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Friday, 27 March 2015

Life Begins at 40? Monique Constable says YES!

According to a post I read on Facebook during the week, I am in my ‘Midlife’.  In a matter-of-fact way the page stated, ‘Now is the time to grieve the loss of any unrealized dreams from the past and prepare your body for the next stage of life’.  Sigh….at 42, true, I’m no longer a spring chicken, though I admit I was disturbed at the implication that it was time in my life to change down a gear.

Given the opportunity to be 20 again, I would study journalism and make a profession out of creating art though literacy.  How fabulous to have the creativity and depth that are assumed character traits of the masters of the written word, synonymous with my identity!  Certainly being formally recognised as a Writer would have changed the way I was perceived, the people I would meet, and the relationships that I entered into, wouldn't it? 

Pre-40, I wish I had loved myself more: my looks, my weight, my attitudes, my flaws, my quirks…..all of it!  I wish I had been able to articulate what I felt in a heartfelt way, and made myself more vulnerable.  I would listen to my gut instinct and not be so influenced by anyone else…….Maybe with the exception of my parents, who were, dare I admit it, usually right!  I would have put more energy into productive endeavours, rather than the angst I put into my love life or what I should wear.

Upon reaching my 40th birthday, differing from the opening statement on ‘Midlife’, I decided that it wasn’t too late to give myself the opportunities I didn’t have in my youth…..the things I spent my 20’s assuming I would do, then my 30’s feeling resentful that I hadn’t done.  I stepped forwards into the unexplored terrain I had buzzing inside my mind and joined Mairangi Writers Group.

So, new to micro-managing the words I opt for, the skills I have acquired through collaborating with an exceptionally talented group of writers has had vast implication on the way I communicate.  These days, I analyse the outcome of the words I choose prior to using them and I think twice about the construction of even the most casual texts or emails.  An unfortunate side effect for friends and family is that I find myself in the irritating habit of replacing the words they use with ones I deem more descriptive and appropriate, and sometimes I find myself finishing their sentences when they pause in search of the perfect word.   

So midlife - pfffffff….I believe I am in my prime, in pursuit of life rather than letting go of unrealised dreams!  Now instead of thinking ‘Life begins at 40’ are the lyrics to a very cheesy 80’s song, I see how profound the person who coined that saying really was! – Sage-like!

Friday, 20 March 2015

Maureen Green's 'Lightweight Heroes'

Spiders are remarkable creatures that have been around since the dawn of time. Their silk, stronger than titanium alloy, is able to flex without breaking. 35,000 different species of spiders create silk, but not all are web weavers. Some spin strands of silk and balloon travel. Ballooning spiders climb as high as they can on an object, stand on raised legs with their abdomen pointing upwards and then release several silk threads from their spinnerets into the air. Because each strand is polarised, these strands repel one another to form a triangular shaped parachute which carries them away on updrafts of winds even in the slightest of breezes.

In my research, to find and bring to attention the purpose of mythology, I have discovered spiders figure prominently in worldwide Mythology, Legends and Historical events. Timeless myths and legends are a magic mirror through which the hopes and fears of people from the earliest time may be viewed. Yet, eyes often cloud when I mention spiders and, "Can't stand spiders," permeates the air. This reaction may stem from the Christian belief that spiders represent human fragility and the enticement of evil.  But in many cultures, spiders are viewed as heroes. According to German folklore, Spider, recognizing the birth of Christ as glorious, spun silver and gold webs on trees. Throughout Africa, Spider is either a trickster or a great god. Japanese believe Spider Woman ensnares careless travellers, the Pueblo Nation of America that Spider Woman created the universe. The Greeks and Norse thought of spiders as weavers of peoples' fates.

From myths gleaned from the past, a number so old they were recounted before the advent of the written word, I have selected spider stories that show how spiders influenced mankind. The work, Lightweight Heroes, to be published this year, retells of ancient stories.

Here's a taste to whet the appetite.

The Story Bringer

African Story Retold


Long before writing was invented story telling became a lost art. Displeased with mankind, Nyame, the Sky God, took away the stories and locked them a box. Anansi, saddened by what he saw turned to his wife.

"Look, Aso, look at the people's faces. They work all day and are lost without their stories to tell at night."

"So, so sad," Aso said. "Many have tried to persuade Nyame to give them back, but he just laughs in their faces."

"People want to make sense of their world. They need their stories, Aso.  I'll go and ask father the free them."

"But… "

Anansi looked to the heavens. "Yes. I know it was he who turned me into a spider and banished me to Earth, but I have to do this."

Straight away he climbed to the highest point in the tree he called home, teased out a sticky thread and began to build a staircase to heaven. Higher and higher he inched to his former home in the sky. Finally he stood before his father.

A frown creasing his brow, Nyame looked down on his son. "I did not summon you. Why are you here?"

"I came to ask for the people's stories."

"What! You want the stories?"

His derisive laughter ringing throughout the heavens, the wind blew harder, feathery clouds scudded across the sky faster and the sun hid in thunderheads. "Many have tried to get them back but have failed. Why should I unlock the stories for you?"

"Without their story telling the people on Earth are sad. They work hard all day, have nothing to share at night and have no way of making sense of their world."

"And that is how they will stay."

 "What will it take, Father, for you to give back the stories?"

An expression of surprise flittered across Nyame's face. "You, you little thing. You could not pay the price."

"I may be small, but I am willing to do whatever it is you wish to win back the stories for the people."

"Whatever I wish?" A malevolent chuckle burst from Nyame's lips before he said, "you'll have to bring me four rare fierce animals."

No fear showing, Anansi looked his father in the eyes, "And they are?"

"A snake that swallows animals whole. A leopard with sharp teeth like spears. A hornet that stings people and Mmoatia, the invisible fairy. Bring all of these to me and I'll give you the stories."

"Then it shall be so."

His father's face broke into a broad smile and amidst raucous laughter that reverberated through heaven and Earth Anansi began to climb down wondering how he was to capture the creatures Nyame desired.

"Well?" Aso asked when he reached his web.

"Little change in father's mind, but he did set me a challenge."

His story told, he looked to Aso. "How I am going to do these things I cannot think."

Aso stroked one foreleg along the other while she thought. "The snake first. Take a good long thick branch and some strong vines to the river where the snake lives," then she whispered in Anansi's ear in case Nyame was listening.


Using magic powers retained when his father changed him into a spider Anansi grew to gigantic proportions. Armed with a stout branch he made his way to the river mumbling, "This one's longer than he is. No. It's not. Yes, it is. No, its not."

"Yoh there, Anansi," snake called as he emerged from the water. "What's all the mumbling?"

"Aso and I are arguing about how long you are."

Snake wound its way closer.

Anansi held out the branch. "She says you are longer than this. I think not."

"I'm a huge snake, much longer than that stick you hold. Here, put it next to me. I'll straighten out and you measure."

Anansi lay the branch on the ground and snake glided along its length.

"You've still got kinks," Anansi called. "I'll tie you along the branch and then we'll have a true measure."

"Right," snake said.

In a flash Anansi secured him with to the branch with vines and took him to heaven.

His face showing no emotion, "Leopard, hornet, the fairy. Where are they?" Nyame said as he looked along the length of the snake.

No further words forthcoming, Anansi rappelled back to Aso.

"Well," she again asked on his return.

"Father was not amused, he just said, leopard, hornets, the fairy. Where are they? How on earth do I capture a leopard?"

Aso thought for a while. "Go dig a big hole." She leaned in and whispered the rest of her plan in his ear.

Straight away, Anansi assumed a super size, dug then covered a deep hole with branches before returning home. Next morning a leopard lay in the pit.

"Here you must be tired from trying to get out," Anansi called as he lowered himself down. "Let me help you."

As soon as the leopard was close enough, he tied it to long sticks with his sticky thread and whisked him to heaven.

A stone-faced Nyame looked at the leopard and then to his son. "Two," was all that he said.

"I'll return," Anansi called from over his shoulder and slid down to Earth.

"The hornets and the invisible fairy, Aso, how do I capture them?" and listened intently to her plan.

Armed with a gourd full of water Anansi went to a tree where hornets buzzed around the hive entrance. He watched for a while before pouring water over the hive then he cut a leaf from a banana tree, held it over his head and poured the rest of the water over himself.

"Hey hornets," he called. "It is raining. Your hive is wet. Come shelter in my dry gourd."

The hornets busily shaking water from their wings abandoned the hive and flew into the gourd. As quick as a flash Anansi spun a web to seal the opening. The hornets captured, he looked to the West where he knew one of the Mmoatia who cared about people dwelt. The final task to complete he climbed to the top of the hornet's tree, launched and silken thread tracking behind, floated on the wind until he reached the Mmoatia tree.

"Mmoatia," he called.

"Who calls?"

"Anansi, son of Nyame."

Suddenly a small black, red and white creature less than thirty centimetre tall, its feet pointing backwards appeared. "What do you want?"

"Help. Help me get back the people's stories from my father."

"All who have tried have failed."

"Together we can succeed."

The fairy just stared, continued staring at Anansi until he added, "Father set me a challenge. He agreed to give the people back their stories if I complete four tasks. Three have been completed."

"And the last one is?"

"Bring him an invisible fairy."

"What!" The Mmoatia disappeared, reappeared in the highest branch of the tree and called, "You want me to…" as she slowly descended to stand in front of Anansi.

"Why me?"

"You care about the people. We could…"

The plan explained, the fairy blanked out for what seemed to Anansi, a life time before reappearing.

"Right then," she said. "Let's do it for the people"

Hornet nest held tightly, Anansi and the invisible fairy climbed to heaven.

The smile on Nyame's face disappeared when his son greeted him.

"The tasks are complete, father, I've brought you the hornets nest and the Mmoatia. Release the stories."

"I see no fairy."

No sooner had the words left Nyame's mouth than he cried, "Owww! Ouch!

"Do you feel the Mmoatia, father?"

"The pain's nothing other than my bones creaking."

Air suddenly whooshed from his throat and he doubled over."

"You feel Mmoatia's presence now, father?"

"Yes, yes," he croaked.

"Then release the stories."

The lock, corroded by time, creaked open. Out spurted thousands of ancient stories. For a while they floated on the air before raining down on Earth.

Anansi and Mmoatia looked down on the village. Smiles on every face, the people gathered before Hene Mojo, the oldest and wisest of all the villagers. His mind filled with long forgotten and new stories, his gaze touched every face before he perched on the ancient stump where storytellers of the past had sat.

His eyes lingered on the hushed gathering before he said, "Long before writing was invented all of our stories were locked away by Nyame the Sky God."

Gasps filled the air.

"Let me tell you how Anansi the Spider and a Mmoatia made him give us back our stories.

Maureen Green



Friday, 13 March 2015

Mairangi Writers Seminar 2015

It's with great excitement that we're putting the latest touches to our latest seminar, aimed at indie writers who have published or are completing books and are wondering how to get them disseminated into the wider world beyond friends and family. Distribution is the biggest stumbling block in the way of reaching readers, but times are a-changing so we've called on some of those in the industry to give us some hints.

We'll have the acquisitions team from Auckland Libraries, a book buyer for bookstores, a couple of bookstore owners, and representation from the NZ Society of Authors. They should be able to answer some pertinent questions about how to get indie books into libraries and shops!

The seminar is open to all, with a $5 entry fee. There will be tea, coffee and nibbles at half time. Kick-off is at 10am, this MONDAY 16 MARCH, upstairs at the Browns Bay RSA.

We look forward to meeting more local writers and sharing useful information as widely as possible.
Hope to see you there!

Bev Robitai

(Now we just have to cross fingers that Cyclone Pam doesn't blow the East Coast off the map over the weekend!)

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Author Interview with Paul Denny

Another in our series of interviews with members of Mairangi Writers. Paul is one of our newer members and is keeping us entertained at meetings by reading (in a delightful rich brown voice) the latest section of his memoirs. Here's Paul...

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?

I’m an early riser – I walk five kilometres each morning before seven. After breakfast, I have been working on my first book, which is currently being edited. I am presently completing an online course with Yale University entitled; Moral Foundations of Politics. I am an avid reader, and spend the early afternoon indulging in my latest acquisition. There never seem to be enough hours in the day. How did I manage when I was working fulltime?

What is your favourite book from childhood? Tell me about it.

“Moonfleet” by J. Meade Falkner. The novel is set in the 18th century, and written in the 19th. The theme explores a young teenage boy growing up with his aunt in a small village on the Dorset coast in England. The central character is John Trenchard, and the narrative explores his coming of age and the transition from boyhood to adulthood. John learns many of the men in the village are smugglers. The story weaves between England and Holland. A boyhood romance weaves its thread through the story. I first read the book when I was fourteen. It had a lasting impression on me. In particular I found the story compelling, and the beautiful prose carries the novel to its romantic conclusion.

What are you currently reading? Tell me about it.

“The Long Road to the Deep North” by Richard Flanagan. I finished the book last week. The story is centred on an Australian surgeon, Dorrigo Evans, who is conscripted to South East Asia during World War 11. He is captured by the Japanese, and ends up commanding a group of fellow soldiers who are forced to labour in constructing the Thai-Burma railway.

Dorrigo is haunted by a love affair he had with his uncle’s attractive wife two years before in Australia. In his position within the confines of the Japanese prisoner of war camp he experiences the tension between love and hatred, life and death. On day his lover sends a letter to him; it will change his life.

This beautifully written novel celebrates the human spirit, and what it is capable of enduring under extreme hardship. The physical and mental cruelty inflicted on the prisoners is harrowing, yet the novel keeps the reader engaged to the end. Definitely one of the most memorable books I have read over the last twelve months.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? Why does it stick in your memory?

Not really. Writing is a hobby I have found time to indulge in, following a busy work career.

What’s the best thing about being a writer?

Complete freedom and the joy of personal reflection. To be able to construct an idea or a memory from the past and give it shape is so rewarding. I’d always wanted to write for pleasure. My first book has taken me a year to finish. The journey is almost complete. A change of genre from non-fiction to a novel is currently occupying my mind.

What is your writing process?

Map out a basic story book in my mind. The detail comes from research, and as each chapter is constructed I have tried in my first book to engage the reader, without giving away the ending. I found writing for three to four hours on weekdays has been engaging; where did the hours go to?

Rewriting was a discipline I spent considerable time working on. As each chapter was completed I would then redraft again before moving to the next one. Once the manuscript was completed I then revised each chapter again three times over. The forth draft will comprise amendments from the editing process.

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?

Reading fiction, nonfiction, and surfing newspapers online. I would spend an hour each day on the web reading articles from the BBC and The Guardian. I enjoy eating out with my wife, often accompanied with friends. We both enjoy spicy food; Indian and Thai would be our favourite cuisine. Our five grandchildren take a lot of our attention and time.

What are you currently working on? Explain.

I have completed my first book, a memoir about adoption and identity. The manuscript is currently being edited. From that process I intend to make alterations to the text and then publish the work during 2015.

List of Books by this author: “Searching for Enda: A Memoir on Adoption and Identity”.

Contact: email