July 2015: Great news for The Curioseum

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.


June 2015: A Line of Sight

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.

May 2015: Penang, Malaysia

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.

February 2015: What’s the plot?

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!

November 2014: Escalator Press, Kuala Lumpur …

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.

October 2014: Asia NZ short story competition

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!

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.