With graduation over for 2017, we profile three of our recent graduates, Angel Pohio-Domingos, Erin Donohue and Linda Bennett.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yes. I have another novel in development and I’ll be working on that in between working on the novel with Hachette.
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!