Congratulations Mika, on the launch of your new book, I Have Loved Me a Man (Auckland University Press, 2018). Click here to buy.
After a week of judging dozens of paid writing residency applications for Aotearoa New Zealand’s national writers centre, Michael King Writers Centre (I’m on the board – sign up to our newsletter here: http://www.writerscentre.org.nz), I wanted to share my secret tips for putting together your next kick-ass application.
- Follow the rules. If you’re asked to supply three documents, supply those three documents. And just those three documents.
- Your CV: IMPORTANT: Include a paragraph at the top that summarises you as a writer and citizen of the literary world. Paint a picture of who you are and what you’ve done. Zoom out before you zoom in to the detail. Always list your publications, but if there are many, group them in a way that makes it easy for us to review. For example, by genre. Always include the publisher and date published. If you’re self-published give us some numbers – how many copies have you sold? Top ten on Amazon? If the project you’re planning to work on during the residency isn’t a genre you’ve previously published in, convince us you’ll be successful by listing blogs, articles—anything you can think of—in that genre.
- Synopsis or project outline: This was the one applicants had the most trouble with. I need to be able to picture, in one quick reading, exactly what your project is. I need to know the plot, the genre, who your audience is, an outline of what happens, any structural or narrative things of importance, voice, point of view. Be clear. We’re judging your writing here, too.
- Writing sample: To give your application the best chance, give us a writing sample from the project you plan to work on at the residency. Especially if you haven’t been published in that genre before. I know you love that piece that was published by the Huffington Post, but we want to see that you’re already deep in the project we’re funding you to write.
- Proof. Spell-check. Proof again. Really.
I had a recent stint of five weeks, knee-deep in a work contract, where I didn’t have (or make) time to work on my book.
And here’s what I discovered: the longer I stayed away, the harder it became to return. It started to feel impossible; that I’d never again be able to open the document and feel as though inside it. That feeling paired with a sense of loss, a heartache for the work. I wanted to write but no longer trusted I still “had it”, or knew what I was trying to say.
This occurred around the same time I was considering giving up cello lessons (I’m a complete beginner—I’ve been learning for 9 months and playing from Suzuki Cello Volume 2). My wonderful teacher sat me down, opened the first page of Volume 1 to the most simple of pieces. She told me to allow myself to return to the physicality of the experience.
‘Feel the cello between your knees,’ she said. ‘Feel the bow hair tugging against the strings. Breathe.’
Slowly, gently, I’ve reaquainted myself with my instrument and have returned to daily practice. It’s taking time to build confidence and technique again, so I’m still working on the simple pieces, finding enjoyment in the process.
The same day of the cello lesson I returned to my desk and, for the first time in five weeks, opened the manuscript. I stared at the words on the first page, then scrolled down and then up the entire document, black words on white pages flashing past. I swallowed, closed my eyes for a second. I couldn’t even remember where I was up to! Breathe, I reminded myself, just breathe.
So, instead of trying to write, I printed off a few chapters, took them to the couch and started reading, getting to know the work again, making pencil marks as I went. Now, a week later, I’m able to write, enjoying the sensation of fingers on keys; feeling my way back to the book, rediscovering what it is I am trying to say.
When my dear friend Lisa and I were out walking early one morning, the sun peeping over the horizon across the water over by the sugar factory, she told me a story from her childhood, about how it felt being a first generation Chinese New Zealander. Her story became this story, which was long-listed for the 2017 NZ National Flash Fiction Day competition. So, this one’s for you Lisa. A warm congratulations to all the winners, and thank you to Flash Frontier, where this story first appeared.
A Machete, a Plastic Bag and Mum’s Gumboots
by Caroline Barron
For years, the click and yawn of an opening car boot filled me with dread. As kids, when we drove over the Pae-koks to Foxton in Dad’s Telstar – brand new, white, with a maroon racing stripe and burgundy velour upholstery – and Mum saw a creek flanked by pillows of green, or an autumnal field blooming with white puffs, she’d shout, ‘Pull over! Pull over!’ in her Chinese-Kiwi accent. Dad always did, relishing the gravel skid before yanking the boot latch.
We loved to help Mum who, out there, marched the roadside in her gumboots, a different Mum to the apron-wearing one tending the bamboo steamer at home. This Mum wielded a machete with super-heroine ease, lopping off bunches of watercress and tugging dusky-gilled mushrooms from dank soil, pressing them into plastic bags my sister and I held open. Back at the car she’d wrap the watercress in The Evening Post to later boil for soup. The mushrooms she’d sauté with garlic and bacon and serve on rice.
After I turned eight, I refused to help. She’d yell for Dad to pull over. I’d groan and fold my arms. It might have been okay in Guangzhou, but here Kiwis didn’t scavenge for food on the roadside.
Yesterday, I walked across the school field holding my daughter’s hand. She pointed at the line of shade hugging the fence.
My high heels sucked in and out of the soggy ground. I glanced around. It will only take a minute, I thought. She crouched down, gathering her skirt beneath her knees – a family of white mushrooms dotted the grass – and lifted a spongy edge to peer beneath.
“Brown gills!” she said. “We can eat these ones.”
I reached into my handbag for the plastic bag I always carried, and held it open.
We are all roaring with laughter—not a polite chuckle in sight. I mean tears streaming, snorting, thigh slapping, high pitched, cross your legs before you have an accident laughter. Hell, it feels good. Emma, Kirstin and Kiri started this Writers Group in Point Chevalier four years ago, Anna joined later, I joined three months ago, and Mary’s new tonight. So, perhaps that’s the joy of laughing so hard—it joins us together, affirms that we have things in common, that we like each other. I love these girls already.
The reason for our laughter? We’d agreed to bring along a poem from our teenage years.
Earlier that evening I’d scrambled around the attic looking for the black ring binder that contained laboriously typed pages and pages and pages of poetry written between 1994 and 1996, when I was aged 17 to 20, studying journalism at AUT. The poems abruptly stopped in March 1996 when my father died, my pen stunned into silence for years after. I’d thought for a time that the poetry in that black folder might win competitions, make me famous, or at least find me my very own Ted Hughes. Continue reading
“Ocean Bay” appeared in the New Zealand Society of Authors magazine, NZ Author, Autumn issue, 2017. With thanks to Nadine Rubin Nathan.
The story placed second in the AA Directions Magazine Award for the Best New Travel Writer category of the Cathay Pacific Travel Media Awards 2016. Judge, Steve Braunias, made me blush with his rather lovely comments: ‘Second place was “Ocean Bay.” The writer describes retracing an ancestor’s footsteps in Port Underwood, in Marlborough. It plays with past and present, and brings them together in this very unusual and also very beautiful depiction of place. Again, what a superb piece of writing.’
When we drove over the hill for the first time Hazel said: “Is this Fiji?”
It’s that beautiful.