A Void

It feels like I’m sending these journals into a void. Like an actual journal, for my eyes only, which is kinda freeing.

I had writer’s block until recently. Prior to that, I wrote a short story about a Japanese piano teacher who goes on a surfing trip to deal with a broken heart. This melancholy tale poured out of me in two or three days. Working in the second person for the first time gave me a sense of urgency that propelled the story forward, and I found that almost breathless quality made the writing experience deeply enjoyable.  I’ve learned that Voice Is Key. I’ve realized that once I have the voice right, the story flows. The words come from somewhere else. Every creative person knows this feeling. You become a channel for the universe to express itself through. We’re all jonesing to get back in the zone. Where do ideas spring from within this state? The nothingness of a blank page. The collective unconsciousness. The void.

My mentor, the novelist James George, has a startling intellect. The kind of person who makes you feel like you’ve somehow gained a couple more IQ points after listening to them. Or more accurately, desire to be smarter so you can fully comprehend all the gems they keep dropping. I told him I was struggling with my short stories. Unlike writing a novel, which you can potentially plot out and continue moving forward towards an ending, whenever I finish a story I have to start again. Almost from scratch. New protagonist, new POV, new plot, new voice. This is a complication with writing short stories for a cycle. How many ways can you write about a thing? And I wasn’t totally sure what that thing was. There were many things!

James spoke to me about the notion of a controlling idea. He talked about Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises about a damaged soldier coming back from war, a familiar Hemingway trope, and how this controlling idea gave Hemingway licence to roam through a landscape; to write about bullfighting and real drinking expeditions, changing the names only. JG explained that once the controlling idea is set in the reader’s mind, you can do that. I really liked the sound of this … how a controlling idea could give me some freedom to roam around too, in this psychological hinterland I’m conjuring that floats between Tokyo and New Zealand.

JG said, and I’m paraphrasing here, what truths are coming out? Is there a presence you can use as a controlling idea? The thematic presence is like a vessel where everything is being held like a bowl of soup; a series of reflections and responses to this central theme. It can be very subtle; a thematic resonance rather than a direct through-line. Every single thing doesn’t have to point to the master plot. Also, what are you leading up to here? Someone, after reading your short stories, will ask, well what do I make of all that? How close do I feel to the conflicts and ideas I’ve read about?

Plenty to ponder. I looked at the fifteen or so stories I’ve written and methodically listed their themes, which include loss, intimacy, the male gaze, mothers and daughters, the expat experience, dislocation and where is home anyway? A theme of running away emerged, which, although should have been obvious, took me by surprise. However, that was not my controlling idea. I realized that what’s really behind it all, although yet to be dealt with directly in any of my stories, is transgenerational trauma. Kinda heavy and something I’ve been trying to, well … avoid.


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

Hi, I’m Hone Rata

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Hone introducing himself at the first workshop in Wellington.

I’ve always found introducing myself a little strange. ‘Hi, I’m Hone Rata.’ Handshake. Eye contact. Smile. So that’s my name, but it’s doesn’t say a lot about me. ‘I’m forty-three.’ That’s new information, so a forty-three-year-old male, probably likes sports (nope, well not enough to follow any team). Oh, so doesn’t like sports; probably likes Star Wars (check), and wrote Star Wars as two words with the correct capitalisation, so probably likes Star Trek as well (check).

So he was a teen in the late eighties/early nineties. Probably likes Guns and Roses (check, well the pop songs anyway) and Def Leppard (nah) and Queen (sure). Oh well, must love grunge (well yes, but that came later because my wife introduced me to Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains). So he’s like a Gen-Xer then, so he loves his old morning cartoons and The Goonies (yes and yes, but nothing back then holds a candle to Gravity Falls).

So my name and number might tell you some things about me, but none of the important stuff. Like my wife, Janine, is the single most influential person in my life. That my kids are what get me out of bed in the morning (sometimes literally). That I love to paint and draw and make kids’ birthday cakes. That I love to sing but am terrible at it. And, perhaps most relevantly to this blog, that I love a good story.

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Birthday cakes Hone has made. (Image supplied)

I always have. Movies, songs, TV, plays, games, jokes, a well-crafted lie, tales told round the camp fire. I love them all. I love the imagination they display, the creativity, the emotion, the thrill of them. But books – books are the best. I’ve always read, immersed myself in other people’s stories, watched the movies that flicker in my imagination when the written word really draws me in. Because that’s their real power: they ask you to set the scene, to cast the actors. You choreograph the fights. You care, or not, about the characters. The author gives you hints, titbits, a shadow on the wall, and you add the detail, the colour and the tears.

I’ve loved to tell stories, to retell stories. I love the discussion about the movie as much as the movie itself. I love sharing the laughter and the exciting parts of the narrative, however it came to me. I love sitting down with a friend and sharing a story together. I love lying in bed at night and reading with my wife, listening to her laugh, to delight in a story, even as I read another.

I’ve carried tales in my head for years, peopled by characters and ideas. Whole worlds that exist only in the firing synapses in my brain. And they are precious to me. They are the children of all these other stories. Influenced and guided by the artists I love: R A Salvatore, Jane Austen, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, R A Heinlien, Gene Roddenberry, Akira Kurosawa, Markus Zusak, Chuck Palahniuk, Nick Cave.

But I never wrote one. I never took the time to sit down, take a tale I’d woven and write it down. I was always afraid of it, of not being good enough, of not being able to live up to those examples listed above. Of not having the skill to do the story justice. In spite of encouragement from my friends and family, especially my wife, I was afraid. Not that I ever really framed it that way myself. I don’t have the emotional intelligence to read myself that well in the moment, but in hindsight, that’s what it was.

30 Days in the Word Mines
The birthday gift from Cassie.

Then a friend of mine, Cassie, bought me a birthday gift. A book about writing and setting the challenge to write every day for thirty days. The timing was perfect. I’d written a story at work, about going for a jog at lunch time, and one of my workmates, a former creative writing tutor, told me that I should write more. A wise neutral voice gave me that little bit of faith I needed. So I took up the challenge. Every night for thirty days, I emailed a supportive group of friends my night’s writing. And most of them didn’t read it. And that’s okay; I just needed an audience to keep me accountable.

And I loved it. Every night was a new adventure. I started writing out a story I’d told my children at bed time. Then a brief piece about myself. Then I thought I should try something a bit larger. I looked into my internal idea library. Looked for a story that I wasn’t too invested in. One that I could use to learn the craft of writing. An image flashed into my mind of a boy walking with a huge clay golem. Hand in hand down the street. The boy was a teenager, but the golem was so large that he looked like a father walking with his toddler.

That was it, that single image. The genesis for a story. So I sat down, with no real idea who the boy was or who the golem was or what kind of world they lived in. And it just flowed out onto the page. Every night was like watching the next episode in a series or reading the next chapter of a book, except that it was coming out of me instead of going into me. I never knew what would happen next. I was shocked and surprised and saddened as things I never knew would happen, never knew could happen, came to pass. Slowly, this small throwaway idea became a world. I began to care about this boy and this golem.

With the continued support of my family and friends, I moved on beyond those first thirty days and kept at it until I’d finished this story. My first novel: 78,000 words that had never been placed in this order before. It took me about a year, then another year of editing and rewriting before that same friend, Cassie, pointed me at Te Papa Tupu programme and suggested I apply. So I did. And I was accepted. (And so was she! What are the chances?). It’s hard to explain the feelings that run through you when you have someone on the end of the phone telling you that they see promise in your story. You start to think that maybe you are an author after all. Everything since then has been a bit surreal. The first workshop was so amazing. Sitting with these five other gifted authors. Being surrounded by the staff at HUIA and the Māori Literature Trust and by the mentors. Being steeped in this passion for story, for books, for authors and for the Māori voice. What it can say. The worth of that voice and the necessity of it.

It’s all incredibly humbling. And I still feel like a bit of an imposter. A bit undeserving. Because my words aren’t all that flash. They are not worthy of those authors and storytellers that inspired me. But maybe with the help of my mentor, Whiti Hereaka, and the staff at HUIA, maybe then my story will have a place in their shadow. Maybe then I can introduce myself by saying ‘Hi, I’m Hone Rata. I’m an author.’


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Hone Rata (Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Ruanui, Taranaki) is an aspiring author currently embroiled in the fraught journey that is preparing his first novel for publishing. Hone is pleased to have been selected for the 2018 Te Papa Tupu writing programme. He is excited to learn new skills and apply them to his novel.

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.

Through to the Painful End

Last journal entry and the months have flown by. I had hoped by this stage to be feeling rather satisfied and smug even, with a completed manuscript for a publisher, albeit for a little tweaking. When, in fact, I still have a confusing array of scenes and characters still at a loss to decide whether they are in the past or the present and does it matter. But, some positives, with Reina’s input. Firstly, many superfluous pages have been culled, for the betterment of the story, I think. Secondly, I have a stronger sense of the background of my characters due to the readings Reina has suggested. Although much of this is not in my novel, it has helped the writer.

This is also the time to express gratitude to Huia Publishers and Te Tupu Papa programme, brought about with the help of HUIA, Creative New Zealand and Te Puni Kōkiri. Without their support, I suspect this manuscript might have remained a weekend pastime. Special thanks to Dominika for all her administration arrangements and the emails of support.

A heartfelt thank you to Reina Whaitiri, who tells it like it is: ‘I am sounding like a cracked record, Larree, but this is confusing.’ Arohanui, Reina.

So, write what I want or what a reader will want to read? It’s a hard line for a wannabe first-time novel writer with a publisher prepared to offer their services. It is a difficult decision. My mentor, Reina, is being made to work overtime; I am wondering if she expected to be a counsellor as well. Do I want to get a book out of this, a solid hard copy that can be held and read in bed, on the train, in the library, or is this just an opportunity to see my name on a blog? NOT: I want a reader to read this, I want someone to pick my book from a library shelf, a book shop, a book club, and enjoy the read. It’s a hard line. Especially when you are new at this.

But the months have not been without their costs.
My ankle is strapped, and I am foregoing the anti-inflammatories, for now.
The pain should be perceptible so we know what is going on, my physio says.
I can tell you what’s going on, my ankle hurts, I say.
So your ankle hurts because you have back pain. Sciatica, he says. Sit up straight, do back exercises, stop hunching over your keyboard, get a proper chair. Sit with your elbows at right angles, your knees below your hips, or you will do some irreparable damage, and you will not be walking in Spain.
Who mentioned back pain? But that does it. I follow his instructions to the T, and suffer the exercises.
I am going to Spain, whatever. I am going to Spain with his wife, so he needs to get me walking.

My friend invites me to go walking, that’s fine, a walk, the sun is shining. I need to loosen up my ankle. I arrive at her place to pick her up. No, we walk from here, she says, okay. Three hours later, I am peeling my socks off at her back door to soak my feet in the foot bath she is preparing. Good, she says, while we relax with our feet in Radox, you passed the test, I will book for Spain tomorrow. Eight hundred kilometres is not so far in six weeks: two three-hour stretches each day. What else is there to do but walk? We will be in Santiago before the scallops are rolled over by the tide.
I am looking forward to it. We will have an adventure, I say, and sincerely mean my words despite my aches and pains.

The beginnings of a new novel, I think to myself.

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.

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.