Adaptation

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to adapt my book for serialization on radio. In this post I reflect on the process of abridging, adapting and reshaping an existing narrative (and nerd out about New Zealand’s public broadcaster).

I’ve always been a bit of a public broadcasting tragic. New Zealand’s “National Radio,” as it was known then, was always on in our house as I grew up. They had a kids’ program called Ears that broadcast on Saturday mornings. There were two hosts, Dick and Chrissie, and a strange electronic-voiced character called Letterbox Lizard who read out listener correspondence. I loved it. Each episode featured some chat between the hosts, a mystery sound for kids to guess at home (eg toilet flushing, onions frying in a pan), letters, and most importantly, stories. Stories from all over the world, but especially stories from New Zealand, recorded in the studio by people with New Zealand voices. Stories about kids like me, and kids like the kids I went to school with. These days RNZ’s slogan is “Sounds like us,” and when I was growing up, it did.

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Stolen Moments and Seemingly Quotidian Details

I am deep into the trenches right now. The baby is eight months old, the big girl four-and-a-half. It’s winter. I don’t leave the house much. I don’t get much sleep. There is no time for reflection, considered thought, planning my writing life. But I am writing. 250 words a day. Whatever comes out. It doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t add up to anything. Not yet anyway. But here’s some from last week.

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The hot breath of a teething baby. That smell, what is it? Raw, iron-ish, but not bloody. Metallic, vital. It makes me want to put my face right up next to hers, kiss her repeatedly while breathing in that life force. Four new teeth at once! I tell her she is doing a really good job.

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So What Am I?

I know you are, you said you are, so what am I?

We used to chant this to each other at primary school, whenever someone called us a rude name.

You’re stupid!

I know you are, you said you are, so what am I?

A stupid dick!

I know you are, you said you are, so what am I?

Shut up, you’re a mean, stupid dick!

I know you are, you said you are, so what am I?

Our child-size lizard brains exploded with frustration at answering a direct question, only to have it turned back on us over and over again. We fumed. Smoke billowed out of our ears; we danced on the spot with rage. We didn’t know about logical fallacies. We thought if we could just come up with the ultimate insult, we could smote our opponent. They would be felled by the devastating completeness of their new epithet. But it was always served back.

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Where do you draw the line? An experiment with “found” writing

Due to a recent tweak in my insomniac four-year-old’s bedtime routine, I now spend hours each night sitting outside her room waiting for her to fall asleep while answering the questions that run through her head while she winds down: “Mum, what’s a fawn?” “How do you spell poison?”

It’s painful, but at least it affords me some reading time, and as a consequence I’m churning through the books at the moment. One of the latest is The Beat of the Pendulum by Catherine Chidgey.

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Getting Naked

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but in 2018 I would really like to take my clothes off in front of a room full of strangers.

Slowly, in moments snatched between feeds, nappy changes, and coaching my four-year-old through her powerful emotions, I’ve been compiling a bucket list. Things I want to do for me, when there is a me again. As I’ve assembled the list, I’ve noticed a theme. They all involve exposing myself in public.

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On writing with a newborn

I didn’t keep a journal when my first daughter was born four years ago. For the first week, my partner and I kept a notebook recording details of feeds, nappy changes, and the odd piece of commentary: “Day 3: a no good, terrible, horrible, very bad day”; “Day 5: first parental fight, re dates.” Dates the dried fruit, or dates on a calendar? Four years later, I have no idea, and the notebook is no help. Soon after it stops altogether.

Later, I wished I had kept that notebook for longer, or even better, an actual journal recording my thoughts and feelings. Becoming a parent was momentous and life-changing, and not entirely positive. I ended up writing a book about it, and when I did, I had only unreliable memory to go off. I think I did okay at recounting the experience, but I wished I’d kept better records.

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A Writer’s Work Is Never Done

My first book came out two months ago.

I’d always imagined I would write a book one day, but in that way you do when you’re not actually writing. As long as I wasn’t trying, I could cling to the fantasy that at some unspecified future date, when the stars and planets aligned, I would sit down and bust out the Great New Zealand Novel.

I never examined this ambition too closely, because I knew when I did it would shrivel under the harsh glare of scrutiny. For one thing, you have to actually write, preferably every day, to produce a novel. I never did that. For another, you have to have an idea. Any kernel of an idea for a book or even a short story that I could conjure up always seemed staggeringly unoriginal. Very occasionally I might take one of these anaemic ideas and play with it for a while, but before long I would abandon it in frustration, bored and disgusted with my cheesy, derivate prose. My computer is full of these abandoned files – a thousand words there, a thousand words there – which I refuse to open, yet still can’t quite delete. Cringe.

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