I felt rather nervous when Bridget asked me to describe the processes I adopted in producing Taniwha.
I am fairly new to creative writing - though I’ve published non-fiction in the past - and, to date, I’ve focussed more closely on what I have written rather than why or how I have written it. Bridget’s questions made me think about the aims and ambitions of writing, as well as the obstacles.
When friends ask why I write, I tend to trot out predictable answers: a love of language and reading, a passion for communicating ideas, the thrill of hearing that others have enjoyed my work. All are true, but they are only part of the story.
The other part is more personal: it’s as if a lifetime’s experiences of joy, anger, love, remorse, sadness, cheer, bereavement, delight (to name but a few) have reached capacity and can no longer be contained. They need to cut loose and, for me, their escape route is the written word. In Taniwha, these experiences are represented in themes including oppression, isolation, cultural dislocation and determination.
This is not to say that I set out purposefully to cover particular issues. Far from it. The themes that find expression in my writing are rarely developed in a conscious manner.
Rather, I find that ideas evolve during the process of writing, jumping onto the page in a way that is at first surprising but ultimately predictable.
In this respect, I have no choice but to start with what I know, and I continue by (re) interpreting and broadening my experiences within the act of writing. I aim to mix what I know with what I want to know, and use the familiar in different and, I hope, creative ways. In relation to Taniwha, for example, I have lived in New Zealand but as an adult, not a child. I have never had a home on a farm but have experienced bullying. I do believe in monsters, especially those that lurk in the dark depths of deep pools.
The main difficulty I face in writing is beginning a new piece of work. It can take me days – even weeks – to get a story off the ground.
I find that a walk with my dog in the wild always helps (pictured). As I sit down with a clean sheet of paper, I feel a conflicting combination of excitement about what I might write, and anxiety as to whether I will be able to write anything at all.