5 Quick Questions with Whiti Hereaka

Whiti HereakaNovelist and playwright Whiti Hereaka answers our latest 5 Quick Questions. Whiti will be teaching dialogue among other things at the upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat.

1. What is the starting point for you when you’re creating a new work?

I’ve found that each piece has its own starting point — its own will to be. Sometimes characters will talk and talk in my head until I exorcise them to the page. Sometimes an image will emerge that sparks the story. Sometimes I’m inspired by someone else’s work and I want to reply to it: it could be something I read, something I see or hear.

I suppose, then, the actual starting point for any project is being open to new ideas and to be able to recognise that there is a new work amongst them; something able to hold my interest.

From there I let the magpie in me to take over — collecting all the shiny, exciting bits that will make up the story.

2. You have written plays for radio and the stage and novels. Did you intend to write across different disciplines or does the story guide the final form?

For me the story guides the “final” form — some stories lend themselves more naturally to the stage or the page, although I think a story can exist in many forms!

What interests me lately is how the form can support the story: what is it about the form that will push the story further? What can a novel do that a play can’t?

3. What can novel or short story writers learn from scriptwriting?

The most important lesson I learnt working in theatre is that a story is never really mine alone — a play relies on the skills of many people to bring it to life. But even then, it’s not until an audience sees it that it is truly “alive”. When I write fiction, I try to keep that in mind: the story is an exchange, or a conversation with the reader — my aim is not to tell my story, but to tell ours.

4. What are you working on now?

Somehow I’ve always got a couple of projects on the go! At the moment, I’m working on rewriting a novel and starting a draft of a new play. The novel, Kurangaituku, retells the story of Hatupatu and the “bird-woman” from her point of view.

The play is a satire of structural racism and office politics. Its working title is Tin of Cocoa, Tin of Cocoa, Tin of Cocoa, Car Tow-er.

5. Can you tell us a little about what participants should expect from your workshop?

I think really great dialogue springs from a deep understanding of character, so we’ll be looking at creating characters: on the page and also doing a bit of “method” writing. But don’t worry! Not too much acting, I promise.

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5 Quick Questions with Lynn Jenner

Writer and teacher Lynn Jenner answers our latest 5 Quick Questions. Lynn will be teaching at the upcoming Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat.

1. You’ve come to writing later in your life. Was writing a creative practice you had earlier in life?

Yes, I loved writing stories till high school and university left me with the idea that you had to be dead or male or both to have anything worth saying. I was always very interested in writing though, even when I wasn’t writing for literary purposes. I used what is called ‘narrative therapy’ in my psychological work. I also enjoyed (yes, really) the challenge of writing clearly in my work.  Creatively though, pressure was building up. When I realised you could write without waiting for the ideas that would make you the greatest writer in English, it was a great moment. I gave up making strange clothes and cooking esoteric dishes from Russia in the 15th Century and started writing for fun.

2. Your work is hard to describe, in that it seems to draw from poetry, essay, memoir and more academic non-fiction. How does the form come to you for a piece?

I start with the idea or the phrase or the feeling that interests me and I start writing. I don’t usually have a plan for what form it will be, and when I do, I am usually wrong. I let a new piece of writing develop a bit and then look at its best bits and then look at what shape or form it seems to be leaning towards. In my head there are form options based on what I have seen other writers do. This is where reading comes in. If I didn’t keep reading I might always do the same thing.

3. Your work often brings together seemingly disparate people or places together. Do you set out with the idea of bringing these elements together, e.g. the work of Charles Brasch and the Kāpiti Expressway in your latest work Peat, or is it something that evolves out of the research and writing process? 

My experience of the world is that it is a confusing complex place, where some people think that their knowledge is more trustworthy than other knowledge. I don’t like that idea at all so I like to show ideas and insights coming in from all sorts of places and sources.

In the case of Charles Brasch and the Kāpiti Expressway, I knew I would have to write about the natural environment because environmental impact was one of the main critiques of the Expressway. Nature- writing has not been my forte, so I wanted to get the support of a writer known for his sympathy with the natural world. I thought that if I tried to get my head around his way of seeing, that would help me ‘see’ the Expressway. So I set out to connect with Brasch’s work, even though it is Romantic and a bit outside my usual taste. The results were richer than I could possibly have expected.

4. Tell us about three books or authors that have significantly influenced your writing.

Probably my favourite book of all time is Tales of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz. Forgive me for raving about this book! Oz’s memoir describes growing up in what was Palestine and then became the state of Israel. His parents escaped from Eastern Europe before the war and he was the child of the new place. I love the way you are reading along while he describes something and, all of a sudden, the description has lifted off the ground and into some magic and strange territory. There is a big whiff of Hassidic tales and the scary folk tales of Eastern Europe. I love the way Oz writes around the most important subjects without ever describing them. You gradually realise what he is telling you because you feel it in your heart. I love his warmth and empathy for everyone in the story. I also love the construction of his book. The story swirls and eddies and loops. Oz is the master of asterisked sections as a way to tell a big complex story. What a cocktail! For locals, Kāpiti Library has this book.

I’m very fond of The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald because of his mastery of the implicit. Nothing is ever spelled out and nothing is neatly summarised in these stories, but you gradually realise that grief is the real core of all the stories.

Most recently I have been intrigued by All for Nothing, a novel by Walter Kempowski. It tells of the wave of German-speaking refugees trying to escape the advancing Russian army near the end of World War Two. This is another story where all the meaning is unwritten. Kempowski’s tone is slightly astringent. I like irony (and also the absence of irony). Kempowski is determined to tell parts of the story of World War Two that matches the experience of some German people but doesn’t match the permitted narratives of the post war period. It’s uncomfortable. I appreciate his attention to those things.

5. Can you tell us a little about what participants should expect from your workshop?

We’ll be looking at how to use language that sets off empathy and emotion in readers. We’ll be focusing on using the details in descriptions of events or places or people to do that. Franz Kafka famously said ‘A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.’ I’m not suggesting we think of writing as a form of violence but I’m interested in how we can choose words to reach through the frozen sea of habit and numbness. I chose this topic because it matters to me and I think other writers will find the topic worth thinking about.

We’ll be using that magic mixture of reading, writing and feedback to get new work written. The readings will be a mix of poetry, prose, fiction and non-fiction. I hope the work people will write in the workshop will be a mixture of genres and forms too because each has something to teach the others.

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Registrations are now open for the 2019 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat!

Immerse yourself in writing and conversation this summer. There’s something for everyone–whether you’re new to writing, an established writer, or somewhere in-between.
Dates: 22-24 February 2019
Location: El Rancho, Kāpiti Coast, New Zealand
Registration:  Register securely online or contact [email protected] with any other questions.

Join us for the 2019 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat and renew and recharge your writing and your life. The Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat is an immersive, two-day gathering for writers, happening on the Kāpiti Coast. The retreat includes intensive morning workshops, lively afternoon discussions and space to write, relax and engage with topics critical to your work. Read about last year’s event here.

Kahini is delighted to host six established New Zealand writers–Brannavan Gnanalingam, James George, Lynn Jenner, Mandy Hager, Vana Manasiadis and Whiti Hereaka–at the 2019 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat. Each writer will teach morning workshops: in fiction, poetry, mixed genre, manuscript development and dialogue. In the afternoons they will lead discussions on topics pertinent to craft and literature in Aotearoa. (Read descriptions of the workshops, afternoon discussions and teachers below.)Talking

All writers are welcome, at whatever stage you are in your writing life. You’ll find community, encouragement, and a safe place in which to take artistic risks. Please contact Kirsten at [email protected] for more information. Find out more or Register for the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat!

 

 

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