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 program, before meeting with our mentors: James George, Jacquie McRae, Simon Minto, 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 NZ, 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. Upon returning to NZ 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.

The Sea, it Calls.

It’s the second day of Summer and the kids are swimming while I stand with my toes in the sea, enjoying the water lapping against my skin and dividing my gaze between the girls and the notebook I write this in. 

It’s moments like these that I realize I should have pushed myself harder in the early months of the Te Papa Tupu programme when the weather was bleak and it was too cold for this. But the sun is returning and we’re in for warmer weather. Warmth = beach in my family; I often joke that I have selkies instead of children, and truth be told this is not their first swim of the season, that happened months ago when braver souls were still staying rugged up inside. 

But I can’t take my laptop to the beach, and I can’t focus on revision while I’m half focused on making sure the kids don’t drown. At least I can get my journal written though. 

We had our final workshop last week. It was inspiring and heart warming and uplifting, and probably my favourite one yet. The camaraderie between the group was really special and speaks to the past few months of connection. I’ll certainly miss the regular catch-ups, though I know the group will remain long after the mentorship is over. 

first draft

So here we are.

In some ways that final gathering felt like it was the end, yet on another level it’s definitely not. In order to get this book in to Huia on time I’m going to have to work pretty hard. Which is fine. I like deadlines and I like pushing myself. The hardest parts are still to come though and I have to acknowledge that my tendency to wait until I can see that deadline on the horizon – until I can hear its siren song calling me – before applying all my focus, is a bad habit that I’m yet to shake. 

There is something heady about that shot of adrenaline that spikes your system when you’ve got a deadline heading your way. A breathlessness brought on by the uncertainty about whether you’ll make it across the finish line, a frantic pounding of the heart. Is this the wave that will slam you against the floor of the sea, or will you be able to keep your head above water?

Yeah, part of me lives for that. 

But right now, it feels a lot like I’m walking towards the shore through the retreating tide. Each step takes effort, but it feels like I’m going nowhere, like despite all my efforts I’m not making any progress at all. 

I’m mired. My feet sinking into the sand. Each grain is tiny, but they are numerous – like the issues that I have to fix in my book – and with the weight of those combined grains, it feels like I might never get out. Fortunately, I know from past experience that if I just wiggle my toes – if I work the issues one at a time – before I know it, there will be room to breathe and I can step free. 

And then suddenly I’ll have cleared of the water. I’ll turn back and look out to sea and it will be gorgeous.

I certainly hope that’s how I feel when I submit this book.

Thankfully, it’s not uncomfortable to be where I am right now. In a sense it’s almost comforting. I’m claimed by the story, each plot thread, each snippet of dialogue, each chapter a journey, a path to follow, interconnected and overlapping.
In fact, this might be the most excited I’ve been about this journey since we started. Like the fun times are done and now it’s all work. It’s me and the story. And my mentor, of course, my friends. 

As Nadine Anne Hura summed up so beautifully during our final workshop reflections, we might all be in our own waka, but we’re not alone.


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.

I am a Writer. I am Māori.

I come from a family of storytellers; they seem to be able to spin the spoken word into magic. Put me on the spot and my words get tangled in my mouth and become something awkward and heavy. I can never quite seem to articulate my thoughts that way, but give me a pen? Give me a pen and everything changes.

I’ve always made up stories. I used to develop worlds and characters for my brother and cousins so we could play out vast adventures across our grandparent’s farm. I shared my writing with friends and family and had a few things published here and there.  It’s so much a part of me that I couldn’t imagine life without it.

I am a writer.

I wasn’t sure about applying for Te Papa Tupu though. I almost didn’t. It was such a big, wonderful thing, a thing I really felt I needed to help next level my writing. And I was petrified of not getting in. I managed to make myself apply by lying to myself – because I’d encouraged a couple of other friends to enter, I had to do the same in solidarity.

Aside from wanting to improve my writing, I was starving for connection with Māori writers. We’re spread out and we don’t all look physically Māori, we’re not always identifying ourselves as Māori on social media etc either. At the same time, I felt like maybe I wasn’t Māori enough to join the few groups I knew of.

Te Papa Tupu is the first time I’ve ever applied for anything where being Māori was a requirement. My whole life I’ve had that voice in my head that I’m white enough to pass, to get all the benefits that are available to Pākehā, so I should just not. And that on the other hand was the fear that if I claimed I was Māori people would tell me I wasn’t Māori enough. I was stuck in that place of not feeling like I was being entirely myself, but scared of discovering I was somehow doing my heritage wrong. I don’t look it, I don’t speak it, I don’t know where the macrons go half the time.

The reality is that I am Māori, and it’s only my fear that’s held me back. Fear, and lack of knowledge. Lack of connection.

I’ve been working on that barrier for a long time. About a year ago I added the word ‘Māori’ to my twitter bio. It was such a small thing, and yet I deliberated over it for days. It felt like I was revealing a hidden part of myself. Coming into the open. I’m not sure what I thought would happen – what does it even mean to be a Māori writer? Do people read your work in different ways? Is there an expectation of what Māori will write about? Will people see things in my work that they didn’t before because they are looking at it through a new lens? I didn’t know, and it made me anxious. But I took that step anyway.

Applying to Te Papa Tupu was a much bigger step, and it’s already opened my eyes to how supportive, inclusive, and amazing the community is once you find it. Since getting accepted there has been a lot of ‘I didn’t even know you were Māori!’ (in a positive/sorry for not realising way) and not a single ‘you’re not really Māori/not enough’ not even a ‘you don’t look it’.

Sometimes taking those big leaps is really worth it, and I’m still grinning ear to ear about being selected.

I swear it took me a week to believe I got in. Two. Hell, it might not have been until we were on the plane to that first workshop that it sunk in. Maybe not even until I was in the room with all the mentors, the amazing folk from Huia and the Māori Literature Trust, and the other mentees – each of them looking as exhilarated and nervous as me. Eager to soak up wisdom, to learn and grow.

I feel so fortunate to have been chosen for this round of mentoring – thrilled that I get to work with Whiti Hereaka, who has already had such an impact on my writing. I’m so grateful to all the individuals and organisations involved in making this happen, and I can’t wait to see how our books look at the end of this process.

I am a writer, and I am Māori. And I tell you what, if you are both of those things? (even if you’re not confident in those things). Reach out. There is a whole world waiting for you, and it’s shiny and wonderful. I’m only sad it took me so long to dive into it – and now that I’m here? I’m going to make the very most of it.


DSC_0238Cassie 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.