Notes for Writers

In early June we held a launch event for our Pantograph Pals (and a celebration of our 13th birthday) at Season in downtown Tāmaki Makaurau. We invited a few contributors to speak to our journal’s past and its aspirations for the future, and to reflect on the journey so far. This is what our copy editor and proofreader Marie Shannon said about her work.

In Primer Three, when our teacher Mrs Herbert asked us to write a first-person fictional story, her only rule was that we couldn’t be dead. I understand that she was trying to help us avoid the problems that could arise in a dramatic account that might culminate in the death of the narrator. It was probably a common rule at the time, for six-year-old children learning to write.

I don’t think The Pantograph Punch has any specific rules for writers, aside from those necessary to avoid legal action, and neither do I. But if I had a piece of advice for a writer, it would be: Think of the reader. My job as a copy editor and proofreader at Pantograph Punch – aside from redistributing punctuation – is to advocate for the reader. Will they float smoothly around an exhibition space described in a review, from artwork to artwork, or will they bump into a wall they thought was behind them? Is the writer telling the reader what they felt when they looked at the work, without letting the reader first see what it was in the work that made them feel that way?

A good writer keeps the reader beside them.

When I sent Joanna Cho’s review of Suji Park’s exhibition Noise Collector back to our Kaiwāwahi Sherry Zhang, I made the comment: “I never once got lost or confused.” Joanna states at the beginning of the review that she hasn’t written about art before, and she says, “I will write this as I experience it.” She takes the reader with her through the exhibition, diligently observing and describing before making smooth leaps into memory and speculation. She begins by locating us:

The exhibition room is long, has black walls, a wooden floor, and bright lights that look like searchlights. At the far end is a silver wall, paper or something appears to be glued onto it. It looks like a giant chewing-gum wrapper. The other pieces fill the rest of the space: bumpy, iridescent. It looks like the mise-en-scène from The Little Mermaid.

Later, she tells us:

I lean in unnecessarily close to take photos and notice that the side of the vessel looks like a cliff face. I’m shot back to the 90s, to an east coast beach, and wonder if Suji’s family did the same thing: whenever Korean relatives or friends visited, we took them to Red Beach and foraged for molluscs and anything else with shells. At low tide, we rolled our pants legs and walked over the rocks, and our guests never believed our warnings to be heedful of the lichen, until they were slipping, grabbing whoever was nearby.

A good writer can make the reader remember, “My mother did that, too!”

In her essay ‘Fruit Foragers’, Sherry Zhang remembers cringing as her mother and grandmother foraged fruit and dandelions from the streets of Browns Bay when she was a child, only to discover the joys of suburban foraging herself as an adult. Decades earlier but only a few kilometres from Browns Bay, my sister and I would cower in the back seat of Mum’s Mini as she pulled to a stop on the unsealed shoulder of Rosedale Road, Albany, got the coal shovel and bucket out of the boot and scooped up a fresh pile of horse poo for the garden. She even used to say, “Yum!” Now I collect kelp for my garden on Takapuna Beach after a big easterly, and I always keep a lookout for overhanging branches of street fruit.

A good interview can make the reader dream about a different life.

After reading Ataria Sharman’s Off the Beaten Track interview with Te Aupōuri weaver Tania Rule, I wanted to go and live in Helena Bay, and hunt and gather and weave with her. I trawled the little roads on Google Street View and found my dream whare, a tiny green house facing the sea at 71 Owai Avenue. While writing this I went back and had another look at it.

A good writer can let the reader know they are not alone.

In Lana Lopesi’s essay ‘Pillow Talk’ she writes about writing, and the pressure to perform, sharing her anxiety while on the Michael King Writer’s Residency. She says:

After a long day of writing (watching Netflix), I climb into bed … Depending on the day, my mind usually continues to think about whatever it was I was writing. Attempts to silence the thoughts take hours. I … lie on my side, look at the pillows, and think about who else has slept in this bed before me.

Later, she remarks:

A writer’s process is not a straightforward one: it feels a lot like a pendulum that swings between productivity and procrastination. Between dreaming and being disciplined.

I’m happy not to be a writer, but I do like to help. I redistribute commas, or create a neat aside with a pair of spaced en dashes, or separate thoughts with a semi-colon. I help to keep the reader facing in the right direction, so they’ll trust the writer to take them anywhere.

Psst! You can read excerpts from the rest of our Pantograph Pals launch speeches here.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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