Archives: NorthWrite2013

Goodbye NorthWrite2013, Hello NorthWrite2014

Feb 2014

NorthWrite is the events arm of the NZ Society of Authors, Northland Branch and as we close NorthWrite2013 we would like to introduce our focus for NorthWrite2014. Next year Northland is hosting the national AGM of the NZ Society of Authors in Whangarei. It is also the society’s 80th birthday and we’re bound to put on a birthday bash! So NZSA is our focus – NorthWrite2014: It’s all about NZSA. If you are already a member of the NZ Society of Authors we will keep you informed of planned activities for the AGM weekend. If you’re not a member we will be posting blogs about what the NZ Society of Authors is, what we do, how we can help you and so on. And we won’t forget non-members over the AGM weekend. We will have workshops specifically aimed at helping you to find out more about the benefits of belonging to the NZ Society of Authors as well as workshops for beginner and experienced writers, whether you are a member or not.

As we leave NorthWrite2013 we would like to end by summarising a few collaborative works and providing links to a few blogs that you might like to follow up for yourself. We had intended to review some collaborative books during the year but various demands and our competition schedule meant we couldn’t fit in everything we would have liked. For those interested in reading collaborative works, here are some suggestions:

Will Grayson, Will Grayson
by John Green and David Levithan
(Story summary from Book Depository)

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, teenager Will Grayson crosses paths with …”Will Grayson”! Two teens with the same name who run in two very different circles suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions. Told in alternating voices from two award-winning, popular names in young-adult fiction – John Green (author ofThe Fault in Our Stars) and David Levithan (author of Boy Meets Boy) – this unique collaborative novel features a double helping of the heart and humour that has won both authors legions of fans.

Like a Charm
edited by Karin Slaughter
(Story summary from Book Depository)

Desire leaves a man destroyed – a young girl’s curiosity reveals secrets better left hidden – an accidental encounter on a train ends violently – ambition leads to a curious exchange – an uncanny likeness changes two lives forever. A novel in sixteen chilling parts, linked by a glittering charm bracelet which brings misfortune to everyone who handles it. In Like A Charm, the cream of British and American crime writers combine for a must-have collection. From nineteenth-century Georgia, where the bracelet is forged in fire, to wartime Leeds, a steam train across Europe, the violent backstreets of 1980s’ Scotland, present-day London, a Manhattan taxi, the Mojave Desert and back to Georgia, each writer weaves a gripping story of murder, betrayal and intrigue.

Tales of the Emerald Serpent
edited by Scott Taylor
(Story summary from Amazon)

Taux, city of cursed stone and home to a growing population of the displaced. Deep within its walls rests the old Ullamaliztli Stadium, and its fabled Black Gate, where life treads a fine line between law and chaos. Tales of the Emerald Serpent allows readers a glimpse into this shadow world as nine authors tell a shared world mosaic that sets this fantasy anthology apart from any on the shelves today.

Other thoughts on collaboration:

Ksenia Anske, an American/Russian fantasy writer, gives her thoughts on collaborationhere.

Kelsey Browning, co-author of the book In for a Penny written with Nancy Naigle, talks about the collaborative process here.

John Simmons’ post on his experience with collaborative writing outlines the process 15 writers have taken to produce a collective novel and is available here.

NorthWrite thanks you for sharing our collaborative journey in 2013 and we look forward to bringing you the national AGM of the New Zealand Society of Authors in 2014.

NorthWrite2013: Collaboration – a final post
5 Jan 2014

NorthWrite2013 would like to thank you all for joining us this year as we explored collaborative writing. We will have a new focus for 2014 but first we would like to conclude our collaborative year with a post from Dorothee Lang (Germany).

Collaborations: Collective Stories, Mutated Signatures, and Synergetic Transformations

“The internet offers opportunities for collaboration and the cross-fertilization of ideas that are wider and more far-reaching than anything else in history.”

That’s what Emily Cleaver, editor of the London-based magazine Litro, recently pointed out, after the magazine had initiated an open collaborative writing experiment: Litroinvited authors to write a collective story, one tweet at a time. Everyone could join. Every tweet would get included. No editing.

More than 30 writers joined, and line by line, and together, built a story that – without planning and without editing – has a beginning, twists, and an end, and might be described as magic realism.

The story, and a reflection on this experiment, is now online at Litro: “A Moment of Weakness: the Finished #LitroStory”

I joined the experiment, and for some days, twitter felt like a stage for words, with authors entering, adding their lines, and then waiting for the next step: it was storywriting on a simple and complex basis that hadn’t been possible just some years ago.

Through this experiment, previous collaborative projects came back to mind, for example, the stir qarrtsiluni magazine caused with its call for a collaborative issue – “Mutating the Signature”. The issue is online at:

The editors, long-term collaborators themselves, noted:

“The issue that resulted was exciting, unique, edgy, and surprising. One of its most fascinating aspects was the inclusion of ‘process notes’ by each team of collaborators which revealed not only the wide range of original inspirations and working methods available to writers and artists in this age of the internet, but the unpredictability of what happens between people both in their work together and in their chemistry.”

Browsing the issue shows that, through the internet, the space to collaborate in words and images has drastically grown – copy and paste, insert and remove, all those functions are elementary to collaborations. It’s fascinating to explore the range of creative collaborations that creative calls can trigger. It was this element of surprise, this inner, unpredictable nature that brought the impulse to edit a collaborative issue myself for BluePrintReview. The theme of it was: “Synergetic Transformations”.

The issue is online at:

It turned into the largest issue of BluePrintReview at that point – and into the most complex issue, with notes on the process included in almost every collaboration. Also, it was the first issue that itself got transformed by the contributions – there are several new page formats included, some of them sent directly, some indirectly inspired / transformed by the contributions.

Many of the pieces include notes on the process, and there also is a note on the editing of the issue: with a collaborative poem that came together through the issue index page:

“Looking through the pages again, now that the issue is complete and online, I am still stunned by the way it came together, almost as if some synergy out there had weaved themes into it, and while the issue expanded into different formats and moods, kept knitting cross-connections into it. Some of those cross-connections probably are still unnoticed – this actually is the first issue that still was in progress while it launched. Even as its editor, I didn’t see it completed before the final entries came together.

It also took until now for an unnoticed poem formed by the introduction lines to the collaborations, each of them a quote from the contribution itself. Pieced together, they form a reflection on being an individual, and being part of a partnership, a community, of life in all its collaborative layers.”

synergetic transformations

missing all but queries, limits:
we being one – suddenly
the silence between

casting our lives
I’d like to think

but never finished
here I lie

it’s true:
the change
should have been so lucky

if look a/gain
the space between

day’s end
a frame, a wall
to pause

a renku
every day

a stub of string
the untangling will cut
how to

in criss-crossing paths
mine and yours
we cleaved / we, as one machine

NorthWrite2013: Judges’ Comments and Winning Entries
19Dec 2013

NorthWrite Collaboration – Judges’ Report

We were pleased with the variety that we saw as we read through the entries in this competition. We discovered stories and poetry woven together; we witnessed cases of experimentation with language and form; we admired pieces that explored variety in voice and tone. From humour to suspense to the esoteric, these entries captivated and challenged us as readers, and as competition judges.

We selected six entries that we felt topped the list – four prizewinners and two honourable mentions. These are all exemplary for their originality and attention to language and story (even the poetry carries a strong sense of story). And each of them shows what can come from collaboration: that the process will change the outcome, take the creative endeavour in new directions and create something altogether original and surprising.

First Place

We selected two entries to share this position because of their originality and approach to the task, and because of the way they set ambitious goals and challenges. These two entries both took on the challenge of collaboration with great gusto, and the results show ingenuity of language and form.

Ahi Kāthe more ambitious of the leading pieces, sets out complicated challenges and, for the most part, achieves its far-reaching goals. We’re impressed by the way this piece tells a story about events that may or may not be real within the frame of the story, and the way it goes about complementing the story with the poem. The weaving of words is deliberate and complex, and we specifically note the writers’ attention to movement and pace. There are parts that render the reader breathless, and from the opening – “Howls pierced the fog of my dreams” – the reader is pulled into the frenzied pace of this world.

We note also the careful attention to the prose, with phrasings that are just right. In terms of content, the link to nature, and the themes of destruction and salvation make a strong impact. The personal story, and the questions that linger about the line between reality and fantasy, are woven together well. Phrasings like this keep the ambiguity consistent throughout the story

“Laugh in the shade of the slavering beast
let fire light his eyes and make death tame
the boy is mad”

and the repetition of the theme of madness and running from a fiery enemy (an enemy within? also ambiguous) keeps the reader intrigued to the end.

Some of the rhymes in this piece feel less natural than the prose, in particular in the final couplet. Despite that, however, we feel that this piece deserves to share first place for its originality and its consistency in tone and pace – very hard to achieve in a collaborative effort, and well executed here.

  … for a coffee?/Cups is the strongest of the poetry entries and we applaud it for its quiet tone and pacing.  This work is balanced and soft, from the opening lines of the first part, which bring the reader right into an intimate, quiet moment of breath and sound and implied smell, to the opening lines of the second part: those two austere cups, small, white, there on the sill, lips touching (lovely!).

We like the close attention to language and the soft weaving of ideas in both parts of this piece – the way the cups and words and love and language flow smooth and soft. We like the rhythm of

“and thoughts stuttering
till they slide too fast”,

for example, and

“… i cannot read
around the curve
of space-time…”

and also that horizon in the final stanza of the first part. And we are moved equally in the second part by the vivid images of a cup

“freckled with buttercups,
stippled with lipstick and coffee,

and the final lonely

“Place my thumbprint
over his.”

which is marvellously quiet and understated.

Both parts of this collaboration are effective in language, sound, image and emotion.  The two closings – the syncopated heart and the quiet thumbprint – are just lovely. A captivating effort that makes a lasting impression.

Both poems contain some lines that feel a little more forced than others. We stumbled on “aromatic air arising” (Does air arise or rise? This gets in the way of the flow, although we recognise and like the assonance here) and in

“the throbbed perfection
of our caffeinated
cup …”

for example. But is a minor suggestion that the writers see if any of the lines may be tweaked further. It is not something that stands in the way of this work receiving a first place in this competition.

Second Place

In the forest, by the stream/Shade. This piece is a top candidate for the smooth textures and the repetitions. We are impressed by the strong opening of the first part – the way those lines cascade one from the other – and the wonderful use of image and unexpected language in the opening of the second part –

“Times like this, places like here, she feels like she is eating gravity …”

We appreciate the quiet feeling of the opening poem, and how well the two parts balance each other. We like the way this piece loops back to the beginning, in words and image. We like the stillness, and we admire the last line as much as the first – a sure sign that the piece works as a whole, with connections made across style and form by both authors.

This piece, taken as a whole, creates a mood, a setting – and it does it well. We recognise how the writers put a good deal of thought into the words they chose and how the images fold and unfold around each other – indeed, how they reflect off each other. We admire the way the themes of touch, movement and gaze are explored here. And the final image – her looking back over the reeds, and the stillness – creates a lasting impression.

A couple of word choices stood out for us as being less effective: “the orgiastic pull of the city” didn’t work for us, and although the use of “apostatised” is correct, the unusual word choice pulls us out of the mood of the piece. We also suggest revisiting the use of semicolons in the piece and considering whether commas could be used instead.

These are minor distractions but attention to these details will further strengthen the work. Overall, this piece captivates our attention for its sustained mood and language.

A Ghost at my Shoulder. We admire this piece for its literary and historical references, beginning with the title, and closing with the last image of the

“faces in the water talking across
the wind worried sun shy

Marvellous, strong ending.

We also like the themes of memory and confusion/ past and future/ possibility and doom and the way clear, vivid colour is explored alongside the smoky grey of monotones. The specificity of Rorschach blots and the You Tube orangutan are both memorable and appropriate. The way the two sides work back and forth with each other are also very effective here, most exemplified by the image/idea of opening the eyes in the penultimate stanza,

“ … I look past
his shoulder, and through the window”

contrasted so beautifully, so bitterly, with the closing stanza.

We recommend the writers revisit some parts to explore further edits – for example, the first italic stanza on the second page (the contrast between the random colour of the rainbow and the monochrome scratchings of the author) feels slightly over-written and could be done with more delicacy, perhaps, especially since the themes have already been introduced in earlier stanzas. Balancing that, however, are phrasings with a specificity of language that we greatly admire:

“He dissects my clotted secrets
with a blunt blade”


“that bright canary of memory”

Overall, this piece shows the back-and-forth of collaboration, the way two writers can explore strong central themes, using varying approaches to voice and sound and rhythm. It paints a specific setting and mood very well.

Honourable Mentions

The Gallery. We enjoyed this piece for the way the story and characters unfold. It’s well written with a few unexpected twists. And we like the play that the authors clearly enjoyed while writing this – the theoretical language around the discussion of art, for example, and the small details assigned to the characters. We like that it avoids sentimentality in the end, when we discover the object of the artist’s painting; that is well done. And we like the names here: Cedric, Rima, Alistair. All distinct names that suit the characters. We are not as fond of Mr Suave Eyes, but recognise it’s in keeping with the tone and mood of the piece.

In terms of collaborative storytelling, what we like best about this piece is that we can’t tell when the writing switches hands or how this was collaborative writing.

We think this story could be improved by examining places where the story tends toward cliché – the gallery snobs, even if lively, are a little predictable, and even the idea of the disinterested husband tends toward a caricature as opposed to a fully realized character, which means that his change of heart at the end is less effective than it could have been. Also, this piece pays most attention to plot, and we think that with just a little tweaking, the characters could be a shade deeper, and the prose could be made more elegant.

What we like best about this piece is that it shows that storytelling can be fun – and that is commendable indeed.

This Other Door. This piece deserves special mention for the way it plays with perspective and introduces two voices to bring the reader into the moment and the scene. Here one finds a story that explores mood, character, love, mystery and suspense – all wrapped up in one very short piece.

It’s an interesting concept, and we enjoyed some of the strong language and imagery, especially in the first part – the white rectangle of light, the tear in the time-space fabric, those infinite other doors. The opening of this piece brings into focus the agony of the possibilities that no longer exist alongside the desire that they might, that they could, that they should.  Nicely done!

We feel the second part over-explains things and tries too hard to capture the voice of the child – sometimes relying too heavily on clichés and language we expect from a child. The second part needs editing and trimming, to be sure – but perhaps this is in part because it’s a more difficult task to write from the child’s perspective.

This piece is consistent in tone and feel; it captures a mood and a moment; it paints the scene very well. And both parts embody a strong voice. All that is to be commended.

Michelle Elvy and Tim Jones
15 December 2013

First Placed Entries

Ahi Kā

by Eileen Mueller and Alicia Ponder

Howls pierced the fog of my dreams. I clutched Ahi, shaking her awake. “Are they real?” Yowling wound through my ear canals, ricocheting inside my head. “The dogs, Ahi, can you hear them?”

She woke, startled. “Hurry, Manaaki. They’re coming.”

We scrambled out of our bush-clad hideout, dashing up the hillside, sliding in the damp earth, ponga fronds whipping our faces.

Frenzied yelps closed in on us. The creatures’ vicious snarling drowned our laboured breathing.

Blue eyes pursued us, hot gas flames in the dark.

Were they real?

I yanked my meds from my pocket. Pills scattered in the dirt. I scrabbled for them. One stuck in my throat before sliding down.


Cry havoc and let us unloose the dogs
the dogs, let slip those hellish brutes of war
for tonight Manaaki will have to choose
to run—


“Hellhounds,” Ahi yelled, bounding up the mud and crumbling rock.

Menacing growls raced through the underbrush. Ahi yanked a nail from her fingertip. It flared to light, illuminating the black-hackled beast leaping towards us.

“Ahi?” In all our time together, her fingernails had never exploded into fireballs. I stared at her and swallowed another pill, tasting dirt.

The hound, with pain-stricken yelps, was devoured by flame. Wild baying echoed in the valley below. More hellhounds.

Ahi stood, fingertip bleeding. Her hand, with only four nails, reached out. Warm blood sticky in my palm, she yanked me uphill.

Had my medication stopped working?

To be sure, I gulped another down.


Laugh in the shade of the slavering beast
let fire light his eyes and make death tame
the boy is mad—


 The hellhounds thundered behind us. Racing through the darkness, we tripped, smashing our knees on jutting rocks.

I gagged on the stench of the hounds’ hot breath. They snapped at our heels—and bit deep. I screamed.

Ahi ripped off another nail, flinging it over her shoulder. The beast yelped and fled, trailing flames.

Fingers spraying glistening blood in the flame-light, Ahi aimed nail after nail at the perilous beasts, until only two nails remained.


The boy is mad to thwart this hunter’s feast
the dirt he tastes will never bear his name
and yet he stops and turns—


Ahi flung her penultimate nail through snarling fangs.

The beast combusted. Singed fur and burning flesh. A pale demon loomed behind the hellhound’s flaming carcass. Worse than hellhounds. Worse than my lover-turned-stranger beside me, oozing blood from her torn fingertips. Worse than hallucinations.

I screamed.

Ahi smiled through her blood and tears. She tore the final fingernail from her hand and pressed it into mine. “Swallow this,” she whispered.


Cry havoc and let us unloose the dogs
the dogs, let slip those hellish brutes of war
for tonight Manaaki will have to choose
to run through fire and flame or face the maw

Laugh in the shade of the slavering beast
Let fire light his eyes and make death tame
The boy is mad to thwart this hunter’s feast
The dirt he tastes will never bear his name

And yet he stops and turns, his wild fear tame
Ahi Kā, Manaaki keep the home fires burning
In blood and fire—with life he stakes his claim
Ahi Kā, let us stand where he is standing

Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds;
But burn those who chase Manaaki out of bounds


 …for a coffee?/Cups

by Alistair Tulett and Jac Jenkins

…for a coffee?

i look at mine while
you breathe the steamy
aromatic air arising

there is writing there, yet i
don’t find words in
steam, or breath, but drink

that hastens ideas
and thoughts stuttering
till they slide too fast

to grasp, but i hold on
to taste coffee in
company. yours. filled

hot, words slip by in
the throbbed perfection
of our caffeinated

cup running over my
mind sliding by your
words high and our hearts

fast – i cannot read
around the curve
of space-time – my

horizon nearer
than your smooth cup
and syncopated heart.


Two white
espresso cups
on the sill, rimmed yellow,
sprouting pinprickle cacti. Lips

One fine
bone china cup,
freckled with buttercups,
stippled with lipstick and coffee,

cup floored, whorled with
inky thumbprints. Crown Lynn,
second-grade, glaze spackled. Coffee-
wet mat.

I kneel.
Hold a bowl of
lemon juice and dish soap.
Pour and blot. Blot and stop. Pick up
the cup.

Place my thumbprint
over his.


Second Placed Entries

In the forest, by the stream/Shade

by Alistair Tulett and Jac Jenkins

In the forest, by the stream

My gaze touches you standing beside the pool
and you are standing next to the pool in place
and your gaze is stroking space somewhere near where i think i am
and you are next to the pool and beyond anything to compare
and my gaze has consumed your gaze painting me in your world
and i am now beside the pool leaning into the space
where my gaze touched you standing by the pool.


Times like this, places like here, she feels like she is eating gravity; her belly expanding to hold the heavy silence. She is anklet-deep in still, peat-stained water. A listless bridge crosses the reedy creek to her right. Kahikatea infiltrate the water on all other sides – the pool is losing its edges like her. She comes here, and places like here, to defy the orgiastic pull of the city. A solitary penance of sorts, she supposes, although she apostatised long ago.

Her mother, loving her, grieves.

On the far side of the pool a sliver of dusk whittles itself from a trunk and takes on human shape – hard-edged and robust. The pool’s surface ripples like tea-dyed silk for a moment. She feels examined, laid bare. Sweat crawls down her back.

She had touched him; rejoiced in him; tumbled into lust. Only her imagination – surely she has not fallen…

She stumbles backwards out of the pool. The shape blurs into shadow and withdraws. Shivering, she puts on her sandals. Scum clings to the fine links of her anklet, but she leaves it be.

A friend will recommend toothpaste, and the silver will be resurrected.

She pauses on the top of the bridge and turns to look back over the reeds. There are ripples where she was standing, still.


A Ghost at My Shoulder

by Alistair Tulett and Jac Jenkins


the universe undressed keeps no secrets
but this morning’s egg was careless
in her mystery. I am tongue-tied before
his sartorial delinquence, those colours confuse.

I can’t take seriously a tie patterned mustard
and lime in the style of gestural abstraction,
or the wearer, who has dealt ten
Rorschach blots before me.

three blots, a trinity, perhaps not holy. there was a time
when seven was not a good number and thirteen
was more fingers than any man had to count
upon. so many changes don’t count, and i,

 He dissects my clotted secrets
with a blunt blade.

i can’t escape my mind, coagulated by time.
an absinthe vanGogh slices birch
skeletons thin across the winter sky,
as foliage the sullen crows.

His left hand curves like a beak around his notes,
pen clenched between maxilla and mandible;
I recall a sketch, is it Escher?
Memories are like blots of ink,

the nuns have tattooed guilt into my pores.
my left hand trembles before i write.

none are on the table between us. I ask
has he ever seen the chain-smoking orangutan,
on YouTube; how she draws in her cheeks
around each inhalation; how she

i writhe where the words
lie beyond my overreached
dreams and memory.

holds two fingers to her moody mouth to ask
for more; and does he believe in doom?
Tell me more about doom, he replies. I look
to the window for an answer. It is silent, smoky;

the sevenfold randomness
of the ordered rainbow dissects this world
where the sun leans on sullen air. my
monochrome scratchings leave it unexplained.


I close my eyes. I have been gilled
by the gods, I reply, damned
to drown in air. I can hear the muffle
of sirens singing and I am suffocated

 that bright canary of memory
is dying in the shafts, the windowless dark.
above, the out-of-reach flavoured world,
whose colours but for smoke i would taste again,

by the song of man. He tells me to open
my eyes. There is an ocean, he says,
turning in his chair. I look past
his shoulder, and through the window

after losing my burned letters
from the edge of the alphabet
to the is-land where there are
faces in the water, talking across
the wind worried, sun shy


Dedicated to the 37 or 39 women who died in the fire at Seacliff Mental Hospital, 1942.

NorthWrite2013 Collaborative Competition – The Winners
14 Dec 2013

We are delighted to inform you that the judges have deliberated and we present for you the short list in our collaborative competition:

… for a coffee/Cups

A Ghost At My Shoulder

Ahi Ka

In the forest, by the stream/Shade

The Gallery

This Other Door

And the winners are:

First equal ($150 each):

Ahi Ka  by Eileen Mueller and Alicia Ponder

...for a coffee? / Cups  by Alistair Tulett and Jac Jenkins

Second equal ($100 each):

In the forest, by the stream / Shade by Alistair Tulett and Jac Jenkins

A Ghost at My Shoulder  by Alistair Tulett and Jac Jenkins

Honourable Mentions:

This Other Door by Dan Rabarts  and Lee Murray

The Gallery by Daphne de Jong and Lesley Marshall

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all competition entrants. We appreciate the support you have given this competition. Judges’ comments and the winning entries will be available next week.

Another look at Collaboration
31 Oct 2013

Just over 15 days until the collaborative competition closes. We hope you are all enjoying the collaborative process and we look forward to receiving your entries by midnight on Friday 15 November. Remember you have a variety of options for submission:

  1. Story: Either one story (maximum 750 words) written collaboratively, or two stories (total word count not to exceed 750 words) where one has been written as a response to the other.
  2. Poem: Either one poem written collaboratively (maximum of 60 lines) or two poems (total number of lines not to exceed 60) where one has been written as a response to the other.
  3. Combination: One poem (maximum 30 lines) and one story (maximum 325 words) where one has been written in response to the other.

While you have all been focusing on your competition entries we have been on the lookout for other collaborative projects. If you think writing 750 words collaboratively with two people is challenging, imagine writing a 500 word story with five writers! In honour of International Women’s Month in March 2012 a group of female writers did just that, creating eight 500 words stories each one written by five writers. Below are reflections on their collaborative processes.

On the Collaborative Process: Reflections on Beginning, Middle and End

Below, women writers reflect on their experience of a collaborative process in which each writer contributed to a series of short stories completed over several months. At the end of this particular collaborative project, there were eight stories created by contributors from the UK, France, the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Germany. The only rules for this project were that each entry should not exceed 100 words and that the story had to cross an international border after each writer added her part.

Two of the stories will be published in October at The Glass Coin.


Collaborative storytelling is a caveman enterprise, something people have always done. It’s a bit like holding hands; it’s in our nature to cluster together, spilling news, gossip, and dreams, finishing one another’s sentences and enjoying the moment when two people agree. Likewise, stories need to be shared. The collaborative story is shared from the moment of conception and, by being communal, takes storytelling back to its roots.

T Upchurch lives and writes in a little house overlooking the Atlantic. She blogs at and tweets as @traceyupchurch.


As a relatively new writer, this was my first collaboration. I was to bring the story to a conclusion (or not). I found the process fascinating, nerve-wracking and actually rather difficult. Interpreting others’ thought processes and attempting to align mine to create a story that flowed wasn’t as easy as I thought. Each writer obviously has her own style. I’m honestly not sure if I would have felt more comfortable contributing to the middle of the story, rather than beginning or ending it. I felt as the last writer, I was being entrusted with something very precious, although the rebel in me couldn’t resist the temptation to shift the perspective of the story! As the baton passed to me, I brought the narrator into the story as one of the characters, and a rather dark one at that, but left the ending open. Like a beautiful patchwork in progress, I wanted to leave with the feeling that the story could grow and grow, even if only in the mind of the reader.

Jane Prinsep is a freelance writer, copywriter, blogger & poet. You can find her and on Twitter as @janeprinsep.


These collaborative stories were great fun. I especially love second person POV. Done well it can be so powerful. And, although it’s strange writing something when you have no idea how it will end — suspended in the middle of the story as I was (between others’ thoughts), collaborating with writing friends I trust brought a sense of security. I knew they would pick up my thread and weave it into a tapestry of something wonderful (which they did!). Also, when one is working with others of like mind, it seems as if synchronicity comes into play. It’s a team effort with the same rewards of connective support.

Myra King has written a number of prize winning short stories and poems. Her work has been published in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland and the US. More here.


I found out about this collaborative story via Claire King on Twitter early one morning. The story had been started by Michelle Elvy and continued by Martha Williams and Claire King. I wrote the final part as the deadline was the next day. The almost surreal beginning produced a wonderful hazy, dreamlike feel which Martha and Claire continued beautifully using senses and colour, creating vivid pictures. My instinct was to make the ending a happy one, but I could have chosen to make it a tragic one. I’d be interested to know what the others expected when they wrote their parts. A couple of years ago, I entered into a collaborative story on a blog where everyone needed to write a sentence. The story went off in a different direction from what I’d expected and I was surprised to feel disappointed. Do all writers feel like I did when the story goes in a direction they hadn’t envisaged? And was my ending a satisfactory one for the writers who took part in mine? If I had to choose which part to write again, I’d go with the ending because I enjoyed bringing the story to a conclusion.

Anita Chapman is writing her second novel whilst seeking agent representation for the first and she blogs about writing at  and is also on Twitter: @neetswriter.


A collaboration drives home to me that we’re all in this together and that we all belong, even as we go off in our own direction.

Beate Sigriddaughter is the founder of the Glass Woman Prize and has been published widely in print and online. You can read more about the Glass Woman Prize here.


Reflecting back on the collaboration project we did, the collaboration was done remotely, taking the prompt and intention of the story so far, and continuing it in a way that left ambiguities and options for the next writer, without opening it up too much so that the story arc became too distorted. It was interesting to write within those constraints. I would have liked to go a step further, and have discussions afterwards with the other authors, possibly leading to an overall edit. Although that would be complicated to pull off, it could have brought some rich discussion and also removed the ‘risk’, for want of a better word, of publishing a story which is effectively a first draft and you may not have chosen to publish had you written it as a sole effort.

Claire King has lived in southern France for the last ten years but grew up in Mexborough, South Yorkshire. Her first novel, The Night Rainbow, is published by Bloomsbury. She also writes short fiction, which has been published online and in print and has been recognised by various fancy places. Some of her darker flash fiction appeared at 52/250. More here.


Participation in this collaboration was fun. Initially, I was anxious about following someone else’s thread. Once I set about the task, I felt almost released from constraint and free to take the story where I wanted – there was no blueprint. My contribution was written knowing I was passing it on to two other people. However, I am not sure whether my last sentence, formed as a question, was by design, out of consideration for my collaborators, or chance – opening paths for creativity, unwittingly.  It turned out, that question ended the story. Amazingly, I think it still worked. The stories that ultimately developed were so different – through life’s uncertainties, love’s disappointments, taking control of one’s own life and even espionage. Each, however, had sufficient content to stand alone. They made interesting, thought-provoking reading. That is no mean achievement.

Christine Nedahl is a member of Writers Abroad and has been published in four anthologies and online. She has two novels written, both of which are in that ethereal state called ‘editing’.


Read the final two stories from this collaboration here, and from there readers can link to the previous six stories as well.

NorthWrite Collaboration Competition – The Judges

18 Oct 2013

Conversation between Michelle Elvy and Tim Jones for NorthWrite 2013

Michelle: So interesting, thinking about collaboration in anticipation of judging the NorthWrite 2013 competition with you, Tim. In an earlier part of my life, I was a dedicated pianist. I was a decent soloist, but I especially loved ensemble work. At the age of eight I began playing duets, and from then on I had the same partner for the next ten years, moving quickly to two-piano work. Playing together with my partner went way beyond individual interpretation on many levels. My partner had his own approach to Saint-Saens, Bach, Rachmaninoff, and I had mine. We were both competent as soloists (well, he was in fact a star!), but together we were better. Together, we negotiated our way through the subtleties of rhythm and phrasings. We got to where we understood each other so well, we didn’t even count to begin a piece. A raised chin, a dipped shoulder – these were as much part of our language as the notes our fingers found. Somehow, when playing together, the clash of a Russian Easter or the soft denouement of a delicate swan song made more sense, more beauty. And the process of learning our way through new repertoire, along with the final outcome, was always surprising.

Tim: I wish I had your musical skills, but even a two-piano version of Chopsticks would likely be beyond me. Instead, and to my surprise, what your comment reminded me of was collaboration in a different field: being part of a batting partnership in cricket.

Cricket is a team game, but one in which pairs of team members need to work together. I was principally an opening bowler (left arm, over the wicket, twelve pace runup, if I didn’t know where the ball was going then surely the batsman didn’t either), and bowlers operate in partnership, one from each end. But batting involves the closest partnership, because the two people batting must work together to avoid getting out and keep the score moving.

Wickets fall, and batsman and batswomen – let’s use the inelegant but gender-neutral ‘batters’ – come and go. Still, pairs of batters get used to batting with each other – especially openers, who stride out together to begin the innings. In these experienced pairs, communication can become almost as wordless as it is for the paired pianists: the smallest nod and the run is on, a shake of the head or an upraised hand and it isn’t. At the end of each over, and sometimes between deliveries, you’ll see the batters wander down the pitch and engaging in a quick conversation about what the bowlers are doing, where in the field runs can safely be taken, the weather, or anything else that keeps them in that odd double state of relaxation between deliveries, and total concentration while the ball is live.

An inexperienced pair is the complete opposite. When the ball is hit past the close-in fielders, runs are a matter of negotiation, of “yes- no- wait- maybe- sorry!”, this last accompanying an unavailing dive towards the crease and an ignominious runout. The conversations between overs can be accompanied by a lot of head wagging and finger pointing.

Not being much of a batsman, I was usually the junior partner, my vocabulary a mixture of shrugs and muttered apologies. Now and again, though, I played an innings long enough that I started to time the ball. At those times, having just pulled the opposition’s premier fast bowler nonchalantly to the square leg boundary for four, there is nothing better than sauntering down the pitch at the end of the over to say to one’s partner, “Not much in this wicket. We should be able to make plenty if you can hang around for a while.”

Okay, I dreamed that last part. But cricket, like writing, easily invades one’s dreams.

Michelle: That is funny, and how wonderful to share stories from the other parts of our lives that also involve thinking about collaborative process. In writing, as in cricket or music, the partners must work together and gain a sense of purpose and pace. But unlike my piano experience or your batsman experience, collaborative writing allows two writers to develop a style and strategy without being present in the same room, or pitch. Interestingly, almost all of my collaborative writing projects have been with people whom I don’t actually know personally, but whose work I am already familiar with or greatly admire. Even if we don’t know each other personally as well as I know my two-piano partner (who remains one of my closest friends), a certain trust is required as you work through rhythms and phrasings together.

For me, collaboration (like all writing) contains an intellectual element as well as something that requires intuition. And it always takes me to new and unexpected places.

Tim: My collaborative experience has mainly been in editing rather than writing –co-editing the anthology Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand, published in 2009, with Mark Pirie, and now being in the process of co-editing The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry, to be published in 2014, with P. S. Cottier.

A lot of what you say about collaboration in writing applies to collaboration in editing:  you’ve got to work out a process and then trust each other to do the tasks you’ve each taken on. There is a lot of hard slog in editing an anthology – in particular, securing permission from publishers to reprint poems is a long and at times unrewarding grind.

But I love the feeling of discovering (or re-discovering) a great poem that fits the theme of the anthology, and looking forward to bring it to a new audience. Likewise, it’s a great feeling when the list of poems to be included is agreed upon, and then when the final order of the poems is sorted out. With every step, the shape of the anthology becomes clearer, and the pleasure in co-creating it more pronounced.

Michelle: Yes, and not only do you develop a strategy working together as editors, but you also develop a view of the whole – which is quite different from a view of each individual piece. In the journals I edit, we look closely not only at the merits of each piece as an individual work of fiction or poetry that may go into an issue, but we also consider very closely how the separate pieces will fit as a whole. From beginning to end, an issue ofBlue Five Notebook or Flash Frontier must hold together as a discrete collection. Much like an anthology on a smaller scale, these collections of works are a reflection not only of the individual writers who have contributed, but of a collaborative editorial effort. Which brings us full circle back to the element of trust, and sometimes surprises you did not expect – because, in my experience, two heads are better than one when it comes to compiling a collection of short fiction or poetry.

Tim: And – apropos of why we’re talking here in the first place – I think two heads can also be better than one when it comes to judging a competition. I always try very hard, when editing or judging, to apply exactly the same standard throughout the process of reading the entries or submissions – and, to avoid unfairly favouring the early entries, I prefer not to read any of the entries until after the deadline. This can be difficult, especially when there are a lot of submissions to read through, but it’s important  to maintain the same level of concentration throughout. Having two judges increases the chances that all entries will receive equal consideration – so I’m looking forward to the judging process for NorthWrite 2013!

Tim Jones is a poet and author of both science fiction and literary fiction who was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. He lives in Wellington, New Zealand. For more, see Tim’s Amazon author page: and Tim’s blog:

A manuscript assessor, editor and writer of poetry, short fiction and creative non-fiction, Michelle Elvy can be found regularly atFlash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and Blue Five Notebook. She is also co-ordinator of National Flash Fiction Day. Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and short-listed for several international literary awards, Michelle has judged various writing competitions, most recently for the South Island Writers’ Association and the Whangarei Poetry Wall competition. Michelle shares poetry and short fiction at Glow Worm and her views on writing and editing at

NorthWrite 2013 Example of a story and poem collaboration
11 Oct 2013

This is our final post covering examples of the possible types of collaboration you could enter into our competition. So far we have looked at a single story by two authors, two stories – one in response to the other, a single poem by two poets, two poems – one in response to the other, and in this post we will look at the option of a poem in response to a story. This option can also be submitted in reverse, as a story in response to a poem.

The story Inside Out by Katharine Derrick, first published in Flash Frontier, was used as inspiration for Janis Freegard who has responded with her poem The Model.

Inside Out by Katharine Derrick

I caught a bus from Denver to Kansas City but disembarked hundreds of miles early in the middle of nowhere. The man running the gas station nodded when I asked if there was anywhere nearby to rent. He handed me a key then pointed across the prairie to a speck in the distance.

“Watch out for rattlers,” he said through a mouthful of gum, “ain’t no hospital ’round here.”

I thanked him and stepped out onto the grassland. A crow circled overhead. I shivered. By the time I reached the house the sun had set. I unlocked the door and moonlight followed me in.

The room seemed empty at first but then I noticed a rolled-up poster lying on the floor. It was a Magritte print, The Evening Gown, 1954. A woman stood naked with hair flowing down her back looking out to sea, a sliver of moon above her. It seemed to hold a glimmer of hope and I gripped onto it as if it would save me from drowning. Silent tears slid down my face and flowed into the void of the unknown house. The moon crept higher and at some point I slept.

At dawn I awoke and went outside to watch the moon slip away. I undressed, released my hair and lifted my arms to the rising sun. Not even the cawing of the crow could disturb me.

The Model by Janis Freegard

waiting for his arrival
I shake out my hair, undress
crows call
I am nowhere

I watch him
through the open window
striding to my door
easel-laden, eager

you come to me, I’d said
I don’t know
what he thinks he saw
he stretches his canvas

sets his paints
on my bedside table
I have nothing to say
he doesn’t see me

the image he renders
is chimeric
I am above all this
gone with the crows

rising skywards
out towards open sea
hoping I can save someone
from drowning


NorthWrite: When putting together the posts to provide collaborative story and poetry examples for NorthWrite readers, especially those who hadn’t attempted collaboration before,  the organisers realised a story with a poem in response (or vice versa) was missing from the collection of collaborative works available to NorthWrite. They asked Janis Freegard if she would be interested in using an existing story by Katharine Derrick and writing a poem in response to it. The answer was “yes.”

Katharine: The time pressure we put ourselves under didn’t allow a lot of time for true collaboration. I wish we had thought of collaborating together sooner as part of the fun is the too-ing and fro-ing of ideas to produce a combined work each different but folding together to make a whole.

Janis: This process has made me wonder what a story + poem collaboration might look like if we’d had more time eg if both the poem and the story were unfolding together, rather than one responding to another that is already complete.

NorthWrite: No matter what type of collaborative work you are entering into the competition, do take the time to enjoy the process and watch your entry take on a life of its own.

NorthWrite looks at collaborative response poetry

4 Oct 2014

This post looks at two poems, one in response to the other, as another possibility for collaboration in poetry. These poems are by Walter Bjorkman and one of our competition judges, Michelle Elvy. This collaboration was first published in BluePrint Review in a special edition focusing on collaboration. For more inspiration on collaboration on either single or response poems take a look at BluePrint Review issue #27, synergetic transformations. The “notes on the process” section for each poem or combination of poems may provide more ideas for how you can approach the collaboration process. (Note from NorthWrite organisers: while photos and illustrations provide an extra dimension and can certainly provide inspiration for the collaboration process please do NOT include them in your competition entry.)

Summer and Winter

Commentary from Elvy/ Bjorkman: Summer/Winter collaboration

When we set out to create this piece, we had a vague notion that we’d like to experiment with opposites — hemispheres, seasons, age, youth, etc. Walt had been documenting his Maryland winter in photographs, so it occurred to us to use one of those and answer it with a picture from Michelle’s summer in New Zealand. That was the beginning: the visuals kicked off the ideas, and the rest followed. Michelle took on the task of writing a ‘winter’ poem, and Walt tackled ‘summer’. We first shared our poems in email, then set up a webpage as our working space so we could each view and edit in our own time. Interestingly, both poems turned out to be about memory and included strong references to a place and a relationship. That was sheer coincidence: there was no discussion about the contents of the poems beforehand.

There were, however, discussions of form, sequence and rhythm once we got started. Walt wrote his sand-sequence first, so Michelle created a diamond-shaped landscape to play off of Walt’s and advance her winter tale.  Meanwhile, Walt edited his poem down from a collection of memories to concentrate solely on the evolution of a single memory, as Michelle had done. Mostly we worked on trimming syllables and creating visual harmony on the page.

Turns out, sand and snow mirror each better than we expected. We were very pleased to see our work included in BluePrint Review.

Walter Bjorkman:

Walter Bjorkman is a writer, poet, photographer and general roundabout from Brooklyn, NY, now residing in the foothills of the Adirondacks. His poems and short stories have appeared in Word Riot, Scrambler, fwriction: review, Poets & Artists, A-Minor Magazine, Blue Print Review and more. His collection of short stories, Elsie’s World, was published in January 2011. He is currently Managing Editor at A-Minor Press.

Michelle Elvy:

Michelle Elvy, along with Tim Jones, will judge the Northland 2013: Collaboration competition. You can read more about Michelle in the upcoming judges’ commentary to be published in about a week’s time.


NorthWrite presents an article on collaborative poetry by Kirsten Cliff

28 Sep 2013

Our last two posts have focused on providing examples of two writers collaborating on stories that come within the word count of our competition. In terms of collaborative poetry, The Tuesday Poem’s birthday poems already featured herehere and here, are good examples of a single collaborative poem; however, they are written by more than two poets. Kirsten Cliff is a poet from the Waikato who has recently written an article on collaborative poetry between two poets for  a fine line, The magazine of the New Zealand Poetry Society (September 2013). We are delighted to be able to reproduce the article here and hope that it might provide inspiration for anyone interested in entering a collaborative poem in our competition.

You can visit Kirsten’s blog here and for more examples of her collaborative poetry check out Lynx – A Journal for Linking Poets.

Inspiration through Collaboration – Kirsten Cliff

I never thought I’d need a prompt to get me writing. I always seemed to have new ideas, and could easily draw from what was happening around me. Then some dark days arrived – cancer, mostly – and it seemed that the act of writing got harder. I was writing less. Maybe that was okay? But being generally uninspired in my play with words did not feel good. So when a haiku friend (who’d also survived cancer) asked if I wanted to write with her, I welcomed the opportunity to expand my writing world.

Cara Holman and I started writing rengay together: a modern form of linked haiku verse. I found that writing to the prompt of her haiku lead me to write poetry that I wouldn’t have penned otherwise. On really hard days – when the chemotherapy was stripping me bare – collaborating was what helped me get out of bed in the morning. Why? Because I knew that the next link in the poem would be waiting in my email inbox.

I quickly became excited about writing again. I was inspired in a way I hadn’t been before. My writing was taken in new directions. It was still my writing voice, but it was brought to life through the links of my poetry with Cara’s. I got instant feedback on my work, often in the form of her next haiku verse. This was highly positive as it meant I had inspired my writing partner, too. We were on a roll.

The Scent of Pine – Cara Holman & Kirsten Cliff

evening sky
the moon cradled
in the ginkgo’s branches

the scratch of pencil
on paper

hushed dawn
bird tracks
in the snow

fallen fence post
counting out pills
for the day

a hawk scatters
the flock of starlings

cloud cover
the scent of pine
from the wood pile

Our first two rengay, “The Scent of Pine” and “Turning a Corner”, were quickly accepted for publication, appearing in the on-line journal A Hundred Gourds (June 2013). Over the course of that year we wrote 13 rengay together, including four on our joint experiences of cancer, and all were well received by editors. Every time we completed a rengay, we’d start another. It was addictive. And so much fun!

Then I got the itch to try a tanka sequence and asked another writing friend, Margaret Dornaus, if she’d like to work with me. We quickly found a subject we could both get stuck into: our overseas travels. We took inspiration from photos of our journeys abroad, and wrote our first sequence of tanka linked by that travel bug. Margaret and I have since written together several times and I find her feedback invaluable. I’m learning all the time in this world of poetry and she is one of my teachers.

So the positives of collaboration continued, and the desire to do more never waned. After each project I’d feel the need for a break – it was time to return to my own writing. But these ‘breaks’ never lasted long. My hunger for this new type of inspiration would rapidly grow, and before I knew it I’d be emailing a friend with a new idea for a rengay or tanka sequence. I soon grew bolder and began asking others to write with me. I’ve now written with six different people.

Lost & Found – Margaret Dornaus & Kirsten Cliff

crossing the river
into this new year, alone
I stop
to look at every turn
before I carry on

first dream of the year
diagnosing her pain
as leukaemia . . .
could I find the strength
to do it over again

on the bench
at the foot of her bed
a clutch of tissues . . .
abandoned like the words
she can no longer recall

I hear her say
she’s lost the will to live . . .
the waves
keep on cresting
keep on breaking

winter fog—
the lighthouse steps
we climb
to see whatever
we might see

all day long
the peacock’s cry
once again
I fail to listen
to my intuition

Part of a tanka sequence published in LYNX (March 2013)

Experimentation was part of the joy. Cara and I played with the rengay form creating what we called ‘rengay sequences’: four rengay linked together. This developed from that drive to keep writing with one another, and wanting to explore all avenues of a particular theme. Now I’m breaking new ground with Seánan Forbes: we are writing tanka sequences using repeating lines. This occurred the first time naturally when I was so inspired by Seánan’s starting tanka verse that I wanted to use one of her lines in my linking tanka. It can be quite a challenge to use your writing partner’s first line as your third line, for example, but, once again, I can’t seem to say no!

A very different experience was my first time writing face-to-face, and as part of a group, at the June 2012 Haiku Festival Aotearoa in Tauranga. It was a session filled with laughter, and where I realised I wasn’t too good at writing haiku under pressure! Sandra Simpson lead ten of us in writing a junicho: a longer and stricter form of Japanese linked haiku verse. It was also a ‘competitive’ write, which meant that we all contributed verses for each new spot, and Sandra choose the one that linked best. Although this began in real-time, it was completed on-line, which gave me more space to become inspired by the preceding verse. The experience of working face-to-face in a group setting is one I would definitely repeat, though. After all, it is how linked verses were traditionally written in Japan.

I’ve since gone on to create collaborative haiga (putting haiku with a photographic image) with two of my haiku friends. I was also part of Ruth Arnison’s ‘Poems in the Waiting Room’ fundraiser, which saw the haiku of North Island poets paired with South Island artists. In this collaboration I was a silent partner, but was excited by the artists’ interpretations of my haiku. I look forward to future collaborations with other people outside the world of haiku, as well as those within it.

More NorthWrite Story Examples
23 Sep 2014

In the last post we provided a selection of collaborative single stories (word count up to 750 words) with commentaries from the authors to offer examples and inspiration for those considering entering our collaborative competition. This post looks at another possible story type appropriate for the competition – a story plus a story response. For this option two stories of no more than 325 words each are submitted, one in response to the other; they can both be by both writers, as in the example here, or one can be the complete work of one author and the response the complete work of the second author. Both stories must be submitted in the same document. As always if you have any questions please use ourAsk A Question page.

Last Day by Lesley Marshall and Daphne de Jong

The old bugger carked it at 9.30 am. The shortest day she’d ever spent with him. And the best.

The house was empty.  Walls still resonated with the roar of his voice though, and she wondered if she’d ever stop flinching when she used the bathroom. Maybe when she’d finally seen him crated up, dumped in a hole and covered up.

She expected the doctor to mouth the usual platitudes, and was startled when he clapped her on the shoulder and said, “Bloody good job.  Can’t wait to sign this one off, I have to say!  You’ve done well to stick it out this long, you know.”

“Thank you.” Nice to be appreciated by someone. Being housekeeper, dogsbody and lately nurse, at the beck and call of a mean old bastard was no picnic. Thankfully he’d been well enough to attend sale day yesterday – gave her some peace.

“I hope he left you something in his will,” the doctor said.

She shrugged. The old fart had asked her to witness the thing. Left her nothing.

“Maybe you’ll get the house,” the doctor suggested as he left. “Never saw his family anyway.”

Not surprising, she thought, looking around the hallway and then wandering through the musty rooms that had been home to her for ten years. She knew every inch of this house, every dusty nook and creaking cranny. Every foible of its owner, meanness being the least of his vices. Some time ago she’d been polishing the varnished floors, noticed the slightly raised edge of a floorboard and discovered his cache of hundred dollar bills, amounting to thousands.  She’d counted them while he was snoring away one of his benders.

Last night she’d helped herself to the lot before giving him his last drink.

The Optimist by Lesley Marshall and Daphne de Jong

“Brass monkey weather this.” Jim hooked an ancient gumboot on the saleyard fence.

“Yeah.  Shortest day coming up though.”

“Huh.  Supposed to mean spring’s on the way but the worst storms come after that.”

Kev suppressed a grin.  Jim never could bear optimism.  Winding him up, he said, “Spring after that, though,” and waited.

Sure enough, Jim retaliated with, “Yeah, and a pile of dead lambs rotting in the ditches and ewes getting cast in the mud.”

A laugh in his voice, Kev tried again. “But the snow’ll start retreating and the soil’ll warm up.”

Jim snorted.  “The snow just turns to melt – and every bloody year the bottom flats are awash.  The grass takes months to recover, and by then it’s nearly winter again.”

“Damn right,” Kev agreed. “Think about it though: after every winter comes spring – if you’re still around to see it.”

Jim gave him a hard look, almost suspicious. “Yeah. Lucky if I make it.” He coughed harshly, jerked his coat collar up and wandered off to another pen.

He never saw another spring. Died the next day. Pneumonia, they reckoned.

Kev attended the funeral and went to the pub with a few other farmers afterwards. Listened to the reminiscences and laughed at the jokes about old Jim and his gloomy forecasts, feeling guilty all the while. Surely he hadn’t hexed the bugger?

Ended up crying into his beer.

When someone asked him what the hell was wrong he confessed, and they all said, Nah, ‘course it wasn’t that. Drink up and someone’ll take you home.

But next sale day he noticed people kind of looking away when they caught his eye, and nobody mentioned the weather.

Commentary from Lesley

These stories were initially stand alone and both started by me.  At the time I assumed Daphne would pick one, and I assumed it wouldn’t be the second one because I honestly couldn’t see it going anywhere.  To my surprise she did both.  Once we’d written them someone mentioned they worked well as a story response to a story and after a tiny bit of fiddling we had the final result. I was so impressed with what Daphne managed to do with mine, especially the second one.  For the first story the starter I gave her was the section up to “You’ve done well to stick it out this long, you know.”  For the second one I gave her a starter that ended with “The grass takes months to recover, and by then it’s nearly winter again.” I was really surprised to discover the stories worked well as a pair. That’s the thing with collaboration – you never quite know where it’s going to end up.

Commentary from Daphne

These were stories on the theme: The Shortest Day. I assumed Lesley had some idea of what might come next, but I just picked up from where she stopped and let it run from there. I’ve done a short story and a novel before in collaboration, but never anything as short as this. The challenge is to wrap it up and make sense in such a tiny space, but it’s great fun.

If you would like to see another example of a story plus story response take a look here. These stories are longer than allowed in the competition but it gives a different perspective on this option.

NorthWrite Examples of Collaborative Stories
17 Sep 2013

In June 2013 NZ Society of Authors Northland members were set the challenge of writing a collaborative story. Below are the results of the “one story” option from three pairs of writers. We will publish examples of the other possible competition options over the next couple of weeks.

The Visitation by Daphne de Jong and Lesley Marshall

I was feeding the chooks at dusk when it happened. A bright flash of light made me close my eyes, dazzled. When I opened them the sky was a clear daylight blue and he was standing in front of me, shimmering in a white robe, with enormous white feathered wings that he was folding back against his body.

“You’re an angel!” I said, voicing the obvious.

He rolled his eyes a bit – they were sort of golden eyes. Like chooks’ only bigger.

“Yeah,” he said. “An archangel actually.”

Perhaps I should curtsey? Kneel? In the chook pooh around their nests?

“Don’t bother.” He sounded bored. His feet were bare, but not touching the ground; he sort of hovered a couple of inches above it.

I wondered what he was doing here.  Not as if I was a good Catholic.  Good anything, come to that.  Maybe he’d got the wrong address.  Probably supposed to be at Karaveer – now there was someone who deserved an archangel.  Heck, I didn’t even believe in them. Though this one seemed pretty real.

I waited, not wanting to ask.  After all, I mightn’t like the answer.

I didn’t, as it turned out.

He said, “Okay, you probably know the drill.”

The drill?  He wasn’t the Grim Reaper, was he? Nah, I’d read enough Terry Pratchett to know the big GR carried a scythe.  I double-checked – nope, no scythe.

Then the awful truth dawned on me.  Who got a visit from some big-cheese angel?

“Nooo!” I wailed.

“Yep,” he said, floating upward as the sky darkened again to night. “You’re this century’s virgin mum.  See you in nine months.” And the bastard vanished.

Commentary from Lesley:  

Daphne started this story and I finished it but I can’t remember exactly where Daphne stopped writing and I took over.  I think just after the chook pooh.  I know I definitely wrote the Karaveer bit because that’s Daphne’s home .  We did a bit of editing and didn’t really have any disagreements.  It was an easy way to collaborate – just finishing Daphne’s story – and it was much more fun than I’d expected. 

Shadows  by Kathryn Jenkins and Jac Jenkins

Five o’clock. Dusk was already collecting in alleyways and seeping round corners to claim the streets. I shivered; he was late. The streetlight flashed on and I huddled in its glow. A car slowed and stopped long enough for a girl in heels and a mini skirt to leap in, then roared off, running a red light. I scuffed my sensible flats on the pavement and pulled my coat tighter. Five more minutes and then I’d take the bus.

My chunky Nokia vibrated in the pocket of my jeans. I slipped my hand between coat buttons and tugged it out.

Sori im l8. blody wrk. B der in 30

Fuck! Still, he’d texted me this time at least. I turned to face the theatre’s back door. Light fringed the edges and a bass beat pounded through the wood. Anya would be twerking, flicking her hips as if they were unjointed. The rest of the gang would be twerping. (At least I was still sharp enough tonight for neology. He might laugh at that one.)

I turned back to the street. A scraggy dog made of bone and shadows rattled out from behind a collection of skips and bins as I started towards the bus-stop. The Nokia vibrated again, almost slipping from my hand as I twitched. I looked at the message then threw it into a rubbish bin.

“Fuck him!”

The phone clanged as it ricocheted around the insides.

“Shit.” I peered into the dark plastic-lined recesses. It smelt of vomit and last night’s chips.

A car screeched to a stop beside me and the girl in high heels got out, straightening her mini skirt.

The phone blustered at the bottom of the bin. I left it there and slipped into the darkness.


Kathryn: I started the story and wrote a quarter of the word count as we had decided I would also end it and Jac would write the longer middle section. I wanted to set up a gritty scene in an urban, slightly seedy location to see where Jac would take it.

Jac: I was certain that the protagonist would have a mobile phone so I took that out of her pocket and gave her an unreliable partner. I didn’t want to lock in an ending, so created a scenario that allowed Kathryn a number of choices. 

Kathryn: The ending was tricky. For a start I had to look up twerking (all the rage now thanks to Miley – but this was in June) and neology. I’d been left with a vibrating phone and a twitching hand so it seemed natural the phone would end up in the bin. From there the ending evolved.

Kathryn and Jac both agree that this was a completely different experience from writing solo; having to decrease attachment to bits that weren’t their own, while maintaining attachment to the story as a whole was tricky. Jac sums it up, “Writing solo, a story seems to have a life of its own to a degree, but I remain the operator. Writing collaboratively, the story feels more like it has ownership of itself.”

Change by Derin Attwood and Maureen Sudlow

Autumn colours lingered everywhere, giving an ethereal quality to the trees, tapestry shapes hung unmoving in the dank air. Birds clustered the feeder, fighting for position.

mist hangs on the river
muffling sound and colour
shortest day

The leaf sat alone on the branch.  Through summer it had been a vibrant green, but as the shorter days of autumn progressed it slowly faded.  Subtly it began to change.  Deep red tinged the edges, creeping slowly towards its green veined centre.    Orange followed, and then yellow.  The edges turned up, dried, crinkly and brown.  But the leaf defied the autumn’s torrential rain and the raging gales that shook branches and rattled gutterings.  The longer nights chilled, greedily encroaching on shorter days, cooler even though the sun shone valiantly to dissipate the creeping mists.

Finally, in the chill dawn, on a day when the ground was covered with the icy crinkle of frost, the leaf gave up its tenuous hold and drifted to the ground.  Absorbed back into the endless cycle of life, it was soon only a simple tracery of veins, a shadow of what it had been.

Leaves littering the earth
composting life’s
new seedlings

Slowly the seasons turned.  The shortest day crept past and was gone.  Fungi grew from the leaf litter, echoing the red brilliance that had belonged to the dying leaf.  Tentative shoots pushed through the earth.  The shortest day became a memory.

Commentary from Derin:

For the collaboration, Maureen and I talked over the concept. We had previously talked about doing something together. Although we both had originally thought it would be something mystical, the first sentence from me had an autumn tone. Although it was just a beginning, Maureen decided she could work with it, and added a poem. It returned to me, and I added more. It went back and forth, Maureen put in her final poem, I added the final words, and Maureen edited the whole. In many ways, it wasn’t talked over. We looked at what arrived in our email, and worked with that. It was very spontaneous – and rather fun. When we talked about it together later, we were both surprised at how it had worked. We would definitely do it again.

NorthWrite2013 Competition Guidelines and Submission Details
10 Sep 2014

The collaborative competition is now open for entries and closes at midnight (NZ time) 15 November 2013. Entries received after this will not be considered. Judges are Michelle Elvy and Tim Jones, and there is a minimum prize pool of $500. There is an entry fee of $20 per entry which is equivalent to $10 per person since each entry must be a collaboration between two people.

Submission Process:

  1. Write your collaborative story according to the competition rules below. Do NOT include either of the authors’ names anywhere in the story document.
  2. Save your story as a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file. NO names are to appear anywhere in this file.
  3. Email your file to northlandauthors[at]gmail[dot]com as follows:
    1. Put Collaborative Competition in the Subject line
    2. Attach your story file (submissions must be sent as attachments)
    3. Copy and Paste the following and include it in the body of your email:

Entry Title:

Collaborator’s name 1:

Postal address 1:

Email address 1:

Collaborator’s name 2:

Postal address 2:

Email address 2:

Entries will be acknowledged and you will be sent details for payment of the entry fee. Your entry will be confirmed once the entry fee has been received. All correspondence will be directed to the email address from which your submission is received.

Competition Rules:

  • The competition is open to all New Zealand citizens and residents, and each entry must be the combined work of two people.
  • Entries must be previously unpublished (this includes in print and online) and previously unplaced in any other competition.
  • Entries can be in story or poem form, or in a combination of the two as follows (word and line limits exclude the title):
  1. Story: Either one story (maximum 750 words) written collaboratively, or two stories (total word count not to exceed 750 words) where one has been written as a response to the other.
  2. Poem: Either one poem written collaboratively (maximum of 60 lines) or two poems (total number of lines not to exceed 60) where one has been written as a response to the other.
  3. Combination: One poem (maximum 30 lines) and one story (maximum 325 words) where one has been written in response to the other.

Examples will be posted here over the next few weeks so you can get a feel for what we mean. Use our Ask a Question page if you would like more information.

  • Copyright remains with the authors but NorthWrite reserves the right to anthologise and/or publish stories either online or in print.
  • Judges will not provide individual feedback; however, there will be an overall judges’ report published on the NorthWrite website after the winners have been announced.
NorthWrite 2013 presents an extract from Reactor
30 Aug 2013

NorthWrite is delighted to present two pieces of work from the Reactor exhibition of art and poetry in sequence. The two pieces selected are a poem ‘Faster Than the Speed of Dark’ by Piet Nieuwland, and the work of visual art that was made in response to this, ‘Canis Major and Minor’ by Barry Squire.

Faster Than the Speed of Dark

Kia ora Ranginui, kei te pehea koe?
Is Canis major a poodle?

In our histories of light
Where have these photons been?
Faster than the speed of dark, waves

In this kahu kuri,
Dog skin cloak, of chiefs
817 squillion stars in gestation

The birth of planets with with moons of bone
Luminescent messages of elation
Ping pong pompoms of detail untitled
Foaming zeros looking for their ones
A lactiferous sinus splashing
Packs of noste pinde knit
Clusters of kauri cone cloud
Coagulation of stemmata
Hot dog on a dog day dogmatising doodles
Consternation at oodles of nodules of doggy do
Kakahu of twinkling zillions of interstellar bling ding
Bubbles ballooning

Canis Major and Minor

Barry Squire_Canis Major and Minor

Piet Nieuwland

Piet Nieuwland has lived most of his working life in Northland where he is closely involved in conservation planning.  He has been published on numerous occasions and particularly enjoys reading poetry live, with presentations at Pechakucha evenings a favourite.

“Responding to a work by an artist unknown to me and to a deadline was a challenge, as this is not my usual mode of writing poetry. But knowing that mine was the first poem in the series was a fortuitous honour.  Fortunately, I already had the unarranged bones of poems to work with. Viewing the original full size image at the exhibition, along with all the subsequent reactionary responses was enlightening, and made me feel very glad to be part of such a diverse and talented group of Northlanders.”

Barry Squire

Barry Squire has been active in the Northland art community since the early 1990s, working as a practising artist, tutor and gallery owner. Painting is at the core of his practice, which he uses as a medium to explore the human condition. It also includes lithography, sculpture and experimental music.

“I met Piet 23 years ago, at a community art space, and happened to walk in on him orating poetry with conviction. We became friends. Knowing him all these years, witnessing his awesome oratory skills, and having the greatest respect for his passion for literature, his professional stance as a conservationist, I leapt at the chance to respond to Piet’s words. These words transported me into the Winter Hexagon – Taurus, Gemini, Auriga, and specifically to the ‘Big dog’, Canis Major, and his companion, ‘Little dog’ Canis minor. For every dog is happy with a companion. The minds eye landed in the clear night sky and focused on the astrological identity of stars. As every configuration is, or should be I believe, defined by the images of beasts natural or fantastic, numbers just don’t do it for me. Within the Winter Hexagon and within the language of this great Northern poet, Piet entices us to embrace the abstract connection between stars and Tangata whenua, or perhaps to reconnect ? So I did. Two companions side by side in the heavens. For no dog should live its life alone, even if they might be stars.”

NorthWrite 2013 takes a look at art and poetry collaboration
25 Aug 2013

While NorthWrite2013 is focusing on writers working with writers, our initial idea was to focus on visual artists and writers working together. For various reasons we decided to work on collaborative writing instead. Coincidentally however, Northland poets and artists have produced an exhibition that is similar to our original plan. We’re delighted to introduce an exhibition of collaborative work by artists and poets, currently showing at NorthTec’s Geoff Wilson Gallery in Whangarei. It is open until Thursday 29 August, so if you are in Whangarei this week, pop in and take a look. We will be featuring one of the artists and poets in our next post.

Poetry and Art Collaborate at NorthTec’s Geoff Wilson Gallery
by Aaron Robertson

Throughout the month of August, the Geoff Wilson Gallery at NorthTec’s Raumanga campus in Whangarei will be holding Reactor, an exhibition of poetry and visual art. The exhibition is the culmination of a collaborative process that has been quietly unfolding over the last 12 months.

The interaction of poetry and art is nothing new. Art has been a fertile subject for poets for millennia, and more than one art gallery has staged exhibitions of visual art inspired by poetry. After observing one of the many online collaborative projects that pairs poets with artists in 2012, I wondered if this concept could form the basis of an exhibition at the Geoff Wilson Gallery. The main difference that I envisaged was that the work of all contributors would be linked in a chain of sorts that resembled the game of Chinese Whispers in its workings, with none of the contributors seeing more than the work of the previous person in the chain.

After successfully pitching the idea to the Gallery’s then curator, Vaughan Gunson, we initiated a collaborative sequence involving nine visual artists and eight poets that would take a little over a year to come to fruition in exhibition form.  Starting and ending with a work of visual art, all contributions in between would become both a response to the previous work and the inspiration for a future work, with poets and visual artists alternating throughout the sequence.

Instead of being isolated in pairs as normally seems to be the case in similar projects involving poets and artists, linking contributions in this way allows each to instead contribute to an unfolding narrative of sorts, the fullness of which will only be revealed at the time of the exhibition in August. Hopefully that will make for an exhibition that is slightly out of the ordinary, and one that perhaps appeals to a broader range of people than might normally either frequent an art gallery or read poetry. The idea of a dialogue between two different creative ‘languages’ also seems to have immediate relevance in New Zealand outside of the gallery’s walls.

We decided to keep things as local as possible, so all of the project’s contributors are from Northland, or have some link to Northland. The visual artists involved are: Faith McManus, Barry Squire, Lindsay Marks, Terese Storey, Grant Beran, Mark Graver, Ellie Smith, Cathy Tuato’o Ross and Megan Corbett. The poets are: Piet Nieuwland, Arthur Fairley, Martin Porter, Vaughan Gunson, Peter Larsen, Michelle Elvy, Jac Jenkins and myself.

NorthTec’s Geoff Wilson Gallery is one of the few purpose-built art galleries in Northland, and is a great space in which to mount the exhibition. In keeping with the narrative theme, all works will be hung in a continuous run along the gallery’s walls in the order that they were created. Seeing all of the work together in one place will be as much a discovery for the individual contributors as for the general public.

Reactor at the Geoff Wilson Gallery opens at 4:30pm on Thursday, 1 August and runs through till 29 August. Normal gallery hours are Monday to Thursday 10am – 4pm.

NorthWrite2013 discusses Tuesday Poem’s third birthday poem
23 Aug 2013

Here is our last installment on the collaborative process employed by the Tuesday poets, this time for their 2013 birthday poem.

Tuesday Poem Birthday Communal Poems 2013
by Mary McCallum

Continued from previous post

In 2013, we had only eighteen of our thirty Tuesday Poets available to take part in our communal birthday poem as a number were travelling.  Co-curator Claire Beynon and I also decided to change the rules. We wanted something looser, less conventional. We’d take our time – each poet could run to a whole six-line stanza instead of the usual line or two, and there was a whole day to do it (in the first year we were posting every four hours day and night across a number of time zones). One line stanzas were fine too. It would be a communal ‘jazz’ poem created by poets in nine cities and four countries. This, off the blog:

Like a jazz composition this poem is improvisational and free. We ask that each poet improvises from the stanza before – and, if you like, the stanzas before that – picking up and using rhythm or phrases or lines or words corresponding to rhythm/phrases/words and using them to create something that shows the individual poet’s voice. There’s no theme but it might arise. Rhythm & language are the focus.

The poem Scratch began on 2 April with two lines from Harvey Molloy and ended 23 April with a stanza from Tim Jones, and I think it’s the one of which I’m the proudest. It sounds like a whole raft of different instruments and voices – each setting up its own sound, calling out, whispering, weaving back and forth.


When looking back
choose your mirror well

This memory, I know, is less like a recording
and more like Chinese whispers
but still I replay it

Who scratched, who scratched,
who scratched this surface?
lined rep-rep

Is it you, Lily, hiding again
behind white linen corners of the laundry line?
Your oboe voice criss-crossing time
then snapping back on the wind

On the blog I said it felt to me like the poem came from one brain, and I still feel that way.

Delicious things happen in the poem – the sinuous and playful winding and rewinding of the whispering and whiskers of Lily who may or may not be a woman or a cat or a plant… oh memory/metronome who could forget that teasing/tail, the scratch/catches and oh boy, the oboe … and more, so much more. Such delights! Such fun! Just read the comments to see how much we, and our readers, enjoyed it. We’re going to miss the daily excitement.

‘Our best collaboration yet’, says Janis, and she’s right. There were so few technical problems – the stanzas appearing silently, magically, day after day – and each Tuesday Poet who took part, threw in such energy and talent the blog was bursting with it. Still is. Thank you too to the Tuesday Poets who couldn’t contribute this time but watched on supportively. We feel privileged to be part of this amazing global poetry community. Finally, thank you to our regular blog visitors and supporters, and to those who simply land here and take the time to read.

Yes, it’s a real buzz all right, and we intend to be back with another global communal poem next year!


Trombone slides towards silence.
Passing chords diminish
forte to piano.
Twitch of a departing tail: one final
brush across the drums.

NorthWrite2013 discusses Tuesday Poem’s 2011 and 2012 Birthday Collaborations

20 Aug 2013

Tuesday Poem Birthday Communal Poems (2011 and 2012)
by Mary McCallum

Continued from previous post

The first Tuesday in April is our birthday, and it’s become a tradition for us to post a single sprawling online poem to which we all contribute. By email and phone, co-curator Claire Beynon and I discuss what sort of form the poem will take and how we’ll run it, then we ask the thirty poets who are part of the joint blog who is available to take part. After that I draw up a roster and …  off we go! The first line is posted at one minute past midnight on that first Tuesday, and our tag team of poets logs into the blog one by one at their allotted times and posts what we ask of them depending on the year:  a line (and a bit), a stanza …. Some years it takes a week to get to the last line, sometimes three.

It’s a little crazy and hugely exciting, with most of us finding we can’t keep away as the poem grows and puts out tendrils. We criss-cross the country and then the world and back again, from Wellington to Philadelphia to Canberra to the Lake District to Dunedin – the time zones allowing little room for error especially in the first year when we were posting a line every four hours, day and (most of the) night. That was 2011 and Tuesday: a poem – about Tuesday the word, the day, the name, the myth. It began thus:

He puts his hand in the wolf’s mouth, the wolf
swallows. Let’s start with this. A god not gone
but waiting; his sacrifice a gesture of surrender
and determination. And what of the tricked wolf?
A god’s fingers stuck in his narrow throat – no chance to spit out.
It happens as it must. A handy

There was the odd technical hitch as we circled the globe adding lines, but somehow we reached the end.  Claire and I tidied up lines that didn’t scan and enjambments that didn’t jam, an infelicitous word here and there … and it was done.  Possibly a world first? How we all shouted from the rooftops!

In 2012, we had poets in six countries up from five, and some shifts in personnel. We thought we’d try the birthday poem again, but only post twice a day this time – 8 am and 6 pm NZ Time, and still just 1-2 lines each. We kicked off on April 3 with a line from Boston poet Melissa Green, title: Birthday Poem (working title) and a theme of ‘the sounds a birthday makes.’

The shyest sparrow’s supplications in the early evening trees
are a careful arpeggio – each note liberates a flotilla of leaves
fleeting, indeed, left scattered as archipelago

The Tuesday Poets posted twice a day, usually around 8 am and 6 pm NZ Time. As soon as a poet posted, s/he emailed the next poet on the roster to pass the baton. Ten hours after Melissa Green posted, my co-curator Claire Beynon contributed the poem’s second line from Ibiza, Spain (where she was working), and Saradha Koirala from Wellington, New Zealand, came up with the third. On it went. As with 2011, there were remarkably few hiccups.

A wonderful description of the Tuesday Poet at work on the second birthday poem came from Susan Landry: ‘… sitting in her bathrobe in Maine, hair sticking out in nine different directions, coffee cup rings marking her desktop…’ Certainly, watching the lines appear on the blog page was like seeing into that process. You could feel the poet wondering about whether and where to break the line, if archipelago worked with arpeggio …whether a new stanza might be a good idea… And you could feel each new line supported by each one of the poets who were part of the process. It’s as if we held our collective breath between lines and breathed out in an excited rush each time a new one was posted.

You can read the 2011 Tuesday Poem Birthday Communal Poem in full here and the 2012 communal poem here. How Tuesday Poem celebrated its third birthday will be posted in a few days.

NorthWrite 2013 looks at Collaborative Poetry through the eyes of the Tuesday Poem
16 Aug 2013

From an epistolary novel about an artist in the United States we now turn our attention back to New Zealand and take a look at collaborative poetry. Mary McCallum talks to NorthWrite about the Tuesday Poem over three posts including discussion on their annual collaborative birthday celebrations.

Tuesday Poem by Mary McCallum

Tuesday Poem is a kind of open microphone in the blogosphere founded by Dunedin poet and artist Claire Beynon and me, and curated by us ever since. We host thirty poets from six countries on the blog, which means we link to them in the sidebar and every Tuesday they post a poem by themselves or by someone they admire and title it ‘Tuesday Poem’, so our blog readers know to go and visit. There’s also the Tuesday Poem hub post itself which the thirty poets take turns to edit – selecting a poem, getting permission to run it, and writing up a personal response to that poem. This can veer – rather wonderfully – from formal ‘lit crit’ to biography to a wildly idiosyncratic or deeply personal take on the poem or poet.

Some of us have been involved since the beginning and are more than a little amazed we’re still going strong. In the three years Tuesday Poem has been going, I’ve met my co-curator Claire in person three times. And it still amazes me that we are involved in this unlikely joint venture. I have enormous respect for her and her energy and generosity and know she has drawn in so many of our poets by dint of who she is in the world. Sometimes a group of us gets together when a Tuesday Poet from elsewhere comes to visit. The Library Bar in Wellington is a favourite venue and there have been meetings in Dunedin and Christchurch, possibly London, and certainly Boston.

Tuesday Poem is one of those marvellous things – a community that works, stimulates, supports and rewards a thousand times over. Just this year a poet from Lesotho living in Paris joined us. We have a good handful of Australians, a few Americans and Brits, an English poet who spends half her life in Italy and visits here sometimes, and New Zealanders from all over. I feel honoured to spend time with these people online, and I know Claire feels the same.

We hit over 12,000 page views the month of our third birthday communal poem where we took turn to write a stanza each, and our individual poems are visited over and over again. They never go away, and that’s the abiding joy of this blog.  Look at the figures: 3.3 years x 11 months (we take a break in summer) x about 80 poems per month (not everyone posts every week) = 35,200 poems. People come and browse and they can stay a long time. Which is how we hoped it would be, if we thought about it at all in the beginning. In truth the project has passed our wildest dreams. And our birthdays (more about these in a few days) are one of the most astonishing aspects of Tuesday Poem: fantastic collaborations that get better each time. Claire and I are deeply grateful for the poets who have joined the blog and continue to share their work, and work they admire, week in week out.

NorthWrite2013 presents an inside look at collaboration
 8 Aug 2013

The whole idea of NorthWrite2013: Collaboration is to get writers thinking about whether collaboration is a possible route they could take as the face of publishing changes. The past two posts have focused on  the novel What May Have Been by Susan Tepper & Gary Percesepe. This is the final post in the series and, for me, the most fascinating. Gary and Susan talk about the book, the characters and the collaboratiive process with some surprising revelations.

A dialogue between Susan Tepper & Gary Percesepe

Four summers ago, Susan (in New Jersey) and Gary (in Ohio) wrote a series of letters back and forth.  Love letters between the American surrealist artist Jackson Pollock, and a very young woman they decided to name Dori G.  Ultimately, these letters were assembled into book form and subsequently published as the epistolary novel What May Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock and Dori G (Cervena Barva Press).  The publisher nominated this book for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction.  This year marks the 100th birthday of Jackson Pollock.

Gary Percesepe:  So. Susan. I’m finally back in New York State and planning a trip out to Montauk, where, as you know, I once spent a few hours on a dune, trying to get the one perfect cover shot for our book. With you screaming directions into my ear through the howling wind and guess what? I miss Dori. I do. I wonder what became of her? We sorta know what happened to Pollock. Though maybe not. It’s a big job, inside.

Susan Tepper:  Back during the summer of our writing was a glorious writing time for me.  Of course we hadn’t met (people assume we knew each other but we wrote “blindly” in that respect).  We only knew each other from online workshops.  And the book seemed so effortless from the first page.  I had assumed I’d write the part of Dori, but you made a last minute switch on that plan which nearly put me into cardiac arrest!  Recovering, I found I had this affinity for writing the love letters of Jackson Pollock.  So strange!  I miss Dori, too.  As Pollock, I fell head over heels for her.  It’s a complex thing, writing love letters from the point of view of the opposite gender.

GP:  And yes, writing love letters is a strange enough affair (the most democratic form of writing, I’ve always thought, making fools of us all), but writing from the POV of theopposite gender was a special delight, and a reminder that gender is a performance, after all, not some universal signifier, or fixed essence, but a performance art, a kind of aesthetic of existence. I think we both adapted to it rather well. For me, characters always seem to come from my splintered self, me, cut up and shit in pieces into the wide world, and then calling back a fragment, piece by piece, as Shakespeare constructed Romeo in the shattered sky of Juliet’s night tears. For me, always recognizable by voice. I liked Dori. Strike like. I adored her. I wanted her. I didn’t really want Pollock to have her. When I wrote the last scene of our novel I was glad she slipped the knot of their tangled mess of an affair. Assuming she did. Maybe she walked into the ocean. I don’t know. But it’s fun to think about what kind of book we’d have made if I wrote Pollock and you wrote Dori. Probably not as good. That’s one guess.

ST:  I agree, the emotional dynamics were very tricky. When I wrote the sex scenes between Pollock and Dori, I felt very much moved into Pollock’s physical and emotional space.  I felt his skin was my skin.  Much the same as when I was an actress transformed by a role.  When Pollock was in bed with Dori, in that house they snuck into, in the Montauk dunes, I felt the same excitement I would feel were it me in this clandestine act, in a place that I wasn’t supposed to be.  So that just upped the ante for me in the writing.  And, of course, Dori never belonged to Pollock.  Never.  He knew it from square one.  She pretty much terrified him.  He always knew he had her on a very slender thread, and she was breaking from that thread, from him, all the time.

GP:  Well, Dori would certainly terrify a certain kind of man, sure. And Pollock was gone on her, no question. But it’s funny thinking about a sex scene in a novel, four years out, where I cannot really remember the scene you describe, or find in me the ability to relate to the “method actor” approach you describe —  for me, Dori was thrown into the world from my addled consciousness, but oddly, felt as real to me as anyone walking down the street in Beacon yesterday, maybe more so. She was a total word-woman, and I love how you describe the slender thread that attached Dori to Pollock, a thread I was only too glad to cut, as author-god.

What is interesting to me in all of this, as a recovering philosophy professor, is the mysterious relationship between writer and characters. I used to have this conversation at times with Ann Beattie and Frederick Barthelme, writers I admire, and what I recall from those days is my sense of the “escaping self,” the inscrutability of desire, the sense that it is the wanting not the having that has always intrigued me, and how in art, as in life, I am only really interested in the impossible. Dori was an impossible lover. Hence, I still want her.

ST:  Of course you want her.  You created her.  You are her ‘god’…  She is your seedling sunk into the earth to grow.  The scenes I especially loved writing were the ones in which Pollock, deeply immersed in painting, couldn’t separate her out from his art.  For him she was the paint he dripped onto the canvas.  Pollock writes in a letter to Dori:  “I can smell you around me.  I smell you when I work.  You’re in the blue enamel I thin inside the coffee can, I smell you when I drip aluminum paint…”

This is what I meant by the method acting coming into the writing.  It was the use of a form of “sense memory” that helped me to create life on the page between these two characters.  But what about us— you and me?  The rumors were flying after the book came out.  Some people thought we had an affair when the truth is we did not, nor did we have anything close to a love affair.  Yet we were able to write this book that is all about desire.  Was there a psychological transference going on between us?  Did you become Pollock/Dori for me?  Or vice versa?

GP:  Were there rumors? They never reached me, thankfully. Egad. That’s just weird to me. So utterly lacking in imagination, and characteristic of the age we live in, I suppose. So thanks for stating clearly and unequivocally NO, that never happened, this was a collaborative work of the fictive imagination and nothing more.

Not sure about the transference. For me, as I’ve said before, it never went writer to writer, it went writer to character. In this case, Dori. To be perfectly honest, I was never much interested in Pollock, either, except as “he” was a mechanism to get me thinking of Dori. Which I loved to do. This is characteristic of my style and process of writing which, at its most formal, is not about me at all. In a field, I am the absence of field; writing has always seemed to be a negative capability. The more I write the more I seem to hide, the words half revealing half concealing.

ST:  It’s interesting to me that you were able to work writer to character without any type of transference.  I actually had a dream at one point during the writing that I was Pollock being ravished by Dori.  I woke up feeling like I just had great sex.

GP:  How do you think you’d have written Dori, had our writing roles been reversed?

ST:  OMG, this is the hardest question in the universe.  I have cemented Dori into my brain the way you created her:  blonde, young, slender, sensual, sexy, teasing, sweet and confused.  I don’t think I can answer this.  You birthed her and she is who she is.   She tortured Pollock throughout most of the book.  It was that tension that made the book work.  That is of us.  Two Italians who wrote a book together should be able to create a fair amount of tension, right?


Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry.  Her current book The Merrill Diaries(Pure Slush Books, 2013) is a novel in stories about a young woman’s adventures in love spanning two continents.  Tepper has received nine nominations for the Pushcart, and one for the Pulitzer Prize for her novel with Gary Percesepe What May Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock & Dori G.  She is a contributing editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she interviews authors about their books on UNCOV/rd.  FIZZ, her reading series at KGB Bar in NYC, has been sporadically ongoing for six years.

Gary Percesepe is Associate Editor at BLIP Magazine (formerly Mississippi Review and serves on the Board of Advisors at Fictionaut. His short stories, poems, essays, reviews, and interviews have been widely published in Mississippi Review, Antioch Review, Westchester Review, Rumpus, Pank, Word Riot, Necessary Fiction, Metazen, elimae, Moon Milk Review, and other places. He has a story in Sex Scene: An Anthology, and two other stories appear in anthologies by Red Hen Press. He is the author of four books in philosophy, numerous short stories and poems, and an epistolary novel with Susan Tepper, What May Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock and Dori G, (Cervena Barva Press) which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2010. He just completed his second novel, Leaving Telluride, set in Telluride, Colorado.

NorthWrite2013 presents an excerpt from “What May Have Been”
Aug 2013

As promised here is the excerpt from: What May Have Been: Letters of Jackson Pollock & Dori G

A novel in letters by Susan Tepper and Gary Percesepe


Pollock held the car to fifty. As he drove east from the city his optimism vanished. The color of the day was drained from the sky. He picked up Route 27. The land began to change. In the air was the faint smell of the sea. He passed the burnt out foundation of an ancient house set back from the road. Here and there along the road isolated frame houses held nothing of what he wanted. It was night when he turned off on Old Montauk Highway.

She was waiting by the dune.

First letter from Pollock to Dori:


I been feeling itchy all day.  It could be the green flies, I don’t know, but my arms are bleeding that’s how much I scratched.  When you see me again you’ll think a rat ate my arms.  Dori, you scared of rats?  You don’t seem the type to scare but then maybe you do.  Maybe you just do.  Lee doesn’t scare.  She can make a lot of noise, a mouse runs through the kitchen she screams and jumps on a chair.  I think it’s all pretend.  She can smell you around me, she’s got a sixth sense like an animal.  There is no scaring that woman.  I can smell you around me.  I smell you when I work.  You’re in the blue enamel I thin inside the coffee can, I smell you when I drip aluminum paint.  Probably you have no idea what I’m talking about right?  You think all paint smells the same.  Shitty.  Well it don’t.  I have paint that smells like eyes, and some like burnt skin.  Guess what yours smells like?  Don’t be scared, OK?


Return letter from Dori to Pollock:

Darling, this will be short. I snatched your letter out of Mother’s hands—she’s been impossible. I love her madly but I can’t talk to her. I don’t think she knows but you’d better send to the post office box number I gave you. Why didn’t you? From now on—please!!

I don’t understand your painting. I don’t want to. I don’t want to be your paint, or your painting. I want you. But I don’t WANT to want you.

Only eight days till school is out here. I count the hours. Daddy says he has a job lined up for me this summer. He won’t tolerate whining. All my girlfriends are jealous. They see me skipping along and they wonder. Don’t worry. They know I am crazy. Everyone does.

All my life I’ve been impersonating a normal person. Like I’ve been in training for you—

I am lonesome without you. Please come again soon. You are like a big white cat, wise behind the whiskers, but you don’t look like your pictures. I saw that picture in the Times and I laughed. You hide so well.

Please don’t talk about your wife. That scares me. I don’t want to know anything darling, my head is empty. I have ideas but no one to share them with. I wish someone were in love with me, like when I was little and the boys would all chase me. I scare them now. I sit with my pretty empty blonde head not noticing them and they’ve learned to leave me alone.



Find out more about What May Have Been here.

NorthWrite2013: Collaboration examines an epistolary novel, “What May Have Been”
30 Jul 2013

What May Have Been

The next collaborative project we’re going to look at keeps the epistolary theme going, this time as a novel. What May Have Been by Susan Tepper and Gary Percesepe is a novel in letters exchanged between the artist Jackson Pollock and his fictional lover, an alluring young woman called Dori G.

Tepper and Percesepe have created a sexy and luminous love story that takes place sometime during the late 1940’s, in that sandy wonderland at the eastern tip of Long Island, New York, known far and wide as The Hamptons.

This novel shows the extent to which collaboration can occur. Tepper and Percesepe had not met face-to-face prior to writing the novel, although they had met in various online forums. Also they reversed what might seem the natural order of things with Percesepe writing the letters from Dori, and Tepper writing those from Pollock.

To show you how this was done we will post the prologue and the first two letters in a few days followed by a conversation between Tepper and Percesepe discussing the collaborative process.

Find out more about What May Have Been here.

Praise for What May Have Been:

“In this extraordinary novel, Pollock tells his lover that things like paint and wives are very small in the scheme of things.  Gary Percesepe and Susan Tepper show how the great scheme of things is, in fact, in literary art, captured in paint and wives and a Montauk surf and a silky scarf and narrow hips and a cold water flat and a used Ford.  Brilliantly conceived, brilliantly executed, this is a stunning book about art and about life.”

—Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain   

“The fictional letters between Pollock and an imaginary Dori G come out in a hailstorm of paint flecks, lockets, long looks, kisses, blowing sand.  Dori sees Jackson in his distance and his nearing, and his return to her like the visit of one of the Greek gods to his mortal lover, as piercing and as fatal.”
—Mary Grimm, author of
Left to Themselves and Stealing Time

“How to convey the irresistible pleasures of this novel in letters? The language mimics the slashing, dramatic immediate heroic gestures of abstract expressionism, is an extraordinary act of poetic invention, and tells a sexy and doomed love story.”

—James Robison, author of
The Illustrator and Rumor and Other Stories

NorthWrite interviews Janice Marriott and Virginia Pawsey
12 Jul 2013

Janice Marriott and Virginia Pawsey have written three books together, Common GroundCommon Table and a photographic compilation of both those books, Common Lives.

Janice was an award-winning children’s writer, working in Wellington and Virginia a North Canterbury high country farmer, when they met again after thirty years, at a Gisborne Girls’ High School reunion. Their friendship resumed, sustained by regular emails – correspondence that became their first book, Common Ground.

Northwrite: Tell us where you got the idea to write Common Ground?

Janice:  After I’d met Virginia at the class reunion that she organised I wanted very much to keep in touch with her. I knew our lives were so different and the distance between us geographically was so vast that it would be hard to keep regular contact. Normally these sort of ‘must keep in touch’ promises don’t prevail. So I suggested we write to each other about our gardens because I knew that we both loved gardening, and I knew that gardening is a subject that necessitates regular reports. There is always something different happening in the garden every month. Virgina was keen to do this because she wanted to ‘write her garden’ so it worked perfectly. The lesson I draw from this is: when forming a writing partnership with a friend with whom you want to keep in touch, always limit the subject matter. Put a frame around it. Make it achievable. Shrink the material down.

It is important you know that we had no intention of writing a book –none at all. We were just writing letters to each other.

Virginia: After our school reunion, Janice and I communicated randomly via the wonderful newfangled email. After a visit to Janice’s tiny inner city Thorndon garden we decided it would be fun to write regularly about what was happening in our very different gardens. I was keen to do this because it brought a discipline for me to record what was happening in the garden month by month – of course the letters expanded into much more than garden diaries, for time in the garden is affected by life and work.

I had no idea my letters would eventually be published. However, I wrote very carefully for (Janice hates mention of this) I was writing to someone of whom I was in awe from school days. Janice was the A+ writer in our year and I showed no ability with the written word at all. As I wrote I kept thinking, oh my goodness I’m writing to Janice Marriott. I must write the best English I can. It was like playing tennis with a player better than yourself, you strive to return the serve in similar fashion.

Northwrite: Once you saw the book possibilities, did you go back and edit your letters?

Virginia: No, apart from the odd personal detail, and, as mentioned above, because I was writing to Janice, I wrote with great care.

Janice: Not really. I think we removed a few trivial personal details but the letters are the actual letters we wrote.

Northwrite: At what stage did you plan the overall structure to the book?

Janice: After I’d suggested to V that these letters could indeed be interesting to other people, I waited for V to think about the implications of this and when she said she was OK with the idea I then suggested we select letters for a one year span. (We had by then written two years’ worth of letters).

Virginia: Janice made an initial selection that had to be whittled down somewhat. Janice had more experience than I did at manipulating computer files, which is why she did the initial cut. When the first selection arrived, I read it and thought, mmm, I wonder, will this work as a book and, of course with work, it did.

Northwrite: How did you choose the letters you included? Did you do this together? Did you each choose which of your own letters to include?

Virginia: Although Janice made an initial selection, I was in agreement with most of the letters she chose. Together we made the final selections, deleting letters and adding others of which we were particularly fond. We worked well together and happily did not have any disputes over inclusions or exclusions. I think it worked well to have one person make an initial selection.

Janice: We chose together. In all three books (particularly Common Lives, where we had to reduce the text by half), we were both in agreement about which letters to retain. If there were a few we disagreed on, it was very easy to accommodate the other’s wishes. Our mutual decision-making was wiser than our solo selecting.

Northwrite: Did you do much editing to make your letters more accessible to an audience?

Janice: None, other than removing details of passing trivia.

Northwrite: What about marketing? Did you do this together or individually?

Virginia: HarperCollins arranged publicity and marketing. Janice and I did make a number of promotional appearances together on radio and television – these were arranged by HarperCollins.

Janice: That is what publishers are for.

Northwrite: What were the unexpected successes or challenges in writing collaboratively?

Janice: For me it was the joy in sharing and building a work collaboratively. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Virginia: The joy for me was in having a collaborator. I love letter writing and to find someone who wrote back was the greatest of pleasures.  

Northwrite: Have you any suggestions for writers considering a collaborative work?

Virginia: As Janice says, the correspondence works best when the writers come from a different environment – there are so many revelations to wonder at. I was astonished at some of Janice’s gardening practices and vice versa and as for lifestyles, we were poles apart; there was much to laugh at. I enjoyed sharing some of Janice’s letters with my neighbours long before they ever read them in Common Ground.

Janice: It works best if both of you have totally different perspectives or experiences to bring to the work so it is clear from the start that each of you is essential to the whole.

Northwrite: Would you do a project like this again?

Janice: Yes.

Virginia: Absolutely yes.

Common Lives by Janice Marriott and Virginia Pawsey
Jul 2013

 The first collaborative project we are going to discuss as part of NorthWrite2013 is Common LivesCommon Lives is written by Janice Marriott and Virginia Pawsey and is a hardback compilation of their previous two books, Common Ground and Common Table. It is illustrated liberally with their own photos and photos from their monthly column in NZ House and Garden.

All three volumes are presented as a series of letters between Janice and Virginia with Common Groundfocusing on their gardens and Common Table focusing on their kitchens. Common Lives brings both sets of letters together to give a monthly account of life on a small section in inner-city Wellington and on a high country farm in North Canterbury.

There have been many popular epistolary books published over the years. As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto and 84, Charing Cross Road, the twenty-year correspondence between Helene Hanff and Frank Doel, chief buyer of Marks & Co antiquarian booksellers, are among the best known. With reality television capitalising on the pleasure of living vicariously, it is a collaborative genre worth considering.

Epistolary novels, such as Letters from the Inside by John Marsden and Where Rainbows End by Cecelia Ahern, are alternative models in this genre. These examples are written by one author. However, two authors, each writing as individual characters, could explore voice and character in depth. They could also co-develop the plot as the information in the letters unfolds.

We will soon be publishing an interview with Janice and Virginia about their collaborative books. We hope it inspires you to broaden the scope of your writing.

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