July 2018: Where our passions come from

I’ve just been asked to talk at a writers’ festival. The session is called ‘The Story Collector’ and I love that title. I’ve never thought of myself as a story collector, but I have been one for most of my life, and most of the stories I’ve collected have been migrant stories. Actually I haven’t so much ‘collected them’ as have been the writer for the person with the story to tell.

Where did this come from, this interest in migrant stories? When I was a child, my very hospitable parents invited a big mix of people to our house, including many Colombo Plan students (the Colombo Plan was a programme to bring mainly Asian students to New Zealand to study). That was the life I grew up in – it was full of all sorts of people. Then when I studied in Canada, I had the chance to take courses in Multicultural Education. I wrote all sorts of rubbish essays about what was happening in New Zealand – I didn’t have a clue, but my lecturers didn’t either. But that all sparked something strong in me. So when I came back to New Zealand I started teaching in a programme in Christchurch for newly arrived refugees. And it all carried on from there.

This year I’m publishing a new novel, A Change of Key, which is a sequel to my earlier novel The Score. Like The Score, it’s set in an inner-city block of council flats, where a very diverse group of people live. When I published The Score, readers in a whole raft of countries – Australia, England, USA, Germany, Switzerland, Serbia, Canada – said, ‘You could be writing about my city!’ I loved it – that inner cities had so much in common, and that maybe the story rang true in many of them. I hope it’s true of A Change of Key too.

Carina Gallegos and I are also publishing a new collection of poetry, All of us. Carina and I first met when we were both working at Te Papa. She’s originally from Costa Rica, and has spent several years working with mainly Colombian refugees in Wellington. I began working on a series of poems around the theme of migration last year, then asked her to join me. The whole collection is on the themes of migration and refugees, and alongside that we’re publishing a collection of poems by people from migrant and refugee backgrounds. There’s a lot going on. Plenty to write about! That’s why I’m writing this occasional blog.