I was extremely lucky to be selected as a writer for the 2021 Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival, and have spent a magical few days immersed in reading and writing. Here are some brief and rough notes from the sessions I attended...
Women, Past & Present - What do they have to tell us about the future?
Shona Riddell, Steff Green, Hannah Parry and Angela Wanhalla spoke to this theme, in a session hosted by the wonderful Majella Cullinane. The speakers were all excellent. Angela read some moving letters from the wahine of our past, who had petitioned eloquently for social change. At the other end of the seriousness spectrum, Steff Green delivered hilarious imagined 'I'm a feminist, but' moments of badass historical women.
Seeds of Poetry workshop with Emma Neale
It seemed as though Emma could have continued setting us exercises all day, and I think we would all have stayed all day if we could have! I'm certainly no poet, but this was an engaging and inspiring session.
NZ Crime - What's going on?
Rob Kidd spoke to guests Jared Savage and Steve Braunias. A funny and edgy session filled with tall tales.
Some (no doubt poorly-recorded) pieces of wisdom from Steve:
"People want to tell you their stories"
"Writing is difficult - you are led on by a lovely mirage. Ripples in the air lead you toward a pond, which is a good sentence. I write one sentence at a time, from beginning to end, one sentence after another."
"Crime is often a series of mistakes."
The writers were asked if they are inspired by crime fiction authors - Steve said he is inspired by Patricia Highsmith, in particular, her book The Blunderer.
Steve told a fantastic story about how he clings onto courtroom walls like a lizard, and gave us hilarious and poignant insights into the life and times of Colin Craig.
Writing romance in the 21st century
Nalini Singh, Steff Green, Jayne Castel and Susan Sims discussed sexism, business, favourite tropes (reverse harem, enemies to lovers, friends to lovers), hated tropes (secret baby) and much more in a joyful session that had me wanting to join the Romance Writers Society of NZ immediately. (Also, I want to know more about tropes!) The authors spoke of their joy of writing, how the genre romance is all about hope and emotion, and how it gives readers the opportunity to feel the feelings of falling in love. They also provided some good tips for avoiding carpal tunnel (mechanical keyboards and compression gloves were recommended).
Rocketing to Fame
A wonderful conversation between Becky Manawatu and Lynn Freeman. Becky read a draft passage from the novel that she is currently working on. It was excellent.
Story Time Double Decker Bus
My session! I was paired with the incredible Swapna Haddow in Olveston Historic Home where we read stories to two double decker busloads of children. Meanwhile, Emma Wood and Melissa Boardman read stories from the other stop at Railway Station Atrium. Afterwards we all came together to hear songs from Kaitrin McMullan. Heaps of fun!
Decolonisation - Activating Allies
This powerful and challenging session had me rushing out to buy the Imagining Decolonisation book afterwards - but it had already sold out! Not to worry, I picked up Remote Sympathy and Oink instead - and I'll come back for Imagining Decolonisation later.
Thank you so much to the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival organisers, supporters and volunteers for such a fabulous event.
It's fair to say that New Zealand bringing in bereavement leave for pregnancy loss has made waves around the world. I found myself converting my office into a studio last night for an interview with Australia's ABC News (above), and the story has also been shared in outlets including:
What's even more exciting is that our news seems to have sparked calls for other countries to update their employment legislation:
I'd love to know if anyone else has seen calls for change from other parts of the world.
I packed my bag and drove towards the airport, not knowing if I was going to get on the plane.
It was Members’ Day in parliament’s House, and the Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill was due to be read for the third and final time – if the affordable housing discussions, which were being conducted under urgency, wrapped up in time.
I was stopped at the lights when MP Ginny Andersen’s EA rang. The reading was going ahead!
One plane ride, one taxi drive and several coffees later, I found myself going through Parliament security.
I went into The Beehive and temporarily exchanged my bags for a sticker and a lanyard before racing up two flights of stairs and being ushered into the House – a space that’s even more impressive in real life than it is on TV.
Ginny gave an impassioned speech about the Bill, which was sparked when I sent a letter to Clare Curran about the lack of clarity in the Holidays Act for people grieving pregnancy loss. Clare took up the cause and later Ginny drafted the Bill and submitted it to the infamous biscuit tin (the vessel that Members' Bills are drawn from). The Bill could have languished inside the biscuit tin indefinitely, but it was drawn and in the years since Ginny and others have worked hard on the Bill to ensure that people impacted by pregnancy loss can access bereavement leave.
During yesterday's final reading the Bill received cross-party support. Labour, National, Green and Act MPs stood to share their personal experiences and explain what the Bill would mean for them and their constituents. Thanks to Parliament TV On Demand, you can watch the speeches online:
It was heartening to hear so many people in support of the Bill, and I think it’s amazing that politicians are speaking about such private issues on such a public stage. Their actions will help break down some of the taboos around miscarriage and baby loss.
Several politicians from across the House mentioned Ginny’s great work in shepherding the Bill through the House and gaining cross-party support.
All speakers said the fateful words, “I commend this Bill to the House.” This means that there is just one more step – a formality – needed before the change to The Holidays Act becomes law: Royal assent.
Ginny’s EA whisked me away to the Labour Caucus room where, beneath portraits of past Labour PMs, I chatted with some of Ginny’s team. (The fast-paced banter and the beautiful surroundings made it all feel very ‘In The Thick Of It’.)
Ginny and her colleagues arrived and we enjoyed macaroons and sandwiches as we toasted making history!
The celebration was short-lived as Ginny had to return to work (MPs work until 10pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays).
Ginny gave me a brief tour on the way out. I was introduced to the infamous biscuit tin that the Bill was drawn from, and I saw the billiards room and the glamorous Legislative Council Chamber.
Then all of a sudden – it was over. I booked myself into a hotel, head buzzing.
I’d like to say a huge congratulations to Ginny for her success with this Bill, and a huge thank you to Clare Curran who got the process started. Thank you also the Select Committee and everyone who made submissions on the Bill or helped in other ways.
Together, we’ve made a little bit of history!
More about the Bill
More about miscarriage
I'm excited to be participating in two iconic Dunedin events - the Fringe Festival and the Writers Festival! The MEOW Poetry Evening promises to be an evening filled with cat poetry and cat art (entry is by donation to Dunedin Cat Rescue), and the Story Time Double Decker Bus will be a wonderful morning for the young and young at heart.
MEOW Poetry Evening
Dunedin Fringe Festival
7pm, Thursday 25 March
Otago Art Society, Dunedin Railway Station
View the Facebook event here.
Story Time Double Decker Bus
Dunedin Writers Festival
9am, Sunday 9 May
Departs Dunedin Botanic Garden
Climb aboard the Story Time Double Decker Bus for a Sunday morning adventure with your wee ones, with stories galore read by Melissa Boardman, Emma Wood, Swapna Haddow - and me!
View the event details here.
Image by Nicole Pankalla from Pixabay.
I'm coming to the end of my writing retreat in beautiful Moeraki.
I spent the first day revising a long short story, the next couple of days writing a humorous short story, and over the past few days I've worked up ideas for something that might become a bit longer.
A writer friend of mine stayed with me for the last two nights and we had loads of fun sharing story ideas and going on missions to the Katiki Point lighthouse (didn't see any penguins but saw loads of seals) and small settlement the Kaika ... and out for dinner at Fleur's Place seafood restaurant (luckily for us, they also have an excellent vegetarian menu).
It will be great to go home but I'll really miss the sound of the sea, the incredible, ever-changing views, and the abundance of creatures - from the baby silvereye that flew inside my crib, to the goose I spotted wandering down to the sea and going for a dip, to the absurd numbers of rabbits (you might round a corner and see ten of them sitting completely still in a clearing, as though they're holding some kind of bunny freemason convention), to the spotted shags and oyster catchers and pied stilts ... and of course the kekeno (fur seals).
In the meantime, I have a challenge set by the owners of the place I'm staying in - to eat as many of the courgettes from the garden as I can before leaving.
I'm two days into a week-long writing retreat in a quirky little crib in the pretty fishing town of Moeraki, where I'm working on some stories for a new collection.
I've been writing a fishing story called Sea Legend, and I'm in the perfect spot for a re-edit, with a view out over the sea from the table on the porch. As I worked on the story last year I had research help from a skipper and a former fisherman. The fisherman has stayed in touch and I sent him a copy of the story yesterday. He read it and came back with a couple of notes on gutting fish, but also very kindly said, "The feel of the story seems to match the experiences I had, the banter etc."
Whew, I didn't read The Catch, Into the Raging Sea, The Old Man and the Sea, Song of The Sea, Last Man Off, Trawler and The Perfect Storm, and watch about 77,000 YouTube videos for nothing! (The Perfect Storm and The Old Man and the Sea are both excellent. As for the YouTube videos, there are so many crazy sea videos out there and they're just fascinating. There is some terrifying footage of ships struggling on huge swells. But this timelapse of sunsets and sunrises at sea is very beautiful and soothing.)
Today I started working on a curious little story inspired by a recent hedgehog rescue. Hopefully by the end of tomorrow I'll have a sense of whether or not it's worth pursuing.
I also had a chat with director Charlotte Wanhill about a possible second season of web series Misconceptions, and I submitted a funding application for support writing that second collection of short stories. Fingers crossed!
Here's a sneak peek at what I'm working on...
I often write about topics that alarm me – climate change, animal cruelty, inequality, misogyny. As a result, the overall tone of Pet was one of ‘unease’, and I would like my next work to be more uplifting. Delight is joyous, hopeful, seductive. Bad deeds are punished, good deeds rewarded, and the beauty of nature abounds. Mythical creatures such as the Canterbury Panther share the pages with everyday wonders such as Queen bees, spotted toadstools and wild strawberries. In these stories the ‘goodies’ usually win and the villains – including an inconsiderate netball player and a lawbreaking skipper – get their just desserts.
Releasing two books seems like small fry in the context of a year that also included an operation, an accident, a family emergency, a devastating restructure at work, a security threat that impacted my place of work, oh and the small matter of a global pandemic.
It's hard to know what to make of this year.
On one hand, I'm so lucky to live in Aotearoa and to have been so lightly touched by the pandemic. And I'm even luckier to have so many amazing supporters who pre-ordered my children's book Bruce Goes Outside, and my collection of short stories, Pet, and made the publication of them both possible. Thank you so much!
On the other hand, it has been such a hard and disappointing time. Looking for photos for this update, there are few of me celebrating with others. There are no photos from the Pet book launch, because there wasn't one. The only images in my Pet folder are jaunty invitations to cancelled celebrations.
My books seemed to come out at the worst possible time - when magazines that review books weren't being published, just a few weeks before the Kete book review site launched, and when Level Two and Three restrictions made it impossible to celebrate with in-person launches. I had four launches scheduled for the year (in Dunedin and Auckland) and we were able to go ahead with one.
However, a really positive thing that came out of the pandemic was a change in arts funding that led to my surprise project of the year - a podcast!
Thanks to Creative New Zealand I had the incredible opportunity to work with 17 extraordinary talented actors and the amazing Otago Access Radio (OAR FM) crew to create a podcast for Pet. Creating that podcast and getting to meet so many wonderful people was a highlight of my year.
Other highlights included Steve Braunias and Newsroom coming to my rescue and enabling me to have an online book launch for Pet (thank you!) and the children at Port Chalmers Primary School following up on a workshop I held with them by presenting me with a book of their stories. Another highlight was being asked to be the guest speaker for a School Library Association of New Zealand event. The event organisers made me feel as though I was Stephen King! And my lovely work colleagues organised a spontaneous Pet book launch for me in an office space, complete with flowers and donuts! There is plenty to be grateful for this year.
So, 2020 has left me with a lot of complicated feelings - but here's my 'annual report'. It follows the same format as last year's.
Last year I had a goal to send away 100 submissions. This year I was too busy crowdfunding to write or submit much new work. I made eight submissions to journals, competitions, residencies and funding bodies, and had six declines. I received CNZ funding to create a podcast, and one submission is still outstanding.
Although my number of submissions was small, two of them were for opportunities that I desperately wanted. On the strength of Pet and its reviews I also approached several literary festivals, but haven't been invited to participate in any as a short story writer. Another disappointment was having to crowdfund my books. After the success of Bruce Finds A Home (lovely reviews, and 2000 copies sold) it would have been great to have received funding to assist with the publication of Bruce Goes Outside. And I would have dearly loved to have found a publisher for Pet. Crowdfunding is not a sustainable arts practice - something I might write about in an essay one day.
But as with everything this year, there have been silver linings to my disappointments. I was thrilled to be able to work with the extraordinary team at Mary Egan Publishing to release Pet, and I just love the cover design! The team at Mary Egan Publishing is amazing and I can't recommend them highly enough. And crowdfunding gave me the opportunity to connect directly with people who wanted to read my work! Wow! It blows my mind that there are people out there who are interested in reading what I write. Thank you so much for your support, it has meant the world during this challenging year.
Last year I said, "In 2020 I hope to publish both Pet and Bruce Goes Outside, and get a little further along on my doctorate of professional practice."
So what do I want for 2021? I'm not sure yet. I would love to write and illustrate a third Bruce book, but the sales of Bruce Goes Outside haven't been as strong as they were for the first book, so I don't think it would be practical to do so. I hope to have finished, or be close to finishing my doctorate this time next year. And on the writing front, I'm not sure. Will I focus on trying to become the best short story writer that I can be? Or will I follow the scent of a novel idea? That's something for me to mull over during the summer break.
As I finish this update I hear sirens. I look out my window to see what looks like the third serious house fire in my little town this year.
I hope 2021 is an easier and happier year for us all.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining, and thanks to my Covid-cancelled Auckland book launches I had a flight credit that I used to attend Wellington’s Verb Festival.
Coming from sleepy Port Chalmers, Wellington almost felt like a different country. The familiar scents of salt air and coal smoke were replaced with the aromas of restaurant food and aftershave. Restaurants were still busy after 9pm!
We had a 1.30am wake-up call on Saturday when a drunken maniac banged repeatedly on our block of motel units, asking to be let in and breaking a pane of glass in the process. (Despite his entreaties, we did not let him in.) We later woke at a more reasonable hour to get breakfast from Caffe L’Affare (superb) before meandering down Cuba Street, checking out favourite old haunts and discovering new ones.
We wandered through parliament to the National Library. As I waited for Jo Randerson’s show, ‘Secret Art Powers’, to begin, I read Brannavan Gnanalingam’s ‘Sprigs’. I had to close the book when I got to the final section, as continued reading would have endangered the integrity of my mascara. (I have now finished the book. It’s wonderful. Shout-out to Amma.)
Jo’s show soon had me laughing and joining her in both anger at the state of the world and hope that we can make things better. Jo beautifully and humourously articulated how creativity and inclusiveness benefit us all. I understand that Jo is writing a book, also called ‘Secret Art Powers’, and that her Verb show was one of many lectures / performances that she will deliver as she develops the content. If you get the chance to see another one of these shows – take it!
Afterwards I met writer Lil O’Brien on the library steps and discovered we went to the same school. (I have since bought her book, ‘Not That I’d Kiss A Girl’.)
Then I picked up a Carly Harris wrap dress from one of Wellington’s fancy recycle boutiques and donned it before heading to LitCrawl, only slightly embarrassing myself when the wrapping came partially undone during my pre-crawl dinner at Aunty Mena’s Vegetarian Restaurant.
First on the LitCrawl agenda was ‘The Art of The Short’ with Breton Dukes and Airini Beautrais at Ferret Bookshop. I have read both of their collections of short stories and they are both excellent. The writers read from their books and were asked a variety of questions about their writing process. They were asked if they feel a sense of responsibility when they write. Breton said that at times when he is in the flow, writing feels like a religious experience – completely free. Airini said that she is always conscious about how her work will be perceived and what it will say to people. I think I’m more on the Airini side myself – I have a growing awareness that what I put out into society has the potential to reinforce cultural ideas, and I want to be as conscious of what I’m putting out there as possible. After the session I introduced myself to fellow Dunedin writer Breton and inwardly congratulated myself on being so brave and on making two new literary connections in one day!
I had intended to go to ‘How to Have an Opinion’ but it was completely packed. Several hardy souls elected to stand outside on the pavement and listen from there, but I headed over to Meow to watch ‘Bad Diaries Salon’ with Penny Ashton, Rose Lu, Lil O’Brien and Kate Camp, who read extracts from their actual teenage diaries. We were sworn to secrecy as to the content of the diaries but I think it’s safe to reveal that they involved swearing, backstabbing, a medley, and a precocious teen diarist who could have walked straight out of High Fidelity. A fabulous session.
Then I went to ‘Fear Factor: Come into my Snake Box’, a session about writing and fear with Elizabeth Knox, Mohammed Hassan, Natalie Morrison and Himali McInnes. It was humid and sweaty in the tiny room in Pegasus Books. One by one attendees sank down and sat on the floor as the heat got too much for them. Advice about writing through fear included “you can always delete it” and “no one cares what you’re doing – no one else has any skin in the game.”
The LitCrawl after party at Meow didn’t have quite the debauched flavour I seem to recall it having when I last attended – though last time I went to LitCrawl I ended up in hospital on a drip with severe food poisoning (from a restaurant that has since closed), so perhaps my recollections are more fever dream than reality.
We awoke the next morning to one of the wonders of the natural world – Wellington’s infamous sideways rain. I caught up with my little brother at Midnight Espresso before going to see ‘Nothing To See’ at Meow with Pip Adam, where I bumped into my former IIML classmate Whiti Hereaka. I’m a big fan of Pip’s writing, and her podcast, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen her IRL. Pip talked about how creating a sense of ambiguity in your writing can enliven the page.
Then it was time to dash to the airport – my suitcase one dress (okay, two dresses) and several books heavier.
What a roller-coaster ride the past few weeks have been!
Changing Covid-19 alert levels put paid to my book launch plans - but luckily Newsroom (and No.1 Family Estate Wine) came to the party with an online book launch!
You can check it out here.
Sophia from Mary Egan Publishing (and dog, Gus) even recorded a special launch speech, above.
The Pet podcast is also available now! Thanks to OAR FM, Creative New Zealand and NZ On Air, the podcast is available via your favourite podcast app - and from the OAR FM website here.
Thanks to ace publicist Sarah Thornton, the books have been getting some great media coverage too. If you're interested, you can check out these articles:
Where to find a copy
If you'd like to get your own copy of Pet, you should be able to find it at your local bookstore. Otherwise, you can get it online from a number of outlets, including:
A graduate of UNITEC’s School of Performing and Screen Arts (BA) and Victoria University’s Institute of Modern Letters (MA), Kathryn is a published playwright who has won several Playmarket and Fringe Festival awards.