Tahlia Tini

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January: Journal Seven

Writing a novel is very much like reading an epic adventure. It is full of twists and turns, and you quite often end up somewhere that was completely unexpected.

My experience in Te Papa Tupu programme has been a lot like reading The Hobbit. I found something shiny and gold in the dark, in the setting of a very female-centric novel; found bravery to go into destinations unknown, even if that was all the way back to Aotearoa; and when it came to an end, there was still a lot of work to be done in the Shire that is my novel. Like Bilbo, this is where I find myself today, at home, working through my first draft with the continued support of my mentor.

I cannot speak highly enough of the programme. It has given me an opportunity to work on my craft, have an adventure with words and to continue to work towards my goal of a published novel. For this, I am so thankful to The Māori Literature Trust and Huia Publishers.

I am also very thankful for my mentor, Paula Morris, who will continue to work with me beyond this programme, and to the other participants of Te Papa Tupu, my writing whānau, who are a source of inspiration and support. I cannot wait to read their finished novels.

I have discovered that writing a novel is not something that can be written in one part or done on one journey, and now I start on the next stage of my writing adventure, Lord of the Rings style. Another adventure begins, a wizard in the form of my wonderful mentor keeps knocking at the door, and there will be a few thousand more pages of writing. It’s likely that there will also be the addition of some handsome human men to the story just to keep the narrative interesting.

Although the programme is coming to an end, I now understand that this is, in fact, just the beginning.

Kia tau te rangimārie, hau pai mārire.

December: Journal Six

Last month, I was fortunate to be able to return to Wellington with the whānau from Te Papa Tupu for a mid-way hui. The focus of the hui was to give feedback on our work to date, re-energise some very tired writers and reconnect with each other. In my opinion, it worked!

After feeling disconnected from the writing, I have come back with a puku full of fire, and the resulting inferno was a complete change of location for my story.  It appears that while I want to be wandering the lanes of London, my lead character has her feet firmly planted on the footpaths of the increasingly gentrified K’ Road. This change was a result of the hui and the thoughtful feedback that I received there. Writing can be quite a lonely process: the tap-tap of keyboard keys the only solace in a quiet room, the black words appearing on screen like old friends. To be able to reconnect with others on the programme was much needed and very much worthwhile.

Today, the words have me traipsing through the country that I know very well with a character who has become a composite of observation, experience, a couple of trashy Woman’s Day articles and a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of The Real Housewives of Auckland watched on demand with a large glass of wine.

I cannot wait to see where she will take me next.

Thank you for reading.

Kia tau te rangimārie, hau pai mārire.

November: Journal Five

Over the last month, I have taken a step back from my manuscript writing to reset. This has involved putting away the pages and pages of writing and reading other works similar to mine to get a sense of what is currently trending in the world of women’s fiction. It has been an interesting and fun adventure, and I do feel like I am writing something that will work within the current sphere of romantic comedy.

I have also taken some time to write poetry, read poetry and reconnect with words. It is words that have always given me a sense of comfort and familiarity, and I have felt that this has been a necessary break to reconnect with the essence of my novel and what I want it to look and feel like.

Writing is such a deeply personal experience. It is not necessarily autobiographical, but there are moments of deep diving into experience and observation. There is the experience and re-experience of feelings and emotions, and at other times, it is the daily grind of getting the words on the page – a frustrating task at times, especially when the Muse has taken a holiday!

I understand so well now that the first draft is a necessary step on the way to the second and third. After some time away, I have the energy to get the first draft out of the way so that I can get on with the business of revising, and revising some more. This is where a novel truly comes to life.

Thank you for reading.

Kia tau te rangimārie, hau pai mārire.

September: Journal Three

Shakespeare clearly knew a thing or two when he wrote: ‘The course of true love never did run smooth’. Writing a manuscript is very much like finding your true love and then realising that they never replace the empty toilet roll and do lots of sleep farts.

In my case, in those early heady days, the euphoria had me up all night giving in to the words in complete and wild abandon. The words flowed like wine (not that I would advise drinking and writing), and there seemed to be an abundance of anecdotes, pithy quotes, captivating imagery and salacious scenes to be played out in my mind. Words that could then be flung with the aforementioned wild abandon onto the page. My manuscript could do no wrong.

Then the honeymoon ended. I realised that life was not going to allow me to stay up all night undressing my characters and scenes. I could not while away the hours tapping out sweet nothings without burning dinner, and I could not charge headlong into the next chapter when my fifteen-month-old’s illness-induced mucus ‘cup runneth over’. Rather than feeling like a competent part-time writer this month, I have spent most of it as the temporarily appointed CEO of the Mucus Factory. Part-time writer and CEO of the Mucus Factory have not been complementary roles.

Fortunately, with the support from my mentor and my whānau and the pūtea from the programme allowing me to hire the services of a very capable uni student/babysitter for a couple of days, I was able to complete the first half of my first draft. I have also been very lucky to have the support of my colleagues and whanaunga in the programme. Their kind words, funny jokes, awesome kōrero, support and aroha have been invaluable.

I don’t know if it’s the miracle of true love or the no-sleep training regime my son has put me through, but I am really proud of the amount of work I have been able to produce given that life does get in the way, and the honeymoon has ended. Having lost my job at the Mucus Factory, I am also really excited to get back into the writing, and I cannot wait to see where the words will take me this month.

Kia tau te rangimārie, hau pai mārire.

August: Journal Two

‘Honey, I’m just letting you know that I’m opening a Tinder account.’

‘Umm … what?’

‘It’s for research – for my book.’

On any other day, this conversation would be up on a Tui billboard. In the last month, as I braced myself for the storm of man bits, it was a legitimate step in progressing my manuscript. A step that has included additional scene, location and character research; building and adjusting structure; and changing and revamping timeliness. This is work that has only occurred because of the guidance that I have received from my mentor, Paula Morris.

Sitting down for a cup of peppermint tea to discuss your writing with Paula is a bit like sending a Wednesday-night-down-at-the-pub karaoke regular to a singing lesson with Dame Kiri. When it comes to writing, this wahine knows how to sing, and I have found her feedback invaluable.

Her words of wisdom have helped me to move past the obstacles that have stopped my manuscript in its tracks over the last year and have helped me to understand and commit to my intentions and aspirations for the final product. The exercises that she has given me have also helped me gain insight into my characters and the story that they want to tell. Although her feedback was daunting at first, she has challenged me to be a better writer, and I am inspired to do exactly that.

Neil Gaiman has been quoted as saying: ‘Nobody cares about your first draft … For now, just get the words out. Get the story down however you can get it down, then fix it.’ In the coming month, I will be focusing on getting the words on the page so that I can start the process of fixing them. I am sure that it will also be another month of learning and inspiration and daily reminders of how lucky I am to have been selected for Te Papa Tupu.

But for now, I will sit here swiping, scribbling down the first advances that are so funny that they simply must end up in a book, with a smile on my face. This is one of the joys of writing: it takes you places that you never knew you were going to go. I sincerely hope that when I finish my manuscript, others might want to go there with me.

Kia tau te rangimārie, hau pai mārire.

July: Journal One

The first time that I bungee jumped, there was a moment of complete intoxication. As I stood at the edge of the platform – overlooking the churning water, a vice-like grip on the hand hold, an athletic man daring me to take a leap of faith with his countdown – there was a heady mix of bewilderment and exhilaration that overwhelmed my senses. Bewilderment because I had convinced myself that I wanted to do this and exhilaration because I knew that I always had.

That is how I feel right now. I am standing at the edge of a long-held personal dream, with my hands at the ready over my keyboard, overlooking words floating on white pages as fate dares me to jump. I am bewildered that I have convinced myself to share my writing and exhilarated because it is all I have ever wanted to do.

Huia Publishers’ and the Māori Literature Trust’s introduction to the programme, a one-day hui in Wellington, was the perfect antidote for the nervous writer. Six writers were locked in a room with lots of coffee and kai and had a day of speakers who demonstrated, so eloquently, why the word ‘inspirational’ is a permanent fixture on their very impressive literary and life CVs.

Not only was there the added benefit of a full night of unbroken sleep, a rarity in a life shared with an infant, but there were also practical tips, opportunities for questions and kōrero and abundant motivation for the journey ahead. The speakers bravely shared some of the hard realities of travelling the long and winding road to publication. It was the perfect balance of manaaki and ‘it’s time to get down to business’.

I am under no illusions that turning the dream into 300 or so hardbound pages is going to be easy, but I am grateful that the process is one that is going to be supported by two organisations committed to Māori voices.

Today, I am standing at the edge, and I am ready to take the leap. Thank you for taking the time to share my journey.

1 thought on “Tahlia Tini

  1. Joseph Shaw says:

    You must be a person, who has never struggled, or suffered anything. You must be privileged, what every you write will be boring.
    Real writers feel pain, real writers suffer, real writers struggle, just to feed themselves, like me! Every word I write is pain.


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