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.
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.
A huge thank you to everyone who has pledged to children's book Bruce Goes Outside on the Kickstarter page, and to everyone who has shared the link - as of today, we are 50% funded!
That means we're one paw step closer to turning Bruce Goes Outside into a real book.
Pre-order your copy on the Kickstarter page.
Below - check out some of the illustrations from the story.
The next Bruce the Cat book, 'Bruce Goes Outside', coming soon!
I had a really special morning on Saturday reading Bruce Finds A Home to the kids at Blueskin Bay Library. We heard another reading about a lost cat needing to find its home, and some lovely volunteers from Dunedin Cat Rescue came along and talked to kids too. Then the kids coloured in some Bruce colouring sheets. They did a great job of colouring in the sky, with beautiful Dunedin sunrises making quite an appearance, along with a wonderful Matariki star cluster.
I bought a fundraising catnip toy for our cat Jager (Bruce's 'big sister', and also a rescue cat) and she's was absolutely delighted with it.
I was delighted to participate in 'Little Landers Literature' with master illustrator Robyn Belton again this year.
Run by Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature, 'Little Landers Literature' brings our local rugby team - The Highlanders - into schools to read books to the children. My book Bruce Finds A Home and Robyn's book Herbert The Brave Sea Dog were chosen. (When I say Robyn's book ... I mean one of Robyn's SEVENTY books!)
Following on from the sessions with The Highlanders, Robyn and I visited the schools to talk about the process of writing and illustrating.
We visited Brockville, Bradford, Pine Hill, Concord, Carisbrook and Bathgate primary schools. They are all wonderful schools and we were so impressed by the teachers and the students.
Of course most impressive of all was Robyn, who captivated me during each session with the delightful true story of Herbert.
Over the past few days I have really enjoyed creating stories with the children, spending time with Robyn and being so well-supported by the magnificent Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature team.
A writer's life is filled with ups and downs, as my spreadsheet of writing acceptances and rejections attests to. News that the short story collection I'm working on has been rejected, in part because someone thought it was a grab-bag of stories for both adults and children (it's not, and that's not even a thing!) made for a grumpy Saturday morning, but my frown turned upside down later in the day when issue 14 of Headland was released - complete with my short story, Speaking in Tongues. (If you like, you can check it out here. It's just $8 for Kindle, and you don't actually need a Kindle - you can just download the free Kindle app onto your phone, or read it on your computer.)
While I've had some bruising rejections lately, overall 2018 has been a pretty amazing year for me on the writing front. I published my first children's book, Bruce Finds A Home, and I got to visit local primary schools with illustrator Robyn Belton as part of the Little Landers Literature programme (thanks, Dunedin City of Literature!). One of my pieces of flash fiction was published in the Bonsai book, and another appeared on the North and South website. And of course, I had the incredible experience of undertaking the Creative Hub / Earthskin residency at Muriwai. Just writing this paragraph makes me feel incredibly lucky!
Another wonderful experience I had this year was also courtesy of the Headland team. I was invited to read my story Frangipani at Wellington's Litcrawl event as part of the Best Stories: Headland session. It was my first time at Litcrawl, which is an incredible mini literary festival that you should definitely try to get along to next year if you can. From being greeted at the airport by a lovely volunteer holding a sign with my name on it, to being put up in a sweet hotel, to being driven back to the airport by celebrated author and cool dude Brannavan Gnanalingam (whose thought-provoking novel, Sodden Downstream, I had just read) ... the whole experience was magical. The highlight was undoubtedly catching up with the Headland team and with fellow writers Iona Winter and Caoimhe McKeogh, who are all total goddesses, and I'm looking forward to attending Iona's book launch in Dunedin this Friday.
So, what next? Well, I'm still working on the collection of stories (for grown-ups!) and I expect that will take a while to complete. I'm also working on the next Bruce the Cat picture book for children. I changed the pencils I'm using for the illustrations, and we're having a bit of trouble scanning the images, but I'm sure we'll get it resolved one way or another. And I have another project or two simmering away, which I should be able to tell you more about next year.
But in the meantime I'm looking forward to finishing work for the year in a couple of weeks, and to spending long afternoons reading beneath the Pohutukawa tree. I hope you have a relaxing holiday planned too. Thank you so much for your support this year - it means the world to me.
WOW - my book Bruce Finds A Home is going to be part of the Little Landers Literature programme! Along with illustrator Robyn Belton (whose beautiful book The ANZAC Violin is in stores now), I'm going to be teaming up with The Highlanders to bring the joy of reading to Dunedin's children.
Visit the Otago Daily Times website to find out more about Little Landers Literature.
Wow, my children's book Bruce Finds A Home is going to be on The Cafe TV show on Monday 9 April! We pre-recorded the segment today. I got to hang out with Mel Homer and Mike Puru who are both seriously lovely. A huge thanks to my publicist Karen from Lighthouse PR for arranging this opportunity for me.
Hmmm, perhaps I'd better start thinking about the next Bruce book?
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.