I'm working on a couple of longer projects at the moment, so it's been great to have the opportunity to get some short stories out into the world recently. My story Honey Babe is in Overland (it should be available to read online soon), and my story No Happy Ending is in the latest edition of takahē. I subscribe to both of these fantastic journals, so seeing my stories in their pages has been a real thrill! It was also a boost to be longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Huge congratulations to kiwi writer Shelley Burne-Field who made the shortlist this year. I love Shelley's short story Pinching out Dahlias and I'm looking forward to reading her shortlisted story, Speaking in Tongues.
Above: Research for my novel, Middle Distance, reading the Bruce the Cat books to a variety of audiences, the hedgehog that inspired my Turbine Kapohau story, takahē, the Holidays Act, Moeraki inspiration.
In 2021 I focused on writing the first draft of a novel, so I didn't write and send away as many short stories as usual. However, I'm really pleased that the stories I did send out found excellent homes - Physical Education in takahē, What's The Point of Anything in Stasis, The Hedgehog in Turbine Kapohau, and Sea Legend in Te Herenga Waka University Press's Middle Distance anthology of long short stories.
Another short story, Honey Babe, is coming out in one of my favourite journals in early 2022, leaving just one story to find a home. Between the best of these stories, I've written about a third of a second collection of short stories.
In the first part of the year (before lockdowns and traffic light systems) I also had the opportunity to participate in a number of events including the Dunedin Fringe Festival, the Dunedin Writers & Readers Festival, and the City of Literature Readaloud Tour.
Looking at my writing spreadsheet, I sent away for 37 publication, competition, residency and grant opportunities during the year. Of those, five were accepted, three I withdrew, and four are still in the mix. In 2021 my superpower was definitely getting my stories placed in great outlets, whereas my kryptonite was residencies - I applied for 12 and didn't get any. (Even my self-funded residency was cancelled by lockdown!)
Rejections are interesting - sometimes they're just another line on my writing spreadsheet, but at other times opportunities seem almost tailor-made for me, and not getting those ones is always a bit of a knife to the heart. There were three of those this year.
That's why I'm particularly grateful to have been included in the Middle Distance anthology. The call for long stories came out just as I happened to be nearing the end of writing a long story. It's been a dream of mine to be published by Te Herenga Waka University Press (formerly VUP) for years, and this success really buoyed me throughout the year. Working with the wonderful editor Craig Gamble was like having a fairy godbrother, and I've loved reading the book and making connections with the other contributors.
Another big success was working with MP Ginny Andersen to amend the Holidays Act to include miscarriage as a reason to take bereavement leave. It's pretty cool to think that I had an idea for changing the law ... and changed it!
And as well as finishing the first draft of my novel I also finished the first draft of my doctoral thesis.
Despite these successes I finished 2021 feeling a bit 'meh' about my writing life, which is possibly just a consequence of the global pandemic we're dealing with making everything that little bit less fun. 2021 was also the year that I decided not to write and illustrate a third Bruce the Cat book, and to wind down the Bruce the Cat social media. It was the right thing to do, but also the end of a very special period in my life.
In 2022 I would like to finish my doctorate, finish another draft of my novel, and continue to write and place short stories with the ultimate aim of publishing a second collection. I'd like to continue to grow and develop as a reader and a writer.
Behind the scenes I'm working on a couple of collaborations, and I'd love to get them off the ground. They're both projects that require funding, so .. fingers crossed!
And I have an idea for another book and a couple of ideas for creative nonfiction pieces. Watch this space!
This week I was supposed to spend six days on a little self-funded writing retreat at a holiday house in Hampden... but lockdown happened, and we've been kind of busy at work, and I ended up with four days at home instead!
Luckily I live in beautiful Port Chalmers, and it was the best four days I've had in ages.
I set myself the unrealistic and amorphous goal of working towards my novel and my doctorate... and actually achieved it!
I also tried to polish an existing draft for the RNZ short story competition. But reading the story again - it sucked. Hopefully inspiration will strike before the end of the month.
On the reading front, I'm enjoying Greta and Valdin by Rebecca K. Reilly. It's as though I'm reading about my old Auckland life.
Back at work tomorrow, and it will be nice to be back in town and see my colleagues in 3D again.
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.
I'm coming to the end of my writing retreat in beautiful Moeraki.
I spent the first day revising a long short story, the next couple of days writing a humorous short story, and over the past few days I've worked up ideas for something that might become a bit longer.
A writer friend of mine stayed with me for the last two nights and we had loads of fun sharing story ideas and going on missions to the Katiki Point lighthouse (didn't see any penguins but saw loads of seals) and small settlement the Kaika ... and out for dinner at Fleur's Place seafood restaurant (luckily for us, they also have an excellent vegetarian menu).
It will be great to go home but I'll really miss the sound of the sea, the incredible, ever-changing views, and the abundance of creatures - from the baby silvereye that flew inside my crib, to the goose I spotted wandering down to the sea and going for a dip, to the absurd numbers of rabbits (you might round a corner and see ten of them sitting completely still in a clearing, as though they're holding some kind of bunny freemason convention), to the spotted shags and oyster catchers and pied stilts ... and of course the kekeno (fur seals).
In the meantime, I have a challenge set by the owners of the place I'm staying in - to eat as many of the courgettes from the garden as I can before leaving.
We've cancelled the Dunedin book and podcast launch for my short story collection Pet due to Covid-19 alert level uncertainty - but never fear, Newsroom has come to the rescue with an online launch, and there will even be goodie bags!
Yes, I have figured out how to have wine and chocolate at an online event!
The link to the online festivities will be shared on the night. Hope to 'see' you there!
Join the Facebook event for updates.
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!
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.