Being the Change

Te Papa Tupu attend the National Writers Forum in Auckland.
L-R: Shilo Kino, Jacquie McRae (Shilo’s mentor), Cassie Hart, Hone Rata, Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman
Photo supplied by Shilo.

I was fifteen when I first met Maya Angelou. Imagine my surprise. I was so used to reading books from authors who were white, and here I was reading a book with an African American voice sharing experiences of the worst racism I’ve ever heard of.

‘If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens her throat.’

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

Now, I could never compare my racial experiences to Maya Angelou’s, not even remotely. But I do know how it feels to be looked down on, stereotyped and racially profiled because of the colour of your skin.

For me, growing up as a teenager was hard, but growing up aware of your misplacement as a Māori or indigenous person to New Zealand was a ‘rust on the razor that threatened my throat’.

But I remember thinking, I want to be like her. I want to be a voice for my people.,

In my community, I’m confronted with homeless and poverty every day. Petrol prices, food prices, house prices, it’s all rising to the point where it has become unaffordable. And who bears the brunt of it all? Of course it is my people.

In my job as a journalist, I am fighting with an already established media landscape, trying to challenge the way my people are portrayed in mainstream media. I constantly see Māori misrepresented or their voice silenced.  But once again it’s like a ‘rust on the razor that threatened my throat’. Māori journalists in mainstream media are few and far between.

And here I am writing my manuscript with a strong Māori voice and Māori presence. Sometimes I forget my purpose. Sometimes all I see is words.

But attending something like the Auckland Writers Forum was a reminder. The only other Māori writers I saw there were those in this programme. The workshops that I attended did not all have a Māori world view. It was a reminder of my responsibility.

I was inspired by Anita Heiss who has done wonders in the Australian writing community. Having to face severe backlash and racism as an indigenous writer is extremely wrong. Yet here she is, triumphant and with (dozens?) of successful books under her belt. And Lani Wendt Young is also a catalyst for change. Writing a successful Pacific YSA novel series even though publishing companies told her there was no audience. She proved them wrong.

Maya Angelou in all her pearls of wisdom also said this: if you don’t like something, change it.

Both of these women became the change.

But sometimes it feels like I am constantly trying to change everything.

And that I bear so much responsibility to be the change.

I guess, in all cheesiness, the change begins with ourselves. I’m learning fast that I can’t change everything. We need to make the changes that need to be made in our own sphere of influence. I hope I can be the change. Not just as a writer and journalist, but as a human being. That is why I chose to be a writer. And why I am doing Te Papa Tupu programme. Because change is necessary.


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.

It’s Moments Like These You Need Mentees

Te Papa Tupu Mentees 2018
L-R: Nadine Anne Hura, Colleen Maria Lenihan, Cassie Hart, Hone Rata, Ataria Rangipikitia Sharman, Shilo Kino

A couple of weeks ago, Te Papa Tupu programme held its second workshop. This time it was in conjunction with the National Writers Forum in Auckland. The lead-up to it was pretty exciting, we were given a list of sessions and had to choose the ones we wanted to attend. As a new writer, I’ve never attended anything like this, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect, or what to attend. In a way, this is freeing because without knowledge or experience, you can’t really go wrong. Everything is going to be new and have something to learn. So I just chose the sessions I thought would give me some insight into the book I’m writing and the business side of being a writer today.

Before the forum itself we had the opportunity to catch up with our mentors (though this was cruelly interrupted by the vagaries of aircraft mechanical resilience) and to  experience a masterclass with Dr Anita Heiss. Dr Heiss took us through her journey to becoming an author. I was impressed by her tenacity and boldness. Her willingness to put herself out there and write the books that she wanted to write, to tell the stories she wanted to tell and, most importantly, impart the messages she wanted to impart. She asked us, ‘What are you trying to say?’ And in all honesty, I have no idea. I wrote a story, but it was just a story, and I suppose it has themes of a kind. It speaks of family and friendship and corporate greed and the dangers of a society run by and for commercial aims. But not deliberately and not in a considered way. Just accidentally.

I was left with so much to think about.

I travelled with my fellow mentee and friend Cassie (Hart). In this, I am super lucky, because I always have someone with me I know. A comfort in challenging and nervous times. Someone I can turn too and who will make sure I get to the airport on time. So, after the workshop, we went to the registration night, and it was amazing. We were early (because of Cassie), so we got to see most of the other attendees arrive. Just seeing this community of authors come together was amazing. Watching the room, I could see the camaraderie in the group. Old friends coming together, hugs and smiles, handshakes and kisses on the cheek. It was encouraging to just be a spectator in this group of authors and aspiring authors. To see this fabulously eclectic group congregate. Before too long, our fellow mentees and mentors arrived, and it was my turn to smile and hug and shake hands and kiss cheeks.

Over the next few days, I attended workshops on Writing Short (Pip Adam, straight up the most fun and engaging presenter of a workshop I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing), writing for Young Children (Kyle Mewburn, an artist of fart jokes and how to properly apply them for different ages). I attended lectures on the business of writing and getting published and promoted. I also attended a keynote by John Marsden that I never wanted to end. I could happily have spent the whole day listening to this wonderful storyteller talk. I attended a panel on writing YA that was full of sage advice and such inspiration. I was equally inspired by Lani Wendt Young’s journey and her experiences with self-publishing.

But equal to the content provided in the workshops were the times between them, where I’d meet back up with this amazing collection of authors that are my fellow mentees. We’d share stories and inspiration and crispy duck. I also met new people, other authors on the same journey I was on. I shared the love of story and character and verse and lyrics. I found a tribe I never knew I was a part of. And even after long days,I was energised, returning to my room to write and try to integrate some of what I’d learned during the day into my own work.

I left this weekend energised and invigorated. Awash with ideas and inspiration. And almost immediately slumped.The writing was hard. The challenges seemingly insurmountable. Life was full of other demands on my time and distractions. It was really hard, but I wasn’t alone. Because there is a Facebook group I can turn to. Set up by Cassie (who else?) at the start, it’s a place all the mentees can get together and share the trials and triumphs being a part of Te Papa Tupu presents. And here I found that a couple of the others were feeling the same way. I was not alone. I was quiet thought this time, I didn’t post much, but it was reassuring to read their conversations.

So here I am, finally back on the horse and finally applying the inspiration and learning I picked up to the words that are, for today at least, flowing out onto the page. I know I would have gotten back to this eventually. I’ve had slumps before and muddled through. But I also know that I wouldn’t be here yet if it wasn’t for the support of the tremendous wāhine I’m lucky enough to share this journey with. It is their passion, their energy and their wisdom that is on these pages as much as it is mine.


Hone Rata (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Ruanui, Taranaki) is an aspiring author currently embroiled in the fraught journey that is preparing his first novel for publishing. Hone is pleased to have been selected for the 2018 Te Papa Tupu writing programme. He is excited to learn new skills and apply them to his novel.

Specificity

I’ve known for a while now that my biggest weakness when it comes to writing is in the detail. I mumble through stories using broad strokes rather than a fine-haired brush, and in doing so, I lose something.

Part of me thought none of these details mattered because they have no relevance to readers outside our country, and when most of those in the book biz will tell you that there is no market for adult genre fiction in New Zealand (written by New Zealanders) anyway, one must try and think about the global market.

But I was also scared of pinning things down too much in part due to my overwhelming fear of doing my culture wrong (I push through those fears, but that doesn’t mean I have less anxiety about them) or doing anything wrong, really. That risk of stuffing something up, offending someone, getting the facts wrong held me back and meant I skimmed over the top of things rather than going deeper. Which is where research comes into play in a big way, and I’ve gotten so much better at that in the last few months.

What I’ve come to see is that the importance of the specifics lies in their relevancy to me and to my characters. I’ve learned that when I imbue my work with these details it helps every part of my story come alive.

‘What I’ve come to see is that the importance of the specifics lies in their relevancy to me and to my characters.’

Because it’s the little things that matter.

When I was reading Bugs, by my mentor, Whiti Hereaka, I was struck by how well she does this. There was a moment when reading that it finally hit me how I could colour my world without overdoing it. And it was something so simple but utterly beautiful to me: when Bugs is learning how to clean a hotel room there is a mention that they clean the taps then wipe them down with a dry cloth so there are no water marks.

See, simple right? But it made it real. I knew that hotels always look perfect, but it had never crossed my mind to think how they did that. This was a touch of insight that made this scene real to me. Like I was on the inside. Like the characters were real people with real knowledge.

I want my stories to feel real too, even when I’m writing about ghosts, possession, aliens or gods. And it’s particularly important for me that I do this with Butcherbird, but at the same time, that feeling of importance might be what makes it hard to do.

‘I want my stories to feel real too, even when I’m writing about ghosts, possession, aliens or gods.’

You see, I set this book on a fictional version of my grandparent’s farm. It was a farm I spent a lot of time on, nestled at the foot of my maunga, Taranaki. And so, it should be easy to make things real – I’m not writing about my family (Rose is definitely not my grandmother; I am not Jena), but I know what growing up in the country is like. I know the curves and folds of the land, the feel of the air, how cold the rivers coming off the mountain can be, the taste of water that comes from a spring and not town supply.

And yet almost none of those things are present in this book. Not even my mountain.

The view of the farm

When I was halfway through writing Butcherbird, my Nana had a massive stroke. We rushed home from Paraparaumu to be with her, but she never regained consciousness. I wrote bits of Butcherbird while holding her hand during her last days.

Writing this book gave me something to focus on that wasn’t the fact Nana was dying. She is so much a part of this book because of time spent by her side, both on her death bed and throughout my life, and because I was writing it as a love letter to that place we called home.

But it’s not home any more, and she’s not with us. Hasn’t been for almost a year now.

It took me another twenty-four days to finish the book, but I did, even though it was so freaking hard and I had to face death again within the pages. She was a pragmatic woman, and I could hear her telling me to just get on with it. And I did. I got on with it. I finished the book. And now, here I am, revising the book. And while sometimes it hurts to dig deep, I know that I have to reconnect to my initial desire for this work, and that’s going to require me to get specific, to get detailed.

And, yeah, I have some resistance to that. Because it still hurts. I miss her. And sometimes digging deep makes that ache a little harder to bear.

But specificity is important.

It’s vital.

When we were at the National Writers Forum in September this was one of the key things I took away from it – it turns out that the books from New Zealand authors best received both here and around the world were those deeply grounded in New Zealand’s culture, land and experiences. People want those details; they want our flavour.

‘… the books from New Zealand authors best received both here and around the world were those deeply grounded in New Zealand’s culture, land and experiences.’

I listened carefully to the keynote speakers over that weekend: Lani Wendt Young, Dr Anita Heiss and John Marsden. All spoke eloquently; their experiences and passion for writing blooming in our imaginations as they spoke due to the details they used to richly colour their lives.

It’s very clear to me now that the broad strokes I mentioned earlier aren’t doing me any favours. More importantly, it’s not doing my story any favours either. I’ve been bashing my head against this lesson for what feels like years now, but I think I’m almost there. I think I’m finally brave enough to dig deep and do the things that need to be done.

The writing life is a series of lessons – there are always more things to be learnt – but this particular one has been a mountain I’ve failed to climb many times before. It’s well and truly time I conquer it.


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.