January: Journal Seven
The kids are back at kura this morning after the holidays, which means I have the next two weeks free to mostly work on this story – it’s the Christmas present I was waiting for (no offence kids the card was cute but …). When the school holidays arrived at the end of last year, I hadn’t yet finished the first draft and was worried that I wouldn’t have time to get through it. Whiti assured me that the little snippets of time that I could spend on it would add up, and it worked – the story found its end! I’ve been back through and rewritten big chunks of it since and am enjoying being able to zoom in on scenes that I skipped over before and examine how and why things work the way they do in this world.
I’m really grateful to have had the time with Whiti over the last six months. I’ve learnt a lot from her and have really appreciated her generous and critical feedback. I also can’t wait to read the novel that she’s been working on over this time.
When the programme started, I couldn’t imagine how the second half of this story was going to play out and almost felt traumatised by the idea of revisiting it so soon after the harrowing experience of finishing off my doctoral study. Without the guidance of Whiti and Te Papa Tupu, I might not have got to it for a long time (if at all), and it feels good to have some closure on the events that happen in the story.
But it’s not quite there yet though, so I’m going to get back to it …
December: Journal Six
The main character in my story works in a karaoke bar, and one of the ways that she relates to the people she meets is by guessing the karaoke songs she thinks that they would choose. So I spend a lot of time thinking about karaoke, the varied nuances of the karaoke experiences and, in particular, what people’s go-to karaoke songs would be; for instance, I’m a Phil Collins or eighties’ rock ballad sort of person. We mourned the passing of many rock icons this year: Bowie, Prince, Cohen and Lemmy from Motorhead in late 2015, etc., and I can’t help wondering what their go-to karaoke songs would be. Which of their songs would I like to see performed by them in a dingy karaoke bar just around the corner from reality?
I imagine them huddled around a table drinking cheap beer and eating near-expiry-date chips while talking about art and politics and maybe even the potential of ‘Life on Mars’. I expect that there would be diversity of opinion on how to handle the issues of the day from climate change to the issues of copyrighting music but agreement that a Donald Trump presidency is definitely not a good idea.
I imagine Lemmy’s go-to song would be ‘Love Me Like a Reptile’, and Prince’s would be ‘Purple Rain’; Bowie would do one of his songs referencing Ziggy Stardust, and at the end of the night just before the dawn is about to break, the gravelly voice of Leonard Cohen singing ‘Dance With Me to the End of Love’ would send everyone back out onto the streets away from the fading neon lights of the bar.
November: Journal Five
Last week, I tagged along with my friend Sarah Hudson to Melbourne where she had an opening for her first solo exhibition at Blak Dot Gallery. The exhibition is called ‘Opotiki – New Zealand’s First Drone Friendly Town.’ Her panoramic photographic portraits feature Ōpōtiki locals wearing hats and masks to shade themselves from the recreational drones that wander into the aerial space above their backyards. Sarah constructed these from native plants like toetoe and harakeke seeds and they’re beautiful.
On one of the days, I took a train out to Belgrave, a little town about one hour outside Melbourne, to visit the place we lived when I was a kid and to do some writing. An old steam train called Puffing Billy leaves from Belgrave and travels through the ranges. As kids, we had a book about Puffing Billy that told the story of how a landslide in 1953 took out the tracks on a steep hill. They were unable to get machinery up there to move the rocks, so he was put away in a shed. The locals missed him so much they called a town meeting and decided to remove the rocks by hand. I’m not sure if that’s entirely how it happened, but it’s a good story. Puffing Billy used to come right past our house on the hill, and his whistle filled the whole gully. When I heard it again last week, the sound shook loose a whole bunch of childhood memories. I wasn’t expecting to feel so emotional, and when I jumped on board Puffing Billy and we chugged past our old house, I became a teary, blubbery mess. Luckily, I had Sarah’s sunglasses to hide behind but wished I had a toetoe hat as well. The carriage was full, and the weeping woman on the steam train must’ve been a funny and strange sight.
I rode the train to a mountain town called Emerald and spent the rest of the day writing in a little park. It took a little while to get started because I just wanted to write about Belgrave and a family of bull ants that I remember playing with on the driveway. I pressed on with my story (because two months left to go!) and got onto a roll. One of my characters – an escaped convict – needs a way to camouflage herself from the sky after coming out of the cover of bush and making her way around the south Wairarapa coast to Ngāwī. So I’m thinking that she will make herself a wide-brimmed toetoe hat – cheers Sarah!
I went to the Māori Writer’s Hui in October and got to hang out with fellow incubator Shirley and her tamariki, mentors Tina Makareti and Paula Morris as well as lots of other lovely writers and artists.
I had hoped to have my first draft finished by the incubator hui this week, but it’s still a little way off. Whiti encouraged me to read Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, which I really enjoyed, so I went on to the next book, Dreamquake, quickly after. The story features a world within a world and so has given me loads of ideas for how to manage that aspect within my story.
October: Journal Four
September sped by while my writing ambled along at the same pace, content with long pauses between words and sentences. My characters seem okay with that; they’re patient people.
I just finished Neal Stephenson’s book Seveneves, which begins with the moon blowing up. It’s funny because I recently looked at the moon and thought about how shit it would be if someone decided to blow it up and what a profound sense of loss humans would feel in really different ways because we all have very different stories that define our relationships with the moon. According to Neal Stephenson, the loss of the moon would be very, very shit. Apparently, though, we would still experience tides because of the pull of the sun’s gravity although it wouldn’t matter much because the earth would become a blazing inferno for at least five thousand years. One of the main characters is based on Neil DeGrasse Tyson, which is pretty great, and Seveneves is going to be made into a movie, so I wonder if they’ll cast him to play pseudo-him.
Sometimes, I daydream about who would play the characters in Beyond the Corners of Our Whare if it was made into a movie. They would need to be good singers because of all the karaoke – not that good singing is necessarily a prerequisite for a great karaoke performance, but it helps. I would have to cast my husband as Uncle Tom – partly because he can do a great Johnny Cash impersonation but mostly because he would insist. Hopefully, Keisha Castle-Hughes would be available to play Te Aitu, but if she was too busy, I would ask Rose Matafeo. If she was too busy, then I’d probably just have to ask one of my sisters. George’s character would be tricky because at the beginning, he’s like Jimi Hendrix, but then he slowly evolves into a Brian Tamaki type figure – so still mulling over that one.
Whiti and I have got a great email exchange thing happening. It’s really cool to have her input and questions that help me to identify and plug up plot holes as we go. I’m really looking forward to catching up with her and the others in real life at the next incubator hui in November.
September: Journal Three
This week at work, we held a wānanga as part of the Māori Visual Arts Programme up at Massey in Palmerston North where Helen Sword (author of Stylish Academic Writing and the Writer’s Diet) gave a workshop on habits for successful academic writing. The workshop was centred around writing process so could also extend to art making as well as creative writing.
We were asked to think of a metaphor to describe how we feel about writing, and I imagined that writing is a bit like walking in the dark: because you can’t see what’s ahead, there’s a possibility of tripping up. Sometimes, I do walk in the dark to my sister’s house; she lives just 400 metres up the road from me in a rural village where there are no street lights. Without a moon, it’s pitch black outside, so I dare myself to walk there without a torch. I often get really freaked and imagine that something might come at me – like an angry dog or curious spirits wafting down from the urupā. During Game of Thrones season it was White Walkers.
Helen said to take the metaphor and the bad thing that it entails and think: ‘Then what?’ What positive thing can come from that situation?
I thought about why I like walking in the dark to my sister’s house, apart from giving myself a good scare, and I think it’s because the darkness opens the way for other things to come into focus – not just White Walkers – like the sound of my clunky footsteps echoing around the quiet village or rhythmic tapping of a sign against a fence post, the sight of 44,000 stars stretching across the sky and the smell of alpaca wool and horse manure. This is like the process of writing for me – of never knowing how the story will go, what characters and situations will emerge from the darkness.
The last couple of weeks have been very busy at work, so I need to catch up on writing. I’m looking forward to getting back to it to find out what happens next!
August: Journal Two
My journal entry this month is dedicated to a very special member of our whānau – Patu Kiore.
Black, fluffy and scruffy with the longest tail I’ve ever seen on a cat, Patu Kiore was no ordinary creature. He was high born – the Black Prince of Pohangina. So high born, in fact, that I put his picture on the logo of this pretend publishing company.When Patu didn’t come home two weeks ago, we all assumed that he was caught up overseeing important animal matters in the valley (sometimes the alpacas up the road get out of line or Ben the pig gets upset because Amos the donkey has bitten his balls again). Patu Kiore was the one to get it sorted. He was worldly – my husband, Teanau, speculated that he could actually slip through the fabric of space and time; how else could he have come to know so much about so many things? So we imagined that perhaps Patu Kiore was simply waylaid on a trip through the multiverse.
Despite our faith in his infallibility, we distributed fliers around the neighbourhood, and soon the whole village was looking for him. The unthinkable happened a couple of days later when our lovely neighbour brought him home in a box. We suspect – from the remains of a half-eaten possum close by – that he might’ve got sick after a recent 1080 drop in the hills behind us.
I realise that it can be tedious to hear stories about other people’s cats or to be made to look at pictures of other people’s cats, but I wanted to share this about Patu because he was our dear friend and muse, the central figure and hero of many bedtime stories.
This month has been good on the writing front. I have had some wonderful email exchanges with and feedback from Whiti – it’s amazing to have that advice and tautoko on hand. I picked up Whiti’s book The Graphologist’s Apprentice last weekend, and any jobs I had planned went on the back burner because I couldn’t put it down. There is a great cat in that story – perhaps Patu Kiore could make an appearance in Beyond the Corners of Our Whare.
At the moment, I have two writing days at home during the week and have been spending them out on the porch with a blanket and a hottie. Now that spring is getting closer, the sun warms the deck, and it’s often warmer outside than inside. My writing pace is slow but comfortable. I feel really excited about the direction of the story, which has been strongly influenced by a short story that I wrote earlier in the year called Ōtākaro. My friend Bridget Reweti made a video during a residency she had at The Physics Room in Christchurch and asked me to write a story in response to the video. The narrated video is available here: http://otakaro.squarespace.com
July: Journal One
The story that I’m extending into a novel over the next six months is called Beyond the Corners of Our Whare. It’s a science-fiction novella that began as part of my PhD in Creative Arts research that explored Māori concepts such as mana, tapu and whanaungatanga in relation to state surveillance in Aotearoa. The project was initiated in response to the surveillance carried out during the Terror Raids in 2007 that targeted activist and Māori communities.
The process of writing Beyond the Corners of Our Whare was invaluable because it facilitated a fictional environment for exploring and linking ideas developed around a series of installation, performance and video projects.
This week was the second week of Te Papa Tupu writing incubator. It was exciting to meet my mentor, Whiti Hereaka, along with other mentors, participants and staff at HUIA last week during the writing workshop. Having had some nerves about the coming months ahead, it was inspirational and reassuring to hear about people’s writing journeys and processes.
Whiti and I arranged that this first month would be about planning and outlining how my story will unfold. I love this idea because as it stands, Beyond the Corners of Our Whare ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Whenever I’ve tried to visualise what happens next, I find myself on the cliff looking down onto a valley rolling with hills of blank paper. This is also connected to feelings of wanting to keep memories of the heavy kaupapa and associated PhD stresses locked away in an iron box for a bit longer. It turns out that Te Papa Tupu is the perfect catalyst to get things moving!
During the week, Whiti gave me a couple of writing exercises to get started. When I sat down (after packing the kids off to my mum’s for the weekend) a bunch of questions started to emerge about my characters. As I wrote them down, ideas began to trickle in, grow outwards and multiply. Now, when I look down over the valley, I can see that the hills are no longer blank, and the outline of a typography map is beginning to emerge on the surface. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll hang back to get the lay of the land a bit more before heading down into the valley – it’s very exciting!