Winner of Best Short Story Written in English in 2005 and finalist of four Pikihuia Awards
The Pikihuia Awards were instrumental in my career as an author. I was first published in 2001 after being selected as a finalist in that year’s awards – that very first entry I made was my leap of faith. Until then, only English teachers and covert readers of my diary had seen any of my words. My writing was private and comforting but mostly hidden. Beneath my desire for secrecy, however, I had that author’s urge to be recognised, seen and valued. Even the starving artist hopes someone is looking.
I had always enjoyed reading, and an English teacher of mine (Ms. Sue Millington) discovered and nourished my talent for writing with her kindness. It was important for me that someone outside my whānau recognised my ability because I don’t come from a family of readers. We were surrounded by dozens of Bibles, but no one really read them; Dad did read the newspaper, but that was only in case a war broke out or someone he knew had been arrested. The idea of reading for leisure was basically unthinkable. I think many Māori children have this experience, and this is why, if you have the urge to write, you simply must. It’s uncommon and rare, and uncommon and rare voices often tell the strangest, loveliest, most powerful stories.
I remember seeing the poster for the awards in 2001, and it excited something in me that I couldn’t squash. As the deadline approached and my entry remained unwritten, I grew anxious, and one afternoon I just sat down and decided to write ‘one sentence at a time’. I made a decision; I didn’t know how the piece would end, I just wrote into the dark. I started with the title (which I don’t always recommend) ‘And I said what about Milos at Nanny’s’ …
And sentence by sentence, it grew from there. I was unemployed at the time and living at my mum’s. I had plenty of time, but no energy. It was a real accomplishment when, about three hours later, I had a 3000-word story that seemed readable and entertaining. I posted it off and got back to my unbusy and slow unemployment
When, a few months later, I got the letter that I had been listed as a finalist and that my entry would be published, I was shocked and thrilled. Although I have had several pieces published since, and a novel accepted for publication, nothing will beat the first time I knew that my name and my story would appear printed in a book. An ACTUAL book. I had crossed a threshold. I had taken a risk, and on the other side of that risk, I emerged an Author.
The best advice I could offer to anyone considering entering this year’s 20th Anniversary Pikihuia Awards would be to take your fear, as soon as possible, and carry it along for company while you write into the dark. One sentence at a time.
Then submit it quickly, before the fear changes your mind. Trust me, it will like the story.
Eru J Hart is a thirty-five-year-old writer in Wellington currently teaching English at Wellington High School while he completes his master’s.
He has been a published finalist four times in the Pikihuia Awards for Māori Writers and won the Short Story in English category in 2005. These awards opened many opportunities for Eru, including having work broadcast on National Radio. He has completed creative writing papers at the Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. His upcoming novel, The Clockwork of Gods, is due for completion in 2015.
Eru’s entire writing career hinged on the moment he submitted a short story about a cup of Milo at his Nanny’s.
He now prefers black coffee.