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 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 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.

Writing Magic: an Elixir to Happiness

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.

Legacies and Legends

Well, this is truly the beginning of the end of the beginning.

As December draws near, I look at my body of work, and I am feeling quite sad – not for having the opportunity to complete my work under the guidance of professionals, but for the fact that I wanted to accomplish so much more in this time.

I set out on my creative journey when I was barely in primary school. My older brothers would read lots of books and comics and draw amazing pictures, and it was from there that I began to write and draw.

I wish I had kept some of my earlier work – although I’m sure I’d be cringing at the crudity of my craft – but every journey has a first step.

What I never anticipated was taking another million steps from there and still facing uncertainty. I thought a smaller, more unique country would allow better opportunities to realise my dreams, but it has been a struggle fraught with ignorance on my part. When you’re younger, you tend to wait for the world to come to you – for publishers to burst through your door, wanting to sign you up because you’re so damned special – and when that fails to happen, you begin to doorknock. You don’t knock on everyone’s door – you kind of test the waters by dipping a toe – and when that first frosty reception alarms and frightens you, you withdraw from the water’s edge and bide your time.

So I’ve been sitting at the water’s edge, casting stones and refining my work, but I should have been more aggressive and personal with my work. I can say that I have seen some of my ideas appear in other people’s work – not because they stole them but because ideas are continually floating through the air and are plucked and harvested by gifted people with a flair for creativity and a vision to achieve.

I’ve been sitting by the water’s edge too long.

I am part-Maori, part-Croatian, part-European – but if you look at me, you would definitely say I am a Maori – and when people ask where I am from, I say Pamapuria – not Scotland, Wales or Croatia. I am not rejecting that side – I truly embrace my unique heritage – but when I look in the mirror, I see Māori, and when I step out into the world people treat me as Māori.

As a Maori, I have always felt like I needed to prove myself – like the world was measuring me up and waving the bigger stick. This was not bred into me by my parents. This was an internal mechanism that was triggered by years of watching the news and watching social events unfold. But I have always had a profound sense of pride in my history and wanted to do more to lift my wavering spirit in the face of mounting statistics that told the nation Māori had higher levels of unemployment and less chance of success in the business world.

Sure, my mother and father provided for me as I provide for my children now, but I have always desired to achieve beyond everyday success – the kind of success I label ‘frequent-normalcy’ – going to work, buying a house, putting food on the table and clothes on our backs. We don’t celebrate that enough – but I desire more. When I was home and visiting the local cemetery, I asked my father about a headstone that bore our family name. He said it was a great-uncle of his, but he could not tell me any more. I realised at that moment that for all the years this man had spent on this earth – whether good or bad – his experiences are lost for all time. He had become a chunk of stone propped up in the ground with hardly a memory to carry him on into the future.

Was this to be my fate – to be remembered for a generation or two and then fade into obscurity? To become a cold block of marble with faded letters?

We might mention some folk with fond memory – whilst others live on in books and history – but most will live in this life and fade from the world without leaving a trace.

Not me – I want to be remembered long after my great-grandchildren join me in the next life, and I want to be remembered as someone who inspired others to do the same. For all our big talk and backslapping in admiration of our cultural identity, we have barely scratched the surface of what we can achieve as a people.

I can’t sit at the water’s edge and watch while others have all the fun – I’m going to jump in and get wet.

Judging a Book by Its Back Cover

‘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.***

***Assuming the author meets his deadline.

Reaching back to Find Political Purpose

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.

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.

Living Out Loud: Juggling Life and Writing

Earlier this week, I sent my five-year-old grandson in Invercargill his winter jacket. It’s a little further south than here, so the seasons arrive a little later. Well, that is my excuse I wrote on the attached card.

He sent me an email back: ‘Thanks Grandma, but I’m a size seven now.’

In between everyday life, I have been reading the Paris Review online and the writer interviews, and I copy a quote every so often and paste and highlight in bold for inspiration. James Baldwin, Nina Simone, Richard Wright – they all spent time in Paris, even Faulkner, and Joyce and Beckett. Proust is a native; that doesn’t count. I am going to Paris because Nina Simone was there, and her music inspires me.

‘It takes me forever to get it to sing. I work at the language.’  Maya Angelou on writing.

‘I look at some of the great novelists, and I think the reason they are great is that they’re telling the truth.’ Maya Angelou.

Email catch-up to Reina. I have been a bit slack so need to get this thing moving. But not to worry about the outcome, just let it be, it is this … stay in the moment, this is the present and that is all that matters in the big picture.

Reina replies. Read it out loud to your husband, be a storyteller, it might help to find those areas where you have concerns, think about your characters, do you like them?

I had to get my husband’s attention, a place where he was sitting and still with no choice but to listen. Well, with men, there is only that one place, and somehow it just did not seem appropriate. So I read to my dog, Washburn. As a thirteen-year-old Labrador with a puppy brain and recently diagnosed with severe arthritis, it is not easy for him to get up and walk away. I moved his trampoline bed with its bio-mag mattress beside the fire and woke him each time he snored with Bomazeal treats. Some issues jumped out at me. Washburn cruised and slept and nudged my leg when he wanted his ear scratched.

Bruce Springsteen’s birthday coincided with Washburn’s big day out.

I played ‘The Boss’ on vinyl in kind regards and memories.

Washburn came home with a doggy bag.

Bomazeal, Rymadil and opiates (for severe pain) along with an appointment card for the next three Saturdays regarding follow up injections, and he may not improve until the final one, and after that an appointment every six months to monitor progress. Tonight, he is stiff and sore from the limb manipulation necessary for the X-ray poses, but I don’t think he minded that, anything for attention, that’s our Wash. He is hurting now, so we give him a Bomazeal treat with his Tux. ‘Mmmm,’ he grunts, ‘mmmm, I need to use the bushes, now.’ He doesn’t quite make it, but that’s what shovels are for. He limps back into his kennel, and we say goodnight. He is too tired to reply. It has been a big day.

I don’t suppose Bruce had quite the same experience, but the man that still sings ‘Born to Run’ is only sixty-one years old; in doggy years, Wash is ninety-one.

Life is a present occupation, a juggling act, between writing and everyday stuff.

Sometimes I spend my time writing stuff that is just that, stuff … it’s a break, that’s all.

……..

‘I want to read you something,’ he says.

He begins, ‘Once there was a small boy …’ his voice has a gentle smoothness, it lulls her, she is not listening for the story but is beguiled by the sound of his voice, every now and then he asks her a question, she nods her head, sometimes she nods at inappropriate times, because that was not the answer to the question, and there is a flicker of exasperation on his face, but it doesn’t last and he resumes. She becomes sleepy, drifting on the ocean of his words, he asks again if she is listening and she shakes her head, still he continues, she wafts in the swell, he reads, she is floating face up, the sun is warm, like his voice, they become one, his voice her body, her breath is his, they breathe together, the ocean is everywhere all around, they are the ocean.

‘Well,’ he says, finally, ‘What do you think?’

Once there lived a small dog …

Their neighbours ask, does your husband write, is he a writer, what does he write, does it pay, where can we see his books, are they in the library, is he famous?

Once there lived a small dog …

‘I want to read you something,’ she says.

She begins, ‘Once there lived a small dog. His name was Maz, his tail was neither the full length tail that might have curled up over his back, nor was it a wiggly stump, but in between, like a half smoked cigarette …’

Her husband snores and wakes himself. She is gazing out the window, the ash from his cigarette drops on to the duvet; he hears a dog bark, a boy laughing, the neighbour’s car in the driveway. He hears her scream.

Shaking out the Details

Flying southward, I was surprised to hear the pilot announce: ‘Good evening, guests, we’ve just passed the township of Kaikōura. I can see, in the distance, the lights of Christchurch, and it’s gearing up to be a clear and mild night.’ I didn’t know you could see Christchurch from that far away. In my mind, Christchurch is such an extraordinary distance from Wellington. And even further from Hastings where the bulk of my family live. Whenever Mum organises a visit to my sister in The Garden City, you’d think she was planning a trip abroad. She books months in advance and packs so much gear you’d think she was relocating. I’ve acquired many welcome and unwelcome habits from Mum: loyalty to family, the afternoon nap, hoarding and a taste for gossip. Yet as worldly as I like to consider myself, I also see that I have acquired her fantastic and false sense of distance. According to the pilot, Wellington is only twenty-seven minutes’ flying distance from Christchurch. Really? Is that all?

Much to my own disappointment, I myself had packed so much luggage I was charged an excess baggage fee.

As the plane descended and I greedily sucked my green Air New Zealand lolly to alleviate my popping ears, I considered the earthquake. The iron-flat bulk of the Canterbury Plains seemed enormous. The jagged Southern Alps and a slew of low-rise hills seemed to contain a basin that stretched forever. And this was from several hundred feet in the air. I contemplated the enormous forces from deep below and out of sight that had conspired on 4 September to shake this fabulously big area. I enjoyed a wonderful feeling of smallness.

*

I agree with the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle who moaned, ‘Writing is a dreadful labor, yet not so dreadful as Idleness.’ On many given days, the only worse-sounding idea than sitting still for an hour or two writing is sitting still for a day or two not writing. There is a quality of satisfaction I get after filling a few empty screens with nouns, conjunctions and adjectives that I do not get after any other activity. The sore point seems to be the doing itself – the mechanical process of teasing out memory and imagination via words. The payoff may be orgasmic, but often getting there is like a session of very average sex; only slightly more pleasure than pain. And that’s on a good day. On a bad day, it is more like having a groin accident. So why even bother? Because if I wasn’t a writer, I simply wouldn’t be me. And writers write. So I keep writing because I am starting to like me.

Hell, it only took thirty years.

*

I had booked my trip to Christchurch long before The Big One. Months in advance in fact. (Drat! Mum’s influence is unstoppable!) When it struck, I kinda grossed myself out at how excited I was to be heading down there shortly to check out the lovely damage for myself. I even borrowed a digital camera for the occasion. My sister was to meet me at the airport. I feel so flash at airports – like a member of some kind of elite mobile class. I always feel like some kind of emissary. By the time our plane landed, night had dropped on a cooling Canterbury. My sister couldn’t afford the $6-an-hour airport parking so had been waiting in the Drop off/Pick up zone just outside the domestic terminal. For an hour. After a kiss and a squeeze, we sped off inland towards Lincoln.

Morbidly, I expected to see roads broken apart and Civil Defence operatives handing out flares. I expected to see lines of the homeless and evicted queuing for ration packs. I kept an eye out at railway crossings for tracks bent into unnatural S shapes. I even half-expected to see the Prime Minister surrounded by a retinue of crisis management folk surveying gutted-out neighbourhoods. Or at least Bob Parker. There was nothing of the sort.

Instead, I had to content myself with my sister’s dry story about how her hot-water cylinder had cracked and leaked a bit into her hot-water cupboard. I’m not proud of it, but I think I am drama slut.

Good for you, Christchurch. Bad luck for the inner disaster tourist I suspect lurks in all of us.

*

It’s this hunger for bold and broad-stroked drama that held my writing back for a long time. I remember telling my sixth-form English teacher that to be a real writer, I’d have to go overseas first. You know, where the really big, important and exciting adventures go down. At that stage, I had no appreciation for the small. I didn’t know how strong a frail moment caught on paper can be.

While sitting in the Lincoln University library on Sunday, fingers tapping and face twisted in my frustrated-writer facials, the building began to shudder. Aftershock, nearly one month on. Shelves of books hummed tremblingly and fluorescent lights shimmered. I gasped, gripping my desk. But to my surprise, the Cantabrians continued – business as usual. Boys and girls in their tiny Canterbury shorts and stiff-collared Aertex shirts kept studying and chatting and Facebooking right through the micro-quake. They’ve had over a thousand aftershocks since 4 September. I so admired their adaptability, their stoicism.

In these final eight weeks, this last lap around the course, I learnt something valuable that day down there, southward. Life can’t possibly be all earthquakes. That isn’t lifelike. Plots may pivot around moments of large drama, but it is the ever-decreasing ripples – the aftershocks – that are the bread and butter of everyday experience.

I’m beginning to believe that the devil lies in overlooking the details.

All Work and No Play …

Oh no – it’s The Shining – I swear …

I am sitting in my little office and the door is closed, but I hear children making noises, dogs barking, cars passing by and a party going on next door. With so many little distractions, I can’t get a single word out of my head and onto the page.

I run a hand over my face and head – I haven’t shaved in days, and my hair is long and messy, and I am eating irregularly … I am not feeling myself.

The sun has set, and my computer is the only source of light and warmth. I’m hunched over the monitor like a man caught in a blizzard, struggling to survive the fierce elements. A line of dialogue suddenly sparks my imagination, and I return to my seat, crack my knuckles and begin typing – but the words do not fit the book: I realise I have written out a shopping list. WHY?

I have been alone too long – this office is definitely too small – maybe the walls are closing in. I make my way to the door. The screen monitor blackens, and the room becomes dark. My fire is dying – I can’t let that happen. I rush over to shake the mouse furiously and pray that it wasn’t a power cut. The screen brightens and heat returns, and the tower begins to whir and hum, playing that monotone song I find so damned intrusive … WMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM 

I strike the save icon – twice to ensure I have done it right – a third time to be absolutely positive my document is safe. I close the document and hold my breath – I open it and – YES! – nothing has changed.

But wasn’t that the problem to begin with?

Someone knocks at my door, but I ignore it. I pretend I’m not here. They inform me that tea is ready, but I am not hungry … I only want to get off this page and move onto the next, but I am all out of words. I grab my pad and paper and jot down a list of ideas – but at a glance I realise I have written out that stupid shopping list again. WHY?

My coffee is half-finished and cold – how did that happen? What time is it? I feel like a cigarette – but I don’t smoke … and that stupid page is still up on the screen, teasing me that it will never leave until I change that one line of dialogue that slows the pace of the story. But maybe I don’t want to change it – maybe I like it … but it reads funny … HA! HA! HA! No – not that kind of funny, but a shopping list kind of funny – a sad kind of funny …

WMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM … I hate that song now. I shut the computer down and rub my tired eyes. It’s time to return to reality.

I struggle to walk away, but the door opens and the smell of food arouses my appetite, and my son rushes up to hug me, and my wife greets me with a warm smile and asks how my project is going.

I turn and smile and reply ‘We need to get laundry powder and cornflakes.’

How Coincidences Mean More Than You Think

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.