My first book was written around 2004.
When I was ten years old, we went on a family trip to visit some cousins in America. It was the first time I’d ever seen snow in real life. To be fair, it wasn’t high-quality, A-grade snow like the stuff I’d seen in the movies. The snow I saw was a little white patch in my Uncle’s backyard that hadn’t melted into the dirt yet. We were so excited. We huddled around that white patch and we each grabbed a chunk of hard, icy snow to play with.
I was amazed.
Glorious, sparkling shards connected each crystal of ice to the next, it was beautiful. It was more than beautiful, it was magical! It was a magical icy jewel that probably had powers, probably powers that only I could unlock. I asked my Mum for a piece of paper and I wrote down all of the things my crystal could do, and how it was going to save people.
For the rest of that year, with varying degrees of vigour, I wrote that book. I still have it at home somewhere, an entire notebook of scenes and dialogue that nobody is ever going to read because, well, it was written by a ten-year-old and quite frankly it isn’t very good.
But that was my first book.
This second one is much harder. Sometime last year I decided that I didn’t want to be poor anymore. I haven’t quite made the switch yet, but the decision was made and so naturally I applied to become a teacher. Now you may be thinking, woah there Sarai, a writer and a teacher? Save some money for the rest of us! Let me assure you, I will be a gracious aristocrat when the time comes.
I had already submitted my manuscript to Te Papa Tupu when I applied to take the year-long teaching course. I had already worked three years on storyboarding, character profiles, world-building and scene construction by then. I had already written 97,000 words, killed multiple darlings and given up several hours of every single day to finish my first draft.
I got accepted into the teaching course.
I was in a classroom on my first practicum as a student teacher when I got the acceptance email from Te Papa Tupu. I couldn’t react because I was in a classroom of teenagers and I had seen the real teacher confiscate a girl’s phone just minutes before. Even though I was pretty sure she couldn’t confiscate my phone as an adult I decided to play it safe and wait until interval to read the whole thing properly.
I called my parents crying.
“Look Mum, my life is not a waste, I’m so happy,”
“Nobody said your life was a waste Sarai, we’re happy for you too,” she said.
“I got accepted Dad, now I can quit this stupid teacher thing and live my real life,”
“We’re so proud of you honey, don’t quit anything,” he said, “you’re going to do great.”
They were mostly right of course, and that’s partly because they’re used to my dramatics and partly because they’re incredible parents who’ve always supported my dream to become an author.
I am, however, struggling with the “you’re going to do great” part.
That’s probably the hardest part. I wish he had said, “you’re going to cry a lot, and you’re going to be overwhelmed.” That would’ve been easy to live up to.
Apparently, getting a full-time teaching diploma and trying to re-work the book of all your dreams at the same time is difficult. Go figure.
I’ve had a hard time keeping to deadlines and finding the time to do my work and my schooling, but I’m constantly juggling because I know it’s worth it. Well, I know the book part is worth it, I’m still on the fence about the teaching thing, but again, it does play an important part in my ploy to not-be-poor-anymore.
I have a wonderful mentor. For some reason, I just get the feeling that Jacquie really believes in my work- believes that I have something worth sharing with the world and worth giving time and attention to even when those things are in short supply.
This writers’ festival we are attending has also been rather eye-opening to me. On the first day, we had our own workshops as a group for Te Papa Tupu. Whiti Hereaka coached us on how to do a book reading, and a representative from the New Zealand Society of Authors taught us about the opportunities they help authors to utilize, we met with our mentors and spent the day together as a group. Every meeting began with karakia, there was always kai and every story was Aotearoa-based or Māori-influenced. At least three people complimented me on my new tino rangatiratanga earrings, which I was very pleased about, especially since paying for them was a slight setback in my plans to supersede poverty.
The next few days, however, were not quite the same. I saw several brilliant, intelligent and hilarious writers speak on their craft. I laughed and sighed and took notes during events and workshops. There was no shortage of diversity and talent from the speakers I listened to, but when I looked around the room, there was something missing.
Young Pasifika. Rangatahi Māori. Where were all the budding authors and bookworms from Pacific families? Why did they not want to come to the writers’ festival?
More importantly, how do we invite them to come, to fill the rooms with their mana and wairua? Just keep writing your story, Sarai, I told myself. That’s all you can do. You may be stressed, you may be tired, or you may have been dangerously close to crying in public last week (because you’re a bit of a crier by nature and it’s really nobody’s fault that your emotions are measured in tears), but you’re doing something important. You’re writing stories for your people, about your people, and you are always, always, inviting them to the table.
I’m so grateful that Te Papa Tupu has provided this space for Māori writers to be nurtured and reassured that their work is valuable and worth sharing. I’m very much at the beginning of this journey, and I definitely see more tears and stress in the future (most likely self-induced), but I’m excited. I’m excited about my work, I’m excited about this programme, and I’m excited to bring something new into the world with the help of Te Papa Tupu.