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.’
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.
Which is good,
because coming to the end of the mentorship isn’t really the end. It’s just the
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.
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.
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.
You know how I was saying that one day I might be able to introduce myself like this, ‘Hi, I’m Hone Rata. I’m an author’? The last month has shown me that while I might be able to say that, I can’t follow it up with ‘And I’m kinda good at it.’ Because if I have learned anything this past month, it’s that I have a great deal left to learn. A GREAT DEAL TO LEARN. Like the proper use of capitalisation for instance.
‘I’ve never read about how to story. I’ve never studied story.’
My whole life I’ve read story, watched story, listened to story, told story. But I’ve never read about how to story. I’ve never studied story. I’ve picked up a few things. Like it should have a beginning, a middle and an end. And that things should happen to people and that we should care about these people. So, I wrote this story. It’s pretty long: ninety-five thousand nine hundred and four words at the end of my last edit. That is twenty thousand more words than when I first thought I’d finished. And it’s not nearly done! Half of the notes my mentor leaves point out things I haven’t explained properly. Or mentions a character I haven’t fleshed out properly. Or weaknesses in the structure that need to be reinforced or plugged. Or worse, points out where the chapter should end.
Chapters! It’s a perfect example. When I wrote my story, especially at the beginning, I wrote to an audience. A small group of supporters I emailed my story to every night. I would put my kids to bed, watch a bit of TV with my wife and then sit down and write for a couple of hours. I’m not a fast writer, I don’t type quickly, so it’s a drawn out and laborious process. In two hours, I can write maybe a thousand words. So, I would write away into the evening or the early hours of the morning. And my chapters would end when I got too tired to go on. I’d see a break point coming up, I’d try to finish on a hook, to make it exciting for my email audience, then I’d save my document and go to sleep.
‘You need to write down the “beats” of your story, so you know where the tension rises and where it falls.’
Turns out that chapters should have a purpose beyond letting you go to bed. Who knew! They should have a beginning, a middle and an end. They should take a character on a journey, and the choices they make need to be inevitable. Each chapter should be like a little story of its own. They may or may not be made up of separate, thematically linked, scenes each one of which should kinda have a beginning, a middle and an end. These are general rules; some books don’t have chapters at all. But that’s because the authors made a choice, not because they went a really long time without going to sleep. I’m learning how to think about chapters as I write. At the same time, I’m learning how to give my characters distinctive voices. I’m trying to remember not to use too many tropes or clichés; trying to remember to show stuff happening, not just have it reported (action is more exciting). I’m struggling with expressing my characters’ emotions. And making sure things are happening while they are talking so they are not just disembodied heads chattering away (ironically, I have disembodied heads chattering away in my story, but you never hear what they have to say).
But before you can do that, you need to actually write down who your characters are and what they are like, what they think and why they are trying to achieve. You need to plan and document your world. How does it work? What’s it’s history like? It’s government, it’s economy? How does it view non-binary genders? What about gender politics? Matriarchy? Patriarchy? You need to write down the ‘beats’ of your story so you know where the tension rises and where it falls. I’m not sure my writing style suits this kind of preparation, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore it; it means I have to do it after I’ve written the story. I call it postparation. And this is important because I need to know this stuff so I can use that information while I am editing – to improve my consistency, and make sure the characters are acting in a way that makes sense and in a believable way (even if they are not supposed to be sensible and the things they do are unbelievable)
‘I struggled this last week to rewrite two chapters. I couldn’t figure out a good way to tell the pieces of story I needed to tell with the characters I needed to tell it with.’
There are so many balls to juggle that I didn’t even know I was holding. So many. And some chainsaws and knives and probably a bowling ball. But there are also butterflies and doughnuts and puppies. Not every note is an error to be corrected; some are notes of congratulations, inspirational suggestion or slight adjustments that I just know will make my words sing. And there is nothing like looking back on my writing and seeing how I have improved, how my story is better. And sometimes I think that maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to write a paragraph without using an adverb.
It’s hard, hard work. I struggled this last week to rewrite two chapters. I couldn’t figure out a good way to tell the pieces of story I needed to tell with the characters I needed to tell it with. I had three birds and only one stone. I just couldn’t get traction, and my deadline approached. In the end, I just decided to do it badly, make a ham-fisted job of it. Not because that’s what I want to do, but because once it’s on the page, I can go over it and refine it until the turd is nicely polished. And if I can’t polish the turd, if I can’t see the shine under the muck, my mentor can tell me where to start.
That’s the magic of this whole thing. Someone who is good at this, someone who can see the diamond in the rough, takes the time to give me advice. Tells me how chapters work. That adverbs are the devil’s work and that doing is better than telling. Leaves notes I can weave into the sheet to make music from laboured beats.
It’s invaluable; these pieces of advice, so hard to juggle today, will become second nature. When they are, then I’ll be okay at this. I’ll still need an editor; it’s really very hard to see your own errors. I’ll never stop learning. But maybe, I’ll be able to poop something closer to a diamond.
‘I’ll never stop learning. But maybe, I’ll be able to poop something closer to a diamond.’
I’ve attached a picture of the two chapters I edited this week, zoomed right out in Word. All the colours in the image are changes I’ve made. All the red dots are suggestions my mentor made on the first draft.
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.
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.
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.
 The quote is from Lauris Edmond, ‘The Active Voice’ in Scenes from a Small City. Wellington: Daphne Brasell Associates Press, 1994.
We have only a few weeks left on Te Papa Tupu programme. I am still grateful to have been picked for this programme and know that these six months have given me the tools and insight I need to be a writer for life.
I spent quite a bit of time over the past ten years reading about writers, attending writers’ festivals and writing a little bit. As much as that was fun, I know I was hoping to stumble on some magic potion that was going to turn me into a real writer.
In a roundabout way, I have found several of the ingredients that may help to make up the potion, but I now know that it has to be mixed fresh every day and that some days, I’m just right out of what’s needed.
So what have I learnt?
Being totally committed to the project was invaluable. I wanted this book to be finished by 3 December, and at the beginning, even though I had no clue how I was going to get to that point, that was my challenge.
Having a mentor has been like having a secret weapon. At the start, I was all over the place, like when you ride your bike for the first time without the trainer wheels. But when I looked behind, I had Renée shouting at me to keep pedalling; just keep pedalling, you’ll get there. I wish I was rich enough to have one for every writing project.
To be a writer, you have to write. Regularly. For some reason, this constant writing changes how you write. Sometimes I don’t know what it is that is wrong with my writing, but because of the consistency, I know it is.
I have a friend that exercises most days. She said that when she doesn’t, she feels grumpy and pissed off. I am beginning to think that writing might be the same for me, but it does feel like it’s time for this project to be finished.
An invasion of teenagers has started to arrive for the summer holidays. Apparently something called Christmas is looming, and a house that hasn’t been cleaned properly for six months needs my attention.
My dream is to spend most of my days writing and hopefully make a living from it. This last six months has made me feel that much closer to my dream.
Since June 2010, I have been immersed in reading, writing and talking whakapapa to Te Arawa kaumātua and rangatahi in an effort to make sense of hapū and the connections that bind Te Arawa as a nation. The discovery and renewing of old ties between hapū members has been a thoroughly rewarding and very exciting journey. On the other hand, getting to know the subject matter of Māori warriors has been a constant battle for me as a writer operating within a belief system that ignores the warrior culture as mere folklore. ‘Why?’ is a word I have been living with these past months as I visited the hapū of Te Uru Uenuku Kopako surrounding Lake Rotorua, Reporoa and Maketū, searching for answers.
The rewards have been knowledge and revelation, after meeting tribal members and whanaunga connected in many ways to the history of Maketū. I suddenly realise the ancestral links come with an embracing history, and somehow in this journey of writing a historical account of our warriors both ancient and new, I am feeling like a tourist with an invisible guide.
This morning, I am watching a colony of quail feasting on my lawn. Set apart from the colony is a magnificent male on guard duty and sporting a perfectly tailored feather plume. He need not worry as paw-footed predators dare not walk near my house. In these precious moments, I am thankful my ancestors were magnificent and brave as they have bestowed on me a legacy of life and fierce pride and determination to ensure I protect and fight for the land they left in my care for succeeding generations. Hence, appropriately, this excerpt taken from the introduction to my manuscript is a summary of a Māori philosophical stance on the God of War.
God of War
The God of War is sometimes referred to as Tumatauenga or Tukaaniwha, although Elsdon Best acknowledged various different names used by tribes in reference to this god. For example, he notes that the personification of the ‘war-god Te Rehu o Tainui was a lizard’.
Percy Smith, author of The Māori Wars, said:
‘Uenuku was one of the great man-consuming or War God of Taranaki.’ These three lines from a Moteatea are in reference to the tangi for Taranaki Chief Mokowera, who was shot and murdered by Nga Puhi Chief Rewa: The war god Tu should feast The heavens should consume And also Uenuku
The influence of Tumatauenga can be seen in the dedication of male children to the god through ceremony and protocol involving tohi, pure and karakia. These blessings ensure the child’s well-being physically and mentally, shaping and guiding him towards societal norms. Meticulous use and observance of karakia aim to invoke all the atua to strengthen the bones and shape the child. In explanation of the deep Māori understanding of Tumatauenga, I have included some examples borrowed from various Te Arawa men, both past and present, focusing on the importance and influence of Tumatauenga to mankind.
19th Century Te Arawa Chief Wiremu Maihi Te Rangi Kaheke said: Na wai i homai? Na te pakanga i homai, Na te riri i homai. Na nga tangata, i homai. I homai ki a wai? I homai ki te kikokiko, Kei te kikokiko Kei te tini honohono He Manawa ka Irihia nei e Tu Matauenga.
E tu ka riri E tu ka nguha E tu ka aritarita! E tu ite korikori E tu ite wheta E te ite whaiao E tu ite ao marama
Translation: Where did the binding, the strength come from? It came out of war. It came out of fighting. It came from the people. Who was it given to? It was given to flesh. The flesh The many people bound together Their spirit is lifted up by Tumatauenga.
Angry Tu, raging Tu, Burning up inside Stand firm in the waving Stand firm in the brandishing Be established in light Be established in full day light (MSS.81)
Aspects of reciprocity in association with utu
Utu is a term appropriated to revenge in warfare, explained by Elsdon Best in terms of a ‘sacred duty’ under the ‘aegis’ of Tumatauenga the God of War. In fact, utu has many facets of meanings, and is associated with Tumatauenga in many different ways. In traditional Māori culture, every aspect of nature was acknowledged from childhood to manhood and thus utu can also have positive aspects, as an integral part of a child’s conditioning and tribal teachings: a right which is integrated with tribal history and survival. Another aspect of utu is the custom of koha between manuhiri and tangata whenua. Another aspect is the exchange of children or bloodlines integral to reinforcing a peace agreement made as a result of utu.
The utu of retribution was conducted in several different ways, as the following scenario shows:
In a case regarding ‘a man who mistreated his wife from a neighbouring tribe, the taua muru plundering party of the woman approached her husband’s tribe who lay out taonga as payment for the offence’.
Some waiata, moteatea and names given to children, commemorated different battles and loss of loved ones: this was also indicative of the principles of utu to ensure the events were not forgotten and retribution would follow.
An important role bestowed upon Tumatauenga was negotiating and influencing the seventy gods, including Whiro, the malevolent atua of poautinitini’, to make the first man, Tiki. To alleviate any misunderstandings or confusion concerning Whiro: In the Māori paradigm everything has a balance. The Māori philosophical meaning of Whiro necessitates his role within the realm of deities in the creation of Tiki, who is perceived to have been gathered and formed by the gods.
As an illustration of the influence and importance of Tumatauenga in our lives, I include an excerpt from a Tauparapara often used by Rangiwewehi Rangatira Tohunga Mita Mohi before he begins his whaikorero: Te ingoa o to tupuna o Tu, Tu whakaheke tangata Ki raro, kia Tawhaki.
Translation: The names of your ancestor Tu Whose blood travels through the descendants To Tawhaki.
Note: All tribes can lay claim to Tawhaki as an ancestor. His name originates from Hawaii.
Twentieth-century warfare and Māori
During World War One and World War Two, Māori volunteered for service overseas with a sense of adventure and to see the world. In terms of utu in a modern context of war of attrition, Māori soldiers sought to restore a global balance of peace and justice.
 Elsdon Best, The Māori As He Was, Wellington: National Museum, 1974, 167.
 Wiremu Maihi Te Rangikaheke was born in 1815. He was a Te Arawa Chief of Ngāti Kereru hapū affiliated to Ngāti Rangiwewehi. He is the author of the manuscripts in Governor Grey’s New Zealand Māori Manuscript Collection.
 Elsdon Best, 167.
 Telephone interview with Eru Biddle, Tūhoe, Māori Studies, Waiariki Institute, Rotorua, 11 November 2010.
 Interviews with Pat Mohi, Rangiwewehe, November 2010. Telephone interview with Eru Biddle.
Last journal entry and the months have flown by. I had hoped by this stage to be feeling rather satisfied and smug even, with a completed manuscript for a publisher, albeit for a little tweaking. When, in fact, I still have a confusing array of scenes and characters still at a loss to decide whether they are in the past or the present and does it matter. But, some positives, with Reina’s input. Firstly, many superfluous pages have been culled, for the betterment of the story, I think. Secondly, I have a stronger sense of the background of my characters due to the readings Reina has suggested. Although much of this is not in my novel, it has helped the writer.
This is also the time to express gratitude to Huia Publishers and Te Tupu Papa programme, brought about with the help of HUIA, Creative New Zealand and Te Puni Kōkiri. Without their support, I suspect this manuscript might have remained a weekend pastime. Special thanks to Dominika for all her administration arrangements and the emails of support.
A heartfelt thank you to Reina Whaitiri, who tells it like it is: ‘I am sounding like a cracked record, Larree, but this is confusing.’ Arohanui, Reina.
So, write what I want or what a reader will want to read? It’s a hard line for a wannabe first-time novel writer with a publisher prepared to offer their services. It is a difficult decision. My mentor, Reina, is being made to work overtime; I am wondering if she expected to be a counsellor as well. Do I want to get a book out of this, a solid hard copy that can be held and read in bed, on the train, in the library, or is this just an opportunity to see my name on a blog? NOT: I want a reader to read this, I want someone to pick my book from a library shelf, a book shop, a book club, and enjoy the read. It’s a hard line. Especially when you are new at this.
But the months have not been without their costs.
My ankle is strapped, and I am foregoing the anti-inflammatories, for now.
The pain should be perceptible so we know what is going on, my physio says.
I can tell you what’s going on, my ankle hurts, I say.
So your ankle hurts because you have back pain. Sciatica, he says. Sit up straight, do back exercises, stop hunching over your keyboard, get a proper chair. Sit with your elbows at right angles, your knees below your hips, or you will do some irreparable damage, and you will not be walking in Spain.
Who mentioned back pain? But that does it. I follow his instructions to the T, and suffer the exercises.
I am going to Spain, whatever. I am going to Spain with his wife, so he needs to get me walking.
My friend invites me to go walking, that’s fine, a walk, the sun is shining. I need to loosen up my ankle. I arrive at her place to pick her up. No, we walk from here, she says, okay. Three hours later, I am peeling my socks off at her back door to soak my feet in the foot bath she is preparing. Good, she says, while we relax with our feet in Radox, you passed the test, I will book for Spain tomorrow. Eight hundred kilometres is not so far in six weeks: two three-hour stretches each day. What else is there to do but walk? We will be in Santiago before the scallops are rolled over by the tide.
I am looking forward to it. We will have an adventure, I say, and sincerely mean my words despite my aches and pains.
‘I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.'(Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy)
So, twenty-six days before the manuscript is due. Let’s be frank: I’m sweating bullets. The good news is I’m close. The bad news is I don’t know how much work there is left to do. It’s an unknown quantity. Do I need to spend fifteen minutes each day until 3 December, or do I need to spend five hours a day? I really can’t tell. How exactly do you know when it’s ready or good enough or just plain good? This is the beauty of having a deadline. The deadline forces you to admit that enough is enough. Hand it over. Time’s up.
I’m not sure if the publisher requires one, but I thought I’d write the back cover blurb as a bit of a self-indulgent exercise. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but they don’t say anything about the back cover:
‘In a home that is 50 percent love, 50 percent abuse and 100 percent religious, a child is born*. Angelus Tama is the thirteenth child of seventeen. His father is a High Priest in The Church. He’s not really sure which of the women is his mother. In a way they all are.
Follow his journey as he hits the Real World. Or at least the most commonly accepted delusion known as the Real World. He’ll discover that there are laws that can be broken and Laws that you can only break yourself against. Oh, he’ll also try to kill himself.
Sex, psychiatric wards, writers’ groups and alcohol abuse. This book’s got it all.**
*The author is aware that this equals 200 percent and is therefore illogical, but the point stands. **Disclaimer: This book does not literally have it all.’
As for the cover, which you are not supposed to judge the book by, I’ve found someone to do that too. My high school friend has a sister, Angela Vink, who is an amazing graphic artist.
Things are falling into place, and hopefully, not apart. And I’ve saved the best news for last: I finally have a title. Get ready for it: Goldilocks & the Three Episodes. Available in all good bookstores.***
With the deadline looming, a nagging sense of panic wakes up with me every morning. If I feed it, not much writing happens that day. It got so bad a few weeks ago I went searching for what my motives were in wanting to write this novel, and casting about, I found an essay I wrote ten years ago. There, I found the politics that underlie my purpose. The essay is long, 10,000 words, but here’s the gist:
‘At the end of the second millennium we live in a shrinking world colonised by our technological achievements in communication and transportation. The changes are so rapid, none of us can be expected to keep up and many of us are utterly bewildered as the familiar structures which support our lives are stripped away. Our policy makers seem obsessed with rationalisation and organisation; their doctrines attempting to reduce what is human, diverse and multiple, to comprehensive unity.’
A long discourse follows outlining the rise of corporate power and ends by saying:
‘We have allowed our world to be controlled by a handful of men in a handful of cities who are interested only in profit. And while money has become more and more important the quality of goods it buys steadily gets worse and worse. Small businesses which took a pride in what they were making and selling, and spent their profits in the community, are rapidly being taken over by these 21st century highwaymen, who take pride only in their dividends, which often leave the country. Their masks of capitalism conceal the face of its greatest enemy, monopoly, and we are witnessing the pillage of our planet by a form of totalitarianism at which all sincere supporters of capitalist democracy should be appalled.’
I try to pin down the essence:
‘One of the cornerstones of corporatist ideology, and perhaps its greatest weapon in ‘dividing to rule,’ is the doctrine of ‘individualism.’ Ironically, the essence of this concept could be a catalyst for change. Basically ‘individualism’ sees us all being personally responsible for our own lives, and has been recognised for millennia as a path to freedom. Corporate individualism is only interested in personal responsibility for our finances, because money is the core of its existence, and in this context has encouraged greed and selfishness. Most destructive of all it has eroded our capacity for cooperation and solidarity. Taken sincerely, however, personal responsibility can mean awareness of our actions at every level of engagement, including the thought patterns which precede all action. This is clearly a near human impossibility but it does recognise that the greatest gift of being human is our infinite capacity for growth in consciousness.’
And I offer some amateur psychology:
‘Consciousness simply means being aware, but in the culture of corporatism that can be a difficult and painful experience. It begs us to examine our own role in the system, and our own connections with all mechanisms of power and control, both public and personal. When we’ve been conditioned to fulfil our desires instantly, and find gratification in possessing things, be it a car, a partner, or an idea, the shift to awareness can be traumatic. Becoming aware that we are manipulated and controlled to live our lives forever acquiring more and more, and better and better things, can mean we deliberately begin to discard some of those things, inviting all the anxiety and grief of bereavement. Our sense of identity can be stripped bare when we begin uncovering the layers of conditioning that motivate our behaviour. To realise that what is being manipulated is our fear can be more scary than the fear itself. Discovering that the fascists we thought were without are also within can be deeply disturbing.’
But I did try to end on a note of hope.
‘There are no easy solutions or quick fix remedies to the dilemmas which beset us personally and collectively. No one of us can individually save the world but we can be individually responsible for how we impact on our world. Our escape from the psychic prison we have constructed for ourselves starts with awareness, applied moment by moment with diligence, determination and courage, to the myriad of experiences which comprise our daily lives. The path out of our predicament is a journey we take alone and nobody can walk it for another. Only from individual effort can a new collective emerge, which shares the fortunes of our personal struggles, soundly based in a balance of imagination, intuition, common sense and reason.’
Expressing political opinion in a novel without blatant ideological ranting is proving difficult, but hopefully by 3 December, I will have finished a story subtle enough to be a novel and not a manifesto.
Often this month, I’ve questioned, why am I doing this?
Not so long ago, a New Age–shaped world view would have me think, oh, but writing seems to have chosen me. Now, I can’t be so sure.
Back then, I might cite the time I went looking for guidance on what I thought was an original idea, a novel comprised of short stories. I’d written a bunch after an eventful summer and saw they could link together. First bookshop I visit and my eye catches my surname. I share it with Robert Burdette Sweet. Above his name, imposed on a broody youth was the title White Sambo and A Novel in Stories. The structure of the book was what I was looking for and the themes in our stories uncannily similar.
That’s synchronicity giving a sign, I told myself. Keep on writing.
Now, I have the opportunity to finish a book with a publisher who’s taken an interest, and I’m near paralysed at times by doubt – the nemesis of synchronicity.
Carl Jung explained something profound and universal when he coined the word synchronistic to describe those events that seem like providence. My first conscious experience was on my thirty-third birthday. I was in the middle of making a life-changing decision: whether to stay in Aotearoa or take up an offer overseas. If I stayed, I wanted to make a veggie garden, and it was already spring, so hedging my bets, I went to the garden shop and bought lime, and blood and bone, and probably some seaweed magic. The cost was thirty-three dollars and thirty-three cents on my thirty-third birthday. I didn’t listen. Instead, I spent a miserable year in Taiwan.
A few years later, I read The Roots of Coincidence by Arthur Koestler where he explained Jung’s theory of synchronicity. I was sceptical, because although God wasn’t in the theorem, it still assumed an invisible hand. I talked to an uncle about it. He didn’t have an opinion. Then I told him I had a friend coming to visit me from Scotland. He asked where from, and I told him Loch Fyne. He said, ‘Jeez, I had a girlfriend from there when I lived in the UK. What’s your mate’s name?’ It turned out my uncle’s old girlfriend was my friend’s aunty. I gave him the book to read.
… a day has passed …
Driving home from town this afternoon, I heard an interview on the radio about China celebrating the birth of Confucius for the first time since the Revolution and how the new leaders are allowing a high degree of freedom in religious practice after fifty years of suppression.
Could this be synchronicity? My book is set in China, and a major theme is the preservation of the Daoist arts during the dark years of the Cultural Revolution. The interviewee talked about the tens of millions of Chinese openly declaring their faiths, unheard of even ten years ago.
So I gave praise to Carl Jung for quelling my doubts long enough to get on with the writing.
This came after reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Think about When I Think about Running. He took the title of his book from Raymond Carver’s What We Talk about When We Talk about Love.
Which led me to thinking about what influences writers.
When reading a particular writer whose works I enjoy, I like to know who they read, who has influenced them, who they admire, who inspires them. These paths broaden my own reading and influences. Often these paths lead back to the same names. For example, two of my favourite authors are Toni Morrison and Mario Vargas Llosa, who both cite William Faulkner’s writing as an influence, and Faulkner has cited James Joyce.
I love Faulkner’s work, but I struggle with Joyce.
It is sort of like a writer’s whakapapa, tracing the roots of their writing.
My own writing seems so out of touch. There is no harmony; the words don’t match; the sentences are ambiguous; the plot is confusing; the characters are shallow. Why do I bother? I am feeling a bit of a fraud. It’s not easy. And I have to write a journal and expose my phoniness. It’s scary.
My son calls. ‘It’s just a story, Mum. Come for lunch.’
Back home, I sit at the computer and open my story. I am almost through another draft, changing from past to present tense. It seems to read better. It is time-consuming. I am also trying to find the answers to questions Reina has raised regarding the storyline and characters.
Question: What do my characters think about when they think about whānau?
On Monday, I get an email from my five-year-old grandson in Invercargill: ‘Did you feel the earthquake, it was scary. Can you send my new fleece jacket before the summer weather.’
Novel excerpt: interaction between main character, Beth, and her father, Mikey, after period of estrangement.
‘I don’t suppose you’d be able to put in a word for him.’ They had the same eyes, father and son. Her eyes. ‘He’s had a bit of trouble, before he came down here. But you know him; he’s not a bad boy.’ Then added, ‘He’s whānau, Beth, talk to him.’
That was strange coming from him now.
‘He won’t be going home tonight. Court in the morning, and he may not get bail then either.’
‘Let him know I was here, that’s all.’
Despite the trouble MJ caused, Mikey loves him, wants to help, wants to be seen as a father. But she needs him too, she is the firstborn, she is the good guy, isn’t she?
‘You all right, Beth?’ He leans forward and his voice drops. ‘I mean, this Kevin. He been giving you a rough time?’
This time he is looking at her hard. What does he mean? Screwing around, giving her the bash? like MJ. And what was he going to do about it if she wasn’t all right. ‘I’m fine,’ she says.
‘Ria will want to see you. How long you down for?’ He leans back from the table.
‘I’ll call. Hard to plan anything at present with all the different shifts.’
Outside the café they stand with their hands in their pockets. She yields first, moves forward to kiss his cheek, misses and her lips met the collar of his fleece lined jacket. He settles a hand on her shoulder.