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.

The Three Ed’s and a Bit of CD

Editing, editing, editing. The three ed’s and a bit of character development. You see a month or so ago, I had finally finished the manuscript of my YA fiction novel. The elation that I felt at that time, it was real. There I was, staring at that beautiful final sentence couched in clouds of a splendent white page.  It was fantastical. It was fabulous. For a week or so.

Then it wore off.

Like most writers who are just starting out, I mistakenly believed that finishing a novel is the hardest thing in life. Bashing out those thousands of words day after day. Surely there’s nothing harder than that. All I knew was that I had finally joined the league of ‘extraordinary writers’ who’ve finished a BOOK. My ego swelling to hot-air balloon proportions. The Māori J K Rowling of Aotearoa here I come. After a week or so floating around in ‘I’m-a-famous-writer-already land’, I decided to start editing my ‘amazing’ novel.

‘Editing is hard work! It literally takes longer than writing the words in the first place.’

So, I began by rereading each sentence line by line and fixing grammatical errors. I also did some more character development and finessed the storyline. It was at this point that I realised how much more work this novel needed. It had seemed so good when I was bashing out words on a keyboard, but now I knew I was staring at just the beginning – the trainer-wheels stage – of a truly imaginative and enjoyable book for young adults. During this time, I also learnt something else. Editing is hard work! It literally takes longer than writing the words in the first place. To top things off, editing can sometimes make the writing even worse than it was in the first place.

In my opinion, there’s a fine line between editing and DESTROYING the work.

In the space of a couple of weeks, I edited the first two chapters and emailed them to my Te Papa Tupu mentor. Simon is a freelance editor and an excellent one at that. He knows how to take an average manuscript (unlike mine obvs) and somehow magically turn it into an enjoyable book with interesting characters and a storyline readers will love. Even so, it was a hard pill to swallow receiving his feedback with the central theme being – shock horror – that the characters in the story are too perfect.Too perfect? Too perfect! But they are perfect! ‘But why?’ I ask. ‘Why can’t the characters be perfect?’ Of course, Simon had a ready-made answer.

‘Perfect characters are boring. Imagine a perfect character.’

I screw my face up in disgust. You know the ones, the beautiful princess in the castle or the stunning model with the to-die-for wardrobe and wealthy parents. A photo of Kate Middleton taken just after she had given birth where she looked like she had played a gentle round of golf, done some yoga and then meditated instead of had a baby. Too perfect. Okay, point taken Simon the Wise. I don’t want my characters to be like that. But then, what do I want them to be like?

In search of devious ideas, I turn to those people around me (my whānau) who due to whakapapa have to pretend (sometimes unconvincingly) to care about my book and my questions. I start with my sister and the Studio Ghibli movie My Neighbour Totoro. ‘What do you think about perfect characters? Do you think Totoro (a furry, cute, giant forest spirit) has flaws?’ She suggests that Totoro doesn’t feature enough in the movie to really have flaws. I tell her about my predicament, the perfectness of the Patupaiarehe people in my novel. She reiterates Simon’s conviction about the annoyingness of perfect characters and begins to conjure up her own ideas of how the Patupaiarehe could become more three dimensional. ‘What if they are shy? What if they hide in the forest and don’t want to come out? They could be scared, terrified of the main evil guy.’ I love her ideas, and I gleefully realise something. Corrupting characters is actually quite fun.

The whānau that corrupts imaginary thought forms together stays together.

Next, I ask my mum (Mumma J). Mumma J loves Star Trek so I suggest that the Patupaiarehe might be a more ‘spiritually advanced’ race than humanity and therefore imperfection may not be as necessary. Now one thing about my mum, she doesn’t need any excuses to talk Trek. She launches into a detailed commentary of various characters on the Starship Enterprise and how they too possess their own imperfections. We return back to the task at hand. Corrupting the Patupaiarehe.

‘What if they are arrogant because they think they are better than humans?’ suggests Mumma J. I take this idea and run with it. ‘The Patupaiarehe could believe they are superior over humans and therefore always choose to put the forest and the animals first … which could lead to them risking the life of Pakū (a human boy) to protect themselves.’

I am mulling over these suggestions in my head when I receive an email from Simon. It reads, ‘Ngaro is a bit too healthy. Maybe he was tortured or is held by cruel bonds that are magically tied to be as painful as possible. This means Pakū will have to rescue him as well.’ To which I respond, ‘He should be broken both physically and mentally so Pakū has to help piece him back together … ooooooohhhhhh. This is good!’ This is so juicy. Together Simon and I have just mentally and physically harmed the imaginary thought-form named Ngaro in this book, allowing Pakū to further develop as a character.

My eyes glimmer lightly as I imagine having this much power in the real world. Mwahahaha.

But what this blog really highlights is the unexpected tedium of editing, challenges of character development and power of collective brainstorming to solve all problems. Which leads me into the single-handed best thing about being part of Te Papa Tupu: your mentor. Someone who gives a fuck about your book other than the ones that literally birthed you or are forced to care due to whānau/societal expectations.

Because to be honest, no one really gives a fuck about my book or your book or anyone else’s book as much as I do/the writer does.

Unless perhaps, you are Māori J K Rowling of Aotearoa. So, to have someone – an editor no less – who is giving their time to me and the book I wrote? Straight privilege.

Thanks, Te Papa Tupu.


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.

Beyond the Ending

When Te Papa Tupu ended on Friday, 3 December at a hui held at the offices of Huia Publishers in Thorndon, it felt more like the closing of one process and the opening of another than an ending.

We were welcomed warmly into the HUIA whānau, and Robyn Bargh explained their kaupapa of nurturing writers, which impressed me with her emphasis on writers and their work rather than the marketplace.

We were told what would happen next with our manuscripts – several readings; meetings; an offer to publish, or not; editorial meetings, if accepted; further editing – about a six-month process.

The day ended in a bar on the waterfront sharing a jug of lager with Larree and Jacquie. We met once before at the opening hui for Te Papa Tupu, exchanged a few emails over the months and followed our respective entries on the monthly blog. Looking into the eyes behind the words, knowing there lay a person as mad as me, was a treat. I’m sure we do share a common madness: the madness of restless souls most soothed by playing with words and writing stories.

Later, I stopped on the City to Sea bridge to look at the new urban marae being built near Te Papa. I considered whether the sharp industrial roof design was a reflection from Futuna Chapel or a statement for the emerging corporate Māori elite.

I was standing beside the brass plaque honouring Lauris Edmond where a quote from her work talks about the importance of action, not just observing life.

Te Papa Tupu programme gave me the opportunity to live, in Lauris Edmond’s words, ‘the world headquarters of the verb’ for a few months so I could concentrate on writing, and with Alia Bloom as my mentor, my novel has been developed as near to completion as I can achieve.[1]

In saying goodbye to Zhu Mao and Mr Lau and all the troop, I’d like to thank those involved in Te Papa Tupu programme for their deeply appreciated gifts of time and guidance.

[1] The quote is from Lauris Edmond, ‘The Active Voice’ in Scenes from a Small City. Wellington: Daphne Brasell Associates Press, 1994.