Monday, February 23, 2015

Shush ear

The best thing about no longer being Features Editor of Flash Frontier is that I now have time to write and submit fiction there again. It was lovely to return from Taipei to the news that one of my stories had made the cut this month.

Thank you (or, using the Mandarin I've picked up in Taipei, xièxie) to Michelle Elvy and James Norcliffe for including "The Ear of Dionysus" in February's "Whispers" issue.

VIP er

One of the perks of being a participant in the Taipei International Book Exhibition was being given a VIP pass to all the public events.

As New Zealand was this year's Guest of Honour at the Book Exhibition, there were several special sessions in the GoH Pavilion that I wanted to see, one of which was "Colonisation and Culture" -- "How does colonisation affect culture and cultural expression?"

Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Whiti Hereaka and Liglave Awu spoke movingly about the effects of "New Zealand and Taiwan's colonial history on indigenous peoples, socially, economically, politically and artistically."

Liglave Awu said the term "The mountain girl" was used derogatorily;

  • "I was warned not to reveal my indigenous background [....]"
  •  "I was on bad terms with my mother because I thought it was her fault that I was discriminated against [....]"
  •  "I was reconciled when I had my own children [....]"
  •  "Ever since, I have been in search of my own identity."

Linda Tuhiwai Smith said, "A hundred and seventy-five years ago, our ancestors signed a treaty, written in Māori and English, witnessed by representatives of the British Crown...";

  • "The story of Māori colonisation has followed a pattern [...] in missionaries [etc...] who installed ideologies [...]"
  •  "Initially, Māori sought to engage, became literate and converted to Christianity [...]"
  • "Alienation of our land as well as efforts to stop us using our language [...] Colonisation works deeply on a colonised people [...]"
  • "In the nineteen fifties, an integration policy was adopted. It didn't work as it was seen by Māori as a continuation of assimilation policies."
  • "First priority: live. Second: find the energy to enable you to live."

The session was moderated by Darryl Sterk, whose name had come to my attention a few days earlier, when I was generously gifted a copy of The Man with the Compound Eyes, by Wu Ming-Yi, that Darryl translated.

The Man with the Compound Eyes is a novel that had me spellbound from the first page. The day before this session I had taken it to read on a walk that turned into a hike up a mountain: much in keeping with the story and its setting.

Me, holding The Man with the Compound Eyes, en route to the top of the mountain: photographed by a mysterious business man. But that's another story. 

I had a chat with Darryl at the end of the session and asked him to sign my copy.

Darryl Sterk generously signing my copy of The Man with the Compound Eyes.

Darryl made me feel very special when he asked me if I had something I'd written that I could sign for him. I gave him a copy of Cooked Up; Food Fiction from Around the World, an anthology containing my post-colonial story "Food Bank". I only wish I had offered my gift before I had asked for Darryl's autograph. I have a lot to learn. I came away feeling far richer than when I arrived, but I also came away feeling English.   

 Cooked Up contains stories by various renowned international writers and will be available to buy from April.

This was just one of many exchanges of words, culture and ideas I had in Taipei.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Open art

Me, standing proudly beside some of my art: clockwise, l to r, the first page of "Alchemy Hour", four pages of my residential work-in-progress "Natural Desire", a page from "Escape Behaviours" and one from "Orcus" (the full comic of "Orcus" can be read in the latest issue of Funtime Comics Anthology).

I just got back from Taiwan, where I participated in the second half of the NZ Book Council's Graphic Novelist Exchange Residency in association with the Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ) and the Taipei International Book Exhibition (TIBE).

"Warkworth" from "Escape Behaviours", my epic graphic poem about marriage, migration and stuttering.

There's so much I want to tell you about - too much for one post - so I'll talk about the graphic novelists' exhibition today, then (because I still haven't finished posting about the first half of the residency, that happened back in October) I'll try to zoom through the whole residency and get up to speed with current events in the next few posts and post more about the book fair after that - I can't believe it's almost March already!


Muriwai Ihakara

New Zealand was the 2015 Guest of Honour at the Taipei International Book Exhibition, which opened with a blessing given by Muriwai Ihakara.

Ant Sang, Tim Gibson, 61 Chi, Ahn Zhe, Sean Chuang and I were lucky enough to have works selected for exhibition and luckier still to be given such a spacious exhibition arena, right by the busy manga section of the TIBE main hall.

Ant Sang, with his awesome art: pages from "Shaolin Burning" and work-in-progress from the residency. 

 It was the best feeling in the world to see my work blown up so huge and people taking their time to really look closely at it. 

61 Chi's art.

Information about the residential exchange and the artists' village, where we stayed for the residential part of our time in Taipei. 

More people looking at my work! 

Because I had submitted the most work-in-progress, I was very generously given eight stands to display it and was thrilled to see it all presented so beautifully - and so big!

Had I known my photo would be enlarged to this size, well...hindsight, eh? 

All the art looked amazing and it was especially touching to see it displayed with photographs taken during the residential exchange, both from Auckland and Taipei.

Tim Gibson's work and photographs from the residency. 

Tim Gibson, at the blessing.

Photographs from the residential exchange.

Sean Chuang's art. 

Ahn Zhe's art.

People who liked Rae's work also liked Ahn Zhe's work - 'cause it's poetry, innit?

My sincere gratitude to PANZ and the NZ Book Council for selecting me to participate in the Residential Exchange and the TIBE, and to their staff and Dala Publishing's staff in Taipei, who worked tirelessly to make the event a great success. Thank you.

Happy Chinese New Year!

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Back in December I was lucky enough to win a copy of Whatever Doesn't Kill You. Thank you, Ethel Rohan, for posting me a hundred and eighty-one pages of strength and resilience exactly when I needed them.

Whatever Doesn’t Kill You

“What does not kill me makes me stronger,” Nietzsche wrote, little anticipating, I suspect, in light of some of his problematic writings about women, the maxim would inspire a hit song for Kelly Clarkson and generate the title for a collection of six women’s memoirs of resilience, strength, and forgiveness edited by Laura Fraser: Whatever Doesn’t Kill You (Shebooks, 2014).

The title is apt, however; these are diverse memoirs by diverse women with diverse feminist politics. This is not a one perspective fits all publication, and that’s its strength. 

In “Ricochet”, journalist Mary Jo McConahay charts her changing friendship with a fellow war reporter in South America. But between the details of their exchanges another picture emerges: a portrait of a thirteen year old girl who wants to join the photography class McConahay’s friend is running, but cannot because her brother is already a member and her family fear they will become targets of “envidia” attacks if more than one sibling takes part. Her brother’s death, however, makes way for her. Her first assignment: to take the class to his tomb, to photograph his body. This portrait is as unsentimental as it is graphic and is all the more powerful for it.

Power dynamics are central to Barbara Graham’s memoir, “Camp Paradox”. “I was 14. She was 28.” It took Graham thirty years to weigh-up in six words the power imbalance in what she had perceived until then as a consensual (and her first) sexual relationship, recognising belatedly her trauma in a definition of incest she was reading for a magazine assignment. “Girls may try to avoid being alone at all costs, including remaining in an abusive relationship,” Rachel Simmons writes in Odd Girl Out (Piatkus, 2012; p32). Vulnerability marks one out as a target for predators. Graham’s camp counsellor masqueraded abuse as sisterly care-taking, she was a paedophile in girlfriend’s clothing. 

A girlfriend is how columnist and literary journal editor Susan Ito interpreted her birth mother, when she discovered her in 1980. Aged twenty and having flunked her studies, Ito had taken a job in “The Mouse Room” of a research facility. Her omnipotence over her charges, “bred for their vulnerable immune systems and quick tumour growth”, presents a stark contrast to the lack of agency she has when faced with her birth mother in a hotel room: “she looked at me the way one regards a regrettable one night stand. She wouldn’t meet my eyes.” (Shebooks, 2014; p101).

Averting her eyes is, to paraphrase Faith Adiele, how an Iowa gynaecologist injected impersonality into an examination during which she declared: “Your uterus is huge!” (Ibid, p111) Embarrassment, in “The Nigerian-Nordic Girl’s Guide to Lady Problems”, is the source of humour that acts as a salve for the scalpel sharp observations Adiele makes as she dissects the racial inequalities she exposed while seeking treatment for a condition that, despite the frequency they were asked to look, western medical professionals seemed loathed to acknowledge or diagnose. 

Hospital is the backdrop to Ethel Rohan’s elegiac memoir, as she takes us “Out of Dublin” and into the anatomy of her relationships. Recollection of sea swimming during a childhood holiday brings into focus Rohan’s father, “faking the breaststroke and looking so strange without his glasses, so familiar with his pretending.” (Ibid, p135). The familiar made unfamiliar is what Freud termed “unheimliche”, homely turned unhomely. And so it is, revealed as Rohan scrapes away the postcard veneer: a family broken by mental illness, sexual abuse, shame and silence. But the silence is in turn broken with remarkable words. With words that (to steal the title from her short story collection*) Cut Through the Bone, Rohan manages to narrate a healing of sorts, to put back together from the fragments she has.

Fragments make up the title of Beth Kephart’s memoir: “Nest. Flight. Sky.” Subtitled “On love and loss, one Wing at a time”, the reader must puzzle to complete the lyrical narrative jigsaw: a biography of Genevieve Estelle Jones, who collected and illustrated birds’ nests and eggs in 1847, nestles between Kephart’s mother’s last words, a bibliography of the author’s publications, and samples of poetry, woven together with the trumpet vine that brings the hummingbirds to her garden and the reader full circle. The picture is complete, even if some of the pieces were blank.

If some of the elements of their authors’ lives are missing from these memoirs they are all the better for their loss. The lacuna invite empathy. There is space for the reader to step in, occupy briefly a life that may appear at a cursory glance disparate from one’s own, but then reveals our commonality, what women share. There’s something in this collection that will resonate with any reader. Its messages will endure.

*Cut Through the Bone is published by Dark Sky Books, 2010.

Whatever Doesn’t Kill You can be purchased direct from Shebooks.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Deep art

I'm delighted to have my Pushcart nominated flash "Deep Sea" published in Blue Fifth Review. My sincere thanks to Nazifa Islam, whose art provided the inspiration and title for my piece, and to editors Sam Rasnake and Michelle Elvy for giving me a lovely end credit to 2014 and an optimistic start to 2015.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


I'm honoured to be included as a comic book and graphic novels mentor, in the New Zealand Society of Authors' Mentoring Programme, alongside Dr Tim Bollinger, Robyn Kenealy, Ant Sang, Sarah Laing, Michel Mulipola, Matt Emery, and more. Full list here.