Writing the Arts - The Explanatory Word

Oct 2013

The Michael King Writers' Centre fifth residential workshop Writing the Arts: The Explanatory Word was held over Labour weekend  in October. 

Twenty-seven emerging and mid-career writers, and some who were very experienced, took part in three days of lively talks and discussions, with nearly as many speakers and panellists. It was a stimulating weekend of debate. 

The workshop explored different facets of writing for and about the arts, particularly writing about literature, performing and the visual arts. There were discussions about reviewing, the state of the media, the state of publishing, how to tackle a large projects, writing about looking and writing about performance, with a mix of presentations, small group and panel sessions.

Highlights included a presentation about writing about visual arts by author Joanne Drayton, a presentation about literature and culture by Iain Sharp and a discussion about writing book-sized projects by Peter Simpson.

Author and academic Dr Peter Simpson gave the keynote address, about his approach to writing Bloomsbury South. His presentation can be downloaded here. 

One of the sessions was The Media - A Changing World with broadcaster, publisher and author Finlay Macdonald, Guy Somerset (NZ Listener), Lynne Freeman (National Radio, Standing Room Only) and Cathy Aronson (The Big Idea). The session was broadcast on National Radio and is available on-line:


Photos from the workshop are on the Michael King Writers' Centre Facebook page

Some of the comments about the weekend from participants included:

  • Excellent, inspiring, revelatory, supportive, provocative, detailed, specific, practical. Thank you for providing this opportunity for me. It has delivered to me exactly what I was hoping and needing as an emerging writer.
  • A very well organised weekend with an impressive line-up of engaging speakers. 
  • The Vaughan Park centre is a near perfect venue, a beautiful, comfortable environment. The whole programme was very stimulating.

Photos from the workshop are on our Facebook page.

The workshop was be held over Labour weekend, Saturday 26 to Monday 28 October 2013, at the residential  retreat Vaughan Park in Auckland’s Long Bay.

The residential seminars are one of the highlights of the annual programme offered by the Michael King Writers Centre, proving to be popular and highly-regarded.  

Previous workshops have focused on history, biography, memoir, science and writing the Maori world. Plans are now being developed for the sixth residential workshop, which will be held in November 2014.

The residential workshop programme is available thanks to the support of the ASB Community Trust.


The 2013 residential workshop on Writing the Arts has an impressive range of speakers and panelists. We thank them for taking part:

 Dr Peter Simpson, Convenor

The workshop is being convened by Dr Peter Simpson, who is the author of six non-fiction books, including Fantastica:The World of Leo Bensemann  (Auckland University Press, 2011); Patron and Painter: Charles Brasch  (Hocken Collections, 2010); Colin McCahon: The Titirangi Years 1953-1959 (AUP, 2007) and Answering Hark: McCahon/Caselberg: Painter/Poet (Craig Potton, 2001). He has edited, or contributed to, many other titles, including books on Allen Curnow, Kendrick Smithyman, Ronald Hugh Morrieson, Charles Spear and Peter Peryer.He was awarded the 2012 Creative New Zealand Michael King Writer’s Fellowship for his major new book, with the working title Bloomsbury South, exploring the rich and fertile artistic scene in Christchurch from 1933 to 1953. As an academic, writer, and curator,Peter Simpson specialises in New Zealand literature, art and cultural history, modern poetry, and post-colonial literatures. He is Director of The Holloway Press, which publishes limited edition, hand-printed books, and was formerly Associate Professor of English at The University of Auckland. Peter writes:  In Writing the Arts, we plan to set a net as wide as possible in order to cover writing that concerns itself with literature, visual arts, music, theatre, dance and film. The programme will cover the critical response as well as writing designed to inform, educate or to provoke dialogue with creative practitioners. We will consider the myriad of outlets and forms, ranging from reviews and articles in daily newspapers, magazines and specialist journals to books. We will look at the rapidly expanding role of the Internet.

 Dr Joanne Drayton

Joanne Drayton’s is an academic and literary biographer whose books include the highly regarded The Search for Anne Perry (Harper Collins, 2012), about the best-selling United Kingdom crime writer with a dark New Zealand past. Her book Ngaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime (Harper Collins, 2008) was a Christmas pick of the Independent when it was released in the United Kingdom in 2009. Her other biographies include Frances Hodgkins: A Private Viewing (Random House, 2005)Rhona Haszard: An Experimental Expatriate New Zealand Artist (Canterbury University Press, 2002); and Edith Collier: Her Life and Work, 1885–1964 (Canterbury University Press, 1999)
She is currently working on a new biography project and carving a post-colonial chess set in response to the Lewis pieces in the British Museum.  Joanne Drayton is Associate Professor in the Department of Design at UNITEC in Auckland.

Dr Murray Edmond

Murray Edmond is known variously for his work as a poet, playwright, dramaturge, theatre director, and also as an editor and critic. As well as numerous journal and anthology publications, he is the author of twelve poetry books, the two most recent being Walls to Kick and Hills to Sing From: A Comedy with Interruptions (AUP, 2010) and Three Travels (Holloway Press, 2012).  He co-edited the influential anthology Big Smoke: New Zealand Poems 1960–1975 (AUP, 2000), and is the editor of the peer-reviewed, online journal Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics (http://www.nzepc.auckland.ac.nz/kmko/ ). He is the author of Noh Business (Berkeley: Atelos, 2005), a study of the influence of Japanese Noh theatre on the Western avant-garde. He has published essays on Polish Theatre in European journals. His essays on theatre and drama in New Zealand include: “The Terror and the Pity of 1984: Mervyn Thompson's 'Coaltown Blues’” (Landfall, 2005), “How Gothic is S/he? Three New Zealand Dramas” (Australasian Drama Studies, April 2004), “Te Kāinga/Where the Fire Burns: Hone Kouka’s Trilogy, Waiora, Homefires, and The Prophet,” (Australasian Drama Strudies, 2007) and “I Want You Boys to Cook a Pig: The Two No.2s” (Australasian Drama Studies, 2009). His PhD thesis was a cultural history of experimental theatre in New Zealand, 1964-1984, “Old Comrades of the Future.” He worked as an actor, director and writer for several experimental theatre companies: The Living Theatre Troupe, The Half Moon Theatre (London), Theatre Action and Town and Country Players. Since 1997 he has been Dramaturge for all Indian Ink’s plays, from Krishnan’s Dairy to The Guru of Chai (2011) and Kiss the Fish (2013).  In 2012 he directed Len Lye:The Opera with music by Eve de Castro-Robinson and libretto by Roger Horrocks. For more than 25 years he has taught theatre and drama at The University of Auckland, where he is currently Associate Professor of Drama in the English Department.

Dr Iain Sharp

Iain Sharp began working in libraries in 1978 and is currently one the manuscripts librarians in Sir George Grey Special Collections at Auckland City Library.  He has a PhD in English literature from the University of Auckland. A poet, columnist, reviewer and critic, he became an accomplished poetry performer, touring with Lauris Edmond and David Eggleton. He has written non-fiction as well as poetry, including Sail the Spirit (1994), a history of the Spirit of Adventure Trust, and the chapter on New Zealand for the Oxford Guide to Contemporary Writing (1996). He has reviewed books (and occasionally films), written articles and interviewed authors for many publications, including Landfall, the ListenerNew OutlookQuote Unquote, the Sunday Star-Times, and New Zealand Books. His poems have been included in numerous anthologies. In 1999, Sharp was named Reviewer of the Year at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards. He wrote the text for Real Gold: Treasures of Auckland City Libraries (Auckland University Press, 2007), about the rare books in the Auckland city collection, which was accompanied by an exhibition in 2007. His 2008 biography of the nineteenth-century artist and explorer Charles Heaphy, also published by Auckland University Press, was a finalist in the Montana New Zealand Book Awards.

 Finlay Macdonald 

Finlay Macdonald is a widely respected contributor to various newspapers and publications around the country.  He is the former editor of the Listener, commissioning editor for Penguin Books and a former book page editor. He has just been appointed  to run the NZ publishing programmes for HarperCollins. He writes columns, social commentary and has worked in television arts and book programmes.  

 Guy Somerset

Guy Somerset is Books & Culture editor of the New Zealand Listener and before that was books editor of the Dominion Post. He has been writing about the arts for more than 20 years – in Britain, Australia and for the past decade New Zealand. He was one of the judges for the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards and is an active contributor on Twitter.

 Lynn Freeman

Lynn Freeman is the voice of Radio New Zealand National’s arts programmes, as producer and presenter of Arts on Sunday. She has spent the best part of 30 years working at Radio New Zealand, with a stint in regional television along the way. She was chief reporter of the Dunedin News Room, worked as executive producer for Nine to Noon and was senior producer for Morning Report, before being appointed to her current role, presenter and co-producer of Arts on Sunday. She has also produced award-winning features and documentaries. Outside of Radio New Zealand, Lynn is a theatre critic for Capital Times and a judge of the annual Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards. 

 Stephen Stratford

Stephen Stratford is a freelance book editor and manuscript assessor. He has published more than a dozen books under his own name, mostly non-fiction, including The Dirty Decade: New Zealand in the 80s (Spectrum 2002). He has also published several books anonymously, including a cookbook.  He has been a contributing journalist to many publications including Quote UnquoteMetro and the New Zealand Listener. Authors he has edited include James K Baxter, Lauris Edmond, Vincent O’Sullivan, Kevin Ireland, Ranginui Walker and Lloyd Jones. Over the last three decades he has been a judge of the Wattie, Montana and NZ Post Book Awards, as well as the Spectrum book design and the Culinary Quill Awards. In 2012 he judged the National Flash Fiction Awards. He is one of the NZ Society of Authors representative on the Copyright Licensing Limited board, and was a founding trustee of the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival.

 Josie McNaught 

Award-winning journalist Josie McNaught is a writer for leading specialist magazines and national newspapers in New Zealand and internationally, with an emphasis on design, architecture, and the visual arts. She has produced and directed top-rating consumer shows and is a regular radio broadcaster. She has worked as a reporter, researcher and director for New Zealand television’s leading arts and design television shows and has written for all the major design publications in New Zealand over the last 20 years. She is currently combining freelance writing with fulltime study for a law degree.

 Peter Calder

Peter Calder is a NZ Herald senior journalist and a veteran columnist, film and food reviewer.He has worked in newspapers since 1982 as reporter, feature-writer, columnist, critic and sub-editor.  His book Travels with My Mother (Tandem Press, 2003), which explores his childhood, notions of cultural identity and home in an amusing memoir about a journey back to England with his mother.

 Steve Braunias 

Steve Braunias is a staff writer at Metro magazine, and writes a weekly satirical diary for the Sunday Star-Times. He has won numerous national journalism awards as well as fellowships to both Oxford University and Cambridge University.  His arts writing background includes being the books and arts editor of the Listener in 2002-3, when the magazine won a Montana Book Award for best book review pages in consecutive years. He has written for television (Eating Media Lunch, The Unauthorised History of New Zealand), and is the author of six books. His most recent book, Civilisation: Twenty Places at the Edge of the World (Awa Press, 2012) is an examination of small-town New Zealand. Described as a "gothic western", it has been listed as a finalist for the 2013 NZ Post Book Awards. 

 Jonathan Mane-Wheoki 

Professsor Jonathon Mane-Wheoki has an extensive knowledge of New Zealand art across many genres. Of Ngāpuhi and English descent, he has held the positions of Dean of Music and Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury; Kaitiaki Māori (Honorary Curator of Māori Art) at the Christchurch Art Gallery; and Director of Art and Collection Services at Te Papa Tongarewa. He has been active in developing exhibitions and presenting lectures and seminars on art, museums, heritage, and cultural topics both nationally and internationally and has served on numerous national and international bodies. He is a governor of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand and deputy chair of the Council for the Humanities. In 2009 he was appointed Professor of Fine Arts and Head of Elam School of Fine Arts, University of Auckland. He received the Pou Aronui Award at Auckland University in 2012 for his outstanding contribution to the development of the humanities in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

 Dr Peter Brunt

Peter Brunt is a senior lecturer teaching Pacific art, postcolonial art and theory, primitivism and art history methodology in the Art History programme of Victoria University of Wellington. He has research interests in Pacific art, art and cross-cultural encounters in the Pacific, and postcolonial art and theory. His latest book is a major collaborative project Art in Oceania: A New History (Thames & Hudson 2012), which has been described as “a brilliant and highly original achievement”. His publications include essays in books and academic journals about Samoan tattooing, the work of Tony Fomison, the work of John Pule and The State of Art and Discourse in New Zealand in Reading Room: A Journal of Art and Culture (No. 3, 2009). In 2006 he was awarded a Marsden Grant for the Art in Oceania project. In 2000 he was a Getty Fellow, Summer Institute, World Art Studies at the University of East Anglia and in 1992 he held a Sage Graduate Fellowship at Cornell University.

 Nigel Borrel

Nigel Borell has a varied visual arts based background that includes: tertiary visual arts education, local government arts policy work, Māori visual arts writing and commentary, a curatorial practice that focuses on exploring narratives pertaining to Māori visual arts and a background in Māori arts research for the Māori Television series Kete Aronui (from 2004-2008). Nigel Borell is also a practicing artist originally gaining a Bachelor of Māori Visual Art (Hons), under the Robert Jahnke, lead programme through Massey University, Palmerston North 2000.  This was followed by a Master of Fine Arts (Hons) from the University of Auckland in 2002. His art practice is broadly centred around painting and incorporates sculptural and spatial installation elements and is featured in Taiawhio II: Conversations with Contemporary Maori Artists (Te Papa, 2007). Nigel Borell held the position of Kaiwhakahaere Toi o Manukau; Māori Arts Manager, Auckland Council-South from 2009-2013. In June of this year he took-up a position with the Auckland War Memorial Museum as Associate Curator Maori. His  tribal affilations are: Pirirākau, Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Te Whakatōhea. 

 Anna Hodge 

Auckland University Press Senior Editor Anna Hodge is a highly-regarded book editor. She won a coveted place on the 2012 Frankfurt Fellowship Programme, one of only 16 young publishers chosen from around the world and the only New Zealander.

 Mary Egan

Mary has typeset, print-managed, edited and designed more than a thousand books for major publishers here and overseas. She started her working life as a librarian and developing a career with a focus on high quality which has earned the respect of the NZ publishing industry. Mary started a small business in digital typesetting for magazines in New Zealand and in 1991, with her husband the late Gerard Reid, she established Egan-Reid Limited. Egan-Reid developed a fine reputation, winning the typesetting work for many leading New Zealand and international publishers, gaining export awards along the way. She sold Egan-Reid to Pindar Group in 2007 and since then she has set up a new publishing services company, specialising in digital and private or self-publishing. In 2012 Mary was a judge for the New Zealand Post Book Awards.

 John Daly-Peoples

John Daly-Peoples is an art critic and journalist, who was the arts writer for the weekly financial journal National Business Review for many years. He has worked in a number of arts related areas as writer, teacher, consultant, curator and administrator. As the arts writer for National Business Review he covered a range of the arts – visual art, opera, theatre, dance and music. He has also worked with several major companies including Air New Zealand where he developed an exhibitions programme in the Domestic and International Koru Lounges of major New Zealand artists as well as annual exhibitions of art school student work. He has written extensively on the arts including the centennial history Elim 1890-1990.

 Claire Murdoch

Claire Murdoch is the head of Te Papa Press publishes a wide range of books ranging from botanical subjects, art, taonga Maori, Pacific culture, historical, ornithology and fashion. The Press also produces journals, calendars and books related to the museum’s own collections. In recent years the press has won numerous awards for its publications, including the Montana Medals for Non-Fiction  in 2009 for Jill Trevelyan’s biography Rita Angus: An Artist’s Life, which also won the Nielsen Booksellers Choice Award. The Athol McCredie-edited Brian Brake: Lens on the World was a finalist in the Illustrated Non-Fiction section of the New Zealand Post Book Awards.- in 2011. Claire worked as an editorial assistant at Wellington’s Dominion newspaper and then at Allen & Unwin  in Australia, where she worked with top publisher Elizabeth Weiss, who is now academic and digital production director at Allen & Unwin. She has been with Te Papa Press since 2002. Last year she had a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust research grant, which she used to study the museums, galleries, publishing and books business in the United States.

 Dr Len Bell

Len Bell is Associate Professor of Art History at The University of Auckland. His primary research interests are cross-cultural interactions and the creation of visual images and objects in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific from the mid-18th century to the present; and the work and careers of émigré, refugee, migrant and travelling artists, photographers, architects and art writers from the 19th century to the present. He is currently writing a book on the work and impacts in New Zealand of artists, photographers, architects and others involved in visual culture, who came to this country either as refugees from Nazism or as Displaced People after World War II. In counterpoint this book will also address the work and careers of several expatriate artists, who left New Zealand for Britain and Europe in the mid 20th century. Another current project is a study of how European artists, writers and designers, both in New Zealand and Europe, represented and deployed aspects or elements of Maori arts in the 19th and early 20th centuries. His writings have been published widely: in New Zealand, Australia, Britain, USA, Germany and the Czech Republic.

 Rose Evans

Rose Evans is a heritage professional with experience in a variety of major international museums, galleries and small business sectors including Te Papa Museum of New Zealand, Auckland Museum, Auckland Art Gallery, Wellington City Gallery, Australian War Memorial Museum, Australian Museum and the British Museum.  She works in exhibition development, project management, museum and art gallery facilities assessment, collection management, materials conservation and research. She is of Te Atiawa and European descent and is on the Board of the Te Maori Trust, which overseas and funds programmes for the care of Taonga Maori in New Zealand museums , galleries and cultural centres. She joined the Michael King Writers’ Studio Trust in 2012.

 Bob Ross

Bob Ross has been in the New Zealand book trade for over 40 years. He founded BentonRoss Publishing in 1980 and Tandem Press in 1991. He has held many roles within the publishing industry including Chair of the Book Publishers Assocation of NZ and New Zealand Book Trade Organisation. He has also as served on the board of Booksellers New Zealand and on Copyright Licensing Ltd. He set up the NZ Publishers Export Group and now acts as a mentor for exporting publishers. He is a long-service member of the Michael King Writers’ Studio Trust and has served as chairman and deputy chair.

 Sam Elworthy

Sam Elworthy grew up on a farm in South Canterbury and went to university in Dunedin where he edited the student newspaper and wrote a book about student life, Ritual Song of Defiance: A Social History of Students at the University of Otago.   He spent fifteen years in the United States, completing a Ph.D. in history and then publishing books. He led the editorial team as Editor-in-Chief at Princeton University Press. He arrived back in New Zealand in 2007.  He is the director of Auckland University Press and is involved in most of the major book industry organisations in New Zealand. He joined the Michael King Writers’ Studio Trust in 2009 and served for three years as chairman.