I originally wrote this piece for an Auckland University post-graduate research speech competition—the first creative writing masters student ever to enter. Many of my competitors were scientists, medical students and engineers and I wanted to demonstrate that research has a serious place in creative writing—along with imagination and serendipity.
The resulting article was published in NZ Author, the magazine the NZ Society of Authors distributes to its members—a brilliant read for those interested in the New Zealand and international writing scenes. Some libraries have subscriptions or you can subscribe to the magazine here.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Geraldine Brooks is a master storyteller, whose obsession with her subject matter gleams from the pages of her latest novel, The Secret Chord, like the golden Ark of the Covenant. Perhaps it is her previous life as a war correspondent, but she has a way of observing setting and walking in the shoes of her characters that I swear she must have been there with David, listening to him compose his mourning song for Yonatan, or watching Bathsheva ladle scented water over her body on the rooftop.
Image copyright Caroline Barron, 2015.
I saw Brooks at an Auckland Writers Festival event at the Maidment Theatre last month and was captivated by her immense love of research, her vast knowledge of varied subjects, and her ability to recreate a world. In The Secret Chord, as in Caleb’s Crossing (2011) [read my review here] and in Years of Wonder (2001) [which I am part way through—yes I’m having a Brooks-fest], she takes an historic time, layers it with real-life characters and imagines the rest: their thoughts, their dialogue, their every day. Of course this is a tried and true narrative method (my article on ‘Creating Fictional Worlds’ appears in the Summer 2015 issue of NZ Author magazine), but some people—Brooks—do it a hell of a lot better than others. I’ll give an example passage shortly. But first, to the structure.
In a strange colliding of worlds I interviewed my teacher at the time, Paula Morris, for The Heart of the Matter. Paula is as funny and candid in an interview as she is in class. If you haven’t read her masterpiece, Rangatira (2011), the summer break is the perfect time to rectify that!
More lovewordsmusic Paula Morris book reviews:
Forbidden Cities (2008)
On Coming Home (2015)
Hi there! From now on I’m going to upload my published magazine work here, for two reasons: firstly so I can share my work with you all; and secondly as an online portfolio and record of my published work. All stories published here have been published elsewhere first.
I interviewed home-staging queen, Dinah Malyon, earlier this year in her Aladdin’s cave of homewares in Parnell.
One year ago, Katharine and I took time out from real life: Kath spent three months in Wanaka with her family, and I travelled to Hong Kong, France and Spain over two months, with mine. We exchanged letters, posted here under ‘Letters to a Friend’. We promised each other we’d retain the sense of peace and clear direction we garnered from our time away.
A year on we rekindle our letters to examine what remains from last year’s discoveries. Katharine is in Bali for a two-week holiday and I’m…I’m at home, sweet home.
Hurrah! A profile page on the University of Auckland website (thanks Jonathan Burgess):
I am now half-way through my Master in Creative Writing at the University of Auckland. The goal: finish the novel by mid-November. 85,000 words. I’m 30,000 in and it feels like I’m just hitting my stride; after a year or more of research and thinking about Evelyn and Morgan, my two protagonists, I know exactly who they are and can hear their thoughts in my mind as I write. It’s like everything before has been pressure on the ocean, and now the wave is finally visible from the shore. The sand under my feet feels good and during the five weeks between semesters, I’m grabbing my surfboard, baby.
Stephanie Alexander is desperate for our children to fall madly, deeply, truly in love—with food. And with over ten per cent of Australian primary schools participating in the Kitchen Garden Foundation program (also inspiring the New Zealand version, Garden to Table) she has, shall we say, made a big dent in the Australasian food-love soufflé.
Stephanie Alexander (Simon Griffiths) 2006
Here’s how to foster a child’s life-long love of food, Stephanie Alexander style:
“Do they sell drinks here? They do? Have a drink. Relax. I’ll take care of the rest of this shit up here.”
If there was a movie of my life, I’d ask the Counting Crows to write the soundtrack. I know every lyric, and most of the chords. They’ve joined me sitting on front steps the world over. Goodnight Elizabeth, Round Here and Long December got me – and a bunch of other homesick, lovesick Kiwis – through London late 90s nights and on to good lives. I played Hard Candy so much my car CD player broke. When This Desert Life turned up in a drawer in Spain, it felt like a sign. Now my kids know the words too.
Image copyright: Caroline Barron, 2015
‘Even War must end some time, and perhaps if we are alive in three or four years’ time, we may recover the hidden childhood again and find that after all the dust and ashes which covered it haven’t spoilt it much.’- Letter from Vera to Roland, 1915
Testament of Youth is a momentous historical text preserving for us – the lucky generations – what war really meant. Most poignantly it is the portrait of Vera Brittain’s unrelenting and tragic psychological annihilation during and after World War One. Through loss after tragedy after loss we see the breakdown of Brittain’s hope, which we would now label ‘post traumatic stress’. Through Brittain’s diary extracts, letters and poems we see her decline from hopeful, energetic, burgeoning feminist and Oxford student – giddily in love for the first time – to a broken, traumatized, suicidal twenty-something who hallucinates that her face is covered in fungus each time she looks in the mirror. Continue reading