- I passed the first part of my doctorate
- I was shortlisted for the Surrey Hotel Steve Braunias Memorial Residency
- My stories 'Good Dog' and 'Continuation of the Species' were selected for publication in The Valley Review
- I didn't win a residency ... but Mr Steve Braunias himself did describe me as "real funny and super talented" (evidence here)
What a strange, fun and stressful week it's been!
Although it sounds a bit like some kind of swearword, 'Complete MS' is actually an abbreviation of 'Complete Manuscript Assessment'. Being a recipient of the programme means being matched with a literary guru who reads your manuscript and provides feedback on your work.
This year thirteen lucky writers were beneficiaries of the programme - and I was one of them!
The assessment couldn't have come at a better time for me. I was putting the finishing touches on my short story collection, Pet, and it was exciting to print out the full manuscript, get it boxed up and send it off to Auckland, not knowing who would read it or if they would like the cut of my jib.
I included a brief cover letter for my assessor, asking for specific feedback on:
A few short weeks later I received a detailed eight-page report filled with suggestions and advice. I received useful feedback on the above points and many more. I also had a Skype meeting with my lovely assessor where we discussed the feedback in more detail.
As a result of the assessment I have a bit further to go before submitting my manuscript to publishers, but I have an eight-page road map to help me get there.
The changes I have made, or am making, include:
As a result of my Complete MS experience I feel confident that my collection will be stronger and more professional when I do pitch it to publishers. My assessor has also left me feeling hopeful that I am on the right track with my writing.
A huge thank you to my assessor, and to the New Zealand Society of Authors (who run the Complete MS programme) for this opportunity.
Find out more about the Complete MS Programme.
Meet the other 2019 programme recipients.
Over the next little while I'll jot down some of the ideas that the lessons are sparking in me. I am really enjoying being introduced to so many other great works and writers through Joyce Carol Oates. I think this course will also provide a lot of beneficial insights that will form part of my doctoral study.
Lesson one: Introduction
Lesson two: Principles of writing short fiction
That's a lot more homework than we had in the first session!
I am going to give myself a tick for the fifth exercise because I regularly seek feedback on my work.
I'll report back on the rest of the homework in my next MasterClass post!
I received a shout-out from Landfall literary journal in their review of Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand, which I have a story in.
"Colloquial and casually brutal dialogue is deployed to devastating effect by Kathryn van Beek in ‘Women’s studies’. Working as a cleaner in ‘Femme Fatale’ to finance her university studies, van Beek’s protagonist vacuums as unobtrusively as possible around the workers and clients. In the process she witnesses scenes that are sometimes shocking in their strangeness."
You can read the full review here.
I woke up early this morning and ran down to the dairy to pick up my copy (okay, copies) of the Sunday Star-Times with my short story in it!
It was a wonderful surprise to see that the story has been illustrated with a custom artwork by designer Neil Bond. I'm hoping to print and frame a copy!
You can read Emotional Support Animal online here.
You can check out Neil's website here.
I was the 2018 recipient of the Creative Hub / Earthskin Retreat writer’s residency. Here’s how I made the residency work for me … and why you should definitely consider applying.
I stomped along Back Beach Road next to my husband, mud flying like spittle as I vented my spleen.
‘Residencies are so stupid!’ I complained. ‘Six months in a cold house somewhere with a tiny stipend? That only suits people who are independently wealthy or already broke. What are people with jobs supposed to do? Quit?’
‘Mmmm,’ said my husband, who had heard this rant before. ‘What should we do for dinner tonight?’
Not long afterwards, an email from The Creative Hub arrived in my inbox.
‘New Hub residency in Muriwai beauty spot,’ said the subject-line.
‘Another stupid residency,’ I thought. But I clicked anyway.
‘The residency will take place for the month of September 2018, and is open to anyone who has completed a Creative Hub writing course,’ the email said.
‘A month?’ I thought. ‘A month! That might just be do-able!’
And so, I applied. I figured my chances of being accepted were low ... to low to worry about working out the logistics.
A while later, I received another email from The Creative Hub.
‘This email is to congratulate you on being the successful applicant for the 2018 September Earthskin / Creative Hub Muriwai Residency,’ it said.
‘OMG!’ I replied, in my finest prose.
Time to work out those logistics!
Q: How do I get the time?
A month is a wonderful, practical period of time for a residency – long enough to get stuck into a project, but short enough that if you have a job or other commitments, you can probably work the residency around them.
In my case, I would normally have been able to take annual leave, but I had already booked my first-ever trip to Europe, and I wasn’t about to cancel that. Luckily my boss let me cobble together an arrangement whereby I took some annual leave, wrangled some study leave, and also worked remotely for a couple of hours each afternoon. (Working remotely was actually a useful tether to the outside world.)
I’m based in Dunedin, but someone with family commitments who lived in Auckland might be able to use the space more like an office – staying there during the week and returning home during the weekends. If you think you might require extra flexibility, why not drop the Creative Hub an email and ask some questions before making your application. What’s the worst that could happen?
Q: What do I do with the time?
A: Spend it wisely.
I made a time management plan before I arrived. My weekday routine was to get up at seven, do some pilates, have breakfast, and then write until at least midday with as much coffee as I wanted, but absolutely no internet. Then I had lunch, did my office work, and spent the rest of the afternoon reading, hanging out with the resident chicken, and going for a walk through the forest and down to the beach. After dinner I revised drafts, wrote blog posts and worked on illustrations for the next Bruce the Cat book.
Weekends were a bit looser. I spent one weekend at the National Writers Forum, one weekend hosting a writing retreat for my Creative Hub cohort, and one holding a ‘show and tell’ at Earthskin Retreat and catching up with friends.
Over the past couple of years I’ve read a lot about the routines of other writers, and most seem to write productively for three to five hours per day. Going into the residency, that was useful information to know – otherwise I might have flagellated myself trying to write all hours of the day and night. Having time up my sleeve for thinking, reading and revising was more useful than spending every waking hour at my keyboard.
Q: What is Earthskin Retreat in Muriwai like?
Earthskin Retreat is a two-storey house nestled in amongst native bush. On a sunny day it’s toasty warm, and on a gloomy day there’s a fireplace to keep things cheerful. (Pro tip: bring slippers!)
Muriwai itself is an inspiring spot. Living at Earthskin is like living in an aviary. (Pro tip: bring your camera!) The beach and the café are a short walk from Earthskin, and there’s also a dairy and takeaway shop just down the road.
Q: What should I work on?
A: Something you’ve thought about before you get there.
In 2015 I undertook a two-week, self-funded residency at The NZ Pacific Studio, and while it was a great experience, I didn’t come away with a lot of decent work. I think that’s because I didn’t have a clear idea about what I wanted to achieve when I went into it.
This time around, I had just completed a funding application for a collection of short stories. The application was ultimately unsuccessful, but the work I put into it set me up to make the most of the residency. By the time I got to Muriwai I already had an overarching project (the collection of short stories), a title with multiple facets of meaning (Pet), and outlines for several stories. The first story I wrote just poured out.
Q: What will the outcomes of the residency be?
A: Whatever you decide they’ll be … plus a bit more.
I made a list of things I wanted to achieve during the residency. I knew I would end up deviating from the plan, but I also knew that having a rough map would help me stay on task. The list was:
In the end, I only completed one Bruce the Cat drawing. On the up-side, I wrote far more than two short story drafts. The first story I wrote, Emotional Support Animal, went on to come third in the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition. (The first and second place winners, Fiona Sussman and Eileen Merriman, are also Creative Hub graduates!) I wrote a piece of flash fiction that I'm really proud of, and I've just put the finishing touches on two other short stories I started on the residency. I also have a couple of other rough drafts ready to pull out and polish up. (And I wrote a couple of a real turds that ended up in the Earthskin Retreat fireplace. What a satisfying way to dispose of bad writing!)
Beyond those tangible outcomes, I also had much more time to think than I do in my daily life. All that walking and thinking has enriched my writing and deepened my short story ideas. And of course, being selected to undertake the residency was a real boost to my confidence, and a big stride along my writing journey.
Q: Should I apply?
I skipped along Back Beach Road next to my husband, wildflower petals swirling in the warm air around us like confetti.
‘I’ve been thinking about this Sunday Star-Times thing,’ I said. ‘It really all stems from The Creative Hub. Doing the course, and staying connected with such a great cohort of people, and then getting the residency.’
‘Mmmm,’ said my husband, who had heard about nothing but the Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition for days. ‘What should we do for dinner?’
How to apply
The Creative Hub / Earthskin Retreat residency is open to anyone who has completed a Creative Hub writing course. Applications close on 20 February 2019. Email email@example.com for details.
Visit the Earthskin Retreat website to learn more about the facilities.
The Creative Hub
Visit The Creative Hub website to learn more about the writing courses that are offered both in-person and online.
It's the last day of 2018 and I'd just like to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who has supported my writing this year. 2018 has been a roller-coaster ride and the best writing year of my life. Highlights include:
I was shocked to learn that my story, Emotional Support Animal, was placed third in this year’s Sunday Star-Times Short Story Competition! I have been trying to get placed in this competition for literally years, so I am absolutely thrilled to bits.
Huge congratulations to winner Fiona Sussman and to second-place winner Eileen Merriman. Fiona's story is in today's edition of the Sunday Star-Times, and you’ll be able to read Emotional Support Animal sometime in the New Year.
Here are the seven stages I went through after hearing the news …
I’d finished work for the year, crawled onto the couch and was absent-mindedly scrolling through my emails when I saw a message from the Sunday Star-Times.
‘Hello Kathryn,’ it began.
‘Here we go,’ I thought. ‘I’ve had about 40 rejections this year, and they have all opened with some variation of Hello Kathryn.’
But I kept reading. The next words were, ‘I’m delighted.’
My brain, which had been expecting to see the word, ‘sorry’, ‘unsuccessful’ or ‘unfortunately’, struggled make sense of the rest of the message. When I finally twigged, I replied immediately in a dignified manner befitting the occasion.
‘Oh my God!!!!!!! Thank you!!!!!!!’
Then I kind of danced around the house in a state of crazed agitation.
3. More excitement
I called my husband, who was hanging out with a friend in another city and couldn’t talk. Frustrating!
I checked the email again. And then I checked it again, but on my computer this time. I read the 73 words over and over to make sure I’d understood them correctly. And then I read them again. And again.
I ate a whole packet of Frooze Balls!
Because I’ve had a string of rejections lately, I’ve been doing more ‘simultaneous submitting’. (Simultaneous submitting means sending stories out to multiple journals / competitions at once, rather than submitting to one outlet, waiting a few months for a rejection, and then repeating the process ad infinitum.)
So once the Frooze Ball party was over, I looked through my writing spreadsheet and withdrew the story from the other places I’d sent it to. That included the Commonwealth Writers Prize, the organisers of which replied saying, “I’m sorry it’s not going forward with us as it’s already made the 200-strong longlist to go before the international judging panel!”
Arrggggg! But also, Eeeeeeeppp!
Look I know this isn’t the Academy Awards, but there are some people I need to thank:
And of course, I need to thank the Sunday Star-Times.
Oh my God!!!!!!! Thank you!!!!!!!
Read the full announcement on Stuff.co.nz.
Read Fiona's winning story, Mad Men.
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.
My short fiction has been published in Headland, Hue and Cry, Pot Roast and Aerodrome. I'm an award-winning playwright and zine creator, and my play Indiscretions was published by Playmarket. I have contributed articles and creative non-fiction to The Spinoff, The Sunday Star Times, The NZ Herald and more. I also manage the social media for my cat Bruce, and I wrote and illustrated a children's book, Bruce Finds A Home, based on his exploits.