I've just returned from a whirlwind trip to Hamilton! My short story The Nor'Wester was highly commended for the 2019 Sargeson Prize. I thought going up for the prize-giving might be a bit over-the-top ... until my husband pointed out that I could consider myself in the 2019 'All Blacks of short story writing' squad. Well, that justified a trip to The Tron!
I also thought it would be a great opportunity to meet other writers - and it was. I had a wonderful time meeting writers from both the open and the secondary schools divisions. I also got to meet literary genius Catherine Chidgey who was so lovely and kind to us all.
The prize-giving was held after the Frank Sargeson Memorial Lecture. Dylan Horrocks gave an amusing and inspirational lecture about the history of comics in Aotearoa, and treated us to a slide-show packed with glorious images.
A huge thank you to Catherine Chidgey, the University of Waikato and everyone who administered the competition (and read the 800 entries!). And of course massive congratulations to the winners - I'm looking forward to reading your stories in the upcoming editions of Landfall and Mayhem. Also, a shout-out to the University of Waikato librarians who helped us out with some emergency life admin. Librarians rock!
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:
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.