From One Tree Point, Whāngārei, Deborah Williams (Ngāi Tahu) is a teacher, outdoor-enthusiast and crafter of many things including stories. She has recently completed a Master of Creative Writing at Auckland University and looking to progress her novel to a publishable standard and connect with other Māori writers.
I’m an eclectic mix of things. On a given weekend you might find me soldering circuit boards, tending sheep, foil boarding, kayaking, running, potter-ing, writing, quilting, playing the flute, or horse-riding. I sell my pottery at a couple of galleries, lead a scout troupe, and spend a lot of time out on the water. I have way too many patchwork quilts and make a lot of my own clothes. Does that sum me up? Probably not. Maybe it would be better to say what I don’t do – wear make-up, understand fashion, make good small-talk. I struggle to name most A-list actors despite the fact that I’ve worked on several films that star them.
I live with my husband and several semi-flatmates (all Engineers) in a little house near the tip of One Tree Point, where you can assess the state of the harbour just by looking out the window. We are a people of the water here, constantly in it, by it, contemplating it. My hair is always full of salt and sand and wind.
My writing backgroundI started writing when I was six. One of those nerdy kids who filled entire exercise books with stories. I wrote my first novel-length work when I was ten – minus all punctuation except full-stops and commas, and I was first published aged fourteen. Since then it has been a long haul of writing, re-writing and refining amidst university, work and various volunteer organisations. I started working in film soon after I finished my undergraduate studies, and have since read, critiqued and edited many screenplays for both film and television. I’ve twice been the screenwriter for finalist teams for Salt Media’s Dragon’s Den.
I was excited to be accepted into the University of Auckland’s Masters of Creative Writing, and have since finished with first-class honours. Te Papa Tupu came up at an amazing time for me as I had just finished my Masters and was looking for ways to move forward with my writing / stay connected with the writing community. I decided to apply the same day I found out about it, after several hours trolling through the internet reading every article I could find about it.
Staying motivated to writeI run a lot. There’s nothing that motivates me more to sit down for an entire afternoon and write than being utterly exhausted. I find physical movement often results in story movement – the plots of entire novels have often been thrashed out over the course of a half-marathon. As a small kid I did the same thing but on the trampoline. My mum couldn’t get over how I could possibly be interested in bouncing around for 2+ hours a day but that was the time stories were made.
I’m also really interested in young people. I’ve been a volunteer for many youth organisations, most notably Scouts and Riding for the Disabled, and love the energy and enthusiasm kids have. Conversations between children are often a starting point for stories for me and I love working with kids from diverse situations and backgrounds.
‘Conversations between children are often a starting point for stories for me …’
Deborah Williams, Kaituhi, Te Papa Tupu 2020
Aspirations for Te Papa TupuI found out about Te Papa Tupu through an email circulated by the New Zealand Society of Authors. The programme seemed exciting and I was very eager to connect with other Māori writers. All I knew about the programme at the time of applying was what I could find through the NZSA and Maori Literature websites as well as other online articles. It seemed like a really good fit – especially as I was keen to meet writers from other parts of the country and other writers who live rurally. Living in small-town New Zealand often makes it very hard to connect with other people who share your passion.
I’m very interested to explore the idea of what it means to be a writer in New Zealand – it’s our home, and the framework through which our own little worlds are defined. We each see and understand it slightly differently, and those differences (and the overlaps) make for an interesting and layered narrative of what it means to be Kiwi. I think writing is the place where history, culture, belief and the individual collide.
As writers rub shoulders our writing sharpens. I love getting feedback from other writers on my work as by the time I’ve gone over a manuscript for the fiftieth time I don’t think it’s possible for me to assess it objectively anymore. I am very much looking forward to having a mentor who can help me hit the backspace key when I’m getting too carried away.
‘Writing is the place where history, culture, belief and the individual collide.’
Deborah Williams, Kaituhi, Te Papa Tupu 2020
What are you reading right now?I’m reading Loner by Georgina Young which was the winner of last year’s Text Publishing Prize. It’s a prize I am hoping to enter when it opens again in 2021. Loner has a staccato rhythm – I’m just getting into it but am interested to see where it goes. I really enjoyed the previous Text Prize winner, It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood.