Novelist 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.