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 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 for more information. Register for the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat!


Friday, 22 February
5:30 pm: Welcome
7 pm: Dinner
8:30 pm: Freewrite with Helen Lehndorf (optional)

Saturday, 23 February
7 am: Gentle morning yoga with Helen Lehndorf (optional)
8 am: Breakfast
9 am–12:30 pm: Morning workshop (morning tea break included)
12:30 pm–1:30 pm: Lunch
2 pm–3 pm: Afternoon sessions: Fiction Writing as a Form of Activism & You Can Play in Many Sandpits
3 pm–4 pm: Afternoon sessions: How to Be a Better Reader & In the Footsteps Of.
4 pm–5 pm: Workshop check-in
5:30 pm: Dinner
8 pm–9 pm: Open mike readings (optional)

Sunday, 24 February
7 am: Gentle morning yoga with Helen Lehndorf (optional)
8 am: Breakfast
9 am–12:30 pm: Morning workshop (morning tea break included)
12:30 pm–1:30 pm: Lunch
2 pm–3 pm: Afternoon sessions: Putting Stories Together & On the Concept of the Virtual Residency
3 pm: Closing

Morning Workshops

The Retreat is centred around core morning workshops which offer writers the space to delve into a specific topic or genre with one of six established writers. The 7.5 hours of workshop are spread over two mornings and include an afternoon check-in, allowing participants to engage, reflect and delve into the writing. There are no minimum requirements for attendance. Workshops will have a maximum of twelve participants. Select your workshop when you register.

Interested in coming along but not sure which workshop would best fit with you? Email Kirsten at for more information, suggestions, or to have questions answered.

Teaching Writers

Brannavan Gnanalingam

The Writer as Chameleon: Capturing Different Voices (1 space left)

One of the most difficult things to do as a writer is capturing voices that aren’t from your own experience, whether you’re telling a historical story or a contemporary one from a different perspective.

The class will focus on theoretical frameworks to help you navigate some of the tricky and complicated issues of representation. We will work through discourse theories and concepts of representation then look at how to incorporate these ideas into our research and writing. On day 2 we’ll apply these strategies to flesh out characters and situations in new or existing work. Open to all writers of prose, whether fiction or non-fiction.

Brannavan Gnanalingam is a novelist based in Wellington. He has published five novels through Lawrence & Gibson. His last novel, Sodden Downstream, was shortlisted for the Acorn Foundation Prize at the Ockham Book Awards 2018, while his previous novel, A Briefcase, Two Pies and a Penthouse was longlisted the previous year.

James George

Story Development: Taking Your Draft to the Next Stage (Sold out)

Have you completed a first draft of a full length work, and wish to tackle an in-depth rewrite to propel your work through the developmental stages to a final manuscript? Are you about to begin a rewrite but are unsure what to develop/emphasise, and what to compress/edit and why, and for what effect?

Then this workshop is for you.

In this interactive workshop we will analyse, prioritize, and strategize the next steps to take your story ideas to fruition.

This includes:

  • Developing character nuance and subtlety
  • Sharpening your story steps and turning points, in their scenic description
  • Getting the right balance for mimesis (enactment) and diegesis (exposition)
  • Getting your B story (and sub-plots) to reflect and support your A story
  • Working on honing your overall narrative voice, and the individual character-derived voices (dialogue, subjective point of view narration)
  • Set up your Structural Edit and final Copy Edit, polishing and sharpening
  • Proportion and sophistication in both your page time focus and language and
  • Sharpening your dialogue scenes to have real bite.

Writers need to supply a synopsis and a sample page of text they need to rewrite in advance of the workshop. We will be doing exercises in the session, where you’ll be working directly on your existing text.

The workshop is open to writers working in all genres and demographics and we will discuss (where necessary) subtleties and differences in working on developing full-length prose texts in multiple realms.

James George is a novelist and short story writer of Ngapuhi, English and Irish descent. He is author of Wooden Horses, Hummingbird, and Ocean Roads. His works have been twice shortlisted for Montana NZ Book Awards, the Tasmania Pacific Fiction Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize (South East Asia and Pacific Region.) James teaches and mentors on the Master of Creative Writing programme at AUT University in Auckland and has also taught in forums as diverse as the University of Auckland (Continuing Education) the Auckland and Sydney Readers and Writers Festivals, and at Paremoremo Prison. He also served as chair of the Auckland Branch of the NZ Society of Authors, (2012-2014) and as chair of Te Ha, the writers committee of Toi Maori Aotearoa, (2005-2018) and is on the Board of Trustees of Toi Maori. He is also literary adviser for Cloud Ink Press. James is working on his fourth novel, Sleepwalkers Songs, and fifth, Two Rivers.

Lynn Jenner

On Detail and Its Halo of Light (6 spaces left)

Writers are always being told to write the detail of things. It is the detail that makes a story believable, the detail that makes an essay ring true, and so forth. So why do some detailed descriptions never become anything more, never set off those detonations of recognition and fellow feeling that readers crave? And how is it that some detailed descriptions catch you by the throat and bring tears to your eyes?

We’ll experiment with writing detail that is more than detail. We’ll look at some essays, memoir and poems that use detail and we’ll find out where and how the moment of magic happens. We’ll also write our own detailed descriptions, and experiment with how to give them that extra emotional wallop. We’ll workshop those first raw drafts.

You’ll take away at least one new piece of work and maybe more. The workshop is open to writers of any genre who want to think about letting detail open the door to the room where imagination and emotion live.

Lynn Jenner writes essays and poetry. She teaches short courses on writing memoir and writing essays, mentors writers and assesses manuscripts. She has taught poetry at Whitireia and life writing at Massey. Lynn has a PhD in Creative Writing from Victoria University. Lynn’s second book, Lost and Gone Away is a hybrid memoir that explores loss across time and distance and the ethics of the search itself. It was a finalist in the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Her first book, Dear Sweet Harry, won the NZSA Jessie MacKay Best First Book of Poetry prize in 2010. Peat,  Lynn’s collection of essays and poems about New Zealand poet Charles Brasch and the Kāpiti Expressway, will be published in July 2019. You can read and listen to some of Lynn’s work on her author website

Mandy Hager

Autobiography as a means to explore structure, voice and character development for fiction writing (Sold out)

Writing a piece of fiction that will emotionally resonate with readers, either novel length or shorter, involves understanding how story structure springs innately from each character’s unique wants and needs. By turning the microscope onto ourselves, as a model for constructing character development and voice, we can see how a story builds on pivotal moments in each person’s life, and how it shapes our attitudes, which, in turn, shapes both the story’s voice and the writer’s voice. In this workshop we will move from the personal to the fictional, understanding how each of us has traversed our own ‘hero’s journey’ to make us who we are as writers, and how this learning can shape everything we write.

Mandy Hager is a multi-award winning writer of fiction for young adults. She has won the LIANZA Book Awards for Young Adult fiction 3 times (‘Smashed’ 2008, ‘The Nature of Ash’ 2013, ‘Dear Vincent’ 2014), the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards for YA fiction (‘The Crossing’ 2010), an Honour Award in the 1996 AIM Children’s Book Awards (‘Tom’s Story’), Golden Wings Excellence Award (‘Juno Lucina,’ 2002), Golden Wings Award (‘Run For The Trees’, 2003) and Five Notable Book Awards. She has also been awarded the 2012 Beatson Fellowship, the 2014 Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship and the 2015 Waikato University Writer in Residence. In 2015 her novel ‘Singing Home the Whale’ was awarded the Margaret Mahy Book of the Year award, and the Best Young Adult fiction Award from the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. It has also been named a 2016 IBBY Honour Book, an international award. Her historical novel for adults, titled ‘Heloise’, was long-listed for the Ockham Book Awards. She is a trained teacher, with an Advanced Diploma in Fine Arts (Whitireia) and an MA in Creative Writing for Victoria University. She also writes adult fiction, short stories, non-fiction, educational resources, blogs and articles, and currently tutors the Novel Course for Whitireia’s Creative Writing Programme.

Photo credit: David Hamilton

Vana Manasiadis

Solvitur Ambulando – It is Solved by Walking (2 spaces left)

Walking and writing have wandered about together for a long time. From Diogenes to Basho, to the Brontes, the Romantics, Woolf, Joyce, and Thoreau, writers have liked to stretch their legs and hearts and minds and walk it out. Living poet and walker Jon Cotner says, ‘Poetry can wake us, and in the process we create a shared world or the commons.’ And this is what we will do in this workshop. We’ll wander in the commons of El Rancho, stop to write, listen to poetry, languages, inhabit the space, its air and textures. We’ll observe, experiment, play. We’ll generate draft texts as a result of exercises, our motion and the environment, and then we’ll workshop the lines, paragraphs, or fragments into poetic sequences, prose poems, meditations or lyric essays.  We’ll consider the connective possibilities, narrative or non-conventional forms, the unfixedness and layers. And you will wander away from this workshop with a new and dynamic piece of work that will surprise, is generative, and travels – much like a walk in new geography without a map or Fitbit or your phone. Come with. ‘The poem is there, it’s right there, it’s always there, and it’s waiting, actually waiting for us.’ (CAConrad)

Vana Manasiadis is a second-generation Greek poet, translator, lecturer and mentor in Literacy and Creative Writing at AUT in Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau. She has led writing workshops in Aotearoa and Greece, was summer resident at the University of Crete in 2016 and edited and translated from the Greek for Ναυάγια/Καταφύγια: Shipwrecks/Shelters (2016). As co-editor of the Seraph Press Translation Series, she has also co-edited Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation (2018) and she is the author of poetry collection Ithaca Island Bay Leaves: A Mythistorima. The Grief Almanac: A sequel is forthcoming in 2019. Mostly, she walks.

Whiti Hereaka

Rhubarb, rhubarb. Peas and carrots: a recipe for great dialogue. (6 spaces left)

Great dialogue can help with the heavy lifting of telling a story — driving the plot, revealing character, and most importantly, engaging your audience. Is the ability to write vibrant character-based dialogue a natural gift? Or can you train your ear?

In this workshop, we’ll work on enhancing your dialogue through exercises, discussion and examples. We’ll work through common problems such as clumsy exposition and how to use dialogue to differentiate between your characters.

We’ll unlock the secrets to bringing your dialogue to life, creating realistic and distinctive characters.

Whiti Hereaka is an award-winning novelist and playwright of Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Te Arawa and Pākehā descent, based in Wellington. She holds a Masters in Creative Writing (Scriptwriting) from the International Institute of Modern Letters. She is the author of two novels: The Graphologist’s Apprentice and the award-winning YA novel Bugs. Her third novel, Legacy, was launched in September 2018. In 2012, Whiti was the recipient of the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award. Her play Rewena, written during her writer in residency at the Michael King Writers Centre in 2012, has been performed nationally and was published in the anthology Here/Now in 2015. Whiti has been involved with Te Papa Tupu, an incubator programme for Māori writers, as a writer, a mentor and a judge. She is also a board member of the Māori Literature Trust. In 2013, Whiti was invited to the prestigious International Writing Program in Iowa to participate as a writer in residence. She has also held residencies in New Zealand including Randell Cottage and the Micheal King Writers’ Centre Summer and Māori residencies. Whiti will be a writer in Residence at Sun Yat-sen University in China during November 2018. She attended the Taipei Book Fair 2015 as one of the authors representing New Zealand as the Guest of Honour country. Whiti is currently working on a novel for adults: Kurangaituku. She is also working as a scriptwriter for Pukeko Pictures’ new animated show The Kiddets. She is also co-editor, with Witi Ihimaera, of an anthology of Māori myths — Purakau — due for publication in 2019 by Penguin/Random House.

Photo credit: Greg Bal

Retreat Director

Kirsten Le Harivel

I established the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat to meet a need I saw for writers like myself to get together to talk writing and do writing away from the grind of day-to-day life.

This comment from participant Janis Freegard who participated in the inaugural Retreat in 2016 sums up the experience I hoped people would walk away with:

‘My Kahini Writers Retreat experience was a perfect blend of structured workshops, walks by the river, talking with other writers and having the time and space to write…. There were some lively group discussions and I came away with a couple of first drafts to work on further. The retreat was a great opportunity to connect with other writers and produce new work. Oh, and the food was great!’ (You can read more about last year’s event here.)

Alongside the Retreat I produce the Kahini programme in New Zealand, write and publish poetry and short fiction, manage other creative writing conferences and digital projects in the arts and youth sectors and take care of my two year old. I have an MA from the International Institute of Modern Letters and my background is in programme, project and stakeholder management in the youth and community sectors, particularly with young people and former refugees.

Afternoon Sessions

Each afternoon we host discussions on topics pertinent to writing and our writing lives. These sessions are chaired by an experienced writer and provide the opportunity for you to ask questions, discuss ideas, and engage in contemporary writing issues.

Fiction Writing as a Form of Activism, Saturday, 23 February, 2-3 pm

Is your writing driven by an urgent desire to activate readers, or to express your deep concerns about some issue, or to traverse a theme that preoccupies you? Should it be? In this session we will discuss the pros and cons of approaching writing in this way, and look at how you might achieve this without slipping into didacticism. And, as someone who believes fiction is the most powerful form to explore big ideas, I’ll put a case for writing with purpose to help make change for a better world.

You can play in many sandpits, Saturday 23 February, 2-3pm

Novels, plays, short-stories, screenplays — why limit yourself to only one? What does writing for the stage teach us about writing for the page? What skills are transferrable no matter the form? Join Whiti Hereaka in a discussion about how writing across forms can enhance your craft and your career prospects.

In the footsteps of. Or the rebelliousness of getting a good raincoat or five, Saturday 23 February, 3-4 pm

Writing can feel lonely and isolating. In this afternoon walk and talk we will resist stasis and seclusion. Instead we’ll discuss movement, conversation, collaboration and whanaungatanga and the particular charge these ideas have for women, indigenous and minority writers. We will brainstorm acts of defiance on the page or path, create a short collaborative text, and think about radical-writers-who-walk Patricia Grace, Fiona Farrell, J.R Carpenter and Teju Cole.

How to Be a Better Reader, Saturday, 23 February, 3-4 pm

Most writers love reading yet we can easily get stuck in a rut of reading the same kind of work. How can we use our reading habits to best support our writing? In this session with Brannavan Gnanalingam we’ll be casting the net wide to look for work in various mediums that can help us expand and improve our craft.

Putting Stories Together: Narrative Structure and Design, Sunday 24 February, 2-3 pm

In this interactive session with James George, we’ll look at the complex subjects of narrative design and structure – how stories are put together. We’ll focus on Story Structure and Engineering and discuss both universals and variations and different approaches based on specific genre (e.g. fantasy, mystery) or/and demographics (e.g. Young Adult, New Adult).

On the Concept of the Virtual Residency with Lynn Jenner, Sunday, 24 February, 2-3 pm

It would be lovely to be paid to stay in a villa in Menton and write, for a year. It would be great to be given a cottage on a vineyard with a fridge full of delicacies and left alone to write for a month. But most of us have people to care for, jobs to do and other obligations. If you can’t have the luxury of a residency somewhere, maybe you can have short but very productive virtual residencies at your own house.  Let’s talk about what IS possible and how much writing matters. Let’s talk about the idea of virtual residencies, the question of guilt, the costs of taking yourself out of other parts of life and how or whether you could award yourself some virtual residencies to help you make progress with your writing projects. Join us to plot your own virtual residency.

My virtual residency, developed in desperation, involved staying in my pyjamas, cooking once every three days, pretending I didn’t notice that my feet were sticking to the floor, not seeing my friends and neglecting my nearest and dearest right to the edge of emotional catastrophe. The particulars of yours would be different.

Note: all sessions are open to all.

Accommodation and Logistics

The Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat will be held at El Rancho: a large conference and retreat centre situated near the Waikanae river. All workshops, discussions and meals will be provided onsite. When you register, you can let us know any dietary requirements you have.

Onsite accommodation is available in units with between four to ten rooms. Each unit has a bathroom, lounge and kitchenette where you can make tea and coffee. Beds come with linen and blankets. Sole occupancy or shared rooms (maximum three occupants) are available. If you would like to book out an entire unit for a group (minimum 4 people) please contact

Limited campsites are also available. Contact Kirsten to find out more. Alternatively, there are many baches and bed and breakfasts in the area.

Getting There
El Rancho is situated at 58 Weggery Drive, Waikanae, Kāpiti Coast. You can drive or take public transport to the area. If you are coming from Wellington, you may want to catch the train, as the traffic heading out of town on a Friday can be quite heavy. We will have a shuttle that can take you to and from the station. See below for more details.

Coming by public transport
If you wish to come by public transport, from the south it is easiest to catch the Tranz Metro train service heading to Waikanae. From the north you would need to travel by bus. The Intercity travels through Waikanae.

We will provide transport to take participants, who book beforehand, from the Waikanae train station to the venue, departing at 5:15 pm on Friday and returning to Waikanae Station at the close of the event on Sunday. (If you are travelling on the train from Wellington you may wish to purchase a 3-day Weekend Rover Ticket as it is cheaper than two single tickets.)

Coming by car or bike
If you are driving or cycling follow the expressway to Waikanae Beach, then follow the signs to El Rancho. Drive through the complex and turn right just before the office into Elm Lodge, where we are staying.

If you have any questions regarding getting to the venue, or you wish to offer seats in your car to others in your area, please get in touch (

What to Bring
Please bring all the materials you need to write. If you are staying onsite your accommodation includes bed linen. You will need to bring a towel and your own toiletries. If you want to join in the morning yoga bring a mat and a light blanket or shawl.


Early Bird Rate available now until 31 December 2018. Book now!

Please note that prices include GST.

Retreat (workshop, discussions and meals*) $345 or ($379.50 post 31 Dec 2018)
Accommodation (two nights + two breakfasts), in a private room with shared facilities. $161
OR Accommodation (two nights + two breakfasts) in a shared room with shared facilities $92

*Meals include morning and afternoon tea, lunch and dinner on both days.

Any surplus funds generated go towards setting up creative-writing programmes for young people from refugee backgrounds.

Registration for all options is available securely online here. Want to pay in installments? Contact

Scholarship and Volunteer Opportunities
If you would like to assist in running the event we are looking for several volunteers. We can offer a free place to participants in return for your help over the weekend. To register your interest contact

We’re aware that cost may be a barrier for some people and offer limited discounted and free tuition places for writers who would like to attend but for whatever reason are unable to afford the full fee. These options are not available through the online system. Please contact to find out more.