Under the pohutakawa

Lately I’ve been keeping a low profile, online and in real life. On 1 January this year I officially became a full-time writer — if only for six months — thanks to a CreativeNZ grant. In November last year, when I was looking ahead, imagining this time, I wrote about being

hunched at my writing desk for six months

But it’s been a perfect summer so far here in Wellington — the warmest, driest, least windy summer since 1962, apparently — so instead of hunching over my desk, I’ve spent most of these first two months under the pōhutakawa tree in our back yard, sitting at a long skinny table made from an old door salvaged from a long-ago owner’s woodpile. Occasionally hunched, for sure, but more often with feet up on the table, in traditional writing footwear: the ugg boot.

The pōhutakawa’s branches reach out overhead, growing towards an unpruned climbing rose and weedy jasmine that have woven themselves together to hold up the ratty timber pergola. The pōhutakawa and the rose+jasmine don’t quite meet and overlap, so there’s a small unwooded gap directly over the table; I can look straight up to see unmasked sky. Retaining walls frame the space: my outside office, sun-dappled pavilion.

Pōhutakawa flower over Christmas and into January, and shed those flowers over some weeks, so mostly I’ve been working under a slow, steady drift of red confetti. Threads of shed pōhutakawa flower have found their way into the pages of my notebooks, down the back of my neck, into my MacBook keyboard, into bags and library books, into pencil cases and glasses cases, cups of tea, sandwiches, hair. Inside my uggies, of course. They form drifts on the table, on the paving, on the chair, and each morning I swipe them aside to make a space, or plonk down on top of them, depending on mood.

I’m working on my second novel. The first draft — a big amorphous mess of a thing — is written, and my job for these six months is to try to whip it into shape, make sense of it. So far, so good. Having the time to go down rabbit holes of research and reading, and to let ideas mill around and mull over in my mind, has been hugely productive, and it’s changed the process of writing for me. I feel as if I’m properly filling the (physical, mental, temporal, creative) space of writer.

I hadn’t planned to be keeping quiet on social media and this blog; in fact, I figured I’d finally have the time to factor it regularly into my writing day. But leaving social media alone (though not properly leaving it alone, as Twitter is so often my news source; so I lurk, I read, I favourite, I retweet, blurt the occasional random tweet) has ended up feeling like a necessary strategy to help me focus on this novel, at this stage of the process. It seems to be working, most days, for the moment. That and endless pots of tea.

Next week I’m off to Varuna for a fortnight, to take up the Varuna Second Book Residential Fellowship I was awarded last year. I hope to have as productive (and joyful) a time as Jane Rawson had there earlier this month:

Going to Varuna has to be one of the top five things that has happened to me…the main thing was the incredible joy of being able to write. All day, every day, all I had to do was write…I could not have been happier. I was incredibly productive. And in a way I really never have before, I felt fully myself.

So don’t expect to hear much from me for those first two weeks of March. I’m planning to spend the time hunched over the desk in Eleanor Dark’s studio.

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