Last week saw the Auckland Writers Festival very much alive in our city. I did not attend many events as the week was already flooded with other activities. I wish to write about one event though, of a discussion between Tracey Morrison (Te Arawa, Ngāi Tahu), a well-known New Zealand broadcaster, and Monty Soutar ONZM (Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Awa, Ngā Tai ki Tāmaki, Ngāti Kahungunu). They talked about his latest book Kāwai, a shortlisted novel for the recent Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Monty has received commendations and awards for his scholastic achievements and work to raise the understanding of the history of Māori in many fields, and Kāwai is his first venture into writing fiction. If you are thinking that the discussion about his book might prove a little dry, or boring, you’d be wrong.
Category Archives: novel
A little more about the writing side of life
Three weeks ago I was asked to speak alongside author Caroline Barron, at the Auckland branch of New Zealand Society of Authors meeting. I was intending to write a short post on this earlier, but life, again, got in the way. Last week I was frantically writing as much on my novel as possible before visitors arrived, which meant I neglected everything else. And then, this week came around, and suddenly it was ‘all hands on deck’ to clear out our bedrooms as new carpet was due to be laid Thursday. The bedrooms are clean and vacated and the rest of the apartment looks a mess!
Now, here I am finding time to write a few words about the talk I mentioned at the start. Caroline Barron and I have written both memoir and adult fiction, and were asked questions by the chair Maria Gill, as a joint interview, about the similarities and differences in how we approached the process of writing in each of these genres. Maria, posed interesting questions, such as: What’s the relationship between honesty and good storytelling? Often Caroline and I said virtually the same thing, swapping the mic from one to the other to say our piece. With this question, I said “Honesty for me was being authentic; staying true to the ‘character’ in the memoir and presenting facts accurately.” This then led to the discussion of how important research is writing in either genre. We both agreed that research was essential for both.
We were asked if there were differences in the way we structured each form. I start with a timeline, which places scenes, or ‘happenings’ along the line, with the year each takes place. Another question was, how do you approach the task of deciding what to include or leave out in your memoirs or novels? And the ethical implications of writing about real people. With my memoir, I began the narration from the time I could recall events vividly, and ended with the death of the main subject. I stayed as true to all the main characters as was possible, and fiddled more with what occurred when. Again, research is required, such as; what politician was in power, what songs and programmes were popular. Plus the games, foods, sweets…
When writing about real people in memoir, it is necessary to let them know that you are writing something which may include them, but to soften this somewhat, I fictionalised the names of all my characters in the book. My family, which were the main group in my memoir, knew that the children were based on them. I had only two siblings to deal with here, and they were comfortable with my decisions (I believe), as I consulted them throughout. With fiction, I have sometimes based a character on someone I have observed, not actually known, whose characteristics, physicality, hair style or demeanour has taken my attention. But again, the characters; the setting and details of place need to be authentic, down to their mannerisms, quirks, speech patterns, etc. There’s that word again and one I can’t emphasis enough when it comes to writing interesting work which will capture a readers imagination.
It was great to speak alongside Caroline Barron that night. The audience liked what we had to say too; even saying it was a ‘stimulating’ session. Thanks Maria for asking us along.
Visiting the past
The trip to Wellington last week catered for two needs; to see my friend Jayne, and to gather research for the book I am writing. Jayne and I met when I lived in the area many years ago. We had a lovely couple of days together, one of which involved Jayne offering to drive me around the areas I wished to research. So, we headed across town, through the ‘tooting’ tunnel and towards Lyall Bay – one of the places the protagonist of my novel lived in the 1970s. I’ve called her Marjorie and she is based on a very complex woman I used to know well. Back then she liked to be called Mother.
Back to the written word
The heading is a double entendre, I believe, although I didn’t realise the link until later. After viewing the sketches from last week’s art class, there was no way I was going to advertise them, and with my novel now back on track, I thought a post about its progress might be more inspiring than looking at the worst drawings I have done in some time. The old learning curve at work again! However, I am pleased to be making progress on the novel, coming on the heels of readers’ praise for my recent short story collection.
The Time It Takes
When others discovered I wrote, I was asked many questions beginning with W. When? Why? What? and Why? again. The last why was because I had always been known as an artist, and friends couldn’t understand the shift. I don’t think any of them would have understood that it had started as a game. I was teaching English in Japan, spending a lot of free time on my own and reading a lot of fiction. One evening, I wondered if I was capable of dreaming up a plot for a novel. Well, that was twenty years ago, and the answer is ‘yes’. I have been writing fiction ever since and absolutely love it! But some days, I don’t wonder why I started, but why I continue, as it all takes so long.
Writing or sketching? – what to do?
I wrote recently of being in a slump, where I wasn’t feeling like writing or sketching. Weeks of Covid Lockdown have done that to me, to some degree. Then one day I felt like continuing the novel I’d deserted, just a few pages in. With any genre of writing, but especially with a longer piece, it is necessary to write then leave it alone for a while, returning with fresh eyes, as one can become too close to the work. I read through those pages, adding something here, and removing something elsewhere. I was happy to be writing again.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
We were thrust into level 4 Covid lockdown and I found myself without a book to read, and, libraries were closed. The thought of it! Thank goodness for Gabby, who said she would swap books with me. I put The Midnight Library (recently read) into a wee bag and walked (mask on) the few blocks to her letterbox and popped it inside. That afternoon, she did the same for me, and left The Elegance of the Hedgehog at my front door.
The title was intriguing. The setting was Paris, a favourite city. It didn’t take me long to start reading. Except the ruminating on Marx at the start almost made my head spin. But when the protagonist Renée introduced herself on page 15, I was hooked.
Procrastination: my middle name
Yes, well, Procrastination, I think, must be my middle name. That’s me above, procrastinating. A month back, I was anguishing over how to progress with my new novel, having written several pages and coming to a halt. So, I began collecting more background material, and that helped to a point. I wrote approximately one more page. I had begun writing in 1st person perspective, and was fairly happy with that choice.Then I began wondering whether 1st person would give me the depth of insight I wanted from other characters. So, I changed what I’d written to 3rd person, and stopped. Why? Because I decided to write an article about libraries back in the day. That’s awaiting an edit. Following that, I re-edited a collection of twenty short stories I’d written over the years. My reasoning was, why start a new story when I already had a novel-length book waiting in the wings? Good. Finally I was focussed on one thing!
The Boy With No Shoes
A friend recommended this book to me knowing that I was interested in memoir. She said it was beautifully written, as the caption on the cover also says. As individuals, we all come to reading with our own agendas, a particular way of viewing the world. I hoped that I would be captivated by William Horwood’s story, as I had found myself not engaging with many recent books I had read. But, this one, was so engaging, so compelling, I didn’t wish it to end.
The Upper Hutt Library and me
Since leaving my last post unfinished, I have been travelling in the South Island, and look forward to sharing those exploits next time. To recap, the last library photo shown was the disassembling of the old upstairs library in September 1956. The image above is the relocation of the new library in the main street: it is this reincarnation I would visit for many years to come.