Research for A Change of Key

How do you research for a novel?

Nailing that sense of authenticity is important. It’s good to write what you know, but you’re always going to come up against something that you don’t. And how do you identify those things you don’t know you don’t know?

Author Adrienne Jansen shows the process she went through for her latest novel A Change of Key

Click here to see the full post.

Helen Waaka on her residency, and editing short stories for Radio New Zealand

Helen Waaka, author of short story collection Waitapu, shares her experience as a recipient of an Emerging Māori Writers Residency at the Michael King Writers Centre in 2018. During this time Radio New Zealand expressed interest in broadcasting stories from Waitapu, and Helen recaps how she edited the work for a different media.

Helen Waaka's desk at the Michael King Writer’s centre

Helen Waaka’s desk at the Michael King Writer’s centre

I am sitting in the studio of the Michael King Writer’s centre, once the wash-house of the Signalman’s House at the base of Takarunga maunga, but now a place of creativity for resident writers. The view of Waitematā harbour and the city from the verandah is spectacular and through the small sash window of the studio the Auckland Harbour bridge is just visible. I am on the second day of a Michael King Emerging Māori Writers residency, basking in the thought of doing nothing else but write for the next two weeks.

But first I check my emails. Duncan Smith from RNZ wants to discuss broadcasting five stories from Waitapu. Mary-Jane at Escalator Press has already been in touch with me about this and I have been walking on air ever since, holding the information like a piece of polished pounamu in my pocket. Is Duncan emailing to say he’s changed his mind?

‘Can you edit the stories and reduce the word count?’ he asks in his email. ‘They need to be 14 minutes duration and somewhere between 1900 and 2000 words.’ He has chosen three of my favourites. Hineraumati, The Pool, and Snapshot of a Woman. The word count for each story ranges from 2500-3000 words. He is still considering a further two stories.

I start work that day rearranging sentences and paragraphs, cutting out unnecessary narrative and removing words that don’t alter the storyline too much. It becomes a satisfying process. That one final edit authors wish they could do prior to publication.

Before starting work each day I walk up te tihi o Takarunga maunga. The view of Bastion Point reminds me why I feel so grounded in this place. Ko Ngāti Whaatua tōku iwi. One morning the ocean is covered in fog and the tip of Rangitoto to the east is floating in a sea of cloud. I return to the studio energised.

On the morning of the third day I send Duncan three edited stories.

‘I did a timing and they read fast,’ he eventually replies. ‘Can you redo? Feel free to add material back in. You can go back up to about 2100 words.’

I do as he asks without question. The stories will be on RNZ and I will do whatever it takes to make them work but this might be a good time to ask Duncan if I can choose a story. ‘A Sense of Belonging’ introduces the characters in the novel I am currently working on. Duncan agrees. The story gives a good snapshot of Waitapu as a collection he says, but at 3700 words it is considerably longer than the rest and will need to be broadcast in two parts. Five stories reduced to four, but I am happy.

At te tihi o Takarunga maunga I see the Waiheke island car ferry on its way out. The city’s skyscrapers stand dominant across the Waitematā harbour, muffling the distant hum of Auckland’s traffic. To the east the sun rises behind Rangitoto, its golden-pink glow stretching luminous along the horizon.

‘Te tāpaepae o te rangi…’

Rangitoto sunrise

The sunrise over Rangitoto

Launch of A Change of Key

On Sunday the 7th of October we celebrated the launch of Adrienne Jansen’s A Change of Key, which is the sequel to The Score.

Click to see more photos from the big day.


A Change of Key cover

Adrienne Jansen A change of key book launch

















A Change of Key radio interview

Escalator Press and young writers

Escalator Press describes itself as a ‘learning press’. Learning is in its DNA – encouraging new authors, working alongside them at every stage of the process, providing authors with media training, workshops on websites etc, working with the publishing students at Whitireia, taking on interns – it’s quite a long list. But over the last month we’ve had another role, as part of the ‘Creative Writing for Youth’ programme at the Hutt Library. In fact, we’re a big part of the programme.

Escalator authors Rudy Castañeda Lopez, Trish Harris and Rob Hack all talked about their writing experience, and Adrienne Jansen talked from the publishing point of view. And that’s a big point of view these days, when the options for publishing have really opened up. Most of this group of young writers are working on their first novel, so we might see them before long!

On the experience, Rudy Castañeda Lopez writes:

Rudy at the launch of Open Your Eyes, Jackson Ryder

Rudy at the launch of Open Your Eyes, Jackson Ryder

It was a very pleasant experience. I didn’t know what to expect, whether there would be two that showed up or thirty. As it turned out there were a very respectable dozen high school students.

I did a brief reading (one minute) then they did an exercise. In this case they chose an image from a carefully chosen wide variety of possibilities then they had to write for seven minutes from the point of view of one of the subjects in the photo. Then, after that, write another seven minutes from the POV of another character, then another. I was invited to participate and, despite my fear of being shown up, I plunged in with satisfying result. I might even make it into a short story.
Some of the  students read from their efforts and I was very impressed at the quality of their work. Afterwards I told them about my own journey in writing, my methodology, talked a bit about short stories vs novels and finally tips I wished I had been given when I started writing – basically to write a lot, take risks, embrace failure as a catalyst of growth and to read.
They were very attentive and asked intelligent questions. In all, I was there for two delightful hours and would go back in a second.


See Hutt City Libraries website for more information on this great programme.

Book offers valuable insights 


Arthritis New Zealand Policy Advisor, Jane Wilson, is finding The Walking Stick Tree a valuable resource.

‘I had made the decision over Christmas to buy some new books which I could learn from. The Walking Stick Tree was one of those books. I found it useful to hear of historical treatment methods, to hear Trish’s lived experience from diagnosis as a child to present day and found her sections where she reflected on arthritis and disability really insightful and useful in my work.’

Jane and author Trish Harris can be seen here at the ‘Let’s Talk: our communities, our health’ forum where they met by chance recently. ‘It was great to meet and chat to Trish. Her book’s a recommended read for people to understand the lived experience of arthritis, but also just as a fantastic read. I particularly liked the cover!’

Erin Donohue book launch

Erin Donohue shares the story behind her bestselling YA novel.  This powerful coming-of-age story follows 17-year-old Caleb Evans as he struggles to hold his life together while everything around him is falling apart. It comes as no surprise to us that it was recently the 2nd highest-selling New Zealand children’s fiction title on the Nielsen bestseller list. There was barely a dry eye in the house as Erin shared the experiences that inspired her novel; we are sure you will be moved by her speech too.

To read the speech click here

A thoughtful review of The Walking Stick Tree

Low Visionary, a blog with a focus on disability rights and a passion for accessibility,  has written a review of Trish Harris’ memoir that is well worth a read. 

“…there was much anguished discussion among disabled people about the need to tell better, more realistic and more nuanced disability stories. The Walking Stick Tree makes an excellent contribution to filling that aching void. It establishes a place for disability and disabled writers in the literary world in general, since the themes are universal, but it makes a place, with its familiar setting, in the New Zealand literary world.”

Read the full review here.

Landfall review of Everything is Here

Landfall Journal has written a shining review of Rob Hack’s poetry collection Everything is Here.

Erena Shingade writes, ‘His tone is uninhibited and effortless… just what feels like a friend speaking in a direct and unsentimental way.’

Read the full review here.

Latest news on The Walking Stick Tree

Trish Harris’s memoir The Walking Stick Tree has received wide media coverage. It featured on RNZ’s Nine toNoon programme and on the Stuff news website with articles also appearing in journals, magazines and blogs. We’re delighted to see the book—which contains not only a great story but also four essays and quirky illustrations—has made it onto the recommended reading list for Massey University’s Disability Studies course this semester. That’s a first!