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Standing on the edge

Ashlee sets her intentions for 2021 and reflects on her Te Papa Tupu journey and the second workshop held in Auckland last month.  


Oh, the joys of a new year – that heady feeling of a fresh start, new opportunities, the desire to be better, do better. Resolutions and reflections that may or may not amount to something.

Changing habits is something that requires effort, diligence and a considerable amount of time. That’s too hard to maintain though, isn’t it, when the summer glow fades and we’re rocked back into our default routines come the end of the holiday period.

What will fall by the wayside for me will be getting up early to write 500 words every morning (yawn!), a commitment to exercising every day (*puff puff*), a resolution to chill and not stress and react so much (oops!). Quite likely, my resolute promise to stay away from sugar will fail too.

But I am not a failure! What I will hold onto is my intentional effort to learn more te reo Māori. I’m holding onto the resolution of sharing my stories and committing to actually doing and not just *thinking* about it. To eating better, and moving more, to prioritise sleeping and laughing and hugging.

And to being unabashedly hungry to learn more – about me, our world, the world, those around me, with open arms and heart and mind.


The many maunga of central Te Ika-a-Māui.


Just to cement these reflections, on the journey to our recent Te Papa Tupu hui, I could see my maunga Putauaki, standing proudly tall at the base of the Rangitaiki Plains, shadowed by Tarawera, who in turn stood beside farther neighbours Tongariro and Ruapehu, and in the distance, Taranaki. The many maunga of central Te-Ika-a-Māui all parting the clouds, yet firmly rooted in a stunning vision of Aotearoa, captured in one frame from an aeroplane window.

For me, each of those maunga does not have to question its place in this world, and neither should we. That’s why during this second hui with our mentors, not once did I sit there and question if I was ‘Māori enough’ to be there, or ‘good enough’, or even if I was a ‘real writer’.

I am all of those things, and I can only get better at them.


Ashlee organises the structure of her novel with Post-It notes


In an effort to better my storytelling, Jacquie and I hit the novel structure with a hundred Post-It notes. Since the last time I saw her, I have been learning more about the scriptwriting approach called ‘beats’, as well as crowdsourcing a hundred different ‘scenarios’ and possibilities to vary on my novel’s situation.

We go over these and piece together a storyline that works, making decisions around what to include, and just as importantly, what to leave out. “Save them for the sequel,” Jacquie tells me as I stare wistfully at the very long list of scenarios leftover. I have been worried that by paring back the story from the novel I originally wrote, there will be not much to tell. Jacquie is patient, and gentle and reassuring.

We meet with Shilo, still excited about having her novel (The Pōrangi Boy, Te Papa Tupu 2018) published late last year (and rightly so!). She signs an inscription for my children, who will pass the book between them. “I wrote this for you,” she writes, after sharing about growing up without stories with ‘her’ in them.

We also had the pleasure of meeting with Creative New Zealand (Māori Literature Trust sponsors) and the New Zealand Society of Authors, and sharing our progress so far. The other five writers are also grappling with finding writing time, with balancing life, with feeling like their work is not good enough, with taking on board their mentor’s comments. We are in varying stages of completion, but it is good to be on this journey together.

In the end, we know that April brings the completed manuscript, but it is the time between now and then that is what makes this journey worthwhile. We message each other joyously when we get positive comments from our mentors, in tears when we face writers block.




On the return flight, I am on the opposite side of the plane – the maunga that make up Auckland/Tāmaki, the Coromandel ranges, Maunganui. And the ones that bring me home – Whakaari & Moutohorā.

Remember how I’m a writer who makes it up as I go? Turns out that I can see the value of structurally planning – it might just save me in the long run! So the post-it notes join the growing display at home, and I am better for them. The novel will be better for them.

This might be one new habit I’m prepared to work for and keep.

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