Whiti Hereaka’s Novel Kurangaituku (Huia publishers) is a finalist for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction 2022.
The story of Kurangaituku that you know from your childhood – when did you feel ready to start writing?
I don’t think I ever felt ready to start writing this novel – but it was ready to be told! It’s pretty typical of me to start a project and figure out how I’m going to get it done along the way. I think with all of my creative work, ideas and story threads build up in my mind until some magic happens and I start to see the connections between the pieces. I think I’ve been collecting stuff for this novel most of my life.
Halfway through writing I realized I didn’t have the skills I needed as a writer to create the story I wanted – so I put it aside and I wrote another novel (Heritage) to hone my skills. Was I ready after that? I think I was closer!
* How I Write: NZ Festival author and Ockham runner-up Whiti Hereaka talks about her favorite books and sidenotes
* Announcement of the finalists for the Ockham New Zealand Book Award 2022
* How I write: Mary-anne Scott likes to write in the morning when there are no distractions
What grabbed you in Kurangaituku’s story?
I grew up in Taupō and have whakapapa on most of the central plateau, so this Pūrākau has always existed. We always stopped at Hatupatu Rock as we headed north. I think I’ve always been interested in the story behind the story or, quite simply, I’ve always been that hōhā kid who asks Why?
I wanted to know the life of the Woman-Bird. And the illustrations of the Reed version (of Maori Tales of Old) from Kurangaituku scared me! I think part of that history is why I often feel a little uncomfortable in the bush at night. So she has been a visceral presence in my life for as long as I can remember.
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You’re good at novels, playwriting and screenwriting – how do you transition between them?
I don’t think I can claim to be a master! When I wrote my first novel, I had to write it as a screenplay to understand the form of the thing. Switching from one format to another is really changing the part of our senses that you are writing for. The theater is the soundest, the film you write for the eye, fiction? I think you are writing for the psyche.
What I’m really enjoying right now is thinking about how you can push the story into the formats – how can you tell that story in a way that can only be told in theater, in the movies or in a novel. I think my heart will always be for theater – I wouldn’t write at all if I didn’t start out on stage. Thank goodness I found the writing – I was a terrible actor!
Are you working on something new?
When I was writing Kurangaituku and grappling with that, I was talking with Witi Ihimaera (we edited Purakau together at the time). Now when I talk about my plans I get very animated and make wild gestures (hoping to distract some plot holes!) But he asked me very calmly if some of my problems were due to that I was trying to write three novels and smash them together as one. He was right.
So I’m working on a novel called Aria in which Kurangaituku appears, but in a very different way from this novel. It is a story of haunting or possession. And there will be a third novel. These are not series as such – you can read them in any order, or just read one – but Kurangaituku appears in all three and I hope the reader will have a better understanding of all the books in reading others!
And what are you reading?
I read The Island of Lost Trees in preparation for an interview with the amazing Elif Shafak which I will be recording for the Aotearoa NZ Arts Festival Writers Online series. I also read Orlando by Virginia Woolf Assembly by Natasha Brown and today a book appeared that I can’t remember why I ordered it so I’m going to read it They also from Kay Dick.