It’s been a very unusual year! In October Mary-Jane Duffy, my colleague on the Whitireia Writing Programme, and I spent two weeks in Indonesia. This is part of a literary project aimed at producing more picture books for Indonesian kids which show things familiar to them. Most of the time we spent in Semarang, in Central Java, running a writing workshop for about 30, mostly early childhood teachers. It’s hard to imagine a group with more enthusiasm or a greater sense of humour. They were funny, great story-tellers, and worked really hard. It was very hot, very interesting, a lot of fun, and very exhausting. Such a lot I could say about that. It’s an ongoing project, so there might be more to come!
In July/August I went back to Penang to finish the Indian Muslim exhibition and be there for the opening, which was part of the George Town arts festival. The exhibition featured photos of about 25 members of the Indian Muslim community in George Town, with a small personal story about each person, and was shown alongside a selection from The Crescent Moon, which was a similar exhibition about the Asian Muslim community in NZ. I hadn’t realized how differently the NZ text would read in a new setting. It was all illuminating.
As part of the George Town Festival we went to a show called 100% Penang. It’s produced by a German company called Rimini Protokoll, which has done similar shows in a number of cities. Look it up – it’s extraordinary.
Sarah Maxey, designer of the cover for A Line of Sight, sent me this email:
Florian Hardwig, who is a German graphic designer (in my world he’s a renowned design superstar) subscribes to my newsletter. He caught sight of the A Line of Sight cover, and wrote to ask if he could include it in his online archive Fonts in Use. This is a website he administers that showcases excellent design and typeface use. This is a huge honour for me as a designer, and you and Escalator Press get a plug and a link to Escalator’s website at the same time. I’m really delighted, it’s better than winning an award!
Me too, because I love that cover.
At the Publishers Association of New Zealand Book Design Awards, The Curioseum: Collected Stories of the Odd & Marvellous won the best cover award for designer Sarah Laing and Te Papa Press, the publisher. “A great example of how a children’s book need not be childish,” said one of the judges. “The Curioseum is the story version of a ‘wunderkammer’, supported by delightful illustrations and the use of hand-rendered type for chapter headings, all making for an engaging and fun read.” I loved editing this collection, and it’s great to see it recognized like this.
In June A Line of Sight, my latest novel, was launched. It’s been a long time coming – ten years since I first started writing this novel. The catalyst was an actual shooting incident in the Bay of Plenty in 2000, which we heard about from friends closely involved. That incident took root in my head, and after many rewrites, and setting the novel aside to do a couple of other projects, it’s finally finished.
I’ve just spent two weeks in George Town, Penang, writing the text for a photographic exhibition about the Indian Muslim community there. You could well ask, why me? Well, The Crescent Moon exhibition is going to the George Town arts festival, and the festival organisers wanted a companion exhibition, in the same style, based on a local community. So I spent two excellent weeks living in the heart of the historical part of George Town, interviewing more than 30 people, writing up small stories, eating great food, being made extraordinarily welcome – how lucky is that! I could write at great length about this experience and my thoughts on it, but not here.
On Waitangi Day, 6 February, Escalator Press took part in the Festival of the Elements at Porirua. We did a reprise of last year’s session (why not re-use a very successful formula), and three of us – Kate Carty, Janet Colson and I – each read from our novel, then we completely mashed up the three plots into one story and asked the audience to come up with endings. Audiences are wonderfully inventive, and we like sending ourselves up too!
The Crescent Moon in Kuala Lumpur
I had a week in Kuala Lumpur when The Crescent Moon exhibition opened at the University of Malaya. The Asia New Zealand Foundation generously gave me the opportunity, as they did last year when the exhibition opened in Bangkok. I spoke at the exhibition opening, and took part in a seminar for students. Always, revisiting that project revives that passion that we need to become much better informed about Islam and the Muslim community in New Zealand, that we need to talk together about that very large moderate thoughtful middle ground that most of us inhabit, and absolutely not subscribe to glib stereotypes.
New novels from Escalator Press
In November Escalator Press, the new publishing house set up by the Whitireia Creative Writing Programme, published two new novels, The Shark Party by Janet Colson and Run Thomas Run by Kate C arty. I’m one of a group of 8 running Escalator Press – it’s a lot of work but extremely interesting, and there’s so much opportunity for all kinds of creative thinking around marketing. We’re having fun!
The Blooming Lotus
I proofread the book The Blooming Lotus for editor Samson Sahele, which was launched in November. It’s an excellent and moving book of short stories by former refugees in New Zealand. This is Samson’s last publication in New Zealand, because he’s moving to Australia. I’m very lucky to have collaborated with him on quite a few publications, and he’s made such a big contribution to all of us having a bit better understanding of the lives that ex-refugees have brought with them.
I’ve just been judging the Asia New Zealand Foundation short story competition with Mark Broatch from The Listener. Each story needed to link Asia and New Zealand in some way, and include 3 required words or phrases. There were some very imaginative links between countries, and some clever use of the necessary phrases (although some certainly felt shoehorned in) but in the end we chose a story that felt complete in itself and had that sense of the writing being very well-honed. A reminder of how demanding the short story is!
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.