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.

Please Show, Don’t Tell

There is something elusive about writing, and I’ve formed the opinion that this is what makes writing art. Or not art. I don’t mean that in a snooty way, rather as a form of humble appreciation. It’s the difference between riveting writing and writing that is a bit naff, a bit off. The type of book you read until 3 a.m. and the book you get two pages into and then decide to never pick up again.

My mentor Simon describes it as ‘making the reader ping’. A very scientific explanation.

What is ‘ping’? At the third Te Papa Tupu writers’ workshop, we had some time to talk about the manuscript. Simon – who presented an awesome workshop on story arc – shared his general contentment with the arc and character development. But there was a hiccup. There were issues at a sentence level. With my writing.

There was no ‘ping’. Parts of it were not quite right. In others, something was missing. Although there are huge battles, blood spattering and the heads of bit-part characters rolling … it still wasn’t engaging as heads rolling really should be.

This was a bit daunting. Everything else was great – except for the writing itself. This is something to grapple with, a challenge right up there with defeating an evil sorcerer. So, Gandalf the Wizard/Simon the Mentor gave me advice that was something like, become the character before writing. Visualise yourself in the character’s body and engage with the five senses. What can Hine or Pakū touch? What can they taste, smell and hear?

‘Visualise yourself in the character’s body and engage with the five senses.’ 

I gave this a go. I tried – I really did. I visually imagined myself as the characters in my head. I rode that giant moa, I fought the evil sorcerer, I imagined being kidnapped by an unknown blue-hooded stranger. I made myself vomit with fear. It was better, Simon assured me. But still … not there yet. There was something else. I was telling too much and needed to Show, Don’t Tell. This was the first time I had ever heard of this.

What is Show, Don’t Tell? Well, as far as I know, it’s allowing the reader to experience the story through action, thoughts and senses rather than through description. In her workshop, Paula Morris alluded to Show, Don’t Tell through Point Of View – writing from the POV of the character.

Hine and Pakū face insurmountable evil, cursed and grotesque animals, skeleton people, a scar-faced sorcerer and taiaha-wielding men who have ‘no-eyes’. Because of this, fear is a pretty common emotion in my manuscript. So, instead of saying ‘Hine was afraid’, if you Show, Don’t Tell, it’s ‘Hine’s chest tightened’, ‘Hine froze’, ‘her mouth was dry’, ‘her brow was covered in sweat’, ‘she rubbed her sweaty hands on her skirt’. From this, the reader assumes (if it works) that Hine is under some kind of stress and from the context that it would be fear.

‘Show, Don’t Tell through Point Of View – writing from the POV of the character.’

Now, I’m sure there have to be better examples than that (if you do know of any, please share in the comments below so I can steal them haha), but the point is that these are the kinds of things I’ve had to think about.

Confusingly, all writers actually DO tell. I know … right? Confusing. If you look at it this way, it would be pretty hard to write a novel that didn’t tell at all – not once. Especially in the young adult genre and with an action-packed storyline.

This is what is so confusing about this concept. You have to Show, Don’t Tell, but actually, do tell, but not too much. Give enough information for the reader to understand what is going on, but don’t over prescribe. Otherwise, you are robbing them of the chance to fill in the blanks – to recreate the novel as they see it in their own minds.

‘Give enough information for the reader to understand what is going on, but don’t over prescribe.’

So, I turned to the help that was suggested at the workshop, and on a surprisingly windy day, I wandered into Wellington City Library and picked up Beyond the First Draft: The Art of Fiction by John Casey. Now, this book is not a page-turner by any means. The best way to describe it would be that it hurt my brain. I felt like I was reading the ancient texts of some religion or perhaps the oral teachings of Te Papa Tupu mentor ‘Yoda’ (aka author James George).

An excerpt:

‘A common fault among younger writers, especially good ones, is to become enchanted with complex ornamentation…[…]. I once took a writer to the Washington National Cathedral (a good duplication of English gothic). We looked at the vaulting – finer and finer tendrils sprouted. But the bases were as big as a house. You can’t almost see the way around. You can feel, you can almost hear them as if you were in the engine room of a ship larger than any ever built. You don’t need to explain that you couldn’t get the tendrils way up there without these roots. Or that the delicate tendrils wouldn’t be as beautiful if they weren’t a culmination of force …’

It’s heavy. It’s wordy. I skim most of the words. My brows furrow. I feel the faintest twinge of a migraine, my brain whirring and I sigh, loudly.

In saying all that, I would still recommend reading it. I don’t know if I understood, but I am always hopeful that subconsciously I absorbed its teachings – through osmosis. Will it help? Will the newly edited manuscript dazzle with ping?

One can only hope.


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.

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.