NorthWrite 2017 at Kawakawa: Flash Fiction Fiesta

NorthWrite 2017 was held Sunday June 25 at Kings Theatre Creative, Kawakawa, in conjunction with National Flash Fiction Day. Vivian Thonger and band put on a flash fiction workshop with live music to provide inspiration.

Later in the afternoon, Northland flash fiction writers – including many published on Flash Frontier or longlisted for National Flash Fiction Day – had their work read in person or by guests.

Vivian Thonger was recipient of this year’s Northwrite award.  Shot, Viv!

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Flash was read by Northlanders in person or by a representative, including writers:

  • Piet Nieuwland
  • Jody Reynolds
  • Jac Jenkins
  • Kathy Derrick
  • Vivian Thonger
  • Sian Williams
  • Michael Botur
  • Martin Porter
  • Kelly Stratford
  • Shani Naylor
  • Rachel Smith
  • Kamala Jackson
  • Jacinta van der Linden
  • Patrick Pink
  • Rita Shelley




Northland Experience Inspires Short Stories

A Whangarei writer says ‘working class’ experiences he has had since moving to Northland inspired his latest short story collection. Michael Botur profile pic for Property Plus.JPG

Michael Botur released Lowlife: short stories on June 16. The book is Botur’s fourth short story collection, with the previous collections garnering strong reviews.

Lowlife has a thoroughly Northland flavour to it, featuring a unique “gang patch” cover stitched by Whangarei’s Headrush Custom Caps and photographed at The Old Butter Factory.

Lowlife is literary fiction; the style is often described as ‘dirty realism.’

“I’ve had lots of hairy experiences in my life; some of those have been in Northland, like getting stuck in a Kaitaia flophouse, almost crashing a ride-on lawnmower gardening at a mansion on Kamo, or doing drug surveys with armed robbers in the Whangarei police cells,” the 33 year old says. “So the Lowlife stories aren’t only about Northland milieu – they’re about people stuck in conflict trying to work their way out of it, trying to make their lives better.”

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“My characters often share frustrations with me as we both try to make our lives better in a part of the country where there’s not much money circulating. Buying a cheap house in Tikipunga and trying to escape Generation Rent has been a particularly big influence on me. That’s a class conflict thing, and class conflict is a big theme in the stories.”

“Northland has the lowest median income in NZ, so it’s no surprise a lack of money motivates plenty of characters in my stories. Throughout my twenties it was always hand-to-mouth for me and my wife – that’s a struggle most young people share whether you have the privilege of tertiary education or not.”

Botur says all stories come from a kernel, which may be a quote, a character or an event.

“One Friday afternoon in Cameron Street Mall in Whangarei I watched two CitySafe security guards chasing a young man, a shoplifter. I followed beside him in my car as he sprinted through a carpark. I didn’t have the heart – or the balls – to catch the guy, even though I could have blocked his escape. Later that night I went to my data collection job at the Whangarei Police Station (interviewing arrestees about their drug use). I made small talk with the cops on duty about tailing the shoplifter. They asked me if I tackled the shoplifter to stop him and I struggled to explain that I didn’t have the heart to make life worse for a young person who was probably down on his luck and desperate. The cops seemed unimpressed about that. All the politics that came into play there inspired a story, Wonder Woman, which is in the collection.”

Another story, Survive September, is about the difficulty parents get into when they need to work low-paying, low-skilled jobs, and then get hit with a big daycare bill every week, Botur explains. “When I first moved to Northland in April 2015, I couldn’t afford to put my one year old daughter in daycare, because daycare isn’t subsidised until kids turn 3. I was stuck at home with her, feeling useless. There are virtually no work-from-home jobs in Northland. So that story is in honour of all the stay-at-home dads out there who are desperate to earn more income but have to be there for their babies.”

“I have done innumerable days of $15-an-hour labouring work over the past few years while building up a good portfolio/CV so I feel deep empathy with people who struggle to earn the ‘living wage’ of $20 per hour – a struggle which, unfortunately, is more acute in Northland.”

“When I had little paid writing work in Northland, I even had to work a few shifts at The Warehouse in Whangarei, including stocktaking for ten hours some nights, and that unreal experience inspired another story in this collection.”

Michael Botur works as a freelance writer and volunteers promoting Northland creative writing at . Submissions and new members are warmly welcomed.

Lowlife is available from and

250pp ISBN-13: 978-1547018598 RRP $24.99

How To Become A Better Writer

How much have you developed your creative writing skills? How far can you take your talent?

It is almost impossible to become a skilled writer without getting critiques from experienced scribes as well as your peers. It’s essential to maximise your knowledge of English, literary theory, genres of writing and to be able to edit your own writing and that of others.

The following is advice from a couple of people about creative writing study options inside and outside Northland. Mercedes and Mike each started studying creative writing at undergrad level and took it up to masters level and into the ‘real world.’


Mercedes Webb-Pullman:

“I started writing a decade ago, 40 years after leaving school. Back in NZ with a lot of spare time, in 2008 I enrolled with Whitireia in an online course for a Diploma in Creative Writing. It covered writing fiction, and poetry, in response to lessons and assignments posted on the site. There was also a ‘blackboard’ where classmates could ask and answer questions, and chat amongst themselves. Mercedes pull quote

“The sense you had ‘classmates’ was very important to the process of the course and although working online wasn’t as interactive as a face-to-face workshop, it suited me to work when I wanted to.

“I also participated in a couple of short courses from the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) at Victoria University – Chris Price convened the poetry course, and a graduate from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop the second. Both were excellent, not only for the exposure to new writers, new concepts, but also for the interaction between fellow participants. We ranged in age from 18 to 65, and I found invaluable knowledge there. Learning how to ‘unpack’ a poem made me more critical of my own work, as well as giving more depth to my comments. The best part of both courses was the individual attention to my final work by the tutor.” mercedes webb pullman photo

Mercedes began VUW’s Masters in Creative Writing (MCW) in 2010. “By the end of the year we had each produced the manuscript for a book. Although a full time course, it involved only two days attendance a week; one for lectures, and one for workshopping. This face-to-face workshop experience can be very deflating, but learning how and why people respond (or don’t respond) to your words is very important. I graduated B+, and attended another Iowa workshop the next year, to celebrate. Now I just write.”

Mercedes says she wrote more poetry than prose but studied both. Her MCW thesis was purely poetry and became her book Bravo Charlie Foxtrot.

Mercedes continues to complete online writing courses each year and looks for those offered by respectable universities such as UPen and University of Iowa. Mercedes contributes poetry to dozens of international literary journals every year.


Mike Botur:

“I started university age 18 in 2002, kind of a goth, metal-obsessed history nerd writing clichéd song lyrics. After a crazy, hedonistic 2003 I decided I wanted to hone my crappy emo song lyrics into decent poetry, and I was lucky to scrape into a second year poetry course at University of Otago, taught by Nick Ascroft (it’s essential to check your creative writing course is taught by somebody talented, publishable and relevant – unfortunately many are not.) Mike pull quote

“The Otago poetry course took my poetry from garbage to average and occasionally even good, and I started to get pieces of poetry published in literary journals from 2005. It’s really important that whichever CW course you are enrolled on pushes you to get your work published in literary journals, whether print online. You shouldn’t trust any course which doesn’t get you published.”

“During my Bachelor degree I also studied lots of literary theory. Although it is useful to have an understanding of different kinds of literature and know the history of NZ literature, reading the oeuvre of James Joyce will never make you a great writer. Just do lots of ordinary writing challenges and read lots of contemporary stuff.” Michael Botur with books photo credit AUT University

“After deviating into design, illustration and teaching from 2006-2007 I was stoked to get accepted into the first year of AUT University’s Masters in Creative Writing course. The year focused on producing a publishable-quality manuscript. I wrote short stories; most people in the class wrote 50,000 words of a novel. We did peer critiques of each other’s work in the method known as CRC (Commend, Recommend then Commend) or, to put it more simply, ‘Eating A Shit Sandwich.’ When you eat a shit sandwich, your peers in the class are coating a hard-to-swallow core with nice layers of palatable feedback. It’s essential to eat a shit sandwich to grow as a writer – otherwise you fall into the trap of selfishly ignoring your mandate as a writer, which is to make your audience happy.”

“When you do a master-level course you’ll be taught how to write for audiences, how to use genre, how to get good at tone of voice and point of view, and understanding the publishing industry. You’ll also start to meet published authors, editors and influential people, all of who should inspire you and make you feel you are part of a literary community. This is important because writing is such a lonely, insular activity.”

“When you are midway through or coming out of a postgraduate or masters level course, it’s a good time to take your writing to the next level. You’ll become truly empowered as a writer when you write for two hours a day, edit other people’s work and get lots published. Making money is important too – you should be getting paid for your writing by the time you graduate.”


What NorthTec offers (semester 2 starts July 24)

NorthTec’s diplomas in applied writing, levels 5-7, promise to develop writing techniques and critical understanding “to apply to the composition of original texts.”

The Level 5 diploma is made up of papers covering creative writing of a children’s or adult literary piece; basic editing skills; literary critique and word processing. Compulsory papers look at myths and legends, non-fiction, short stories, plays and scripts, novels, and there are options to focus on cultural studies, picture books, history of literature, poetry and editing.

Papers in the second year, level 6, look at business in relation to writing, personal career plan, project planning and execution, and there are electives in feature writing, poetry, e-books, research and short stories.

Third year, level 7, students work on a major project. I think that means writing a novel or something.

If you’re not keen on NorthTec but not keen on going to another city, correspondence/ online courses include:

  • Massey University –the Albany campus isn’t terribly far from Northland, so that’s a great study option. They offer everything from certificates to masters and doctorate creative writing options
  • AUT University – AUT offers the same great range of writing papers with pretty good quality tutors. Unfortunately AUT does little to support its writing students. Still though, being able to study some papers online is a bonus.
  • University of Auckland, which offers everything from undergraduate creative writing courses to postgrad and masters and adult community education, promotes its writers well and has lecturers who have published lots.
  • Whitireia, in Porirua, Wellington and online, has gained a good reputation in the last 10 years for producing creative writing graduates with a difference, and its publishing course is unique. Whitireia has a respectable literary journal and good tutors.
  • The Creative Hub –It offers everything online so you don’t have to leave Moerewa or wherever.
  • NZ Society of Authors list of writing courses at universities, polytechs etc.
  • NZ Writers College – Not recommended.


Northland Blogroll: 20 Tai Tokerau blogs

Here are 20 of Northland’s blogs. blog icon.jpg

Anyone who should be on the list, sing out and let me know.


In no particular order…


NorthWrite 2017: National Flash Fiction Day Workshop and Readings

Northwrite 2017 banner

This year’s NorthWrite event will be held at Kings Theatre Creative, Kawakawa, on 25 June 2017 in conjunction with National Flash Fiction Day. It will consist of a one-hour, flash fiction workshop, followed by flash fiction readings from Northland writers.

Flash fiction writer, Vivian Thonger, will facilitate the workshop accompanied by improvised music from Ambients. The workshop will run from 1.30 – 2.30pm, followed by an afternoon tea break and then flash fiction readings from 3 – 4pm. The workshop is $10 per person which can be paid in cash on the day or by internet banking. More information is available on the NorthWrite website. If you wish to pay by internet banking please fill out the form on the website.

NorthWrite 2017: National Flash Fiction Day Workshop and Readings

Kings Theatre 25 June 2017

Workshop: 1.30 – 2.30pm

Readings: 3.00 – 4.00pm

Vivian Thonger’s Short Writing Workshop:


with gentle music improvisations by Ambients


Since ancient times, people have understood that our senses feed off one another, mixing together sensory input in ways that inspire creative impulses and actions. The word synaesthesia describes a condition that a few people consciously experience: seeing sounds or hearing colours, for example. In this workshop, psychologist and flash-fiction writer Vivian Thonger guides participants into the world of sound, specifically improvised music, stimulating writing ideas to emerge and develop. Through a series of linked exercises, everyone is enabled to experience some form of sensory mingling and crossover. The aim is for every participant to generate, singly and in collaboration with others, a significant body of words, phrases and sentences that combine to form the beginnings of flash pieces and stories to take home. Because writing is usually a solitary activity, group work can have a powerful impact in kickstarting new ideas, new creations and fresh productivity. This intensive workshop is designed to have value for writers ranging from novices to veterans. You will leave with a whole heap of inspiration.

Writing material, prompts and music provided.

Bio – workshop leader Vivian Thonger

Vivian Thonger of Kerikeri, is a writer, poet, performer and musician with degrees in psychology, art and creative writing. vivian.jpg

She moved to New Zealand in 2014, having previously lived in London, Cornwall, the Netherlands and Washington DC. A master moderator and qualitative professional for 30 years, Vivian has conducted hundreds of creativity sessions and trainings, for corporations, small companies, non-profits and clubs.

Her flash fiction has been published online on the Write Up North website, Flash Frontier and International Flash Fiction. This year’s highlights include her stint as resident poet at CollaboratioNZ 2017, a biennial international art event, and being asked to judge Whangarei District Libraries 2017 Flash Fiction Competition. She is a co-founder of the Bay of Islands Writers Group.

Vivian is also an enthusiastic member of Whangarei’s ImprovMob, purveyors of acting games and chaos, Northland’s Poetry Posse and co-founder and percussionist with Ambients, an ensemble creating spontaneous musical atmospheres.

Fiction: The Doll Thing, by Mercedes Webb-Pullman

There is enough room for four of us kids along the back seat of our big blue car. The front bench seat holds Mum-and-the-baby, Julie and of course Dad–the-Driver. We are on the way to the beach for a swim. We’re not going to the usual beach, though, this time we’re going to Opononi, to see the doll thing.

dolphin with girl.jpgIn the back seat we fight to be first to call “I can see the sea! I can see the sea!” and Robyn, as eldest, must judge. Mike and Rex push to be near the window. But it doesn’t really matter who sees it, that first glimpse of misty white-speckled blue, seen between green hills that slope together and somehow hold the magic wedge up against the blue sky, makes us all break out in song and shout and noise, until Dad turns around and cuffs casually at the heads bobbing behind him, so we draw back and become silent. “When will we be there?” asks Rex, but quietly, no longer insistent. The view of the sea means the journey is almost over, an end to the games of I Spy and verses of the Quartermaster’s Store and Ten Green Bottles, of counting cars and watching for white horses and black dogs.

I play with my new doll, moving the eyes open and closed. They are blue and glassy, and move with a little clunking sound. Although her head has only painted-on hair, the eyes have bristly brown eyelashes like little fans.

Dad parks on the sand, near the hotel and walks over to join the group of men spilling out onto the jetty. “I’ll keep an eye on the kids from there, OK?” expecting no answer, while Mum carries the baby and holds Julie’s hand, Robyn and Mike take the baskets and bags, and Rex and I carry the blankets down to
the beach. Togs and towels organized, Mum stays there with the baby. “The big kids have to look after the little kids, and no fighting.” says Mum.

I’m a middle kid, and I’m already five and going to school. I was little, until the new babies came. Robyn isn’t my boss any more, but I’m not boss of anyone.

The sea is calm. I’m allowed to go in by myself while Robyn makes sandcastles with the boys. I like being wet, I like the cool feel of the little waves moving past, the wet sand giving under my feet and above, the blue sky with cotton wool clouds. There are a lot of children in the water, splashing and shrieking in the sun. Someone says “The doll thing! There’s the doll thing!” and I look around. My doll is on the beach with Mum and the baby, lying in the sun with her eyes closed. I imagine a doll with a fish tail, swimming with me.

Then, there beside me in the water, is a big fish – with bright button eyes, that seem to laugh with me. I laugh more, smacking the water with the palms of my hands and crowing. The doll thing turns and swims back next to me, puffing air, smiling with its little teeth and the bright black eyes, making a chattering sound that is almost a question. It is very shiny and looks as smooth as the plastic of my new doll.

I hold out my hands to it, palms open, the way I ask Mum for a hug. The doll thing seems to understand. It swims closer, rolls over in the water beside me so its bright eye is looking straight up into my eyes, then swims behind me, and I feel its blunt nose come between my legs, and lift me. Then I am moving on the doll thing, it is swimming and I am swimming on it, moving through the water sitting on the doll thing.

Everyone is looking at us. I try to hold on but there is nothing to hold on to so I just sit, laughing and moving, feeling the doll thing moving under me, cool and smooth in the water. There are voices and seagulls and sun, people are calling to me, and pointing at me, and the sea is moving, and the feel of the doll thing.

This is almost like flying, I am flying in the water, laughing and waving, looking up into the sky and the clouds. I feel as if the doll thing could take me into the sky, right now, we could just fly out of the water and into the clouds.

Then Dad is there, up to his waist in the water, calling out to me. “DeeDee! Don’t go too far! You’re in deep water! Hop off now!” with his angry voice. I lose balance, and the doll thing swims away from under me, leaving me coughing and struggling in the water, dogpaddling to Dad. He walks beside me until I am standing on the sand again; now he’s not angry, he’s laughing at me and telling me I am special because the doll thing chose me. I am happy, filled with such a big feeling I don’t know how to let it out. “Did you see me with the doll thing, Dad? Did you? The doll thing took me for a swim!”

Strangers are talking to me, but I save my words for my sister. She is the one who tells me stories; she will know how magical this is. I run up the beach, laughing and calling to Robyn. “Did you see me with the doll thing?” and she turns from the sand castle, says “Dolphin. It’s called a dolphin. Don’t you know anything?”

I stop. Somehow the day has just turned inside out. The sun is not so bright any more. I pick up my doll from the sand and sit with her, opening and closing her eyes with a faint clunk clunk, staring at the sea where the dolphin lives.


First published in Rangitawa Publishing’s first anthology.

Click through to find out more about Mercedes Webb-Pullman’s work.