Writers Talk – Tina Makareti

Posted on Jan 8, 2014 | Comments Off on Writers Talk – Tina Makareti


Kia ora, welcome to Tina Makereti, award-winning short story, novelist and nonfiction writer, who also tutors in Life Writing at Massey University, Wellington.  Tina talks about her writing life…

Story — which comes first — subject, characters, story or place — or other?

If I’m very lucky, I get some fully formed lines. Maybe just a sentence or a phrase. Often an idea for a story comes from something I’ve seen or read, maybe a walk on the beach – it helps to be daydreaming. But the actual voice, and how to start, can take a while. It usually helps me to wait until I have that voice in my head, or on the page. The voice is often character-based so I guess one of the first things is that the characters have to have a quality of realness for me. I can recognise when I’ve got the voice – I’ve tried writing without it and it feels a bit dull. Also, whenever I’ve kept writing without being confident of the voice, it hasn’t worked. I’ve had to rewrite and rewrite and then maybe after I’ve left it alone awhile I’ll finally hear the voice and then I throw it all out and start completely fresh. That final draft is invariably quite quick.

Planning — do you plan your entire book before you write a word?

No, that would deaden the process for me. I don’t like to get bored – writing is an process of discovery. Often I’ll write scenes I know and am interested in, not necessarily in narrative order. It’s like a puzzle or weaving in many ways – I get different pieces and have to figure out how they fit together. How to finish or fill in the gaps can be like a problem or mystery to solve, so it takes faith that if I just keep working on it, the right element will come into play. There’s a great deal of pleasure in discovering what the story is about or how it will end.  Having said that, I did do quite a bit of planning while writing Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings because it was much larger and more complicated than a short story. But it was a continual process of review, and I really didn’t know how it was all going to work out until the last draft, which had a very different narrative order than the one before it.

Rituals — are there any rituals you like to observe before you sit down to write? 

Starting early with a clear space at the desk (and head) is good. I don’t think I can read before writing. I try not to be too stringent so that I can fit in writing around Everything Else, but I do aim for 1000 words a day when I’m working on a project, and I tend to get quite agitated when I don’t achieve that.

Rejection — how do you handle rejection?

The only time I find rejection quite hard is when I’m hoping for financial support for a project and I know that not getting through means not writing. I’ve been momentarily grumpy or sad about rejections in the past but it just doesn’t last, and as I’ve gone on I’ve found various types of rejections more and more useful. Invariably I go over the draft and improve it if it needs improvement, which it often does. Use the rejections to your benefit, I reckon. I know Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings wouldn’t be what it is without the rejections it got when I thought it was ready and it wasn’t.

Success— where were you when you learned your first piece of work had been accepted by editor or publisher?

I remember talking to Brian from Huia Publishers while I was in the Paraparaumu Library.  I don’t think that was the first though, maybe just the largest to that point. Usually I’m looking at my computer screen. When there’s a phone call though, you know it’s big.


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Writers Talk – Adrienne Jansen

Posted on Oct 16, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk – Adrienne Jansen

Adrienne08Kia ora, I’ve known Adrienne ever since I began teaching at Whitireia but I knew her books before then so it was a thrill to meet her in person.  She’s a good friend and colleague and we tend to laugh at the same things which is always a good sign.  Here she talks about her writing life and her latest novel The Score… 

Story — which comes first — subject, characters, story or place — or other?

With The Score it was the first chapter that came first. Out of the blue. No idea where the idea came from. I had had an idea of doing a collection of connected short stories about a group of people who live in council flats, but that never involved a piano.

I think in general it’s a situation that characters find themselves in that I start from. There’s a novel I’ll publish next year that is about a shooting. It’s come from a real event. I spent two or three years thinking about that situation and those characters (and asking myself whether it was my story to write) before I embarked on it.

But there was another question which was crucial in the writing of that story, and it’s the question to ask of the main character — what does he really want? When I asked that question of the main character, the book took a different direction.

 Planning — do you plan your entire book before you write a word? 

No. Well, sometimes. With Spirit Writing I did have the story planned entirely before I started writing – I’d written it as an idea for a film that I was asked for, then decided I’d rather use it myself for a novel. But half way through the writing, the story changed course dramatically. I can actually remember sitting there thinking, if this choice is made, the story will go this way, and if that choice is made, the story will go somewhere else entirely.

With The Score the story unfolded over a weekend. But then there was of course a great deal of work to do on it, but the bones of the story were there. I’m torn – part of me thinks that planning a novel entirely before you write it is sensible, and for someone like me it might save a lot of time – but there’s another part of me that would like to just start with a sentence and follow my nose. I remember Maurice Gee talking about one of his novels when he did just that. It’s risky, but it also might deliver something that you’d never normally tap into.


No I don’t have many rituals, because I haven’t had many stretches of time when I write consistently. I guess having a coffee is a bit of a ritual. When I wrote the first draft of The Score, it was over January, and the weather was nice, and every morning I went and wrote outside — with a coffee — and I think about that time with great pleasure.

Rejection — how do you handle rejection?

I can remember early on a couple of times when I felt shattered – I’d expected a lot and of course it didn’t happen. But I’ve really tried to cultivate an attitude of , just send it off and don’t bother too much, and it’s quite useful. I think an absolute bottom-line belief in yourself is pretty useful too. One thing I’ve tried to do with publishers if I’ve sent a large manuscript, is to write and thank them. No matter what they say. Not if it’s a standard little rejection note, but if they’ve taken the trouble to comment, I try to say thanks. After all they don’t have to. And it’s amazing how it defuses things. Quite a long time ago I sent a manuscript to a publisher and they wrote back and said, our reader found this almost unreadable. Well you can’t get much worse than that — but I wrote back and thanked them.   NZ’s a small country and I’ve run into that publisher since then and there’s no hard feelings there (and I did eventually publish that ‘unreadable book’ after a lot more work).

Success — where were you when you learned your first piece of work had been accepted by editor or pubisher?

I can’t remember. What happened was that I did a writing course and as a result for the first time in my life I sent some work off various places, and it pretty much all got accepted. And I didn’t know how lucky I was. So I was a bit blase about it. It was only later that I realised how incredibly fortunate I’d been. (But when I was about eight, I used to send things into the Children’s Page in the Evening Post, and there was always that exciting thing when something of yours got published — and they’d give points and maybe if you were lucky you’d get five or six points — and when you got 100 points you got your photo in the paper. I’ve still got my photo).

The Score by Adrienne Jansen is available from bookshops nationwide — if they don’t stock it ask them to order it for you — or from Escalator Press www.escalatorpress.co.nz. $28.00.

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Writers Talk – Robynanne Milford

Posted on Oct 9, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk – Robynanne Milford

Bella sep 09 ra pics2 016Kia ora, I’ve known Robynanne since the early 80s in Auckland when she and I were part of Womenspirit, a  writer’s group that I always think of with great affection — we all wrote some amazing things and published three books which was a huge achievement.  As well saw each other through some good and bad times and had great parties … here’s Robynanne…


Usually an emotional response will initiate a poem.


Occasionally a poem will come out almost complete but mostly I research around the topic and explore the dictionary and thesaurus for just the “right” word.

While writing I am excited by writing at various levels say about a train journey, which is in fact an emotional journey with double entendre on a word.


First thing in the morning, last thing at night has a aubade result. So have pen and paper by the bed. Mostly I write at the kitchen table, but the back of a bus ticket is all good.


…is expected. Sometimes it feels that nobody gets me and why continue. However this is what I am, what I am configured to do; how I make sense of my world.


Occasional. But I had a goal and having achieved this I have to move the goal posts and keep moving them…

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Writers Talk – Robyn Bargh & Huia Publishers

Posted on Oct 2, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk – Robyn Bargh & Huia Publishers

Robyn5I first met Robyn when I was seeking a publisher for my novel, The Skeleton Woman and I loved the way Huia worked.  I wanted to include publishers in Writers Talk and she was the obvious choice.  I admire Huia Publishers and think Robyn is a hero — she had a dream and with the help of her husband, Brian, her whanau and a host of good people, she realised that dream.  It is a real privilege for WednesdayBusk to publish this interview.  Here’s Robyn…   

Your first idea about Huia — where did the idea come from?

I have always been a keen reader and the thought of working with books every day seemed like a fantastical dream. In 1980 we went to live in Papua New Guinea and I was thrilled to get my first job in publishing as a researcher/editor at the University of Papua New Guinea. When we came back to New Zealand I worked in government departments in Wellington editing and producing all kinds of publications. By 1990 I was forming the idea of starting a business that focused on publishing works by Māori writers. I was increasingly aware that New Zealand literature didn’t represent the Māori world that I lived in. The people I knew and the range of Māori and cross- cultural settings that my family and friends inhabit could only rarely be found in our literature.

So, in 1991 I set up Huia Publishers with the support of my husband Brian and the rest of my whānau. My mother Hepora Young wrote several works in Māori, my Dad was our first receptionist and muffin supplier and the whole whānau was required to help with everything from cleaning the office to acting as ‘rent a crowd’ for book launches.

Why did you call it Huia? (Great name)

A number of reasons. My own name is Rangihuia so it seemed to fit. The use of Huia made it easier to develop a logo. And with more thought it became clearer that our task is to enable the Huia that is Māori literature to fly again as a legacy of our tūpuna.

How did you go about it?

Naivety is a wonderful thing! I got an office, a computer and phone and called myself a business. It was a bit tricky persuading the first authors that this was a credible business and I pay tribute to the first two authors who trusted me with their work — Apirana Taylor and James Ritchie. By this time I had over ten years’ experience editing and producing all kinds of publications but I had to learn fast about the commercial book trade. And the key maxim of a business – you have to earn more than you spend.

How did you get the right people?  

Businesses evolve and the trick is to have the right people for the time. I have been fortunate that in most cases the right people seem to arrive at the right time. These days we recruit mostly on attitude — we have about 20 staff and we look for people who are positive and solution-focused. There are a lot of challenges in publishing and we need people who can embrace change, work with the rest of the team to resolve any issues and celebrate our successes.

How did you find the writers?

In 1995 we started the Huia Short Story Awards for Māori writers, this has now become the biennial Pikihuia Awards. We wanted to find out how many Māori writers there were and find ways to support them in their writing development. We now have a core group of Māori writers — some have become published writers and a number have demonstrated that they are writing at a fairly high level as they are being judged finalists or winners each year, even though the judges may be different.

We also have an increasing number of Māori academics with diverse perspectives on all manner of topics — history, politics, health, education, science and art. So, the range of views we are now publishing provide a window into the fast-changing, complex Māori world of today.

When did you start the educational resources arm?  

From the time we first started the business we were under pressure from kura kaupapa Māori to produce resources in Māori language. At that time all Ministry of Education contracts went to Learning Media. But we slowly found funding from other sources, eg, TePuni Kōkiri, and began producing educational materials. Then in 1995 we won a contract from the Ministry of Education Since then we have produced hundreds of teaching and learning materials, mostly in Māori. These materials focus on providing Māori perspectives and, for the students, validate Māori knowledge. The education team is now the biggest part of our business.

What have been the challenges – have they changed?

The challenges of running a business are basically the same three:

  • you have to earn more than you spend;
  • you have to be able to adapt to change; and
  • you have to take your team with you – they have to understand where you are going, agree with the destination and know how they can help the company to get there.

Publishing is changing — technology is forcing it to — what are your thoughts on e-books and the future of them?

Technology has been a major area of change in the last twenty years in publishing. The way we produce books, the way we market and distribute them and the way we read them have all changed immensely. I love reading e-books — I can load up my e-reader and take books with me wherever I go. But they will never replace books. With changes in technology we have to constantly keep everything up to date and replace our computers, phones, tablets, e-readers, and CD players.

However, despite all this change — a book is a book is a book. I ensure I have a hard copy of every book that I want to keep, whether I just want to look at it every now and then for inspiration or check on some facts, or I want to read it over and over again.

What do you see as Huia’s future?

I hope that HUIA will continue into the future. We have put in place a company of positive, innovative people with a common vision and a passion for publishing. I am sure that HUIA will have an enduring future.

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Writers talk — Mary-Jane Duffy

Posted on Sep 25, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers talk — Mary-Jane Duffy

MJIMG_5426Mary-Jane and I met at Whitireia and it was after that I discovered she was a poet and what was great was she was working on a collection set around women in Paris in the 1920s.  One of the my two favourite decades of writing – and when I heard her read her poems I loved them.  Here’s Mary-Jane…

Which comes first?  Idea? Topic?  Line?

I have been mostly inspired by subjects — the drama of content as I read it called recently – and images. But recently the poetry of everyday language has been a starting point – things I hear in the media or things people say. Like there was a story on the radio about a dioxin plant in New Plymouth and the journalist talked about ‘contamination remediation’. I was so struck by the sound of ‘contamination remediation’ and the meaninglessness of it… haven’t done anything with it yet, but I will!

Planning – do you plan your entire poem before you write a word?

I have notebooks full of ideas and beginnings and middles and endings so if I’m stuck I go through one and patch stuff together that seems to fit. I think the short answer is, no planning. I like the sense of the poem writing itself or revealing itself to me. The other day for instance I was stuck by our collective use of the word ‘together’ so I wrote something that just works its way through all those uses with a bit of narrative underlay. I love that about poems – the way they can just unfold on the page.

Rituals — are there any riutals you like to observe before you sit down to write?

It depends what I’m working on — rereading would be my only one. My main problem until this year was to have any ritual for writing ie. any routine. In January I went to an art writing workshop in Auckland and the woman taking it talked about the need to fit writing into your life. She gets up half an hour earlier each day to work on her writing. So that got me thinking where I could fit writing into my day. That turns out to be on the train. So now each day when I catch the train I have an hour each way of writing. I was self conscious at first but now it’s ‘whatever just let me at it…’ This has been extraordinarily productive.

Rejection — how do you handle rejection?

I’m so used to rejection that I am more likely to expect it than the opposite. I have a spreadsheet where I keep track of the places I have sent my poems and that’s quite depressing reading… This experience has made me very slack about submitting as much as I should. And that’s also bad because the more you are trying to get things out there, the more likely you are working on things… but 2013 has been a good year on the acceptances front.

Success — and where were you when you learned your first poem had been accepted for publication?

I can’t remember where I was when I learned that Sport would publish a couple of my poems — probably at work I think. From memory the news came in an email and I was naturally ecstatic.

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Writers Talk — Frances Cherry

Posted on Sep 11, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk — Frances Cherry

Frances me by B MurisonKia ora. I have known Frances for ages — we’ve been writers forever, we’ve marched for the same causes, laughed at the same jokes, enjoy a glass of wine.  We don’t see so much of each other these days because we live on different ends of the Wellington region and because we’re both busy — but I know, if I asked Frances for help, she’d be there in  flash…come in Frances…

Story — which comes first — subject, characters, story or place — or other?

I have a vague idea of the story I want to write. Sometimes the subject comes first and sometimes it is the characters. To me writing is a discovery. Once I believe in the characters things happen that I haven’t always expected. I love creating worlds that I live in and believe in and I can’t wait to get back to them each day. In a way writing is like reading, I want to know what is going to happen next. I surprise myself.

Planning — do you plan your entire book before you write a word?

No I don’t plan the entire book. I sort of know deep inside me. I never discuss it with others while I’m in the process of writing it because I would lose something. I’m in this special believable (to me)world. This is the best time. Waiting to hear if a work has been accepted is the worst.

Rituals — are there any rituals you like to observe before you sit down to write?

I get up around 6-30 every morning and go for a long walk up the hills. Then I come back and do my own version of yoga exercises, have a shower, make a cup of tea, read the paper and do the code cracker. I love that ritual. Then I make my breakfast, and after that get to the computer and sit there for hours with a break for lunch when I watch Emmerdale, I’ve watched it for years. I often work until 4pm.

Rejection — how do you handle rejection? 

I’m getting used to rejection these days and it’s been a shock. I do moan to friends in the same position . . . but onwards and upwards. I will find a way. I’ve just written my memoir, in fact I was asked to by a publisher who can’t look at it for some time yet. I’ve had a wonderful rejection from Harriet Allan at Random House. She praised it highly but the three others they published didn’t do well enough so she was very sorry to reject it. I’m basically a positive person and will get there somehow.

Success — where were you when you learned your first piece of work had been accepted by editor or pubisher?

I was in a class run by Christine Cole-Catley and a story I wrote in her class, Down to Earth, was accepted by Ian Cross in the actual class. He was the then editor of the Listener and had come to talk to us and also listen to some of our work.

I heard about my first book when I got off the plane after coming back from America. What a thrill that was. The book was called The Daughter-in-Law and other stories.

I have had many stories published in the school journals and think it is a disaster that this extremely important institution has been closed down.

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Writers Talk — Lynn Jenner

Posted on Aug 28, 2013 | 1 comment

lynn jenner author photoKia ora, I first met Lynn when I was asked to take a class for a tutor who was sick.  This was a first year class in script writing.  Then we met again as students in a year 2 poetry class tutored byLynn Davidson.  A great year and a great class.  One of those special years that whenever I meet one of the seven student who was in that fabulous class we all agree, it was a great year.   If you haven’t read Lynn’s book, Dear Sweet Harry, get it today and read it.  Some of her poems in this book began their life in that class.

A writer of work in no clear genre is how Lynn describes herself…here’s Lynn…

Idea — which comes first — subject, form, a line? Or other?

Other. I often write about things that are happening. The trigger might be an image, or a sound, or a feeling. My picture of this is that life is rushing by, a bit like a river in flood, and sometimes I see things in the water and wonder what they are or what they mean. Mostly they rush on past me, and in a few days I have forgotten about them, but occasionally I manage to write about them. Actually, that’s how I know to start writing… if I havent forgotten something after a few days. The act of writing holds everything in place for a while and stops these things from disappearing before Ive had a chance to really think about them. I realise that this makes me very much an ‘ideas’ writer, as opposed to a ‘language play’ writer. At the same time, writing is to share, and I want readers to feel deeply, as I do, about the things I am exploring. I have learned that writing is a place where I can be as strange as I like, as long as the writing is, in some way, clear, in some way surprising and working in some emotional territory that matters to me and other people. I have tried writing from a form, but mostly I end up abandoning it because the idea takes over and makes its own form. I wish I began writing with a phrase or words, like the best poets, but I don’t. That’s how I know I belong more in the hybrid territory than in ‘pure’ poetry-land. Love the one you’re with, I say.

Planning — do you plan your entire work before you write a word?

NO. I just start and keep going until the parts that matter arrive. I never know what the point is going to be, otherwise I would not be doing it. See above…

Rituals — are there any rituals you like to observe before you sit down to write? 

No. I just start. Often, for longer work, I have left myself some idea of what to start with from the previous session, but if it is new work, then no, there is no easy way. I just open a document and start. This moment never gets any easier, I find.

Rejection — how do you handle rejection?

When I first started writing a friend told me she allocates herself 24 hours to sulk after a rejection [of her writing] and then moves on. It was helpful to have her permission to sulk, and because she said 24 hours was OK, I often find I don’t need that many. Thanks to Helen Lehndorf for that and many other freeing thoughts.
I guess that having had my work workshopped by lots of people, I have kind of gotten over the idea that it would or could appeal to everyone. I have learned: some people are your readers, and some aren’t.

I’m not a great submitter. I do everything else first, and then thank goodness, it gets dark, and no one has to submit at night. I am easily over-awed by famous names too. All this leads me to make quite conservative decisions about where I send work. If I can’t picture my work amongst what a journal publishes, then I don’t submit it to that journal. It can work the other way too… If I find the work in a particular journal exciting, then I might send work there. Just by the way, I have recently been very interested by the UK free online journal Five Dials.

Success – and where were you when you learned your first poem had been accepted for publication?

The first poem I had published was in a journal called Spin, in 2004. The poem was one that wrote itself – based on a tidal wave of emotion – in my first poetry class at Whitireia. The poem was a ‘mash-up’ of my words and a song by Neil Finn. I think the year had ended by the time the poem was published, and I was back home, thinking about how to do more of that sort of thing. It was four years before I sent anything else away or had anything else published, because although I kept writing, nothing seemed to work. Now I can see that none of that was wasted. It’s never wasted.

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Writers Talk — Jenny Pattrick

Posted on Aug 21, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk — Jenny Pattrick

Jenny PattrickLike the rest of the country and many overseas readers, I loved Denniston Rose and its sequels – and all the other novels Jenny has written.  I visited Denniston Plateau last year and as I stood there, imagined what it must have been like for the women who lived on that plateau – some of whom found the trip up the incline so hideous that they never went down again and I was glad all over again that Jenny had alerted me to theirlives and their stories…  

Here’s Jenny…

Story — which comes first — subject, characters, story or place — or other?

It’s often place that comes first with me. A dramatic place can add drama — particularly one with an interesting history. When I set Catching the Current partly in the Faroe Islands, I had to go there to get a feel of it — a long journey, but worth it. The place often gives me a clue about the subject or theme. Then come the characters. I write down the back history of the main characters so that I know them well before I start. Of course then I may change them or add new characters.

Planning — do you plan your entire book before you write a word?

No. I may have a general idea of where I want to end up but often this changes. As I get into the novel,  I may plot ahead a few chapters, but even these change as I go along. The hardest part of planning for me, and the one that takes longest, is finding the right voice.

Rituals — are there any rituals you like to observe before you sit down to write? 

I’d like to say I get up early and write before I do anything else. Once I did!  Now I have breakfast, read the paper, feed the tui, any other displacement activity that comes to mind. I am slightly addicted to Spider Solitaire on the computer so if I’m feeling sloppy, I allow myself one game before I start writing and tell myself I’m sharpening up my brain. Perhaps it’s true!

Rejection — how do you handle rejection?

Denniston Rose was rejected several times. The letter I got from Penguin was particulary damning and it hurt me badly. I cried. I put the rejection letters away and went back to making jewellery. Six months later I took out a rather encouraging rejection letter and tried to rewrite along the lines suggested. Then sent the new ms to a script advisor. She said to throw away the new stuff and develop the old. Very disheartening. So that was a year’s work down the drain.

I don’t rage or dump on others; just go quiet. I rewrote according to her and others’ suggestions. Finally when Random House decided to take a punt on a historical novel, I had been trying to get it published for four or five years. The fact that I was older and tougher helped me to persevere, I suppose. If Random hadn’t accepted I would have given up writing I think. Since the success of Denniston Rose, I haven’t had to deal with rejection.

Success — where were you when you learned your first piece of work had been accepted by editor or pubisher?

I was at Rangataua, a tiny settlement, beloved of our family and where the novel I’m writing now is set. It has very poor cell-phone reception. I knew Random House was about to make its decision, so instructed Laughton my husband, who was at home, how to access my email. He phoned through the news, but only got as far as ‘Yes the news has come through…’ when the phone went dead. I ran outside into the snow and stood there waiting for him to try again. This time he said it all in one sentence. They were going to publish and they felt bullish about it! I went inside and my daughter and grandchildren danced with me around the kitchen singing Lenard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.

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Writers Talk — Hinemoana Baker

Posted on Aug 14, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk — Hinemoana Baker

HinemoanaIdea — which comes first — subject, form, a line? Or other?

I try to let language lead me into a poem, rather than having an ‘idea’ to write about. Often the idea comes about anyway, but it usually has more wisdom or surprise if I can let the words lead me rather than bossing them around too much.

Planning — do you plan your entire poem before you write a word?

Nope. That said, I do enjoy writing to an exercise, or a set of constraints, sometimes. Write a poem which includes these five words…or write a poem with ten lines and no word is allowed to be repeated… etc.

Rituals — are there any riutals you like to observe before you sit down to write?

I wish I could say ‘yes’ to this, but to be honest, I just grab time whenever I can. Often it’s when I’m on the train. I don’t even write in a consistent kind of journal. Some poems I type my first and subsequent drafts, some are all hand-written till the last minute. Nothing is repeated, ritual-wise, from poem to poem, I’m afraid.

Rejection — how do you handle rejection?

I certainly handle it a lot better than I used to. That’s because I’m more confident about my own work, I guess. Also, I understand what it’s like to be an editor now, and I know that I sometimes get fantastic work sent to me that I’ll still say no to only because it doesn’t fit well with the rest of material I’m curating for that particular project. Nowadays I crave honest, even brutal, feedback more and more, so rejection can be really valuable on that level: like a very short and to-the-point critique (depending on how much respect I have for the opinions of those giving it).

Success —  and where were you when you learned your first poem had been accepted for publication?

I was about 24, I think, and it was to be published in a literary journal, and I was chuffed. I was doing a creative writing course at Vic, just a one-semester thing through the English Department with Bill Manhire. It was a poem about my friend Kate, who had visited my flat when I was out. When I got home I found she had left me a dozen red apples. Perhaps I’ll dig up that poem for you next time, Renée 


Please do Hinemoana, R

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Writers Talk — Dinah Hawken

Posted on Jul 31, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk — Dinah Hawken

 Dinah HawkenI’ve know and loved Dinah’s work ever since I picked up her first collection, probably at Unity Books,  sometime in the 80s in Auckland.  

 What comes first?

Different poems have different beginnings. Some poems arise from a feeling — say joy, anger, sadness — in response to something I see, read or something that is happening in my life. The poem is fuelled by the feeling but the actual starting point itself is almost always a phrase or a line that comes into my mind and appeals. (Often when I’m walking or writing in my journal.) For example I have a friend with early onset Alzheimers and a line that kept coming back to me, after visiting her, was ‘flowers mean nothing to her now’ and I knew it was a possibility for a poem. A number of poems I have written have been commissioned; for example a poem for the Parihaka Exhibition, or more recently poems about stones. Then I might do a lot of reading and thinking before and during the time of writing — which might be several months. Occasionally I have an intuitive attraction to a certain form, or line length, and that might start me off. I know what I want the poem to look like on the page, before I know what it is going to be, but usually the form comes later during the writing.


No I don’t plan a poem beforehand, apart from sometimes doing the research I’ve mentioned above when I’ve been given a theme. A large part of the joy of writing for me is the surprise and spontaneity of the process itself. I think you can tell a poem that is too thought-out: there is a predictability or dullness about it. I also enjoy the hard craft of shaping, accuracy, editing: the problem-solving aspect of poetry.


I work best when I have a writing routine. At the moment I write four mornings a week and I begin by doing Tai Chi Chuan for half an hour or so beforehand. It seems to put me into a calm, open kind of state that seems very helpful for writing. Sometimes I write in my journal beforehand as well and that often sparks language or ideas. At the end of a poem I often seem to end up with a search on my hands for a particular word or line. Then it’s often good to go for a walk on the beach and muse.


I haven’t had too many rejections of individual poems but I have had two nasty reviews of individual books. Because my poetry feels strongly connected with who I am I‘ve felt misunderstood by the reviews, especially the last one where the reviewer really seemed to loathe my work. I found that quite mystifying. However most reviews have been good and I really appreciate those where the reviewer understands what’s going on and sometimes sees more behind the poems than I’m conscious of. As writers we’re all at different levels and I’ve come to realize that those I think of as very successful, don’t necessarily think of themselves as successful, because they’re uncertain too and judge themselves by different standards. However there is nothing like recognition, whatever and wherever we’re up to.


I was living in New York when my first two poems were published in the Listener and though I was thrilled I felt a bit removed. The big moment for me was when, back in Wellington, I heard that VUP had accepted my first manuscript of poems for publication. It was something I could never have imagined earlier in my life, being a quiet girl from Taranaki, and so it was unbelievably exciting. That book also won the first best book section of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize and, perhaps surprisingly, I wasn’t delighted but daunted at the thought of expectations and any kind of public attention. That was the quiet girl from Taranaki too.

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Writers Talk — Elizabeth Smither

Posted on Jul 24, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk — Elizabeth Smither

Elizabeth July 21 DSC_0067I’ve known Elizabeth’s novels and poems for a while now and I love them.  Then in 2007 when I did the year-long poetry course at Whitireia Polytechnic (Lynn Davidson the tutor), Elizabeth was my mentor and she was brilliant.  It was a great and very enjoyable year and I came to the conclusion that every writer, whatever the genre, certainly every writer of plays, should do that course.  

Here’s Elizabeth…

Story — which comes first?

It’s usually a sentence – remembering how important first sentences are. Before that there might be a character or an idea, a vague outline but nothing fixed. I’m a great believer in putting down a word and having another word join it. Imagine a scene: perhaps a seat in a park. Someone comes and sits on the seat. You describe them: their clothing, their movements. Do they have a handbag? Do they eat a sandwich? And when they get up you follow them. You notice everything about them. Are their shoes scuffed? Is there a piece of cotton trailing from a hem? This is the way a story is built up. At their home or flat there will be furniture, an unmade bed, a flatmate or solitude.

Planning — do you plan your entire book before you write a word?

I do the exact opposite — I let the words lead me on and I generally have no idea where they are going. Sometimes, if I have been writing a descriptive passage, it’s time for some dialogue. The fiercer the dialogue is the better: it can move the story in a way a description of wallpaper cannot. Like music there is a need for reflective passages as well as bold ones.


I try to avoid them because they can become rigid and inhibiting. I like to write quite early in the morning when I feel fresh. One of the most mysterious things about writing is that a writing session in the morning will be quite different from one in the afternoon. It is as if an endless stream of words and ideas are passing in front of us and we can seize them at any time. It’s good to say to yourself: I can write anywhere.

On Rejection — some very good advice…

It’s very very important not to be undone by it. There can be many causes: another similar piece may have been accepted; there is a huge backlog of submissions; there is a list of regular contributors with greater reputations than yours. Don’t take it personally. If you are invited to send a future submission don’t do it too soon: no editor wants to be bombarded. Always be polite to editors: they make the decisions. But be dignified too. Keep a submission letter very short: don’t explain the work, let it speak for itself. By all means have a glass of pinot noir.


My first success came in an envelope. Ian Cross had taken two poems for the Listener. ‘You’ll probably be over the moon,’ he wrote in his covering letter, and I was.

Elizabeth Smither

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Writers Talk — Sandi Sartorelli

Posted on Jul 10, 2013 | 1 comment

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I first met Sandi when she came to a class I was teaching for Whitireia Polytechnic on nonfiction and later in a Summer Poetry Workshop run by Hinemoana Baker. That same year Sandi was part of another Whitireia class  of mine where she wrote a draft of her poetry collection, Calling Down the Sky.   Her poem Medusa was the first poem published on WednesdayBusk.


 If I have a starter idea for a poem, I call it a ‘stub.’ A stub could be almost anything —  a line of dialogue, a character, a scenario, found content, a story, a subject idea, my thoughts about an image, a question, or a new idea about a connection between two things. It could be a list. On a good day I’ll be disciplined enough to jot it down. It might be as short as one word, or as long as half a page.

If I sit down to write and there are no stubs to go from, I write randomly until a promising paragraph occurs. There’s my stub.

Form comes second. If I have an intention to use a particular form, I’ll still use a stub to start the poem off. Unless it’s a sestina. So far I’ve only written four of those, but I enjoy how the sestina form generates the content from beginning to end.


I find planning useful, particularly if I want to write a group of poems within a theme. I might have an outline, but I don’t try to plan an entire poem because the poem will evolve during the writing process. Sometimes I think I’m writing about something innocent like ‘lamingtons’ and discover deeper layers of thinking in the poem that have come from my subconcious. Often I don’t completely cotton on to what I’m writing about until quite late.


I can’t start the day well without a coffee in me. Before I write, and if I have my computer with me I’ll read all my emails, and then play few games of spider solitaire or sudoku. If it’s solitaire I have to win, and if it’s sudoku I must solve the puzzle within a time limit. Once that’s acheived I can begin to write.


I go for a stiff upper lip, but it makes me feel pretty grumpy. I try not to make a lot of noise about it but if I happen to hear other poets grumbling, I’ll join right in. Like many vices, it’s better in good company.

My strategy is to always have several pieces under consideration for different journals or competitions. That way, there’s always hope for another piece of work. It softens the blow.


When a piece of my work is accepted for publication, I feel a sense of elation that’s way out of proportion. It’s a feeling that sustains me for weeks and months. The first time I had a poem published was in Valley Micropress. It gave me a huge buzz to know that other readers would read my work. What a thrill to see my name in print for the first time. I enjoy that recognition, but for me the big deal with publication is that it completes the poem. When a poem finds a reader, that is the final part of the process. It’s very satisfying.

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Writers Talk — Renée

Posted on Jun 25, 2013 | 1 comment

ReneeI thought seeing I invited other writers to answer these question I’d better front up and do it myself.  


I never never ‘get’ the story straight away – doesn’t matter how many plans I make, how many character sketches I write, how much I think I’ve got it. For example with Too Many Cooks I didn’t start with a story at all — but with a character, that of Hester. She didn’t come fully formed either. It seems I have to learn about the characters as I go.

What I had was a very clear idea of the style I wanted. Funny, sharp, clever — and occasionally real and touching. I wanted theatre to be part of the story, for someone or two to talk about plays, themes, playwrights.

I decided to resurrect Porohiwi, the place I invented in earlier novels. Porohiwi had an East Coast character and landscape. I decided to move it around the corner and down the road a bit. So — using the magic that writers are able to call on, I moved Porohiwi over to the West Coast and down the North Islanda bit to where it now lives.

I believe in trusting the reader. I believe readers are bright and they can be trusted to make connections and remember links. I always have a lot of characters, a group of main ones but a lot of subsidiary ones. I like the feel of reality that it gives me. Sometimes readers find the number of characters a problem and I’m sorry about that. I tell them hang on, just hang on, it will be okay.

Other readers say bring them on — this is exactly how I live…


As far as I can tell there are two main schools of thought on this. One is to plan everything in specific detail, the story, the characters, the journey of the story and that of the characters, their outward and inward journeys. It works really well and means the writer knows exactly where they’re going. I admire this method immensely.

The second way is the way I work which has evolved over the years. I didn’t know it had a name until I read an interview with James Lee Burke and he called it ‘incremental discoveries ‘ — a term that basically means an act of faith. You make a deal with incremental discoveries — they will keep happening but only as long as you keep working.

This the the deal — you still go ahead and make the plan, still think about the story, the characters, the setting, but you know, know, that a lot of it will be altered, rearranged, scrapped. Sometimes it takes (or seems) ages for an incremental discovery to come along but if you keep working it will happen. I’ve been doing it long enough now to absolutely know it will work as long as I keep working but it’s not easy for someone who finds it hard to keep working.

The secret is to know exactly what style you’re aiming for because you can spend quite a lot of time fiddling with style to get it right (or as right as you can) and by the time you’ve got a difficult passage right, there will be an incrememntal discovery which will push the story forward.

I’m not sure I admire this method in the same way as I do the planning everything method but I do understand it’s the one I’m stuck with so here’s to incremental discoveries…


The kitchen has to be tidy. I have to have a cup of hot coffee at the side (yes I know I’m not supposed to eat or drink around the computer, I bet a man wrote that advice) which I forget once I start working — I never finish those cups of coffee.

I generally go over what I wrote yesterday — a bit like an athlete warming up – or someone jumping up and down on a springboard — it kind of underlines where I’ve been and where — presumably — I’m going. I think about the characters all the time I’m not working on the computer and make up stories and situations which never get any further than my brain.

I’m not sure if this is a ritual but I lose myself in the work — I’ve always had the ability to focus very singlemindedly either when I’m working or reading. People have to knock and shout loudly at the door for me to even realise they’re there — I’m not keen on being interrupted anyway. Friends know this. If they come to the door the first thing they always say is, ‘I’m not stopping but do you want some apples?’

I make up for my unwelcoming manner this by baking a lot and sharing it around a lot.


I hate it — I suffer. I take it all in, keep it to myself and suffer. I repeat the words over and over again and each time they are more wounding. Oh yes, I suffer. In silence mainly. Outwardly I act philosophical and shruggy. Who cares? I do, I scream inwardly. I care. I do.

At night I’ll put on a DVD of Leonard Cohen or Etta James and open a bottle of red wine. Sing all the sad songs along with them. Ah life. I have a long memory. I never forget a bad review.


Love it. In any form. Whether it’s a comment from an individual reader, from an editor, from an actor, a director, or an award.

The day I learned an editor had accepted a piece of humorous writing of mine, (typed on a secondhand typewriter using two fingers and necessitating many copies before I got the pristine one I sent off), I thought — oh yes, this is it, I’ve made it, I’m a writer. It was a great feeling.

Success — if there were any justice in the world it would happen every day. What I really want is a glassful of success served every day with my breakfast please. Okay? Okay? And maybe another one last thing at night…

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Writers Talk — Ruth Renner

Posted on Jun 12, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk — Ruth Renner

Ruth June 12 dfiegcaaI met Ruth Renner in the 80s in Auckland — and then one Saturday morning I was listening to National Radio’s country programme and here was this interesting interview that really got me hooked and the best thing was, at the end, there was an invitation and a link to what has turned out to be one of my very favourite  online journals (Ruth, I’ve got to say one of because of course I love WednesdayBusk best). Diggers Valley journal  www.diggersvalley.co.nz  covers the weekly happenings on Digger Valley Farm which is run by Ruth and her partner, Stephan.  I love the life it portrays and Ruth not only conveys that in writing but also  in the wonderful photographs she takes.

Every year I go in the competition to guess the birthing time of one of the calves and sa far have not been successful but I got close last year.  I chose the right date but the wrong time.  Hope on hope ever.

Here’s Ruth…

I write non-fiction, so the characters or story already exist. My job is to extract and present them.


Writing my journal (still can’t stand to call it a blog) is reasonably easy, associated with the things I see and note, and the photographs I take. I often take pictures with captions or explanations in mind. If a phrase or impression I think particularly clever or amusing comes to mind, I will note it down, because I’ll be bound to forget it and not be nearly as clever later.

Longer pieces come about as commentary on life in general or something sparked by an event in my immediate vicinity. Because I’m writing on-line, any planning I do is in giving careful thought to the impression I wish to leave.

When writing my magazine columnNZ Lifestyle Block  http://www.nzlifestyleblock.co.nz/ I usually start writing first, then see where my idea has taken me. A plan then comes in to play because I have 1500 words in which to present the idea or a number of pieces of information and must ensure I get everything covered as I mean to and concluded satisfactorily. I enjoy the discipline of that form.


None in particular. I’m rather good at procrastination, so I play games with myself about whether it’s time for a break, depending on how much good work I’ve done.


Because I primarily self-publish, I don’t suffer rejection. I write a monthly column which is also accepted as is, so my experience with writer’s rejection is minimal. I’ve submitted odd small pieces of writing to radio competitions and the like, from which I’ve usually received no response at all. Then I have grumpy conversations in my head about the intelligence of everyone else and their obvious lack of discernment.


When I was first asked to be a contributor to the magazine, the editor phoned me at home. I could hardly believe my good fortune: I have always wanted to write for a living and here was a job I could do from my favourite place, writing about my favourite things, with very little in the way of restrictions.

For the first few … weeks … I’d burst out in song, to the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer”, replacing paperback with Magazine. My dearly beloved generally provided the echo refrain. It really was a thrill.

In a more casual way I have the occasional “acceptance” email in response to my website writings. It gives me great pleasure to be read by other writers and to correspond with them.

I am not an expert writer by any means, my facility with language being a lucky talent. English was my least favourite school subject. I suspect I’d take far more pleasure in it if I were a student now.

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Writers Talk — Sarah Delahunty

Posted on Jun 5, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk — Sarah Delahunty

Sarah Delahunty and Lucy46680_10151217818046580_250327721_n-1Sarah and I are both playwrights but I didn’t get to know her till we were both at Playwrights’ Conference in Hamilton and she was delegated to drive me to and from the venue each day.  We enjoyed talking about plays and when we got  back to Wellington began meeting regularly and writing scripts.  Sarah and I still meet to talk writing and anything else that crops up.  Sarah is a highly regarded playwright, director and drama teacher and the work she does with her students has received many accolades.  She also directs other playwright’s scripts and has just finished directing a production of After Juliet (at Circa) and is now directing Sweeney Todd for Onslow College.  The plays we are writing under the umbrella title A Wild Patience will be presented as readings in September.  Here’s Sarah and her granddaughter Lucy June on Otaki Beach…


I think for me writing plays it is usually something to do with some characters. Something that might happen between them, or something that might change them in some way. I often pinch bits of already existing storylines or characters and twist them to fit a new form or story. I am never teeming with story ideas. Some image of a moment on stage often just sticks in my mind for a few weeks and then it feels inevitable that I have to explore it.


I definitely don’t plan everything before beginning writing. I usually have a beginning pretty quickly and all goes okay for a few pages. Then the struggles starts and sometimes I see where I need to get to but it can take a while to work out how to get there.


I have no rituals except never writing anything unless I have told a group of people I will write them a play by a certain date then sitting down to it far too late and writing in a kind of frenzy in whatever small amounts of spare time I have in the day.


I handle rejection or just critism with outward casual stoicism and inward resentment and grumpiness. I immediately believe all criticism to be objectively true and go through a stage of thinking the whole thing was pointless. Then I get over myself in the end.


My first really good review for a play had to be read several times before it sank in. But generally I just put on my own work myself and avoid the whole issue of whether other people would be prepared to do it.



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Writers talk — Jan Bolwell

Posted on May 22, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers talk — Jan Bolwell

Jan BolwellJan and I have been good friends for a long time. Her production Dancing in the Wake begins its Nation wide tour under the auspices of Arts on Tour NZ  (reviewtour dates). This is a play about Lucia’s troubled journey to be a dancer, daughter of James (Ulysses) and Norah Joyce.


I write plays and non-fiction so initially it is the idea, rather than character and storyline. It rumbles around in my head for sometime before I commit anything to paper. I learned something useful from the renowned Amercian choreographer Twyla Tharp. Tharp has numerous file boxes of different dance ideas, and she simply tosses notes, cuttings etc. into these boxes until she is ready to select one of her boxes and begins to work concentratedly on the idea. I do something similar whether it is a play, memoir or piece of choreography. I find the process of gathering material helps me frame and develop the work.

Planning — do you plan your entire play before you write a word?

Planning is not my strong point. It is something I need to work on — getting a good structure. Actually I am better at doing this when I choreograph than when I write. In writing plays my technique is to write a series of scenes — in no particular order and then play with their sequencing. It can lead to some surprising discoveries. I then have to find the through line of the play and to work to find connecting threads. I like this process – it is intellectually challenging.


Walking is wonderful as a stimulus for thinking about writing. I do it all the time, especially when I am about to launch into working on a new scene. How lucky I am to live beside a beautiful beach! Coffee is always a great idea, and with my laptop I like to vary where I write — sitting up in bed, out in the garden or in our rumpus room. When I was still working for Massey University and on the road a lot, I wrote my plays in a series of motel rooms, and I still associate those plays with particular towns throughout the North Island.


When I began writing plays I decided it was a waste of time to write something that was never going to be staged. How else would I find out whether or not it was any good? All my plays have been staged because I produced them myself. Re other writing I am philospohical about rejections, and I am lucky not to have experienced many rejection letters — so far!


I was in the theatre performing ‘Standing on My Hands’ when Roger Steele came up to me and said he would like to publish Milord Goffredo, the story of my father’s World War 2 experiences.  I’d had academic stuff pubished before but this was my first piece of academic writing.  I was completely astonished and then very happy. Both for my father and for me.

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Writers Talk — Maggie Rainey-Smith

Posted on May 15, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk — Maggie Rainey-Smith

Maggie 4

Kia ora,  I first met Maggie because she was a member of a book club I joined  and I love her work, especially About Turns.  I was one of the first Marching Girls ever (forgotten the date) and, along with my sister,  I marched for the Taradale Marching team. Those were the days.  Here’s Maggie…

What comes first?

My three novels have all been different.  About Turns was first and foremost about the characters.  I had  a strong theme in mind, in particular marching and book clubs (the class thing) and place became really important as the novel evolved.

Turbulence my second novel was partly about me as an author, wanting to prove I could do something different, hence the male voice. Character and place had equal billing because I wanted to write about the ordinary bloke from the Hutt Valley – the kind of guy who perhaps doesn’t usually make protagonist in your hi-brow novel (he’s a factory manager, not an artist, or an intellectual).

My latest effort which is not yet published is definitely story and place and the characters have evolved out of that. I have a lot of characters. In fact, I’ve just killed one character off – I rather liked him, but he was a sub-plot that wasn’t working – now he’s gone. I have my editor to thank for that piece of advice. I’ve struggled to find the right way to tell this story. It has taken six years, but I think I’ve got there. I had to give myself permission. It’s a mother/daughter story with a backdrop of the Greek Civil War, but Wellington too… and I’m not Greek – I’ve struggled to find the right voice … fearful that I wasn’t a good enough writer or didn’t have the right to write it. I knew who my two key characters were (mother and daughter) right from the start, but a host of other characters have arrived, and I quite like them.


My first novel was a delicious unplanned journey with the benefit of a mentor (Barbara Else) and I was such a novice and in some ways that made it easier. She asked to see the first ten thousand words and then said ‘go’ and I’ll look at it when you have 70,000 — it was so exciting to be given the green light. Barbara never once told me what to do, but constantly asked me ‘why’ until finally, even I knew why. It feels in retrospect like a dream, and a lovely one. So, although I didn’t have a plan, I had the benefit of a mentor and that kept me on track I guess. I’ll always be grateful for that.

Looking back now, my second novel happened quite quickly. The whole ‘second novel’ thing… as if I had to get it out there. I knew the beginning and the end, before I started writing it. I don’t think I’m a particularly structured person but I knew who my central character was; this bloke from the Hutt Valley and the novel evolved from there. I think my characters in my first two novels have driven the story along, rather than me.

My third novel has been the biggest challenge and yet I think it is going to be my best. Well, you hope so, don’t you… you want to go on getting better and trying new things. My second novel got very mixed reviews – one great first review on Nine to Noon and there it was downhill. And you know these things have a big impact on your confidence. I think I lost my voice. You have to stay true to yourself, but it’s a strange journey. I knew from the start, what my third novel was about and who my central characters were, but it’s taken me forever to find the right way to tell the story. And in this instance, the story and how it unfolds, is crucial. This time, I’ve had a lot of ‘reader’ feedback (two publishers, publishing students, writer friends and finally my editor) — I feel very fortunate.

As for poems — My best seem to arrive asking to be written. When I actively choose a topic, and try to write about it, it doesn’t work. I have a poem about the Battle of Crete and my Dad and I’ve been trying to make it work since 2001 — one day! I’m trying too hard, I know. I wrote a poem about my brother’s suicide from the Coroner’s Report — it’s been published, but you know, maybe it isn’t as good as it could be. I ran a creative writing class at Arohata one day a week for a few years and the villanelle was such a great tool. I had the pleasure to read and listen to many powerful poems from women who’d never written before — all these emotions able to be contained, and at the same time magnified by the repetition and constraints of the form. Looking back, the villanelle might have been a better choice for this personal poem.

I grew up listening to rhyming doggerel that my Mum used to recite and so rhyme and rhythm are still part of my heart when it comes to poetry — I discovered the difference between poetry and doggerel at Victoria University in 1999 doing the undergraduate Poetry Class — up until then, I’d thought I was writing poetry.


For my first novel, I spent hours vacuuming the house — I thought if I did the housework, I could put off sitting down to write — it was crazy and I had a very clean house, but I did end up with a novel. By the time I wrote my second novel, I calmed down a bit, and it was a trip down the zigzag to get the Dompost and do the crossword… and then I could start writing. Oh, and a cup of coffee.

Over the last six years trying to write my third novel, I’ve wasted hours on Facebook and blogs, procrastinating… pretending to be a writer… it’s a real timewaster, but too, it’s a community and I’ve learned a lot, although I may have learned more by knuckling down to write. I think I need the tension between time to write and outside commitments to feed my natural extroversion. I spend a lot of time alone and love it, but by nature I’m also gregarious, so it’s finding the right balance to keep my creative energy positive. Somewhere I read that Facebook is the water cooler for writers… I probably don’t need quite as much water as I’ve been drinking lately.


I used to take it very intensely – terrified to open emails, knowing they would hold my fate, my hand poised, unable to push ‘open’ heart racing – basically terror. It’s not good for your health. I’ve given up applying for grants or residencies recognising that I’m not in the game… but once my third novel comes out, I might dip my toes back in the water. I’ve come to terms with it now. It’s pretty much part and parcel of a writer’s life. I care, but I don’t despair any more. I feel more at home in my own skin since I completed my third novel. And every now and then I remind myself how lucky I am to be published – try and enjoy what I have achieved instead of fretting about the things I haven’t. But yes, I’ve sobbed, I’ve railed, I’ve been jealous… but it’s not all that useful. Having said that, and sounding so wise and sane, I know too, when I release my third novel, I’ll be vulnerable… it’s inevitable.


One of my first successes was having my short story ‘Let It Go’ accepted for the ‘Creative Juices’ Anthology, edited by Emma Neale. I wrote it while on the Aoraki Creative Writing Course in Timaru run by Owen Marshall. The story has since featured in another anthology ‘Dunedin — The City in literature’ edited by Christine Johnston. It’s a gorgeous little hardback published by Exisle Publishing. I’m between the covers with John A. Lee, Janet Frame and Owen Marshall. It was one of those absolute ‘yes’ moments. In my class were other very talented writers and not all of them had stories accepted. But looking back, I can see that my story just happened to be right for that particular anthology and sometimes it’s just your turn — it doesn’t mean you’re better than other writers necessarily, but it sure gives you a huge boost. I think some very talented writers can get knocked back and never get up – and that’s a shame — but for me, getting published for the first time in an anthology about ‘new writing’ (which includes Paula Morris, Sarah Laing, and Carl Shuker), when I was 52, was just so exciting. I try to remember that, when the going gets tough.


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Writers Talk — Emma Hart

Posted on May 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk — Emma Hart


I came across Emma Hart’s UpFront blog when I went to Public Address, a community of blogs organised by Russell Brown.  Then I read her book of essays, Not Safe for Work and loved it.  Here she is…

Story — which comes first — characters or story or place?

I really wanted to say ‘character’, because I like to think my fiction is more character-focused than plot-driven: why care what happens if you don’t care about the people it happens to? But often, actually, the first thing I have is an object or a visual image. My first published short story was really about an old pewter bowl. The novel I’m working on now started with an image of a big old house. It had an eerie feeling to it, and I needed to discover what had happened there.


I always have an outline before I start, otherwise I forget things. Often, though, plotting rather gets away on me. For long-form fiction, I’ll have an detailed outline, and it’ll get changed dozens of times as I realise that, of course, that’s not what happened, or that’s not the right order of things. I was halfway through my current novel before I worked out what the last scene was.


I am such a delicate little flower with grounding routines for writing. I write best at night, when it’s quiet, at my desk with just the right amount of light. I also use music to create mood for a work, or a particular character. I’ve written 70,000 words to the sound of The Sisters of Mercy’s A Slight Case of Over-Bombing. The select products of Whisky Galore have also been enormously helpful.

Rejection — how do you handle rejection?

I work writing freelance web content, so I cut my teeth getting rejected over work I wasn’t really emotionally attached to, and I think that’s helped me cope. I tend to get short periods of deep dejection, and then I’m over it.
I did get the nicest rejection letter once, from Rachael King. She told me I wrote great dialogue, and I think I’ve treasured that more than some of my acceptances.

Success — where were you when you learned your first piece of work had been accepted by editor or pubisher?

I would have been, in this day and age, at my desk, reading my email. It was, I think, a short story published in the now-defunct Realms of Fantasy magazine. I spent my first writing pay-cheque on a scarlet winter coat which is still one of my Favourite Things.


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Writers Talk — interview with Mandy Hager

Posted on Apr 30, 2013 | Comments Off on Writers Talk — interview with Mandy Hager

mandy author photo jan 2012

 Mandy Hager — award-winning writer, currently finalist in 2013 NZ Post Young Adult Book Award with her novel, The Nature of Ash.  See more about Mandy and her other works plus her blogs about writing at http://mandyhager.blogspot.co.nz

 I first got to know Mandy by reading her book, Run for the Trees, and loved it.  Have read all her works since.  She writes mainly for the Young Adult reader which means everyone of any age and her soon-to-be-published new novel, is called Dear Vincent.  I can hardly wait.

My questions to Mandy circled around Story, Planning, Rituals, Rejection, Success


Often it is an idea or theme – and frequently something that has made me angry!  It poses a question and forces me to think about how would be best to reveal all the issues involved – then who would be the best person to tell this story? Once this is decided, I wait for that character to start speaking to me inside my head. If this happens then I know it’s a story I want to pursue.

Occasionally, as with the story I’m starting now, the character starts speaking first and I have to figure out what the hell it’s going on about!


Yes, I do plan — always want to know how it ends (roughly) before I start — because I’m interested in the themes and ideas I like to know clearly what it is I’m trying to say (though this often expands and changes slightly as I write.) I decide point of view and structure and then rough chapter outlines — knowing they will change slightly as I write but in order to maintain the different threads I’m trying to weave through I need to keep an eye on how each thread moves through the story and ties up (or not) at the end. Then I start working on tone and voice — only really settling into the hard slog of daily writing once these are working for me (usually means the first chapter or so). I like to give plenty of time for the ideas to run around inside me before I write – letting my subconscious do a lot of the hard work first!


Yes, I do have rituals. I always sit down early and deal with emails and twitter etc first. Then, when I’m ready to write I put in the edits I’ve discovered from the read-over the night before, which gets my mind back into the story — then, when I’m ready for new writing, I close my eyes and clear my mind – and ask my ancestors for help (I know, sounds weird, but it’s nice to think I’m not here doing it on my own!)

Rejection — how do you handle it?

Tears first. Lots of beating myself up. Depending on the size of the rejection a day or two of sulking and lots of declaring I’m never going to write again! But, these days, I am able to pull myself out of it a little more easily and quickly. I remind myself that writing is a priviledge and an indulgence — and that what really matters is the love, health and safety of my family — this always pulls me up and off I go again!

Success — first one — where were you?

I was at home, knee deep in small children and mess. Couldn’t believe it! Think I danced around the room!



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