You don’t look like a Māori

It was January, 2011. I had spent the past decade living in Tokyo and was visiting my mother in Whanganui over the summer. Although Japan has amazing cuisine, arguably the best in the world (Tokyo has the highest number of Michelen starred restaurants), I often craved New Zealand food. On my first day back, Mum and I went to a local cafe for lunch. I had a hankering for some good old Kiwi coffee lounge stodge. A cheese and onion sandwich followed by a caramel slice, washed down with a nice, strong cup of tea. Maybe an asparagus roll. All very 70’s. As I slid my woodgrain tray past the stacks of thin sandwiches and brightly coloured slices that now seemed so exotic and strange, my mother politely asked the woman behind the counter if she could use the restroom.

‘No, we don’t have one. Go to the Subway down the road.’

Off Mum went. As I was eyeing a ham and tomato savoury in the pie warmer, a Pākeha woman came in and asked the same question.

‘Yes, right this way,’ was the instant response.

I grew up on the North Shore in the 80’s as a ‘half-caste’ that looks white, and people would be shocked that the little brown woman who’d come to pick me up from Brownies and sleepovers, was actually my mother. I’d overhear my friend’s parents say all manner of racist things about Māori, the gist being that we are lazy, good for nothing thieves. You certainly wouldn’t want one in your house. Then Mum would turn up and they’d clutch their pearls and grab hold of their handbags and be all like ‘Oh.’

I felt myself perspire and my pulse start to race. I fixed the server with a hard look.          

‘Why did you send my mother, a sixty year old woman and a customer here, down the road when she asked to use the toilet? When you let the next person use it?’

Another staff member came over. The racism was so blatant they didn’t even try to deny it. ‘So sorry, we’re really sorry,’ they said, over and over. Only to me, I might add. They never once apologized to my mother who returned a few minutes later, to find me still shaking.

‘What’s wrong, Girl?’ she asked.

I told her what happened. She looked at me and shrugged.

‘Don’t worry about it. I’m used to it.’

That broke my heart. That she was used to this treatment. She didn’t even think we had to leave, but I had lost my appetite. 

This racist incident wouldn’t have shocked me as much growing up. I could totally relate to Jermaine Clement when he said ‘As a pale-skinned Māori person, I felt like a spy as a kid.’ I was shocked that it would happen in 2011. I had been out of the country for ten years though.

I remember the time when Mum came to my high school to pick me up but couldn’t find me, and had to ask kids on the school bus where I was. She was terribly upset because a Pākeha boy had repeatedly said to her ‘You’re not Colleen’s mother.’ He wouldn’t believe her and treated my mother, an adult, with total disrespect, simply because she was brown.

I remember my Dad saying ‘Don’t speak that shit in my house,’ referring to my mother’s first language. I would deliberately mispronounce Māori place names around Pākeha friends so I didn’t seem weird. Being Māori was definitely not cool when I was growing up. It even felt like something to be ashamed of.

I’m so glad that times have changed. On my return to New Zealand in 2015, I saw a group of Māori with Tā Moko speaking Te Reo with each other at the airport. It looked really normal, which might be a strange thing to say. It made such a positive impression on me. However, when Taika Waitai made his comment, ‘New Zealand is racist as fuck,’ I had to agree with him. A Stuff article about the resulting furore popped up in my feed, and I posted a comment on it saying that he was absolutely right, and explained what happened with my mother at the cafe. The majority of comments were supportive, but there were a significant number of people who made disparaging remarks and accused me of lying. One woman said that I wasn’t a good daughter, because if that had happened to HER mother, she would have done something about it! She demanded to know why I didn’t go to the Human Rights Commission. Who has the time and energy to lay a formal complaint for every micro-aggression? This same person also said that New Zealand isn’t racist, because she had never seen it. Well, why would she experience it, being white? I know I have white privilege, precisely because I see how differently I am reacted to and treated, compared to my brown mother and brother.

I believe New Zealand is generally a tolerant country. I also believe that the rights and recognition that Māori receive now directly reflect the tenacity and fighting spirit of our people, not this mistaken idea that here in New Zealand we’ve treated our natives well, compared to other countries. When people in the dominant culture who don’t know what it’s like to be colonized, and don’t understand the transgenerational trauma and systemic racism that naturally follows such oppression would say things like ‘Get over it. It’s in the past,’ our people didn’t give up. They endured lengthy legal battles and made sustained efforts to get some form of redress for what was violently ripped away and stolen. Māori people have fought for each and every gain that has been made, and will continue to fight, and will continue to flourish.        


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.

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.

An Epic Haerenga

My heart rose into my chest, and my throat dried out as my finger hovered over the “submit” button. It was taunting me. I pressed my finger on the mouse, not realising I had been holding my breath until I was forced to exhale. I smiled to myself as the confirmation of submission flashed up on the screen.

Thank You Ataria!

Your manuscript Hine and Hineteiwaiwa has been successfully submitted.

The HUIA Manuscripts Team

A few weeks ago, I finally submitted the manuscript for a YA fiction novel called Hine and Hineteiwaiwa. This has left me with some time to reflect on the journey as a whole. Go right back to the beginning. It was in December 2017 that I received an email alerting me to the Te Papa Tupu competition. An email that I left filed for months in my inbox over the summer holidays, alongside the idea for a book featuring a young Māori girl called Hine and the atua wāhine, Hineteiwaiwa. It wasn’t until the idea kept bugging me in the back of my mind, that I eventually caved and started writing religiously every morning for less than two months leading up to the submission date. It was like one day I just decided “I’m going to do it!”

During that time I wrote about a third of the manuscript which I submitted and was accepted. It took me another six months to complete the storyline – numbering over 70,000 words – and another six months to do the first round of editing. After that, Simon and I did a second read through of the manuscript. The aftermath of all that editing is a word count now numbering less than 50,000 words, the original 70,000 a true testament to my wandering and no-succinct natural writing style.

Twenty thousand hard-earned words gone, wiped from a word document in one round of editing. Entire chapters deleted. Though those words may no longer be in the novel itself, they did serve to help me to imagine and know the broader details of the world that was being created in my head. Entire chapters of character and story development that only I the writer – and my mentor Simon – will ever read.

To this point, I’m pretty sure the style of my writing is a stream of consciousness, which means that although it can be written fast, it needs a whole lot of editing at the other end. A stream of consciousness isn’t to the point, it is rambling and elongated. Like the layering of whakapapa, each round of edits enables the sentences to be further reduced and further reduced until it is structured into the ideal way of communicating a series of ideas through the written word.

By no means was the submitted manuscript perfect. In an ideal world, I would have loved to have had time to do another round of edits and really read through it. But the stresses of everyday life don’t leave the writing writer, and I had other pressing projects I had to get back into and fast. So I set the manuscript free, handing it over to the publishing team at Huia Publishers.

I thought the submission of Hine and Hineteiwaiwa would be the end of it. But no, the manuscript had other ideas. I was asked to read at the Toi Māori Art market last weekend (Te Matatini weekend) with a group of other young Māori women writers. So I dusted off the second chapter, frustratingly finding more mistakes in the process and forced my whānau to listen to my practising. Then on a Saturday morning, I headed to Te Wharewaka o Poneke.  I was sweaty and unsure of myself, asking myself why I always said yes to these kinds of things. I didn’t know the other writers but was delighted to find that we had a lot in common, as young Māori women with love for the written word.

I stood and confidently shared Hine and Pakū’s world with the audience. The audience was Māori, a fitting welcoming to this world. I chose a chapter that intentionally has a hanging ending, with Pakū kidnapped and taken into the wet and ribbed mouth of a Taniwha and Hine left unconscious. I felt consumed at that moment as the words flew out of me, unable to remember the actual process of reading as I sat down with the other readers.  Of course, that couldn’t be the end of it though. A well-meaning and well-worded question from a kuia in the audience had me sharing why I want to write so that I can write the stories I wish I could’ve read when I was a child, stories that represent me and my culture. The emotion of this, of course, left me in tears. Things are as it should be I guess, a tangiweto at the beginning and a tangiweto at the end. It seems not all everything has changed.

That has been the best part of the Te Papa Tupu programme. The awakening of creativity inside of me that yearns to write and the opening of doors to meet other Māori just like me. After we finished, Patricia Grace came up to talk to us. Tears wobbled in my eyes as I stood in the presence of someone who I look up to, someone who paved the way for other Māori women writers like me.

At the beginning of Te Papa Tupu, it was just me sitting in my darkened bedroom at 6am in the morning, tapping away at my keyboard. At the end I found myself sitting with other writers in the Green Room at Te Wharewaka, sharing herbal tea and talking about our love of writing.

All I can say is, what a haerenga it has been.

Ataria


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.

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 End Is Just the Beginning

‘Hone and I editing at a friend’s house on Boxing Day, with our helper cat, Jess.’

It’s hard to believe that this is my last journal for the programme. Six short entries seem insufficient to really capture six months of growth and learning, six months of new experiences and the assistance of an amazing mentor, a publishing company that wants to boost writers with potential, and the many wonderful organisations that contribute to making it all happen.

We have until the end of the month to submit our manuscripts, and I’ve been working hard on mine, making changes, tightening plot lines, adding new scenes and restructuring others. Sometimes, I can work on a scene for so long that I’m left wondering if I’ve done anything that makes a difference, but I trust in the process and in my mentor.

And, in me. Which is new. And lovely.

‘Thanks to this programme, I now have more confidence in my ability to write.’

Thanks to this programme, I now have more confidence in my ability to write. We’ve crammed exponential growth into a short period of time, and I’ve developed a newfound ability to revise my own work. It’s always been easy to look at other people’s stories and tell them how they can improve, but it’s a skill that’s much harder to apply to my own stuff. I’m no longer afraid of making big changes or getting it wrong.

I feel like I’ve finally breached the wall that’s been holding me back.

Like anything is possible.

Which is good, because coming to the end of the mentorship isn’t really the end. It’s just the beginning.

Once Butcherbird is off to Huia Publishers, there will be new writing projects and the research associated with them, new phases of my writing career. It’s the end of this process, but as a writer, there are always cycles starting and ending, always more learning to delve into, story playlists to create, new stories creeping up on you, unique characters knocking on the door in your mind.

And I’m excited to see where they take me.

I just want to say thanks to anyone who has been reading along, and thank you to everyone who contributes towards this fantastic programme. I’ve enjoyed doing these posts and enjoyed the mentorship immensely, and I encourage anyone who has been thinking about it to apply to the next round.

If you want to keep tabs on what I’m doing, you can follow me at the links below – and hopefully, sometime in the near future, one way or another, you’ll get the chance to read my book, Butcherbird.

I tweet, blog and Instagram sporadically, because I’d rather be writing 😉.


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.

Please Show, Don’t Tell

There is something elusive about writing, and I’ve formed the opinion that this is what makes writing art. Or not art. I don’t mean that in a snooty way, rather as a form of humble appreciation. It’s the difference between riveting writing and writing that is a bit naff, a bit off. The type of book you read until 3 a.m. and the book you get two pages into and then decide to never pick up again.

My mentor Simon describes it as ‘making the reader ping’. A very scientific explanation.

What is ‘ping’? At the third Te Papa Tupu writers’ workshop, we had some time to talk about the manuscript. Simon – who presented an awesome workshop on story arc – shared his general contentment with the arc and character development. But there was a hiccup. There were issues at a sentence level. With my writing.

There was no ‘ping’. Parts of it were not quite right. In others, something was missing. Although there are huge battles, blood spattering and the heads of bit-part characters rolling … it still wasn’t engaging as heads rolling really should be.

This was a bit daunting. Everything else was great – except for the writing itself. This is something to grapple with, a challenge right up there with defeating an evil sorcerer. So, Gandalf the Wizard/Simon the Mentor gave me advice that was something like, become the character before writing. Visualise yourself in the character’s body and engage with the five senses. What can Hine or Pakū touch? What can they taste, smell and hear?

‘Visualise yourself in the character’s body and engage with the five senses.’ 

I gave this a go. I tried – I really did. I visually imagined myself as the characters in my head. I rode that giant moa, I fought the evil sorcerer, I imagined being kidnapped by an unknown blue-hooded stranger. I made myself vomit with fear. It was better, Simon assured me. But still … not there yet. There was something else. I was telling too much and needed to Show, Don’t Tell. This was the first time I had ever heard of this.

What is Show, Don’t Tell? Well, as far as I know, it’s allowing the reader to experience the story through action, thoughts and senses rather than through description. In her workshop, Paula Morris alluded to Show, Don’t Tell through Point Of View – writing from the POV of the character.

Hine and Pakū face insurmountable evil, cursed and grotesque animals, skeleton people, a scar-faced sorcerer and taiaha-wielding men who have ‘no-eyes’. Because of this, fear is a pretty common emotion in my manuscript. So, instead of saying ‘Hine was afraid’, if you Show, Don’t Tell, it’s ‘Hine’s chest tightened’, ‘Hine froze’, ‘her mouth was dry’, ‘her brow was covered in sweat’, ‘she rubbed her sweaty hands on her skirt’. From this, the reader assumes (if it works) that Hine is under some kind of stress and from the context that it would be fear.

‘Show, Don’t Tell through Point Of View – writing from the POV of the character.’

Now, I’m sure there have to be better examples than that (if you do know of any, please share in the comments below so I can steal them haha), but the point is that these are the kinds of things I’ve had to think about.

Confusingly, all writers actually DO tell. I know … right? Confusing. If you look at it this way, it would be pretty hard to write a novel that didn’t tell at all – not once. Especially in the young adult genre and with an action-packed storyline.

This is what is so confusing about this concept. You have to Show, Don’t Tell, but actually, do tell, but not too much. Give enough information for the reader to understand what is going on, but don’t over prescribe. Otherwise, you are robbing them of the chance to fill in the blanks – to recreate the novel as they see it in their own minds.

‘Give enough information for the reader to understand what is going on, but don’t over prescribe.’

So, I turned to the help that was suggested at the workshop, and on a surprisingly windy day, I wandered into Wellington City Library and picked up Beyond the First Draft: The Art of Fiction by John Casey. Now, this book is not a page-turner by any means. The best way to describe it would be that it hurt my brain. I felt like I was reading the ancient texts of some religion or perhaps the oral teachings of Te Papa Tupu mentor ‘Yoda’ (aka author James George).

An excerpt:

‘A common fault among younger writers, especially good ones, is to become enchanted with complex ornamentation…[…]. I once took a writer to the Washington National Cathedral (a good duplication of English gothic). We looked at the vaulting – finer and finer tendrils sprouted. But the bases were as big as a house. You can’t almost see the way around. You can feel, you can almost hear them as if you were in the engine room of a ship larger than any ever built. You don’t need to explain that you couldn’t get the tendrils way up there without these roots. Or that the delicate tendrils wouldn’t be as beautiful if they weren’t a culmination of force …’

It’s heavy. It’s wordy. I skim most of the words. My brows furrow. I feel the faintest twinge of a migraine, my brain whirring and I sigh, loudly.

In saying all that, I would still recommend reading it. I don’t know if I understood, but I am always hopeful that subconsciously I absorbed its teachings – through osmosis. Will it help? Will the newly edited manuscript dazzle with ping?

One can only hope.


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.

A Place to Grow

I took this photo during my time in Tokyo. It is of a lotus about to bloom. I’ve always loved the Buddhist view of a lotus – as a lotus can grow out of mud and blossom above the muddy water, we too can rise above the mire and messiness of our lives. We can transform.

Last week we had our final Te Papa Tupu Workshop in Wellington. We kicked off with HUIA Executive Director Eboni Waitare inviting us to reflect on our  journey with the programme, before meeting with our mentors: James George, Jacquie McRae, Simon Minto and Whiti Hereaka. That session was followed by informative and stimulating workshops: point of view with Paula Morris, story arc with Simon Minto, marketing and personal branding with Waimatua Morris and publishing with Robyn Bargh. We finished up by sharing thoughts on where we see ourselves going with our work, before heading off to drinks and nibbles with Creative New Zealand, Te Puni Kōkiri and Huia Publishers’ staff, and finally dinner and cocktails at The Library – an aptly named and decorated watering hole for book nerds like us. It was a full day, and I believe we all left with full hearts … yes, I am a giant cornball. I admit it.

At the mentor meeting, James George asked me what was going on, as I’d said I was in a bit of a slump. I explained that I was having difficulty with creating more of a narrative spine in some of my stories. I was feeling blocked, and I wasn’t sure why. As always, he cut to the heart of things very quickly:

find some other place where there is some energy in your work and work on that / a piece of description, a piece of dialogue / something poetic and wistful / what are your strengths in this collection? / what are you good at? / don’t look at what’s not there / maybe it isn’t there / have confidence that you have fascinating subject matter that you can invoke truthfully / you may have to confront a truth about yourself that you are terrified of / let your characters speak their truths to you / make the undercurrents noisier / more disruptive / pile these themes / not to fix them / embrace who you are and what you do.

Once again, I am reminded how fortunate I am to be here, now.

During the workshop discussions, James George made a great point that HUIA invests in writers, unlike other publishing houses who harvest. This makes HUIA very unique. I feel incredibly supported and nurtured by HUIA, and by each and every person who is a part of the HUIA whānau. I am so grateful that I was able to thank Robyn Bargh personally for what she has built for us. What she has created is phenomenal, and a success story. This opportunity came at a time in my life when I deeply needed someone to believe in me. Take a chance on me (lol Nadine). I was so ready for it. It’s been life changing. It’s been emotional. It’s now my dream that we will take this beautiful taonga that HUIA has given us and share our stories on the world stage, to inspire and uplift our people and make them proud.


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.

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.