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Middlemarch

In March I attended a writers festival in Ohakune – a little town at the foot of the majestic Mt Ruapehu. On the final night I stood up nervously in front of a room full of respected NZ writers and read Middlemarch, a poem told in the perspective of a woman who is unhappy with her marriage. It was the first time I’d read one of my poems to pretty much anyone other than my six old son, who is nearly always nice about it (though actually, everyone at the festival was nice about it too). I then returned to my cold and tiny backpackers room to find an email from Landfall, informing me that the very poem I had read was to be published in their next edition. I was absolutely thrilled!

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This fruit is called a Cape Gooseberry, or a Ground Berry. I think they’re awesome.

It’s taken me a shamefully long time to announce this properly. In fact, it’s winter now, and this was an autumn edition. I think this is because the poem was written about my own failing marriage – now recently failed – but hey, really that’s no reason not celebrate a publication. I’ve begun reading the other poems and stories contained within, and am proud that Middlemarch is tucked in among them. The full list of contributors can be found here.

 

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Caterpillar season

I love this time of the year. Summer is in full swing (with another few long months of sunny weather to go), the ocean is warm, the insects are humming, dairies are making a killer trade in iceblocks. And one of the highlights, for me at least, with my tiny inner-city balcony garden, is that the monarch butterflies return around this time of year, and begin laying their eggs on my swan plants.

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Here’s one of the older, fatter ones.

Last year I had far too many caterpillars for my single swan plant, and I had to buy another two. The shop assistant at the plant store told me that each caterpillar eats 16 leaves on average. She also told me to “squish” the smaller caterpillars so the bigger ones had enough to eat (yeah right). This year I bought another SEVEN plants to keep up with them. Let’s hope they grow quickly!

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The latin name is Gomphocarpus physocarpus, sometimes called “balloon plant” because of it’s balloon-like seed pods.

I’ve counted at least fifteen caterpillars so far this year, and I watched a butterfly lay an extra twenty-or-so eggs on the backs of the leaves.

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Caterpillars jostling for space.

Recently someone told me that butterflies remember where they hatched, and return to that very place when it’s their turn to lay. I thought that was neat – whole generations of the same family being born on my balcony. However,  I did a little research on this, and it appears that butterflies just have a very good sense of smell. They can smell the swan plants (a species of milkweed) from a long way away, and hone right in. I imagine that in the CBD there aren’t too many swan plants to go around.

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My garden might not be a butterfly paradise. But it’s something!

I’ll take some more pictures when they’ve hatched.

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Me and my smart phone

So, I was given a smart phone recently, after losing about five crappy old Nokias in a row (“hey look! it has predictive text, wow!”) and now I’m on the mission to become technologically / logically techno savvy.

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I’m not even quite sure what this means, but I think it means I need my own writer’s facebook page, and a twitter account, and maybe other things I’m unaware of at this point…. (suggestions welcome)

So – as of now you may, if you so desire, follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/IKPatersonHark

Or like my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/ikpatersonharkness

Excellanto.

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It’s called living

When an author dies, suddenly what seemed like a potentially infinite output from them – an infinite number of words, an infinite number of ideas – becomes finite. But worse than that, it’s not just finite. It’s over. Everything already written is all that there is. There ain’t no more coming and you better deal with it.

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I was, and am, a Terry Pratchett fan. From the day I first picked up Small Gods and in a matter of only three pages learned the perspectives of both tortoises of eagles, had the whole “does a falling tree in a forest…” problem solved for me, and was given the definition of history, I was hooked. (And on page four, “Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you.”)

The books I haven’t read myself I’ve had read to me, by the soothing voice of Nigel Planer, the reader for most of the Discworld audiobooks. I’ve spent hour after enjoyable hour in that world where light moves sluggishly (due to the high magical field), where assassination is legal (providing you have the right paperwork), where bread can be a weapon, ducks may sit on you forever, top academics are those most skilled with a crossbow (because competition is so high), and everything is kept afloat in space upon Great A’Tuin the Giant Star Turtle (well – on top of four large elephants, on top of the turtle). My two favourite characters have always been Sam Vimes, Commander of the City Watch, and Death, and it’s them, more than anyone else, that I’m sad have now also had to die with Terry Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett had a way of being both entertaining and incredibly thought-provoking at the same time, not just in a general philosophical sense, but relating to specific aspects of our own society. Prejudice and inequality were central themes in many books, gender, greed, power, hate. Even torture. So although in one sense his books are “light reading” they are far from being insubstantial – as illustrated by the many on-line fan pages dedicated to his quotes.

And one quote in particular seems rather fitting right now. So I’ll end with it. “It is often said that before you die your life passes before your eyes. It is in fact true. It’s called living.”

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Conclave has begun, so cast your votes!

At around 10am yesterday I rocked up to Surrey Hotel in Grey Lynn, to begin a spec fic writers workshop. I was surprised to find only a few of us there (and a friendly arthritic cat who sat on each of us in turn), as $40 for a full-day writers workshop is pretty darn decent (at least I think so!). Dave Freer and Lyn McConchie facilitated. Between them they must have written something like 50 books. I have to admit that I started to feel quite lazy, since procrastination doesn’t seem to be something they admit into their daily lives. Dave gets up at 4.30am, and begins writing by 8am. Lyn writes about 6000 words per day. I, on the other hand, struggle to get out of bed before 9am, and am pleased with myself if I squeeze 600 words from my head. I’d hoped that the workshop would give me a much needed boot up the arse, and I think it has. At least… I hope it has. At least, I plan to create a plan for myself…

As well as feeling terrible about my writing practices I also learned quite a bit about the NZ and international writing industry. Unfortunately it seems even worse than the music industry OMG, and I’m likely to be even poorer than I imagined. A new writer can’t expect much more than 3K for an advance, and will only get around 6% from sales, which of course they then pay back for their advance. You truly do it for the love of it. Sometimes I just wish I loved, say, marketing. (I take that back, no I don’t).

With the start of Conclave, the 35th National New Zealand Sci Fi and Fantasy Convention, began the start of the voting period for the Sir Julius Vogel awards. In fact click here for the voting form. To be eligible to vote, you’ll need to join Conclave. You can do this as a ‘supporter’, by paying $20, here. The good reasons to do this are (a) you can vote for me in the Best Novella of 2013 category, and (b) your money will likely go straight to the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, as all profits go there, and since the convention is half-way through, well, I’m just figuring on most things having been paid for already. Voting closes TOMORROW at midday.

A full list of the nominees can be found here.

Anyway. Onwards and upwards.

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UPDATE: I didn’t win the award BUT was very pleased to hear that this year there were over 400 nominations for the different categories (so to be short-listed was pretty special). The winner of Best Novella of 2013 was Lee Murray (whom I found to be a really friendly lady, who moved over for us at her table when we came in late and had nowhere to sit), with her story ‘Cave Fever’. I was happy that the winning story was one I’d actually read and enjoyed!

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Going West

With a rare free Sunday to myself, I began perusing the internet for upcoming events, and found that the Going West Writers Festival is soon approaching again. Last year, all University of Auckland MCW students were invited to read part of their project. I felt like I was doing to faint, and read a snippet from my novel (below!). Somebody wolf-whistled when I finished.

I clicked on the link, surprised to find that the photo they’d used is of me at the podium.

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If I can spare the time, I’ll go to this again. There’s something inspiring about listening to other writers speak about their work.

http://www.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/EN/newseventsculture/events/Events/Pages/goingwestbooksandwritersweekend.aspx

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From The Camp (not-quite-finished YA novel)

When Kathryn awoke the world looked peaceful, shadowy yet sparkling. The last trailing tendrils of sunlight slid across her face and lit the tips of the branches above her – which shone like tiny, golden crowns – and she thought that she was dreaming. But then the light was gone and only shadow remained, and the cold ground was suddenly too hard, too real.

Shivering, Kathryn rubbed her legs. They were bare! She wore only underwear on her bottom half! Panic-stricken, she then remembered. The stick hut… the fire. Those people. They’d all been real!?

I’m dead.

The thought sank like the heaviest mud. Dead. No more. Gone. It seemed impossible – some sort of joke, maybe – but when she slowly, painstakingly, began to draw fragile recollections of the previous day like poison from her subconscious, there was a point when they simply ran out. She wrapped her skinny arms around her knees and tried, strained to remember something further.

There was the guy on the bike, right? What was he doing on the footpath? The jerk! He came straight towards her, pushing her on to the road. She remembered the sensation of being airborne – of being lobbed through the air like a shuttlecock. That, and the horrible screeching noise. The silver car. The scream…

That was it.

Oh my God, Mum! Kathryn imagined her mother, sitting behind her desk, receiving a phone call from the police. She’d pick up that gaudy green receiver, shaped like a frog’s head to amuse her young patients, and hear a strange, gruff voice on the other end. She‘d listen, calmly at first, nodding like she always did when she spoke on the phone, even though the speaker couldn’t see her. But then her shocked expression would break – her face would break, the many lines around her eyes and mouth cracking until she lay in little broken pieces on the floor.

Kathryn started to cry.No, no no!It wouldn’t have happened that way. They wouldn’t have told her mother over the phone! A doctor, with a white mask over his mouth and blood on his gloves, would meet her parents outside the surgery room door. Her mother, angry and worried, would ask, accusingly, “What was she doing outside of school? Tell me that! She’s a good girl, she’s never done anything wrong!” And the doctor would drop his head and say that he was very sorry.

Like ghosts – so beside themselves with pain that they nearly vanished at the edges – her parents would be led into the room where she lay. Her mum would sit next to the bed and put her hand on her brow – like she always did when Kathryn was sick. Her father would hold her limp hand and run her red hair through his fingers – the same red hair that he shared, and she, his only child. “Kathryn,” he’d whisper. “I’m here sweetheart. I’m here.”

Eventually, Kathryn grew quiet.

I’m here,” she whispered, as if her parents might hear her. “I’m not really dead. I’m just… somewhere else.”

The words echoed in her head, making less and less sense with each resounding. People don’t really die and go somewhere else. They just die. Wasn’t thinking about your own death some kind of contradiction? Because if you’re thinking then you’re alive.

She wiped the tears from her face, the furnace of fury that stood fuelled but unkindled within her suddenly given a spark. Abi and the others – they were lying to her! She’d been kidnapped and fed a terrible story. The sick bastards! Did they think she was that stupid?

Kathryn leaped to her feet. It would be best to leave while it was still dark. If she followed the river she’d eventually find her way out of there… Kathryn had taken her first steps down the slope when she remembered again the silver car. The woman’s scream…

Trembling all over, she sat back down, the ground gritty beneath her palms.

Death… She’d presumed that eternity stretched away on either side of her, with pre-aliveness to the left, post-death to the right, a short window of being in the middle. It had always seemed so wildly imbalanced, but then why should it be any other way? She felt her pulse – familiar, and amazingly reassuring. Like the reflective posts at the side of a highway that flash by again and again on a dark night, her heart intended to carry on. And it seemed that the highway stretched on now, maybe forever… She’d simply been placed further along the road.

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Hello new blog

Last weekend Darryn and I flew down to Wellington for the Au Contraire Convention (science fiction / fantasy/ geekery). I learned all about ‘filking’ and ‘larping’ and how you don’t tug back on a bow really hard and let go, unless you want a face full of splinters. A man with a steel-and-flint set in his pocket (“haven’t used matches in over fourteen years”) wrote my name with a feather, a heard two men argue about the practicalities of time travel in the foyer (ah the ambiguity), and I read a freshly scribbled comic about diamond-crapping, coal eating goblins.

I thought it was time to make myself a website. I won first price in the Au Contraire short story competition with my story ‘In a World Full of Birds’. That’s what did it, I guess.

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