On Friday I attended a workshop hosted by the Michael King Writers Centre called Ta te Ao Maori. The workshop ran the entire weekend but I was only there for the one day.

I came away from the day with some ideas to mull over and so I thought I’d share them with you.

The first idea was reciprocity. Monty Soutar talked about this in his presentation about illiciting information from Maori “informants” (I stumble over this word! Informant to me is close to “narc” so I felt like the word was too loaded for the context of the korero. But maybe historians think of the word differently? Maybe I’m the victim of too many Police procedurals on TV!). Later the introductions/mihimihi illustrated to me that reciprocity was not really understood – I was amazed at the number of people there to “take” rather than “give”. To be fair they were just answering the question put to them – “What do you want to get from this workshop?”. I wonder what difference reframing that question to “What will you contribute to this workshop?” would have made.

It finally dawned on me that this was the reason why I’ve found other workshops in the past frustrating and a waste of time; because the participants were there “get” something.

I guess I’ve always thought of writing groups as pot-luck dinners rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet.

What I also thought strange was the idea that you can “get” a story from someone. That mild threats of “no one else will listen”, and “think of future generations” would work.  I think stories are always given – even if you torture someone they still have a choice to not tell you, lie or to give you the information you’re looking for.

Which leads to your responsibilty once you’ve been given knowledge – how do you use it? Who do you share it with? Can you use it freely?

Knowledge is precious. If someone has given you a taonga you have a responsibilty to look after it. And it’s kind of more than that – that gift has created a relationship that needs to be respected and nurtured.

Reciprocity means that you have to give as well as take.

Witi Ihimaera gave the last session of the day (and my apologies to him – the Socratic method is a little hard to participate in after a long hot day, some kai and wine!). What I’ve been thinking about from that talk is rewriting.

Witi has rewritten some of his earlier works – we looked at some excerpts from Pounamu Pounamu and Whanau. I agree that a work ought to be rewritten (whether it has been published or not) because it doesn’t reflect what the writer was trying to say. But I don’t think rewriting for “relevancy” is a good reason to rewrite.

I think if the heart of the story is strong it’s going to be relevant to an audience whether it was written 40 or 400 years ago ( I’m looking at you Shakespeare). Maybe it will be archaic – but there’s value in that too. It’s good for people to see what literature was like way “back then”, how people thought “back then”. Maybe if your work truely is “irrelevant” that it is a kind of a natural process – it gives room for another’s work…

Maybe that’s an emerging writer bias! Maybe if I’m lucky enough that my work is in danger of becoming irrelevant (assuming that it ever was relevant!) I’ll feel differently.

It has made me think about a couple of old plays languishing in my (virtual) drawer. Do I really need to rewrite them? Perhaps they have served their purpose and I should move on.

Which serves as a clumsy segway into how my new project is coming along.

Pretty good, thanks for asking.

I am very close to finishing a good first draft. I know I said that I had already finished the first draft but I’m now calling that my “expanded outline”.  This draft feels like it’s humming along and the main reason is an “M”.

I changed my character’s name from “Aggie” to “Maggie” and all of a sudden Maggie came alive.

She had opinions, she had stories, she wanted attention.

All going well I will  finish what I said I would when I applied for this residency. Got to be pleasedwith that eh?



Filed under Michael King Writers Centre, On being a Writer

4 responses to “Mmmm

  1. ed

    “It has made me think about a couple of old plays languishing in my (virtual) drawer.”
    hmm… one of them ‘both say I’ by any chance …

    having said that, I’m not sure I wanted it rewritten, rather would love to see it performed…

    • Whiti

      It is indeed that play. Mainly because it didn’t quite say what I wanted to…Mainly because I didn’t know what I wanted to say!

  2. Ata marie Whiti,
    Mmmm..Thank you for the insights into why storytellers tell stories…Monty Te Ao Māori …reciprocity is essential…. Witi…relevance is important …and Whiti…heart is queen?
    Is the rewena bug an informant?

  3. Alison P

    I liked these reflections a lot! So much connection with oral history and its later ‘use’ – and writing biography – and the ownership of memory and experience that non-fiction writers wrestle with. Thanks, Whiti. All the best with the rest of your time there – looking forward to seeing you back home. Alison

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s