Monday, October 11, 2021

Penultant week of the Arts Centre Residency

11 October 2021

At the beginning of the residency, three months seemed a long time, especially when we went into lockdown. But that time, with no distractions, proved to be great for my writing. I set a goal of how many chapters I wanted to complete in a week and I kept writing until I achieved my target. Sometimes the writing stumbled along, sometimes it was rushed with too much telling, and sometimes it flowed from my fingers. But I have reached my goal of finishing my first draft before I finished the residency. 

I had several things I wanted to achieve over the residency; the first being to write a junior fiction novel about Sir Ernest Rutherford; the second, using the opportunity while in Christchurch to visit schools and promote my books. A Covid-19 lockdown stymied that for a while, but I did do six author talks over the time (with one to do next week). Also, participation in the Word festival, which was cancelled, and then postponed to a date in November (but I'll be home then). And a book launch cancelled twice! The bookseller had ordered a box of 'Remarkable Animal Stories' and so to help sell them, we decided to do a book signing at the new Telling Tales bookshop on Saturday 16th October from 11.00-1.00pm. Please come along if you're in town.

The third thing I wanted to achieve was to get to know Christchurch more and I did. I biked around Hagley Park daily past the daffodils and jonquils, under the cherry trees, and over the bridges with ducks and swans swimming underneath. I also swam at the hot pools every weekend, not counting four weeks of lockdown and then maintenance. I drove to Black Diamond Harbour, Sumner, Amberley and Akaroa. At the latter I discovered the Giant's House, saw seals on a Black Cat boat (we had hoped to see Hector dolphins but were out of luck), and had a drink overlooking the water. We were very fortunate to have splendid weather that weekend.

Over the school holidays, I taught Write Like an Author workshops to 8-14 year old students in Dunedin and Christchurch. Both groups had kids that loved to read and write, which made them a pleasure to teach. Lots of talent in the rooms, too.

With only a nine days to go, I'm now looking forward to going home and seeing the family. I've missed them terribly. I had planned to fly back, one month after I had arrived here, for the weekend. My husband was also going to join me for a weekend away at Hamner Springs (it would have been our first time there), and my family were going to fly to Nelson to celebrate my birthday on my way back. All those plans were scuppered. But I can't complain, I've had freedoms that I wouldn't have been able to enjoy if I had been home in Auckland.

So, with my thoughts on leaving, I realised it has been a real privilege to stay in the Arts Centre with its century old stone buildings. Our bedrooms overlook the Botanical Gardens and I often hear laughter and music. I've seen a group of middle-aged women practicing their cultural dance, families picnicking on the grass verge, and hundreds of people walking or biking along the pavement every day. Plus I've been served a dawn religious rant from the Prophet each morning. It's given me a new perspective on living in the city.

Hannah Wilson, the Arts Centre creative residencies coordinator, has helped make our stay here very comfortable and she's been very supportive of our varying careers in the arts. She's arranged a photographer to take professional photos that we can use going forward. Plus met us fortnightly for coffee breaks to check we've got everything we need and we're surviving psychologically in this Covid world. She's also spent time in the weekend administrating our workshops. Chris, Shelley and others at the Arts Centre have also been very supportive.

Things I'll miss when I leave: my friend Lorraine Orman who's been great company, Ruth Parkyn - a dear 92-year-old who has been incredibly generous sharing meals and looking after my car (no parking at the Arts Centre), my cousin Mark Buckley who has taken me out to dinner several times, catching up with Jenny Cooper - the stunning illustrator from Amberley, the cinema - four steps downstairs from our apartment, the park at my doorstep, Rutherford's den, and those fortnightly meetings with Hannah and the three other Arts residents: Nathan, A.J., and Tilly. And I can't forget Fifi Colston, my traveling buddy, who helped me drive all the way down from Auckland to Christchurch and is going back up to Taupo with me as well (I'll continue the trip to Auckland on my own, going through two Covid borders).

Stay safe!

Maria Gill


Fifi and I at the Giant's House, Akaroa





Fifi and Ruth
Seals in Akaroa Harbour

View from our accommodation


Blossoms in Akaroa

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Week 8 at the Arts Centre

26 September 2021

I can't believe I've only got 3.5 weeks to go! Time has suddenly rushed past.

This week I had a half-day at Mairehau School. They've got a major building project happening and it won't finish until year some time. A huge upheaval for the school but they seem to be coping.

On Tuesday I had a haircut at Amala Hair Care, specialists in cutting curly hair. The hairdresser cut it dry. She said it was like trimming a hedge. It turned out much shorter than I expected but I've got used to it now. 

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I worked on my chapter book and now only have one more chapter to write. It suddenly flowed from my fingers. I had to take off my editing hat and just write it. I'll be making a lot of changes, though, when I do a structural edit. 

On Thursday I spent time in Rutherford's den. I wrote down the senses in the lecture theatre and the den. Plus famous quotes from the scientist that I might be able to use in the story. I also contacted Canterbury University archive library to see if they had Ernest Rutherford's personal letters. 

I feel like I'm making up a lot of dialogue and inner thoughts and I want to make sure they have the right tone. And that has been one of the dilemma's I've had while writing the story. Will people object that the dialogue/thoughts are made-up? Will they say it isn't historically accurate? For the story to be interesting for young people I need to 'show' what is happening and what the main character is thinking. I'll need to put a disclaimer at the front of the book saying that the events are correct but the dialogue/thoughts are made-up.

After sitting at a desk all day, I had neck and lower back problems, so I had a swim at Te Puna Taimoana hot pools in New Brighton. It's so relaxing!

Today I walked through the colourful Botanical Gardens and had lunch at Ilex Cafe, overlooking their fern glasshouse. I did covet a few of their plants. Luckily they sold some in the gift shop and I bought one. Hopefully it won't get damaged in the car journey back home in 3.5 weeks' time.

I also drove to Diamond Harbour. I had driven that way quite a few years ago to do a school visit and vowed to return. Unfortunately, it was cloudy so I didn't see it at its best. But it was still stunning. Next time, I'll catch the ferry from Lyttleton - much quicker!

Tomorrow I have another school visit. I'm also preparing for Write Like an Author workshops in the school holidays. In week one I'm teaching it at Otago Girls Highschool. In week two, I'm at St Margaret's College. There's plenty of spaces if you have children who love to write. Go here for information. Fifi Colston is also teaching Draw Like an Artist at St Margaret's College in the second week too. If you want more information go here.

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens


Botanical Gardens


Botanical Gardens


Botanical Gardens


Diamond Harbour

Charteris Bay


Diamond Harbour


Charteris Bay


Diamond Harbour


Diamond Harbour




Take care!


Maria Gill