The novel is on hiatus while I work on my homework for the playwrights’ studio. Conveniently, it also means that I can wait for my new mentor to finish reading my novel before my red pen can start to massacre the thing. Time to reflect, time to percolate…
I have found it more difficult than I thought to switch between the two. In my mind I had thought of it like I would be an artist working on another canvas whilst waiting for the paint to dry on another. But of course an artist working this way is probably working on an exhibition, a series of paintings that relate to each other. Is it because of this laboured metaphor that I have been searching for similarities between my pieces?
Last year, when I was looking for a model for Mae I read the autobiography of Nancy Wake. Nancy’s life and the way that she wrote about it influenced how I wrote Mae’s chapters; I think I decided to write her chapters in first person because of reading that autobiography. I loved Nancy’s straight forward language, the way she describes the amazing things she did during WW2 so humbly, her independence at a time when I imagined women were meek. Nancy certainly was not, and neither is Mae.
I began re-reading the autobiography again this week, as a way to keep the novel in my mind as I work on something else. It struck me that Mary, a character in my play, also had similarities to the venerated Ms. Wake, when I read this:
I resolved there and then that if I ever had the chance I would do anything, however big or small, stupid or dangerous, to try and make things more difficult for their rotten party.
Nancy Wake, The Autobiography of the Woman the Gestapo Called The White Mouse, Pan Macmillian, Sydney, 1997, pg 4
Mary, a Maori “radical” lives in the country. New Zealand is in the midst of a civil “war” (probably more like “Civil unrest”. We here in Aotearoa tend to be a little understated). Mary’s protest? Not plotting to bomb Parliament or kill anyone for Maori sovereignty. Mary plants trees, reclaiming her land millimetre by millimetre. In the world she inhabits just being would be a form of protest – her existence a thumb at the nose to the state. Which is probably less a distopian fantasy and more a bleak reality to Maori at times.
The homework is to strip the story back to a scene outline and to think about the hero’s journey. In doing this I’ve had to ask myself what is the story that I’m trying to tell? Why do I need to tell it now?
The idea first came to me during the season of I Ain’t Nothing But… The character of Zeke walked into my head with little more than his name and cowboy boots ( which sounds like the start of a porn – what I mean is that I didn’t have a story for him yet). But I was trying to finish the first draft of my novel so it had to sit in the back of my mind.
Then early last year, I wrote the first 10 or so pages in a frenzy and took it along to a writing group. I showed it to Hone and he said “I don’t know where you’re going with this.” to which I replied, “Neither do I.” Again, the novel stepped in and those pages were filed away.
Then the raids at Ruatoki happened. Of course I was shocked as many people were, but there was a little part of me that kicked myself for not completing the play before it become tainted with the “political”. It was not until I submitted an extract for Burn this CD that I realised that the reason why I had begun to write it in the first place was “political”. That I wanted to talk about land and who has the right to stand here, and the suspicion that is created if we don’t talk about it.
I had thought that Zeke was my hero (he’s a cowboy, they’re always heroes right?) but now I think it is really Mary. There is tension between them naturally as mother and son, but there is also tension in how they view their roles in life. Mary assumed that Zeke would carry on her work, Zeke wanted to be free of the responsibility of his history – he wanted to make a life for himself. This has separated them before my play starts, now I just have to figure a way to bring them together.
Their relationship is similar to that of Mae and January. January changed her name to be free of the past, to create a new life for herself. Mae sees the value of home and the past.
So if I strip everything away, the settings, the gimmicks, the MacGuffins, the characters – what am I really writing about?
Just another canvas in the series…