Around 900 people took part in the Sunday Star-Times short story competition. Warwick Rasmussen interviews the winners of the Under 25, Emerging Maori Writers and Emerging Pasifika Writers categories.
It was an award-winning short story that lingered for years in its author’s mind before the words were printed.
Shannon Spencer (Ngāti Raukawa) won the Sunday Star-Times the new category of Maori writers of the short story competition for his deeply personal and moving article, Tungane.
The play was based on his late brother, Haydn Carter, who died in 2008.
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Tunganewhich translates to brother for a woman, is about a sister’s relationship with her brother who is struggling with serious health issues.
Judge Patricia Grace described it as a love story, calling it “emotional, evocative, yet understated at the same time.”
To bring the story to life, Spencer, from Rolleston, said she had conversations with her father.
“He’s not a writer at all, but he said he tried, shortly after Haydn’s death, to write down his thoughts and feelings on everything, and he didn’t succeed. to do so, or that he hadn’t been happy with what he’d come up with.
“And I guess based on this idea of maybe recording it, for him, my story for him is a way of encouraging him to do the same for himself.”
Spencer said she’s always written about big, meaningful things. It helped her process life events and emotions.
“It’s probably more surprising that I haven’t already done this [written the story].”
Seeing the contest advertised was the push she needed to get the story across.
“I guess I always had it in my head, but I had never done anything to put it on paper. So that was a nice little push in the back to actually do it. It opened up a lot of conversations with my parents and all sorts of things as a result.
Spencer said she told the story to her parents to make sure they were comfortable with it.
“It’s quite personal, and it’s more of a family story. I had to make sure everyone was ready for that to be said.
Winning the category gave her the confidence to continue writing, as did Under-25 winner Maja Ranzinger.
Her family moved to New Zealand from Slovenia, meaning English was a second language for the University of Auckland student, who is studying mechanical engineering and finance.
“While I was learning English, I was quite fascinated by syntax and how you can really play with language, and so throughout that it kind of became a good creative outlet. And I’ve always liked stories that are a bit abstract.”
His winning entry, Papatūānukuwas just that.
The story is about the creation myth between an artist mother and her son and was described by Judge Megan Dunn as having a point of view “that made me curious”.
One of Ranzinger’s biggest risks was the length of his story. While most were between 2,000 and 3,000 words, she chose to submit an entry of just over 600 words.
“Because I had chosen a fairly clear message, the story around it seemed to develop quite quickly. By the time I was done I looked at the word count and was quite surprised at how short it was, but I didn’t want to add length for length’s sake.
“As I read it again and went through the editing process, I added or changed a few words, but subtracted a few words elsewhere, and it kept balancing out around that 600.”
For Elsie Uini, an emerging winner in the Pasifika writers category, the competition was the first she had entered.
The Auckland teacher had just finished a hard day’s work when she found out she had won.
“When I saw the email, I had just gotten home from work and was so tired. And I was deleting emails and then I saw this one. I just sat straight up, and I started crying, and I screamed running and I found my mom. I was like ‘oh my God’ and she was asking what happened.
“I was just a little speechless, which was weird for me.”
Uini was encouraged to enter by her mother.
“It was a good way to push myself with a deadline to actually finish something rather than just having a million floating ideas.”
His history, No small thingwas about growing up in a bicultural setting and balancing and pivoting between the Samoan and Palagi worlds.
“[The story] comes from things I’ve been through. I’ve never been in this exact situation, but it’s certainly inspired by some thoughts and feelings I had growing up in a bicultural home and having access to two different cultures and thinking how to combine them and how can I put them together?”
“They both have such great aspects and there is such a rich culture in both, but I often wondered where did I fit in? Because I was kind of in that gray area in the middle.
Uini said the win gave her confidence to continue writing.
“It really encouraged me, that people want to hear stories from a cultural perspective, and want to hear what the daily life of some Samoan women is like.”
Winning didn’t come without problems, however.
Not too convinced she would win, she was alarmed when she realized the story would be available for the world to read.
And then his grandparents came to mind. Her story featured two swear words and her Nana and Poppa were “very anti swear words.”
“I thought no one could tell them, but their friend called them because she saw it in the paper.”
* The Sunday Star-Times The short story competition was sponsored by the Milford Foundation and Penguin Random House NZ. Dominic Hoey won the open category with his play, 1986.