We were huddled around a brazier under a blanket of clouds on a ridgeline overlooking the sea, not far from the centre of Nelson, sipping on freshly harvested apple juice. It was only a few days after the nights had started getting longer than the days, still early in the evening but very dark, the Pleiades now more than half a world away from rising. It was an intimate gathering of friends to celebrate Te Ngahuru, the Autumn Equinox, and we'd just heard the story of the Māori goddess Pani who, after being shamed by Maui, descends to the underworld. After acknowledging the fruits of the harvest with a big gulp, we honoured our dead – and the cycles of decay and renewal. I then found myself sitting next to Noa Parker
, whom I'd met briefly at a festival the previous summer, and the seed was planted for these writing retreats.
Noa told me about the yoga retreat she had hosted at Zatori in Golden Bay several months earlier; I told her about my desire to offer a writing retreat combined with yoga classes because, in my own experience, moving and stretching my body not only helps me stay healthy – supporting the long hours of what is a very sedentary pursuit – but it helps me reach deeper into my subconscious and access untapped sources of creativity. And so Write Across New Zealand was born.
For many years, since I first arrived in New Zealand, I'd wanted to bring my friend and former colleague Jesse Blackadder
to the top of the South Island to teach and I was delighted when she accepted my invitation to teach at the Plant the Seed retreat
in 2018, which was held at Appleby House, only 25 minutes drive from Nelson, from 11-14 May. Jesse had run many creative writing workshops, both in Australia and internationally, and she was guaranteed to not only inspire participants - but unlock the story only they could tell, the tale that belongs out in the world. Jesse, Noa and I - and nine wonderful writers - had so much fun, I invited her back to Aotearoa. Her second retreat, Cultivate
, was held from 22-25 November 2019. Sadly, Jesse died on 10 June 2020, after doing her best to survive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. Elizabeth Knox
was my MA (Creative Writing) supervisor in 2016 and guided me, with both gentle encouragement and pithy advice, to uncover the story I was really trying to tell and helped me completely transform my writing in the process. When I mentioned to Elizabeth that I was planning a series of retreats, she generously offered to teach at Find Your Way Forward retreat
, which was held at Appleby House from 5-8 October, the weekend before the 2018 Nelson Arts Festival Readers and Writers commenced. Elizabeth is not only one of New Zealand's best writers but a fabulous mentor, so we were fortunate to be able to take advantage of this unique opportunity to get her support – it took participants' writing to a whole new level and helped them shape the world they were creating in at least three dimensions, if not more. Due to popular demand, Elizabeth returned to Appleby House to conduct Find Your Way Forward II
from 11-14 November 2019, and will return to conduct her third retreat Te Tauihu again in 2021.
- Kerry Sunderland