Above: Research for my novel, Middle Distance, reading the Bruce the Cat books to a variety of audiences, the hedgehog that inspired my Turbine Kapohau story, takahē, the Holidays Act, Moeraki inspiration.
In 2021 I focused on writing the first draft of a novel, so I didn't write and send away as many short stories as usual. However, I'm really pleased that the stories I did send out found excellent homes - Physical Education in takahē, What's The Point of Anything in Stasis, The Hedgehog in Turbine Kapohau, and Sea Legend in Te Herenga Waka University Press's Middle Distance anthology of long short stories.
Another short story, Honey Babe, is coming out in one of my favourite journals in early 2022, leaving just one story to find a home. Between the best of these stories, I've written about a third of a second collection of short stories.
In the first part of the year (before lockdowns and traffic light systems) I also had the opportunity to participate in a number of events including the Dunedin Fringe Festival, the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival, and the City of Literature Readaloud Tour.
Looking at my writing spreadsheet, I sent away for 37 publication, competition, residency and grant opportunities during the year. Of those, five were accepted, three I withdrew, and four are still in the mix. In 2021 my superpower was definitely getting my stories placed in great outlets, whereas my kryptonite was residencies - I applied for 12 and didn't get any. (Even my self-funded residency was cancelled by lockdown!)
Rejections are interesting - sometimes they're just another line on my writing spreadsheet, but at other times opportunities seem almost tailor-made for me, and not getting those ones is always a bit of a knife to the heart. There were three of those this year.
That's why I'm particularly grateful to have been included in the Middle Distance anthology. The call for long stories came out just as I happened to be nearing the end of writing a long story. It's been a dream of mine to be published by Te Herenga Waka University Press (formerly VUP) for years, and this success really buoyed me throughout the year. Working with the wonderful editor Craig Gamble was like having a fairy godbrother, and I've loved reading the book and making connections with the other contributors.
Another big success was working with MP Ginny Andersen to amend the Holidays Act to include miscarriage as a reason to take bereavement leave. It's pretty cool to think that I had an idea for changing the law ... and changed it!
And as well as finishing the first draft of my novel I also finished the first draft of my doctoral thesis.
Despite these successes I finished 2021 feeling a bit 'meh' about my writing life, which is possibly just a consequence of the global pandemic we're dealing with making everything that little bit less fun. 2021 was also the year that I decided not to write and illustrate a third Bruce the Cat book, and to wind down the Bruce the Cat social media. It was the right thing to do, but also the end of a very special period in my life.
In 2022 I would like to finish my doctorate, finish another draft of my novel, and continue to write and place short stories with the ultimate aim of publishing a second collection. I'd like to continue to grow and develop as a reader and a writer.
Behind the scenes I'm working on a couple of collaborations, and I'd love to get them off the ground. They're both projects that require funding, so .. fingers crossed!
And I have an idea for another book and a couple of ideas for creative nonfiction pieces. Watch this space!
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.