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Word Café dishes up the write stuff

Raglan may be better known creatively for its vibrant music and art scenes, but on the strength of the inaugural readers and writers festival at the weekend now seems to be developing quite a literary bent too.

Word Café, as it was called, provided a platform for creative people within our community as well as welcoming writers, authors and editors from further afield. And judging by the packed workshops and seminars, predictions by the organisers it could become a biennial if not annual event look to be no fiction.

In line with its name, the event opened at Orca Restaurant & Bar on Friday night with lyrics and songs from a local group of musicians — Twisted Timber — interspersed with an official welcome to the festival.

It wrapped up the next evening at Banteay Srey Khmer Restaurant & Café with “Saturday night stories” where the spice was provided both by the curries and readings from the likes of Cambridge e-book publisher turned HarperCollins author Julie Thomas and Te Pahu children’s book writer turned self-publishing novelist Tui Allen.
Jacquie McRae — a newish author of Whaingaroa ancestry — also entertained with readings from her award-winning debut novel ‘The Scent of Apples’ (though read none from the half of it set in Raglan so as not to give the game away), and a wrap-up open mike session revealed plenty more homegrown writing talent in the making.

But sandwiched in between the nightly café entertainment was a full day of workshops and sessions — featuring a feast of literary talent — at the Old School Arts Centre and also at Raglan library. There, an outdoor storytelling session for children by local writers Andre Ngapo and Sarah Johnson was joined by local illustrator Margery Fern, who produces the pictures for her sister’s books in their recently self-published Tales from the Farm series.

Earlier, back at the Old School, Andre and Sarah had told participants in the first workshop of the day exactly how to take those first steps in writing for children, and how to get published.

Sarah, who makes her living as a freelance writer and whose latest picture book ‘Wooden Arms’ won the 2011 Joy Cowley Award, explained how writing for children is one of the hardest areas to write in because rather than coming from the perspective of a moralising adult “you’ve got to re-connect with the child (in you)”.

She then went on to provide “tools not rules” for this genre of writing, while Andre — who in 2008 was a Sunday Star-Times short story competition winner and voted best unpublished writer — summed up with the advice to use short sentences and simple language in describing what can become for the author “an emotional journey”.

Next up at the Old School were tips on writing for the food industry with Vicki Ravlich-Horan — an avid foodie from Hamilton who’s travelled the world managing restaurants — explaining how her quarterly free publication ‘Nourish’ came to be. She now puts out both Waikato and Bay of Plenty editions, and Vicki told her audience she aspires to having the magazine “in every province of New Zealand”.

Then Megan Singleton — an award-winning freelance travel writer based in Auckland — imparted her “pearls of wisdom” on how to succeed in the crowded world of blogging, sharing “tricks” for online writing success, one of which was first creating a niche to get noticed.

The Old School took on a more serious tone come Saturday afternoon with Sarah Shieff, an associate professor of English at Waikato University, talking about the letters of Frank Sargeson — a man she described as “probably New Zealand’s most famous short story writer after Katherine Mansfield”.

And then it was an hour with prolific historical novelist Deborah Challinor, originally from Huntly but now living in New South Wales.

Despite being the author of a dozen books — several of which have reached number one on New Zealand’s bestseller list — Deborah said she “never planned to be a writer … it happened by accident”.

Having moved from writing non-fiction to fiction, the one-time Whatawhata resident spoke of the daily discipline it takes to write for publication, the fine-tuning of the manuscript and of the collaborative input from editors into her work which she couldn’t do without.

And getting a book out took “a year from start to finish”, she reckoned, “after all the editorship and to-ing and fro-ing”.

Other sessions on the day were Tailoring the Tale for 12 to 16 year olds, by creative writing teacher and now local librarian Merren Tait, and Getting Started in Self-Publishing by Tui Allen.

Word Café — the event — grew from the shared ideas of six local women who wanted to be inspired by the pool of creative talent and published authors in and around Raglan. And word in the café on Saturday night — as a buzzing crowd prepared to disperse — was that the team of Linda Silvester, Sarah Johnson, Merren Tait, Rosie Worsp, Patsy Zohs and Emma Brooks had done themselves proud.

Edith Symes
*Word Cafe had funding from Creative Communities NZ.

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