A few years ago I worked for an organisation that was going through a restructure, and as part of that we were sent on ‘resilience training’.
Well, that training was one of the best things that's ever happened to me. I walked out of those sessions and immediately made a big change in my life – I started getting up early every morning to write short stories before going to work.
After a while I started placing my stories on websites and in journals. I even won the Headland Prize for my short story Frangipani.
Things were all going to plan.
And then … Bruce.
You might already know this story, but in a nutshell:
It’s been an amazing ride, and I wouldn’t change a thing, but it has put my story-writing on the back-burner for almost three years.
This morning I cleared out my old writing files and found a cluster of stories that I’d been developing at around the time I found Bruce. With a bit of spit and polish, I think some of them might actually scrub up quite nicely.
Another discovery I’ve made today is that birds appear to enjoy watching people as much as people enjoy watching birds.
A palm frond crashed off a Nikau onto the deck this morning, and two fat kererū watched intently from the box seats of a nearby tree as I hauled it away into the undergrowth. I could almost hear the conversation they were having about me.
Meanwhile the chicken, who I thought I had secured in her run, mysteriously appeared the second I sat down with my sandwich and jumped all over me in her attempt to catch some crumbs.
There’s no shortage of birds here. Pukeko forage through the garden, Tui sing the second line of Frère Jacques as though it’s the song that never ends, and a cluster of rainbow-coloured parrots invade the trees from time to time.
And of course, there are the gannets. They’re nesting down at the beach at the moment, and they’ve got high-density living down to a fine art.
Robin, who is not a bird but a friendly neighbour, invited me over for dinner with his family last week. (He made a delicious soup that I recreated tonight, but unfortunately for you I have been sworn to secrecy and cannot divulge the recipe.) My husband Tim came up from Dunedin for the weekend and we returned the favour, inviting Robin’s family over for a Mexican-inspired feast.
Yesterday I gave my talk at Earthskin. The tem ‘talk’ perhaps overstates the casual nature of the proceedings, but the ten guests and I enjoyed a bounty of snacks (including Tim’s lemonade scones) and I took everyone on a walk to see the red swamp at the bottom of the garden.
After all my entertaining I’ve ended up with a surplus of grapes. Ever since the Creative Hub writers came out a week ago I’ve been hand-feeding the chicken leftover grapes twice a day as though she’s some kind of deity.
But I’m happy to bow to her demands.
She is a theropod dinosaur, after all.
Thank you to The Creative Hub and Earthskin Retreat for the opportunity to undertake this residency.
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.