Category Archives: Michael King Writers Centre

Because nowhere’s very far

[Apologies to Don McGlashan]

Oh I wish…

This always happens. The day before I head home The Muttonbird’s Wellington gets stuck in my head, and even though it is not particularly flattering of my adopted hometown humming it fills me with excitement because I’m almost home! On roadtrips we’ll cue it on the ipod so we can blast it in the car …but only after we’ve gone past the “Wellington” sign on the motorway (I know it probably makes more sense to play it before). I have sung it on the ferry and hummed it on planes.

Yup. Wellington is home.

The strange thing is my real home town (Taupo) doesn’t stir these same feelings in me. Driving along the lakefront from Motutere to Taupo feels oppressive, like I’m getting more and more weighed down the closer to home I get. It is also the part of the journey that seems to take forever (although it is very beautiful).

This is my last day in Devonport. This will probably the last thing I write in “my” writing studio out the back of the MKWC. Tomorrow I hand back the keys and this space will become someone Else’s (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun – Chris Else is the next writer in residence). So it is fitting that I look back on the past eight weeks don’t you think?

It rains more than it should…

The ad I love on TV at the moment is for McCafe. It talks about expectations and how they are fragile things. I like it because I know that the company/advertisers want us to come away with the message “We’ll exceed your expectations” but what I come away with is “We know your expectations are low and we’re not going to disappoint!” (I also like that they say they use “real” ingredients as opposed to “imaginary” ingredients? I suspect an imaginary muffin would be rather low in fat/calories, and since it is imaginary you can have it anyway you want. In fact, I’m having one now!)

I expected a lot of myself before coming here. I had eight weeks, eight weeks to write a play. I thought I could do that and maybe  have a think about the next novel. I thought I could do that and maybe have a think about the next novel and walk up and down Mt Victoria everyday. I thought I could do that and… you get the picture.

I did write a play. It is at first draft stage but the draft is in good shape. I approached this project differently; because I had the time I researched and outlined and then went straight into a draft. Usually I’d do the research/outlining in a sort of piecemeal way so it was nice to spend a bit of time to do it. It meant I could experiment a bit or chase leads as I thought of them. The downside? If I have been researching/thinking about a story over a few months(or years!) then the strange connections, the themes, the metaphors have time to mature. I have more to choose from then the obvious.

I don’t want to sound like I’m bagging Auckland (because although I claim Wellington for my home I really don’t understand the Wellington/Auckland rivalry thing) but I did have some expectations about spending a Summer up north.  It has rained. A lot. Which is good for getting work done, but not so great if you want to do some fish slaying on the wharf.

There’s so much more to do

As I said, I’ve finished a good first draft of my play. Now I need to put it away for a while so I can see it with fresh eyes for the next draft.

This has been the first time that I’ve been a (paid) full-time writer. I think what this experience has taught me is that I really value structure and routine. Part of the beauty of “actual work” (aside from the people, the money etc) is that it makes me hungry for writing time – I know I have x hours to do x thing and it gets done. Stretch that out to eight weeks and I spend a bit of time on Facebook…

What has been great is that I actually have time to think!

And read the books I’ve been accumulating on story and structure (which are not bedtime friendly)…

Which I hope will make me a better writer.

I wish I was in Wellington…

Thinking of home and thinking of the place that I’m leaving has made me think about, well, place.

Part of Rewena talks about how beautiful the rewena bug is because it remembers where it is from. That it reflects the place that it is made.I think place is important.

I’m not sure just yet (forest for the trees) if Rewena reflects Devonport, or Auckland. Maybe this writer is just too Wellington!


Yes. Home tomorrow. I can’t wait.

Because then I’d be with you.


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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

Getting to know you…

Today I feel like I’ve made good progress on my play despite the fact that I haven’t written a word of dialogue since I’ve been in Auckland.

Huh? How can there be progress if I haven’t actually written any dialogue (actually that should be monologue since it’s a solo show)? Because I have been writing a pretty in depth character breakdown . I know, for example, what my character was doing 10 years before the play takes place and how this has shaped the character in the play today.

Usually, either because I’m pressed for time or the idea feels “hot”, I just jump in and start writing. Hopefully by the end of the first draft (but probably the third draft if I’m honest) I kinda know my character. Sometimes this actually does work. Sometimes it means a lot of rewriting and culling of scenes/dialogue that I love but don’t fit the character or the story.

Another thing I’ve discovered is that story can come from character so instead of inventing plot points they seem to be coming naturally from the type of character she is and the decisions she makes.

Pretty important stuff so I’ve silenced the editor in my head that’s demanding pages/scenes because this is important and I am working. It has been really nice to take the time to do this. I can’t help but look back on work that I’ve done and think if I took the time to prepare properly… would I have done it? Probably not.  I think I’m the type of person who likes to discover these things. But it’s kind of like Colombus “discovering” America – people have been here well before me.

What I have found in working to get to know my character this intensely is that I have no appetite for real people. The Michael King writer’s centre has a room to hire so writers can have a space to work on their latest project. Although it has been nice to get to know other writers and interesting to know what they’re working on, yesterday when the latest visiting writer moved out I was incredibly happy to be on my own.  Being with my character is using up my sociability quota. I don’t have the mindspace to absorb a real person’s quirks anymore.

Well, this week anyway.

Today I also baked rewena from the bug I started here – wild yeast caught in my writer’s shed. So far the yeast is strong in this one (there is another)* and the loaf is a monster – pushing the lid up on my dutch oven a good two cms (or an inch if you’re imperically minded). No photos I’m afraid – the camera is on charge.

I’m timing each step so that the play will hopefully run in real time – for as long as it takes to bake a loaf. That seems to be around 55 – 60 mins. Although in my old oven it would have been 45 mins so maybe I’ll need a little wiggle room for the actor!

*Apologies to George Lucas. Actually he should apologise – those last three Star Wars and Indiana Jones 4? Stop ruining my childhood! And here ends the fan-boy rant.

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Without drama

I’ve been in Devonport for a week now and feel like I’m settling in. I surprised myself in how territorial I am – the Writer’s studio did not feel like “mine” until I had rearranged the furniture:

Studio MKWC

Plenty of light with the windows either side, facing a wall so I can post up notes and the bookcase within reach for textbooks etc.

Those eagle eyed may have spied some notes already on the wall (there are more above the desk out of shot) and there is also a jar of potato water/mashed potato/flour on the book shelf. Can you see them? I thought it would be nice to grow a Michael King Writers’ Centre Rewena bug. It’s in the studio because there’s one of those automatic flyspray things in the house and I don’t know how microorganisms fare in the wake of those intermittent pssts.

I’ve been here a week and I’ve yet to write my play; which is already tying me in knots of guilt even though I have been working. I thought I’d take advantage of the luxury of time as a full time writer and read some books about writing. I’ve finished reading The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri (it was mentioned by Christopher Vogler when he gave a seminar in Wellington on the Writer’s Journey). I’m mucking around with my premise at the moment. I’m hoping at the end of the exercise I will be able to actually answer the dreaded “So what is it about?” question with a confident… well, I’m still working on it!

Egri argues that once you have a strong premise character will unfold from it – that my character will be the only “person” in the world that can prove/disprove my premise; that they would be the type of person to get in that situation and to react in the way that they do. There’s also some interesting stuff about character arcs – how the transition from their emotional state in the beginning must track smoothly and logically to the state at the end.

The most interesting thing for me in the book was the little glimmer of bitchiness.  Here’s my favourite quote:

Although it won the Pulitzer Prize, it is far from being a well constucted play.

OK – I’ve never read the play (Idiot’s Delight by Robert E Sherwood) so Egri may be right; but I’m pretty sure it must have some redeeming qualities if it won a Pulitzer Prize. A case of sour grapes? Maybe Egri’s on work was passed over for that playwright’s work? Or do writers’ create drama where there is none?

Speaking of which…

I was woken at 2.30 in the morning on Sunday by the other writer who was staying here because of a “situation”.  By which she meant she was calling the cops because some kids were drinking (? I don’t actually know if they were drinking because she hadn’t looked out the window) on the tennis courts across the road. So I stayed up for a bit to appease her, desperate to tell her about the real situation that actually warranted calling the cops that had happened on this mountain’s namesake in Wellington.

When I was living at the Fever Hospital (yes the one that the SPCA plan to move into) a woman knocked at our door – her boyfriend had attempted to kill her and thought that she wouldn’t find any help in the middle of nowhere, but she found our place.

So I could have been a dick and said “This isn’t a situation, that was a situation”* but I held my tongue – the other writer did, after all, run out of the room when I was watching the mild “thriller” The Return (and no it wasn’t because of the bad acting – I had sat through The Princess Diaries 2 with her).

No drama here. None whatsoever.

(Can you tell I’m reading about subtext now?)

*hands up everyone who thought of Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee. If you didn’t – re-read that bit in an Aussie accent. If you’re too young  to remember Crocodile Dundee, the Simpsons parodied it in the episode when Bart goes to Australia and the Aussie sayss to him: “I see you’ve played knifey, spoony before”…and if you’re too young to remember that – Youtube them.

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