How I Write: Witi Ihimaera

by Witi Ihimaera / 06 December, 2017

Witi Ihimaera. Photo/Andi Crown

Witi Ihimaera describes his writing day.

I’m a farmer’s son, and Dad taught me how to work.

Right now, most of my day is involved in the business of being a writer and not actually writing. I’m launching Sleeps Standing with co-author Hemi Kelly in various places around the country.

Today was a good day, though, as I finished the biz by 11am and got a couple of hours of work done on Native Son. I looked at my notes from the telephone conversation two weeks ago with John Jones, of the Gisborne Herald, about the time I was a reporter in the 1960s. In those days, universities never had creative writing courses and the Herald was mine.

The writing is intermittent but I’m hoping to have a big burst this summer. I will get up at 8am, write until 10am, have a swim, come back and write until 12.30pm, have another swim before lunch, write again from 2-5pm, swim again, eat, and then come back and write until 11pm.

Writing is a physical activity and swimming keeps me fit. During this time I eat simple salads and fresh fruit, drink the occasional glass of wine and go out regularly with friends to a place where I can sink my teeth into a porterhouse steak, medium-rare, charred on top, sauce on the side.

I take an artisan, rather than artistic, approach to the job. Life crafts the work; the work crafts the life. I’ll spend time with Jane, my daughters and three mokopuna. James loves to swim with Papa, Gran and Grand-aunt Sarah, while Ben and his cousin Aria build castles on the beach. All that is writing too; Ben’s worked his way into Sleeps Standing.

To get back to my actual, physical, writing day, sometimes the business involves keeping future projects moving. Today, I called Pania Papa, a te reo specialist, to ask if she would join a literary project that is still under wraps. Then I did some new writing for composer Janet Jennings for our project on the Waikato River. Inspired by Anne Salmond’s latest book [Tears of Rangi], I want to interpolate a chorus at the very end about cleaning up our rivers.

I finished the day starting the draft of a screenplay for a television documentary to be directed by John Keir for Maori Television. The kaupapa, concerning New Zealand’s war dead, is one I can’t refuse. I have to get the questions right: Who owns our dead? Why doesn’t New Zealand have a national cemetery? Who signed on behalf of Maori to allow our dead to lie overseas? What would those soldiers think if they saw what we are doing with the freedoms they fought for?

It sounds like a lot of work, but it isn’t, really. And it’s not hard to do if you know how to breathe. You breathe in, wait for your blood to sing, and then you breathe out the waiata.

And, as Dad would say, it beats digging in fence posts.

Sleeps Standing by Witi Ihimaera and Hemi Kelly (Penguin) is out now.

This article was first published in the October 7, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Naseby's chilliest night means a rare opportunity for curling
96697 2018-09-25 00:00:00Z Sport

Naseby's chilliest night means a rare opportunity …

by Guy Frederick

Weather conditions have to be perfect for an outdoor curling match – last winter, for the first time in seven years, Naseby delivered.

Read more
Students walk out of Hamilton high school over principal's truancy comments
96723 2018-09-24 14:06:35Z Education

Students walk out of Hamilton high school over pri…

by RNZ

More than 100 students walked out of a Hamilton high school in protest after the principal said truants are more likely to wind up being a rape victim

Read more
Colin Craig drops damages claim against former press secretary
96717 2018-09-24 13:10:01Z Politics

Colin Craig drops damages claim against former pre…

by RNZ

Colin Craig has withdrawn his claims for damages against his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor but is still suing her for defamation.

Read more
PM in New York: Ardern's first speech focuses on lifting children from poverty
96691 2018-09-24 07:54:36Z Politics

PM in New York: Ardern's first speech focuses on l…

by Chris Bramwell

Jacinda Ardern has used her first speech in the US to recommit the government to making New Zealand the best place in the world to be a child.

Read more
Give Kate A Voice: Bringing Kate Sheppard's speeches to life
96352 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z History

Give Kate A Voice: Bringing Kate Sheppard's speech…

by Noted

Famous Kiwi women read the powerful words of Kate Sheppard, who fought for the right for women to vote.

Read more
Ladies in Black – movie review
96686 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Movies

Ladies in Black – movie review

by Russell Baillie

This nicely nostalgic female coming-of-age tale set in a Sydney department store almost sings.

Read more
A Southern man goes for gold in Garston growing hops
95518 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Small business

A Southern man goes for gold in Garston growing ho…

by Mike White

Nelson and Motueka are well known for their hops but Garston hops are starting to be noticed by brewers.

Read more
How to lower your exposure to potentially toxic household products
96525 2018-09-24 00:00:00Z Health

How to lower your exposure to potentially toxic ho…

by Nicky Pellegrino

Alexx Stuart advocates changing one thing a week. With personal-care items, she says the place to start is body lotion.

Read more