As part of developing a literature programme centred on Blackball (which has a literary and activist tradition), the co-op running the programme gained funding from Creative NZ for a 4 week residency in a miner’s cottage donated for the purpose by West Coast historian, Brian Wood. There was a modest stipend attached. A kaupapa was set: working class, activist, possibly looking at the portal to the future, Coast referenced – and writers at any stage of their career could apply.
The response has been considerable and as the cottage was described as Spartan and the stipend is around the minimum wage, it has to be the kaupapa that has attracted people. Given the book market ever more narrowly focusing on crime, romance, cooking, gardening, health and biographies of sporting heroes, there is hope in this.
Reading through the applications I was surprised by the range of writing and writers. Universities play a big role, with writing courses almost obligatory; and then the specialties. History offers employment opportunities especially through tiriti claims, there are technical writers employed by corporates and government departments, people write about architecture and heritage sites for councils and DOC, there’s the educational market, the health market, the advocacy market, there is biography and memoir, there’s journalism, blogs and opinion pieces for web sites and newspapers, before we get to fiction with its genres and poetry with its personal vision.
There are the myriad competitions and on line journals and magazines. The successful writer becomes either a toolkit (the technical writer) or a brand offering content for a researched market. Readings, book signings, festival appearances and interviews become a performance. Every publication, every speech given, every workshop held is necessarily recorded. Brand and voice become blended. It requires a lot of diligent work for the free-lancer who remains poorly paid and it is still best to nestle somewhere in a university department if at all possible. Writers of fiction are apt to find themselves dreaming of the best seller which can bring fame and fortune. And then of course there are the intermediaries: publishers and editors and marketers and patrons.
It’s a minor industry and begins with the solitary person confronted with the blank page or the empty word document. It has certainly made me ponder, for I write primarily in order to work out what I’m thinking. If I don’t write I begin to feel like a clogged up drain. Is that useful to anyone else? Sometimes. It means I can read someone else working out what they’re thinking and comment effectively. And vice versa. If there’s a story involved that’s a bonus. But there’s always a story involved. As Berger says, writing is an approach to experience and prior to printing and capitalist production sits the storyteller, surrounded by the whanau after the day’s work has been done, feeding the imagination and making sense of the world.
See how quickly one travels from the market place. The cave, the fire, the miner’s cottage. A sense of place. A promise of a better world.
Maybe this rapid movement away from the market place led to the flood of applications? Perhaps that movement is what is now necessary? The European left has a new paradigm: not the market, not the state, but people to people.