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The Eldest Girl Puts Herself First

Putting yourself first is about taking care of yourself and creating a pathway to fulfil your goals. It doesn’t mean you’re ignoring the needs of others. When your needs are met and you feel good, it is easier to give back to others. Olivia Aroha Giles shares her story and how she put herself first to develop her writing skills and land a place in Te Papa Tupu.

Olivia Aroha Giles, Libra/Tiger, mother/stepmother, grandmother, owner of cat and wife of Scotty.

I am trying to figure out how to condense 58 years of life into a blog.

So, let’s start from Te Papa Tupu and why I applied?

I’d followed the ‘Te Papa Tupu’ programme covetously for years. I wanted to apply but did not feel good enough. But then again, I never feel good enough about anything. Well that’s not strictly true. I vacillate being “I am amazing” and “every single thing, I do is crap” or as Nick Hornby put it, a state of genius/wanker.

I know the bad feelings have names like imposter syndrome, low self-esteem and lack of self-worth. I don’t think they are that. I feel that a lot of Māori women of my generation were bought up to put everyone’s needs before our own, especially if you are the eldest and to be terrified of the label “whakahīhī” which frankly, I believe you have to embrace, if you want to be a creative of any kind.

I left school at fifteen and I have always worked full time, sometimes two or three jobs at the same time. I am from the ‘girls can do anything’ era. Which is actually the ‘girls can work full time on top of ‘everything’ else they already do’ era.

The first twenty years of my adulthood was unwed pregnancy, adoption, breakdown, marriage, motherhood, home making, divorce, breakdown, marriage, bi-polar diagnosis, widowhood, breakdown and the unrelenting shame that I never seemed to have control over any of it.

Then twenty years ago, I met Scotty, my husband, (No 3) who said to me “Do whatever you want, I just want you to be happy.”






Hello new life.

I am awkwardly trying to sign off without it seeming too abrupt and have failed. Bye

The first thing I did was higher education. I enrolled at Whitireia New Zealand, got a certificate in Applied Art, then a Bachelor of Art and Design. Then I completed an Advanced Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing. During those two years I wrote a novel called Heart of the Tapu Stone in the first year, and Till We Kissed in the second.


These novels took me in two very different directions.


Heart of the Tapu Stone launched our business ‘Dusky’ taking me to lecture in Europe and gained interest from a film production company.


Till we Kissed became The Eldest Girl and is the manuscript I will be working on during Te Papa Tupu, and have been working for years.


I applied because after being a Pikihuia Awards finalist three times, (which I call my ‘always a bridesmaid’ years) and once, with an excerpt from The Eldest Girl, I forced myself to send the manuscript of The Eldest Girl to Huia Publishers.


It came back with an amazing reader’s report and a lovely rejection email that told me that the story needed a bit of work and I should to apply for Te Papa Tupu.


So, I applied.

I won a place.

I guess I could possibly be good enough.


Read my smooth transition into my writing process. It is simple. I write, almost all the time and everything else is pretty much secondary, but, when I’m not writing I am being creative in other ways. I have a (cabin) studio where I write and a (garage) workshop where I do my crafty, arty stuff.


I do all sorts of things. Right now I’m crocheting blankets, before that it was hats and tea cosies, before that it was fairy houses, before that it was miniature succulent gardens te mea te mea te mea.

I can do this because there is no one at home to take care of except me. The kids are all off in the world being spectacular, the cat and husband are self-sufficient, so I am free.


Books are paperback crack to me, anything from tiny stories to grand sagas, my favourites are detective novels, thrillers, romances and those erroneously named chick-lit which I adore.


The last books I read were eleven Tess Gerritsen novels in a row and before that Nalini Singh’s Rock series and before that four Ruth Rendell’s Wexfords on the trot.  I do mostly audio and eBooks now as the old eyes are getting a bit …well…old.  My go to audio series that I listen to over and over are the Strike books by Robert Galbraith. Genius.


The most beautifully written books I have ever read are Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible and A S Byatt, Possession.


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