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  • Writer's pictureLee Murray

Back from Beyond

In 2012, in conjunction with Tauranga Writers, New Zealand’s longest standing writing group, my colleague Piper Mejia and I launched a national writing competition for New Zealand intermediate students. We received over 100 entries – not bad for a first competition which now regularly achieves over 400 entries ‒ and we published the best of those stories in a little volume entitled Beyond This Age with gorgeous cover art by Samara Kirkham and put out by a small local cooperative. Now, five years later, I’m talking with one of those students, a senior in high school, to see where she’s at with her writing (if she’s writing at all) and for her perspectives on that first experience at writing and publication.

Tell us about your story (stories) in Beyond This Age. Do you remember where you got the idea from?

Helena: I published two pieces in the first anthology, Trapped and The Fay. Trapped placed first which was the first time I’d ever entered a competition so was pretty unexpected. I can’t remember where the ideas came from but was probably influenced by the fact I was living at Mount Manganui at the time.

Do you remember what made you enter the competition? Did you enter again in subsequent years?

Helena: We had to enter as part of the English programme at Tauranga Intermediate, and I remember writing my story in one night to get it out of the way. I entered every year since then, my story in 2014 wasn’t accepted, but I’ve placed first in prose both years since.

How did it feel to be able to say you’re a published writer? Have you had any other work published?

Helena: I’ve helped with some minor newspaper articles, but not since. It’s a very fulfilling thing to be able to say, but often a lot more impressive to people who don’t necessarily realise how small-scale the competition is.

Do you feel that being in the competition/anthology helped to shape you in any way?

Helena: It gave me a motive to write at least one definitive piece each year.

Does the school system offer anything similar to your experience with the Beyond This Age project?

Helena: No, it’s very containing in what creative writing you can do for NCEA.

Do you still write? Belong to any groups? What are you working on right now? Any plans for new work?

Helena: I do a lot more poetry and group ideas that write long stories, I have a lot of school, music and theatre commitments which prevents me from doing as much as I’d like. I’m always working on some form of writing, I’d love to branch out more into screen plays or novellas.

If you were writing your Beyond This Age story now, would you write it differently? 

Helena: I would write things extremely differently. I liked some of my description and basic ideas in Trapped but it could have greatly benefited from better characters, a more interesting or heartfelt kind of deception and overall more development.

How important is spelling and grammar, really?

Helena: Extremely, I don’t think many people will take your unedited work seriously if its spelling is terrible. I think grammar is even more important, because a good writer can use it correctly, but a great writer can use it to effect.

What about reading? Has your experience as a writer influenced your reading? What are you reading right now?

Helena: I believe when I first started writing my vocabulary had been extensively widened because of what a nerdy tween I’d been. Now I’m taking that advanced vocabulary and furthering it with ideas for sentence structure and plots taken from those same books. At the moment, I’m favouring books such as Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neil and Falling Into Place by Amy Zhang because of the unique layouts and sentence structures/grammar shown, and their themes of women in society. I love to write opinion pieces on feminism and the sub-topics off of that which is why these books are so interesting.

What are your plans for after school finishes?

Helena: I’d love to take my strong opinions and strength for expressing and communicating ideas into some form of journalism job.

Thanks for stopping by, Helena. We’ll look forward to hearing more from you in the future!

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