Thursday, October 27, 2016

Saying 'yes' .......

Crikey - the year has been whizzing past and it is nearly time to go into that phase of looking back over the year that was and musing about the one to come.  There are still a few engagements left on the work calendar but things are winding down. Already there are whispers about Christmas functions ... Before you can say 'Jack Skellington' we will be hanging Christmas ornaments and sending letters to Sandy Claws.

This year did not turn out at all like I expected. It has had unanticipated busynesses and things not going according to plan. I have been involved in projects, invited places and given some lovely and exciting opportunities that weren't on my radar at all this time last year. I have traveled far more than I anticipated, and I will be off travelling again before the year is out. I was commissioned to write some small things and got to try my hand at something new, writing a skit for Wild Things Magazine, a children's quarterly put out by Forest and Bird (Issue 132 Spring/Koanga 2016). I enjoyed the process much more than I thought I might, accompanied as it was by the discovery that in the end, despite my fears, this wasn't a skill that lay outside my abilities.

I have an informal rule of saying 'yes' to everything (unless it involves me being in two places at once) which I almost always adhere to, and so far this has turned out way better than I expected. Without that rule I would be cocooned in my comfort zone without any of the new skills and experiences I have picked up because I ignored my inner voice and said 'yes.' Of course it means I feel anxious before everything. If you live on the far edge of the envelope this is hard to avoid. Should I discover a means of managing this I will let you know.

 Next year currently looms as a vast sea of potential with almost no fixed points apart from family events and if experience has taught me nothing else, I know that things will turn up: opportunities, invites, requests and my own ideas and efforts that I can run, jump and play with to see what shakes out. And if 2017 turns out to be a quiet one, this too will be good. I have a list of Plan B's for these times and like the book piles beside our beds this never gets shorter. It would be good to cross a few things off the list faster than I add things.

This year too I got to launch Fuzzy Doodle in June. There was a lovely blushworthy review of the book on Radio New Zealand today by John McIntyre from The Children's Bookshop which you can listen to here if you like. 

And next weekend on Saturday November 5th I will be giving another workshop on writing picture books at Selwyn College.  Info and registration can be found here.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Why New Zealand literature deserves your support...

New Zealand literature is a necessary thing...

My parents were immigrants. World War 2 pushed them out of their home country Poland and brought them, via a truly circuitous route, to New Zealand. I was born here about seven years after their arrival.

My Polish heritage informed so much of my early life. The food we ate, the people we socialised with, the traditional folk dancing I learned, the national costume I owned and sometimes wore. To my regret, I didn't learn the language. In my tender years I didn't appreciate the value of doing so. I found it hard. And I eagerly embraced the language of my peers (I love the English language. We are always doing gymnastics together). But at school I enjoyed having this exotic Eastern European background. I was the only Polish kid in class. It felt special. So I wore it with pride.

I was a booky kid. I read a lot in school right from the beginning. I hung out at libraries all the time. The Lion,The Witch and The Wardrobe (although I started with The Silver Chair after picking up the hardback for a bargain price at a school fair), The Famous Five, Paddington Bear, The Moomintrolls, Baron Munchausen, The Moon in the Cloud, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, The Hobbit, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Flambards, The Outsiders, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Dark is Rising, Fairy Tales, The Odyssey, Robin Hood, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and many, many, many more. Are you sensing a theme to my reading yet?

The only New Zealand literature I was exposed to as a child was what the School Journal provided. There was no Margaret Mahy or Joy Cowley, Maurice Gee, Fleur Beale or David Hill back then. I read one short story by Witi Ihimaera and didn't understand it at all, because it was a single drop in a vast ocean of the European and US literary heritage I was consuming in vast quantities.

It became difficult to sustain the atmosphere of Polishness as we all grew up. We had to get on with our Kiwi lives. We didn't forget but wore it more on the inside than the outside. And the pre-war Poland of my parent's experience was unreachable, existing in memory but no longer in reality. And my empathy and understanding of people and the world learned through books filtered everything through a foreign lens. What is it to be a New Zealander? I'm still figuring it out. I can't help always feeling a restlessness that can't be answered, predicated as it is on a nostalgia for a lost heritage that can never be recovered, and a literary education built on cultures to which I can never belong.

If you want New Zealand children to understand their own culture, to feel it in their bones, then it must be provided to them in their literature. It helps ground them, makes them feel strong in their roots, connects them to this place and to each other. It reflects their experience back at them, reinforcing its value. We must embrace our own literature. It is a tremendous gift that must be protected and encouraged. We can't just measure it as a product with sales, because its impact is lifelong, far reaching and life changing. It needs to be everywhere and we need to pay it way more respect then it gets now.