mlt.org.nz.

ENDS

Part of the Bargain: the Right to Write

A few months ago, I was commissioned to write a review of an exhibition at my local art gallery. The kaupapa was women’s suffrage through whakaaro Māori (a Māori lens). It was titled ‘Māreikura’. 

Mareikura

  1. (verb) nobly born female.
  2. (noun) an order of female supernatural beings corresponding to the male whatukura.

I was both excited by and apprehensive about this invitation. Commissioned pieces are a great way to develop new skills and to think about writing for different audiences. It’s also an excuse to dive into what I love most: social history and research. What I’m less enthusiastic about are reviews, in particular, the tikanga underpinning them. What’s the purpose of a critique? Is it to whakamana or whakaiti? Is it even possible or desirable to aim for ‘objectivity’? 

To give myself more space, I signalled early that I would be more comfortable offering a response to the ‘Māreikura’ exhibition rather than a critique. I’m not an art critic. I’m just your average curious individual. I wanted to engage with the exhibition subjectively, from my perspective as a Māori woman and as a Porirua local, declaring and owning all the biases that carries. 

I spent many, many hours writing the ‘Māreikura’ essay and I loved it. I was grateful for the exposure it gave me to mātauranga Māori, new creative writing skills and, most importantly, the Ngāti Toa history that surrounds me everywhere and that, until then, I was pretty ignorant of. I didn’t even try to hide my excitement for the subject matter and my affection for this land that I have come to think of as home. The essay was a mihimihi – it was intended as a celebration and a thanks. 

I took care to position the story in a way that upheld the mana of Ngāti Toa and was accurate according to the kōrero presented on the walls of the exhibition. I did a lot of background reading. My research even led me to the filing cabinets of the local library, and I spent hours filling my kete with stories to help add colour to the facts and details. I wouldn’t say my research was exhaustive, not by any stretch, but it wasn’t cursory either. I gave it my heart and intention. 

But the essay never made it to print. Not because it wasn’t wanted; a well-known magazine was keen to publish it, and the institution that had commissioned it was happy with it, too. As flattering and satisfying as that was, it wasn’t enough. I’d failed to engage the most important subject of the story: the haukainga, Ngāti Toa, the very people to whom the stories I was writing about belonged. 

I’m not a rookie when it comes to kaupapa Māori research. I didn’t go in with a mindset to ‘take’. I know that my responsibility as a writer, especially in non-fiction, is to engage with and think about ownership – no matter how difficult it can be to resolve some of the conflicts that arise. The reasons the essay wasn’t ultimately published are complex and not solely to do with me or anything I specifically did wrong. It’s not necessary to unpack the details here, suffice to say that the decision to pull the article was mine. Even though I cried about it, I knew it was the right call. 


I have attended quite a few writers’ workshops over the years, and whenever there’s a kaupapa Māori theme – whether a speaker or a panel or a masterclass – invariably someone in the room will put up their hand and say something that makes a lot of us groan internally. Usually, the question is some version of ‘I want to write about a Māori character or historical event, how can I do that authentically?’ Let me just say that if you have to ask this question in a Pākehā workshop, you’re probably a long way from the answer. The question itself, though, is a positive sign. It shows that a person is even thinking about ownership in the context of indigenous storytelling, which in itself is progress (hallelujah!). The problem is, I’m not too sure many writers are really willing to engage with the answer. An answer that may be ‘You can’t’, or ‘You shouldn’t.’

I will never forget the words of Maata Wharehoka, one of the kaitiaki of the film Tātarakihi, The Children of Parihaka. In response to a question about storytelling, to a packed audience, she said, ‘People write about Parihaka all the time, but they never come to us, and they never ask us. We are the subject of stories and invisible at the same time.’

I got goosebumps. I had just read an essay by a Pākehā writer that pivoted around Parihaka. It was emotive and stirring; I got all the feels. But something didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time, but as Maaka spoke, I wondered could it be that the author had never been to Parihaka? Could it be that the subject of the author’s story was invisible?

Just because I’m Māori doesn’t automatically resolve these issues, as my experience writing the ‘Māreikura’ essay shows. Being Māori doesn’t give me the right to tell any Māori story. Whakapapa is not a backstage pass to go wherever I want. Maaka’s words reminded me that ‘Māori’ is really just a descriptor and that iwitanga is really where it’s at. I don’t think Maaka was saying that nobody can write stories unless they inherently ‘belong’ to them, but it reinforces my knowledge that a solid framework for thinking about ownership and kaitiakitanga is imperative. Relationships are key. Interrogating your own reasons, stating them up front and declaring who you are and where you come from is as important on the page as it is in whaikōrero. 

Most of all, it is being willing to accept that you might do all this work, you might have the purist intentions and pour your heart into something, and the answer might still be no. 

As a writer in post-colonial New Zealand, this is all part of the bargain. 

My biggest challenge as I’ve pushed on with my manuscript for Te Papa Tupu has been to work into and through these issues. Some days I’ve felt like I’m walking up Whitireia into a headwind. I’ve had to stop many times to gather the energy to keep going. More than once, I’ve veered off track and had to go back to find the right path. I’m grateful to a few key people who’ve sat with me on the hillside in the dark and the rain and helped me to turn these issues over in my hands like stones pulled from my shoes. People who’ve encouraged me to find a way to keep going and to use these stones to improve my work instead of letting them stall it – to create art from the setbacks. These people have reminded me that tikanga isn’t a set of rules designed to keep us out but a model of thinking and behaving that keeps us safe.

I’ve thought about giving up, not just because it’s hard but because I’ve questioned my right to write. Most often, it’s been the supportive words of friends, all of whom are writers and editors, who’ve reminded me that the fact that it’s hard proves it’s worth it. Pēra i te whakatauki, whaia te iti kahurangi…


Summer is here. The winds have eased and the sun is out and I can finally see the path ahead of me. Yes, it’s a steep incline, but as anyone who’s scrambled hands and knees up Whitireia’s rugged spine knows the effort is worth it. I may have zig-zagged my way this far, and I know the steepest pinch is yet to come, but despite my slow pace and the toughness of the terrain, I haven’t quit.

This too, is part of the bargain. 


Like many New Zealanders, Nadine Anne Hura (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Hine) has grown up with a foot in two worlds: te ao Māori and te ao Pākehā. She joins Te Papa Tupu eager to work on her manuscript of essays about identity, language and belonging. She has three children and lives in Porirua.

The Sea, It Calls.

It’s the second day of summer, and the kids are swimming while I stand with my toes in the sea, enjoying the water lapping against my skin and dividing my gaze between the girls and the notebook I write this in. 

It’s moments like these that I realize I should have pushed myself harder in the early months of Te Papa Tupu programme when the weather was bleak and it was too cold for this. But the sun is returning, and we’re in for warmer weather. Warmth = beach in my family; I often joke that I have selkies instead of children, and truth be told, this is not their first swim of the season; that happened months ago when braver souls were still staying rugged up inside. 

But I can’t take my laptop to the beach, and I can’t focus on revision while I’m half focused on making sure the kids don’t drown. At least I can get my journal written though. 

We had our final workshop last week. It was inspiring and heart-warming and uplifting, and probably my favourite one yet. The camaraderie between the group was really special and speaks to the past few months of connection. I’ll certainly miss the regular catch-ups, though I know the group will remain long after the mentorship is over. 

first draft

So here we are.

In some ways, that final gathering felt like it was the end, yet on another level, it’s definitely not. In order to get this book in to HUIA on time, I’m going to have to work pretty hard. Which is fine. I like deadlines, and I like pushing myself. The hardest parts are still to come though, and I have to acknowledge that my tendency to wait until I can see that deadline on the horizon – until I can hear its siren song calling me – before applying all my focus is a bad habit that I’m yet to shake. 

There is something heady about that shot of adrenaline that spikes your system when you’ve got a deadline heading your way. A breathlessness brought on by the uncertainty about whether you’ll make it across the finish line, a frantic pounding of the heart. Is this the wave that will slam you against the floor of the sea, or will you be able to keep your head above water?

Yeah, part of me lives for that. 

But right now, it feels a lot like I’m walking towards the shore through the retreating tide. Each step takes effort, but it feels like I’m going nowhere, like despite all my efforts I’m not making any progress at all. 

I’m mired. My feet sinking into the sand. Each grain is tiny, but they are numerous – like the issues that I have to fix in my book – and with the weight of those combined grains, it feels like I might never get out. Fortunately, I know from past experience that if I just wiggle my toes – if I work the issues one at a time – before I know it, there will be room to breathe, and I can step free. 

And then, suddenly, I’ll have cleared the water. I’ll turn back and look out to sea, and it will be gorgeous.

I certainly hope that’s how I feel when I submit this book.

Thankfully, it’s not uncomfortable to be where I am right now. In a sense, it’s almost comforting. I’m claimed by the story; each plot thread, each snippet of dialogue, each chapter a journey, a path to follow, interconnected and overlapping.
In fact, this might be the most excited I’ve been about this journey since we started. Like the fun times are done and now it’s all work. It’s me and the story. And my mentor, of course, my friends. 

As Nadine Anne Hura summed up so beautifully during our final workshop reflections, we might all be in our own waka, but we’re not alone.


Cassie Hart (Kāi Tahu) is a writer of speculative fiction and lover of pizza, coffee and zombies (in no particular order). She’s had short stories published in several anthologies and been a finalist for both the Sir Julius Vogel and Australian Shadow awards.

Why I Travelled Eight Hours in a Car to See a Lady I Don’t Know

‘These are no ordinary waters
We are not ordinary beneficiaries.
We are kaitiaki in the truest sense.
We are tangata whenua.
Anything that upsets these waters or interferes with their flow should never be permitted.’

Ron Wihongi, Ngawha Kaitiaki (1924–2016)

My flatmate gave me a strange look as I opened the car door.

‘Why are you going there again?’

To be honest, I didn’t really know how to answer. Why I was driving all the way to Kaikohe. An eight-hour-long car ride crawling through traffic on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon was the last thing I wanted to do.

But I knew I needed to go.

Earlier this year, I tried to find Ngāwhā locals when I went to visit the hot springs. I needed to talk to them about the Ngāwhā prison. Get their perspective.

The nice man behind the counter wasn’t a local. He pointed me in the direction of a Māori lady bathing in the water.

‘She looks like a local, talk to her.’

‘Um, that’s my mum,’ I told him.

He grinned sheepishly and then shrugged his shoulders.

‘Sorry.’

I trawled through books and websites, trying to ‘research’. All I knew was that a prison was built in Ngāwhā, tangata whenua protested and a taniwha was somewhere in the middle. But I felt like I hit a brick wall every time I tried to ‘research’.

And then I had a breakthrough. Don’t ask me how it happened, but it did. I found a name and number online.

‘Hello?’ A lady answered.

‘Kia ora! Can I speak to Riana Wihongi please?’

There was a long pause.

‘Riana passed away.’

I felt terrible and apologised profusely. I told her that I didn’t know Riana and had never met her. I was writing a book based on the events that happened in Ngāwhā, and I wanted to hear someone’s perspective on it. Someone preferably from Ngāwhā. 

‘Well, I’m one of Riana’s friends and one of the protestors.’ Her name was Toi Maihi.

‘Come over to my house,’ she adds as if she lives just up the road.

But I lived in Tauranga and Kaikohe’s a bit of a drive away (eight hours!). I suggested I come and visit her in December sometime.

She agreed, but before we hung up, she clears her throat.

‘Before Riana died, she told me someone needed to write a book about this. I’m so glad you called.’

I went back to my computer, but my fingers couldn’t type anything. Something kept nagging at me. And I have learnt from past experiences, when you get that strong feeling you need to do something, you do it. Don’t ask, just do it.   

I pulled up into her home in Kaikohe two days later. A small woman with white hair opened the door. She’s tinier than I expected. Just as nice on the phone. She ushered me in and told me to take a seat.

She pushed a scrapbook in my hands. Toi had kept every newspaper clipping and photos of everything to do with the Ngāwhā prison. Before it was built, during and after. She even scribbled notes that were weaved throughout the scrapbook.

‘Who’s that?’ I asked, pointing to an elderly man holding a tokotoko. He’s wearing sunglasses, and there are two police officers walking alongside him.

‘I can’t remember his name,’ she says. ‘But he’s blind. One of the elders that were arrested for protesting.’

Arrested. I take another look at the photo and see the elderly man’s hands behind his back. I suddenly feel really sad.

I find out later Toi suffered a stroke earlier this year. She can’t remember names or faces any more. She even forgets words.

The closer I look at her, the more I see sadness all over her face. There’s anger. Hurt. A lot of pain. I wonder if it’s all from the Ngāwhā prison being built.    

‘We fought for four years,’ she said. ‘Four years.’

For hours she talked. I listened.

I learnt more about what really happened. What online news articles could never tell me.

I leant that Toi, with many other Ngāwhā locals, fought for years to stop the Government spending $100 million on a prison in Ngāwhā. Court battles, trips around the country to other iwi asking for help, multiple hīkoi, hui, court battles and protests.

I learnt about the people behind the protests. The faces behind the names. Many whom have passed away, during and after the protests.

I learnt more about the why. The spiritual aspect. That the healing and sacred waters of Ngāwhā are under the prison. That in the battle of Ōhaeawai, the Māori brought the wounded Pākehā soldiers down there to bathe so they would heal quickly. And how that water still heals the people of Ngāwhā today.

I learnt that Ngāti Hine offered a place for the Government to build a prison, but it was declined.

I learnt that Northland MP John Carter said he was ‘absolutely delighted’ when kuia and elderly were arrested outside the prison site for protesting.

I learnt about the travesty and injustice my people faced trying to protect our taonga and sacred land.

Toi walked me to my car and gave me a hug. It was a longer hug than a usual hug.

I went back to my car and broke down in tears. And then my car broke down, and I cried even more because my car was getting towed away, and I was stranded in Kaikohe with no idea how to get back to Tauranga (but that’s another story for another day).

But I’m so glad I made the drive to Kaikohe.

My previous ‘research’ was no substitute for the raw emotion I felt from meeting Toi.

It’s a story of heartache and oppression and injustice, but it’s also a story of hope and inspiration.

For like Toi Maihi said, ‘We will not let them trample on our mana.’ A story that I hope will inspire other tangata whenua to continue fighting. Because truthfully, the battle is only lost when we stop trying.


Shilo Kino (Ngā Puhi, Tainui) is a journalist who previously worked for Fairfax Media and has had stories published in Huia Short Stories. She speaks fluent Mandarin from serving a volunteer mission in Hong Kong. Shilo is delighted to be selected for Te Papa Tupu 2018.

Birth Pangs

I’ve been struggling with my writing lately. I’m working on a story set in the Hokianga in the 1950’s, based on true events that I am reshaping. Reimagining. I wasn’t there, obviously.

James George (mentor): ‘This is the strongest opening to any of the stories so far. Has real punch, and the economy, almost flatness of style really allows the implications to burn.’

My mentor’s comments are encouraging, yet I’m still having a hard time working on it. I sent the opening to Nadine (Hura) who said: ‘I got chills reading it. I got the feeling I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t stop reading.’ I replied that my writing often makes people uncomfortable, and she said ‘Do you feel resistance writing these subjects?’ Which is something I hadn’t even considered … that the countless ways I distract myself from sitting my ass down in the chair and writing aren’t always down to simple laziness and lack of motivation. That perhaps the themes in this particular story are difficult for me to face.

I’m surprised I didn’t consider this question of internal resistance myself, earlier. I’ve written before about subjects that are personally painful, like teen suicide. It never occurred to me that this could be challenging. It’s a curious blind spot.

I’m reminded of a printmaking class years ago, with the incredible artist and teacher Marty Vreede who talked about how there is a pain threshold when making art that you have to push through. And that one often isn’t aware of what the art is really about until the fullness of time reveals it later.

There was a quote that resonated with me during my art school days, written about the artist and my whanaunga, Ralph Hotere, and I’m paraphrasing here because Google isn’t helping. Something like ‘The meaning of suffering was the genesis.’ This holds resonance again for me now, especially as JG pointed out a biblical undercurrent in my current story.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I do know that I have to fight through my internal resistance and shut down any and all negative self-talk. Be kind to myself. This is brave work. Fuck Imposter Syndrome. I’ve cut the booze back, which helps. I’m present and clear-headed, mostly. Now I’m gonna sit my ass down in the chair and push the words out, one by one. And hope that it will all mean something, in the end.


Colleen Maria Lenihan (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) is a photographer. On returning to New Zealand in 2016, after fifteen years in Tokyo, she began writing short stories. In 2017, Colleen received an Honourable Mention for the NZSA Lilian Ida Smith Award and a scholarship from The Creative Hub and Huia Publishers. She is thrilled to be selected for Te Papa Tupu 2018.

Changing in Unexpected Ways

I’ve never been a very confident person. Even when I was very young, I was timid. My little brother seemed to get all the courage, and he approached the world like it owed him – the world responded as if he was right.

I envied him that, wished I could feel like I was worthy too.

It took me a ridiculously long time to see how wrong the belief that I wasn’t enough was. It took me even longer to begin trying to kill it with fire. But I’ve been working on it.

Some of this irrational belief stemmed from my crippling anxiety. For the majority of my life it’s tarnished everything I’ve done. The voices in my head constantly told me how stupid I was, how unimportant I was, how bad I was at just about everything, how the world would just be better off if I wasn’t around. I used perfection as a crutch, because if I couldn’t get it perfect then I couldn’t move forward and take the next step. The risks were minimal. Life was safer that way.

Of course, you can’t stay hidden when you’re a writer. At some point you actually have to send your stories out and let other people read them. At some point some of those stories are going to get published, and then people will occasionally leave reviews, and they aren’t necessarily going to enjoy what you wrote.

It is literally impossible to please everyone. Not even chocolate can do that, so I know I shouldn’t try either. But it was always there in the back of my head. And every single time I submitted a short story or published something I felt sick to my stomach, felt the bile in the back of my throat, felt tears welling in deep pools inside me as I waited to be told how crap I was. I wanted to hide under a rock or sit on the review sites until someone said something awful about me and I could have my certainty that I was a terrible writer confirmed.

But that never happened.

No one said awful things about my writing. (Aside from one guy who likened me to a terrorist or something, which stunned me and then made me laugh because I know without doubt that I’m a lovely person. I just sometimes write not so lovely things. Anyway, he didn’t say the writing was bad, and obviously, it evoked a response from him and that’s goal achieved!)

You might have picked up that I’ve said ‘was’ a few times so far, and that’s because that feeling has faded substantially. I think it’s a combination of things.

First up, I’m medicated now. I started taking this antidepressant to try and dull some of the awful pain I have from my Fibromyalgia, but the upshot is that my moods have balanced out and my anxiety has diminished. My confidence is—wait, let’s start that again. I actually have some confidence. I keep doing things and then being amazed at those things, and that’s a really nice feeling. I can finally hear my family, friends and fellow writers when they tell me I’m amazing or that they like something I did – for the longest time all those kind words were drowned out by the voice in my head negating all the things they said.

October was a big month for testing out this new way of being as I had a few writing related events on. First up, we were invited to the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement event in Wellington. Hone and I road tripped down for it, hung out with our mentor and fellow mentees, chatted to a whole range of amazing people working within the literary industry, and I didn’t feel scared at all. I was excited and inspired, and a little out of my depth, but I wasn’t anxious.

Premier House, Wellington

The next big thing was an appearance at Armageddon in Auckland – I was on a panel talking about an anthology that recently came out, in which I have a short story. Quite a different vibe to the awards but similar in that it’s another place full of people who are out celebrating the things they love.

I’ve never done a panel at such a big event, and on the few occasions I’ve participated in one, I was unable to think of anything else for the entire day before, or eat, or function. And yet, I was there signing books at the table, chatting to people, so busy and having fun that I almost forgot to feel nervous about the panel. When I did, it was a faint echo of past feelings. Enough that I could ignore it.

And it went well. I ENJOYED it. Like, really enjoyed it. I left wanting to do more, and then caught myself out, reminded that just a year or so ago this would have been impossible for me.

So, medication is wonderful. At least, for me, for right now.

Secondly, I’ve been noticing how supported we are. How well supported I am.

At Armageddon, the editor of the anthology made sure we were all comfortable and okay before the panel started and assured us that if we ran out of things to say, he could carry on talking until we found our feet. I don’t think we ran out of things to say, but when someone in the audience was getting a little difficult, the editor made sure to be clear about his feelings on the matter and show his full support of our work.

When we were at the awards, Brian Morris and Robyn Bargh were both there, introducing us to people and making sure we were all good. Our mentor, Whiti Hereaka, kept an eye out for us too, and I never once felt isolated despite being out of my comfort zone.

My mentor is amazing. I know I’ve said that before, but she’s everything I could hope for in a mentor. When I told her about my Fibromyalgia diagnosis, which is pretty recent, she came up with ideas for tweaking the schedule to make sure I could get to events that were important to attend (at the National Writers Forum), and knowing she was taking my needs into consideration meant that I could push through and do what I needed to.

Sometimes, it’s just that knowledge that someone has your back that makes all the difference. Knowing you’re supported and looked after, that someone is cheering you on and will be there to throw you a rope when you’re sinking. Without that, this writing gig is a whole lot harder, and for those dealing with extra struggles like mental/physical health, they really are essential.

I feel really blessed, really grateful for all the support I have, because I know not everyone is so lucky. And I’m so pleased that I actually have some confidence now, because I tell you what, it makes the revision process a whole lot easier when you’re not constantly second, third and fourth guessing yourself.


Cassie Hart (Kāi Tahu) is a writer of speculative fiction and lover of pizza, coffee and zombies (in no particular order). She’s had short stories published in several anthologies and been a finalist for both the Sir Julius Vogel and Australian Shadow awards.

It’s Moments Like These You Need Mentees

Te Papa Tupu Mentees 2018
L-R: Nadine Anne Hura, Colleen Maria Lenihan, Cassie Hart, Hone Rata, Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman, Shilo Kino

A couple of weeks ago, Te Papa Tupu programme held its second workshop. This time it was in conjunction with the National Writers Forum in Auckland. The lead-up to it was pretty exciting, we were given a list of sessions and had to choose the ones we wanted to attend. As a new writer, I’ve never attended anything like this, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, or what to attend. In a way, this is freeing because without knowledge or experience, you can’t really go wrong. Everything is going to be new and have something to learn. So I just chose the sessions I thought would give me some insight into the book I’m writing and the business side of being a writer today.

Before the forum itself we had the opportunity to catch up with our mentors (though this was cruelly interrupted by the vagaries of aircraft mechanical resilience) and to  experience a masterclass with Dr Anita Heiss. Dr Heiss took us through her journey to becoming an author. I was impressed by her tenacity and boldness. Her willingness to put herself out there and write the books that she wanted to write, to tell the stories she wanted to tell and, most importantly, impart the messages she wanted to impart. She asked us, ‘What are you trying to say?’ And in all honesty, I have no idea. I wrote a story, but it was just a story, and I suppose it has themes of a kind. It speaks of family and friendship and corporate greed and the dangers of a society run by and for commercial aims. But not deliberately and not in a considered way. Just accidentally.

I was left with so much to think about.

I travelled with my fellow mentee and friend Cassie (Hart). In this, I am super lucky, because I always have someone with me I know. A comfort in challenging and nervous times. Someone I can turn too and who will make sure I get to the airport on time. So, after the workshop, we went to the registration night, and it was amazing. We were early (because of Cassie), so we got to see most of the other attendees arrive. Just seeing this community of authors come together was amazing. Watching the room, I could see the camaraderie in the group. Old friends coming together, hugs and smiles, handshakes and kisses on the cheek. It was encouraging to just be a spectator in this group of authors and aspiring authors. To see this fabulously eclectic group congregate. Before too long, our fellow mentees and mentors arrived, and it was my turn to smile and hug and shake hands and kiss cheeks.

Over the next few days, I attended workshops on Writing Short (Pip Adam, straight up the most fun and engaging presenter of a workshop I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing), writing for Young Children (Kyle Mewburn, an artist of fart jokes and how to properly apply them for different ages). I attended lectures on the business of writing and getting published and promoted. I also attended a keynote by John Marsden that I never wanted to end. I could happily have spent the whole day listening to this wonderful storyteller talk. I attended a panel on writing YA that was full of sage advice and such inspiration. I was equally inspired by Lani Wendt Young’s journey and her experiences with self-publishing.

But equal to the content provided in the workshops were the times between them, where I’d meet back up with this amazing collection of authors that are my fellow mentees. We’d share stories and inspiration and crispy duck. I also met new people, other authors on the same journey I was on. I shared the love of story and character and verse and lyrics. I found a tribe I never knew I was a part of. And even after long days,I was energised, returning to my room to write and try to integrate some of what I’d learned during the day into my own work.

I left this weekend energised and invigorated. Awash with ideas and inspiration. And almost immediately slumped.The writing was hard. The challenges seemingly insurmountable. Life was full of other demands on my time and distractions. It was really hard, but I wasn’t alone. Because there is a Facebook group I can turn to. Set up by Cassie (who else?) at the start, it’s a place all the mentees can get together and share the trials and triumphs being a part of Te Papa Tupu presents. And here I found that a couple of the others were feeling the same way. I was not alone. I was quiet thought this time, I didn’t post much, but it was reassuring to read their conversations.

So here I am, finally back on the horse and finally applying the inspiration and learning I picked up to the words that are, for today at least, flowing out onto the page. I know I would have gotten back to this eventually. I’ve had slumps before and muddled through. But I also know that I wouldn’t be here yet if it wasn’t for the support of the tremendous wāhine I’m lucky enough to share this journey with. It is their passion, their energy and their wisdom that is on these pages as much as it is mine.


Hone Rata (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Ruanui, Taranaki) is an aspiring author currently embroiled in the fraught journey that is preparing his first novel for publishing. Hone is pleased to have been selected for the 2018 Te Papa Tupu writing programme. He is excited to learn new skills and apply them to his novel.