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.
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.
Above: If you think I look tired in this photo, you're right! It was taken the night the crowdfunding campaigns finished.
Thanks to the support of incredibly generous people from around Aotearoa and the world, my crowdfunding campaigns were successful and this month Bruce Goes Outside and Pet are both being released into the world!
With any luck, the book launches for both books will go ahead in both Dunedin and Auckland. Everyone is welcome to attend. Click the links below to find the Facebook events.
Bruce Goes Outside: Dunedin
10.30am Saturday 15 August, University Book Shop
Featuring face painting and colouring-in
5.30pm Tuesday 25 August, University Book Shop
Featuring wine, cheese, and performances from the Pet Podcast actors
5.30pm Friday 28 August, Time Out Bookstore
Featuring wine, cheese, and performances from the Pet Podcast actors
Bruce Goes Outside: Auckland
11am Saturday 15 August, Dorothy Butler Children's Book Shop
Featuring face painting and colouring-in
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.
I think I must be the luckiest writer in the world because I have not one but TWO books available for pre-order now!
Music by bensound.com.
Lockdown was no barrier for award-winning Port Chalmers writer and illustrator Kathryn van Beek, who has two new books available for pre-order from Thursday 18 June.
“Lockdown didn’t make too much of a difference to me because I would have spent my evenings and weekends inside working on the books anyway,” Kathryn says. “Being a bit of a nerd worked in my favour!”
Both books will be launched in August in collaboration with The University Book Shop – but that’s where the similarities between them end.
Bruce Goes Outside is an illustrated children’s book. The second in a series about Dunedin’s most famous cat (Bruce, who has 74,000 online fans), the book shares messages of kindness and standing up for what’s right. The first book in the series, Bruce Finds A Home, was selected for the Little Landers Literature programme with The Highlanders, and is described by NZ Booklovers as “a wonderful addition to any child’s bookshelf”. Quality approved by the children at Port Chalmers School, Bruce Goes Outside promises to be just as delightful, and can be pre-ordered here on the Kickstarter website.
Kathryn admits she never thought a story about going outside would be so topical.
“After lockdown I think we can all relate to Bruce’s joy, fear and excitement as he explores the big, wide world.”
Pet is an illustrated collection of literary short stories that is definitely not for kids. Described by Steve Braunias as, “Hectic, chatty, very modern New Zealand, very, very readable,” the dark and humorous stories explore our relationships with children, lovers, and other animals. Pet can be pre-ordered here on the PledgeMe website.
Kathryn has been honing her craft as a short story writer for years – winning the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Short Story Prize along the way.
“It seemed strange not to acknowledge the global pandemic in the collection, so at the last minute I sneaked in a micro story about lockdown,” Kathryn says. “In a nod to all the birdsong I’d been hearing, I illustrated the story with a soaring welcome swallow.”
Kathryn says that both Pet and Bruce Goes Outside have been labours of love.
“I’d actually started working on Pet before my life was turned upside-down by finding Bruce as a day-old kitten on the side of the road almost five years ago,” Kathryn says. “I’m thrilled that I’m finally able to share both of these books with the wider community.”
Exclusive rewards are on offer for those who pre-order, including quality art prints and beautiful book plates (printed locally in Port Chalmers by DigiArt and Design). People can also choose to donate copies of Bruce Goes Outside to support the fundraising efforts of the Cat Rescue Network Dunedin, a charitable trust committed to helping stray and abandoned cats and kittens.
Get your copy
Bruce Goes Outside is proudly supported by Pet Doors R Us, Olive’s Kitchen’s Moggy Daily, and BlackCat Education.
I think I might be the luckiest writer in the world - I have not one but TWO books coming out this August!
Pet is a dark and humorous short story collection that explores our relationships with children, lovers, and other animals. In these 18 stories we meet a girl in a standoff with the neighbourhood goose killer, a druggy who turns possums into pop culture icons, and an emotional support animal gone wild.
Visit Goodreads to learn more.
Bruce Goes Outside
Kate’s tiny kitten wants to go outside. He struggles with the cat flap, annoys a bird . . . and ends up on the wrong side of the fence. What will Kate do? Bruce Goes Outside follows on from Bruce Finds A Home, which is based on the true story of Bruce the Cat.
Visit Goodreads to learn more.
I wrote and illustrated both of these books, which have both been labours of love. Bruce Goes Outside took me about two years to finish ... and Pet took a few more years than that! I hope you enjoy them.
Pre-orders will be available soon ... watch this space!
After waking up to an orange sky on January 1, I didn't think 2020 could get much more dystopian - but I wasn't counting on a global pandemic.
Life is pretty good in my 'bubble', but it's also filled with contradictions. I'm flat tack with my paid work, and bitterly envious of everyone who seems to have time to bake bread and learn new crafts ... but I'm also so grateful to have a job. I'm following 'the rules' to protect my health ... but in my efforts to stay two metres away from an oncoming pedestrian, I slipped on some slime and smashed both my elbows (I had just had surgery on one of them). I'm experiencing the little griefs that come with being on lockdown ... but I'm so lucky to live in a country where most of us won't lose people we love.
Being in the midst of a shared, global experience, trying to simultaneously acknowledge my personal disappointments and my privileges ... it's discombobulating, to say the least. It also feels hard to help. I cared for a self-isolating family member for two weeks, I've taken a couple of older neighbours under my wing, and I've made a donation to a local food bank ... but it doesn't feel like there's much I can do to be of practical use.
My Bruce Goes Outside picture book (which I've worked on, on and off, for about two years), and Pet, my collection of short stories (which I've worked on, on and off, for many more years than that) will still be published this year ... but quite when, or quite how I will celebrate their releases, I'm not yet sure. I hope that in-person friends and snacks will be involved.
I decided to illustrate each of the stories in Pet with a little black and white thumbnail image, and working on these in the evenings has been a welcome break from the computer screen. Above are two of my favourites so far - a kitten and a couple of possums. The stories are relatively dark, so I'm trying to make the pictures as cute as possible as a counterbalance.
I have also applied for funding to turn Pet into a podcast series. If my application is successful, perhaps that will be a little way in which I can support others - even if it's only by giving them the ability to take a mental break from COVID-19 for a little while. (I know I am appreciating podcasts for that reason at the moment!)
He waka eke noa. I hope you're all doing okay.
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.