Welcome to Verb

Last night we launched Verb Wellington… our new name to describe the small universe of literary activity that we are committed to creating.

LitCrawl is still very much alive and well - LitCrawl is now part of Verb Festival which happens between 6 - 10 November 2019. The LitCrawl will happen on Saturday 9 November and we can’t wait.

Verb Wellington is an evolution that grew out of a demand on LitCrawl: “The demand on LitCrawl grew so much every year that we far overshot that initial Saturday night-only Crawl and ended up with a four day festival of over 50 events in 2018.” says Verb director, Claire Mabey. “The natural next step was to give that larger programme a name of its own of which our LitCrawl is now a part”.

As well as the Verb Festival (annual writers festival, every November) Verb will present writers events throughout the year and are developing Verb Residencies, an extension of the micro-residency programme they set up in 2018.

As part of Verb Wellington’s mission to champion Aotearoa writers, Claire Mabey announced at the launch last night that the Verb Festival 2019 guest curators are Hana Pera Aoake and Mya Morrison-Middleton who together are the collective known as Fresh and Fruity. ‘Hana and Mya are bringing their voices, their ideas, their artistic community, influences and conversations. We are so excited to be working with them.’ More guest curators will be announced in the coming months.

In more announcements still New Zealand Festival Creative Director Marnie Karmelita also announced a new partnership that will see Verb leading the curation of the Festival’s Writers and Readers programme in 2020.

‘The New Zealand Festival is passionate about supporting the artistic and literary landscape of Wellington and especially those people who work within it, so joining forces with Verb around our Writers programme makes perfect sense. It will allow Verb to tackle a different style and scale of programming within the environment of a major festival, and we know they’ll rise to the occasion magnificently bringing their fresh and engaging approach. We’re thrilled to have their expertise and love of writers and ideas on our team and we can’t wait to start working with them.’ said Karmelita.

‘We could not be more honoured to take on this role.’ said Mabey. ‘We have so much love and respect for NZ Festival’s writers and readers legacy and we can’t wait to contribute to the next stage in that programme’s evolution.’

The Verb Events programme kicks off next month with podcast legend The Allusionist. In May UK poet Luke Wright and Irish novelist John Boyne will continue the series. See Verb Events here.

Summer Reads

Have you got your summer reading list sorted? If you’re after a little inspiration, then look no further… We asked seven writers to let us know about three books that are on their summer reading lists!

Photo by Sean Golding

Photo by Sean Golding

Beth Brash

1. Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi.

Reading cookbooks is allowed right? I find cooking incredibly relaxing, and I love nothing more than flicking through cookbooks to be inspired and reading the stories that influenced those dishes. 

2. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.

This one was one of the first books that I used my own money (not vouchers from grandparents) to buy. It changed the way I thought about food and the world. I was so devastated to hear of Anthony Bourdain's passing that I want to revisit that book again, even though it will be with a much sadder context. 

3. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari.

Nothing like extra time on your hands to have an existential crisis! In a world that is increasingly hard to get your head around, and there is so much information to take in, hopefully I'll start my 2019 working year with a bit more clarity. 


Steff Green

1. The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morten

If – like me – you want your summer to be resplendent with stories out of time, crumbling gothic manors, mysteries spanning generations, murder, intrigue, romance, and art, then you need Kate Morten in your life. 

2. The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell.

Some doors are locked for a reason... A sprawling gothic horror in the style of the greats of the genre. For fans of Susan Hill. Creepy as fuck.

3. Wake by Elizabeth Knox.

I picked this up after appearing on a LitCrawl panel with Elizabeth on killing off characters. Wake is a horror novel about what it really means to try to do one's best;
about the choices and sacrifices people face in
order to keep a promise like "I will take care of you.


Victor Rodger

1. Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalto.

One of my good mates recommended it and we have very similar tastes, so I listen to her!

2. Milkman by Anna Burns.

Because ...The Booker.

3. This is the Ritual by Rob Doyle

Found him very entertaining at LitCrawl and was intrigued to see what his actual writing's like.

Matariki Williams

1. These Two Hands by Renée

I’m about to finish Renée’s “These Two Hands”, and as I get further and further through the patches that make up the quilt of her memoir, I’m reminded more and more that I need to go back and read other work of hers. As I already own “Skeleton Woman”, I’m going to dig that out and re-read it.

2. Poūkahangatus by Tayi Tibble

Earlier this year I bought Tayi Tibble’s “Poūkahangatus”. It travelled all the way to London with me, and ‘Sensitivity’ in particular was apt reading. Her poetry is so incisive, it makes me squeal, nod my head, click my fingers and clutch my heart. I want to give her book more time, as well as make my way through all of the interviews she’s undertaken with Māori creatives around the world which are up on the Toi Māori website.

3. The Imperfect Lives Series by Catherine Robertson

 Lastly, I did some work with Catherine Robertson earlier this year on her forthcoming novel, the sequel to “Gabriel’s Bay”. When I worked with Catherine, I hadn’t actually read Gabriel’s Bay so I bought and then DEVOURED that. The sequel is not out yet so instead I’m going to get my hands on The Imperfect Lives series, because then I get to read three books.

Nadia Reid

1. Beautiful Revolutionary by Laura Elizabeth Woollett 

2. Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott 

3. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Photo by si moore

Photo by si moore


Jean Sergent

1. Nicotine by Gregor Hens

I bought this in 2016 planning to read it as a kind of pretentious equivalent to Alan Carr's 'Easy Way To Stop Smoking'. It's an extended essay, meditating on the effects of nicotine on thoughts and behaviours. I heard Will Self interviewing Gregors Hens from the perspective of a life-long smoker (Self) to a reformed cigarette afficionado (Hens). I didn't read it, but I did quit smoking, and so now seems like the perfect time to finally pick it up from my to-read pile and get stuck in.

2. The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford

This book is a confluence of two of my great interests: Death, and the Mitford sisters. I tried for years to buy this book, even putting in a special order with a local independent bookstore, but they couldn't get me a copy. I don't think it's out of print, but it just didn't work out. I finally found it in a used book store in Venice Beach, LA, in 2016. The hand-written price tag says $3.95 but I'm pretty sure I only paid $1. The book has a postcard wedged into it - presumably a previous owner's bookmark - that says 'Did Jesus Get Stoned?' on the front, and on the back it says "Actually he was crucified. Jesus took the hit for us". The book is about the death industry in the USA, and is written in Jessica Mitford's inimitable style of muckraking journalism.

3. Role Models by John Waters

My friends Jonny and Lizzie are really good at buying me (and lending me) excellent books that I never get around to reading, Role Models is a collection of essays written by John Waters about people who have influenced him. From locals like Baltimore bar-owner Esther Martin, to Saint Catherine of Siena, and music legends Johnny Mathis and Little Richard. I'm a big fan of the 'Pope of Trash', and I think there's no better summer reading than essay collections because you can fall asleep in the sun with the book on your face and not feel like you've got to catch up on the story.

jake baxandalle .png

Jake Baxendale

1. Te Tau Ihu o te Waka by Hilary and John Mitchell
A history of Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka a Māui ( the Top of the South Island) from creation myths through to first settler contact. I'm from Golden Bay and spend lots of time in the region playing gigs and hanging out, so it'll be interesting and fulfilling to get an understanding of the pre-European history.

2. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
I'm really into science fiction, because I'm a geek but also because, at its best, I think it's a great way of examining societies and psychology through the limitless premises of possible future scenarios. Ursula Le Guin is probably my favourite author of science fiction because she does this so well, but Virginia Woolf did it before her! Orlando, the protagonist, is a genderfluid character, and the book is way ahead of its time both figuratively and literally. I'm looking forward to seeing how she explores this.

3. Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
I've actually just read this, but it's summer now so it totally counts. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi explores how a curse laid on a Ganda tribal leader in the 1700s affects his descendants from then, until present day. Great characters, compelling storylines that are cleverly tied together and it also neatly touches on some of the history of Uganda. An awesome read!

Launching The Bomb!


Dynamic author and illustrator duo Sacha Cotter and Josh Morgan are launching their third book together, The Bomb. In a funny story about being true to oneself, a child dreams of pulling off the perfect dive bomb. He keeps doing flops in spite of getting advice from his bomb champ Nan and everyone else – that's until he finds the secret.

Huia Press have published this title in both English and te reo Māori language editions, so we asked Sacha and Josh about translating their fantastic book, their collaboration and their real-life influences. The Bomb is launching on Saturday 10th November, 3pm at the Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie Plaza, Kilbirnie.

1.     It is really cool to see both an English and Māori version of The Bomb. During the writing process was it a matter of translation from one language to another, or writing with both languages in mind?


Thank you! We’re really pleased with the way they turned out! I love Huia’s decision to give the English and Māori versions different covers! Such a great move! A translation is always going to be a little different, so accordingly the distinct covers give each version of the story their own unique identities. Hmmmm – this is an interesting question. To be honest, I didn’t have both languages in mind right at the very start. At first, I was focussed on trying to get the story right and creating strong characters. I wanted to write a story that (at least to me!) evoked emotion. I wanted it to make people chuckle in places, perhaps make them feel a little sad at the low point, but ultimately make them feel uplifted. The ‘feeling’ was my primary concern. Once this and the story structure were strongly in place, I focussed on refining the rhythm and (in some places) rhyme of my words in English.  As I was writing some of the rhyming parts I did wonder how Kawata might get on translating them. I thought, ah oh, I’m not making this easy for him! I speak Spanish (although it’s getting a bit rusty these days!!) but even so, I would sometimes think, now how would I translate this part? It really makes me appreciate what Kawata does!!  Sometimes, (especially with rhyme) what you end up translating is quite different, but if you’ve done a good job, it will still have the same essence. Knowing Kawata and his gift for translation, I knew that he would do a beautiful job – and of course he has!!!  He is fantastic!!  The chorus that the Kid sings out in Māori is amazing!!!  It has a gorgeous rhythm to it!

2.       How was managing the translation process and working with a Māori translator? Was it similar to the collaborative style between author and illustrator?


We definitely had a lot more to do with Kawata from a much earlier stage this time around. We didn’t actually meet him face to face until the launch of The Marble Maker/Te Kaihanga Māpere. Much like for Josh and I, we ended up doing a couple of events together, and this helped us to get to know Kawata a little better (we even roped him in to being Mad Professor Teepa in a very cool bilingual reading/performance of The Marble Maker/Te Kaihanga Māpere at the National Library! What a good sport!) Kawata was involved throughout the development of The Bomb/Te Pohū when the story and was shaped and edited in English. So in that sense, Kawata had a close understanding of where we were coming from and what our vision was.

3.       This collaboration between illustrator and author began earlier than previous books you’ve worked on together, how did that effect the way characters were conceived and developed?


Yes, that’s right. It’s been quite a different experience this time around. I approached Josh with my early draft of The Bomb and we made the decision to develop and submit the story together, because we recognised that we made a pretty good team and wanted to continue working together. Because of this, we met regularly to work on our vision. With The Bomb there were loads of brainstorms, discussions, and general jamming off of each other’s ideas. For example, I knew that I wanted the Kid to end up on the bomb platform for his final jump in little sequined speedos and a feather boa. Josh and I were jamming this scene when we came up with the idea that we could base the Kid’s look and style on the tui (which totally makes sense given the Kid’s love of the natural world).

Somewhere in this particular brainstorm session, Josh was telling me about his weird dream. It was about a pony wearing a sparkly necklace who was talking to him (ha ha – Josh’s gorgeous dream mind!!)  As soon as he said it we were both like ‘sparkly necklace!!!’ (as you do!) We thought the sparkly necklace could be used for the white feather tufts of a tui. So, we added a sparkly necklace on the original character concept of the Kid (which in the finals ended up as a sparkly disco ball… among other things). So yeah, lots of IRL discussions gave us the chance to grow our story and shape our characters organically.  Of course, initially these discussions were just between Josh and I, but once Huia decided to publish our story (yay), these discussions and brainstorms were extended out to the wider Huia team. It’s something that I really love about creating picture books - the possibility to work with others and jump off in directions you might not have gone alone.

4.       We’ve heard many of your characters are based on people from your lives, what were your main focuses in creating characters for this story?


Yes, that’s correct. Keys/ Ngā Kī was very much a story based on my dad and I and The Marble Maker/ Te Kaihanga Māpere – well – that was based on myself playing marbles as a kid at primary school. With The Bomb/ Te Pohū, the Kid isn’t based on any one person in particular.  But I did draw on my years in education and thought about some of the very cool kids that I taught. The Nan however, was in part, inspired by my Nana.

I thought of the story when I was on my way back to Wellington from Kawerau one summer.  As we were driving through the bush and passing all the beautiful lakes I began to daydream. My mind naturally wandered to my Nana, who had died only a year or so before and it all sort of merged together and the story of this Kid and his Nan doing bombs just popped into my head.

My Nana was a pretty cool lady. I used to LOVE hearing stories about her back in her youth. She was involved in speed boating, rode a horse to school and used to drive trucks (I think they might have even been lorries!) I was always so impressed by her truck driving! I was like, my Nana can drive a TRUCK – THAT IS SO BAD ASS!! Nana began suffering from the consequences of a genetic condition in her late fifties which seriously affected her ability to walk. She ended up in a wheelchair but didn’t let the change in her mobility affect her love for life or dampen her eternal sass. She seemed way too stubborn to let her ill health get in her way! I remember that she had a ‘number plate’ on her mobility scooter that said ‘Married but still looking’ which always cracked me up, because Nana and my Granddad totally adored each other (they often turned up to events in matching hats!) AND seriously she was like 70+ when she had that number plate! Ha ha!  So, for The Bomb/ Te Pohū, I definitely wanted to draw on her no-nonsense, truck-driving, sassiness!  Fittingly, Josh and I dedicated the books to our grandmothers – we feel that they have all influenced the Nan character in some way and we also wanted to pay tribute to the positive impact they have had on our lives.

5.       Do your real-life influences also play a role in the illustrations of the book, or were they based more on imagination?


I know that when Josh and I were doing the initial mock ups for the rough illustrations, I drew a lot from my experiences of being involved in student short films and photography to guide me with composition.  I tend to see the picture book in my mind as a film, so I’m always thinking about ‘what shot’ is the right one to capture to do the scene justice AND suit the mood and pacing of the story. I love a good emotive close up, so I was really set on there being a nice tight illustration of the Kid calling out his chorus in the final jump scene and thankfully, this image made it across the line. 

On top of that, when we pitched it to Huia we said that we’d like it to have a bit of a Taika Waititi feel. Also, during the development phase Josh came up with the brilliant idea to really draw on Wes Anderson for one of our ‘montage scenes’ where the Kid is being driven all around the town getting advice.


A lot of time I did draw on real life experiences and references for the illustrations, including what Sacha has talked about. It was very important for Sacha and I to get the art of doing bombs correct so we did a lot of research, such as watching hundreds of videos of people doing bombs, (especially Manus/Māngere’s), getting photographic references, and attending a couple of bomb competitions in Wellington. There was a lot of wonderful characters that I could draw on for the thinkers, the jokers, the she’ll be righters and the posers, and most important of all, a lot of references for the steps to doing the perfect Manu bomb.

I also did a bit of research into diving structures, but in the end, I made a structure out of Lego with different platforms to use as a reference and build an imaginary beach setting around. In saying that though, the beach setting was largely inspired by the northland and east coast beaches that my family would spend Christmas holidays at.

The characters were largely from my own imagination. I like to act out and become the characters when I illustrate to capture the right expressions and poses, so maybe the characters all have a bit of the poser in me ha-ha. For the main characters though, we did look to real world ‘characters’ to reference.  For the Kid, I referenced David Bowie a lot, especially for the way he held himself and sat. For the Kid’s outfit and hair, we did play around with him initially having a plaited pony tail (after Sacha had found a cool photo of a boy rocking a long plait), then having the Kid in a dandy inspired outfit before settling on the hair in a top knot, red overalls, and pink boots.  For Nan, I looked at soul singers, especially Diana Ross. Te Kani (designer at Huia) had the brilliant idea of looking to the wonderfully expressive Iris Apfel for her outfit!  Although the champ character was largely from my imagination, the yellow “champ” towel was a homage to the brilliant Billy T James!

The Bomb is launching on Saturday 10th November, 3pm at the Children’s Bookshop, Kilbirnie Plaza, Kilbirnie.

LitCrawl’s main crawl will be on Saturday 10th November Crawl and the Extended events from 8th-11th November.

Newbies to LitCrawl

LitCrawl gets bigger and better every year, and this time round is no exception! For our fifth birthday we thought we’d introduce some new additions to our fabulous crawl.


First up... something for the kids! LitCrawl is definitely not limited to adult literary enthusiasts, so we have two events the kids enjoy. This year LitCrawl has teamed up with Annual 2 and Wellington Central Library for the first ever KidsCrawl! Bring the kids along and hunt down a story using the KidsCrawl map. This event features Bill Manhire, David Larsen, Giselle Clarkson, Michael Petherick, Susan Paris, Gavin Mouldy, Kate Camp and Logan Patrick. (registrations essential).

Then on Sunday 11 November bring the kids to a special free event on Te Tiriti o Waitangi at National Library. This event is an interactive exploration of the amazing graphic book created by the wonderful Toby Morris (illustrator) and Kate Potter (educator). They share what they learned about Te Tiriti through making this awesome book. Details here!

Beth Brash credit Sean Golding.jpg

Secondly... If you’re a foodie (who isn’t) and spend your days fantasising about what you’re next meal is going to be, you won’t want to miss this one! Wellington food guru, blogger and author of The Cuba Street Project, Beth Brash takes you on a ‘FoodCrawl’ down our iconic Cuba Street. Meet the talented people behind the deliciousness that is our capital city and see the many faces that make up the character of Cuba Street. Get inspired by Wellingtons food scene and let your taste-buds burst while you mosey through the vibrant streets of wellington.

Last but not least, festivities continue in the ‘Badass Bitches of Wellington’ walking tour. Historian Jessie Bray Sharpin travels back in time to celebrate some of the capital’s almost-forgotten historical heroines. Worlds collide where, Jessie invites us to explore everyday lives of people that might have been forgotten or need their stories told. To get a sneak peak into this tour we ask Jessie a few questions.


Q: Who is Wellingtons biggest 'badass bitch' from the past no longer with us, and who is the biggest 'badass bitch' living in the present day?

Jessie: One thing that I can never do with my historic women talks and tours is choose a top lady! They’re all so inimitable and inspiring in their own way; some for doing hugely important, pioneering actions and some simply for their ability simply to lead so-called ‘normal’ lives in difficult circumstances (12 children, anyone?).

Obviously Jacinda is way up there, but the women I would talk about if I wasn’t such a stone-cold history nerd and was doing a tour of Badass Bitches of the present day, would be the women I know personally who are just going about their business being fucking amazing: My housemate who is writing papers for her MA but still has time to bring me tea in bed every morning and is honestly the smartest and most caring woman I know. My work colleague who has been accepted for the 2019 Michael King Writers Centre residency. A close friend who played a leading role in a show for Circa Theatre recently, straight after organising a conference with 1200+ attendees. The women in my book club: a first-time mum, an engineer, a published author, partner of a law firm.

Q: What can we expect from the badass bitches tour?

Jessie: This year is Suffrage 125, so there will be a definite suffrage theme to our history quest, from petition-signers to parliament-addressers. The tour is going to share tidbits of Wellington history in a way you haven’t experienced before: we’ll be looking at sites and buildings that link to certain Wellington wahine, but we’ll also be speeding past them (via the shoelace express) to the next bar that has the appropriate beverage waiting, one that matches the next woman on our journey.

Get your walking shoes on (or stilettos!) and put yourself in the shoes of those who came before us! If you are feeling badass, grab your tickets to any of these new events here.

LitCrawl Abroad

LitCrawl has the pleasure of combining both local and international writers and artists to bring you amazing talent from all around the globe. Let's check out some of our friends who are travelling a long way to be LitCrawl this year:

First up we have Irish writer Rob Doyle. His first novel: Here Are the Young Men (described as the Irish Trainspotting) is being made into a film and was book of the year by The Irish Times, Sunday Times, Sunday Business Post, and Independent. Rob’s second book This is the Ritual (short stories) was book of the year in the New Statesman, Sunday Times and Irish Times.

Rob Doyle 1 by Al Higgins.jpg

Rob’s first event ‘Young Men’ discusses both his books including Here Are the Young Men described as “a powerful and provocative novel and easily the most honest account of young Irish people for many years” (The Guardian). If you are interested in understanding how to tell your story, he will also running a workshop on Autobiography. In the Crawl on Sat 10 November, Rob will be at Meow for Bad Diaries Salon where a panel of writers will read from their diaries or abandoned early works. Then catch him at Writing Outsiders where he talks with Anna Smaill, Amy Head and Dame Fiona Kidman about writing characters who exist in grey areas..

Next up, we have Raymond Antrobus, British-Jamaican poet, educator and author of The Perseverance. Raymond explores what it is like to live in silence, expressed through his experience being deaf as well as his cultural convergence that has often been silenced. Raymond seeks to mediate the deaf experience for the average person by writing to his buried culture as well as his invisible disability. For Raymond, “hearing aids are the investigators of hidden sounds” which allow him to uncover the world that we take for granted. Raymond has some awesome video content on his website showcasing his work including ‘The First Time I Wore a Hearing Aid.’ Check it out here for a sneak peak.

See Raymond at the EPIC Poetry Showcase alongside Kaveh Akbar, Raymond Antrobus, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Tayi Tibble, Dominic Hoey, Erik Kennedy, Hadassah Grace and hosted by Ray Shipley. Then if you want to find out how to make your writing poetic and cinematic, grab tickets to the ‘Writing Cinematic’ workshop at Te Auaha on November 10th. He will talk to Pip Adam about his life and work in ‘Sound Machine’ and will appear in the Crawl in True Stories Told Live - so there's no excuse to miss him this year!

Kaveh Akbar. Photo by Hieu Minh nguyen.

Kaveh Akbar. Photo by Hieu Minh nguyen.

Much to our excitement, Kaveh Akbar, Iranian-American poet will be joining us in Wellington. Kaveh Akbar’s poems appear recently in The New Yorker, Poetry, The New York Times, Best American Poetry, The New Republic, The Guardian- just to name a few! Kaveh’s books include ‘Portrait of an Alcoholic’ and ‘Calling a Wolf a Wolf’ which both bring us along on his struggles, grappling with addiction, race and sexuality. Kaveh opens the festival with a conversation with RNZ’s Kim Hill on Thurs 8 November (Portrait of a Poet). Then see him at the at ‘Poetry Showcase on Friday 9 November.

Last but not least, Doireann Ní Ghríofa will be joining us from Ireland. Doireann is multi-award-winning Irish poet who blends English and Irish languages. Her talents are not limited to writing as her creativity also lies within film, dance, visual arts and music. You can check out some of her film-poetry on her website here, with a range of Irish and English poetry film content. Doireann will be speaking with Vana Manasiadis about her new book Lies, a bilingual collection of her poetry over ten years. If you miss that one, you can catch her at ‘Bilingual Future’ alongside local talent Scotty Morrison to speak about the importance of Te reo Māori and Gaeilge and their hopes for a truly bilingual future.

Come and check out some of this diverse international talent from all over the globe.


Why It's Okay Not to Be Okay.

We take such good care of our bodies. We spend money on gym memberships, nutritionists and treat ourselves to massages and facials. Despite this, we often neglect the central powerhouse of the our bodies: the mind.


In the 2011/2012 New Zealand Health Survey, 14.3% of New Zealand adults had been diagnosed with depression at some time in their lives and 6.1% with anxiety disorders. It is fair to say, considering the population of New Zealand, this is not an issue that should be taken lightly. It is also evidently not something that people experience in isolation, however it is something that is often experienced in feelings of isolation. That is why today we are talking about: why it is okay not to be okay.

In this years LitCrawl, mental health is at the forefront of our lineup, with Anxiety Understood: in which editor of Headlands: New Stories of Anxiety, Naomi Arnold, sits down with contributing writers Riki Gooch, Danyl Mclauchlan, Kirsten McDougall and Anthony Byrt to hear about how anxiety inhabits their lives. In the Crawl, journalist Sarah Lang talks to authors Isa Pearl Ritchie, Emma Neale and Naomi Arnold, as they grapple with the intricacies of writing about mental health during the event ‘In Your Head’.

For Mental Health Awareness Week we talked to Naomi Arnold, an award-winning freelance and editor of Headlands: New Stories of Anxiety which launches today. Headlands tells the real, messy story behind the statistics ­– what anxiety feels like, what causes it, what helps and what doesn’t.

We talked to Naomi to unpack why it is ok not to be ok and the reasons for the rise of anxiety in our society:

Q: How do books like Headlands help remove the stigma around anxiety? Why is it so crucial to share a wide range of stories?

Naomi: By talking about it, and by listening without judgment. Headlands isn’t a self-help book that offers solutions, but a chronicle of experiences with anxiety written by 32 very different people. Although the writers do talk about things that have helped them, they are all at different stages with the illness. Some, like Sarah Wilson and Michelle Langstone, identified it very early on in their lives, and others, like Tusiata Avia, wrote their pieces while they were just starting to figure it out - in Tusiata’s case, in the first six months of their illness, still not sure what it is or what to do.

Anxiety and panic attacks aren't always logical or easy to explain. How do you tell someone that you can’t leave the house today or that the noise of a party is too overwhelming and you have to escape? Or that your heart is beating so hard and you’re so lightheaded you think you might be dying? These writers have detailed what’s that like with beauty and humour. The pieces are all very honest and open, and I hope that’s helpful for readers who are wondering what is going on inside their own heads and why they’re feeling so miserable. The point of the book is to say: You're not alone. The stories normalise the condition, and I hope people reading it will be able to find aspects of themselves mirrored within. I also hope that friends and family members will be able to pick it up and understand a little more about their loved one and how to support them - and the same goes for employers, who have a huge role to play in supporting people through anxiety at work, a role I think it can be easier to ignore than engage with.

Millennials in particular “tend to get a bad rap” where mental health is concerned: where (I) as a millennial seem to be swamped with stories and videos under this topic. Despite this, one study which reviewed data on anxiety disorders found no evidence of correlation. This leads me to consider:

Q: Why does mental health seem to more prevalent in today's society? Do you think that social media etc creates anxieties therefore it is more prevalent or do you think people just are more aware?

Naomi: “The old ways of our grandparents didn’t work and caused more problems. Perhaps, as the world has become increasingly more stressful, we’ve gotten to a saturation point with so many people experiencing and reporting it that it’s leaching into wider consciousness, with people in power - media, government, business - saying- This needs to be talked about'. I do think the conversation is developing - we’ve gone from the early John Kirwan days to including more nuance and awareness of how different people experience mental health and mental illness, and what the community can do, which is really important.

Social media has been incredible for connection, dissemination of information and ensuring that historically marginalised voices are able to be heard and amplified. I have learned so much about the world and how different people experience it from following a huge variety of people on Twitter, for example. That’s been so valuable and I wouldn’t be without it. But I think if you frequently feel overwhelmed and that bleeds into the rest of your life, then it’s a good idea to carefully monitor your social media input and your reactions to it.

It's been really brought home to me since Trump ran for office, and especially since the Kavanaugh disaster. I saw a tweet that said something along the lines of it’s not that people don't believe Christine Blasey Ford - it’s that they do, but that they don’t care. If you’re a woman in this world, let alone someone who has been sexually assaulted, that realisation is incredibly destabilising and dehumanising. Then you go online and see half your friends, family and community posting some bullshit about it being a scary time to be a man and how all this #metoo stuff has ruined the fun harmless game of flirting - when before social media you might have remained in blissful ignorance - and it becomes that little bit more difficult to feel generally safe and respected as a human being. And that’s just on a standard Wednesday night Facebook scroll. That affects your mental health. And it’s not social media’s fault, but it’s so powerful a medium that it can blare a hundred shitty opinions at you in a few seconds, and that can be overwhelming. It turns your home and devices into places of threat.

Then there are the status games. Essentially, social media means we’re all gathered in the town square, walking around and calling out to each other, looking for support, validation, and recognition. Not only are thousands of opinions thrown at you at once, but some of those other people are more gifted at communicating via the medium or are perceived to be higher in status, and we can see that playing out numerically, in real time, with numbers of likes, etc. It’s a mindfuck, because as ultra-social animals humans are extremely sensitive to status and we feel that those numbers actually say something about our total worth as human beings. But humans actually evolved with the brain space to care about and develop healthy social relationships with a surprisingly small number of people, face to face, not thousands of anonymous strangers. If you don’t get those dopamine hits of likes and engagement - which are essentially small flashes of ‘hey, someone cares about me’ - or they suddenly drop off, you can feel like a failure, or like everyone else in that town square knows, likes or respects each other more than they do you. I do think that’s dangerous if you’re already feeling vulnerable, especially if you’re a young person.

And that doesn’t even cover bullying and all the other abuse problems that people, overwhelmingly women, face on social media, where you can send a death threat in seconds. I think it’s a powerful tool that people susceptible to low moods should filter and access as sparingly as possible.”

Q: How can institutions such as schools and universities best be of use to individuals?

Naomi: “By hiring, valuing and supporting staff from many different backgrounds and having them at the decision-making table as well. By having greater awareness of class and cultural pressures and differences for students, and how they impact mental health, mental illness, and access to health services. Working on real awareness, which means actually listening, reading and talking to lots of different people about what they need and what they think, and then implementing the strategies that people feel would best work for them. By supporting students who might be struggling but not able to recognise or admit it, and not writing them off as failures too soon.”

Q: How can we be more active in creating discussions about mental health?

Naomi: “I do think we need to be better at dealing with our loved ones without judgment. We need to be open to what people are saying, possibly even to what they’re saying about us, without getting defensive or proffering some ’solution’ immediately. Often, there isn’t a solution, and judgment, even subtle, will just make them clam up and feel worse. For any person with mental illness, talking about it is therapy, and it can be very effective - but not everyone has the luxury of being around understanding people who will listen patiently.

Zion Tauamiti, a suicide prevention worker, put it beautifully in his piece for the book when he said ‘I think [listening] is the most important tool and gift in the community. Listening is making people feel heard, which makes them feel safe, comfortable, and able to open up to you, able to be vulnerable about the anxieties and the things they’re going through.’ Each of us needs to ask ourselves ‘Would my friends and family feel safe opening up to me? What are my reactions when they do? What am I doing to block them expressing themselves, and how can I change it?’” 

But being a good listener means being very aware of your own thoughts, emotions, and reactions, a skill which takes time to develop - and, which is, in fact, a good skill to learn when dealing with anxiety itself.

At the end of the day, opening the conversation is where it all begins to understand that you are not alone. If talking about it makes that more likely to help reduce the stigma- this is a silver lining to what is a cloud above the heads of many individuals struggling with mental illness. We as a society need to shift this stigma of dealing with our mental health to perceptions of creating ‘self love’. By speaking up and removing the stigma we can help those battling to understand that it is okay not to be okay, and that asking for help on the journey to becoming okay, is indeed: very okay.

Be part of the conversation and grab your tickets to ‘Anxiety Understood’ to hear raw and honest accounts of the anxiety experience; or come along to ‘In Your Head’ during the crawl to hear about the intricacies of writing about mental health.




125 years ago today the bill was passed which enabled women to vote in New Zealand. The Franchise Superintendent of the W.C.T.U. at the time wrote, “As a Society we have been very particular to contend for the right of citizenship for its own sake … We hope, however, as the effect of our getting the franchise, that the inequality of the laws affecting men and … will in time be removed.” (The Struggle for Suffrage, STAR, Issue 4752, 20 September 1893)

Today’s generation of feminists continue to work for equality for all, so we asked several writers joining us for LitCrawl this year to share their most strident feminist moment.

Emma Barnes
There are lots of strident feminist moments in my past; moments where I had to enact abrasiveness. These days being stridently feminist feels to me like territory inhabited by people who loudly exclude trans women or sex workers. I'm not interested in that kind of exclusion. I want there to be more voices who know their own worth. These days my feminism is quieter and more detailed in practice. It asks me about the space I take up and whose voice I could be helping to make louder. It lets me have those starting conversations over and over where you help someone else pick up ideas or explore them further. It helps me meet people where they are at and work patiently with the things I need to do better. Strident feminism is a sprint but I'm here for the marathon. 

Megan Dunn
There’s the feminism you wear on the outside: I have a white T-shirt with FEMINIST AF blazoned across the front in red. I wore it on a recent research trip to the States. The lanky beanpole guy in the café who served me pancakes: Feminist AF. The chic boho couple I met wandering through Venice Beach with an off-duty mermaid: Feminist AF. Everyone loved my Feminist AF T-shirt.  Then there’s the Feminism you wear on the inside: private, internal moments that are harder to advertise. For example I spent the early 2000s working as a receptionist (really) in a massage parlour tucked beneath the shadow of the Sky Tower. One night sitting at reception as the sun went down outside the sliding door, I found an exercise book in the top drawer that kept a log of all the working girls real names, phone numbers and next of kin in case of emergency. Another night the fire alarm went off and girls and clients tumbled down the hall and spilt into the parking lot, the men scurrying off into the oil-slicked night as the sirens blazed. A false alarm but the firemen still came. Another night something else happened - something routine - that sent me into the recently sandblasted St Paul’s Church on my day off to ask a God I didn’t believe in for forgiveness. Feminist AF? It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Matariki Williams
My identity as a woman, is inextricable from my identity as Māori. The way in which this land was forcefully taken from Māori caused irreversible ripples throughout te ao Māori. One rupture is manifest in the collecting institution, and the collection, that I work within: the mātauranga Māori collection at Te Papa. Over the course of this year, I have been working to surface wāhine Māori relationships with menstruation through the collecting of a MyCup menstrual cup sold in collaboration with the Tukau Community Fund. Prior to acquiring the menstrual cup, I could find no evidence of wāhine Māori menstruation in the Te Papa collection. Through talking with MyCup and Tukau, I came to hear how rich and empowering the impact was that Tukau had within its community, but also how personal relationships with menstruation had changed due to the work of these amazing women: Kimberli Schuitman, Season-Mary Downs, Jayme Armstrong and Willow-Jean Prime. That's mana wāhine to me, that's wāhine toa. 

Jessie Bray Sharpin
I keep wanting to write about a triumphant childhood moment, played out to the internal voice of my mother telling me "girls can do anything boys can do" since before I could walk. This was the norm for me though, so it sat alongside every day experiences. Her other line that I still repeat to myself to this day is "never let a boy stop you from doing anything you want to do". (This one originated with my older sister being blocked from going down the slide by a little boy at a playground).

But when I think of my most strident feminist moment, it's from a 26 year old me, much more recently. And, unsurprising to those that know me, there's history involved. When I worked at the Nelson Provincial Museum, I initiated, developed and presented a series of talks (Women of Early Nelson) that took visitors on tours of our permanent gallery, focusing on stories of women from the region's past. I was, and still am, so proud to have brought their stories to light.

At the end of one talk, I was asked, "but what about the men?". "They're on every wall" I replied.

Join these women and many more at LitCrawl 2018. Programme launched on 27 September, look for our #suffrage125 events.

Chris Tse at Melbourne EWF

Chris Tse talks about his visits to Melbourne's Emerging Writers Festival.

An author (not Chris!)

An author (not Chris!)

In 2012 I made a snap decision to visit Melbourne for the Emerging Writers Festival. I was between jobs and grappling with a manuscript I’d been working on for six years, and I felt that it might give me some fresh inspiration (and when is a trip to Melbourne never a good idea?) That year’s festival remains one of my most indelible memories as a writer and was my first exposure to hearing what was happening and being talked about by writers in Australia. It left a major impression on me and gave me a major boost in confidence. 

When I was invited to be an artist at this year’s EWF it felt like coming full circle – though my brother still continues to question whether I can still be considered an “emerging” or “young” writer.

My reading at the fabulous Queer Icons Party was a spine-tingling and unforgettable experience that reminded me just how fortunate I am to be able to visit other cities and countries to share my work and meet other writers. The venue for this reading was a former church hidden away in an otherwise non-descript office building in Flinders Lane. Our MC for the night, Mama Alto, made the most of the vaulted ceiling with a beautiful rendition of ‘Over The Rainbow’. Local poet Adolfo Aranjuez finished his reading with a high energy dance performance, and I honestly hope more New Zealand poets incorporate movement into their readings from now.

On the Monday before I flew home I chaired a panel about the poetic voice with two inspiring Australian poets: Shastra Deo and Magan Magan. EWF was also a chance to catch up with writers I’ve had the chance to meet at other festivals in Newcastle, Brisbane and here in New Zealand. Our two national literatures are not too dissimilar, and since that first EWF back in 2012 I’ve been more aware of Australia’s literary scene – but I know there’s still so much to learn and read. I hope my appearance at EWF this year prompted some audience members to find out a little more about what’s happening in New Zealand, and maybe one day we’ll see them on our shores at LitCrawl.