Sunday, September 24, 2017

Candle in the Wind: Fortnight 17 of The Burns

Spring on campus
I set myself the goal of writing 15,000 all-purpose words this fortnight.

I failed. (If only I could have stung this blogpost out a little longer)

Total wordcount: 14,543 (52% on the novel, 34% on essays, 13% on this blog and 1% on short stories [editing one I wrote in Feb])
  • 1st week: 6,109 words (4 writing days)
  • 2nd week: 8,434 words (6 writing days)


I lost a writing day on the first week because I was doing parenting things one morning, then met with the Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature Collaboration Group in the afternoon. I was invited to tell them about what I’d been up to as the Burns Fellow, for which these fortnightly posts proved VERY useful. I’ve parlayed my notes into some text for the University’s website, which should show up here in the next week or so.


Has anyone else’s September been especially slippery? Like: it’s almost gone?!


The novel? Well. It’s a bit like my life story – it gets longer every time I tell it.

And while the climbing pagecount of the first draft is good – I need something to which I can apply my scalpel to create drafts two through twenty-six – right now it feels like dangerous territory. Like this is the part of the novel where readers will feel I lost the initial thread, where it was written too quickly and no matter how hard I try to unify the whole and fulfill the promises of the back cover, the first quarter, first half, I won’t be able to unwrite the wrong turns I’m writing now.

But ask me again next fortnight and I’ll feel different. Hopefully better different.


My wife went up to Auckland on Friday and was due to arrive home around 8pm tonight, but her plane couldn’t land in Dunedin because it was too windy (!) and they had to land in Christchurch. The earliest flight from CHC to DND isn’t till 4pm tomorrow, so they all flew back to Auckland and she should land in DND 9:30am tomorrow.

Fuel crisis? What fuel crisis?

The upshot of this is that I have another evening to my own devices.

(I’m secretly glad I’m due another one of these update posts as three-nights/two-days of solo-parenting 2 kids (4 and 2) means I’m not really up to writing fiction (especially when I feel like what I’m writing in the best possible physical and mental situation isn’t cutting the mustard). So, lucky you.)


I'm one of two judges for this year's Robbie Burns Poetry Comp. Entries open now. Winners get cash money; judges get, um, interviewed by the ODT about judging.


At least one of my offspring shares my interest in container shipping.
(The kids have been great, by the way, and I've had a blast. I just didn't leave a lot in the tank for tonight/tomorrow morning.)


I took the kids to Doctors Point on Blueskin Bay yesterday. It only took 30 minutes to get there, but it made me think how many places there are around Dunedin that are kinda like Halfmoon Bay on Stewart Island, except for the BEING A HELLISH FERRY RIDE AWAY FROM THE MAINLAND. 

I'll admit, while on Rakiura I had the odd romantic thought about moving there. Simpler, more rugged life, etc.

But you can have that in Blueskin Bay or Long Beach or Bull Creek or Kaka Point.

People who move to Stewart Island are basically elite hipsters, like the ones who eschew fixie bikes for penny farthings, or write their cafe poetry ON A TYPEWRITER.

Doctors Point (my kids enjoy my company, honest)


Let’s not talk about the election.

Next week, after one or two beers, then we can talk.

It's just a little weird that I've been a public servant since 2004 (starting in Queensland, with a 2 year gap while in Edinburgh) and have never gone through a change of Government. Maybe 2020? Or maybe Winston does Winston-things?

Sorry. Not talking about the election from: NOW. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Blazing skies: Fortnight 16 of the Burns

Bathing Beach, Rakiura

Fortnight 16 wordcounts

Total words: 8,633 words (70% on an essay, 21% on this blog, 9% on the novel)
  • 1st week: 8,633 words (4 day week because I left for Invercargill on Friday morning...)
  • 2nd week: 0 words
That essay was my thing on 'The Moves in Contemporary NZ Short Stories', for the conference I talk about more below, and it'll be posted online in due course. Some of that wordcount includes the work I did cataloguing every move in two short stories as a proof of concept for what a more data-driven analytical approach might entail. 

Dan Davin Short Story Conference

This was the first conference focussed on the short story in NZ in decades. I think everyone involved (and hopefully some of those who were not) feels the experience should now be repeated - whether it's annual or bi-annual, there's plenty to be said for, and lots to be gained from, bringing together writers, academics and readers who are passionate about the short story.

Things kicked off on Friday night (1 Sept) at the Civic Theatre in Invercargill with the prize-giving for the Dan Davin short story competition and a keynote from Janet Wilson.

Saturday was wall-to-wall presentations (including mine), keynotes and panels. You can read more about who talked about what here.

Me, presenting
(This photo and the ones at Stirling Pt and the marae courtesy of the Southland Express article here)
Sunday we all boarded a bus and went to Te Rau Aroha Marae in Bluff (via Dan Davin's childhood home, Stirling Point and Bluff Hill). 

Conference folk, Stirling Point, Bluff
The wharenui was designed by Cliff Whiting, and the wharekai was also decked out with the fruits of collaborations between Whiting and local hapu. Bubba Thompson was there from day one of the project and he was there for us that day to share all the knowledge and whakapapa that went into that amazing place.

I've spent 30+ hours in the marae on the top floor of Te Papa in Wellington, which was also designed by Whiting, thanks to all those Writers on Mondays sessions over the years, and there's always something new to look at.

But being there in Bluff, in a living, breathing (not to mentioned the world's most southernmost) marae, it was next level.

When Bubba explained how the wharenui demonstrated inclusiveness (each of the tīpuna were females who'd married Pakeha, with the whalers and sealers depicted in some of the friezes), and there was a wall dedicated to people who'd come to Bluff on any of the four winds so that there was somewhere for everyone find themselves.
The start of Day 3, Te Rau Aroha Marae, Bluff

Two more papers were presented in the wharenui and then Cilla McQueen put the perfect bow on proceedings by reading a Dan Davin story set in Bluff (in which the protagonist muses about relations between Pakeha and Maori).

After a great lunch, it was time to leave Te Rau Aroha and Bluff, so we swung back to Invercargill, checked out the Basilica that Davin's family attended, then headed on to Riverton. I left the bus there and joined my family (more on this part of the trip in a sec).

I'm really glad I made the effort to attend, and present at, the conference. It left me with a half dozen ideas, some of which I can achieve alone in front of a computer but many focus on ways to bring more of us together, to expand conversations, dive deep into ideas, and push the short story forward here at the edge of the world.

Non-literary tourism

Riverton from up More's Reserve
Me and the whanau spent two nights in Riverton, then caught the ferry from Bluff to Rakiura/Stewart Island and stayed in Oban for four nights. My brother joined us for this stretch.

My kids, my bro, kaka

Ulva Island
The kaka joined us on the deck every afternoon around four. The weka and robins on Ulva Island were equally friendly (although the weka tipped over to annoying when we tried to eat lunch on the beach). I saw a flock of about a dozen mohua/yellowhead making their way through the bush, tomtits doing acrobatics on the sand (presumably in pursuit of unseen insects), brown creepers being brown and creepy. I forgot to bring my proper camera on this trip, which I only use these days for snapping birds, so you'll have to take my word for this, eh?

Inside the Oban Presbyterian Church
My brother and I went on a gonzo kiwi spotting trip one night but came up empty. He went out the next night in pursuit of the Aurora Australis, which was supposed to be flaring up, but the cloud cover/drizzle did him in.

In non-bird/celestial matters, we managed to see quite a bit of the area around Halfmoon Bay (but still only a fraction of the island) despite having a two-year-old and a four-year-old in tow, thanks to the day we rented electric bikes (one for each adult) and a two-seater kiddie trailer which was attached to my bike. E-bikes are fun, and when you add in the hills, the sections of unsealed roads, the sudden icy downpour just before lunch and the fact I was towing 35 kgs of preschooler, the e-sistance was VERY welcome. We managed to get out to the lighthouse at Ackers Point, Deep Bay, Butterfield Beach, Horseshoe Bay and the start of the Rakiura Track at Lee Bay - and get my son down for a nap in the middle of the day.

I definitely want to go back and do the track when the kids are older (they did pretty darn well with the walk to Golden Bay to catch the water taxi and then bossing it around Ulva Island for 3.5 hours, though a fair bit of that was spent with one or the other kid on my shoulders).

Bikes, Horseshoe Bay

Ackers Point Lighthouse

Bathing Beach

Windswept, Lees Bay
On our last night the five of us hung out at the South Seas Hotel, had a few jugs (well, the adults did at least) with the locals and had a decent pub feed. Message to Lorde: try the onion rings - best I've had!

Ominous rainbow before the ferry crossing home

The ferry ride back on Saturday was rough.

Like: 5 metre swells.

Like: that scene in The Wolf of Wall Street where Leo DiCaprio's luxury launch is pounded by a storm and the only way that could be fun is if you were coked out of your mind.

Like: my wife threw up four times, me once (we both took SeaLegs the night before and that morning) and my son was sick too (I thought two was too young for motion sickness) before being rendered unconscious by the rocking.

My daughter spent the middle 30 minutes of the voyage hunched over a sickbag, groaning/whining, but never actually spewed (which meant she was the slowest to recover when we got back on land).

So yeah, total nightmare, but kinda to be expected when crossing the Foveaux Strait.

Tom Sainsbury reading his crack-up GoT fan fic
NZ Young Writers Festival

My trip way down south was planned before I knew the dates for this year's Young Writers Festival, so I missed all of it except for the last session, which was a Fan Fiction event hosted by man/snapchatter of the moment, Tom Sainsbury.

Tom read some Game of Thrones fan fic (small quibble: he said his protagonist was a White Walker but the way he was described he sounded more like a wight). Jack Vening read some Benjamin Button fan fic (very niche, very dark) and Rhydian Thomas did a very NSFW/R18 mash up of Beckett and Secret Diary of a Call Girl, featuring Bill English.

The only bum note was a piece about George Bush written by some dude who didn't show up but sent his friend to deliver his pages of A4, which Aaron Hawkins, Dunedin City Councillor and a driving force behind NZYWF, read out admirably.

So yeah, it was odd, a bit ragged around the edges, but funny and warm, too, which is exactly what this kind of lowkey, free, non-ticketed festival should be.