The 2020 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: 28 February – 1 March 2020
Location: El Rancho, Kāpiti Coast, New Zealand
Registration: Register securely online or contact with any other questions.

Join us for the 2020 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 established and award-winning New Zealand writers – Anahera Gildea, Catherine Chidgey, Chris Tse, Kerry Lane, Paddy Richardson and Pip Desmond – at the 2020 Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat. Each writer will teach morning workshops: in fiction, poetry, lyric essay, creative non-fiction, world building and editing. 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.)

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 if you’d like more information. Register for the Kāpiti Writers’ Retreat!


Friday, 28 February
5:30 pm: Welcome

7 pm: Dinner
8:30 pm: Freewrite with Helen Lehndorf

Saturday, 29 February
7 am: Gentle morning yoga with Helen Lehndorf
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: Breaking the line and Creating a narrative
3 pm–4 pm: Afternoon sessions: Am I a slam poet or a Sam (Hunt) poet? and From voice to page
4 pm–5 pm: Workshop check-in
5:30 pm: Dinner
8 pm–9 pm: Open mike readings

Sunday, 1 March
7 am: Gentle morning yoga with Helen Lehndorf
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 session: Your English teacher lied / A persimmon falls
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 dive 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 but not sure which workshop would best fit with you? Email Kirsten at for more information, suggestions, or to have questions answered.

Teaching Writers

AnaheraAnahera Gildea

Pūrākau, lyric essay and poetry (4 places left)

Fragmentation and layering have been widely used in lyric essay and poetry as a means of storytelling. Juxtaposing fact, fiction, memory and moments can both emphasise and illuminate the text and subtexts of our work.

The word ‘pūrākau’ is often translated as ‘myth’ but at the core, these are our origin stories, the places we’ve come from, the source of meaning. The word pū means ‘root’ or ‘foundation’, and the word rākau translates as ‘tree’ which in this case means the tree from which, and upon which, we are all grown – our whakapapa. Like whakapapa, pūrākau are also expressed in layers, and therefore have the ability to layer one story upon another and arrive at new understandings, perspectives or knowledge.

In many ways, we are all telling our ‘origin stories’ when we write. Even when we are not actually writing autobiography, our words are alluding to things that are important to us, to moments in our lives that transformed us forever, or are allowing our characters to live out alternative lives. There is no single genre through which this happens, and some of the most exciting and unexpected writing arrives when we are free to collage together our fragments and break the ‘rules’ of form.

In this workshop we will spend some time looking at fantastic examples of the way layering and fragmentation has been used across lyric essay and poetry to express the origin story of either the writer or the characters. Then we will use starter exercises to generate completely new fragments of writing, and finally we will embark on the work of transforming these ideas into a coherent piece of writing that speaks about our own pūrākau.

Feel free to bring your own layers to add, whether poetry, bits of essay, or fragments of spidery scrawl on the back of old receipts, or bring only yourself and your pen – you are already your pūrākau.

Anahera Gildea (Ngāti Tukorehe) is a poet, short story writer, teacher and essayist. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies and her first book ‘Poroporoaki to the Lord My God: Weaving the Via Dolorosa’ was published by Seraph Press in 2016. She has a Masters of Creative Writing from the Te Pūtahi Tuhi Auaha o te Ao (The International Institute of Modern Letters), and Graduate Diplomas in Psychology and Teaching. She is currently undertaking doctoral research at Te Herenga Waka (Victoria University of Wellington), developing critical literary theory based on Māori intellectual traditions. She lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara with her partner and son.  

Catherine Chidgey

From the ground up: Creating a new short story (Sold out)

This generative workshop will allow you to build a short story from the ground up. On day 1, you will identify a character and begin to flesh them out via a series of guided conversations. Among other things, these will prompt you to consider your character’s central desire as well as a problem or obstacle they must face. You will then create a three-dimensional setting in which to place your character. On day 2, you will be encouraged to find your character’s authentic voice by placing them in a dialogue. Finally, you will be led through a bespoke collage exercise with the aim of completing your short story.

Catherine Chidgey is a multiple award-winner whose novels have attracted international acclaim. ‘In a Fishbone Church’ won Best First Book at both the New Zealand Book Awards and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (South-East Asia and South Pacific region). It also won the Betty Trask Award (UK), and was longlisted for the Orange Prize. ‘Golden Deeds’ was a Best Book in the LA Times Book Review and a Notable Book in the New York Times Book Review. ‘The Wish Child’ won the 2017 Acorn Foundation Fiction Prize – the country’s richest writing prize. Radio New Zealand called it ‘a brilliant, brilliant novel…a masterpiece’, and The Times (UK) ‘a remarkable book with a stunningly original twist’. Other honours include the Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award, the $60,000 Prize in Modern Letters and the Janet Frame Fiction Prize. Catherine will release her first children’s book, ‘Jiffy, Cat Detective’ in 2019. She teaches creative writing at the University of Waikato and is currently completing her sixth novel.

Photo credit: Helen Mayall

Chris Tse

Again, and again: Editing and revision

‘Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying.’ John Updike

After conquering the blank page, writers spend much time editing and revising until they get everything just right. This is often where the magic happens – questioning every word, reorganising structure and making some difficult choices about what gets to stay. Sometimes it feels like a hopeless process – an endless cycle of deleting words and lines, only to put them back before deleting them again.

Poet and editor Chris Tse will lead a workshop to revise and reshape your first, scrappy poetry drafts. He’ll run through some of his favourite ways to tackle the revision process that’ll have you killing your darlings in no time.

Participants are required to bring some work in progress to workshop with the rest of the group. Be prepared to make tough editing decisions and get some serious re-writing underway in this intensive practical workshop.

Chris Tse is the author of two poetry collections published by Auckland University Press: ‘How to be Dead in a Year of Snakes’ (winner of the Jessie Mackay Award for Best First Book of Poetry and a finalist at the 2016 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards) and ‘HE’S SO MASC’. Chris reviews books for Radio New Zealand and Landfall, and is a regular contributor to Capital’s Re-Verse column. He and Emma Barnes are currently editing an anthology of contemporary LGBTQIA+ Aotearoa New Zealand writers to be published by Auckland University Press in early 2021.

Kerry Lane

Existence is Movement

Movement is inextricable from the act and process of being human. Every aspect of our passage through the world, and its intersections with the passage of others, is shaped by the way we move. This workshop builds on the work of dance theorist Rudolf Laban to look at how we can use movement theory to create, develop and convey character in our writing.

When we spend the bulk of our creative time sitting at a desk, it can be difficult to appreciate the different movements, postures and physicalities of the characters we create, even though in the real world these elements are just as unique to us as the way we speak. In this workshop we will get up and moving, exploring the ways use of the body can support and develop character on and beyond the page. Along the way we will develop a rich vocabulary with which to describe and analyse movement, which can be applied equally well to fictional characters and real-world character studies.

It is recommended that writers attending this workshop come with a character or character concept they want to build and develop. This workshop will involve a significant amount of movement alongside guided exercises and freewriting time.

Kerry Lane is a playwright, theatrical producer, performance poet and trained teacher based in Ōtepoti Dunedin. They founded and currently run two independent theatre companies: queer political theatre /cabaret fusion group Sacrilege, and youth-focused experimental company Little Scorpion (both can be found on Facebook). They have had twelve original plays produced to date. They are currently working on a feature film about psychosis and a collection of short writing about the end of the world.

Paddy Richardson

Building Fictional Worlds (5 spaces left)

Creating a fictional world which is not only convincing but also a place readers want to enter and to explore alongside the characters inhabiting that world, can be challenging. This workshop will focus on building such a world both through imagination and research and, in turn, creating and developing authentic and credible characters.

This workshop is for writers of all fictional genres. Participating writers may submit a one-page synopsis and/or an example of writing (up to 2,000 words) to Paddy two weeks before the Retreat. Participants can choose whether they share the work with the group or in a one-on-one discussion with Paddy during the weekend.

Paddy Richardson is the author of two collections of short stories, ‘Choices’ and ‘If We Were Lebanese’ and seven novels, ‘The Company of a Daughter’, ‘A Year to Learn a Woman’, ‘Hunting Blind’, ‘Traces of Red’, ‘Cross Fingers’, ‘Swimming in the Dark’ and ‘Through the Lonesome Dark’. ‘Traces of Red’ and ‘Cross Fingers’ were long-listed for the Ngaio Marsh Award and ‘Hunting Blind’ and ‘Swimming in the Dark’ were short-listed. Four of her novels have been published overseas and ‘Through the Lonesome Dark’ was shortlisted for the New Zealand Historical Novel Award and longlisted for The Dublin International Literature Award.

Pip Desmond

Ethical story-telling: courage, compassion and finding our voice

Writing creative non-fiction poses unique ethical and creative challenges. What obligations do we have to the people we write about? How far should we go in exposing their lives and ours? What right do we have to tell a personal story if someone doesn’t want us to? How do we balance creative writing and sticking to the facts? We’ll explore the courage it takes to write about real people, the compassion required to do so with respect, and ways to manage the tension between the two. We’ll look at the use of fictional techniques in non-fiction writing, and ethical issues such as inventing dialogue, creating composite characters and imagining events. We’ll also consider the pros and cons of revealing ourselves as the narrator of our stories, learn how to uncover our authentic voice and work out how much ‘I’ is enough.

Pip Desmond is an award-winning author of creative non-fiction. Her latest memoir, ‘Song for Rosaleen’, was long-listed for the 2019 Ockham Book Awards while ‘Trust: A True Story of Women and Gangs’ won Best First Book at the 2010 New Zealand Post Book Awards. She was also commissioned by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage to write ‘The War That Never Ended: New Zealand Veterans Remember Korea’, published in 2013. Pip has a background as an oral historian, journalist and parliamentary press secretary. She taught creative writing as a VSA volunteer in Timor-Leste in 2014-2015 and was Massey University’s Writer in Residence in 2019. Her TEDx talk on Ethical Storytelling is available on YouTube. Pip is working on a new book of creative non-fiction about a family faced with their son’s suicide.

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 Kāpiti Series, write and publish poetry and short fiction, manage other creative writing conferences and projects in the arts and youth sectors and take care of my newborn and three-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 facilitated by our teaching writers and provide the opportunity for you to ask questions, discuss ideas, and engage in contemporary writing issues.

Creating a narrative – the twists and turns of plot, Saturday 2-3pm

Join Catherine Chidgey and Paddy Richardson to talk about approaches to developing plot in fiction.

Breaking the line: Unravelling the mysteries and limits of enjambment, Saturday 2-3pm

In this session, Chris Tse leads a not-so-serious conversation about the most-used tool in the poet’s tool kit: the line break. Are there rules when it come to line breaks? If so, should we follow them? And what’s the deal with prose poems? Chris will present the most common do’s and don’ts of enjambment (according to poetry teachers and bloggers) and get you to weigh in on this divisive topic.

Am I a slam poet or a Sam (Hunt) poet? Reading poetry aloud and the art of the performance poet, Saturday 3-4pm

It is increasingly impossible in today’s climate of carefully curated online profiles to retain the ideal of a reclusive writerly life, in which we’re not required to step in front of an audience and speak. For those of us who are inclined to be introverted this can be a real stumbling block. In this afternoon discussion Anahera Gildea will talk about overcoming her own fears, choosing the best poems, pace, pitch and most importantly, whether or not to be drunk when you read.

From voice to page, Saturday 3-4pm

Join Pip Desmond to discuss techniques to gather oral history narratives and weave them into our written stories.

Your English teacher lied / A persimmon falls, Sunday 2-3pm

Poetic forms are often specific to the language in which they originated. How do we translate the untranslatable? Join Kerry Lane to explore more.

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 allergies or 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 provide a shuttle that can take you to and from the Waikanae 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’s 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 2019. Book now!

Please note that prices include GST.

Retreat (workshop, discussions and meals*) $345 or ($379.50 post 31 Dec 2019)
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 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 instalments? 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.