Q. Kia ora. Firstly, I was wondering where you get your ideas?
A. There’s this flat in Seddon Street. It has a long gravel
drive fenced off with sheets of iron on both sides.
Outside the front steps a dandelion and a metal bin,
straight inside the front door is a galley kitchen. It’s modest,
let’s say that.
This opening, from Sandi Sartorelli’s funny and serious Three Questions, about where writers find their ideas, sets the tone for her investigation of how exactly writers go about writing. Of course I can’t say here where ideas can be found, because that would make it all too easy, but I can say that this great mystery is approached, coaxed out from behind the couch and sometimes attacked with logic in 4th Floor 2014.
In selecting work for 4th Floor, I have looked for writing that ‘backs itself’ and drops us as deep into the writer’s world as possible. By that I mean that the writer takes us where he or she wants us to go, and faces us into that world. It might be a place or a way of life we haven’t heard about before, or some tiny corner of a universal experience.
We are in the past, learning about European law as it operated in The Cook Islands or what sliced bread looked like to someone who had never seen it before, or we are in Sri Lanka waiting for the cook to arrive, or we are learning about the physicality of humans. We can feel love beginning or the arrival of a death sentence. We can find out about places still tainted by shame and how short the life of tropical flowers is, once they are picked. We can be anywhere the writers go. We can learn whatever they know. Put a different way, the Whitireia creative writing programme has a uniquely inclusive and diverse feel. I have tried to reproduce that in 4th Floor 2014.
For the first time, this year’s 4th Floor includes a section of writing about the writing process. I have called this section ‘I am starting today’, a title borrowed from Sian Torrington’s extraordinary poem, because that’s the first thing you have to do, to be a writer. You have to start. Today. If you are a writer who has not written much for a while, the uncompromising word ‘today’ might disturb you a bit as you read it. It makes me want to go now …
Porirua writer Trish Harris’s Gaps, Gifts and Grind is a different sort of meditation on the writing process from Sian’s or Sandi’s. Trish’s piece tells us something about the ups and downs and the odd fair wind that are part of her writing experience. Trish shows us in diagrams, as well as in words, how she thinks about telling a story. Anyone who has grappled with telling a long story will find these ideas interesting, and perhaps Trish’s experience will help readers to solve storytelling problems they are facing right now.
‘4th Floor is an important stepping stone for writers,’ says Mary-Jane Duffy, manager of the creative writing programme. ‘Graduates of this programme have published over 120 books, and their publishing lives often started with pieces in journals and magazines. But 4th Floor is more than a stepping stone, because it’s a mix of new and established writers, so it always includes a very exciting range of voices. And because we’ve now set up our own small publishing house, Escalator Press, down the line we hope to be publishing more of these writers.’
Whitireia is where my own writing life really began. 4th Floor was the second place I published work. It has meant a lot to me to be this year’s editor of 4th Floor and to be in a position to encourage new-ish writers, as Hinemoana Baker encouraged me, and to admire the stylish writing of the tuakāna, the ‘older sisters’ of the Whitireia writing family. It has been a privilege to see this writing community in action, doing what makes us a community – writing. I have been in a unique position to see the enthusiasm, the professionalism and the sheer joy these writers have for the activity of writing. Looking back at previous issues of 4th Floor it is most noticeable that writers stay loyal to this family, submitting work to 4th Floor over decades and maintaining their links with the creative writing programme by mentoring and tutoring.
Many thanks to publishing programme leader Rachel Lawson, and to Mary-Jane Duffy and all the creative writing programme tutors, mentors and students, past and present, for their ongoing support. And my most particular thanks to publishing students Lydia Warren for project managing the publication team, and to Frankie Dutt-Maharaj, Amanda Booth and Ellie Kyrke-Smith for their hard work and their professional and collaborative approach to editing.
Please feel free to browse. As always, you can read one author at a time or pick and choose from the titles. You can also hop back to other years of 4th Floor. It’s a big world out there. I hope you enjoy seeing it through the eyes of these writers.
Editor, 4th Floor 2014