Thursday, October 4, 2018

Production diary: September 2018

Kowhai season, Dunedin Botanical Gardens
September was a busy month. So much so I'll defer my usual Consumption Diary for another day and just cover what I got up to.

*Spoiler alert* There's no major news on the novel front.

As of Monday, the manuscript is back with my NZ publisher, after working through a useful set of comments over the past few months.

I feel better about the whole process than I did at the start of August.

Pretty much from then on (with the exception of my Dunedin-Feilding Writer-in-Public long weekend, see below) I got up at 5am seven days a week and every day I did at least one small thing to make the manuscript better.

That incremental betterment leads to a funny kind of high. Maybe it's the lack of sleep, or the lack of free time, but I felt I was riding a wave of dopamine to this latest finish line. Not the kind of offshore break you'd see Kelly Slater ripping back and forth on. More like the glorified ripple on a lake from a dingy with an outboard puttering by in the distance. But when there's not a lot of other excitement knocking around, it's noticeable. And now that I've sent the manuscript back and I'm faced with three months of deferred life admin, it's sorely missed.

What am I going to do next? Well, life admin aside, I'm working on a pitch for a 33 1/3 book because #lifegoals. The pitch window closes at the end of October and I have to submit a sample chapter and a whole bunch of other peripherals.

What album am I writing about? You'll just have to wait and see.

Young Old Writer / Old Young Writer

Earlier on in September, I went to Dunedin for the 60th anniversary of the Robert Burns Fellowship.

It was weird being back in Dunedin eight months after I left: it felt both longer and shorter at various points over the weekend. I also felt like maybe every time I go back it will make me sadder and sadder because the place will be so tied up with my 2017 experience, when my kids were 4 and 2. And even now they're just 5 and 3 and it's ridiculous to feel time slipping away, for the first time I did understand the impulse to have more children: it's nothing about the children per se, it's just your own devious plan to never grow old, or at least, never stop being the parent of preschoolers.

When I wasn't totally overthinking life, mortality and fatherhood, I had a blast.

It was cool getting to hang out with such a distinguished bunch of writers as was assembled for the Burns thing.
A freshet of Burns Fellows

It's not often that many writers get together outside of writers festivals, and even then its only the writers with a new book to shill (and who festival-types deem bookable). But there was no need to shill anything this time. Very little ego involved. A lot of generosity. The dinner on the Friday night was such an uplifting experience. It got me wondering if a true writers' festival (emphasis on writers and that possessive) would ditch the punters completely...

Not that there wasn't a bunch of things put on for the public. There was a big lunchtime reading and two different exhibitions were launched that related to the Burns in some way (one at the Hocken, the other in the Uni Library's Special Collections).

NZYWF workshop
I ran a workshop/AMA session with some third year writing students and did two events that were claimed by both the Burns festivities and the NZ Young Writers Festival, which was running at the same time: a workshop about writing machine-assisted poetry, and chairing a panel on the scariest children's books ever.

It wasn't that hard to jump between the older, more distinguished world of the Burns Fellows and the younger, more ragtag world of the NZYWF - I'm used to not really fitting in. Too square, too edgy, too young, too old, too rich, too poor, too white... too conscious of whiteness.

Too Wellington, too Manawatu

On the Sunday morning I flew from Dunedin to Wellington and drove straight up to Feilding as I was appearing on a panel at the Manawatu Writers Fest at 4pm.

(My two outings as a writer this year just happened to be on the same weekend. I didn't realise until after I'd double-booked myself, but it all worked out.)

My panel was about getting your manuscript to the finish line and I managed to make it to the starting line with an hour to spare. The next day I ran a workshop about how to write short stories that stick with a reader.

It was disappointing to learnin the days leading up to this year's festival, that their efforts to have a sizeable Maori component of the programme fell through, and as a result the remaining sessions did look overwhelmingly white.

The whole thing seemed to be run on a lot of goodwill and volunteer commitment. Organisation didn't strike me as a strong point throughout my engagements, so I can see how the whitewash happened. But as I boarded my flight from Dunedin I did strongly consider not even driving up to Feilding. At one point, the tougher decision seemed to be whether I'd say something online about why I pulled out or if I should just keep it to myself and be comfortable with that choice.

Because there's no excuse for a festival to be that blind/that naive in 2018.

Okay, so you wanted to have a half-day hui on Maori lit, and yeah, maybe it was a bad idea to just have one person responsible for organising that part. But surely Maori writers shouldn't have been ghettoised in their own panels outside of the hui. And what about the Pasifika writers, the Asian New Zealanders, the immigrant and refugee writers? Where were they? (If you want to play that game, there were a couple non-Pakeha writers on the programme, but really, you want to die on that hill?)

But in the end I did go. Because I wanted to see what it was like, and I wanted to see my mum, who lives in Palmerston North. And from what I'd read, the festival had tried and had admitted its failure and committed to do better next time, so what would me acting all superior have achieved? Bupkiss.

The festival was as lax as I'd supposed, organisationally. But the audiences were incredibly engaged (and pretty diverse). And the vibe wasn't fraught. There was an energy you don't always get a literary events. Avidness? Voraciousness? They seemed to be savouring every minute, and drawing links between what people had said in different sessions, like the secret to great literature had been broken up and tiny fragments given to every published author and the secret to joining their ranks was to gather as many fragments and arrange them into your own cogent structure... Which doesn't sound that ridiculous when you think about it.

My short story workshop probably had 40 people in it and we managed to make it work.

And it all made me feel a little bad for wishing for a Writers Festival without the public.

Maybe I'm just over Wellington and how self-important everything is here...

Or maybe there's something special about regional arts initiatives, where events are low-cost or no-cost (everything at MWF was FREE), and they don't get things right but they try, and so long as they learn from their mistakes and are better next time, maybe we shouldn't get all Wellington on them.

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