Some Guidance Required

You know how I was saying that one day I might be able to introduce myself like this, ‘Hi, I’m Hone Rata. I’m an author’? The last month has shown me that while I might be able to say that, I can’t follow it up with ‘And I’m kinda good at it.’ Because if I have learned anything this past month, it’s that I have a great deal left to learn. A GREAT DEAL TO LEARN. Like the proper use of capitalisation for instance.

‘I’ve never read about how to story. I’ve never studied story.’

My whole life I’ve read story, watched story, listened to story, told story. But I’ve never read about how to story. I’ve never studied story. I’ve picked up a few things. Like it should have a beginning, a middle and an end. And that things should happen to people and that we should care about these people. So, I wrote this story. It’s pretty long: ninety-five thousand nine hundred and four words at the end of my last edit. That is twenty thousand more words than when I first thought I’d finished. And it’s not nearly done! Half of the notes my mentor leaves point out things I haven’t explained properly. Or mentions a character I haven’t fleshed out properly. Or weaknesses in the structure that need to be reinforced or plugged. Or worse, points out where the chapter should end.

Chapters! It’s a perfect example. When I wrote my story, especially at the beginning, I wrote to an audience. A small group of supporters I emailed my story to every night. I would put my kids to bed, watch a bit of TV with my wife and then sit down and write for a couple of hours. I’m not a fast writer, I don’t type quickly, so it’s a drawn out and laborious process. In two hours, I can write maybe a thousand words. So, I would write away into the evening or the early hours of the morning. And my chapters would end when I got too tired to go on. I’d see a break point coming up, I’d try to finish on a hook, to make it exciting for my email audience, then I’d save my document and go to sleep.

‘You need to write down the “beats” of your story, so you know where the tension rises and where it falls.’

Turns out that chapters should have a purpose beyond letting you go to bed. Who knew! They should have a beginning, a middle and an end. They should take a character on a journey, and the choices they make need to be inevitable. Each chapter should be like a little story of its own. They may or may not be made up of separate, thematically linked, scenes each one of which should kinda have a beginning, a middle and an end. These are general rules; some books don’t have chapters at all. But that’s because the authors made a choice, not because they went a really long time without going to sleep. I’m learning how to think about chapters as I write. At the same time, I’m learning how to give my characters distinctive voices. I’m trying to remember not to use too many tropes or clichés; trying to remember to show stuff happening, not just have it reported (action is more exciting). I’m struggling with expressing my characters’ emotions. And making sure things are happening while they are talking so they are not just disembodied heads chattering away (ironically, I have disembodied heads chattering away in my story, but you never hear what they have to say).

But before you can do that, you need to actually write down who your characters are and what they are like, what they think and why they are trying to achieve. You need to plan and document your world. How does it work? What’s it’s history like? It’s government, it’s economy? How does it view non-binary genders? What about gender politics? Matriarchy? Patriarchy? You need to write down the ‘beats’ of your story so you know where the tension rises and where it falls. I’m not sure my writing style suits this kind of preparation, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it; it means I have to do it after I’ve written the story. I call it postparation. And this is important because I need to know this stuff so I can use that information while I am editing – to improve my consistency, and make sure the characters are acting in a way that makes sense and in a believable way (even if they are not supposed to be sensible and the things they do are unbelievable)

‘I struggled this last week to rewrite two chapters. I couldn’t figure out a good way to tell the pieces of story I needed to tell with the characters I needed to tell it with.’

There are so many balls to juggle that I didn’t even know I was holding. So many. And some chainsaws and knives and probably a bowling ball. But there are also butterflies and doughnuts and puppies. Not every note is an error to be corrected; some are notes of congratulations, inspirational suggestion or slight adjustments that I just know will make my words sing. And there is nothing like looking back on my writing and seeing how I have improved, how my story is better. And sometimes I think that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to write a paragraph without using an adverb.

It’s hard, hard work. I struggled this last week to rewrite two chapters. I couldn’t figure out a good way to tell the pieces of story I needed to tell with the characters I needed to tell it with. I had three birds and only one stone. I just couldn’t get traction, and my deadline approached. In the end, I just decided to do it badly, make a ham-fisted job of it. Not because that’s what I want to do, but because once it’s on the page, I can go over it and refine it until the turd is nicely polished. And if I can’t polish the turd, if I can’t see the shine under the muck, my mentor can tell me where to start.

That’s the magic of this whole thing. Someone who is good at this, someone who can see the diamond in the rough, takes the time to give me advice. Tells me how chapters work. That adverbs are the devil’s work and that doing is better than telling. Leaves notes I can weave into the sheet to make music from laboured beats.

It’s invaluable; these pieces of advice, so hard to juggle today, will become second nature. When they are, then I’ll be okay at this. I’ll still need an editor; it’s really very hard to see your own errors. I’ll never stop learning. But maybe, I’ll be able to poop something closer to a diamond.

‘I’ll never stop learning. But maybe, I’ll be able to poop something closer to a diamond.’


I’ve attached a picture of the two chapters I edited this week, zoomed right out in Word. All the colours in the image are changes I’ve made. All the red dots are suggestions my mentor made on the first draft.


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.

What Is Creative Non-fiction?

What’s creative non-fiction? What’s an essay? What’s the point of all this writing? These are the questions swimming around in my head right now. I began last month with a burst of energy and inspiration. I got out a bunch of books from the library and immersed myself in the genre of creative non-fiction. At first, I enjoyed all this reading and reflection. I could almost see the possibilities opening up in front of me. Unlike the academic essay, which intentionally fabricates emotional distance between the writer and their subject, a creative non-fiction essay is all about the spaces in between. The subjective experience is the motivation. You’re rewarded for admitting what you don’t know and examining your own ignorance on the page.

Cheryl Strayed (whose book Wild was turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon) says that a good essay should end with the unwritten line ‘and nothing was ever the same again’. She’s talking about the way an essay should stay with you, change you. A good essay should pick you up in one place and drop you off somewhere else entirely. Of all the things I read and reread, her quote is the one I printed out and stuck on my noticeboard:

‘Behind every good essay there’s an author with a savage desire to know more about what is already known. A good essay isn’t a report of what happened. It’s a reach for the stuff beyond and beneath. Essayists begin with an objective truth and attempt to find a greater, grander truth by testing facts against subjective interpretations of experiences and ideas, memories and theories. They try to make meaning of actual life, even if an awful lot has yet to be figured out. They grapple and reflect with seriousness and humour. They philosophise and confess with intellect and emotion. They recollect and reimagine private and public history with a combination of clarity and conjecture. They venture into what happened and why with a complicated collision of documented proof and impossible-to-pin-down remembrances. And they follow the answers to the questions that arise in the course of writing about what happens wherever they go. The essay’s engine is curiosity; its territory is the open road. This is what makes them so damn fun to read. The vibrancy and intimacy, the mystery and nerve, the relentlessly searching quality is simultaneously like a punch in the nose and a kiss on the lips. A pow and wow. And ouch and a yes. A stop in a go.’

‘A savage desire to know more about what is already known’ is the sentence that sticks out. And also ‘impossible-to-pin-down remembrances’. I feel like this is entirely the territory of my manuscript. I’m going through the stuff of my past, holding it up to the light and turning it this way and that, unsure what is true at the same time as I know how things turn out.

What I’m doing feels like a form of therapy. This gives me occasional attacks of self-consciousness. Who wants to read about all these unspectacular people and unspectacular events in my unspectacular life? It’s a question I try and avoid because doubt is debilitating, and I really want to submit this manuscript so that I can go to Aussie next year to the Sydney Writers’ Festival with the Māori Literature Trust and Huia Publishers.

In a moment of reaching, I sent my mentor, Paula Morris, an email, and asked her if it was normal to feel ‘icky’ about my writing.

She replied like an editor, not a therapist. ‘Avoid vague words like ‘eventually’. You need to give details. Specifically, when did these things happen? Where did you go? Not ‘across town’ but from which suburb to which suburb?

She’s right, of course. I could see what she meant as soon as she pointed it out. She also wants more characterisation, which is something I don’t think I’m very good at. Characterisation has to do with the little details that help the reader to picture the people that only you, as a writer, can see. It’s the kind of stuff Ashleigh Young nails. In her award-winning book of essays Can You Tolerate This?, she describes the vet as ‘a cheerful man with a loud guffaw who’s as tall as it is possible to be’. She likens her mother’s delicate mouth to the edge of an upturned saucer.

I’m not very good at this. I find it hard to describe people. My father, unoriginally, has brown skin and deep frown lines like gashes on his forehead. I don’t know how to liken him to anything else. He is the thing I compare other things to. I would describe the couch, for example, as something that holds the shape of my father.

Ashleigh makes all this seem deceptively easy. It’s not as though her words are fancy or complicated. It’s that she sees the world in a very peculiar and interesting way. I’m not quite sure if I do. I think it’s one of the reasons I struggle so much to ‘think’ in Māori. In Māori, you wouldn’t say that someone is forgetful; you’d say he tangata māhunga wai – that guy’s got a mind like water. You wouldn’t say someone is old; you’d say they have hairy ears – taringa huruhuru.

Perhaps that’s another reason I should prioritise my reo studies. Seeing the world with a Māori lens might give my characterisation in te reo Pākehā the boost it’s missing.


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.

No Written Language


‘Because the early Māori had no written language all we have to go on is oral tradition.’

This is a quote from a book – it doesn’t really matter which one because we’ve all heard it a million times. The idea that Māori aren’t literary because our language was never written down is something that’s been drummed into us since the moment our ancestors walked through the school gates. How can people with no written language be considered literary? In a colonised mind, to be literary is to be a master of words on paper. There’s no place for oral traditions in this definition of literary. Unless words are communicated by means of a precisely arranged set of characters on a page, they are unreliable at best, suspect at worst.

I’m not interested in rebutting the idea that Māori aren’t literary. Anyone who thinks that subject needs debating probably isn’t reading the Māori Literature Trust’s blog. What I’m interested in is the tacit agreement within the literary world that there is something superior about written forms of communication over oral forms.

The notion that the printed word is more reliable or robust doesn’t stand up to interrogation, and yet we all go along with it anyway. We’re in the era of ‘fake news’ and white people everywhere are outraged, but indigenous people the world over are like, ‘oh, you just noticed?’ The dubiousness of words in print isn’t news to us. If it weren’t for the fact that printed words have caused so much mamae (Treaty of Waitangi, Tohunga Suppression Act 1907, every single New Zealand School Journal that called Māori a dying race), it’d almost be funny. 

Almost. 

The difference with oral cultures is that everyone knows that truth is subjective. We make sense of ourselves through story, but the story isn’t fixed. Everything can be challenged. Robustness is proven over time, and the person telling the story is as much a part of the narrative as the events they’re recounting. The vantage point – the papa on which they stand – affects everything. The only omniscient presence is Io.

Oral stories unfold fresh every time. They are old and new at the same time. Narratives full of potential that can be woven and rewoven anew in keeping with our changing world. As stories are handed down, new truths come to light and new revelations emerge. Last night, at the launch of Toi Māori’s latest poetry exhibition, I heard Briar Grace-Smith retell the story of Māui’s birth from the perspective of his sister, Hina. In this year of suffrage celebrations, even our ancient stories have modern applications. 

We have mōteatea, layered stories unfolding in verse and passed precisely and carefully from one person’s lips to another. Whoever planted the idea in my head that stories retold over hundreds of years are somehow less reliable than something that is printed once onto a page needs to be accountable for this fallacy in my thinking. 

Karanga: a sacred summons performed by a female to initiate a ritual of encounter. The looping words rise and fall like a wave, weaving a connection between the living and the dead, the haukainga and the manuhiri. The energy of the words seem to pull you forward from the chest, but their power does not come from any book. You can’t study the art of karanga simply by learning a repertoire of phrases. 

Whakataukī are proverbs of wisdom that draw deeply on metaphor, relying on the skills of an orator to say one thing while saying something else entirely, while whaikōrero is the art of pursuing words. When you turn up to speak with your words printed on speech cards, you are preparing to talk. When you turn up with an emotion in your belly and words yet unformed, you are preparing to listen. Which one now appears inferior? 

And yet still we seem to attach greater esteem to books than we do to history and knowledge that is spoken, sung, chanted or performed. As a writer, being published in a physical book brings with it legitimacy. To me, looking from the outside, it seems to represent acceptance. It’s like being invited into an exclusive club – and I can’t help myself, I want to belong.

For the briefest moment last month, I felt like I did. HUIA flew all six writers on Te Papa Tupu programme to Auckland for the National Writers Forum. They put us up in a lovely hotel at the top of Queen Street, across town from the University of Auckland where the two-day conference was held. I arrived exhausted after a day of missed flights and endless transfers and had to pinch myself that it was real.

I lay back on the bed and tried to take in all the images. The minibar stocked with little bottles of booze, my carry-on suitcase lying open in the half-light, a tumble of books strewn across the carpet and the sound of nothing – no children calling my name, not even cars on the street below. 

The sensation was still there the next morning when Whiti knocked on my door to take me downstairs for breakfast. It was surreal because once upon a time Whiti Hereaka was the name of an author I admired, not someone I ever expected to be picking me up for breakfast like an old mate. And yet here she was, sitting in my hotel room practising Mandarin in preparation for her upcoming residency in China, occasionally looking up to provide an opinion on the selection of my outfit. 

Later that night, after all the workshops and panel discussions were finished, I found myself at a table surrounded by a group of authors I’ve followed for years. People whose books were sitting on my bedside table at home. When a plan was made to go out for dinner I almost declined. I felt like an imposter. How to feign belonging? There was only one other unpublished person at the table, another Te Papa Tupu intern, otherwise, everyone else was working on their second, third, fourth or even thirteenth title. I felt like someone had opened the door to the club, and we’d snuck in while the bouncer was looking the other way. 

Coming home was a relief. Writers’ forums and book festivals can go either way for an aspiring writer. Some sessions leave you motivated and inspired. Others can make you doubt your capacity to fill out forms let alone finish an entire manuscript. I withdrew to gather myself. I wanted to spend less time thinking about the work and more time doing it. 

As the weeks have passed and I’ve settled into a rhythm, I’ve found myself returning to ask why I want to belong to this club of published authors so much. Part of it is to do with ego, I suppose. I have identified the pinnacle, and I want to know if I can reach it.

But lately, I have started to wonder if, in pursuing legitimacy in the Pākehā world of literature, I am turning my back on the inheritance offered by Māori literary traditions. How much better could my writing become, what potential could I discover, if I didn’t reject the qualities of excellence embedded in oral traditions in favour of those of the written word, but instead held both in my hands at the same time? It’s something our ancestors have been doing for a long time – perhaps this is the true pinnacle I should be aiming for. 


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.

Wanderlust

There are two kinds of people: people who stay and people who leave.

I’m not judging people who stay. Someone needs to keep the home fires burning. Close ties and family must come before travel for many. I am grateful that my brother has been here to keep connections to whānau alive. On my last visit to my daughter’s grave I saw the chunks of streaky pounamu and black pakohe, Whanganui River stones, that he’d been leaving over the years. Deep aroha tinged with guilt rose up within me.

Still, staying wasn’t for me. If the world is like a book, why would I only want to read the first page?

I have a vivid memory of being ten years old and gazing at the green hills that surrounded Hautu Village where I lived, and feeling like I couldn’t breathe. I felt a visceral, profound yearning; a lump in the throat that was almost painful. I wanted to get out, get away from those verdant hills hemming me in and see something, anything, different. Even at that young age, I felt like I was trapped in a box and everything in it was too familiar. My family were poor, so international travel seemed like an impossible dream. I didn’t even get to the South Island until my early twenties. But then, the Fates intervened, and at twenty-five I was offered a lucrative opportunity to be an exotic dancer in Tokyo, flights and accommodation paid. I took it. I didn’t accept the job due to a lack of education. I had a bachelor’s degree, was the valedictorian of my year at art school and had landed a respectable job in arts administration. I was simply tired of working hard for peanuts and was eager to have an adventure, and at the same time make some real money.

I left in 1999 and came back in 2016. Since my return, I’d only been out of New Zealand once to organise shipping all my stuff from NYC that had been in storage for months while I travelled around, figuring out my next move.These past two and a half years have been the longest I have spent in one country since I first left all those years ago. That old emotion of feeling stifled by ‘home’ began to resurface. I knew I had to escape before I lost my tiny mind, so this month, I went to one of my favourite places in the world, the Kingdom of Thailand. Siam. The Land of Smiles. Sawadee ka!

The moment of take-off is a deep release. That feeling of leaving everything, your life with all its petty hassles, behind. It’s not only transportive; it’s transformative. Up there, above the clouds, no one can reach you.


It’s my last day in Thailand today. I spent six nights in Koh Samui at a five star resort and three nights el cheapo style in Bangkok. Or as a fellow New Zealander we met on a boat trip called this energetic, delicious, snarling metropolis – Bangers. My hotel is steps away from chaotic Asoke intersection, which is choked with scooters, tuk-tuks and taxis that take traffic signals as suggestions only. I’m in love with the massive shopping mall, Terminal 21, designed to look like an airport with each floor named after different parts of the world. I spend most of my time inside this air-conditioned consumers’ wet dream, constantly snacking. The food market here is just like depachika in Japan, those magical wonderlands of gourmet delights found in the basement of department stores. Skewers of succulent meats and vegetables. Sweet sticky rice with mango. Cups of fresh tropical fruit ready to be blended into delicious smoothies. All kinds of Thai street food, including the lightest, freshest and reputedly the best pad thai in Bangkok for $2.50 New Zealand. Coconut soft serve? Don’t mind if I do! Can I possibly avoid saying that this place is a feast for the eyes? There is even a Japanese bakery where, joy of joys, I procure my favourite Japanese treat, mitarashi dango: glutinous rice balls on a skewer glazed in a sticky soy sauce syrup that reminds me of the spoonfuls of malt extract my mother would make me eat when I was a kid. I didn’t particularly like the taste back then, but now, drizzled over rice mochi, I can’t shovel it in my fat face fast enough. I know how much I will sorely miss this vast array of cheap, tasty, and plentiful food options when I’m inevitably confronted by bulky paninis and the same cafe stodge everywhere back home. Twenty New Zealand dollars for lunch in AKL would get me four lunches in BKK. Not for the first time I think, why didn’t I move here? Bum around South East Asia for a year or two? I love you New Zealand, but you’re too damn expensive, which is hard to understand when you’re basically a giant farm. New Zealand produce often sells for considerably lower prices overseas. We’re all getting royally fucked at the supermarket cash register. Why?

I decide to have a night out and head to Soi Cowboy, a short pink and red neon-lit street packed with go-go bars. A friend suggested I head to trendy Thonglor instead because it’s nicer, but I am hungry for some red-light realness. You can take the girl out of the club, etc … I stroll around looking for a place to hang out. Suzie Wongs, Deja Vu, Kiss, The Dollhouse … Clusters of scantily clad women mill around, waiting for business. I sit down outside at a bar called Lighthouse, and a woman with a worn face sidles up and says ‘Drink for me?’ She is wearing a white strapless cocktail dress with a sweetheart neckline. It has some lace on it and looks kinda eighties, like something Molly Ringwald would wear to the prom.

I could use some company, so I motion for her to sit and light her cigarette. From my hostessing days in Tokyo, I know her drinks will be more expensive than mine and that she is trying to make a little extra cash at the beginning of the night until she gets a real customer. She must be a prostitute as she isn’t dressed like a go-go dancer or hostess and looks too old to be either. She tells me her name is Nong and that at forty, she is an old lady. She laughs when I tell her that I am forty-four. Nong makes a joke in broken English that I think must be about anal sex because she acts out being fucked from behind. I chuckle along with her to be polite. A dancer sits down and asks for a drink too. She is pretty and has honey-colored hair. I check the price first and agree. Nong tells her friend that I am forty-four, and she says to Nong that she looks ten years older than me, which makes me feel sorry for Nong.

‘Why you look so young?’

‘Because my mind like child,’ I say, and tap the side of my head. She wouldn’t understand the word ‘immature’.

We discuss Thai boob jobs, and the dancer invites me to feel her fake tits. They are very soft. I ask where the bathroom is, and Nong takes me inside, where a UV-lit stage is packed with young women dressed in white bikinis wearing numbers. She leads me upstairs, where the floor is glass and you can look down at the girls on the stage below. I try to surreptitiously take a picture through the glass, but Nong catches me. I feel bad, like a sleazy farang, and offer to delete it from my phone.

‘It’s okay,’ she says. ‘No one see.You my VIP.’ 


Colleen Maria Lenihan (Te Rarawa, Ngāpuhi) is a photographer. Upon 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.

I Have Always Been a Bookworm

When I was a child, my mother worried that I didn’t get out and spend enough time with friends, but who needs friends when you have books?

I’m joking! I’m joking. I have many wonderful friends.

But I also have many wonderful books.

I spent a lot of my childhood embedded in pages. Mum didn’t need to worry; the books were taking very good care of me, leading me on all kinds of adventures through this world and countless others.

We come from a long line of avid readers, so the whole bookworm thing wasn’t really a surprise. However, my choice in books was a puzzle my mother could never solve. Our extensive, extended family library was mostly composed of science fiction and fantasy, and while those are genres I adore, it’s horror that really captured me.

It still does.

I love that breathless sensation you get when you think something bad is going to happen. The way the skin at the back of your neck tingles and your shoulders shrug into your ears as if you can save yourself – save the characters in the book – with that movement. The way your feet lift off the floor, subconsciously tucking underneath you because who knows what’s hiding in that space beneath your seat. As if these little movements will protect you from killer or monster, from the unknown, the unknowable.

The way that even after you’ve finished the book you might hear something, and it triggers that gasp, that inhalation, that rush of adrenaline you need to get the hell out of there and somewhere safe.

Oh yeah, I love horror.

So, it’s no surprise that I love to write things that creep people out. The vast majority of my short fiction has elements of horror woven in. Which brings me to Butcherbird because it was the first time I set out to do this in a longer format.

You see, I’d been writing a lot of romance and the need to creep someone out was overwhelming, an itch that needed to be scratched; I needed horror. Not the B grade slasher film type (not that there is anything wrong with that. I love a good B grade slasher). I’m more into the subtle chills, the rising levels of discomfort and fear than I am blood and gore. I want the creepiness that lingers, the one that’s kind of familiar and could be waiting for you around the next corner, in the next person you meet. The one that follows you home (the creepiness, not the person, though that’s creepy too).

‘I want the creepiness that lingers, the one that’s kind of familiar and could be waiting for you around the next corner, in the next person you meet.’

I had this idea, and it hit me in the way the best ideas do, which is to say while I wasn’t looking for it at all. (I was actually playing Minecraft with the kids. Seriously, ideas can come from anywhere.) I was walking through a wheat field, water up to my knees, and it took me back to all the games we’d played in the rushes of the swamp on my grandparents’ farm. Birds swooping overhead, the sun blocked out suddenly by clouds, the drop in temperature that follows.

Once I’d scrawled down that initial flash of imagery, I set to work expanding this idea for a book and decided to fill it with all the things I love, and to set it on a fictional version of my grandparents’ farm, the very same place I spent so many years playing out stories with my cousins as a child.

And I couldn’t bring them to life – this book is not those stories, it’s a thing of its own – but all my memories of the farm, all my love of tales about family and secrets, of rural New Zealand and that slow-build fear that tickles the back of the throat are in this book.

These things aren’t perfectly honed yet, but they’re getting there with the help of my mentor, Whiti Hereaka. She’s making me think harder about all the elements I put in from the smallest reference to a book or object up to much broader things such as character motivations. I’ve spent these past weeks researching and reading, and all this background work means I’m coming back to my book and finding new ways to breathe life into the story, to add touches to dialogue and setting, to ramp up the world building and make the whole thing shine more.

‘I’m coming back to my book and finding new ways to breathe life into the story.’

It’s been really enriching to be forced to sink into research, to be directed towards specific texts to grow from and to pick my own as well, and a real challenge being told not to work on the book itself for weeks. My fingers were itchy for the craft by the time I was allowed back to writing.

I’d been slacking a bit on my reading goals, and this has all been excellent incentive to drown myself in books again.

This bookworm has taken her reading game to a new level.


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.

Creating Is a Wonderful Thing

It’s midnight on Saturday. I am ecstatic, my cheeks red with exhaustion and exhilaration at the same time. No, I am not clubbing or at a party with friends. Here I am, sitting alone at the wooden dining room table, my heart pumping in my chest. I’ve decided that being a writer is isolating. It’s just you and the keyboard of your computer. Except perhaps for the friends I’ve discovered in the magical worlds I create through the use of words. Mōrena Pēpi Kiore (cute baby mouse). Kia ora Keatangata (cute baby Kea). As you can see, I like cute native animals in my storylines.

‘I’ve been reading books written by writers on their creative process.’

I’ve spent five months and too many days to count, writing this novel. Waking up early every morning, my laptop open and the unnatural light of the screen searing my sleepy eyes. I’m lucky I have the flexibility of being a university student as this week I’ve spent two entire days writing. My weight has increased as the amount of exercise I do has decreased to zilch, zero, nothing. If I could show it to you on a line graph (I can’t; I’m a writer), you would see the line representing my level of physical exercise plummet dramatically. My natural tan has become steadily more vampire-like. Sometimes when I arrive at university for ‘mahi’, I go straight to the postgraduate student cafe and order a herbal tea. There I sit with my laptop and write for a couple of hours before I get into my master’s thesis (also an imminently approaching deadline). Shoot me now.

I’ve been reading books written by writers on their creative process, including Terry Brooks’s Sometimes the Magic Works and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. From Talisman Terry, I’ve learnt that taking the time to draft an outline for your novel is a good idea. I realise I might have been over-estimating my writing abilities by creating my plot on the run. As Terry says, ‘now on top of that you want to mess around with trying to figure out your plot? Who do you think you are – Houdini?’ Ouch, that one hurt, Terry. So, I write a quick outline for this novel and then find my writing output increases tenfold because when I sit down to write, I now know where I am going and how far I have to go.

‘… if inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you’

From Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth, I’ve learnt that sometimes ideas magically ascend to those of us living a creative life and therefore must be grasped fully with two consistent hands. Otherwise, it may flutter over to someone else who cares for it more deeply, ‘because this is the other side of the contract with creativity: if inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you’. I am thankful I cared deeply enough about this story so it didn’t leave me for someone else. Two-timing manuscript.

I binge-watch two documentaries on the creative process of Hayao Miyazaki, the celebrated Japanese film director and co-owner of the fantastical Studio Ghibli. I learn about work ethic from koro Hayao of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke fame, who even at the age of seventy-two was still working on his movie The Wind Rises from
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday. As a writer, those long and consistent hours would seriously churn out some big books and fast.

I am astonished to find out that koro Hayao draws the entire storyboard of his movie by hand. Every single painstaking second of his movie drawn by hand. Sheesh, writing is an easy gig compared to old-school animating. He makes up the storyline as he goes. Often the entire studio doesn’t know the outcome until the completion of the entire storyboard. What I find most impressive about this is the faith that the million dollar financiers of his movies must have in his abilities. I imagine a conversation between koro Hayao and his investors.

‘Will you spend millions financing my movie?’

‘Sure what is the storyline? Who are the characters?’

‘I don’t know; I make it up as I go.’

‘Please, take my money.’

I read online articles on the creators of manga that inspire me, like Rumiko Takahashi and her Japanese mythological tale Inuyasha. All this so that my mind and body can be enthused with the kind of magical creative energy that will help me to complete this novel, or so I fervently hope.

So here we are. The first book I have ever attempted to write and the first book I have ever completed, all in one fell swoop. All 74,250 words, 343 pages and 35 chapters of it. I can see my characters Hine and Pakū in my head, or maybe they are in my heart. I wonder about the second book of the series that I hope to be able to write and how it might tie into the first. My eyes tear up as I reread the last chapter. I know this book is good. The ending worked out well; the characters grow and develop as they should in a coming-of-age YA novel.

‘I realise that I’ve become someone who contributes creatively to literature rather than just another reader who takes without giving back.’

It feels almost sad like the magical, hair-raising, exhilarating, awe-inspiring journey is over. But then I’m also proud that I wrote my own magical story rather than just reading someone else’s. I realise that I’ve become someone who contributes creatively to literature rather than just another reader who takes without giving back. Like Terry, Elizabeth, koro Hayao and Rumiko. But perhaps what I am most excited about is the story that I’ve written for me.

It is true; this story is the one I wish I could have read when I was a child. All aspects of it – the Māori goddesses, the wars, the animals, the battles, the beautiful and glorious nature – all of it is exactly what I like in a novel. It’s a compilation, an accumulation of the favoured preferences of the lifetime (so far) lived by one precocious adult. It’s magical; it’s special; it’s loving. I realise what this feeling is. It’s pride. Like the pride one feels when their child learns a new skill. This book is my baby. And my baby has grown into a teenager. She’s still got a way to go – a bit of editing, a lot of rewriting, moving things from here to there – but she’s on track.

I hope my bubble of happiness won’t be burst when I receive feedback on the completed transcript from my mentor. But for now, I feel proud. I thank my mentors Terry, Elizabeth, koro Hayao, Rumiko and, of course, my Te Papa Tupu mentor, Simon. I pat myself on the back (figuratively) and go to bed, my mind still racing from the adventure I created solely from the colourful recesses of my mind. Which in itself is amazing.

Creating is a wonderful thing.


Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman (Tapuika, Ngāpuhi) loves writing. Sometimes what she writes is good and sometimes it isn’t. But she persists, nevertheless, in the form of essays, poetry and articles. Ataria’s writing has been published on E-Tangata and you can follow her poetry on Instagram @atariarangipikitia.

The Hardest Thing about Being a Writer

I packed my bags, hopped into my orange Nissan and I drove. A picturesque town where locals walk around in jandals holding surfboards all year round was waiting for me. My new home. The opposite from the big city lights of Auckland. Paradise.

And yet it was chaos. Finding a new home. Changing jobs. Adjusting to a new job. Not to mention, the week before I moved, having my wisdom teeth removed. Probably not the best timing. One day out of work is all I need, I told myself. I was, of course, wrong. Drugged up on medication with blood coming out of my mouth meant I couldn’t do much for a week except lie in bed and eat coconut yoghurt while dozing in and out of consciousness.

But all of the above? No one cares. The world doesn’t stop. And unfortunately, my book isn’t going to write itself.

In fact, if the world was on the brink of destruction, I still must put pen to paper (or in my case put my fingers to my keyboard). I still must write.

And that is the hardest thing about being a writer.

Honestly, I’ve always wanted to be an author. It’s cliché and cheesy, but ever since i picked up my first book as a little girl, I was hooked. Back in my day (I feel so old), we had a television with three channels that Mum never let us watch anyway. It was either go outside and play or read a book. I chose the latter.

Twenty years later, and here I am.

And I am close. So close. But the last few months have also been a reality check.

You sit at your computer for hours by yourself. Writing.

And you don’t even know if it’s good.

Actually, you don’t know if your entire book is good or if it’s really just a piece of crap. It’s not until your mentor gives you feedback and some encouragement that you realise you are actually a decent writer.

It’s almost like writing a book has little to do with writing and everything to do with diligence. And consistency.

Forcing myself to write even when I’m not in the mood. Suffering from ‘writers block’.

Forcing myself to write even when I’m hallucinating from very strong medication.

Forcing myself to write when I just worked a full-on day for my new job and all I want to do is come home, kick my feet up and watch the new movie on Netflix everyone is talking about.

And, of course, you have all the other personal challenges and trials handed to you that I don’t need to talk about.

Everyday disappointments. Sickness. Fatigue. Personal relationships. The list goes on.

But I must write.

I am constantly reminded the things in life that are of the most worth are always going to be the hardest to obtain.

That’s what diligence is. Steady, consistent and earnest effort.

And perhaps that is what I am learning.

I know all the work I am doing is worth it.


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.

What It Means to be a Māori Writer

Shilo Kino with Patricia Grace and Robyn Bargh at the Pikihuia Awards in 2013.

Don’t call me a Māori writer.

I am a writer who is Māori.

Yeah, there’s a difference.

I tell stories. Stories I hope will shape perspective. Give life more meaning. And as clichéd as it sounds, provide a voice for the voiceless.

My Māori culture means everything to me. It is, of course, part of my identity. In fact, it is every part of who I am.

But one thing I have learnt from Te Papa Tupu is that we are simply not just ‘Māori’ writers.

We are writers who offer a Māori perspective, but our perspective is not the same. We share a gift of telling stories, but that’s where our similarities end. We were not chosen because we are Māori. We were chosen because we are writers.

I want the other five recipients to be successful just as much as I want to be successful. I am in awe of the support, love and inspiration that comes from the other participants and my mentor. It is refreshing and a change from a world often consumed by egotism and selfishness.

My book is a piece of my heart that I am laying out bare. I wrote it three years ago, in the space of six months.

The story lived inside my head for years. Niko, the thirteen-year-old protagonist in my story, nagged at me every minute of the day to write.

After I finished my manuscript, I went and served a mission for my Church in Hong Kong, a noisy, bustling city that gave me perspective. I came home and dug out my manuscript.

And now I’m here, a part of something special. But this is a lot harder than I expected it to be.

Shilo in Hong Kong

I recently got a new job, and I’m moving three hours south to a new place. In between a new full-time job, moving houses and juggling my social life, church commitments, family time and exercise, I have no idea when I’m supposed to write.

And if I’m not careful, writing becomes a chore rather than a joy.

But I write because I love it. I love being a writer. I’m proud to be Māori. There is a deep satisfaction and pure joy in my soul when I write. And I’m incredibly grateful to be part of a programme that encourages me to do what I love.

But do not expect my story to be the blanket ‘Māori’ perspective. There is no such thing. I am one voice among many.


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.

A Story to Tell

Tēnā tātou katoa. He uri tēnei nō Ngāti Hine, me Ngāpuhi. Ko Tokerau te maunga, Ko Taumarere te awa, Ko Waiomio te whenua. I tipu ake ahau kei Tāmaki Makarau ki te tonga i te taha o tōku Māmā – no Ingarani ia. Ko Wallasey te whenua, Ko Cheshire te rohe, Ko Mersey te awa. Nō reira, he Māori, he Pākehā ahau. Tokotoru aku tamariki, kei Porirua mātou e noho ana.

He mihi maioha ki te kaipānui.

All my life I’ve wanted to write fiction. Not sci-fi or fantasy but the kind of fiction that’s believable. Characters so real that when you’re finished with them the reader is convinced they exist. A few years ago, living in Abu Dhabi as an expat and stay-at-home mum, I had the opportunity to give this dream a shot. Every day, after dropping the kids off at school, I sat down to write. I wasn’t entirely sure of the plot or the characters, so I started with exposition (fancy word for blabbing-on). It sounded brilliant, but by the next day, I could see it for what it was: a yawn-fest.

I moved on to writing scenes. I used my kids as inspiration. These stories were better, with the added bonus that the kids loved them. Each day, they’d jump in the car and ask if I’d written another chapter. They’d argue with each other about the story arc of ‘their’ character and push me towards outrageous and implausible plot twists. But it was hard to get these fictional characters to do what I wanted them to do. The caution I had to exercise to protect my kids’ feelings was like writing in a cage. I was more captive than captivating.

Eventually, I gave up writing and started reading. Not leisure reading, but the kind of reading that takes hours and hurts. I deconstructed passages of my favourite novels the way an architect might eye up a building to see how it’s put together. The more impressive the novel, often, the more invisible the author.

One weekend, enrolled in a writing workshop, a teacher asked us all a question: ‘Who feels as though they have a story to tell?’

I didn’t dare put up my hand. In fact, I suddenly felt ridiculous. I had no story to tell, and this frivolous dream of writing a book became apparent for what it was: self-indulgent and egotistical. I finished the workshop and went home and not long after that we came back to New Zealand.

I returned to what I knew: policy and research. The thing is, I didn’t stop writing. Instead, I stumbled into a genre I didn’t even know had a name: creative non-fiction. To me, I was just writing introspective, rambling stories about the things I cared about: my reo journey, my kids, education issues and a few long-winded pieces on identity politics.

E-Tangata gave me my first break in 2015, publishing the first essay I sent them. From there, I had a few other things published, and I won a couple of awards (thanks NZSA and Michael King Writers Residency). Then along came Te Papa Tupu. I thought for a long time before throwing my hat in the ring. Resurrecting the dream of writing a book was something that filled me with unease, not just because I was scared of failing (again), but because I wasn’t really sure if I was ready.

Most of the essays I’ve published up until now have been pretty formulaic – 1500-word think pieces pivoting around a single idea or theme. They’ve tended to explain rather than explore. They’re persuasive essays intended for an online audience, but they stop short of deep introspection. The manuscript I sent in to Te Papa Tupu was something quite different. They’re still essays, but they’re longer and more personal. They don’t deal with just one idea or theme but multiple. The stories are about people and relationships as much as they are about issues.

This is the real reason I was afraid: in telling my story, I invariably end up telling the stories of everyone else close to me. My whole family gets implicated. Fiction seems so much safer because you can hide the truth behind a veil. But these aren’t made-up characters, they’re real people, and they all have a stake in what I have to say.

I wasn’t sure what scared me more: that my manuscript would be rejected or that it would be accepted.

In the end, I’m so glad it was accepted. I feel like I’m exactly where I need to be to work through these doubts and fears. The first workshop emphasised manaakitanga as a foundation of this programme. As well as creating the conditions necessary to become a better writer, we’re supported through strong relationships. My mentor is Paula Morris, someone who I’ve admired and looked up to for a long time. I get the sense that she’s going to be tough, but I know that the quality of my work depends on it. I’ve also been fortunate enough to spend some time with John Huria, whose feedback has helped me see so much more potential in this genre than I’d ever seen before. In addition to our mentors, we have each other – five other writers going through a similar journey.

It’s early days, but my unease has already begun to dissipate. I’m beginning to feel more excited than nervous. Outside the restrictions of the formulaic 1500-word essay, I can sense a freedom to explore language and ideas and to weave history and research into the narrative. I’m keen to challenge myself in new ways and in new directions. Best of all, I can see all the skills of fiction that I spent all those years trying to master finally coming into play.

I’m looking forward to writing about this journey here on the blog. I’d like to use this forum to discuss the mentoring process and to share some of the highs, lows and general insights. If you’re interested in reading some of my essays, please feel free to stop by my website: nadineannehura.co.nz. You can also read a more in-depth piece about Te Papa Tupu that I wrote for The Spinoff here.

And if you’re reading this feeling as though you might have a story to tell and wondering if Te Papa Tupu could be for you, chances are it is! Don’t let the doubts get the better of you. Keep writing, keep reading – and one day it’ll be your turn to write this blog.

Noho ora mai.
Nadine


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.

Hi, I’m Hone Rata

DSC_0066
Hone introducing himself at the first workshop in Wellington.

I’ve always found introducing myself a little strange. ‘Hi, I’m Hone Rata.’ Handshake. Eye contact. Smile. So that’s my name, but it’s doesn’t say a lot about me. ‘I’m forty-three.’ That’s new information, so a forty-three-year-old male, probably likes sports (nope, well not enough to follow any team). Oh, so doesn’t like sports; probably likes Star Wars (check), and wrote Star Wars as two words with the correct capitalisation, so probably likes Star Trek as well (check).

So he was a teen in the late eighties/early nineties. Probably likes Guns and Roses (check, well the pop songs anyway) and Def Leppard (nah) and Queen (sure). Oh well, must love grunge (well yes, but that came later because my wife introduced me to Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains). So he’s like a Gen-Xer then, so he loves his old morning cartoons and The Goonies (yes and yes, but nothing back then holds a candle to Gravity Falls).

So my name and number might tell you some things about me, but none of the important stuff. Like my wife, Janine, is the single most influential person in my life. That my kids are what get me out of bed in the morning (sometimes literally). That I love to paint and draw and make kids’ birthday cakes. That I love to sing but am terrible at it. And, perhaps most relevantly to this blog, that I love a good story.

Birthday-Cakes.png
Birthday cakes Hone has made. (Image supplied)

I always have. Movies, songs, TV, plays, games, jokes, a well-crafted lie, tales told round the camp fire. I love them all. I love the imagination they display, the creativity, the emotion, the thrill of them. But books – books are the best. I’ve always read, immersed myself in other people’s stories, watched the movies that flicker in my imagination when the written word really draws me in. Because that’s their real power: they ask you to set the scene, to cast the actors. You choreograph the fights. You care, or not, about the characters. The author gives you hints, titbits, a shadow on the wall, and you add the detail, the colour and the tears.

I’ve loved to tell stories, to retell stories. I love the discussion about the movie as much as the movie itself. I love sharing the laughter and the exciting parts of the narrative, however it came to me. I love sitting down with a friend and sharing a story together. I love lying in bed at night and reading with my wife, listening to her laugh, to delight in a story, even as I read another.

I’ve carried tales in my head for years, peopled by characters and ideas. Whole worlds that exist only in the firing synapses in my brain. And they are precious to me. They are the children of all these other stories. Influenced and guided by the artists I love: R A Salvatore, Jane Austen, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, R A Heinlien, Gene Roddenberry, Akira Kurosawa, Markus Zusak, Chuck Palahniuk, Nick Cave.

But I never wrote one. I never took the time to sit down, take a tale I’d woven and write it down. I was always afraid of it, of not being good enough, of not being able to live up to those examples listed above. Of not having the skill to do the story justice. In spite of encouragement from my friends and family, especially my wife, I was afraid. Not that I ever really framed it that way myself. I don’t have the emotional intelligence to read myself that well in the moment, but in hindsight, that’s what it was.

30 Days in the Word Mines
The birthday gift from Cassie.

Then a friend of mine, Cassie, bought me a birthday gift. A book about writing and setting the challenge to write every day for thirty days. The timing was perfect. I’d written a story at work, about going for a jog at lunch time, and one of my workmates, a former creative writing tutor, told me that I should write more. A wise neutral voice gave me that little bit of faith I needed. So I took up the challenge. Every night for thirty days, I emailed a supportive group of friends my night’s writing. And most of them didn’t read it. And that’s okay; I just needed an audience to keep me accountable.

And I loved it. Every night was a new adventure. I started writing out a story I’d told my children at bed time. Then a brief piece about myself. Then I thought I should try something a bit larger. I looked into my internal idea library. Looked for a story that I wasn’t too invested in. One that I could use to learn the craft of writing. An image flashed into my mind of a boy walking with a huge clay golem. Hand in hand down the street. The boy was a teenager, but the golem was so large that he looked like a father walking with his toddler.

That was it, that single image. The genesis for a story. So I sat down, with no real idea who the boy was or who the golem was or what kind of world they lived in. And it just flowed out onto the page. Every night was like watching the next episode in a series or reading the next chapter of a book, except that it was coming out of me instead of going into me. I never knew what would happen next. I was shocked and surprised and saddened as things I never knew would happen, never knew could happen, came to pass. Slowly, this small throwaway idea became a world. I began to care about this boy and this golem.

With the continued support of my family and friends, I moved on beyond those first thirty days and kept at it until I’d finished this story. My first novel: 78,000 words that had never been placed in this order before. It took me about a year, then another year of editing and rewriting before that same friend, Cassie, pointed me at Te Papa Tupu programme and suggested I apply. So I did. And I was accepted. (And so was she! What are the chances?). It’s hard to explain the feelings that run through you when you have someone on the end of the phone telling you that they see promise in your story. You start to think that maybe you are an author after all. Everything since then has been a bit surreal. The first workshop was so amazing. Sitting with these five other gifted authors. Being surrounded by the staff at HUIA and the Māori Literature Trust and by the mentors. Being steeped in this passion for story, for books, for authors and for the Māori voice. What it can say. The worth of that voice and the necessity of it.

It’s all incredibly humbling. And I still feel like a bit of an imposter. A bit undeserving. Because my words aren’t all that flash. They are not worthy of those authors and storytellers that inspired me. But maybe with the help of my mentor, Whiti Hereaka, and the staff at HUIA, maybe then my story will have a place in their shadow. Maybe then I can introduce myself by saying ‘Hi, I’m Hone Rata. I’m an author.’


DSC_0434

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.