Fair warning, this is more an essay than a blog. If your mind bears some similarities to a goldfish, you may find this challenging.
We started out as a band of writers across the lower North Island, all interested in the idea of performing readings of our own work. Our shows would be free and accessible to our communities and include both Māori and pakeha perspectives.
The intention was that each of the writers would organise dates, venues, and marketing in their localities, but we’d collectively weave together our work. Then, one by one, the writers fell away until Rangi Hapi and I remained. Rangi is not a resident of the Wairarapa, and so I took on the logistical mantle of a weekend of our readings throughout the Wai. Logistics are not my forte, but I’m known to persevere and can be determined to carry through with an idea.
And, so, we performed our show (Word Weavers: Kaiwhatu Kōrero) across the Wai this last weekend. I’ve learned a lot.
First. Thank you to friends and acquaintances interested enough in our writing to travel from as far away as Tauranga and Wellington to hear our readings.
At one of the readings, a husband of an old colleague made a mocking, negative reference to my logistical abilities to get things done. It took me by surprise in the moment but, as I am on a recovery journey learning how to live with Complex PTSD, I am now able to call it as I see it.
The comment was a narrative that suited the man and maybe his wife - and had absolutely nothing to do with me. I reject the narrative.
Of the options of fight, flight or freeze, I generally choose flight and so I doubt I will ever see that man again or, by extension, his wife.
I know that when someone has an expectation of me that I will ‘put up’ with being treated unkindly and I don’t choose to live up to that expectation, it can be very disappointing for them.
Second. One audience member said she was only there because a friend asked her to come – she hadn’t seen any marketing and couldn’t find anything about us when she googled.
If you type ‘Word Weavers NZ’ or ‘Kaiwhatu Kōrero’ into your browser, you (like me) might get a list of mentions scrolling up the screen on Eventfinda, Destination Wairarapa, Stuff Events, and the Facebook and Instagram pages of local bookshops and theatres.
Shout-outs must go to Dave and Patsy who own The Dickensian Bookshop in Featherston and John Gilberthorpe who manages Studio 73 in Greytown.
I also marketed to schools, through libraries and district councils, via friends, and my own Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram accounts. Paid ads were placed in local magazines for the two months before the events. I posted flyers on numerous local community noticeboards because our show was free and for the community.
Third. I made direct appeals to two local ‘institutions’ (WaiWord and Featherston Booktown). If they were able to mention us in their monthly e-newsletters, our exposure would be greater. They chose not to.
In the past I’ve worked in the area of arts funding as a manager at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and with Arts Access Aotearoa. A couple of years ago, I played a role in achieving $8 million of additional funding for creative spaces.
The Ministry had to set up a new funding distribution mechanism because Creative NZ (the usual mechanism for arts funding) almost exclusively funds artists that have already had some success. Creative Spaces are not a good ‘fit’ for Creative NZ.
Is something similar going on for Booktown: writers only backed if they are already winners?
I’m a great believer of reciprocity. Until now, I’ve financially contributed to Booktown and earlier this year my name appeared on its brochures as a Friend. They’ve just sent me an email requesting a further donation.
C’est la vie.
Many writers have a theme that they come back to time and again. You might be familiar, for example, with -
By ‘making sense of relationships’ I mean how to have healthy relationships, how to not be devoured by relationships and lose oneself, how to have freedom to grow and love oneself while also supporting and loving others.
All the readings I’m performing in November this year in several Wairarapa venues are segments that seek to - at the very least, expose (maybe even try and make sense of) - healthy and unhealthy connections between people. Visit this webpage for dates, times and venues: https://www.praxeum.org/performances.html
I traveled through Iran by public transport in the early 1980s, only a few years after the Shah was deposed. Iran is a country I consider to be a dictatorship even as it fascinates me. My travels are documented in an essay ‘How to Live’, included in Wrestling with Pie.
In my view, any country, based on any religion, that tells women how they should behave and what they can and cannot do with their bodies, is a dictatorship. Let’s not think about what that means for America right now. Let’s focus on Iran.
Years of grinding revolt against the fundamentalist regime in Iran recently coalesced around the right of women to choose whether or not to cover their hair with a scarf, after a young woman was tortured and murdered by thugs for not wearing her head scarf properly.
How brave are those people who are standing up and saying ‘enough fundamentalism, enough control’ - especially the women who are uncovering their hair in protest.
I remain fascinated by Iran.
The main protagonist in my crime-thriller series The Becoming Chronicles is an Australian-Iranian called Clint Ryal - an investigative journalist turned legal investigator for some very dark crimes. His life is turned on its head as he learns in Becoming Real: Book One and Becoming Just: Book Two about the role of his grandfather Sunil during the Shah’s regime, and the murky roles in the intelligence world of his father Bekym and friend Arash Esfandiari. Visit Amazon.com.
Afghan women are no longer allowed to study or work at jobs considered to be only for men. To earn money and feed their families, some women have begun designing, making, and selling women’s clothing, crafts, and anything else considered beneath the notice of men. They’re turning creative endeavours into a business.
This is not new.
The World Bank and Women’s World Banking report that women are often the gateway to household security. Women entrepreneurs invest a higher percentage of their income in the household compared with their male partners (if they have them), enhancing the family’s overall financial security and access to health care, education, and housing. Small family businesses selling art, crafts, food and other goods and services can also lead to higher standards of living across entire communities.
I was thinking about this recently, and thinking about my own experiences as a self-employed single mother, while I searched the internet for premade book covers. I was looking for the right cover for one of my novels, the third in a series following the fortunes of three women friends. They are of different ages, come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and have different sexual identities. The series revolves around their connections with people who are dead and live in the underworld. I was looking for a cover that reflected the plot and the characters. I also wanted something artistic and original.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve used book covers showing swooning young white women in the arms of a man; they have their place. But this time I wanted something more.
Hours of searching later, I found Creative Paramita: Book Cover Artist at https://www.creativeparamita.com/ and didn’t need to go any further.
Not only did I find what I was searching for, I also found a businesswoman who was prompt, reliable, responsive, and respectful. Paramita went the extra mile and provided my cover in a variety of formats for uploading to different promotional channels. It was my lucky day.
In turn, I wish Paramita all the very best of luck making her art into a successful business.
In The Uncommon Reader, Alan Bennett allows Queen Elizabeth to discover reading (“it was the corgi’s fault”) which eventually leads to her abdication so that she can devote herself to writing. Well, that didn’t happen. We are celebrating the Queen’s platinum jubilee this weekend after her 70 years of dedicated service to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. But the written word can lead to (or herald) change, which may have been Bennett’s point. Examples include both the Old and New Testaments and, many centuries later, the Qur’an. To effect change, however, the written word needs a fertile ground - an environment ready to receive the words - as well as a way of bringing that word to the masses.
In the late 15th century, a priest called Heinrich Kramer was urged by the Vatican to write a book about witches. The (religious and political) establishment of the time was keen to divert the attention of the masses away from itself. The preference of the establishment was to focus on its own privilege, wealth, and power - this could always be improved by lying and being brutal to everyone else. People were kept uneducated which allowed false information to be accepted as truth.
And there was a means to enable Kramer’s false words to ricochet around the known world - the printing press had just been invented. Kramer’s book Malleus Maleficarum ‘described’ witches’ secret night-time rituals that allegedly included witches eating children, their sex with the devil, and the deadly mayhem they caused to the wider community. The torture and execution of witches was described and authorised. For 200 years the book was the second best-seller after the Bible. The church manipulated a craze for controlling, hurting, and killing women at a time when the plague was reducing the nobility's control over the lower classes and feudalism was breaking up.
Here we are in the 21st century with great change happening as the information revolution explodes. People are again divided into the very rich, powerful, and privileged (the establishment) and everyone else (including those who feel stripped of agency, who are dissatisfied with people in power). And we have another global pandemic.
In their book The Sovereign Individual published in 1997, William Rees-Mogg and James Davidson prophesised the birth of a new stage of Western civilisation off the back of the information society.
Having been around the establishment for most of my working life, I can almost understand how this type of backlash might have come about (albeit in a bizarrely twisted form). The officials in central and local governments, some politicians, and even the people who lead NGOs, are generally averse to change and are often unresponsive to need. They benefit from the status quo just the way it is.
Establishments also feel more in control when they can keep uppity women in their perceived place by either ignoring them or making up rubbish about them - hence the total rubbish about Mrs Clinton designed to discredit her and take away her power. The establishment players can then feel big even if they are operating in very small ponds. Who wouldn’t want to keep hold of that once they’ve found it?
I recently tried to read Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel The Power of the Dog (made into an award-winning film which is readily available to the masses) but gave it up as a bad job even though I, like the Queen, believe that we should finish a book once we start it if we can. To me, this novel describes people behaving badly, especially towards women, and hanging onto a sense of power by any horrid means possible. Its hard to stomach.