Graduation season

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With graduation over for 2017, we profile three of our recent graduates, Angel Pohio-Domingos, Erin Donohue and Linda Bennett.

Graduate Profile #1 : Angel Pohio-Domingos

Angel Domingos

Angel Domingos

Scriptwriter Angel Pohio-Domingos couldn’t make it to graduation last week — she was in the middle of producing a short film! Read what’s surprised her as she takes her words from page to screen.

Your short film is now in production! How did that come about?

I applied for the Fresh Shorts funding through the NZ Film Commission and didn’t get it. I decided I’d find another way to do it and that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I’ve changed the script completely and am much happier with it. I’ve learned to be really resourceful with funding. I have family members and friends on board helping me out and they have skills that suit certain areas of production that I don’t have. It’s working well.

What are you learning? Are there surprises?

There have been a tonne of surprises! Like having to change a scene because the budget wouldn’t allow for certain props or because a location wasn’t available. Also realizing what I’ve written doesn’t always look good visually once it goes to storyboard stage. That was a big eye-opener. It’s made me look at my scriptwriting in a different way which I think is a good thing.

Can you tell me about the script and how you developed the project? 

The script is a short, developed from a full length feature I wrote last year as part of my major project at Whitireia. It’s about a woman who saved children during WW2 from the Warsaw Ghetto. It’s based on a true story.

I had an opportunity to sit down and chat to a film industry professional and he told me to develop a short film as a calling card to my feature. I had to think about what to take from the main script and how to use it in the short while still telling a complete story.

What attracts you to scriptwriting, as opposed to other genres?

I’ve always loved both film and writing and when I write a story, I see it running through my head like a movie. I love scriptwriting because it challenges me to really think about character. Unlike in a book you can’t know what’s in their head, so you have to find ways to convey that visually or carefully through dialogue. I also like having to choose my words carefully because scriptwriting doesn’t allow for long descriptions.

You graduated recently with a Graduate Diploma in Creative Writing at Whitireia. What are the key things you learnt on the course?

1. Write — just get something out of your head and onto paper. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s bad, that’s what rewrites are for.
2. Scenes have layers to them, so think about what’s happening around the characters and their environment—sound, lighting and whether it’s night or day. Looking at it from all perspectives will bring a scene to life.
3. Get feedback from outside your family and friends. We did a lot of that in class. It was daunting at first but proved to be really constructive. Don’t be too precious with your work but be prepared to defend something if you feel it’s an absolute must.

What are your plans for future writing?

I’ve started a new script. It’s a Kiwi story so really different to the other project. It stemmed from an exercise we did in class last year and has developed into another full length feature idea. I’m looking forward to getting more time to develop it. There are also a number of other screenplay ideas (for features and shorts) tucked away in a box on top of my filing cabinet that I plan to develop and write. Could take a while.

Graduate Profile #2 : Erin Donohue

Twenty-one year old Erin Donohue graduated this month with her degree in creative writing. But it’s not the only achievement she’s celebrating. Her first novel (written as her major project on the course) will be published later this year. She talks candidly about the writing process, her new study commitments and how her challenging teenage experiences have shaped her novel.

Your book will be published this year, congratulations! What does that mean for you?

Thank you! Having my book accepted for publication by Escalator Press was incredible and something I’m really proud of. In high school I read The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton which was published when the author was only 18. I thought, ‘I want to do that’. I didn’t quite get there by 18 but I don’t think 21 is too bad.

Can you tell me about the plot for your novel and how you came to write it?

Throughout high school, and even throughout my degree, I struggled with mental illness that disabled my ability to do all the classes and school activities I wanted to do. I took a lot of time off and I had to switch from the on-campus creative writing course to the online one during my first year. By the time I got to second year where we had to write a full manuscript, there was no doubt in my mind it would be about mental illness. I had a lot I wanted to say, but while the story has connections to mine, the more I wrote, the more the story became its own.

What is the most challenging aspect of completing a book length project?

All of it! Starting it can be really hard-- if you don’t start then it can’t go wrong! It’s great when you have the idea, the research, the characters and the plan, but putting pencil to paper or typing the first word can feel quite daunting. And of course endings are such delicate things. I’ve learnt that it can take the simplest thing to make or break the ending of a novel and leaving the reader on the emotion you want them to feel can be a real challenge. When you’re right in the thick of it, it can be hard too. With this novel manuscript I got about eight chapters in and decided it wasn’t working. I rewrote the last five chapters I’d written which put me behind schedule.

What has kept you writing/what do you enjoy about writing?

I’ve always got something I want to say but I need to spend time thinking about how to say it. Writing is the perfect medium for that. Whenever I read a piece of writing I find striking and well-crafted I’m inspired to make readers of my work feel that same thing. There’s so much good writing out there and so much to be inspired by.

What are the key things you’ve learnt about the writing process over the last few years? And what impact does being a student on a writing programme have?

I’ve learnt a fresh set of eyes is invaluable. A writer can get so close to their work that they can’t see what needs fixing. That’s why I loved the creative writing programme so much. Not only did I learn an endless amount about craft and get exposed to some incredible writing but I had readers in my classes who always picked up on things, both big and small, that I never noticed. The degree programme was the absolute best thing I could’ve done to improve my writing.

It seems like lots of significant things are happening for you this year—graduation, book publication and another career opening up with being a student on the publishing course. How do they all fit together?

In a way they all fit together quite nicely. I’ve finished a degree in creative writing which led into book publication which will be worked on by my classmates on the publishing course. The writing and publishing communities in Wellington, and New Zealand in general, are so tight knit and many writers also work in publishing. It seems like the best way to mix my love of writing and books. It’s going to be a busy year but I’m excited about everything I get to do in 2017.

Do you have writing hopes and dreams for the future?

To keep writing. I want to get the second novel manuscript I wrote published one day. And after working intensely with prose during my degree I’d like to do more work on poetry with the hope of completing the masters programme at the IIML one day.

Erin Donahue at Graduation 2017 with members of her family

Erin Donahue at Graduation 2017 with members of her family

Graduate Profile #3 : Linda Bennett

Linda Bennett is a graduate of the novel writing course and a winner of the 2017 NZSA/Hachette mentorship awards. Her novel, 'A Hole in the World', can be described as both ‘women’s fiction’ and ‘climate change fiction’. She reveals more about the story, the writing challenges it poses and how she got to this stage.

Congratulations on your NZSA/Hachette mentorship! What prompted you to apply for it and what does it mean for you to get it?

Winning one of the two mentorships was a terrific boost and encouragement for me as an unpublished writer. Applying for it was a no-brainer – who wouldn’t want to have editorial support going into a second draft of a novel?

Can you tell us about your novel and the particular challenges for writing it?

The protagonist is a woman in her mid-twenties and the novel focuses on relationship and family issues, set against the backdrop of NZ in the throes of extreme climate change. It deals with grief, loss, guilt, shame and love – all the usual suspects! One of the challenges I faced related to it being set decades in the future and deciding what things might look like at that time in terms of society, technology, communications, transport etc.

What stage is the mentorship at?

I sent the manuscript off to the editor at Hachette early in February and have recently had an email back looking at general structural and narrative issues. I’m now doing the thinking work around that.

What do you see as the benefits of doing a writing course (I think you’re also a graduate of the IIML’s Master’s programme)?

The greatest benefit of doing a writing course is building relationships and friendships with other writers. You get to spend hours hanging out with people who think that reading and writing are fun and necessary things to do. Yes, I earned an MA through Victoria in 2013—that was another wonderful year spent reading, writing and workshopping fiction projects with other writers.

What are the key things you learnt on the Whitireia programme?

Mandy’s class contributed an enormous amount to my technical writing skills. I also learnt to let go and ‘just write’ in the interests of getting a full first draft out by mid-September. As a procrastinator and a perfectionist, this meant accepting getting the first draft of the story on the page was more important than having it all perfect from the get-go, which is of course an impossibility.

Are you involved in other writing projects?

Yes. I have another novel in development and I’ll be working on that in between working on the novel with Hachette.

What are your hopes for writing in the future?

I hope to build up a body of work that not only entertains, but also addresses some of the issues of our times. Climate change is a biggie but there are also other issues that are important to me. I’m not a card-carrying activist but I can write, so that’s my way of contributing to the greater good!