Wednesday 22 November 2017

What I've been doing in the last 12 months

1. Visiting the great white continent

This time last year, I was getting ready to head south. On 1 December, I flew down to Antarctica for a week with the Antarctica NZ community engagement programme (formerly Artists & Writers to Antarctica) at Scott Base. It was an astonishing experience and one that I have thought about almost every day since then. It was hard and challenging and exhausting and took me way outside my comfort zone, but it was also – everything you can imagine about Antarctica.

One of the other people on the programme was Guy Frederick who produced two fabulous exhibitions for Canterbury Museum called Postcards to Antarctica and Postcards from Antarctica. 

First view of the sea ice

Field Training - my home for the night! Mt Erebus in the background. 

Scott Base

The historic huts of the early Polar explorers were a total highlight for me.
So well preserved and so atmospheric.   

I kept a blog while I was down there, which you can can read here - or just look at the photos! 

Another piece of writing to come out of this so far is a story called “Snow from the south” in the anthology Wish upon a Southern star, a collection of retold fairytales edited by Shelley Chappell. Thanks to Shelley for all her hard work in putting this anthology together. You can read a review of the book on Bob's book blog.  


2. Book Council Writers in Schools

The Book Council does a great job of getting writers into schools to (hopefully) inspire students and get them enthused about reading and writing. I always enjoy doing school visits and this year, as well as some of the standard one-day visits, I’ve been involved in the inaugural South Wairarapa community project of more indepth work spread over a total of six visits.

I've loved visiting St Teresa's School in Featherston and it's been great to see such wonderful work produced by the students, some of whom weren't that keen on writing before. Thanks to Rm 5 for their thank you booklet which was an unexpected surprise!

3. New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN NZ Inc) Te Puni Kaituhi o Aotearoa

If you’re a writer and you already belong to the NZSA, you’ll know what a great organisation it is. If you're a writer and you don’t belong, I’d encourage you to join. I’m on the committee of our local branch and also on the National Council as a regional delegate. This year our branch meetings have included great speakers like Stephen Daisley, a panel discussion about the state of the NZ books scene and fun events like the flash fiction evening.

4. Children’s war books

I’m still updating my Children's war books blog regularly although I realise now that I’m never going to catch up, because there are so many excellent books being published, not to mention all the classic titles.

5. The New Zealand Wars

This book has been my major project for most of the year. It’s a topic that my previous non-fiction books have led me towards, but one that is hard to summarise in a few lines and I’ll write more about it on my website once the book is out next year. The research involved several road trips, visiting memorials and old battlesites that a few years ago I would have driven past without giving them a second glance. Many people were kind and generous with their knowledge and expertise, and one of the most powerful experiences of the year was going to stay at Parihaka for a weekend to present my work to the people of the three marae there.

Another reason why this has been a challenging topic is that when people have asked what I’ve been working on, and I’ve said, “The New Zealand Wars”, I’ve had very muted responses, compared to my other books. Many people look blank or puzzled. They aren’t sure what or when the New Zealand Wars were, or just don’t have anything to say.

I can totally relate to this because this would have been me a few years ago, but writing this book has made me look at New Zealand history and New Zealand society today in a different way. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever written, but also one of the most rewarding.

The site of the battle at Ruapekapeka in Northland

Memorial to the prisoners of Parihaka in Wellington

Gate Pa in Tauranga. I didn't even know about Gate Pa a few years ago.
But it's as significant to NZ history as Gallipoli is.

6. Storylines hui

Writing can be a very solitary occupation, and it’s always a treat to get together with other writers.  Thanks to the hardworking Storylines team who organised the Storylines hui in Auckland in October. 

7. Wikipedia editing

OK this might come across as slightly nerdy, but one of the most unexpectedly fun things I did this year was go along to a Wikipedia Women in science workshop at the Royal Society.

You know how teachers advise their students not to use Wikipedia, and then everyone goes off and uses it? Well, since the workshop I have a lot more understanding of how Wikipedia actually works, and I now think it’s a surprisingly reliable source, with built-in features to make sure the material is accurate.

The main reason I went along was to learn how to write up an article about Pamela Young, who was the first New Zealand woman to live and work in Antarctica. I’ve now written another article as well, about Marie Darby, the first New Zealand woman to visit the Antarctic mainland. This is all voluntary and unpaid of course, and also anonymous, but I am quite chuffed to have this information available for anyone to read online.

I also found out about the Wikiproject Women in Red. Do you know what percentage of English Wikipedia biographies are about women? Have a guess… If you said about 15%, you’d be approximately correct. (It's currently sitting at 17.22%, up from 15% a few years ago, but the percentage does vary slightly from country to country.) The Women in Red campaign aims to create pages for red links, where a name is highlighted but doesn’t yet have a separate entry. (As opposed to blue links that do link to a page.)

8. Radio NZ Short Story Club

This is Jesse Mulligan’s bright idea: the Short Story Club on his afternoon show at 3pm on Thursdays, an excellent way to build some reading into your week.  Jesse invites listeners to send in their own thoughts  on the story being discussed, and I won a copy of Tracy Farr’s new book The hope fault for a comment about her story "Once had me". (I really wanted to win the book, so I put lots of thought into my email.) After that, I was invited on for the session on 10 August, when Jesse, Claire Mabey and I talked about "Paradise ducks" by Fiona Farrell.  

9. Saying goodbye

It has been a sad year for saying goodbye to some truly remarkable people. Barbara Murison’s cheery tones ring in my head whenever I go to a book launch, and when I walk into the Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie, I still half-expect to see John sitting at his usual spot down the back.

There are many heartfelt tributes online to both Barbara and John. The Sapling has a collection of memories about Barbara here, and John's "life story" is on the Dominion Post here

10. Other stuff

I've done some writing for educational publications (which involved some fascinating research on Navajo code talkers in World War Two) and had some plays published in the NSW school magazine and a poem in this beautiful book, Bird words (Penguin Random House, 2017).

I've read books (a lot of history around the NZ wars) and reviewed books for the Sapling website (if you don’t know the Sapling yet, go and have a look; it is jam packed with great reading!)

There have been 21st birthdays, a wedding, new babies and lots of everyday life going on. 
The Wellington Community Choir is a weekly highlight and if you get the chance to go along to one of their concerts, don't miss it.  (Even better, come along and join the choir!)

Thanks to everyone who has asked about, been interested in or supported my writing this year. Thanks to the amazing Virginia Keast for lots of exercise-fun, helping to counteract the effects of hours of sedentary work. Thanks to everyone who has shared chat and news with me over coffee.  

And if you're starting to think about Christmas presents - the best present is always a book! Preferably by a NZ author!