By Way of Circularities: an interview with Witi Ihimaera
Witi Ihimaera is one of New Zealand’s most important and distinctive writers. His extensive career has covered short stories, novels, anthologies, libretti, and essays, and he formed a key part in the Māori Renaissance in the postwar decades. He is also a notable mentor to younger writers, and his work has had global impact (from the Oscar nominated film adaption Whale Rider to being awarded a French Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters (Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2017). In 2014, he published the first part of a memoir Maori Boy: a Memoir of Childhood, which won the Non-Fiction prize at New Zealand writing’s top awards, the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. The first part forensically digs into Ihimaera’s childhood, whakapapa (genealogy), and the Pākehā world around him. The second part of the memoir, Native Son: The Writer’s Memoir was released in September. In part 2, Ihimaera magnificently traces his early adult years and the steps that led him to becoming a published writer – in the face of the many demons (internal and external) that he had to confront at the time. It’s at once heartbreaking and generous, a vivid portrayal of life in the 1960s and 1970s, but also with great clarity highlighting the deep historical and cultural links that informed his worldview.
Brannavan Gnanalingam: I loved that sentence in Māori Boy in which you write ‘people call me prolific but I am really only hard-working and hard-living.’ You’ve fit in a lot in your life – why has writing continued to form a central part of that?
Witi Ihimaera: You can blame my personal history as well as my political history, but I tend to shy away from compliments on one hand or else distrust their actual meaning on the other; I presume prolific is a compliment, is it? I prefer to divert attention to the hard yards I’ve done to get here as a Māori writer, let alone a writer and, more important, maintain it. Māori call it mahi i te mahi, doing the work.
I started doing the mahi when I was 15 at Te Karaka District High School in 1959 and realised that Māori were absent from the books I was reading. And then I read an anthology of New Zealand literature and, in it, there was a short story about Māori written by a Pākehā writer. It was so poisonous I threw the book out the window. I got caned for it and I guess the two things – the invisibilisation or sidelining of my culture plus the punishment for recognising it – made me vow that, bugger it, I was going to be a Māori writer whether people liked it or not.
It’s been a career where, yes, I am hard-working, and hard-living yes. Hard-living for many reasons, for instance, being a writer has never been a reliable income so I’ve had to work and fit the writing around it. Hey, I’m not complaining. As my father who was a farmer told me, ‘Beats digging in fenceposts.’
One thing that has been clear in the books is your acknowledgement of a literary whakapapa. You have tended to be described as New Zealand’s first Māori novelist in Pākehā descriptions of New Zealand literature, yet that privileges a Western concept of literature. How important was it for you to correct that idea and to pay tribute to Māori literary traditions that hadn’t been given their due?
Māori culture is the taonga, the treasure vault from which I source my inspiration. How could I not pay tribute to the people and stories of the iwi? Without them I wouldn’t exist. The genealogy of my work can be traced back to Waituhi, my father’s kin place. The pito (umbilical) is there, where the stories were all being spoken, sung and acted around me. It’s the turangawaewae, the place where my work began to stand. My Māori self has its history there, and it’s where all its reo (tongue or language), ihi (energy), mana (strength) and wehi (dread) comes from; there, I am my own king.
All I’ve ever done is move that literary whakapapa, that living world and its orality, its aurality too, into a written world in a different language, English. In all my books since Pounamu, Pounamu (1972) that’s been my job: to re-establish my tribal genealogies in the Pākehā world – but through the imagination. To create new creative ways of looking at old realities by anchoring the books in their primal source – what we call purakau (myth). To think of myself as a carver, because carving is also literature to Māori. Or as a tattooist, for tā moko is also literature, and to tattoo black words onto the white page.
Not just to pay tribute to Māori literary traditions though. Also to reclaim Māori history or, at least, write it into the eyeballs of the Pākehā in power. After all, that was what had propelled my childhood vow.
And, as far as Māori are concerned I was writing during the time of rural to urban drift during the 1960s and 70s, so I was also endeavouring to move the literature in a geographical sense to where they were going. And ‘they’ were a new generation who were speaking English.
As for the ‘first Māori novelist’ tag, well, there were a lot of firsts in those days! Hone Tuwhare, first Māori published poet. Albert Wendt, first published Samoan writer. Patricia Grace, first published Māori woman writer, Pat Heretaunga Baker first Māori writer of historical fiction. I have a sneaking suspicion it was the dominant culture patting itself on the back.
What was it like to face Pākehā when you first started writing? While we can acknowledge Māori literary traditions, there was clearly not a lot facing Pākehā at the time. How much did you internalise that Achebe quote you reference in Native Son when you started writing – ‘it began to dawn on me that although fiction was undoubtedly fictitious, it could also be true or false.’
Here’s the thing: I had to face Māori too. The Waituhi valley where I am from may have fought against Pākehā during the New Zealand Wars (we followed the rebel leader Te Kooti Arikirangi) but there were many Māori who had subsequently embraced the ‘We are one people’ ideology. My rebel history, however, allowed me no alternative but to write against, and there was no way I was going to give up ground. Our tribe says, Te Whānau a Kai hei panapana maro, Te Whānau A Kai never retreat – and I don’t. But when I said I was going to write a book about Māori I never expected that the subsequent journey as a writer would encompass critical engagement with my own constituency too.
As far as Pākehā culture was concerned, being able to go toe to toe was made easier because the government had endorsed biculturalism in the 1970s and that, as Treaty partners, Māori should have equal rights, protection and status; so criticism was authorised. However, in my case, some Pākehā felt my work was sometimes going too much against the grain of reconciliation; not all the time because every now and then I would write inclusive books like The Whale Rider (1987) and Bulibasha (1994). To be frank there was a strain of Māori thinking that wanted tino rangatira (sovereignty) rather than biculturalism.
You can guess what side I was on. I spoke with a forked tongue by saying I was for biculturalism but my work showed the opposite. I began using the wero (traditional challenge) as a literary weapon. For instance, in my play, Woman Far Walking (2000) my main character is Tiri Mahana, and she is the personification of the Treaty of Waitangi, 1840; at the premiere, my good friend, historian Judith Binney said to me, ‘I enjoyed your play, Witi, but I wish there had been a place for us.’ Well, in my opinion, we had to go through apology and restitution first.
You’re right though: in literary matters, Pākehā were unaccustomed to the challenge to the status quo, there weren’t that many Māori writers around. But life wasn’t just literary and I faced racism and appalling racist attacks for my work — people picking fights in pubs, shouting me down at meetings, calling me black arse.
All of this I will traverse in the third memoir, Indigenous Envoy, where I cover creating a new high ground for Māori literature. And part of that negotiation was to establish Māori writing as a no-go zone for Pākehā. So, yes, China Achebe’s quote was a mantra to me. No more poisonous and false representations by Pākehā.
You write that Māori progress our narratives by way of circularities – can you please describe how that manifests itself in your work? From a writing / narrative perspective, is that difficult to keep control of?
On the marae (traditional hearth) the circularities or spirals are easy to see because, during kōrero (speechmaking) they’re orally delivered by people talking around and around the kaupapa (purpose) until there is consensus — or maybe there isn’t consensus but the decision will do for now, so it’s open-ended. The process is slow, indirect, often oblique but somehow everyone gets there.
Where this relates to my own practice as a writer is that when I started my first novel, Tangi (1973) I realised that the Western concept of literature was primarily linear, delivered not by ‘people’ but one person moving through time and the Western audience wanted a story that went fast — at least faster than delivered at Waituhi — with a particular destination in mind. But in Tangi I decided to tell the story of Tama Mahana in a tribal rather than individual way, and the tikanga (method) I used was the circular structures of kōrero. In the novel Tama is attending the tangihanga (three day funeral) of his father, and the tangi is the pivot. Tama keeps circling around it. But he also crosses its threshold through a series of engagements with time. They take him back as well as forward, around as well as through, and engage him primarily in collective memory. The book itself, literally, starts to cry. Nor is there any comfortable, linear resolution. to Tama’s story which is whether he will stay to look after the farm or leave to go back to the city.
Another way of explaining this methodology is through a Māori proverb. We say ‘Te tōrino haere whakamua, whakamuri’: at the same time the spiral is going forward it is going back, at the same time it compels us towards, it is returning.
In Whānau, you described you refused to structure fiction around a solo protagonist. That’s now become a key component of postcolonial literature, but how revolutionary was it at the time?
Whānau (1974) was my second novel and third book in three years so there’s a unity in them all where I was trying to figure out my practice according to that tikanga (method) I spoke of earlier. I had explored circularity in one way, in Tangi, and in Whānau (Family) I explored it in another by getting rid of the solo protagonist — or signifying individual _ and writing (another, but different) tribal novel. The pivot this time is locational, the carved village meeting house, Rongopai. Members of the extended family keep spiralling around it in an intertwining way. The main character of the book is in fact the meeting house and the people in the story are aspects of its personality and history.
At the time I don’t think the kaupapa and tikanga were revolutionary, nobody noticed.
From my perspective as a practitioner, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t point out that I hadn’t deployed the spirals properly. They only operated on one horizontal, geographical plane. They went around but they didn’t go upward or downward, vertically and historically, into past, present and future. That didn’t happen until I wrote my next novel, The Matriarch (1986). In that book the circularities went not just into history but also whakapapa (genealogy), the telling of a tribal family through the intergenerational epic. The spirals were able to do what they were supposed to. Tell the story of a tribal leader, the matriarch of the title, literally at war with New Zealand. I’ll just describe this all in English because that will be easier, but they went into urtext, context, pretext, textuality, intertext, all spiralling around the pivot of inaianei (the present, now). People can read all about this in Native Son (2019).
Those circularities also operated in another way too! I began to spiral in and out of my literary career. I became a diplomat, and I later got into political and cultural activism because I could express my tribal imperatives and protest over land loss, language and Waitangi issues better and more practically in those ways.
I’m interested in your acknowledgement of the importance of black American writing to yours (made obvious with your reference to Wright / Baldwin in the title of Part 2). What drew you to those literary traditions and gave you that affinity? I’m reminded of how my Dad, a Sri Lankan in London in the ‘70s, loved Bruce Lee and disco as it gave him an alternative view / re-set of power relations.
People don’t realise how really really White literature was in New Zealand. Access to any other literature than British was limited. But I was trying to find possible exemplars for my own practice, and Black American or Black African writing became it! Why? Well, intuitively, I felt I needed some kind of race-based theoretical framework. The trouble was that our libraries were very White too. These days you can access Black writers and download their books in a couple of seconds. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, a few books by James Baldwin may have been in the library but the only way I could read Richard Wright was to order Native Son from the States and it took five maybe six months to make the trip.
I was looking for models and I realise now how horribly isolated I was as a writer of colour in Aotearoa but I had to do the best I could. I remember Kanak writer Dewe Gorode telling me about her experiences as a student in France and, actually, I regret not having had any overseas intellectual experience or connection with the French theorists like Frantz Fanon and Michel Foucault, Homi Bhabha among others — the possibility that, through them, I might have discovered earlier the absolutely mind-blowing set of highly provocative discourses at the intersections of race and literature that others were privy to. Though here’s a thought: maybe closer acquaintance might have overpowered my practice at that time and not allowed me the distance to create a Māori literature intrinsic to our set of circumstances.
Meantime, your mention of your Dad obtaining a re-set of power relations through popular culture strikes a chord. My re-set came through popular Black culture to start with — film, music, then television (remember Roots?) — and later through more active engagement with Black politics, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and Black American writers. There I found the potency to inspire revolution thinking within my work. That didn’t mean my literature became Black. Indigenous literature isn’t the same as black literature. But the outer parameters of all those circularities I have spoken of gained inspirational momentum and strength from it.
A challenge a lot of ‘minority’ writers find is that they’re defined by dominant cultures’ idea of what they think the minority is, rather than letting the writers define themselves. This idea that you’d be judged by Pākehā conceptions of what it means to be Māori, rather than something that’s inherent in your books. Is that something you encountered and did it become easier to ignore or react to?
I’m borrowing from something that Tim Winton has just said at the Edinburgh Festival and it is that we’re living in the twenty-first century but they’re (Tim said ‘we’re’) operating with a nineteenth-century-narrative and they (Tim said ‘we’) have got to change the story. Apropos of which I like Penguin Random House UK’s commitment to a hiring and publishing output — I especially like the hiring part _ which will help to address this systemic problem.
When I started, I found difficulty getting published because my perceived market was Māori and ‘Māori don’t buy books.’ Even worse, there was a perception that Pākehā wouldn’t buy books, at least fiction, by Māori writers either! But I was fortunate that when I did find a publisher at the age of 28 and, later, an agent who I could talk to, we went through the process of decolonising our audience together. Certainly the mainframes of New Zealand literature like reviewing, bookseller and bookbuyer preferences were monolithic, and their worldviews were decidedly restricted. But as New Zealand Inc developed and became inclusive of Māori, I managed the crossover to the Pākehā market; the Māori buy-in eventuated too. So my career grew up as the country grew up.
Over the past decade New Zealand has become better, now, at also including Pasifika writers. I think a third of our parliament are people of colour — the Waitangi Tribunal, education and media are making the difference. But while we’re looking as a country to diverse markets like China and the Pacific Rim, the Whiteness I spoke of predominates in ingrained cultural habits that are resistant to greater diversity in our literature industries. So although we will go along to listen to international Muslim or Indian writers at our amazing festivals, we’re not supporting our own nationally grown product. We’re not up to speed in including the (inter) national world growing inside us. Yet.
What do you do meantime? Well. My work was misunderstood or ignored at first. I know I had to chip away, develop a thick skin, you can’t help stupid and racist people and it’s their own fault if they are pig ignorant. I learnt the biz. I think I decided who I was and what my persona would be — what I would represent — and learnt how to negotiate all those attempts at defining or derailing me by being street smart.
And then you hold to your course. Don’t start faking because your work might become reflective of what you are not. Even worse, you might become someone you might find hard to live with. My test is that if you can’t look yourself in the eye, don’t do it, don’t go there. In the end you triumph by surviving and going the distance by having established a career. In my case, it’s been the long haul that has done it. You get through the gates, finally, and people read you because you have established a persona they can trust and authenticated a world they can believe in.
You’ve got a very rich and diverse set of Māori characters in your oeuvre i.e. you can never be accused of presenting Māori as a monolithic whole. I’m reminded of Stuart Hall’s idea that in order to break stereotypes, you need to move away from good / bad dichotomies and present diversity. Has that ever been a thought in your writing? Did you feel a burden of representation / pressure to present Māori in particular ways given the discourse around Māori at particular times of writing?
To use the circularities image, the Māori characters came from the ever-widening spiral of my work, they weren’t planned, they were part of the capture. As for the question of burden, I’ve always said that as a Māori writer my role is to articulate our concerns in Te Ao Tūroa so the burden of representation comes with that territory, I don’t make an issue of it, I just do it.
In the beginning that wasn’t a problem because I just got on with it and my work never strayed far from the Waituhi valley. By this I mean that the pūtake, the taproot, of my first book of stories Pounamu, Pounamu, and first and second novels, Tangi and Whānau, were all set in the valley. The Matriarch, Bulibasha, The Dream Swimmer, and, of course, the two memoirs are multigenerational family sagas that spring from there too. I borrowed the idea from William Faulkner who set his work in a fictional county he called Yoknapatawpha. So I have always had this sense that I have been writing true, staying true, and that people could extrapolate a generalised Māori condition from the specific Ihimaera world.
I don’t think I felt the need to present Māori in particular ways. I mean, my characters and stories came from my own experience. While I might have felt the burden of being a Māori writer I never felt any burden of representing Māori in the work; other writers like Pat (Grace), Keri (Hulme) and Api (Taylor) took that slack up. However, Māori became politicised very fast between 1960 and 1980, which are known as the years of the Māori Renaissance, and that required me and my work to up the ante, not just talk the talk but walk it. I was one of the architects of the Māori Writers and Artists Society along with Hone Tuwhare, Para Matchitt and others. I was on the inaugural QE2 Arts Council and established the first Māori Arts Council. Pat Grace and I started up the Te Hā Māori Writers Group, which is named after my father. I stopped writing fiction for ten years, I was really enjoying myself! The creativity went into other areas, particularly anthologies and I edited my first one, Into The World of Light (1982). Since then there have been twelve, the last two have been co-edited, Black Marks on the White Page with Tina Makereti and Pūrākau with Whiti Hereaka because the leadership role also involves mentoring. The point is that the burden is no longer a burden, it’s a purpose, and many people share it now.
As well I embarked on a new career in diplomacy which took me to Canberra, Australia. I sometimes think of my three-year sojourn in Australia as my international ‘race relations’ incubator. That third novel I spoke of earlier, The Matriarch, was conceived amid my growing Indigenous as well as Aboriginal political awareness; I sat with protesters on the site of the Australian Parliament the night before the bulldozers moved in. And, then, on my return to Wellington I got involved in the Springbok Tour, 1981. The book finally emerged out of that huge whawhai (battle), that huge civil war. In fact, CK Stead’s review of the novel for the London Review of Books was titled just that: War Book.
There was a sense in your first memoir, Māori Boy (2014) that you felt like you were an outsider to both Māori and Pākehā? Do you think that helped you be a writer, that you weren’t immersed in either culture? I certainly think from my experience, not feeling like I was either Sri Lankan or a New Zealander helped me be more critical / not necessarily accepting of the ‘truth’ of particular cultural frameworks.
Well, my career after 1986 accelerated so fast, the circularities going further out in all sorts of ways, that I think I became a boundary rider rather than an outsider; I made the boundary my default position. For instance, geographically I was in New York and Washington DC from 1986 to 1990 where my love of Black American culture really sealed itself to my soul. The critical distance enabled me to ‘see’ New Zealand from afar, as it were, and therefore to realise the negativity of Māori patriarchy and sexism on one hand and the Pākehā institutional racism (and sexism!) on the other.
The work started to shift from its central axis to take other, axial, positions. I wrote Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1995) and came out as a gay man. I began setting Māori characters in non-traditional Māori settings like my Tom Brokaw-television anchorman in The Rope of Man (2005) or embedding other histories into Māori settings like my German family in The Parihaka Woman (2011). There’s a kind of culmination to my being an outrider — riding the boundary — in the two memoirs and recent non-fiction essays and speeches that have yet to see the light. I have a personal perception, shared by many others, that liberal internationalism is fighting for its life to ensure the ideals of an inclusive humankind and kaitiakitanga, looking after the planet — and memoir and non-fiction can go for the jugular in a way that fiction doesn’t.
But I’m drifting off point. I think all writers of colour, or Other or Gay or They, inhabit a whole set of tensions. First of all there are the identity games we play with ourselves, the insider-outsider positions we embrace or force ourselves to take. Second, there’s the belonging-not belonging existential dilemmas between the writer and his ‘country’ deployed by him/her/they in the writing and against him/her/they by his country. For instance, I’m claimed as a New Zealand writer but I am, actually a minority writer writing explicitly against New Zealand — and I am rewarded for it. Again, I am (thankfully) claimed by my iwi, but I am not operating within the known parameters of Māori culture or politics — consequently, for some, I am not Māori enough. Third…damn, I forget what that was…maybe it has to do with the sexual self’s search for justice…or about the writerly self. Regarding the latter, I suspect that that self’s journey is inevitably towards its own distinctive world view, its own critical position and analysis. I’m not saying that one becomes selfish but that in getting to a point of selflessness you write yourself into that corner you are referring to from where you, personally, rather than a character in your fiction, can come out fighting.
Some people might disagree with me but I think the writer puts his/her/their/your own stake in the ground — or in himself or herself or themself — and says ‘This is what I stand for.’ We develop an independent critical consciousness or, maybe, conscience, which can often make us feel alone and utterly miserable. It’s a position of in-betweenness, rather than outsiderness, maybe. Welcome to the loneliness of the long distance writer, Bran!
You always wanted to be a writer, but one thing I found interesting is you acknowledge the small accidents, the turning points in time that ultimately pushed you towards writing. What role did these ‘accidents’ have in getting you to where you are now?
Huge, because as you will know from the two memoirs Māori Boy and Native Son, I had a battle with myself, a particular trauma and consequent low sense of self-worth. And writing became a way of getting through this: j’écrivis donc je devenis, I wrote therefore I became.
The next memoir, Indigenous Envoy, will continue to traverse the magnificent accident of my career. The title refers to my 16-year time as a diplomat, another one of those circularities. But it also references my increasing awareness as an indigenous writer trying to convey the indigenous approach to the world food distribution issues, the climate and environment crisis. On my immediate horizon though are the White supremacist threats disseminated through social media and which reared its ugly head in the Christchurch Muslim attack on 15 March this year. Any hold in New Zealand would be counter-productive to what we are all trying to do here which is to create that inclusive society I’ve been talking about throughout our kōrero.
But you know, the accidents wouldn’t have got anywhere unless I did something with them, so I make the most of their opportunities. The writer Philip Temple, some time in the 1990s, I recall, was putting together a New Zealand literary first fifteen and put me in at halfback precisely for that quality. I was also slippery behind the scrum and sold the perfect dummy.
How difficult was the process of writing a memoir? Did you learn more about yourself / family, find yourself going into places that you hadn’t expected? The memoirs are very naked and you don’t have the cloak that fiction tends to provide.
It’s like living your life all over again, and I’ve done that, so far, twice. Each memoir has taken four years, you have to have stamina, and I am still in recovery from the second one, Native Son. So I’ve set the third one aside for a few years as I am so fucking exhausted in my psychic self. There’s a huge toll, but I guess that all depends on how deep you go into your own personal abyss. Not that I faced myself as a monster but there was something monstrous that I had never expected to confront. Look. You make up your own mind how deep the penetration will be into the material and you take the consequences, stress, eating badly, lack of sleep, being out of whack, my whole dream world turned to shit. And when I went deeper than I expected to in the first one I had to do the same with the second. In the process a whole lot of stuff fell out. A lot more has still to fall out in the third!
While you faced monsters in the memoir, I was also interested in the way you presented the memoir as ‘productive’. There’s a really rich polyphony in the memoir. How was the process of revisiting your work – is it something that you’ve frequently done? It seems to link to this clear idea in your memoir of tying your own literary whakapapa with your whakapapa, this idea of circularity that you’ve described?
I like that, ‘rich polyphony’, and you’re correct, the two memoirs are not just about disclosures. The first is a memoir of a Maori childhood so it’s about that entire generous, tribal, inclusive world. The second is the Māori writer’s memoir, so it’s about writing through life to become a writer, the contestatory nature of it as you negotiate with Western European traditions to make way.
I was interested to read a recent Twitter exchange between a group of writers about didactism in writing, whether it should appear in the novel, I think you appear in that thread. Didactism features in the second memoir because, yes, I do revisit and evaluate my own work — in fact various rewritten editions of Pounamu, Pounamu, Tangi/The Rope of Man, Whānau/Whānau II, The Matriarch/ Redux exist as well as film and theatre variations; I’m constantly trying to write my work further into its centre, whatever that should be. As far as Native Son is concerned, I hope the didactism works in a helpful way by showing my methodology: in particular the traditional kaupapa and tikanga that supports it, the two-thirds unseen and below the line text which allows the one-third seen text to float above the line — and to bear my signature moko. A lot of this has to do with Māori myth, so I tell quite a few in the book to indicate how a different myth base can be brought into the centre and, thereby, displace Western text to the margins.
Ultimately, with Native Son I truly wanted to produce a writer’s manifesto as well as tell my personal story. I chose to write in the memoir form because it was my way of writing those ambitions with as much clarity, perception, rigour and vivacity as memory provides. I like what Janet Frame has said about her phenomenal memory — she wrote a three-volume autobiography: ‘It is in some things, yes. I’m not particularly observant, but when I am writing, I have a clear observation of particulars I never knew I noticed.’
What Janet Frame’s comment refers to is that the memory is reclaimed in the written moment. That happened in my case. From a Māori perspective, the mere act of every day over four years thinking the material into existence, forcing the life to write itself down on paper, opened myself up to the power that Māori call the wā. This is the energy which comes out of Te Kōre, the primal nothing, and which still flows through Te Pō, the primal night and Te Ao, the primal day. It still keeps pouring out, just pouring, pouring, pouring. In my case, it flowed through my memory in very expansive ways. And it was supported by the memories of my four sisters and, well, entire whanau, because many of the memories were tribal, collective.
I hope I’ve answered to that young boy that I once was. I hope he is happy that I was able to make something of his childhood vow to put his culture before his country; there’s a slipstream meaning in there which I’ll leave in, you never know the power of the unconscious. I don’t think the boy thought of any legacy that might accrue but I imagine him jumping up and down with incredulity and glee, ‘We did it.’
Yes, a whole lot of personal stuff known only to myself, dark, did fall out. But, as readers will come to know, a whole lot of what saved me also fell out. For instance, the deep abiding love of my Dad. The aroha of many grandmothers. And, of course, the compulsion to write, make my life mean something, to offer what I have learnt, and give myself the opportunity to redeem it.