Jeff Evans

A writer's life, struggling on the coalface

David Gordon on writing

Just a quick post today:

Acclaimed fiction writer David Gordon penned an interesting article for the New York Times back in August that recently caught my eye. Titled Writing is a Risky, Humiliating Endeavor, Gordon starts off his piece by describing some of the pitfalls of composite characters, especially from the point of view of his nearest and dearest (and his ex) – and takes us on an interesting literary journey from there.

You can read Gordon’s article HERE.

The Best {And Worst} of Tom Junod … by Amy Burgess

There are four basic emotional stages of writing, Tom says. “I’m shit. I’m a genius. I’m shit. I survived. That’s basically it, isn’t it? You think, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe how horrible I am.’ And then you lie to yourself long enough to write your draft and you’re like, ‘I’m Mozart!’ And then you’ve handed in your draft and you haven’t heard from your editor in a day and a half, and you’re like, ‘Oh no.’ And you start reading your draft and you think, ‘I can’t believe how awful I am.’ Then you rework it and it’s closer to what you wanted at the beginning, and you’re happy. And you’re exhausted. And you do it again.”

You can read Amy Burgess’ piece HERE

Making it big in the States …

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Okay, maybe I’m not going to make it big in the States any time soon, but my publisher Peter Dowling of Oratia Media has been showcasing a couple of my books over the other side of the big pond and it seems I’ve got at least one fan! This review of ‘Polynesian Navigation And The Discovery Of New Zealand’ was recently published on the Midwest Book Review website:

Exceptionally well written and illustrated with occasional black-and-white period photography, “Polynesian Navigation And The Discovery Of New Zealand” is as informed and informative as it is ‘reader friendly’ and thoughtfully engaging. Enhanced with four maps, a two page bibliography, and a useful index, “Polynesian Navigation And The Discovery Of New Zealand” is an ideal and ardently recommended addition to academic library collections and New Zealand History supplemental studies reading lists.

Okay, I’m not going to make it on to a best seller’s list anytime soon, but it’s quite nice to know my writing translates well on the other side of the Pacific Ocean all the same. Maybe American isn’t a foreign language after all!

Cover design

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Things are gaining momentum! I’ve just received the final draft for the cover design for my up coming biography of Maori elder Hec Busby from the designer and I’m super excited to see it. We’ve been through a few versions and countless tweaks along the way, but I’m happy to say that this combination really hits the mark. Hec is a master canoe builder and master of traditional Polynesian navigation (among other skills) so the combination of images are perfect. I’m a bit of a fan of black and white photos, as well as the sepia look, so the overall colour palette ticks another box too. It’s been a long, long journey – so its nice to feel like we’re almost there!

 

Hi – I’m back!

Well I’m finally back after an extended break working on the final proof for my new book – and I’m relieved to announce it’s all but ready for publication. In fact I’ve been over the proof forwards and backwards and every other which way so many times that I’m now completely numb to it. I actually think I’ve reached the point of editing exhaustion. It might sound strange to some of you, but I no longer know if the changes I’m considering will actually improve the book or do the opposite! In part I think it is because I have at least to ‘reading’ voices in my head, and when I read in one style a page flows wonderfully, whereas when the other voice arrives I find myself reading second rate rubbish that’s flawed in oh so many ways. So enough is enough and it is what it is …

Despite all of that, I’m still determined to throw the odd line into cyber space; and this year I’ve decided to add a little more heart to my posts: to give my blog a little more reason for being. So in a nutshell I’ve decided to add a little more character to my writing. As an average penman of non-fiction I’ve not yet developed a decent narrative style, so that’s my challenge – to develop my style. It’s all part of polishing the craft, and god knows my writing needs some polishing!

 

Hawaiki Rising

Hawaiiki Rising

I’ve just received an autographed copy of Sam Low’s beautifully written book Hawaiki Rising and I’m super happy about it. I’ve known Sam for a few years, but due to us living on opposite sides of the Pacific (he lives in the States, I’m in New Zealand), I seldom get to see him – so it was a real pleasure to catch up with him when the Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokule’a was welcomed into Waitangi last weekend.

Sam has been involved with the Polynesian Voyaging Society since the early 1980s and has voyaged on Hokule’a several times. It’s that level of experience which has given Sam a great insight into voyaging, and allowed him access to many of the figures that were instrumental in the renaissance of Hawaiian voyaging. The result of Sam’s endeavour is a wonderful book that is quite literally a page turner. For anyone looking to write the history of an organisation or perhaps the revival of an art, I suggest you read this book to see how it should be written. I can’t recommend this book enough.

War canoes and 75-year old newspapers

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I’ve just spent an enjoyable few days in the far north of New Zealand photographing the giant Maori war canoe Nga Tokimatawhaorua. The 120-foot canoe, shown above, was completed in 1940 and carries 80 paddlers, and she is a fearsome sight to see close up in action. I was fortunate to be invited as it is quite rare to see her on the water these days; she is usually only launched for the commemorations of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in February of each year.

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My trip north had a second equally important purpose though (at least for me), and that was to spend some time searching back issues of the Northern News at the newspaper’s main office in Kaikohe. I was there to find any references to Nga Tokimatawhaorua’s construction and launch, and there were plenty to be found in the bound and yellowing pages dating from the late 1930s.

As a side note, I must say that it was actually quite a calming experience to spend the day sifting through 75-year old newspapers; a task I prefer to scrolling through endless digital resources.

Hec Busby biography: updated publication date.

Further to my announcement on 16 August last, I’m now able to confirm that Hec Busby: Not here by chance will be hitting the bookshops in May of next year.

The decision to have the book printed offshore has meant a delay of a few months, but fortunately the new publication date coincides with the opening of Hec’s whare wananga up in Doubtless Bay. It should be a wonderful occasion.

The Boys in the Boat

Boys in the Boat

I’m super excited to have finally received my copy of Daniel James Brown’s book, The Boys in the Boat. It’s been a few weeks since I ordered it and I’ve been counting down the days, waiting for that tell-tale package of well wrapped book to land on my doorstep.

I’d not actually heard of the book nor it’s author before stumbling across it on Amazon, but the book comes highly recommended with a phenomenal 4,521 5-star reviews on the site. Yeah, it’s a rating system that you can often take with a pinch of salt, but with that much support, I figure the book must be half decent! What’s more, it’s been on the LA Times bestseller list for nine straight months and it’s won several non-fiction awards, including the American Booksellers Association/Indie Choice Nonfiction Book of the Year Award.

The book itself tells the story of the nine young American college athletes and their coach who beat the odds to represent their nation at the 1936 Olympics in Germany. By all accounts its a great story, but as a writer what I’m really looking forward to is reading Brown’s evocative descriptions of time and place, reportedly one of the books highlights. It’s an area I have to work on, so I’m looking forward to picking up a few tips.

Brown also has a pretty good website, much of it dedicated to this, his third, and most successful book. You can view his website HERE.

You can’t make this stuff up

One of my favourite books at home is Lee Gutkind’s, You Can’t Make This Stuff Up. The cover claims that the book is ‘The complete guide to writing creative nonfiction from memoir to literary journalism and everything in between,’ which is a pretty big boast, but one I can live with. There is a lot of great information in Lee’s book, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any up and coming creative nonfiction scribe.

By way of an example of the books contents, here is a small slice explaining a nice way of structuring your nonfiction writing.

As I’ve said, creative non-fiction is an amalgam of style and substance, information and story. Whether it’s personal information, as in memoir, or public information as in immersion, you’re using building blocks, scenes, and/or little stories to communicate ideas and information as compellingly as possible.

I’m not an artist, but I’m now attempting to show, visually, the classic structure of the creative nonfiction essay, chapter, or book. So here we have a rectangle with nine blocks. (Nine is arbitrary, it could be five or fifteen – or any number.)

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The first block represents story or action because it’s usually best to start with a scene to draw readers in and get them involved. After you’ve captured your readers, you can provide any information you want or need to tell them. But you don’t want to provide too much information all at once because  you’ll only bore them or they’ll lose the thread of the story. So that third block continues the scene or story or starts another story. That’s the rhythm, what I call the creative nonfiction dance. Information and story – back and  forth – repeatedly.

The objective of the dance is to embed information inside the scene or story so that the  movement between blocks is seamless. Each scene or little story should simultaneously excite with action and teach with precision. In the perfect world, information will also be embedded inside each scene. As you can see, that is happening here.

Let me say a little more about the structure of  the creative nonfiction essay – or book. Creative nonfiction, as I have pointed out, is an amalgam of style and substance. The scene and story, the characters and the inherent suspense get people interested and involved, allowing the writer to communicate the information – or the nonfiction part of the genre – and keep readers interested. This is especially the case for readers who might not have an inherent interest in the subject.

So here’s the dance that is diagrammed. The scene gets the reader interested and involved, so you can then provide information, nonfiction, to the reader. But sooner or later, a reader will get distracted or overloaded with information, and you will lose him. But before you allow that to happen you go back to the scene – or introduce a new scene – and reengage. And it is really terrific when you can embed information inside a scene. This, as you can see in the diagram, allows you to go from scene to scene – without a break.

You can read some more about Lee at his website HERE.