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.

Media Release: Pikihuia Awards 2019 – now open!

MEDIA RELEASE
13 February 2019

Pikihuia Awards 2019 Search for Māori Writers

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

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

The categories are:

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS

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.

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.

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.

Tangiweto

My name is Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman and I am one of six Māori writers who have  been selected for Te Papa Tupu.

I am also a tangiweto.

How do I know this? Well … I cry. A LOT. But how is this related to the writing journey that I am so excited to be a part of?

The story that got me selected for Te Papa Tupu (and therefore really wants to be written) is a fantasy adventure about young Hine and her brother Pakū who are transported to a magical realm where the ātua, giant moa, patupaiarehe and fearsome taniwha still exist.

It all started when the news release was sent out announcing the six writers’ names for Te Papa Tupu. This very quickly went viral on Facebook. I opened my Facebook one morning and had thirty notifications. So, I did what all normal people do (not) and immediately closed my Facebook and chose not to look at it for the rest of the day.

Picture the ostrich with its head in the sand. Always a good way of dealing with things.

A few minutes later, I receive a phone call from the lovely Waimatua at Huia Publishers.

‘Te Arawa FM want to interview you as one of the selected writers of Te Papa Tupu.’

This time my heart jumps into my throat. Immediately, I begin to muse about how, as a writer, I prefer to communicate through writing. Talking or speaking is not my favourite thing to do. The shield of a written piece of work is so comforting.

There is no shield in a live-radio interview! However, being a sucker for punishment as well as annoyingly accepting of the well-known fact that it is good to go beyond the (extremely) comfortable boundaries of my comfort zone, I nervously agree to talk to Rawiri. Rawiri, the kind and charismatic host of Te Arawa FM. The interview is scheduled for tomorrow.

TOMORROW. Dun. Dun. Dun.

Skip to the next day, and I am waiting anxiously by the phone for a call from Te Arawa FM. My partner is on his computer next to me. He has chosen today to work from home. To thoroughly set the scene – I am a complete and utter mess. I have this innermost feeling that I am going to cry on the phone call.

I know that if Rawiri asks me about my connection to Te Arawa, I will have to talk about my great-nanny Rangipikitia who grew up in Te Puke. The thing about nanny Rangipikitia is that I am named after her, and I literally cry instantly whenever I talk about her because of the aroha I feel for her. This is so not good.

Unfortunately, this creates extra nervousness because literally WHO THE F*** CRIES ON A RADIO INTERVIEW ABOUT THEIR SUCCESS?

So, I decide to have a pre-cry, pre-radio interview. I jump under the covers of my bed, curl into a ball and attempt to cry. My thinking at the time was that if I just get it all out then I won’t choke up on the radio. In his singular, laser-like, man-focus skills, Te Piha doesn’t seem to notice that I am hiding under the covers of the bed like a mole. Or maybe situations like this are normal for him.

I manage to swallow my heart back into my chest and do the interview, which goes well. I always was a good actor in drama at school. I knew school was good for something. Then after I hang up the phone call, I break down.

It goes like this. I throw the phone dramatically across the room where it hits the wall and forgivingly flops onto the bed. Then I take a run-up and jump into the arms of Te Piha (who is sitting in his computer chair trying to get his mahi done), and I begin to sob into his manly-man chest. The fear of speaking about my success and then subsequent relief at having done it had completely and utterly overwhelmed me.

Was this the end of Ataria the tangiweto? No.

Fast-forward to our first workshop. It’s an amazing experience, and we are all going around the brightly lit white room and introducing ourselves. The lovely and amazing Robyn Bargh is there as well as Brian and Eboni from Huia Publishers. Our mentors are also in attendance as well as my fellow writers-in-crime. We (the writers-in-crime) are here because our creations were selected by two judges who saw huge potential in each and every one of them. We go around the tables to introduce ourselves, and I can feel in the pit of my stomach … not again … this feeling that I am going to cry.

The thing is it’s normally not a sad cry. In fact, most of the time it is a feeling that comes up when I am feeling full of gratitude and aroha. Complete gratitude for being given this opportunity and aroha for those who will be with me sharing that journey. It wells up into my body.

It’s my turn. I stand up nervously and introduce myself. ‘Ko Ataria Sharman tōku ingoa, ko Ngāpuhi me Tapuika ōku iwi …’ Then I get to the end of my kōrero and say something about how I feel like already we are a whānau. Ohhh, the cheesiness of that sentence, and yet I mean every word. The gratitude and aroha of it all overwhelms me, but I manage to hold it together. I awkwardly finish my kōrero as I begin to choke up a bit with emotion. I sit down. I didn’t cry. But I did feel the feels.

Does more crying await Ataria the tangiweto on this epic Te Papa Tupu journey? Who knows … I certainly don’t. You’ll have to read the next journal to find out. Maybe the next one will be about writing.


AtariaAtaria 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.

Larree Makes a Stand on Unsteady Ground

A few Sundays back, we went to the Art Show in Wellington, and I bought a picture. A small black and white print by Joe Wright of a figure standing on this very precarious base of branches like a kererū nest, holding a megaphone up to the sky, and out of the megaphone comes all these birds. I love it.

I love it because it says where I am with my writing, and coming to terms with being a Māori writer, standing on this very shaky base and trying to make a stance.

Wake up print ©Joe Wright
An artist’s print signifies Larree’s own awakening ©Joe Wright

Later that day, we were lucky enough to catch Donna Dean at Lembas Café in Raumati South. She is such an open and honest person, a very genuine singer songwriter musician. Her songs are straightforward, and she just tells it like it is. It was an inspiring day.

I was very much reminded of my mentor’s – Reina Whaitiri’s – words. ‘The language should disappear for the reader … we forget we are reading. If you use language that insists on being noticed the story gets lost.’ My recent experience with art and song writing are very apt examples, ie. KISS.

So, my own writing. I think how I am affected by art, songs, music, stories, and it’s the openness of the writer, artist that fades behind the work that captures me. Reina has given me a list of books and authors to read as points of reference. She has also suggested changing tense, using the present. Try it, she says, see what you think. So I have, and in some cases it works; other times, I get confused. It’s hard to give up the preciousness of your work, but it’s a good lesson. Reina said she can be tough; she is, but she is also absolutely right.

The last few weeks have been about learning to let go – trying to rid the author from the writing and let the narrator get on with the story.

Planning a Story to Relish

Years ago, I had a career change from commerce to cooking.

Fresh colorful fruits in a melon
Mark Sweet keeps the story fresh and simple.

My first job was in a restaurant called The Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow. Quite quickly, I determined their menu was too big, too many choices and too many ingredients piled onto the plate, smothering and confusing the flavour of the primary fare, be it salmon, duck or venison. I thought too often they killed the golden goose, so to speak.

So I opened my own restaurant, and with the help of a fine chef, constructed menus that were short and fresh, and we pared down the ingredients so they enhanced, and never overwhelmed, the primary flavour.

Now, I’ve discovered that writing is a bit like cooking. Too many ingredients can spoil the plot.

With the help of my mentor, Alia Bloom, I’m now identifying the essential ingredients of Zhu Mao for the process of enhancing those that taste good and discarding what detracts from the essential flavour of the book.

One of the most difficult aspects of running a restaurant is consistency. If you set a high standard at the outset, your customers expect it to be maintained. If not, they may go elsewhere and never return. So too with writing.

Alia has shown me that Zhu Mao starts out well but doesn’t deliver on the promise. The reader may put the book down by page fifty and never return. I’ve done it myself with many a book. The challenge before us is to carry the momentum from start to finish. Overcooked descriptions, underdone characters or cold dialogue and readers may never return.

Matching wine with food is a requisite of fine dining. It’s the waiter’s job to advise the customer which variety suits what dish. Merlot and fish don’t match, and Riesling doesn’t complement the taste of venison. A writer being matched with a mentor is as important, and I’m confident Alia and I are complementary, like Bluff oysters and Fino Sherry, I think.

Seasoned publishing professional Alia Bloom is currently mentoring Mark Sweet in Te Papa Tupu.

Years ago, I had a career change from commerce to cooking.

Fresh colorful fruits in a melon
Mark Sweet keeps the story fresh and simple.

My first job was in a restaurant called The Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow. Quite quickly, I determined their menu was too big, too many choices and too many ingredients piled onto the plate, smothering and confusing the flavour of the primary fare, be it salmon, duck or venison. I thought too often they killed the golden goose, so to speak.

So I opened my own restaurant, and with the help of a fine chef, constructed menus that were short and fresh, and we pared down the ingredients so they enhanced, and never overwhelmed, the primary flavour.

Now, I’ve discovered that writing is a bit like cooking. Too many ingredients can spoil the plot.

With the help of my mentor, Alia Bloom, I’m now identifying the essential ingredients of Zhu Mao for the process of enhancing those that taste good and discarding what detracts from the essential flavour of the book.

One of the most difficult aspects of running a restaurant is consistency. If you set a high standard at the outset, your customers expect it to be maintained. If not, they may go elsewhere and never return. So too with writing.

Alia has shown me that Zhu Mao starts out well but doesn’t deliver on the promise. The reader may put the book down by page fifty and never return. I’ve done it myself with many a book. The challenge before us is to carry the momentum from start to finish. Overcooked descriptions, underdone characters or cold dialogue and readers may never return.

Matching wine with food is a requisite of fine dining. It’s the waiter’s job to advise the customer which variety suits what dish. Merlot and fish don’t match, and Riesling doesn’t complement the taste of venison. A writer being matched with a mentor is as important, and I’m confident Alia and I are complementary, like Bluff oysters and Fino Sherry, I think.

Seasoned publishing professional Alia Bloom is currently mentoring Mark Sweet in Te Papa Tupu.