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: Writing
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.
All Sorts of Lives
Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) would be New Zealand’s best known writer of the short story. Thousands of students would have studied her in university; others would have read her just because she writes so well. I belong to both those camps. Katherine was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp into a prosperous family, who lived in Tinakori Road, Wellington. She was bright, gifted in music and writing from an early age. But she felt a misfit in her family, thought her home ‘dull and claustrophobic’, and once she’d visited London as a teenager, yearned to live a liberated, and bohemian life, preferably abroad. She left for London on her own aged nineteen, became the writer she dreamed of being and never returned home. It is testament to her skill as a writer that we are still reading about her a hundred years after her death, and it is the book written to mark this centenary I especially wish to write about.
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.
The story behind the bookmark
It began many years back, when I was was helping a ten-year-old with ideas for a story. In a nutshell, her ideas fed mine, and set me thinking of my own story for children. This would of course be an illustrated story, done by yours truly. After writing many drafts, I decided on creating the first illustration; something that might work for the cover. Apart from the grandfather, who features in the story, the drawing above features all the other main characters in The Lost Civilisation. From top left, clockwise; the parrot Herakles, Penelope, Achilles the dog, Helen of Troy, the cat, and Archimedes, the goldfish, all named after figures in Greek mythology.
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.
On the shelves!
Well, I had wanted to write all about my trip to the Hundertwasser Art centre I visited recently, but something caught my eye in my local bookstore. My book on the shelves already, which was sooner than I expected it to be! So, people, another blog about my jolly book. Or rather the bits and pieces which go into publicly announcing it on New Zealand media which is on-going. Reviews can take ages to come out, so I was told today, and I won’t always know when that will appear in the media. Do I need to have someone who will read the daily papers and check whether one story which was selected for an on-line source has occurred? It would be terrible to miss the very opportunities that might make me even a little bit famous.
Honestly, I have been so busy, filling out Q & A requests from media, taking calls from my publicist and mulling over all of this during the night when I’m supposed to be asleep! Tomorrow I am going to be pre-recorded for a national radio arts show, and have been checking through the salient points that I am most likely to be asked. I am actually not as anxious as I may sound, and think that the twenty minute interview will go well. I have listened to Lynn Freeman’s interviews many times on her Standing Room Only show, and she does have a nice approach, and comes across as well informed. Not being live, makes it easier, so I guess if there too many mumblings and um’s on my part, they can be edited.
Time for a lie-down.
The (frustrating) last lap…
Although Pocket Money & Other Stories won’t be released until June, at least the marketing is getting underway. It has been rather strange, sitting back, and letting the publicist take over the reins. With the last book, in 2020, I did all the marketing and promotional work, and over the past few weeks I’ve basically been fluffing around. But this week, I decided I must secure a venue for the June launch. One place had been mucking me about, and so, I visited a couple of others, which were unsuitable, and then? I found a very convenient venue, just down the road from my apartment. And now, I need to put the invitations and posters together, and get them ‘out there’.
A book cover and an unfinished sketch
I did start a sketch for this blog, but it seemed some weird force was against me completing it. I knew that sketching two people, as opposed to one for a portrait was difficult (as I have completed several like this in the past), but I was keen to sketch this image of my granddaughters together. And, guess what? I have one looking fine, my proportions spot on, but the younger girl? I just couldn’t get her right. But, I haven’t given up on that project, yet.
It won’t be long before the book comes out but…
I’m really happy to report that my book is now at the printers; I have managed a couple of days doing absolutely nothing except walking and being a slothful version of myself. Oh yes, there was the slightly stressful ‘having my photo taken’ exercise for publicity purposes. I had an idea of how I’d like the scene to be, but do not like having my picture taken. Thanks to my photographer daughter, who knows just what to say to relax the shoulders and get that grim mouth show a slight smile, worked her magic. I really do like the end result. Thank you Lara.