I'm really chuffed that my short story Flotsam and Jetsam has been published in the latest edition of Mindfood Magazine.
The story is set in 1980s Christchurch. It follows a train trip to Blenheim told from the point of view of a little girl who has a mother with stars in her eyes.
As always, the rest of the magazine is filled with great content, including articles about innovation and wellbeing.
And I wouldn't mind getting my hands on a lovely pink sweater like the one that Emma Thompson's wearing on the cover!
Later in the year, Mindfood Magazine readers will have the opportunity to vote for their favourite stories. I'll be sure to remind you when voting opens in November!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
I find that short stories hit me in all sorts of different ways, but I'm going through an unusual process with one at the moment.
Before arriving here I worked up a list of very brief short story ideas for development into a collection. One of them was called 'We want to set things on fire', and it was about two people in office jobs who felt caged and tried to reconnect with their wild sides by having an office affair.
A bit flat, but I figured I'd be able to flesh it out.
As I was thinking about this story, I heard about a rural school fundraiser that involves a dead possum dress-up competition, and I decided to set the story in a small town and make my sexually frustrated protagonists parents who were helping set up for the school fair.
Hmm, maybe slightly better.
Then I attended the National Writers Forum, where there was a lot of discussion about why we tell the stories we tell, and who can be lifted up or brought down by our stories. And I thought that although it would be funny to write about a couple of hicks who dress up dead possums because they don't have anything better to do, it would make for a pretty one-dimensional story.
At around the same time I posted (quite innocently, I thought!) about an animal welfare issue on Facebook, and inadvertently provoked some heated responses from farmers and vegetarians. (I'm a vegetarian but I'm also from a family of farmers, and I don't consider myself a "farmer basher".) This made me think about Brene Brown's book Rising Strong, which I listened to on audio book during my first week on this residency. I didn't think much of the book at the time, but one of her key messages is that everyone's doing the best they can. And that's actually a pretty good message to try to remember.
All of this has found its way into my story, which now looks as though it's going to be about two people who have very different views about whether or not it's okay to dress up dead possums at a school fair. In this telling of the story, neither of the characters is a caricature (well I certainly hope they're not), and crucially, both of them are doing their absolute best - even though they have very different world views.
Oh, and the whole affair idea has totally gone.
So, this is now a very different story, but however it turns out - I'm doing the best I can.
Thank you to The Creative Hub and Earthskin Retreat for the opportunity to undertake this residency.
My short story Frangipani is going to be published by Headland Literary Journal. I drew upon my own past experience as a cleaner for the story, which has itself now had a spit and polish from the amazing Headland copy editor. i'm so excited I might actually cast off my Dutch / Presbyterian miserliness and shout myself a nice dinner when it comes out.
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.