The ‘Kiwi’ voice

I’ve been making a concerted effort to write more stories in a New Zealand setting, to tap into my past, my culture, my experiences as a kiwi and bring those onto the page. And I finally seem to have cracked it. At least, I think so.

I’m currently reading through Shell and Bone, and wow, it strikes me as very very kiwi. I set it in a fictional town here on the West Coast of the North Island, and the characters talk a lot like the people I grew up around. Their behaviour is similar, and so to me it seems very authentic.

But I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing.

Do people want to read this? Is it too casual, too rough around the edges for mass consumption? Or does it only sound that way because I’m reading it with a New Zealand accent? I won’t know for sure until other people read it, but I have to admit that I am torn. Partly I just want to grin – it’s so familiar, like home – and part of me wants to cringe.

There has been a strong sense all through my life that in our speech, in our written word, in any form of communication, we should strive to sound British. I mean, they colonized our country, and so we take a lot from there. Admittedly more recently the trends seem to look to America, but the general underlying feeling is that please, for the love of god, don’t sound like a kiwi.

Apparently this seems to be changing. While some people think its a bad thing, others think it’s for the better. I think that feeling free enough to be authentically kiwi is a good thing, though that doesn’t mean we should ignore grammar, or be too over the top with our kiwi slang. Certainly, for the purposes of story telling, a line has to be drawn somewhere, otherwise no-one is going to know what I’m talking about (some examples of this can be seen in this video).

Needless to say, this is still something I am working out, internally, and on the page. I don’t believe that having an authentic kiwi voice means overcrowding my stories with slang and NZ cliches, but I don’t think it means writing like I live in another country either.

Have you considered your roots when it comes to writing style? Do you tend to set your stories in your own nation or in others?

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8 thoughts on “The ‘Kiwi’ voice

  1. I have set short stories in New Zealand, but to be honest – I prefer the wider world for my books. I also try to write with a bit more British formality than in our own Kiwi styles… I don’t know if I actually pull it off or not, but at least I try. I tend to agree that we are a little bit lax about our grammar etc. We do need to pull our socks up in t hat area!

    1. It’s a hard one, I think, because we DO have british roots, and so that’s not ‘faking’ when we do things that way, but at the same time, it’s not really modern authentic NZ either. I guess that’s where the conflict lies.

  2. I think you should write true to your voice, and if that voice is Kiwi, then so be it. Who wants to sound like everyone else, anyway?

    1. Well, I know I have my own voice, and am not trying to pretend to be anyone else, lol but I think kiwis can be a little rough around the edges! Will be interested to see what you think when you read it 🙂

  3. My book is set in New Zealand (I’m a Kiwi) and I wrote it exactly as I think/speak. So far it’s been receiving really good reviews, and one of the things people are loving is the Kiwi voice. I’ve even had a lot of comments about people wanting to come to NZ after reading the book! 🙂

  4. All of my stories are set in my country, but then I live in a country large enough to have several distinctive regional voices. Often I struggle with this same question because sometimes the voices in my head speak in heavy accents born in the mountains of the American South.

    I think you should be true to the character voice you hear in your head, but find a way to give the flavor of that voice without making it hard, or impossible, to understand for those not familiar with their patois.

    1. Hey Linda, yeah I totally agree. There are some things you just can’t translate to writing as they will totally confuse the reader! I know that I confuse some people some of the time, and just the other day came across yet another word that seems to have a different meaning here than overseas. Always interesting to find out differences, and good to know so that one can make the most of their writing.

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