Thursday, September 16, 2021

Alert Level 2 at the Arts Centre, Christchurch

17 September 2021

 



 

 

Last week I typed three chapters, this week one. I've been processing 'writers block'. My inner voice or imposter syndrome voice has been questioning whether I've written the right version of the scientist's life. I tried out a more expository style but it just felt like I was talking at the reader, so I've gone back to the third person point of view, creative nonfiction style. 

I'm struggling with what to leave-out and what to include. The scientist was a student for a long time and I can only say he sat exams and then waited for his results back home, so many times. I'm not going to edit what I've written so far, I'll tackle this problem when I'm doing a structural edit. But each sentence seems to deposit on the page in very slow fashion.

But I haven't just been writing this week... I also visited two schools in the Akaroa region. I traveled down on the Monday, having a late lunch at the Little River cafe. I had the best salmon frittata I've ever eaten. The buttery scalloped potatoes on top made it stand out from the rest.

I then checked into Akaroa Waterfront apartments and when they say five metres from the water, they're not joking. Sometimes accommodation is not as good as the photographs online, but they were for this place.

In dusk light, I strolled to the Akaroa lighthouse. The temperature had dropped to 5° Celsius and therefore was a brisk walk. Not many people were on the streets. Akaroa is such a pretty town with its boxed windowsill flowers, colourful houses, and a picturesque bay. I was so enamored with the place, I persuaded two writer friends to spend a weekend early October just so I could come back again.  


Around the corner from where I was staying, I had dinner at a restaurant 10 metres from the waters' edge. As soon as I saw blue cod on the menu, I was sold. Fish is a specialty in this area.

The next day I taught three classes at Akaroa Area School. A talk about writing animal stories for young students and an author talk for the older students. They were a great audience. Then I drove over the windy, hilly road to Little River school. I delivered two more talks to extremely well-behaved students there. The young ones loved the puppets and enjoyed the animal stories. The older students were interested in my 'Ice Breaker!' story about Akaroa born Captain Frank Worsley, and other Cantabrian famous people such as Captain Charles Upham and Kate Sheppard.

Unfortunately, I had to leave that beautiful area that afternoon, but I'm looking forward to returning in two week's time with friends.

The rest of the week went in a blur; lunch with my writer friend Lorraine Orman, dinner with my cousin Mark, and a radio interview with Kapiti Beach FM. Interviewer Catherine Scullin had worked with the SPCA in Australia and had met Little Miss Sunshine, the chicken in my 'Remarkable Animal Stories from New Zealand and Australia' book. I hope her enthusiasm for the book will encourage people to buy it. I happen to know that Scorpio Books has a large collection of signed books to sell.

Tonight I'm going to paint the town pink by stepping down one flight of stairs to the cinema. How lucky are we to have a picture theatre so close! They tend to specialise in smaller films, film festivals and movies with subtitles. I'm going to watch the French film 'Eiffel'; a true dramatization of how the Eiffel tower was built. I'm always interested in how writers/playwriters treat true stories.

So, not many words written this week but my brain is processing the story. I'm also tweaking the front sections every time I sit down. And I do sit my butt down to write from 9.00 - 6.00 pm every day. Though, this weekend I plan to visit an illustrator friend, see more of the Canterbury countryside, and get ready for another school visit on Monday.

Fingers crossed that Auckland goes into Alert Level Three on Monday. Friends and Family in Auckland are bursting to get out of Level Four.  I'm also hoping that the 90 percent target for vaccinated New Zealanders works, so that we can have a more normal 2022. I get my second vaccine on the 30th.

Take care,

Maria

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Mid-way point on the Arts Centre Residency

7 September 2021 

For the past ten days I've been sitting at my desk writing. It's not very exciting to write about hence the gap. More events have been cancelled. August was going to be my busiest month. Not any more!

You might wonder how I procure these book events. I make a point of telling Read NZ that I'll be in a city on certain dates and they tell the schools in that area. Sometimes I might only get 1-2 schools responding, so then I contact the schools myself. While on the residency, my goal was to fill my Mondays with school visits. Six schools responded and I booked them in. Quite a few I've visited before. Hopefully, I can still visit those schools in Alert Level Two.

I offer several programmes to school and they tend to pick what fits in with their topics for that term. I've written about quite a few famous Canterbury heroes so I can talk about them, including their leadership skills. It includes Kate Sheppard, Captain Charles Upham, and Captain Frank Worsley. 

I've also written quite a few disaster books: five volcano, one earthquake and one disaster book (New Zealand Disasters), so that is another subject I talk about. And disasters and heroes fit with New Zealand milestones. I've also written a number of animal books and this suits the younger students. For older students, I focus on research techniques.

I also offer workshops whether they're a macro topic like creative nonfiction, biographies or short stories; or a micro subject like point of view, settings, and livening up the language.

I taught at Primary and Intermediate level before I had children and therefore enjoy visiting schools and teaching students. Since completing the Masters in Creative Writing at AUT last year, I'm keen to give more talks at high schools too. If schools are interested in an author talk or workshop, they can contact me via my email: maria@mariagill.co.nz. I'm in Christchurch until 20th October. 

Before I leave, I'm teaching Write Like an Author workshops in Dunedin (Otago Girls High School) from Monday 4th - 8th October and then in Christchurch (St Margaret's College) from Monday 11th - 13th October. If you have students who might be interested please steer them to www.writelikeanauthor.com

And for two of the August postponed events: 'Remarkable Animals from New Zealand and Australia' book launch is now on Saturday 16th October from 2.00 - 3.00 pm. And the biography writing workshop is on Sunday 17th October from 2.00 - 4.00 pm.

In the meantime, I'll keep writing -- I'm up to chapter eight now -- and riding my bike for exercise.

Hagley Park
Sumner Beach

 

Sumner Beach

 

Sumner Beach

 

 




Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Lockdown version of the Arts Centre Residency

26 August 2021

Well, a lot has NOT HAPPENED over the last week. I had to cancel my night's accommodation in Akaroa and the two school visits the next day. The WORD festival has been postponed until November, alas I'll be back in Auckland by then. Radio interviews cancelled. And in anticipation that we'll likely only go down to Level 3 next week, I've postponed another school visit. I'm hoping school visits can resume once we're in Level 2 - I have done them before, all masked up. Also, the Rutherford talk on 1st September has also been postponed. So much organisation down the drain. But there's nothing we can do about it. It is, what it is. I need to also cancel my flight to Auckland for a visit home early September, and two more book launches (there were going to be three altogether).

While all this has been going down, my website failed and my hubby has been trying to fix it. He has to fit it around his own busy work schedule so I've drafted in a techie person to fix it. 

It feels like a world discombobulated ... At least, we have a leader who answers questions honestly, communicates with us regularly, and puts people first in our latest lockdown. Every day, Tilly and I eat our lunches and watch the 1pm update. 

Notes for my work in progress
But it is not all bad ... I've written three chapters since last week and I'm feeling confident I picked the right story to write. I had wondered whether to have the point of view from a contemporary boy or write a creative nonfiction story of the scientist's life. I've chosen the latter. He had quite a few dramatic things happen in his childhood - enough to hook young readers in. 

Hagley Park
I'm enjoying looking up what sayings, equipment or games were around in the 1880s. For example, did people use the word 'awesome' back in the 1880s - yes, they did but not in the context we use it today. Cows were milked in the evenings not the morning, so that the cream would separate from the milk by breakfast time. Chickens and pigs were fed milk waste and vegetable scraps (but no meat). And, though people in the 1880s were aware of electricity they weren't using it as an energy source at that time. And they didn't know how thunder and lightning worked, that wouldn't be proven until the 1920s.

Hagley Park
Meanwhile back at the residency, there's been no more spooky happenings, drug deals going down at the supermarket, or protest marches. The Preacher has listened to the police and moved a little further away from my window so I'm not woken by his rantings at 6am.

We've had beautiful spring weather this week and the daffodils and jonquils are spreading their love through their perfume in Hagley Park. (Not spreading their legs like Chris Hipkins.) I've ridden around the very big Hagley Park most days.

 

While back at home, Covid19 has arrived in Warkworth. Possibly even in my mum's retirement village. That's too close for comfort. 

I have fingers crossed the South Island moves to Alert Level 3 but better still 2, tomorrow. Then I can spend that book voucher that A.J. Fitzwater kindly gave me - wasn't that a thoughtful gift from a fellow creative resident



We're in buildings that resemble
Mt Eden prison a friend said!


My gorgeous new bike waiting
patiently for me to return from shopping

Keep safe!


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Week Three of the Arts Centre Residency

18 August 2021

Riccarton College talk
After an exciting week last week, attending the book awards in Wellington, I had a much slower week planned out for this week ... a lunch with good friend Lorraine Orman at the Turanga Library; a swim at the New Brighton pools - where I met a writing friend from way  back - Karen Phelps; a school visit to Riccarton College, talking to two classes at a time in the Upper Riccarton Library - very attentive audiences; and then Covid raised its ugly head once again. 

Good friend Tania Roxborogh texted me to say there was a case in Auckland - at first I thought she had texted me by mistake as I couldn't see how it would affect me while I'm in Christchurch ... little did I know. Within one hour the country was told we were going into Level 4 lockdown at midnight. Now there are only two of us at the residency. Two of the other residents live in Christchurch so they went home. We toasted each other's health, rang family to tell them we were alright and settled in for the duration. 

Today I was supposed to have a radio interview for my new book 'Remarkable Animals' - that's been postponed until next week. The book launch at the Great Hall in the Arts Centre on Saturday was cancelled. And just after arranging a school to attend the book launch at the Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium on 3rd September - I had to email them back to say it will be postponed until Auckland is back at Level 1. I guess the same might happen to the book launch at Dorothy Butler bookshop on Sunday 5th September. (I will let people know if it is postponed.)

 

I'll be listening intently to the 1pm Covid announcements from now on, as I have a nights accommodation booked in Akaroa for Sunday night in preparation for the two school visits I am supposed to be doing in Akaroa and Little River. Plus I'm on tender hooks wondering whether the WORD festival goes ahead next week.  I'm keeping all my fingers crossed that Christchurch does go into Level 2 (at least) by Saturday/Sunday so the numerous events at the WORD festival still go ahead. So much planning went into this and I'd be very disappointed for the organisers, participants, and audiences if it is cancelled. I am supposed to be doing two events for WORD. All fingers and toes crossed here.

In the meantime, I biked to my (now) local chemist to pick up a prescription (that I can't go without), and saw protesters standing in a crowd, wearing no face masks. One man was barracking another with lots of sweary words. I didn't stop to listen. 

A crowd of homeless people were on the corner of Ballantynes in their usual places, tucked into their sleeping blankets. The police were talking to them and then came over to the chemist. I thought they were going to question why I wasn't at home and I immediately volunteered I was picking up a prescription. But they hadn't come to talk to me. Instead they questioned the pharmacist to inquire whether the homeless peoples were being a nuisance and asking after the health of one of them. 

On the ride back, I saw some ducks waddling along a usually very busy central city road - possibly wondering where all those noisy, annoying humans were. I felt like a bit more exercise, so I rode to the Botanical Gardens but they were closed. Luckily Hagley Park was open and had many walkers and bike riders taking exercise, with quite a few not wearing face masks.

For the rest of the week, I'll continue my research and hopefully start chapter one. I've been reluctant to begin because I'm still not sure whether to write the story as a creative nonfiction biography or a junior fiction with a character connecting with the scientist.  I'm sure the right way will reveal itself.

Hope you are keeping safe and wearing your face masks!

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Week Two of the Arts Centre Residency

12 August 2021

We did up our anoraks, tightened our scarves around our necks and rammed a woollen hat on our heads before braving the wet, cold and windy weather last Wednesday. We crossed the road to our destination - it was that close - to the Canterbury Museum. The last time I visited it, I was researching for my Kate Sheppard book. I took photographs of women's shoes, clothes, maps, pictures of early Christchurch streets, a penny farthing bike, and early model houses. I also took photographs of Frank Worsley's expedition with Sir Ernest Shackleton, hoping I'd be writing a book on Frank next. ('Ice Breaker' followed a year later.) This time I took photographs of Sir Edmund Hillary's tractors - a story I'll be writing later in the year. We learned that the museum is due to shut soon for a major renovation. 

Edmund Hillary's tractors - race to the Pole

Ivan Mauger's golden bike (He was in my New Zealand Hall of Fame book)

 

Collection of beetles at museum

We crossed the road again, to the Canterbury Art Gallery. Instead of our host taking us around the gallery, we were taken behind locked doors to see behind-the-scenes. In one of the storage rooms we saw a Ralph Hotere painting packaged ready to fly to its next destination. Our guide took us through tool rooms, a quiet library, and a large restoration room. One of the restorers showed us the rubber man (looking a bit like a Pompeii burnt victim) hiding away in a cupboard. Once a week she bathes him in a solution to stop him from drying out. In the security room we saw around 64 screens revealing every space inside and outside the gallery. And a photographer showed us his photographs of everything on display. The tour gave us an appreciation of what we see in the gallery is only the tip of the iceberg of the unique artwork they are holding in the building.

The packaging boxes become works of art themselves after a while
Behind the scenes at the art gallery

On Thursday we had a day to ourselves. I planned more of my story. I'm using 'Save the Cat' beat sheet technique to compose my story, as well as writing comprehensive studies of my characters. 

Friday night I went all the way down one flight of stairs to the cinema, grabbing myself a Rosé wine at the bar, before sitting in a comfortable seat at the back of screen room. Large groups of noisy, talkative women filed in and feeling surrounded (and perhaps a little lonely), I moved to the front. If you haven't seen 'How to be a Good Wife' a French film with subtitles, starring the gorgeous Juliette Binoche - who doesn't look like she's aged a bit since 'Chocolat' - you must go. The ending is very corny but I thought it suited the style of the film.

Saturday I drove to New Brighton Hot Pools - Te Puna Taimoana - and had a soak for an hour. Felt wonderful afterward. Walked on the beach and watched a shag drying itself off. Not long after, a dog chased the bird down the beach. I hoped it didn't catch the poor bugger. 

On Sunday I gave a talk at the Kate Sheppard House. I dressed as Kate Sheppard and entertained a small crowd, which included children. I pretended to be Kate before throwing off my hat and resuming my normal voice. My message was that children's stories about people who make a difference are empowering and we should take the time to read them to children

On Monday I spent time in Rutherford's Den, taking notes and photographs. It has the original lecture hall that Rutherford sat in for his classes. Plus the cold storage place under the lecture hall, where he conducted some of his experiments. And they've just put up a large display of all his gold and bronze medals including the Nobel Prize. I plan to visit this museum some more.

Sir Ernest Rutherford and wife
Original lecture theatre Rutherford studied in

 



On Tuesday we toured the Christchurch Library. I readjusted a book of mine that was far too low down on a display (discretely of course). I plan to book a studio session to record a reading of one of my latest books. And will probably be back to use the laser machine as well for some display animals. Great resources for the community to use.

On Wednesday I rose very early to catch an 8.30am flight to Wellington. At 10.45 Sandra Morris and I gave a talk to several classes of children about researching nonfiction books. We used Canva for the first time for our presentation and it looked fabulous. Will definitely use it again - a lot more creative options than PowerPoint. The kids were so well behaved, taking notes the whole time.

After lunch all the nonfiction finalists sat at the front of the auditorium and answered children's questions. Again, they were a fantastic audience, asking very astute questions. It was really interesting to hear the thought, planning and research that each author and illustrator had spent writing/illustrating their books. Tom Moffat was a hoot telling a few of his jokes from his book 'You're Joking'. A kid in front of me, looked like he had tears coming out of his eyes - he found Tom so funny. Selina Tusitala Marsh (Mophead) was as regal and beautiful as usual. She shared that her fellow University workmates tried to dissuade her from writing a children's book - thank goodness she ignored them. And Alexandra Tylee (Egg and Spoon) admitted that her 'long suffering' children trialed all her recipes and were very honest whether they thought a recipe good enough for the book. Giselle Clarkson (Egg and Spoon) said as well as her cartoon work, she also goes on trips with conservation groups to outlying islands and draws wildlife later for magazines. Sandra Morris, author illustrator of 'North and South' revealed if she hadn't become an illustrator/writer she might have been an archaeologist. And Marco Ivancic, illustrator of 'New Zealand Disasters' said when he received the book full of mistakes - he then saw my horrified look and realised what he said - 'disasters, I mean!'. He also admitted he would have liked to have been a paleontologist or a soccer star. Now, I realise why he's always suggesting we do a dinosaur book next!

Nonfiction Finalists at the Award Ceremony

After a rest we were back at the National Library in time for the awards. If you don't know the results go here. Huge congratulations to Tania Roxborogh who won the junior fiction and Supreme Book of the Year Award for her book 'Charlie Tangaroa and the Creatures from the Sea'. And congratulations to all the other winners. Then it was a chance to catch up with fellow authors and illustrators, librarians and teachers.

The next day back to Christchurch to resume the residency ...

Back at the Residency