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.
This evening the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors hosted a webinar about entering writing competitions. Authors and competition judges Emma Neale, Diane Brown, Michelle Elvy and Vanda Symon shared some of their insights. Some rough notes below:
Emma Neale - Essay writing
Thanks NZSA Otago Southland for a fun and insightful evening.
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.
It's fair to say that New Zealand bringing in bereavement leave for pregnancy loss has made waves around the world. I found myself converting my office into a studio last night for an interview with Australia's ABC News (above), and the story has also been shared in outlets including:
What's even more exciting is that our news seems to have sparked calls for other countries to update their employment legislation:
I'd love to know if anyone else has seen calls for change from other parts of the world.
I packed my bag and drove towards the airport, not knowing if I was going to get on the plane.
It was Members’ Day in parliament’s House, and the Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill was due to be read for the third and final time – if the affordable housing discussions, which were being conducted under urgency, wrapped up in time.
I was stopped at the lights when MP Ginny Andersen’s EA rang. The reading was going ahead!
One plane ride, one taxi drive and several coffees later, I found myself going through Parliament security.
I went into The Beehive and temporarily exchanged my bags for a sticker and a lanyard before racing up two flights of stairs and being ushered into the House – a space that’s even more impressive in real life than it is on TV.
Ginny gave an impassioned speech about the Bill, which was sparked when I sent a letter to Clare Curran about the lack of clarity in the Holidays Act for people grieving pregnancy loss. Clare took up the cause and later Ginny drafted the Bill and submitted it to the infamous biscuit tin (the vessel that Members' Bills are drawn from). The Bill could have languished inside the biscuit tin indefinitely, but it was drawn and in the years since Ginny and others have worked hard on the Bill to ensure that people impacted by pregnancy loss can access bereavement leave.
During yesterday's final reading the Bill received cross-party support. Labour, National, Green and Act MPs stood to share their personal experiences and explain what the Bill would mean for them and their constituents. Thanks to Parliament TV On Demand, you can watch the speeches online:
It was heartening to hear so many people in support of the Bill, and I think it’s amazing that politicians are speaking about such private issues on such a public stage. Their actions will help break down some of the taboos around miscarriage and baby loss.
Several politicians from across the House mentioned Ginny’s great work in shepherding the Bill through the House and gaining cross-party support.
All speakers said the fateful words, “I commend this Bill to the House.” This means that there is just one more step – a formality – needed before the change to The Holidays Act becomes law: Royal assent.
Ginny’s EA whisked me away to the Labour Caucus room where, beneath portraits of past Labour PMs, I chatted with some of Ginny’s team. (The fast-paced banter and the beautiful surroundings made it all feel very ‘In The Thick Of It’.)
Ginny and her colleagues arrived and we enjoyed macaroons and sandwiches as we toasted making history!
The celebration was short-lived as Ginny had to return to work (MPs work until 10pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays).
Ginny gave me a brief tour on the way out. I was introduced to the infamous biscuit tin that the Bill was drawn from, and I saw the billiards room and the glamorous Legislative Council Chamber.
Then all of a sudden – it was over. I booked myself into a hotel, head buzzing.
I’d like to say a huge congratulations to Ginny for her success with this Bill, and a huge thank you to Clare Curran who got the process started. Thank you also the Select Committee and everyone who made submissions on the Bill or helped in other ways.
Together, we’ve made a little bit of history!
More about the Bill
More about miscarriage
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.
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.