Sunday, August 5, 2012

NZ Post Book Awards

6 August 2012

This is a pic of me at the NZ Post Book Awards. 

It was pretty much as good as it got.

When judge Reina Whaitiri came on to the stage and described Colenso, among other more positive things, as a man who "bullied Maori", "was an adulterer" and ended up "very rich" I knew I wouldn't be winning in what suddenly seemed the politically-correct-awards - not awards for excellence in writing.

I was probably very naive thinking any biography of a dead white male could win an award.

When I finally got back to Napier the weather was surly and the sea that strangely browny-yellowy distempered grey of deep winter. It reminded me of the weather when Colenso, Elizabeth and Fanny arrived here, even though that was in December.

I remember thinking when I was writing the book Colenso had his own personal weather pattern: storms seemed to move along with him, wherever he was.

I drove past the Waitangi Mission site memorial and once again it was under water.

Poor old Colenso, I thought to myself - it's 2012 and you're still being 'judged', still being 'wrong', you're still under water. 

Or was that just me?

One of the bad things about awards is that, when you don't win, you can't help but feel it is a statement about the larger worth of your work as well as the particular book which is up for an award.

In the end though awards are about who is on the judging panel and it's a completely random thing: if you're lucky you have judges who like your work and its approach, or if you're unlucky….you end up getting a paper certificate and feeling like you're some kind of loser. 

The only thing is to slowly pick yourself up and go back to work and find some kind of trust in your own intuition.

But before I did this, I visited my favourite place - a place of consolation. Not only is the Napier graveyard beautiful but, well, it's larger story is that all things pass.

I looked at Sir Donald McLean's towering cross and thought of how he had a very high reputation when he died - among Maori as well as Pakeha - but today he is all but ignored. 

Time is a strange sliding scale.

I took some arum lilies along to plant on the grave of a Chinese man. There are only two Chinese graves in the cemetery (and given that Chinese people thought their souls never rested unless their bones were returned 'home' it is no small thing.)

What I like about this grave is that it was only sheer chance that we found out it was for someone Chinese. As you can see it has been wrenched off its podium, during the '31 Earthquake probably. 

But also the writing has faded away.

Then one day when Gail Pope and I were in the cemetery doing our researches a wan wintery sun played over the surface. And suddenly we could see Chinese characters. 

It felt like magic.

I thought I would honour this stranger to our land by planting lovely old arum lilies on his grave.

They are only tiny at the moment but with time, they"ll grow.

The headstone rests against the one behind...

It is like thought itself, or work on a project. You take it step by step. And if there is an occasional storm, you withdraw indoors and wait for the storm to pass.

And then you go out again, and you begin planting all over again, confident that what you are doing now will - in time - bear fruit (or flowers, in this case.)

A baby's grave we also planted.


  1. Have you seen this?

    I enjoyed reading it. But I have no idea of Charles's surname!

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