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.

Changing in Unexpected Ways

I’ve never been a very confident person. Even when I was very young, I was timid. My little brother seemed to get all the courage, and he approached the world like it owed him – the world responded as if he was right.

I envied him that, wished I could feel like I was worthy too.

It took me a ridiculously long time to see how wrong the belief that I wasn’t enough was. It took me even longer to begin trying to kill it with fire. But I’ve been working on it.

Some of this irrational belief stemmed from my crippling anxiety. For the majority of my life it’s tarnished everything I’ve done. The voices in my head constantly told me how stupid I was, how unimportant I was, how bad I was at just about everything, how the world would just be better off if I wasn’t around. I used perfection as a crutch, because if I couldn’t get it perfect then I couldn’t move forward and take the next step. The risks were minimal. Life was safer that way.

Of course, you can’t stay hidden when you’re a writer. At some point you actually have to send your stories out and let other people read them. At some point some of those stories are going to get published, and then people will occasionally leave reviews, and they aren’t necessarily going to enjoy what you wrote.

It is literally impossible to please everyone. Not even chocolate can do that, so I know I shouldn’t try either. But it was always there in the back of my head. And every single time I submitted a short story or published something I felt sick to my stomach, felt the bile in the back of my throat, felt tears welling in deep pools inside me as I waited to be told how crap I was. I wanted to hide under a rock or sit on the review sites until someone said something awful about me and I could have my certainty that I was a terrible writer confirmed.

But that never happened.

No one said awful things about my writing. (Aside from one guy who likened me to a terrorist or something, which stunned me and then made me laugh because I know without doubt that I’m a lovely person. I just sometimes write not so lovely things. Anyway, he didn’t say the writing was bad, and obviously, it evoked a response from him and that’s goal achieved!)

You might have picked up that I’ve said ‘was’ a few times so far, and that’s because that feeling has faded substantially. I think it’s a combination of things.

First up, I’m medicated now. I started taking this antidepressant to try and dull some of the awful pain I have from my Fibromyalgia, but the upshot is that my moods have balanced out and my anxiety has diminished. My confidence is—wait, let’s start that again. I actually have some confidence. I keep doing things and then being amazed at those things, and that’s a really nice feeling. I can finally hear my family, friends and fellow writers when they tell me I’m amazing or that they like something I did – for the longest time all those kind words were drowned out by the voice in my head negating all the things they said.

October was a big month for testing out this new way of being as I had a few writing related events on. First up, we were invited to the Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement event in Wellington. Hone and I road tripped down for it, hung out with our mentor and fellow mentees, chatted to a whole range of amazing people working within the literary industry, and I didn’t feel scared at all. I was excited and inspired, and a little out of my depth, but I wasn’t anxious.

Premier House, Wellington

The next big thing was an appearance at Armageddon in Auckland – I was on a panel talking about an anthology that recently came out, in which I have a short story. Quite a different vibe to the awards but similar in that it’s another place full of people who are out celebrating the things they love.

I’ve never done a panel at such a big event, and on the few occasions I’ve participated in one, I was unable to think of anything else for the entire day before, or eat, or function. And yet, I was there signing books at the table, chatting to people, so busy and having fun that I almost forgot to feel nervous about the panel. When I did, it was a faint echo of past feelings. Enough that I could ignore it.

And it went well. I ENJOYED it. Like, really enjoyed it. I left wanting to do more, and then caught myself out, reminded that just a year or so ago this would have been impossible for me.

So, medication is wonderful. At least, for me, for right now.

Secondly, I’ve been noticing how supported we are. How well supported I am.

At Armageddon, the editor of the anthology made sure we were all comfortable and okay before the panel started and assured us that if we ran out of things to say, he could carry on talking until we found our feet. I don’t think we ran out of things to say, but when someone in the audience was getting a little difficult, the editor made sure to be clear about his feelings on the matter and show his full support of our work.

When we were at the awards, Brian Morris and Robyn Bargh were both there, introducing us to people and making sure we were all good. Our mentor, Whiti Hereaka, kept an eye out for us too, and I never once felt isolated despite being out of my comfort zone.

My mentor is amazing. I know I’ve said that before, but she’s everything I could hope for in a mentor. When I told her about my Fibromyalgia diagnosis, which is pretty recent, she came up with ideas for tweaking the schedule to make sure I could get to events that were important to attend (at the National Writers Forum), and knowing she was taking my needs into consideration meant that I could push through and do what I needed to.

Sometimes, it’s just that knowledge that someone has your back that makes all the difference. Knowing you’re supported and looked after, that someone is cheering you on and will be there to throw you a rope when you’re sinking. Without that, this writing gig is a whole lot harder, and for those dealing with extra struggles like mental/physical health, they really are essential.

I feel really blessed, really grateful for all the support I have, because I know not everyone is so lucky. And I’m so pleased that I actually have some confidence now, because I tell you what, it makes the revision process a whole lot easier when you’re not constantly second, third and fourth guessing yourself.

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.


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.