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.

Detours Create Richer Detail

I went to a Rongoa Māori course on Saturday. I learnt a lot, but one of the most valuable I got was a reminder of things we intuitively know. We just need to be still, watch, listen, and all will be revealed. We often find things that we weren’t even looking for.

We are so often conditioned to set off in pursuit of something and be so focused on that end that we forget to look for signs along the way. The wrong turns that we take are all part of the bigger picture. Instead of a delay in reaching our destination, they may well have something to offer us. We may arrive a little late but hopefully richer from the detour.

My writing the last fortnight has been flowing, maybe because I have let go of the outcome. I need to turn up and write, and someone else can judge or do whatever they will with the words. I would never have been this confident in my first week on the programme.

Last week signalled the beginning of school holidays. A holiday that has two of my children having birthdays and an influx of extra kids. Eleven to feed one night, and we live in the country! I was wondering how I would get my allotted words when Renée (my mentor) suggested we double my quota for the next three weeks. This was actually clever on her behalf because what I first thought was a daunting task seemed easy now she had doubled it.

The end part of my novel (which is now nameless, but I have a few ideas incubating) has plants woven through it. A reoccurring theme with the traditional Māori medicine is that the more you get to know the forest and all the trees and plants within, they’ll tell you everything you need to know.

I am trusting this to be true with the characters in my book. At the moment, Libby, my main protagonist, is sitting on the limb of a tree. I need to go and watch, sit with her a while, so I can see where she needs to go.

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.

Learning New Tricks (and Old Ones)

This last month has been such a roller coaster ride, but I’m loving it. I’ve had to learn to be self-disciplined (I’m forty-six and have never felt the need for it until now). I’ve learnt to say no to people when they want me to do something (something I should have mastered years ago) and that self-doubt is a thing to embrace.

Rollercoaster
© Jimmy Lopes | Jacquie finds the writing programme is like a roller coaster ride.

Each week, I send my pages to Renée (my mentor) for critiquing, and each week, she sends me back some positive feedback and then writing that has red marks all over it. The red marks are not expressions about how wonderful my writing is but points to address. Every week, she’s been right.

She is urging me to go deeper, more detail, show me don’t tell me. The ‘show don’t tell’ is a writing technique that has been around for a while and one that I thought I had mastered a few years ago. On closer inspection of my writing, I see that this is not the case. Learning something and remembering to use it all the time are two separate things.

I also thought that the story was not about me. The characters are different, the things they do are so removed from me, but it actually comes down to universal truths. If I had to sum up my story, I would say it’s about authenticity and loss. The main protagonist loses herself in grief and isolates herself in an obsessive compulsive disorder. Even though the characters are different from the ones in my life, I share with them grief, shame and hope.

For me to write well, I really have to take myself to those places. It’s not nice but necessary. The lovely gift is that it’s also quite cathartic.

The tapestry of life still unravels around me. If I’m honest, I would rather be writing than doing all the other things that are expected of me, but that is not how it works. I am learning balance. I know this week I will struggle to find any time to write, but this course means I will.

I am in awe of people who have written books without a mentor because after only one month, I am so grateful to Renée, who is my mentor, and don’t want to ever let her go.

If you can, run out and find one!