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Internal cultural conflict – my musings

In the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot of about culture – what it is, what it means to me, and how I can incorporate it better in my writing. And it all started with Playcentre.

I grew up as a Playcentre kid, and so it was natural for me to return with my own children, though it took me awhile to remember it was an option. We’ve been going for three terms now and it’s made a huge impact on me, and my kids (even helped in making our decision to home school Ivy). Recently I’ve been going to some workshops as I work my way towards achieving Course Two, and a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending one called ‘Celebrating Culture’ It was a two night course, and really threw me for quite a loop.

Why? Because I haven’t spent a great deal of time thinking about culture in general, let alone my own. I’m very accepting of people from all walks of lives and while I find different ways of living interesting, I’ve been more inclined to look for the similarities than the differences.

This negatively impacts on my writing. I paint my stories in broad strokes and while this is okay, it means that many of them never really come to life, unless they are in a fairly modern setting. I’ve struggled with this for a while now, and in particular with finding that balance between too much culture (I’m sure you all know those books that spend so much time detailing the world that you start thinking ‘okay, okay, now when are we going to get back to the story!?’) and not enough.

Out of laziness, I have avoided working on it, but I can’t put it off any longer. I want my stories to jump off the page at you, I want to draw you in with my words and have you experience the story as if it were real.

Throughout the course I was fascinated as we talked about what we thought culture was, and what our personal cultures were. Through discussion I realized that actually, I’m not very ‘typical’ in some areas, and that many of the rules I was raised with (and have since passed on to my own children) are quite culture bound. Maori culture bound, that is. And I had been unable to see that.

You see, I AM part Maori. Ngai Tahu. And I’ve been to several hui down south, Bruce Bay, to be precise. I even have memories of practising for a powhiri, welcoming Prince Philip to the area (back then there was no marae, but a hall where the hui was held), searching for fool’s gold in the river, smoking eels over a rubbish drum, and flax weaving too. These are good memories.

I also remember arriving down there and having this feeling that I had come home, even though I’d never been there before and I was probably only 9 the first time. It is the home of my ancestors and somehow, even at that young age, and without anyone telling me what to expect, I felt that very deeply.

And yet, for much of my life I’ve been denying all of this. Because I grew up in a culture where being Maori wasn’t a good thing, and being a half-caste was worse. And I am actually kind of pale, and I don’t look like a Maori (and I’m only 1/8th so really, not much of a Maori in the eyes of many). It’s an awkward position – on the one hand, I don’t look Maori so what right have I got to explore that, and on the other I am Maori but feel like I should keep quiet about that because its not something to be proud of. (Thank goodness the times have changed somewhat, huh?)

The older I get, and the more I learn and explore who and what I am (in all senses), the more I realize just how trapped I have been by my desire to fit in, and my fear of standing up for what I believe in. It’s only now, as an adult, with a family of my own, that I can cast off the boxes I’ve allowed to build up around me, and it’s only now that I can understand my mother’s journey to exploring her culture and Maori heritage back when I was a teen and wanted nothing to do with any of it—now, that I find myself on a similar path.

Which leads me here, to where I realize WHY culture has been such a struggle for me, not just in life but in my writing. Because if it’s not okay to be interested by my own, if in fact if it’s discouraged by society in general, why would I have interest in other peoples cultures?

Recently I have been doing a lot of thinking about my culture (all aspects of it—each of us has a culture of our own, after all), and finally I’ve come to see just how important it is to acknowledge, and embrace. It hasn’t been until now, when I am beginning to bridge that internal gap, that I have been able to see how I can integrate culture into my writing, without fear, and bring my stories to life. And maybe, just maybe, writing it out will help kick this internal conflict to the curb once and for all.

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Musings

It’s the end of New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week, and I missed yesterdays post – I’d been going to tell you about some stuff and then today I was going to post the final version of the short story I started two years ago during the very first Blogging Week.

Yeah, not gonna happen – sorry about that. My touch pad and buttons on the laptop started failing a couple of days ago, and doing anything on the computer has been incredibly frustrating. So I avoided it. As much as possible. Which means that the house is looking very tidy (hooray for those spring cleaning vibes!), but I haven’t managed a lot of anything writing related for the last wee while and the short story is very much not in a ‘final’ state.

That’s life sometimes, isn’t it.

So while I have not been writing, I have been thinking, mostly about how one goes about bringing a Kiwi voice to their writing. I’m thinking about this because my current work in progress, Saving Tomorrow, is set in a future Wellington. I’m thinking about it because I’m still breaking down the walls I have when it comes to using New Zealand as a setting.

It’s what I know, it’s what I love, but there is very much a barrier there. I think, because most of the fiction I grew up on was from elsewhere. The TV shows, the movies, the cartoons. So much of everything we had access to growing up was from other shores, and it makes me ponder – which parts of my writers voice are New Zealand?

In some respects, I think this is a redundant question. Part of being a NZer is that we are a cross between a colony and a native race. We’ve got this blend of what was already here and what was introduced – that’s still very true for today, as it was for years gone by. So naturally, we draw from a whole range of things and our language, our way of communicating with the world is influenced by everything we are exposed to.

The thing I need to remind myself is that NZ is rich with possibilities and that if I have no particular setting in mind, then it’s a positive and not a negative to make the most of my country of origin. I frequently um and ah about where to set something, and I just need to plug ‘New Zealand’ in as my default. My writing will be stronger for it – and hell, there are less of us, so in some ways its more original than your typical medieval fantasy, or other overdone settings 😉

I hope you’ve enjoyed this weeks, and checked out some of the other posts written for it.

Tomorrow I’ll be raving about how getting a dishwasher has revolutionized my life…

And, I’ll leave you with another pic from the beach. Isn’t the blue of the sky amazing?

seagulls in flight, after eating our sandwich crusts

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Go on, scare me

Send tendrils of terror down my spine, make me shiver in anticipation. Make me fear the shadows and swear I saw creatures darting at the corner of my vision.

Better yet, make me look at the ones I love and wonder if maybe, just maybe, they are harbouring some deep secret, some sick fetish, some twisted desire.

I started reading horror pretty young, and I devoured everything I could get my hands on. My mother has always said that she has no idea why I enjoy it so much, so I guess that’s something I didn’t get from her. My body might be sitting in the summer sun by the pool, but my mind would be deep within the woods, following the trail of hooves back to a cabin only to discover that the black horse who had been slaughtering people was my betrothed (I think I was about 13, and I still remember that story).

I guess it’s just the way I’m wired. I’m that girl who jumps at everything in the movies, the one who shrieks a little from fright even when its just a fake (the door swings back but theres actually no-one behind it, kind of thing). There is nothing like fear to make you feel alive, at least that’s my belief.

When it comes to writing, I don’t shy away from horror, though I wouldn’t say it’s my area of expertise. I prefer the stuff which makes you think, leaves you feeling disturbed rather than straight out blood and gore. That doesn’t scare me so much.

Vampires, werewolves and all that jazz? Are they really horrific? Some would say that it’s not their fault, it’s just their nature. They’re predators and so I can’t really hold the killing thing against them. Men though? That’s where the real scary lies for me. Sometimes the things you need to be worried about most are the ones that look just like you or I.

I’d have to say that the character that scared me the most in any movie so far has been Captain Vidal from Pan’s Labyrinth, that man is one freaky mo-fo (okay, I just came back after some time away and saw I wrote ‘mo-fo’…. that doesn’t often happen. I blame sleep deprivation). It’s a beautifully made movie, you should definitely watch it if you like beautiful freaky stuff.

I’m sure I had something deep and profound to say, but it’s been lost amid growth spurts and under the weather children.

I think horror is a little bit the odd child out in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror threesome. It attracts a certain crowd, and is certainly looked down upon by some, and others avoid looking in its direction at all. But fear is one of the most powerful emotional responses, one our system has built into it – perhaps that is why such a big portion of people do stay away – and for this reason I think it’s something that should be considered in every piece of writing, no matter the genre. Perhaps this is why I love horror so much – it’s when people are scared out of their wits and put in horrifying situations that their true nature can really shine.

Anyways, I’ll leave it at that. I can’t think of anything really intelligent to say right now anyways 🙂

This is my 6th and final post for New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week. It’s been a blast.

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A Foreign Country – partial review

This is my 5th post for New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week.


I received this book in the mail a couple of weeks ago – my contributor’s copy, no less – and have been enjoying reading the stories since then. I resisted my initial urge to skip through, reading the stories from authors I know and instead opted to read it cover to cover. I’m calling this a partial review because I still have 6 stories to read. I was hoping to have finished them all before the end of this week, but you know what? I’m really enjoying just plodding through, taking my time and enjoying the ride.

The Anthology kicks off with a great introduction, followed by Ripley Patton’s short story ‘The Future of the Sky’. I first read this when it went through critters and just knew it would get a place in the anthology. She also won first prize for it, which shows the editors had excellent taste in putting it at the start 🙂

There is something for everyone in this collection. The theme (the future is a foreign country) is broad enough that every story is different and I felt transported by each in some way or another. It hasn’t been often that I’ve finished one story and jumped straight into the next, rather I’ve been left with things to think about. There is nothing I like more than short stories that linger with me once I’ve put the book down – and there is plenty of that with this anthology.

Being that I haven’t finished yet, I can’t say what my favourite story is, and I don’t think it would be an easy pick anyway.

If you like speculative fiction it’s definitely worth reading. I thoroughly recommend it (and not just because I have a story in it 😉 ).

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Why Speculative Fiction?

I’ve seen a few posts around the place asking that very question.

‘What’s wrong with Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror? Why do we need this new term?’

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term speculative fiction, there are a few definitions around, but the common theme is that it is any of the above. What it means to me is not only those three genres, but everything that falls in between as well – all the stories that don’t fit into tidy little genre boxes, all the stories that cross genres and push the boundaries one way or another. Quite often ideas for these kinds of stories start with two simple words. What if….

When you say science fiction, or fantasy, or horror, there is a certain expectation. These expectations are held in place not only by fans, but also by the critics – for better or worse, people either love or hate sf/f/h. There is snobbery attached to many who refuse to read them, and geek/nerd/freak labels attached to some of the people who love them.

Further more, there are now so many sub genres that one can get awfully confused about what something is. Half the time, I’m not sure I’ve got the right label for any given story. When is something urban fantasy, and when is it contemporary fantasy, or magical realism for that matter? They all appear to have magical elements to them set in modern times to me, but for some the difference is huge.

I see speculative fiction as a way to escape that. I’ll use one of my own stories as an example of why the term really works for me.

The Feud began with the question: What if a community believed that another community had found a way to make sure they had only stillbirths?

There are no elves, wizards, magic, castles, trolls, orcs, hobbits, swords or battles. It’s not set in space, or on another planet or world. There are no robots or advanced technologies. There are no zombies, werewolves, vampires, killers or other variety of psychopath. So you can see, I might have a hard time putting it into a genre box.

It does have a little bit of science. It has two groups of individuals who live in a world that is not our own, but could be. In a time that isn’t our own, but isn’t any other specific time. It’s disturbing, but hardly horrific. If I HAD to say it was one of the three I might lean towards fantasy, but I’d still be questioning if I got it right.

Speculative fiction solves that problem for me. I don’t have to be boxed in – I can explore whatever I want to without struggling to make sure the story fits a specific genre. What’s more, I don’t have to feel like I MUST choose between them. I can blend them, or jump from one to another – I feel like it’s given me the freedom to write anything and that is liberating indeed.

Speculative fiction, as an umbrella term, brings writers together. It unifies us and I love that. I think that by doing so we can generate a wider range of ideas, and explore things we might never have thought of before. And let’s face it. New Zealand isn’t that big – isn’t it better that we all come together and embrace our weirdness?

This is my 3rd post for New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging Week (Sep 13-19).

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My first novel

My second post for New Zealand Speculative Fiction Blogging week (Sep 13-19).

In some ways, your first novel is a lot like your first love – it changes your whole life, you never forget it, but it is rarely ‘the one’. Lifelines was such for me.

It was the first novel I’d written since my early teens, and the first thing I’d ever set in New Zealand. The novel begins in Auckland, but soon traverses down the country into pretty much the middle of nowhere. It’s a story about family – the blood kind, and the kind you choose – and a woman who is following her sister’s dying wish, even though it will no doubt bring her into danger.

I had so much fun researching for the novel – making sure my travel times were accurate, infusing it with my personal knowledge and experience of travelling in my country, but most of all, the knowledge I gained of the Patupaiarehe. I had gone in search of some beings to use in my story, and they were a perfect fit.

image courtesy of http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/patupaiarehe

Mine aren’t blue, by the way, but it’s a neat stamp nonetheless.

I’d never heard of them before I went looking, and it proved to me that there was so much to be discovered about my own country – how many other creatures had I not heard of? How many legends unexplored?

My first novel made me a writer, it got me into the habit and changed my whole life – but it also opened my eyes to my own country.

Once upon a time I was a teenager who thought that New Zealand was boring. I mean, we have very few animals which might kill us – no lions, no tigers, no bears (oh my!). We don’t have Stonehenge, or pyramids. Psh. Boring

Now I know just how naive I was. New Zealand is full of intriguing places and stories, its history might not be as long or as well known as other countries, but what we have is unique, it’s ours and one of the ways we can own that, honour that, is through our writing.

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Eeek!

I feel like I’ve lost the last week, though I’m sure that it’s not been that long since I blogged. I feel like I must say it a lot, but I really don’t know where the time is going.

Tomorrow marks the start of NZ Speculative Fiction Blogging Week, and I am nowhere near as prepared as I had planned to be! That’s okay though, I have a few posts up my sleeves and will just have to write the rest of them on the fly 😉 Is there anything you’d like to hear about in particular? Feel free to make requests/ask questions, and I’ll do the best I can to cover them over the week.

I’m getting closer to being finished the current short story. It’s been hard not to start a new one, or switch to a different one, but I am determined to finish it off first. My list of things to complete really needs to be shortened. When I have a few minutes here and there I am still adding to the novel though, so it means I am getting writing done most days even if it doesn’t feel a lot like progress.

I had a rejection email a couple of days ago that made me laugh, and then made me think. It wasn’t funny, exactly, more that I had obviously misinterpreted what the website was looking for. They said my story was far too depressing! I had never considered it depressing, so it made me giggle. I’m coming to realize that a lot of what I write IS a little dark and disturbing, while not often falling into the horror genre, which can make it hard to find a home for. Ah well. I find it amusing because in general I am a pretty happy, optimistic person. One might not think so from some of the stories I write 😉

Anyways, signing off for now. This was just a quite pre blogging week update. I shall be back tomorrow with a post about… well, I’m not sure yet! I’ll think of something though.