Tuesday, July 21, 2020

New titles & significant birthdays

Lockdown Sketchmind by Fifi Colston

It’s been a little over a month since my last post and the world has continued to be COVID, crazy and confusing. But here in New Zealand life seems quite normal again, and almost hard to remember the days of lockdown, though we are mindful that it’s ever present outside our borders.
Inside my expanding bubble, publishing things are happening.

Firstly, my Lockdown Diary can now be pre ordered here at Cuba Press and we are just about to send it to print. We have had heaps of orders already and it’s a limited print run, so if you were thinking you’d like one, then get in quick! There is space for you to write your own thoughts and observations on this extraordinary year too. It’s your diary, as well as mine. Perhaps the whole family can add a line or two in response to the entries that mark the time we spent in Lockdown. A 5-year olds perspective can be quite different from a 50 year olds one.

Secondly, ‘The Little Yellow Digger Saves Christmas’ is out in October, published by Scholastic NZ. Written by Peter Gilderdale and illustrated by me, we have paid homage to his famous parents, Betty and Alan Gilderdale who created the series. I studied Alan’s illustration style in depth and replicated some of his favorite characters with my own twist. It was like he was standing, hand on my shoulder, saying ‘You can do it, you CAN draw a digger!’ And digger I have drawn, and some quarantined reindeer!

Thirdly, I was finally able to spend 2 weeks at the Michael KingWriters Centre and take up my postponed residency. There I worked on my graphic novel ‘Ampersand’ and whilst there met with my publishers Penguin Random House to sign the contract for ‘Masher’ the middle grade novel I wrote whilst in Dunedin last year, during my time as Otago University Creative New Zealand Children’s Writerin Residence. Masher is about art, craft, puppets, bull terriers and boys who don’t fit in. It’s comedic and sweet and I’m enormously proud of myself for writing it, and hugely happy that Penguin Random House are publishing it. Many thanks to Vicki Marsdon at High Spot Literary Agency for making that happen!

After my residency, I ran a ‘Draw Like an Artist’ camp for 8-12 year olds at Southwell School in Hamilton in the holidays. 18 of us had enormous creative fun and felt very lucky to be in Aotearoa where we can do these things again, thanks to clear leadership and the team of five million!

Well Hung
Lastly, my entry for the 2020 Parkin Drawing Prize was shortlisted as a finalist and I deliver that to the gallery today. 

Artist Statement:

In 2019 I was the recipient of 6 months writer’s residency at The Robert Lord Cottage in Dunedin.
The cottage remains as the playwright left it and a famous feature is his indulgently deep ‘shub’. My daily focus always came back to the simple shower caddy, modest and hung on a simple screw in the wooden baton on the shower surround, casting layered shadows. Fading and unfinished, like Lord at his end aged 46. The hair in the soap is my own. I think he’d find the humour in that.

Oh...and I turned 60 in amongst all of this and writer, Michele Powles made me this amazing cake. I am pretty lucky to have such wonderful creative, generous friends in my life! Six decades of love :)

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Of Sketchbooks and Statues

Level 1 achievement!

Funny old time isn’t it? Well not funny at all for many.

We have, in New Zealand, managed to lockdown, quarantine and in the famous words of Sir Edmund Hillary ‘knocked the bastard off’ and are now enjoying a life in Level 1 with few restrictions other than the border closures to the rest of the world. I have no doubt that as soon as we open up again, COVID-19 will reappear, but hopefully we have some semblance of awareness over how we deal with it. Of course there has been the sadly inevitable business closures and unemployment that follows a country shutting down for 2 months. My own work in my portfolio career has been cancelled for the year, and as I have been the sole breadwinner in the house for the last 15 months, that leaves room for concern.

However, our government has been helpful with subsidies, and in lockdown we had nothing to spend money on except food and the basic living expenses, that didn’t include takeout coffees, going to the cinema or bars or shopping. Over the 50 days, I walked, baked and in the evenings drew my thoughts about life in the times of COVID-19 in a sketchbook. I was vaguely concerned that I wasn’t doing enough creative work and I really could have thrashed out an entire novel. The time slid past peacefully and at the end of it, I found that I had indeed written a book of sorts.
My Sketchmind Diary has secured a publishing contract with The Cuba Press and help from Creative New Zealand to produce it. I'm so happy about this!

Watch this space as they say, for a link on where to pre-order. If we sell all 400 copies, we will not lose money and we can circulate it back into the system on the great money go round that is the economy. I’ll do it mostly with Pinot Gris…

Life and my creative career will go on, I always find a way not to have to commute to an office in the darkest of times. I have, in my fantasies imagined me on a pedestal (put up there by myself) and lauded for my tenacity in the arts. But you need to be careful who you put up on plinths and why. 

The recent demise of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, had people asking, ‘any relation?’ I can tell you now that the slave trader never married or had children. Of course, he might have had ‘issue’, but none recognised. So Colston’s Girl’s School were fairly safe in their offer of 50% off school fees if you could prove an ancestral link, when we sent our daughter there in the 2 years we lived in Bristol.

Colston presiding over his success, talk about a guilded lily.

I always thought that it was poor taste to have a public monument to a slave trader, however philanthropic he was, erected in the city. He funded institutions that benefitted a great many white people, all off the backs of black slaves. It is worthwhile noting that he died in 1721, The Abolition of Slavery Act was passed in 1833 and that statue was put up in 1895. This is what is called, 'a dick move'. There’s a good article here about Britain’s view of its own history. Well worth a read.

So, now, people seem to be either in the ‘tear down all statues’ or ‘leave them there, what’s past is past’ camp. I’m in the ‘let's look and learn something here’ camp.

Edward was torn down as a response to #BlackLivesMatter. But also nobody much liked that posturing bronze with his fancy shoes anyway. It’s always been a slap in the face and after so many slaps, well, you just turn around and say ‘enough’ and slap back. I cheered seeing him thrown off the Arnolfini Bridge into the none too clean water of the Bristol Harbour.

He's been fished out now, and is safely tucked away, graffitied and with a hole in his bum, along with the placards from the protest- and suprising find of an 1881 newspaper tucked into his cavity. This will be included in an exhibition of our current history; Edward Colston, the profiteer of misery, overthrown because people had had enough. This is how we learn and hopefully become more human. 

World leaders should bear that in mind.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Entry F (for Fifi) the Hnry Awards

I won second runner up! Congratulations also to the amazing winning entries by Tim Hamilton (in collaboration with Casey) and Julia Palm.
Many many thanks to the judges, everyone who voted for me and of course Hnry- and especially Ben who was such a fabulous correspondent with us artists. Thanks so much!
You can read all about why we did what we did and what we are going to do now HERE

Yesterday I found out that a concept sketch I did for the Hnry Awards is one of 10 finalists!
This was a beacon of hope in a wierd week. You can vote for it here! Entry F for Fifi.
If I win by popular vote, the money will feed our household and pay all the bills, and be channeled into my creative work. I'm not one to squander cash on cosmetic surgery and designer clothing.

I did the sketch in the midst of a huge black hole I had gone down. I had plenty of work lined up, but as always exhausting to think about it- I'm part of the gig economy and I rush from one workshop, presentation, commission and event to the next. Do the hustle...
None of it makes me any kind of fortune. It IS the arts after all. With no time or money to holiday around the world sightseeing I was all FOMO. I couldn't bear how hopelessly inept a Boomer I am! I surely should have three properties, rental incomes, a bach, a boat and a share portfolio by now? Yet, because I'm more of a socialist by inclination, none of that would sit with me comfortably at all. Yet I still felt like a failure. I'm not of course, but measuring success by financial wealth is fundamentally flawed and dispiriting as f*ck.

Well how the world has changed in such a short period of time. You couldn't drag me onto a cruise ship or a long haul flight to the UK now if you paid me. The world economy is in freefall and it appears that COVID-19 is no discriminator. You can get it even if you are Prince Charles or Boris Johnson. Also, billionaires need to wash their hands as well, but not of people.

I feel curiously joyful in this lockdown. My happy place is right here, with the quiet and the stillness of a world gone mad, to a world gone home. The birds are chirping and tweeting (as are we online) my family are as safe as they can be, art is my solace and I'm massively proud that I helped to vote in the leader of our country, Jacinda Ardern who is compassionate, credible, courageous and clear about what we need to do.

She is the mother of our nation, and an inspiration for our times.

You can see the rest of my Lockdown Diary sketches in my facebook portfolio here.

Sunday, March 29, 2020


When we could still travel...it seems so long ago now.

I'm not going to say anything much about the pandemic to be honest. I'm at my desk in lockdown, continuing to create things for a world that is changing into something we aren't sure of yet. I hope it will be kinder and less inclined to use material gains as a measure of success. Artists have always struggled with this one...

I am creating some resources to keep kids amused and busy during this lockdown and you can find them on my Pandemic Resources Page. I am also posting the some videos on my previously neglected YouTube Channel, mostly exploring my attic and the useful things I find in there!

On Instagram I'm posting daily sketches of things that occur to me, day by day. Who knows how many days we will get to? This is the right thing to do, no matter how hard. Keep safe, follow the instructions #BeKind

Love Fifi xxx

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The End of my Love Affair with Facebook…

Update- well hasn't the world changed since this post? Now that we are in the midst of a pandemic- facebook contact is really important to keep me in touch with people. It was good to have a break though. Keep safe folks, and wash your hands!!

The Crown

An artist I followed on Facebook who had over 1200 ‘friends’ and kept us glued there by increasingly making bolder and more provocative posts designed to shock, announced one day ‘Heads up, tomorrow I am committing Face-icide.’

We were all shocked and upset, ‘But why Tali why?’ because she was the most interesting person in our feeds and we waited for what amazing crazy thing she would be doing in her life, like we were watching a drama series on Netflix with a box of popcorn.

Her answer baffled me ‘Because I just can’t keep up with wishing people happy birthday, giving encouragement and advice, likes and smiley faces and most of all because I am getting no painting done whatsoever. You can follow me on my blog. So long and thanks for all the fish.’ Or words to that effect, I wish I’d known how to screen shot the conversation at the time. I’d have printed it on cotton and made a dress from the fabric. I’d have called it the ‘FB F-off Frock.' I was very upset that she left us so blithely, and then after a week or two, forgot she existed at all.

This new year though, I did the same, I killed off my personal page of 350 odd friends and family.
Nine years of dedicated daily posts, and now I’ve gone from their news feed- if they ever saw me at all amongst the torrential algorithmic news, fake news, and relentless advertising. I put a much less attention-grabbing headline as a post, murmuring that I was going to take a break. A few people replied with ‘yeah right’ because I’ve said this before and then I’m back two days later. I have no self-control. Unable to just log in and out once a week, I suspended my account.

So why did I do this more permanent thing?

BF (before facebook) I have always been a communication junkie. I hung out over my fax machine back in the day, and before that hours on the landline. Mobile phones were a godsend with texts, so I could be always yakking. It was the thing I got told off for at school the most- talking. Even at home growing up, the catchphrase in my family was ‘Shut up Fif!’ so garrulous I am. My blog was the next tell-it-to-the-world platform on a weekly basis or more.
I’ve always had an opinion too, though now as I get older, I find myself like Prince Charles, in that Episode of The Crown.
Charles: ‘But Mummy, I have a voice’
The Queen: ‘Let me let you into a secret, no-one wants to hear it.’

Facebook for me started off innocently enough- a way to find the best photos of a band I was doing a poster for- my kids had to teach me how to use it, how to disable the pesky and abundant email notifications and how to connect with friends. Wow, what a cool thing it was- how easy to share photos with the family. At this time, I was also on The Good Morning Show, and connected with all the other presenters and crew. Then my tiny fan base wanted to be facebook friends too and I accepted. And my publishing editor, all the people I had ever met anytime at festival events, worked with, friends of friends, my kid’s friends and even a rabbit. I will never forget Tog, RIP.

Facebook is important for your work profile all our publishers say, you HAVE to market yourself. Because apparently that’s our job now, as well as creating all the content, we are responsible for selling it too. Things got awkward around election time. I couldn’t annoy my followers and colleagues with my views in case I lost a sale or a supporter, I also felt very uncomfortable seeing posts of a stranger’s family funeral, wedding or birth in my news feed. So I created a public page and gently moved the kind but unknown people onto that, and invited others to join me there. But many refused to change one page for the other and, like the situation when you realise you left it too late to say ‘sorry I made a mistake letting you into my personal life,’ I was stuck with the relationship.

I tried a policy of unfriending people who rarely posted and never commented- I broke up with them through a cheery private message, and got some really offended replies of ‘I thought this was where we could be friends but obviously you want me gone from your life!’ Note, these were people whose only posts or location alerts were about coming to my city for a holiday, yet never called to catch up for coffee. They would be entirely unreliable to help you in any personal crisis.

I tried restricting some people so they couldn’t see any of my posts, and that just felt mean, even though they only used your facebook friendship to promote their work. Merely unfollowing them means you don’t see their posts, but they can still trawl through yours if they've a mind to. There is nothing more unsettling to bump into an distant acquaintance on the street and them say ‘I hope you managed to get some work/new drains/bury your father/sort out the problem with your home loan’ and you realise ‘Fark, they are a facebook lurker friend!’ TMI, TMI everywhere.

And then there are work contacts who see you comment on a friend’s post about something that affects a community you are involved in, and they personally message you with admonishments and warnings. Basically saying, ‘You can only be vanilla, you can never be honest. How very dare you!’
I spent so many wasted hours trying to organise my personal facebook page into some sort of sense where I could have meaningful and fun interactions yet maintain some sort of privacy. Privacy and facebook of course are a nonsense, as Cambridge Analytica showed us.

All of this aside, the sharing of information even when you think you have it well locked down and the addiction to the little red notification flag, nothing prepared me for the overwhelming sadness I experienced over this Christmas period. Not long after the Whakaari/White Island tragedy, my feed was flooded with the heart-breaking Australian bush fire climate change disasters, road accidents and family violence reports. Then Trump bombed Iran and #WW3 was the end of Facebook days for me. That and people’s holiday snaps of their endless luxury holidays jetting away abroad, posting photos of their food, fiddling whilst the planet burns. I put my phone down.

Of course, like the Hotel California, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. The minute I log back in with the password and username, there I will be, resurrected and 3567 notifications of activity I’ve missed, all my comments and posts back like magic. I plan to go in though, in the dead of night, rescue my photos, delete all but very close family and the handful of friends I can utterly count on to bring food and love to my family if I suddenly die and will help organise a funeral. I'm going to Konmari the feck out of it. Or push that 'permanently delete' button altogether. 

In the meantime, the real me has found peace in choosing what bad news floods my way. I don’t have to look at other people’s seemingly fortunate wealthy lives and perfect families and have jealousy twist like a knife in my gut (my problem, not theirs). My husband says I’m far less grumpy now, but quietly wagering that Twitter will replace my addiction. I’m also sorry if I have put up aspirational posts in the past that make my life seem like a bunch of goddamned daisies. Nobody’s is, yet nobody wants to admit it in the highly curated life online. Yet we circle like vultures for a hint of weakness, or mistake made, ready to pounce and gossip.

Since quitting my personal page, I’ve had actual coffees and catch ups in person with people I like and care about, invites to stay and long walks along the wild coast of Wellington. I miss the banter from humerous like minded friends, but I don’t miss how utterly miserable Facebook made me feel.

Ironically, this post will also go up on my public page where I hope I don’t lose followers. Ah the duplicity...

Cheers, and thanks for all the fish, love Fifi xxx

Monday, December 09, 2019

Summer Holiday Workshops for kids!

It's that time isn't it? the year is rapidly drawing to a close and school holidays will be upon us!
The first week will be great, as Christmas and all the holiday plans fall into place, wherever they are for you. Then the summer break in New Zealand, and then everyone comes home but wait...still plenty more holidays left for the kids-they are bored- and you need to be back at work!
So, if you have arty, crafty, writery kids in Wellington, send them to Maria Gill and I for
Draw Like an Artist and Write Like an Author School holiday programmes.We will keep them busy!

We are running three day courses late January.
When: 9am-4pm, 21st- 23rd January 2020
Where: Rata Studios, Based at Scots College, 1 Monorgan road, Strathmore, Wellington

Click here for bookings: 

Friday, August 30, 2019

Robert Lord and me

Robert in the Shed- from my sketch diary. Riffing off the titles of his plays.

There is one last thing to do when leaving the Robert Lord Writers' Cottage in Dunedin. It's to write in 'the book'. This is something that you are presented with at the end, rather than at the beginning of your tenure and it's a glorious rabbit hole of remembrance from past writers to dive down. 
I recognised nearly all of them and was glad that the cottage is now equipped with double glazing and a heat pump, when reading about the battle to keep warm in an Otago winter- mostly from far north authors! This was my entry, typed printed and pasted because nobody wants to try and decipher my handwriting, least of all me!

The Cottage

I had all kinds of anxiety about coming to the cottage, leaving our house and ancient cat in Wellington (in the capable hands of friends of friends). We live in a big old 1910 villa, with my studio, a basement for messy work and a garage with off-street parking. The information provided was a spreadsheet of contents. How did a moustache cup relate to where we would live for 6 months? How big was the bedroom? Was there enough room in the kitchen for our sacred and necessary burr coffee grinder? Did the sofa bed in the writers’ room provide space for a friend’s bag when folded down and in use?

I searched in vain for photos on the internet and all I could find were smiling pictures of authors outside the front door, and one of the mantlepiece. I’m used to light and space, and knew I’d be cooped up in a historic tiny house with my husband. Would this be the end of a beautiful 40 year relationship?

I decided that I would take a full set of photos for the Trust to pass on to future residents.
We packed the car in Wellington with my pared down art materials, 2 computer screens, a sewing machine, clothing for multiple seasons and some odds and ends from the pantry. I threw in our good cotton sheets and steam iron; I was convinced there would be neither (there are). And off we went, waving farewell to the city of my heart and wondering what lay ahead in a city I’d only spent 2 days in (the Octagon) before.

When we arrived in Titan Street the party flat in George street was in full swing, and one boy in disposable overalls approached and asked if I would touch his bum as part of a challenge. This is the moment to laugh and rejoice the boldness of youth, so I raised my finger ceremoniously and prodded his offered derriere to the cheers of the onlookers across the road.
Then it was up to us, to greet the cottage and make it our own for the time being. I think everyone adds in some way to the place. Our contribution was to replace the lightbulbs with brighter ones and the Chinese hat lightshades with rice paper globes that let the light spread to the ceiling. 

Adrian, my husband fixed the front door hinges so that it didn’t stick, and we secreted a spare key outside after locking ourselves out one day and having to call the Cottage Trust rescue brigade. A couple of wooden blocks under the feet of one side of the bed sorted out the tipsy lean. We moved some furniture around just a little; Robert smiled from his place above the desk. Then putting away some travelling boxes, we found his, in the shed. I gather it is empty, his ashes now beneath the kowhai tree, but it seemed wrong to have him out in the laundry. We restored him to the coal range where we can say good morning and he can keep an eye on us, and I can thank him.

Each day I said goodbye to my husband and walked to the University through that stunning campus to the College of Education. I would stop for a coffee at the student Union or the Polytech Hub, and write in longhand, listening and watching students in the wild. Back in Titan Street, Adrian swept up glass and picked up rubbish, to keep it tidy and full of pride and I think his example has worked on the students. He eventually found contract work and the writers’ room has been busy with the sound of a keyboard in full thrash as he delivers marketing strategy for the Otago Polytechnic.

The writers’ room has also been where we sit and drink wine, watch Netflix, entertain friends and read books. We have watched students stroll past from Fatty Alley (Great King Street) laden with takeaways. On one cold day a girl walked past wearing nothing but a towel, and on another a boy in a towel knocked on our door to ask if he could use a phone, locked out as he was from his flat.

From our cosy cottage base, we have explored Dunedin, Central Otago and Stewart Island. I have written and illustrated 2 children’s picture books (due for publication with Pukeko Pictures later this year) the first draft of a junior fiction novel and more than half of a YA Graphic novel (still a WIP). 
I’ve visited schools, given lectures and been involved in the literary events of Dunedin. I buried a sketchbook in the cottage garden for 4 months to decay as part of my YA, unearthed it and it’s perfect for photographing. I dried it out on a plastic bag on the floor in front of the coal range.

Whilst it isn’t mandatory for a writer here, I got a tattoo, my first. It will feature in ‘the work.'
Sorry Mum.

We have been cultural; we went to the Larnach Castle Ball as Charles Dickens and Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. I made a faded and tatty wedding dress complete with bustle on a borrowed dressmaker’s mannequin in the lounge. At one stage, wedding petticoats and a veil hung in the shed, dripping tea stain. I think this may be the only time in Robert Lord’s history a wedding dress has been made in the cottage.

We have been amused by the cottage, warmed by the cottage and sheltered by the cottage. I have learned to be economical with dishes and cooking in the tiny kitchen. I think of Robert and wonder if he was more of a wine and nibbles sort of chef. And in our final few days here, will be saddened to leave our temporary home. It has become quite a part of us. Or we of it.

I thought about all the photos I took when we arrived and how useful they might be to a new writer prior to arrival and realised that entire charm of No.3, is the unexpected. The joy of discovery; it’s the not knowing that makes this so good, so utterly special. Not knowing what you are coming to, the friends you’ll make and the work you will achieve… the ink you will get. Robert knows. What a good man.

I think I'll keep the interior photos to myself :)
With so many thanks, forever

Fifi Colston (writer)
& Adrian Parkyn (sidekick)

Miss Havisham's Shed

Fresh Ink- Ampersand Tattoo

Friday, April 05, 2019

Making connections, joining the dots

The Sleepout- from 'The Workbook' WIP

A residency requires two things from oneself:
stopping slapping yourself that you finally got it.
the ability to say no to all the usual requests for freelance work that you normally say yes to because 'god knows when you’ll get work again'. 

It’s been nearly 2 months since we set sail (literally, on the Interislander ferry) for Dunedin. In this time, our ancient cat has not apparently died, or even missed us. He’s going to be so annoyed when our doting house residents leave and we come home. We bought 6 months of Chef and Whiskers cat food for the duration and he is determinedly working his way through it all. All hail the cat of 9-12 lives.

Dunedin has been warm and sunny and welcoming, and we venture forth in the weekends to visit beautiful places like Nugget Point Lighthouse in the Catlins. St Clair remains our favoured spot for the moment, but we may change our minds as the cold weather sets in. Today I donned the puffer jacket, but the students are still sporting bare legs and jandals, so maybe I’m a Wellywuss. 

I’ve settled into a new normal as far as the work goes. I set out in the morning from the Robert Lord Cottage, leaving my husband with strict instructions to enjoy his free time and not spend too much on coffee or Lime scooters for the day. I walk across the park to the University and find one of 2 or 3 cafes to have what I’ve coined as my 'flat write'. The coffee restriction directive does not apply to me, as it’s very necessary to the process. My favorite spots are in the Polytech Hub or the Otago Student Union. Here I can eavesdrop on young people and watch them in their unnatural environment called Tertiary Education. The moult has finished and their full coats are on and pretty soon I think there will be some mating rituals to observe as they try and keep warm. My hide is a laptop and I keep very quiet so as not to disturb them.

By late morning I get to my office at the College of Education. By this time the sun has gone off my desk and it’s easier than squinting or drawing the curtains. The whole tower block is about to undergo a refurbishment and so the next writer in residence may have spivvy blinds and new carpet!

I field emails, requests for work and follow ups on things I said yes to before I knew I had the residency- the truism is, that when you are busy, people want you even more. This is a good thing for both the ego and the bank balance. Of course, being a freelancer, I never expect this to last. All self employed people will know this fear. The one that has you never plan for a holiday/new clothes/car repairs more than one month in the future, because you never know if you’ll have work to pay for it.
So, now with a salary (be still my unaccustomed heart) it’s possible for me to say no. But I have to exercise that muscle fiercely. Because now all I want to do is my project. I draw in the afternoons when the light is best in my office. I’ve set myself a herculean task that involves two different drawing styles to be combined into kind of graphic novel, but with all the prose as well. I am making contact with students who can both inform me and read over what I have written for authenticity and tone. I’m meeting people who are welcoming me into their arts and literary lives. I have my formal Fellows welcome next week at The Hocken Library with the other Arts Residents. I’m presenting at the Dunedin Readers & Writers Week.

I’m being resident. 

This is what it’s all about. Making connections, joining the dots, exploring new work, that one day, with the greatest of luck and fortitude, may become published. And if nobody wants it, I will put it all up on some platform so it can be shared and, hopefully, enjoyed. Because it’s no use to anyone in the bottom draw of my cloud storage waiting for someday. Never wait for someday, do it now, with the Residency Application for 20/20 open, if you are a kids lit author/illustrator, apply. 

Join those dots.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

After the Ides of March

I was going to write about all my feelings around this last week in New Zealand. 
But if you follow me on facebook, Instagram or Twitter, or stumble across me in comments on news items, you will know very succinctly how I feel; I feel just like the rest of you. Unless you are someone called something like Aron, Derek or Ryan with a fb profile full of guns and army fatigues. Pro tip- never argue with these people. It’s a waste of your intelligence; you will become stupider with more contact.

So, wiping myself down with sanitising cloths after emerging from the sewers of social media (funny how you trip into them unwittingly and then have to try and claw your way up out of a slippery siding), I will tell you a little more about my residency and how that is going.

Dunedin proves to be more beautiful every day, despite some students being totally unaware that being a Tidy Kiwi keeps it that way. My husband took to brushing up broken glass and rubbish in our little street and it looks much better for it. I think he may have guilted the Young and the Feckless into following suit, because it has remained almost spotless for a few days now. By the time we leave here in August, the students will have run out of money for takeaways and beer and be deep in work they should have done in the first semester. It will be very quiet. Bless. 

I have visited Hoiho: yellow eyed penguins and Tunnel Beach and marvelled in the stunning coastline. Taken a trip to the quirky and fascinating Museum of Natural MysteryThe Otago Museum, gone to music performances at The Marama Hall and of course quite a few new favorite coffee spots with fellow writers and visiting friends... and the odd bar or two. I am pacing myself, because I don't want it all to run out before I go. It won't of course, Dunedin has a myriad of things on and I am entertained daily. It would be easy to forget what I'm down here for. 

So, how's that novel going, part two.

With a new project, I find, there is the standing around the edge of it, peering over the side, stepping back and going away to think about it a bit more. Like a high diving platform. Summoning up the courage to commit, because once you do, there is no going back and everything else is a distraction you really don’t need, in case you hit your head on the board. I can report my diving is not up to Olympic or even national standard. I got my bathers wet and have to work on my technique. Let’s call it a shitty first dive. But there are parts of it I like very much, so I’ll keep going, because that’s what this time is all about. I can report I have also, as part of what is turning into a graphic novel of sorts, drawn a lot of rats. I have saved one as my instagram profile to ward off the requests from 'Single Dad, Ohio' (aka, scammer with a laptop and Western Union account for me to pour money into) to get to know me better. I don't think they will be able to in all seriousness say 'Hi Beautiful'. Unless they have a thing for rodents.

I’m still sketching people. Here’s one I did on Friday 15th March, in the morning, before the Christchurch Mosque massacre and the rosy tint fell from our happily deluded glasses. The Ides of March.

I was at an iDFashion talk by Kate Sylvester and was fascinated by this birdlike lady in designer clothes in the audience. I wote something. 

Kate talked about Francis Hodgkins, inspiration and sustainability.
The tiny woman fell forward, caught herself, fell again.
She was unsustained. By the talk. By food.
The WORLD at her feet, fashion forward, modelling Twiggy of her youth.
Fashion just could not hold her up.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Thoughts from Dunedin

Friday 15th March

At lunchtime I applaud our beautiful tamariki for protesting climate change. Calling for global action. Inspirational. Our younger generation leading the way for the planet. I’m so proud I want to hug them all. The world is looking up.

After lunch, I sit in the audience for a panel discussion at ID Fashion when my silent phone keeps buzzing. The talk is of sustainability and the challenges ahead for designers. I look at the desperate message from my adult son. ‘This is happening in Christchurch, right now!’
I check the link. Not an earthquake.

Walking outside, there are still people who don’t know. Taking selfies, buying clothes, drinking coffee. Laughing in the sunshine. I want a megaphone so I can shout to them, ‘Stop, stop, our world is now different!’
Fashion seems irrelevant. Red is all the rage.

Saturday 16th March

I go for a walk. The New Zealand flag is at half mast. Events have been cancelled but Gun City is open. ‘6 Fun shooting activities you can have without a firearms licence! ‘The ad features a man with his tiny children, laughing and bonding over a tripod mounted weapon. Aiming at targets, finger on the trigger. Kapow. So much family fun to be had.

A visiting friend and I make our way to the mosque, buying the last sad bunch of lilies at Veggie Boys.
‘There’s been a run on them today’ says the girl at the counter.
A group of students walk alongside us clutching posies of wild flowers plucked from gardens, maybe their flats, maybe someone elses. Nobody would begrudge a stolen bloom today, headed for a memorial, an offering of sorrow. We lay our flowers down, a poor substitute for regret, but all we can do right now. Two more students tie a bunting of international flags to the railings. A young Samoan girl writes ‘We love you’ inside a heart, with pink pavement chalk.
Aroha, sorry, we are not this, this is your home, spelled out in pastels.

An official sign on the mosque gate, that has been there forever says:
‘The Messenger said: do not harm or reciprocate harm’. And something about making sure you park legally please.

Parked outside on their feet are two policemen. It’s a shock to see the black weapons in their arms. They hold them like an uncomfortable apology, shaped like death.

Huddles of Muslim people. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to intrude.
We start to walk away and there is one young woman in a hijab staring at the all the tributes.
I touch her hand and say clumsily, ‘I am so, so sorry,’ and we fall into each other’s arms and sob. I hold her tight and she holds me tighter. My friend embraces her too. There is comfort in a single act of touch. For us maybe more than this woman. We want to be forgiven for our country becoming this horror for her.
We walk home my friend and I, swiping at our wet faces.

There are green clad students partying on a rooftop. Early St Patricks Day. One boy leans over and vomits again and again and again, over the wall into the garden. A waterfall of chunks. He gets up, steadies himself and opens another beer to the cheers of his mates. Later he will climb aboard a Lime Scooter, fall off it and clog up the overburdened emergency department with a broken leg. His parents will be so proud he’s at Uni in Otago, all his future ahead of him.  He doesn’t look like the praying sort.

Sunday 17th March
I hear there’s a rush on gun sales before the law change on ownership.