Helen Cordery takes writing from Kerikeri to Chile

Helen Cordery hales from Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, has been living in Chile for the past few years, and will be moving back to NZ in December 2018. Helen is a freelance writer (Impolitikal, Tea-Time Mag), guidebook writer (Fodors), works in PR for Cascada Travel and runs the blog Querida Recoleta which has 42000+ readers. Helen cordery screenshot

Check out some of Helen’s impressive work here https://www.helenlcordery.com/. It’s a beautiful mix of poetic writing, non-fiction writing, marketing, plus Instagram and YouTube.

 

 

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POEM by Michael Botur ‘Somebody To Smoke With’

Somebody To Smoke With

Michael Botur

 

I sat the Friday night in a Subaru

in a car park with male ape mates in oversized

XL white t-shirts, sucking on pipes

Just for somebody to smoke with

 

 

Did three weeks’ sweaty sunburned work

pushing a post hole borer in the dirt

with an ex-con who shared his pipe,

wet with spit from our lips.

At knock-off we said Fuck it, wiped off our dust, our musk, our smell

with a paint-stiffened towel,

 

shared a bucket of crunchy KFC motivated by munchies,

washed it down with cans of bourbon cola Cody’s

pleased to have a bro to share a cone and a Family Feast. We

 

 

grown men make out like we are staunch, strong, chill, unafraid

like we ain’t at pains to get laid and praised

cause we could get hit by a bus any day

Men in their 30s, 40s, 50s. Men in matching patches, hoodies,

 

Men in rugby stubbies. Men in cycle-lycra

having mid-life crises.

Men ram-raiding Unichem pharmacies

at 4.15 on a Thursday morning, squealing tyres and guilty pleas

And getting bulldogs and BPs tattooed on our cheeks

 

Consigning us to a life we can’t come back from,

like tryina climb a hydroslide

All cause we wanted somebody to be a bloke with

To feel less lonely, somebody to smoke with.

‘Red’ – short story by Helen Cordery of Kerikeri

Helen Cordery hales from Kerikeri, has been living in Chile for the past few years, and will be moving back to NZ in December. Helen is a freelance writer (Impolitikal, Tea-Time Mag), guidebook writer (Fodors), works in PR for Cascada Travel and runs the blog Querida Recoleta which has 42000+ readers (check out Helen’s website here https://www.helenlcordery.com/ ).

***

Red

Short story by Helen Cordery

 

 

They say that you always remember your firsts.

I remember the first time I saw my brother Charlie. He was only a few hours old, with matted brown hair and skin that seemed too stretched for his bones. I was scared of him at first until my mother placed him in my arms, and he scrunched up his face with a little sigh. At that moment I knew I was a big sister for life, and my heart melted.

I remember the first time the men came as well. I was eight and standing in the kitchen watching my mother peel potatoes. Suddenly my mother gave a little exclamation and ran out the door. I could hear her speaking angrily with people outside but I was more fascinated by the small droplets of blood she’d left behind in the sink. They swirled around and mixed with the potato skins, seeping deeper and deeper until the bright colours had all but disappeared.

‘Go to your room Jenny,” she told me after, and I was shocked to see how her eyes had changed. My mother always had beautiful eyes – so deep and grey like fairy pools – but I remember how empty they had looked then, and the emptiness scared me. I ran from her, and scooped Charlie up into my arms, and together we hid under my bed with our blankets and pillows stuffed around the edges. There were many strange noises that afternoon, and when my father came home I heard my parents arguing. It wasn’t to be the last time.

I also remember the first time I saw the flowers. Beautiful, they were. I woke up one morning and all the fields around our house were covered in tiny red buds, as though the sky had bled. Charlie and I raced outside, laughing as we picked up handfuls of flowers and threw them in the air. We had a dog then too, named Bilbo. He was jumping around us, barking, bringing us sticks to throw and covering us in slobber. My parents watched us from the house, and I remember that my father put his arm around my mother and for a second they looked almost happy.

Life went on as normal. I went to school and learnt about far-away lands, such as the pyramids of Egypt (my favourite), and about not so far-away places such as the City, and about things I didn’t care about much, such as Money and War. It seemed like all we ever heard about in those days were those three things. Dates came and went. School holidays. My birthday. Then all of a sudden it was Charlie’s sixth birthday and we were so excited because we got to have a party. I created all kinds of games for us to play and helped mum pick out a cake shaped like Tyrannosaurus Rex from the Bakery. I remember this moment because she used a new card to pay for it. It was silver and I watched its reflection bounce off the store windows. Charlie loved that cake, and after he’d blown out all the candles we all went to play outside amongst the red flowers with our cousins. I remember my Uncle Joe talking to my father, all quiet like, when my mother went to the kitchen to bring out the sausage rolls.

“Have they told you what they’re doing yet?” He asked and I could see my father stiffen.

“They would never tell us Joe, but they’re keeping the roof over our heads and food on our table – otherwise we’d be out on the street.”

“Don’t say that – you know that you and your family are always welcome at my house if times get tough.”

“Times are tough for everyone now, aren’t they? But I trust in them and for once things are ok. Plus, if we can’t trust our own government, who can we trust? And the flowers are real pretty, like, the kids love ‘em.”

I remember my Uncle Joe’s sad smile.

“They sure are.” He said, and then my mother was back, laughing with my Auntie Caro. Her eyes were shining – big grey orbs like the moon – and her cheeks were rosy and filled with a hundred smiles.

The scream came from nowhere. I remember it rising up and up; I could almost see it in the air, red and pointed like wire, curling around us all with its jagged edges.

It was Bethany, my eleven year old cousin. She came running up, too upset to form words. She pointed wildly to the hedge that encased the property, her face reddening and bloating like a balloon. Uncle Joe went to the hedge, and emerged a few seconds later with a darkened face and told the children to keep away. I remember his look to my father, and the pure shock I saw there, and then I don’t remember anything else but Charlie’s high-pitched wail, “But Mummy – where is Bilbo???”

The men came a few times after that. The first time Charlie and I stayed upstairs in the fort we’d built out of chairs and sheets. My mother did not read us a story that night.

The second time my parents sent us to stay at Uncle Joe’s. I loved being at his house, it was always so cosy and full of laughter, probably because of all the children. We played Scrabble, watched a movie, even ate McDonalds! It was so different to life at my house, with its creaky floors, empty cupboards and shrieking windows. Even Charlie slept the whole night through, a nice respite from his regular nightly scream.

It was around this time that I came home to find the table filled with wrapped presents. I hold onto this memory tightly, as I remember the look of joy on Charlie’s face. He danced around the table, leaving a trail of coloured paper behind him. The presents were not the only surprise. That night we sat in front of a shiny new fireplace – our faces lit up by its glowing tendrils – and dunked chocolate biscuits into steaming cups of hot cocoa. It was bliss. We always went to bed cosy and warm then after. Uncle Joe and Aunt Caro came over more often then. One time I ran to her with a big bouquet of red flowers that I’d spent hours collecting. The flowers spread all around our house and across all the neighboring fields. What I loved was that every flower seemed different, and the further I went from home the darker and more unusual each flower became. It was almost as if they growing, evolving, mutating with each step that I took.

“Here Auntie, here! I’ve made you a present!” I cried and presented them to her. She took them hesitantly and exchanged a look I didn’t understand with my Uncle.

“Smell them! Aren’t they lovely? I’ve never smelt such lovely flowers in all my life before!” I sang and waited expectantly. She smiled and leant forward to inhale quickly.

“Mmm they certainly are beautiful, Evangeline. Aren’t I so lucky to have a niece like you! Now how about you show me that picture Mum says you’ve been drawing?”

I nodded and led her by the hand to the lounge. But no matter how much we laughed and talked that night, I couldn’t quite shake a feeling of tension. Dad and Joe disappeared many times that night, they sat out on the deck while Dad smoked cigarettes, a habit he had taken up with a passion, much to the chagrin of my mother.   I went to bed before they left, and next morning, when I left for school I saw a bunch of red flowers, tied with a black bow, upside down in the rubbish heap.

The final time that I remember the men coming to our house, my parents were no longer speaking to each other. The atmosphere was thick with tension – if you could slice through the air with a knife it would have shattered into a million pieces. There were two men in black suits – I remember this because I’d never seen a real live person wearing a suit before. They both had sunglasses and briefcases that they had to type a number into to open. They sat at the dining room table with my father, whose face was haggard from losing so much weight, while my mother poured them all cups of tea and ground her teeth. I watched through a tiny crack in the door as my father signed paper after paper, and then shake their hands when they went to leave. The moment the front door closed my mother started crying and I remember her words like it was yesterday .

“Why did this happen to us Jim? How could this happen to good people?” She sobbed, and my father held her so stiffly as though she was made of wood.

“It will be alright Vivian. The scientists will know how to fix this. They will slow down – they will stop – the plants from growing. They won’t hurt anyone anymore, I promise you.” I waited to hear more but at that moment Charlie appeared next to me, with a look of panic because his face was covered in blood. I took him to the bathroom and began to tidy him up, and his voice shook as he told me he was scared.

“Don’t be scared Charlie-bum” I told him, “do you remember the magic ladder song?” He nodded and we began singing it together. We’d made up the song a few years before when the factory had closed, and people had just suddenly become sad.

“Where does the ladder go? To the land of pharaohs. And where do we climb next? To see Tyrannarasauras Rex!” We sang it together, giggling as all the red was wiped off of Charlie’s face. It was then that I realized that it wasn’t a nose bleed, and that it was his eyes and ears that were leaking.

*

I remember so many firsts. I remember so many lasts. I remember saying goodbye to Charlie. I remember the day the school closed. I remember us driving away, and the last time I ever saw our house. The flowers were stretching everywhere around us, as far as the eye could see, moving in the breeze like an army of red soldiers. It had looked pretty once. Then, as we drove away, they appeared to tower over the car, and the further we went the blacker their colour became.   We travelled for hours – each town emptier and grimmer than the last – until finally we reached the mountains. When the car finally stopped, I got out. All I could see was the view around me. There were colours of every description – the blue of the sea, the bright yellow of the sun, the trees were a million shades of green – it is beautiful to behold. I see a whole new world – and at last, there is no more red.

 

 

Pictures, pencils and postcards – travel blog by Kaipara journalist Ayla Miller

From Tiananmen Square to Jodhpur to Gangtok, wherever that is: check out the travel blog of Kaipara journalist Ayla Miller.

You’ll encounter yaks, rickshaws and buffalos in Ayla’s dispatches from one of the longest continually-settled places on the planet. Hell, the Indus Valley is one of the great cradles of civilisation. Ayla has ranged all across South Asia, from Sri Lanka in the south up to Tibet, Nepal, across India and further east.

All photos by Ayla Miller.

http://picturespencilsandpostcards.blogspot.co.nz/2017/

http://picturespencilsandpostcards.blogspot.co.nz/2017/12/34-auroville-adventures-spontaneous.html

http://picturespencilsandpostcards.blogspot.co.nz/2017/10/

Ayla's photos of south india.PNG

 

Northland writing news – March-April 2018

NORTHLAND CREATIVE WRITING NEWS

FICTION – Creative Junction magazine has profiled two Northland authors, Christel Jeffs and Geraldine Craw. Follow through the story to find their books and websites:

FLASH FICTION – There are two flash clubs being run at the moment by Martin Porter at Whangarei Library (bit.ly/2q2psb5)

POETRY – A crew of hard-working local poets have been featured in Scene magazine (http://scenemagazine.co.nz/current-issue)
– Poets are invited to Kerikeri for the poetry night on April 4 run by Ellen Rhodes and Vivian Thonger – see @Kerikeriopenmicpoetry on Facebook (https://bit.ly/2GRwGJL)
– Fast Fibres Poetry Five is calling for poetry submissions. Poets with a strong connection to Northland are invited to submit three poems, each no longer than 20 lines. Please include a two-line biographical statement. Deadline: June 15. Email: fastfibres@live.com. www.fastfibres.wordpress.com

AWARD NOMINEES- Ngapuhi poet Briar Wood has made the shortlist of the Ockham NZ Book Awards for her poetry collection Rāwāhi. Also, Annaleese Jochems from Maramaku has been shortlisted for her novel Baby.

NEW WEBSITE – Creative Junction magazine will on April 6 launch ‘Northlanders,’ a website dedicated to positive current affairs stories from the region. This will be merged with Creative Junction (https://www.facebook.com/creativejunctionnz/photos/a.1607173262905955.1073741828.1607006596255955/1871498953140050/?type=3)

Short story by Peter Spencer

CLICK TO DOWNLOAD PETER’S STORY

 

The year is 2065.

The place: Northland, NZ.

*

“Is this seat taken?”  The voice was quiet and patient.

Anna Medway looked up at the speaker, a woman in her mid-twenties who was head and shoulders taller than herself, blond, blue eyes, with a calm, thoughtful demeanor.

“It’s free, Miss,” Anna said, smiling.  The stranger’s company was welcome.  Anything would be better than sitting here for three hours, alone with her memories.

“How far are you going?” the woman asked as she sat down.

“Wangaree,” Anna said, unsure how to pronounce her destination.

“Ah, you mean Whangarei?” the woman asked.

“Is that how you say it?” Anna asked.  She blushed slightly as the woman gave a quiet chuckle.  “It’s just that I landed an hour ago at Mangere, so I thought…”

“The spelling and pronunciation are different,” the woman said.  “Maori words catch visitors all the time, it’s nothing to be ashamed about.  You’re not the first person who’s had trouble and you won’t be the last…”

“Anyway, my name’s Kate Fisher,” the woman said, to put her host at ease.

“Anna Medway.”  Anna extended her hand, which she usually found discomforting.  Kate Fisher shook hands with her and asked what she did.

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, Kate,” Anna said drily, which made Kate all the more curious to know.

“Go on, Anna,” she said.  “You can’t shock me with anything…”

I very much doubt that, Anna thought, keeping her musings to herself.  “Alright, Kate,” she said, “but don’t say I didn’t warn you.  I’ve spent the last ten years as a mercenary, fighting the Islamists in the Swamp War in western Siberia.”

“Good God,” Kate said, putting hand over heart.  “I’d no idea…”  Heavens, you must be a lot older than you look, she thought.

“Well, I guess you wouldn’t, Kate,” Anna said.  “It isn’t as if I look the part.”

“Come to think of it…” Kate said, looking at Anna appraisingly, “there’s something…”

“Yes, I know, there’s something about me that should’ve warned you,” Ann said, tight lipped.  Many past conversations had foundered at this point.

“Oh, it’s not so much that, Anna,” Kate replied.  She looked Anna over from head to toe as Anna stared back at her with narrowed eyes and levelled brow.  Anna was wiry, only five feet tall, looking as tough as hickory.  Short, jet black curly hair, flinty gray eyes, high cheekbones, a narrow well formed nose, full lips and a strong chin.

“It’s just…I don’t know how to define it,” Kate went on, struggling to put her finger on the issue.  “There’s an air of barely restrained ferality about you, Anna,” she said.  “Just beneath the surface, an ocean of bitter memories, if you want pure honesty.”

Anna was also studying Kate.  Her straight blond hair curled at the nape of her neck.    Cornflower blue eyes in a face that spoke of a quiet, peaceful nature.  A dark blue scarf with white polka dots to keep the cold from her neck.  She wore a warm, comfortable, old style tweed riding jacket and dress, with sensible shoes.

More at home in 1865 than now in 2065, Anna guessed shrewdly.  Here was someone who valued a slower, more relaxed lifestyle.  South Pole to my North, she thought.

“Well spoken, Kate, and your openness is appreciated,” Anna said.  “Very true, as you will discover.  There was fighting further north from here, so I’m told?” she asked, to divert Kate’s attention away from her own history.

The hydrofoil had left Waitamata Harbour and was turning into Rangitoto Channel, about to start heading north along East Coast Bays.

“Yes there was, quite considerable fighting,” Kate said.  “Before my time, but I have a good knowledge of it.  The story is complicated and extremely bloody.”

“Speaking of that, was it part of the Bloody Quarter?” Anna asked.

“Near the beginning of the Bloody Quarter, Anna,” Kate said.  “New Zealand didn’t get involved in the war directly at that stage, for we had other problems.  One of the major volcanoes down south had been showing signs of activity.  The government of the day decided to shift thousands of people out of the way of any potential threat, so they went ahead and brought most of them up here.  They were planted in a vast tent city on a broad strip of land that stretched east to west between the coasts, just north of the Brynderwyns to just south of Whangarei.  At the same time, they sent a small military unit up north to Maungataniwha Range, where they built a small fortress in Maungamuka Gorge.”

They were passing through Whangaparaoa Channel, skirting west of the small forested island of Tiritiri Matangi.  Their direction changed a few more points eastward.

“This being to guard against any possible invasion?” Anna asked.

“That, and also to keep the two populations of Maoris apart,” Kate said.  “There was an immense amount of bad blood between them.  The refugees were all from areas where the local tribe had raided and killed along the coasts about two hundred years before.”

“Doesn’t make much sense to bring them together like that,” Anna said.

“The government didn’t have much choice in the matter,” Kate said.  “The alternative was to send them all to Australia, but that was out of the question.  The Australians were less than pleased with the idea when it was broached, partly because most of the refugees were Maori.  They just didn’t want them there, for obvious reasons.”

“I can guess,” Anna said scathingly.  “I heard that they counted the Aborigines as fauna rather than people as late as the 1960’s…it doesn’t overly surprise me that they’d reject any idea of hordes of Maori refugees being sent over there.  They would’ve just put them in internment camps anyway, just like they did with all the others.”

They were passing the seaward coastline of Kawau Island, with Flat Rock to starboard and Tokatu Point some distance ahead to their port side.

“The woman they chose for the job of building the fort was a young officer, Colonel Sharia Apsley,” Kate said.  “She completed the fort in record time and sat down to wait for developments.  The government had no illusions that they could stay out of the war for too much longer, because things were really buzzing way up north.”

“I’m told that Indonesia and Malaysia weren’t too impressed with the Chinese giving the Uighurs a hard time,” Anna said.

“That’s it,” Kate confirmed.  “They started causing trouble for China, with inevitable results.  China sorted out Malaysia in short order, which made the Indonesians furious.”

“Why invade the northern parts of Australia and New Zealand, though?” Anna asked.

“The Indonesians saw both states as Christian interlopers in a region where we didn’t belong, in their opinion.  Hence their unpleasantness…to put it politely.”

“How did the trouble start in China originally?” Anna asked.

“The terrorist group Isis were pushed out of Syria and Iraq eventually, by early 2018,” Kate explained.  “They’d already established themselves in Mindanao in the Philippines the previous year, helping the local Islamist groups in a major siege there.  They moved up into China and began helping the Uighur people, who had revolted against the Han.”

“This was fairly normal, I’ve heard,” Anna said.

“These revolts weren’t seasonal,” Kate said wryly, “but by no means unusual either.”

The ferry passed Tokatu Point and began the long run across Omaha Bay towards Cape Rodney in the blue distance.

“Isis made the situation a lot worse though, obviously,” Anna said.

“Their vicious brutality raised the latest rebellion to a new level, so I’m told,” Kate said.  “The Chinese reaction was total annihilation of the Uighurs in many areas, hence the hot response from the Indonesians and Malaysians.  People from all over the Islamic world, but particularly from those two nearest countries, began joining the rebellion to help the remaining Uigher folk.  The Chinese in their turn let the Indonesians and Malaysians know that they were extremely displeased with this.  When diplomacy didn’t work, force was employed instead…but by that stage, Indonesia and Malaysia had already made a nuisance of themselves elsewhere, as I pointed out earlier.”

“There was an invasion of the Northern Territory in Australia and the city of Darwin was bombed,” Kate said.  “They also bombed all the major towns and cities along the Queensland coast, as far south as Brisbane.  Having done so, they invaded…”

“They chose unwisely, I take it?” Anna asked, hearing Kate’s hesitation.

“They misjudged their own capacity, I suggest,” Kate said.  “Invading Australia is no easy matter, as you’ll know if you’ve ever seen a map of the place.”

“Lots of places to get lost,” Anna said drily, “and many different unkind ways to die.”

“Exactly, Anna,” Kate said.  “Hence the Indonesians deciding to concentrate their main attention on invading Northland in New Zealand.  They saw this as the easier option than Australia, despite the far longer supply lines needed to support an invasion.”

The ferry passed Cape Rodney.  Away in the cloudy west they could see the high points of the farthest northern point of Coromandel Peninsula.  To the northeast the high stack of Little Barrier Island stood straight up out of Hauraki Gulf, with its surrounding cliffs making landing all but impossible.  Further away to east of north, the far larger island of Great Barrier sat on the horizon.  Away to the north sat the Hen and Chickens Islands.

“Did they misjudge even here, Kate?” Anna asked.  “The locals up north here wouldn’t have been too happy having their peace and quiet disrupted.”

“Not too happy would be putting it mildly, Anna,” Kate said with a chuckle.  “They were incandescent when the Indonesians come onshore.”

“Guerilla war is the best path here, I see,” Anna said shrewdly, looking at the coast and the rugged interior as they sped across the northern waters of Hauraki Gulf.

“Oh, most definitely,” Kate said.  “The war of the flea is most effective in Northland, as the Indonesians and Malaysians found eventually, very much to their respective costs.”

“I did some study of New Zealand before deciding to come down here,” Anna said.  “The country up north is even more vertical than down here.”

“Indeed so,” Kate said, “as you’ll find if we ever go up there.”

The ferry passed Bream Tail, at the southernmost end of Ocean Beach.  Off to their port beam was the jagged shark tooth of Sail Rock and beyond, Taranga Island, known as The Hen.  Some miles north of the Hen lay the Marotere Islands, known as The Chickens.  Directly to their north lay the high buttresses of Mount Lion and Bream Head.  The long coastline of Bream Bay curved away to starboard.

“How large was the military force up in Maungamuka Gorge, Kate?” Anna asked.

“Just over one thousand people, Anna,” Kate said.  “They had to rely on help from the local population of Northland, which led to many atrocities on both sides, as you can well imagine.  The Indonesian and Malaysian military gave no mercy and expected none, nor were they disappointed on that score.  Neither the Maoris nor the Europeans up here gave any quarter to anyone they met.  Northland became a killing zone.”

Passing the magnificent massifs at the mouth of Whangarei Harbour, the hydrofoil now docked at the floating quay of One Tree Point.  Kate had a flash of intuition that this cold, bleak place was going to become very important over the next few years.

“Would I be right in thinking that you’re not all that distressed about the current way of things, Kate?” Anna asked directly, gauging her reaction as they docked.

“The rise in sea level is terrible, of course,” Kate said.  “It’s just something we have to live with.  There are a lot of people who regard it as a dystopian nightmare, but I don’t agree.  If you’re asking whether I’m unhappy about most technology on Earth going back a century or so, then to be honest I’m not all that fussed about it, no.  Life was so frantic when I was a child, even when I was a teenager.  It’s a strange amalgam of ancient and modern, I’ll admit, but things are much quieter now that so many have left.”

“So what brings you up north, Kate?” Anna asked, as they disembarked from the ferry and adjusted their balance ans they stepped onto the swaying dock.

“I’m actually going up to Whangarei to listen to a speech this afternoon,” Kate said.  “I’m planning to start a job up there as well, but the speech is the real draw.”

“That must be some speaker, Kate, to pull you all the way up here,” Anna said.

“She’s the Prime Minister of the northern state, Sarah Murray,” Kate said.  “She’s going to be explaining a new programme of building.  To be honest,” she added ruefully, “you don’t make too much cash as an artist.”

“Better to make ends meet with a real job, then?” Anna said wryly.

“Exactly,” Kate admitted with a rueful smile.  “Got to put food on the table…are you looking for work yourself, Anna?”

“Yes, I am, Kate,” Anna said.

“Well then, come along with me to the meeting,” Kate invited.  “There are thousands of jobs on offer, I hear.”

“The sea’s risen about four metres by now, hasn’t it?” Anna asked.

“So it has, which is why it now takes three hours to get from Auckland to Whangarei,” Kate said.  “There was a time when it took an hour less.  The main road has been shifted inland quite a way west, making it longer to get there.  Also, of course, with the rise in sea level the floor of Whangarei valley has been flooded.  It was never very high above sea level anyway.  It’s so much easier to get up north by boat these days.”

“So the only connection between the different parts of the North Island is by sea?”

“Exactly, there’s no other way,” Kate confirmed.  “No safe overland route, anyway.”

“And this building programme…?” Anna asked, having a good idea of what it entailed.

“Something about high country havens, whatever they are,” Kate replied.

“How many people live up here in the north, Kate?” Anna asked.

“About two million,” Kate said, “if you count the area from just south of the Bombay Hills up to North Cape.  Then there’s the area from Palmerston North to Wellington. That contains another million people.  The entire South Island holds one million…”

“And the rest?” Anna asked.  “I assume there’s been some emigration?”

“About another two million have left, Anna,” Kate said.  “Heaven only knows where they’ve all gone, though I assume it’s the new colonies of Mars.  Everyone is fleeing from Earth as fast as they can, out to the Flying Cities of the asteroid belts…”

“Understandably, given the circumstances,” Anna said.

Anna and Kate made their way to the Town Hall.  The building was still well above the reach of the tide.  The meeting was well attended, although the city had far fewer people than in its heyday.  Within ten minutes of their arrival, Prime Minister Sarah Murray strode onto the stage.  Tall, statuesque and attractive, she gained instant attention from everyone in the hall.  Standing nervously before the microphones, she ran her hands over her shoulder length mane of glossy black hair.

“In this country and across the entire world,” she began, “we’re facing the worst crisis in the history of the Human species.  I have no idea how bad things will get before some sort of stability is reached.  I do know that the population of the world is going to drop dramatically.  This is only the beginning of a very long and hard road.  Those few who remain on Earth are going to have to adapt, very quickly, to an extremely different world, a situation that’s going to last for a long time.”

  “Those who remain behind will need shelter, of course,” Sarah Murray went on.  “We are a lucky country, for New Zealand is largely mountainous.  We have any number of places where havens can be built, far above the reach of the highest possible tide.  Just in this area, there’s Parakiore Hill overlooking Kamo, Parihaka ridge to the east and the Western Hills at our backs.  Those of you who came in by sea will’ve passed Whangarei Heads, Mount Lion and Mount Manaia, all of which are penciled in as future haven sites.  There are about two million people to house.  The havens will have to be immense.  The efforts of all of us will be needed to make our lives bearable.”

“I hardly need tell you that we have entered the Flood Age,” the Prime Minister said.  “In the high country havens of the deep future, our remote descendants a thousand years from now will listen to fireside tales of flooded, vanished cities and lost lands.  The old refuge families will become the dream keepers, the holders of memory, the only bridge between past and future.  All parts of the landscape become imbued with some scrap of experience, some trace, however shadowy, of old human memory.  Each hill and valley, the plains, the shorelines, the quiet forests, the river bends, will all begin to accumulate a patina of ancient experience.”

“Landscape and memory intertwine,” she said, “weaving together a profound tapestry of legend and tall tale.  Thus over the centuries the country is sung and spoken into being.  The rhythm and rhyme continue forever, once begun.  Each memory, every event, will become yet another strand woven into the growing pattern.  Those who pass into eternity year by year become droplets in the ocean of souls, the great shimmering sea of unseen life.  Those who choose to come back into the physical world are sustained by this vast expanse.  The souls become interwoven with the land itself, as races and civilisations follow one another in their turn.”

“The image comes to mind of an old, contorted tree,” she went on. “A tree blasted by lightning, shaped by the prevailing wind, tough and hard-fibred.  Its roots hold tightly to the rocks, they dig deeply into the soil, they anchor the tree to the ground.  A tree which is fertilised by that richer earth that was once human, and the souls of those who feel a deepening love for the land.  Through the rise and fall of societies, the mornings of new cultures, the bright afternoons of each succeeding empire, the lingering evenings of dying and fading civilisations, we will prevail.  Through earthquake and ash-fall, storm and flood, hell and high water, the ebb and flow of oceans and people, we will endure…”

The meeting broke up; people went their various ways in the late afternoon drizzle.

“I definitely get the feeling that our Prime Minister was a preacher in her previous life,” Kate said with a chuckle, as she and Anna sat in a nearby floating cafe half an hour later.  “I must say she appeared to be running more than slightly off topic at the end there.”

“Somewhat oblique, but interesting nonetheless,” Anna said.  “On that topic, other than the Whangarei area, do you know where the havens are going to be built?”

“Northland is very rugged,” Kate said.  “There are any number of possible sites.”

“Below a certain height limit though…” Anna began.

“The PM’s got her eye on sites that are more than one hundred metres above sea level,”

Kate said.  “Nothing less, God help us, for we’d be wasting our time.”

“I was surprised to here her talk about souls,” Anna said.  “I sort of lost track of things there for a while…I’m still not sure what she meant.”

“I understand what she was on about,” Kate said.  “The succession of other people and cultures is to be expected in a small country that’s periodically prone to massive disasters.  There’s a spiritual connection to the land that people gain by long tenancy.”

“Laying down a psychic matrix of human interaction and integration with the landscape over long ages?”  Anna asked.

“Exactly,” Kate confirmed.  “From the rocks our bones, from the earth our flesh, from the rivers our blood, from the air our breath, from the eternal blue heaven our souls.  We are the land, the land is us…”

Anna looked out the window, watching a bird bring material to a new nest.  Following her gaze, Kate smiled, though her eyes were sad and her voice tired.

“True, it’s a ferocious country,” she said.  “We fill our lives with trivia; we’re distracted constantly from the things that are truly important.  All events have their season, there’s a time for every purpose under Heaven.  We’re surrounded by moments of eternity.  The new leaves flutter on the October branch, the wind whistles through the empty boughs of the July forest.  The new, fresh grass rises in September, the May blade dries.  The last leaf of autumn falls from the tree, the soft, cold kiss of the first winter snow lands on us.”

“Sunrise and sunset,” Kate went on,  “golden dawn light and purple dusk shadow, the emergence of the myriad stars as the night sky darkens.  The waves forever break on the shores of the world, the rippled sand is left by the tidal flow.  There is an everlasting continuum of life, from the remote past into the deep future.  The Supreme Soul shelters and sustains the host of souls, diamond flashes of living light who are all born from the Great Mother.  We are merely one of the manifold patterns, a single thread in the web of Nature that brings the worlds together throughout the Universe.  Despite everything, I still see hope for us.”

That evening they took a room at the Grand Hotel for a couple of nights.  The hotel was an old paddle wheel river steamer that had been turned into a gigantic houseboat. The ten decks each had fifty cabins port and starboard divided by a central companionway.  The decks were numbered from highest to lowest, with Anna and Kate in cabin 54 of the tenth deck, on the even numbered port side.  Just above the waterline, they could hear the water lapping quietly against the hull.

The en suite cabin was four metres by six and had two beds, set against each bulkhead.    Each bed had a small side table with a flexible stemmed lamp for reading.  A kitchenette provided coffee sachets, teabags and small cereal boxes.  The bedroom itself was only four metres square; the rest was taken up by the shower cubicle and bathroom.

“Time for a shower, I reckon,” Anna said.  “I’ve been travelling all day.  I could do with a wash before bed.  Care to join me, Kate…and save water?” she added, chuckling.

“Don’t mind if I do, Anna,” Kate said, stretching away tiredness.  “It’ll relax me nicely.”

Seeing Anna naked for the first time, Kate noticed immediately the intricate tattoos that trailed down the entire length of her arms and legs, from shoulders to wrists and from hips to ankles.  Privately Kate was shocked, though not surprised, to see how many minor scars Anna had on her body.  Guessing her thoughts, Anna said drily that it was a hard world out there in the war zones.

“You’ll have plenty of time to get used to the sight, Kate,” she added.  “We’ll be in each others’ company from now on, I daresay.”

In the shower together, Anna kissed Kate and hugged her.

“Thanks for helping me, Kate,” she said.  “I’d’ve been lost without your guidance.”

Kate doubted very much whether Anna would be lost even on Mars, let alone anywhere on Earth, but kept the thought to herself.  She leaned down and kissed Anna’s cheek.

“Glad to help, Anna,” she said.  “Share knowledge if you have it, I reckon, and God knows I’m familiar enough with this place to make myself useful to travellers.”

“There used to be another Grand Hotel, Anna,” Kate said as they sat down together at the small table with cups of Milo before settling in for the night.  “That was before the big earthquake that tore Whangarei to pieces.  Before my time by miles…I’m only 23 years old.  The Land Splitter, they called it.  It broke East Shore away from Northland in one fell swoop…it dropped the floor of the harbour and Whangarei by a couple of metres.  There hadn’t been an earthquake like that in Northland for over a thousand years.  A full century of sea level rise was accomplished in a few minutes.  Even after the tsunamis had done their damage and retreated, the next high tide just rolled in over the ruins.  As a big city, Whangarei is finished.  As a pair of small settlements on either side of the strait, it continues.  As you see, though, few permanent buildings, for the sea is still rising.  Most buildings have been replaced by houseboats, moored to the nearest tree.  Until the tide rises far enough to drown the roots of the tree and the boats have to shift their moorings yet again…and so it goes.”

“Where was it, this Grand Hotel?” Anna asked.

“In the centre of town, down by the main bus terminal next to Rose Street triangle,” Kate said.  “It used to be called the Criterion, but the name was changed to The Grand after Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip stayed there during their official visit in 1953.”

“Anything left of the old building now?” Anna asked.

“Not much, just some broken walls,” Kate said.  “Neap tides expose them occasionally, as with all the rest.  The ruins of Whangarei are known now as Sunken City.”

“Along with many others, indeed,” Anna said pragmatically.

“New Zealand is only a small ship in a vast ocean, Anna,” Kate said.  “There are a lot more ships out there, sinking slowly.  Some countries have disappeared already, others will follow…”

*

Peter Spencer was  born in London in February 1953 and has just retired.  Both his parents were New Zealanders. Peter spent a year in the Waikato and another year in the King Country working as a farm labourer, and five years spent at University down in Auckland and Wellington between 1995-2000. Peter says he has lived up in Northland most of his life, worked in a number of jobs in Northland as well, mostly labouring.

‘Lowlife’ short story collection reviewed in Wanganui Midweek by ed. Paul Brooks

Michael Botur’s book of short stories, Low Life, has that title for a good reason. He has populated some of his stories with people many of us would have trouble identifying with, but they’re fascinating to meet for the first time. They’re not all “low lifes” themselves, but they often find themselves in situations beneath the norm. Their job is to rise, with the author’s help.

Lowlife in Whanganui midweek.png

There’s the rock fan — we never know his name — who laminates kitset furniture. He quits his job because this cool rock chick on the radio says it’s what he should do and he spends the rest of the story coping with “fame” and no money and waiting for that opportunity to be a roadie for Metallica.

Or the straight, married guy on good money with a house and mortgage who thinks he could be happy with a woman who lives one day at a time and sometimes can’t remember his name.

There’s the older guy who thinks his marriage has gone beyond boring and tries to get advice from younger people on how to mend things.

And then there’s the 60-year-old arthritic grandmother who discovers illegal pain relief and a source of income.

The stories are well worth the read and they’re well crafted. Even amongst all the bad language and explicit sex talk, there are prosaic gems and beautiful phrasing.

And the characters are real. Whatever they do seems normal, everyday, just not our everyday. If they get in trouble it’s because that’s what they do and it’s certainly not their fault. It’s just the natural way of things.

Michael Botur takes us inside the heads of his extraordinary Dramatis Personae, his team of flawed but likeable (mostly) players. On some level the reader associates with them, squeezing a drop of empathy for characters we’re probably not likely to meet. The protagonists are generally weak, or uncertain, or hoping for something better, while they deal with people of a different ilk, usually stronger, or more knowing, worldly. Not so screwed up.

This is Michael Botur’s fourth book of short stories and he seems in no danger of running out of ideas for plots, characters or neuroses.

 

Your characters are as diverse as the situations in which they find themselves. How many are based on people you know?

Most characters are composites. I take qualities from a couple of people and combine them. Sometimes the physical description of a person will match the body of the person a character is based on, but there is lots of mixing-up, and sometimes I have to adjust a person’s body shape because the story benefits from that sort of change. Plenty of characters are exaggerated aspects of my personality.

You’ve worked a few jobs where you have said you got more than a few ideas. Did you ever feel the way your characters do, or did the situation just give you an idea?

The thoughts that go through my characters’ heads are thoughts that have mostly gone through my head – however, not every thought sticks! An impulse which seems ridiculous to one person can seem like profound inspiration to another person. The story ‘Rock or Bust’ was inspired when I was listening to The Rock one morning and some tradie rang up the DJ to brag that he had just walked out on his job and he was super-confident. We all think about storming out of our jobs at some point; many of my stories ask what happens when a person gets a motivation and follows that motivation all the way to the end, through bouts of pride and shame.

How long have you been writing and where did you learn to write fiction as well as you do?

I started out as a poet at university age 20, in 2004. In my class, at Otago, a couple of people were dabbling in fiction and I wanted to keep up. Fiction allows you to tell stories on a far bigger canvas, with a better brush and more colours than poetry. I really started taking on a distinct voice from about 2008 when I stopped writing short 500 word weird prose pieces for literary journals and determined to obey the laws of short story writing – that is, a short story really needs to be about 2000-5000 words to be fully expressive. I was very privileged to have literary journals like Bravado and Takahe publish my weird short pieces between 2005-2008 and then I took that encouragement and really became determined to tell strong stories.

You write in an interesting mix of almost illiterate vernacular (sometimes) and cleverly crafted words. That’s some skill – does it come from reading, and what do you read?

I get obsessed with lots of fiction writers, journalists and other kinds of wordsmiths like rappers. Also in my life, I rub shoulders with lots of people who talk in lots of different styles. It’s essential to be a good listener, so I’m always hearing the voices of crims, druggies, intellectuals, radicals, executives, children, old people, DJs, writers and non-writers, all mixed together. Also, many people in our world are bilingual, and it’s useful to hear fresh, creative constructions of English. Sitting in an ivory tower and ignoring real people is just so wrong. People like us journalists who are hyper-fluent in English, we are a rare breed and very privileged, and we won’t reach diverse audiences if we don’t speak in a diverse way through our writing.

Have you tried a mainstream publisher for your work … or is that a rude question?

Mainstream publishers in NZ explicitly say they’re not keen on publishing short stories – see the websites of all the major publishers if you don’t believe me! It’s tragic. Steele Roberts didn’t even respond to my last pitch. It was very hard and upsetting getting used to rejections from publishers are the first short story collection, and the second… by the third, I was giving up.

Do you ever travel and talk about your work – i.e. literary festivals etc?

I tried to invite myself to a few literary festivals last year and it didn’t lead anywhere. I would love to, though, because I’m passionate about speaking about the NZ literature and the short story art form. I heard Whanganui and Manawatu can be pretty welcoming so I’d love to come down this year.

Where would I buy your books? Are they available outside Unity where provincial hayseeds like me can buy them off the shelf?

At http://www.NZShortStories.com you can place your order for a copy of Lowlife and I’ll post it directly to you, even if you’re broke and can’t pay for a while. Also Amazon.com. Takes longer that way, though.

Your character’s dialogue (or internal monologue) is appropriate to the character. How appropriate is it to Michael Botur?

I have verbal diarrhoea at home, in private, around people I’m comfortable with! I do have a very creative, hyperactive mind and I usually speak my mind. But when I have to control my words, such as when teaching or when conducting journalism, I talk in a very articulate, erudite way! Total chameleon again. I’m influenced by lots of high brow culture and low brow in equal measures.

How many more books of short stories do you think you have in you? In other words, are you still collecting and collating ideas for more?

This year I’m putting out ‘True?’ which is my fifth SS collection. I’m going to polish it even more than Lowlife and it should be amazing. Paul Brooks will be getting one of the first copies. Then after ‘True?’ I’ll be collecting stories for a sixth. We need people like me to uphold the short story as an art form, because it is very neglected. If you don’t believe me, turn to the person next to you and ask them how many short story authors they can name, let alone KIWI short story authors. Not many, if any.

 

‘Lowlife’ short story collection reviewed in Wanganui Midweek by ed. Paul Brooks