STILL LIFE WITH CHICKENS: 2017 Adam Award winner

Mother hen and chicks, October 2012.

A play inspired by my mother’s adventures with poultry, and described at a workshop as surrealist and existentialist, has won the 2017 Adam New Zealand Play Award. I’m rather chuffed, thank you very much.

I’m in Melbourne at the moment so 2016 Adam winner Maraea Rakuraku very kindly accepted the award on my behalf, with something I prepared earlier:

Still Life With Chickens was going to be a co-writing venture with my Lovely Wife. She came up with the title and the concept, and I suspect she envisioned a situation where she would roam the study reeling off dialogue and scenes while I sat dutifully at the keyboard and typed everything in.

Because I love my wife dearly and I value our marriage, I worked on the play in secret for two years, and presented the script to her — crediting her appropriately, of course — as a fait accompli.

I acknowledge my fellow longlistees, in particular Maraea Rakuraku for kindly accepting this award on my behalf.

Thanks to Creative New Zealand for its support in getting the first draft to the finish line.

Thanks to Playmarket: Murray, Salesi, Kirsty, Allison — and before Allison, Stuart Hoar — for their tireless work in developing, supporting and hustling for New Zealand playwrights.

Thank you to the Adam aiga for these awards.

And thank you to my Lovely Wife who believes in me more than I do.


Cultural Navigation

So — don’t tell anyone — but I was doing a little light research when I read the following passage:

[French explorer de Bougainville marvelled at the skill of the Samoan sailors who knew] how to use the sun and stars as a guide and how to take advantage of prevailing winds. Furthermore, they seemed to have a wonderful sense of direction that would tell them the right direction of travel no matter what strange surroundings they were in. And, like a bird of migration, the Samoan sailors unerringly returned to the island from which they had set out.

And I flashed on this early exchange:


Our PET WRITER and his GODDESS seek directions from the writer’s AWESOME SISTER.


We just want to find the nearest supermarket.


Easy-peasy: you take the first left and you’ll see a KFC on the corner. Drive past it for three blocks until you see a McDonalds, take a right before the golden arches, and you can’t miss it.


... I have no idea what you just said.


It’s okay, I got it.


(off writer and his sister)

... It’s an island thing, isn’t it?

Pet Writer and Awesome Sister try not to smile patronisingly at her.

Wellington, 2008: there’s a KFC two blocks down to the right there.


We wanted some comfort telly recently, so a few Law & Order eps were screened and it was comforting.

This evening The Goddess and I tried a new police procedural show — and boy oh boy were there a heckuva lot of shots of:

  • driving to/from work/crime-scene/witness;
  • walking to/from office/room/building.

It was unfortunate timing for the latter show to follow so soon after some L&O eps.

But still illuminating from a storytelling point of view.

(I know Apocalypse Now is a galaxy away from television police procedurals but it was all I could find on reducing right down.)


Box Watch: Offspring

Offspring Logo.jpg
By Source, Fair use,

What possessed me to try this show with The Goddess six years ago? Was it recommended to her and I was humouring her? Was it a weak/apologetic/fawning moment on my part? Was there channel-surfing and we got hooked like I did once upon a Wire?

At first I swore to merely be in the same room with her as she watched it — I’d be doing something (anything) else like knitting, taijutsu or practicing quick-draws — yet as every episode unfolded, I found myself sitting with my beloved as we were pulled into the world of a thirtysomething obstetrician and her family and friends.

Shit ain’t bad, yo.

When it wasn’t renewed after its fifth season we were both a bit bummed at the unfairness of it all.

But ooh, look — and just in time for an anniversary with the Better Half: a sixth season is playing right now.

I suppose the wool, gi and gun leather will have to wait.


Tight Spot

Now that the cavalry element have settled on the same property as The Goddess, they’ve been finding ways to make mischief. The Exmoor Mini in particular has provided entertainment (for me, at least; The Goddess, not so much) by having her own ideas about how things should be done. One of those things is the paddock to which she is allocated at any given time.

I totally understand her modus operandi:

  1. arrive in new paddock with quiet excitement;
  2. hoover up all easily grazeable (?) grass;
  3. do a second, slower, pass of the paddock to eat remaining grass;
  4. patiently find opportunities to look meaningfully at human captors;
  5. when captors don’t bend to one’s will, wait for dark to make alternate arrangements;
  6. greet captors from outside allocated paddock the following morning.

Most times, her alternate arrangements are awesomely worth it. (Luckily, there are enough fences and gates on the new Fortress Mamea lands that she can’t hurt herself.)

Some times, things don’t quite work out.

The Exmoor Pony in a bit of a tight spot.
The Exmoor Mini on the edge: those luscious dark green leaves behind her hide a sharp two-metre drop into the stream.

Same thing with my projects: some take off; some don’t.

I’m in the process of mothballing a project I’ve poured 250 hours* and a good amount of money into since late last year. I’m consoling myself that I’m mothballing it rather than scrubbing it: I’ll learn what I can from the circumstances of its being mothballed, and try again next year.

Meantime, I’ve got a couple of other projects — including Kingswood which has attracted some interest** — that I’ve been itching to get on with.

I can’t help thinking that if this had happened a few years back, all writing would have sulkily ceased, this blog would have gone black be very quiet (yet again), and The Goddess would be girding herself to smack some sense (yet again) into the sighing hairy blob in a corner of the keep***.

I daren’t suggest that I might be maturing in this writing gig. But tight spots like this are no longer the catastrophic failures they used to feel like. They’re 1). a learning opportunity, and 2). time to spend elsewhere.


* Damn straight I keep a worksheet of how I spend my time.

** I know! Actual outside-family-and-friends interest!

*** The Goddess doesn’t smack me about, not even figuratively. She’s pretty good like that.


Mod Cons

Relocating Fortress Mamea to a rural location means a little bit of doing without. Cellphone reception is spotty — upon departing the property, cellphones tend to trill with backlogged txts and messages. Our nearest neighbour is over a hundred yards away (in Auckland, our neighbour’s garage was five yards away). And our water comes from… a water tank on the property.

Yep, when it comes to water, we’re off the grid. Rain water is collected and stored in a large concrete tank, with the idea of collecting it over a wet Northland winter, and stretching it out over the drier months. Long, hot showers are being enjoyed while it’s raining outside; come summer, navy showers will be de rigeur. Water closet discipline is observed as a matter of course.

Between the living quarters and the water tank is a pump that, y’know, gets water from the tank to the tap or shower head.

The B1
The Daveys B1 pump.

I don’t know if I’ve owned up to this before but The Goddess wears the pants in our relationship: She’s DIY, green-thumbed, and an all-round nurturer; for my part, I require supervision when using power tools, am the destroyer of all pre-approved greenery, and love to be nurtured. So when the property was acquired and its various rural peculiarities noted, one of my fears was having something essential and mechanical break down.

Something like the water pump, which stopped working on the first month anniversary of moving in.

THE GODDESS stands over the reticent B1 PUMP, a wrench in hand.


(re. pump)

... Oh dear.

Our WRITER, standing nearby, makes an involuntary noise, not unlike a whimper.


Do you want to move back to Auckland?


This is just a... first act obstacle in an Alistair Maclean book.


That’s my boy.


Who you calling ‘boy’?

She smiles.



The Dog on her old bed on her new deck.
The Dog on her old bed on her new deck.

Would you believe that I’ve moved to a town that I first visited* only several months earlier? It feels like The Goddess‘ Five Year plan pulled a sack over my head and WHOA, here I am in Northland**.

It’s nice and green and open up here. The town city is small without being tiny or compact, it’s to be home to a Hundterwasser Museum, and the overall vibe is of 1970s New Zild — unhurried and she’ll-be-right.

It also seems to have a bit of a rep. I was puzzled and a little concerned by people’s reactions to the announcement of our northward move. “How safe is it?” asked a favoured relation, which I misunderstood to mean the health and safety hazards inherent in a rural property. “Better have eyes in the back of your head,” a colleague emailed, with a link to a recent sudden and violent death in the district. And then there was the Mamea family reaction:


(into phone)

We’re moving to Whangarei, Mother.


(V.O.; filter)

To where?


(into phone)



(V.O.; filter)

... Whangarei is full of Maoris, son.



(into phone)

You do know that more than half of your grandchildren are part Maori?


(V.O.; filter)

Yes, and every day I forgive their parents.

I think we’re as safe here as we would be anywhere else in the world — safer, even, with our natural barriers. The natives are friendly — more than they’ve a right to be since we’re part of a wave of former Auckland residents increasing house and land prices — and there’s no sense of being judged on appearance.

I like how fellow road users use the two-second rule, obey the amber light, and merge like a zip. I like how, in shops and businesses, people are sincere with their howdedo’s, and they sound genuinely sorry for not stocking an item you’re after. I like how winter in Whangarei town looks like a rugged outdoor clothing convention, where mud-encrusted gumboots or jandals complete people’s ensembles.

There’s something about our new town that I can’t quite pin down. It’s friendly but not overbearingly so. It’s rural but not isolated. And there’s a shooting range five kilometres down the road (and ’round the corner, even!) from Fortress Mamea, a far, far cry from Auckland where the ‘local’ range was 50 kilometres away.

Why, yessir, I could get to like this place.


* Driving through en route to Cape Reinga or Kerikeri doesn’t count.

** Some dramatic licence there, obviously.


KINGSWOOD: a workshop

Kingswood logo

Last weekend, the wonderful people at Titirangi Theatre granted the script and I a one-day workshop in which the script was read, scenes were stood up, and a number of passages blocked out for a semi-public (The Goddess joined us specifically) reading at day’s end.

Praise be to:

  • workshop director — and Titirangi Theatre president — Duncan Milne;
  • and the very game and generous Ian HarveyColin MakPatricia Wichman and Sandra Zvenyika who read aloud, questioned, acted and offered.

I am not worthy.


The Puppy

The Northland litter.
The Northland litter at rest.

A few weeks back, The Goddess and I travelled north to select a future successor to The Dog. There was a litter of twelve puppies from which to choose, and we had first dibs — a privilege bestowed upon us by the Horsewoman, purveyor of the cavalry element and co-conspirator with The Goddess of all schemes equine. Securing a successor sounds ruthless on first listen but part of life is death, and life is hard to imagine without the companionship of a dog.

Choosing a puppy was more difficult than expected. Each candidate had to be assessed for colour, aptitude, energy — oh, who the heck am I kidding? They were all cute. They were all cuddly. They could all have come back to Fortress Mamea with us, their mother and owner be damned.

Luckily, The Goddess remembered a checklist drawn up earlier, when we weren’t surrounded by playful, yippy bundles of joy: female, calm, of good character, and with excellent references. The Horsewoman suggested a couple of candidates that fit the criteria, and the rest was pretty much a coin-toss.

Meet The Puppy:

The Puppy, Apr15