Author's posts

August 2014: Talking about research

I couldn’t have written The Score without piano technician Serge Grandchamp, of Piano Prestige. I had no idea how complex it was working out what height a grand piano could fall from and still be potentially repairable – exactly what damage it would sustain depending on how it fell, the costs, the time, everything. I talked about this research, and research for a few other projects, at Paremata Probus in August, and it reminded me how much research writing a novel can require, and how extraordinarily interesting it is.

July 2014: Poets to the People

Poets to the People has been running on the Kapiti Coast for years, thanks to the indefatigable Gill Ward,  now with a great supporting group. They kindly invited me to read there in July. Clarinettist Louise Porteneuve joined me in some nostalgic poetry about longtime friends in Canada, and it was a chance to try out a sequence of poems about a bunch of Titahi Bay locals. I’ve put the first poem in the sequence on this website, but you can read all of it in The Fourth Floor online journal – 2014 edition available in November.

May 2014: Working at Te Papa

I’ve been working as a writer at Te Papa for ten years, and I’m finishing at the end of May. Working at Te Papa teaches you a huge amount. Mostly I’ve worked as an exhibition writer, so you learn a lot about whatever exhibition you’re working on, but it’s also taught me a lot about writing clear concise English – why use 500 words when 100 will do just as well! I worked with three fine head writers there – Michael Keith, Liz Grant and Frith Williams. Right from the start Michael taught me that ‘good enough’ is never good enough. There’s been a rigorousness about the writing process at Te Papa that I respect very much.

March 2014: Launch, Race Relations Day, Friends

We’ve launched The Curioseum. It was a large project – 22 writers, a big editing job, and a great project to be involved with. At the same time as the launch for the book, there was a sleepover for kids in the museum. The sleepover was based on the idea of kids writing their own stories about weird objects in the museum – about half the kids were keen to write, and half of them were excited out of their minds. I would have been too, if I was 12 and could spend a night in a big museum! I love the idea of kids making up their own stories about weird stuff in a museum – as well as finding out the facts of it – and I hope the idea of The Curioseum takes off in museums all over the place.

It’s pretty hard reading your own work about immigrants alongside people who’ve lived through it all as refugees. It’s a reminder of a lot of things. We celebrated Race Relations Day at the Wellington Public Library with Samson Sahele, La Nan, Selia Kassa and I reading work. Samson, as well as being a poet, constantly encourages young ex-refugees like to write about their experiences.

It’s been a really busy few months. Feels like one book after another rolling out. I took the opportunity of talking to Friends of Te Papa to recap several projects – The Score, Abdel’s Favourites, The Curioseum – but also to talk particularly about working on Throne of Emperors, the historical Chinese exhibition on at Te Papa. Also to do a little demonstration of how you can take a piece of very ordinary text and transform it into really attention-grabbing read-at-a-glance text without changing the content. It’s the perfect answer to mis-placed ideas about dumbing-down.

February 2014: Friends of Pataka

Friends of Pataka (Pataka Art and Museum is Porirua’s excellent museum/gallery) hosted a music-and-words event based on The Score – a pianist, a harmonica player, a piano technician, and a writer telling some of the stories behind the novel, and playing some of the music that features in it. Porirua Paper Plus sold lots of books – they have to be one of the best booksellers around.

And here’s what we did for the Festival of the Elements – it’s Porirua’s great celebration of Waitangi Day. Four of us involved with Escalator Press – Mandy Hager, Mary-Jane Duffy, Janet Colson,and I – read from our work, then cobbled together some kind of crazy story from all the works, and the audience had to come up with suitable – or unsuitable – endings. Lots of fun, and a great way for us to send up our own work!


Setting up Escalator Press

escalator-press-logoIn 2013 a small group associated with the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme decided to set up a small publishing press. We’d been thinking about it for a while, but with mainstream publishing in a state of flux, and publishing opportunities diminishing, we thought it was the time. A bit brash maybe, but we were confident that we could do something different, and make it work.

So we’ve set up Escalator Press. The group running the press is a mix of tutors and past and present students, with a pretty fine range of skills – arts marketing, publishing, administration, social media, editing, and of course writing. We’ve developed a new funding and operating model. Book production is done by the Whitireia Publishing Programme.

In 2013, Escalator Press published my novel, The Score, as its first publication (print and ebook). So it was the guinea pig book. We needed to see how well our financial model worked, how well the marketing worked – how well everything worked! And it was very successful. Not in every way – we have a lot to learn about marketing e-books, for example – but enough to give us a lot of forward momentum.  For 2014–2015, there are four books in the pipeline, and we’re reading another two manuscripts.

It’s been a crash course in publishing, and we’ve got plenty more to learn. But it’s also exciting, and we’re hoping that we’re developing a model that other small-scale ventures, or groups of writers, can use.

You can read more about Escalator Press here.