Academic journal article Hecate

Between the Roses and the Taupata

Academic journal article Hecate

Between the Roses and the Taupata

Article excerpt

Between the Roses and the Taupata

J. C. Sturm has been writing for more than fifty years. Since 1947, when one of her poems was accepted by a student newspaper, her stories, articles, reviews and poetry have appeared in various periodicals and anthologies. A collection of short stories The House of the Talking Cat was published in 1983; some of these stories have been broadcast in Germany and translated into Swedish, Japanese and Braille. She completed a collection of poems at the beginning of 1994 and is currently working on another collection of stories.

She is half Maori and considers herself to be a Maori writer. She worked as a librarian for twenty three years, and retired two years ago in a small seaside village just north of Wellington. A widow and great grandmother, she counts herself lucky in having most of her family living close by. Briar Wood conducted this interview in July 1994.

Can we begin by talking about how you started writing?

I used to write about what I could see from the windows. We had a wonderful view of Kapiti Island and the sea and the coast and everything. It was all very juvenile. I wasn't very well at the time and in the end I had to be taken inland. The doctor described me as being waterlogged, which is a curious phrase. It wasn't really until my third year at varsity that I remember sitting down and consciously writing something again. And in those days most of it was verse of a kind. I had one or two things published in the student rag and then I entered one of the student competitions and I was highly commended in the annual competition which was won by a man called James K. Baxter.

I didn't actually meet him then, but I met him through a friend of a friend who I suspect thought it would be fun to bring the two of us together. The next thing I knew, I was seeing quite a bit of this young man who was regarded as an up and coming writer. He had just had Beyond the Palisade, his first book, published. I came to learn how a real writer wrote; I learnt a lot in those early days from the man whom I eventually married about writing and that it wasn't all this romantic airy fairy stuff at all. It was sheer hard work, right? And that there was a business side to it like anything else. And also, which I hadn't realized, that it was pretty competitive. I was a bit disillusioned by all this. I didn't actually write again seriously after I was a student. I left varsity and we got married and I still wanted to do an MA, which I did and at the same time I learned what it was like to live with an artist. They're the hardest working people I know.

After I'd finished my degree and had my second child -- I can't quite remember through whom it was or how come -- but at this late date (I was now in my middle to late twenties) I `discovered' Katherine Mansfield. I was completely bowled over. In the meantime I'd learnt quite a bit about various New Zealand writers and about poets. I thought: I think I could write a story, and I did. And another one. And so on. There was a group of writers in Wellington, young married with families, struggling with jobs they didn't particularly like, still writing, trying to find their niche in the literary world. Exciting place to be in, if you didn't lose your head.

I think Numbers(1) published my very first story and before I knew where I was I was writing very happily. I found that with two young children, when they were having their middle of the day nap I'd write a bit and I found I could think about things while I was scrubbing the nappies and so on. And so from the early nineteen fifties up until 1986 I wrote stories and I had them published. I was turned down consistently and quite firmly by several magazines and especially Landfall. But in the end I had enough -- length-wise, for a book and I looked at it and I rearranged it so that it hung together -- I dropped out one or two of them -- and I had a collection. No-one was interested so I thought right, OK, into the bottom drawer. …

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