Thursday 8 February 2018

Interview with Iona Winter

It’s a monstrous season… as well as our Making Monsters in the works, our friends at Fox Spirit recently brought out the fourth in their series of horrific Books of Monsters, Pacific Monsters, edited like the rest by Margrét Helgadóttir. To celebrate, we’re inviting a few of the authors from the latest volume to visit the TFF Press blog and talk to us about their stories, their monsters, their writing, their fears, and other things from their part of the world. First up this month, we were delighted to welcome Iona Winter, author of the short story “Ink.”

Iona Winter is of Māori (Waitaha/Kāi Tahu) descent and lives in Otago, Aotearoa New Zealand. In 2016 she was awarded the Headland Frontier Prize, and performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. In 2017 her fiction was anthologised with Bath Flash Fiction, Nottingham Peacebuilders, Pacific Monsters, Elbow Room, Centum Press, and Ora Nui. Her writing has also appeared in numerous publications including: Flash Frontier, Reflex Fiction, Elbow Room, Headland and Corpus. Iona is passionate about representing Aotearoa in her creative work, writing hybrid forms that highlight the intersection between written and spoken word. Overlaying past, present and future, the traditional and contemporary, she creates a melding of the worlds we inhabit. You can find Iona on her blog, as @waitahaiona on Twitter, and on Facebook.

The Future Fire: Tell us a bit about ‘Ink,’ your story for the Pacific Monsters anthology?

Iona Winter: ‘Ink’ is about Tom who, after getting a tattoo of an extinct eagle on his chest, has frightening experiences, in the way of visions and serious health issues.

The story explores his journey with the mythological and supernatural aspects of Pouākai (the extinct Haast Eagle), and the impact upon both him and his whānau (family). It’s a tale of whakapapa (genealogy), wairua (spiritual elements), utu (vengeance) and connects mind, body, spirit, prophetic dreams, mythology, and tohu (signs).

In a way I see ‘Ink’ as about nature getting back at us humans for disrespecting the ecological order. It speaks to the loss of old traditions and knowledge, and the impact upon us in modern times when we don’t listen.

Is there something unique and culturally specific about writing speculative fiction as an Aotearoan and/or as a Māori author?

IW: For me, it’s important to weave mind, body, spirit (including the supernatural), whenua (land and environment), tūpuna (ancestors), past and present​, because nothing is left out or happens in isolation from a Māori perspective. That said, not everything is spelled out and the reader is required to do some exploring too. It’s a bit like sitting in the wharenui (meeting house) and listening to our elders kōrero (talk)—sometimes you have no idea what they were talking about until some time later when everything falls into place. It’s holistic, but not necessarily linear.

I often receive a flow of words when I am out in nature, and whenever I have periods of time disconnected from Papatūānuku (Mother Earth) I notice my writing becomes stagnant. We are blessed to have such beautiful landscapes in Aotearoa, and writing often comes from my interaction with the environment. I take loads of photos, snapshots, and those inform my writing too.

Some of what I write might be classed as ‘speculative’ with understated terror, supernatural and inexplicable knowledge about events. But I don’t consciously write in a way that limits myself to one genre, because each piece takes its own shape while I am writing. I’m not sure if this is the case for other Māori authors or not, but being tuned in and conscious of all the elements seems to work (most of the time) for me.

Were you scared of something when you were a child?

IW: I was terrified of the dark, probably because my grandfather told me awesome kēhua (ghost) stories. But ​I was also scared of things that other people couldn’t see. Being of Māori and Celtic whakapapa, with seers on both sides of the whānau, it has meant that (at times) I am open to seeing, hearing and feeling stuff that other people don’t. It freaked me out as a kid, but thankfully I had my grandfather and mother to help make sense of it, and in my thirties spent many years learning from tohunga (traditional healers).

I understand you’re about to start a PhD in creative writing. Can you tell us a bit about what you’ll be researching for that?

IW: My topic is Pūrākau Mana Wāhine: Traditional Women’s Knowledge as passed on orally and between generations, with Indigenous Māori and Celtic women. It will take a bicultural approach, utilising feminist theory and Indigenous methodologies, and will reassert the legitimacy of Indigenous women’s lore, and the modern resurgence of traditional knowledge.

I’ll be exploring similarities between Indigenous Māori and Celtic women’s stories (of traditional lore) in fictional narratives, and create a contemporary body of fiction as the creative part of my research.

I’m looking forward to reimagining how originating cultural traditions, and the tension between these narratives and dominant paradigms in contemporary fiction, influence narrative voice.

Tell us about one of your favourite underrated authors?

IW: I love Norma Dunning’s Annie Muktuk and Other Stories. The similarities are striking between Māori and Inuit ways of referencing ancestors, landscape, relationships, spirituality, mythology, and the social cultural political issues we face as tāngata whenua (Indigenous people). Her representations of trauma, love and grief with clever narrative twists are fantastic, as are the acts of revenge. She writes of sacred ancestral knowledge, informed by ancient spirits.

I also love that Norma Dunning is an older writer, in that she returned to creativity later in life, as many of us do after raising kids and having day-jobs to make ends meet.

I read that Norma Dunning put her stories in a drawer, so as not to have them colonised or rewritten from a western perspective—an issue which I believe many Indigenous authors face.

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we have shocking stats for published Māori writing—about 6% per annum of the overall writing published. I think this says a lot about how marginalised traditional Indigenous styles are, but it does create room for kōrero so we can support each other proactively, and get our writing out there in the world—thereby challenging the paradigms of what constitutes marketable writing.

I can’t help but wonder how many drawers are stuffed full of wonderful writing.

Who is your favourite mythological heroine?

IW: I’d say it’s a tie between Hine-nui-te-pō and Airmid.

Hine-nui-te-pō stands in the darkness welcoming those who have passed over, and she is the Goddess of night, death and the underworld. She holds memories of past lives and stories. Māui (one of her descendants) attempts to desecrate her tangata whenua (womb), the most sacred part of us women, to gain the secret to eternal life. After being woken by a Pīwakawaka (fantail bird) who laughs at his ridiculous idea, she snaps Māui in two with her thighs!

Airmid is the Goddess of the Healing Arts and belonged to the Tuatha De Dannann, the ancient people of Ireland. After experiencing trauma, violence and desecration she takes back her power and uses it for healing others via her medicinal herbs. She creates life from death, honouring natural cycles, and the position of women hearers being revered in Celtic society, independent from men. Basically a feminist!

Both women are of the earth, connected to it, and are powerful. I was taught that you can’t have the dark without the light (and vice-versa).

Do you have any other stories or books forthcoming? What can fans of Iona Winter look forward to?

IW: I regularly submit short fiction to publications and competitions, so there’s bound to be more of that. Last year I was lucky enough to be published in several anthologies, and have a few other stories published online. I write poetry and blog regularly, and have two collections of short fiction out in the ether—I’m waiting patiently to hear if they are picked up for publication.

Thanks for joining us, Iona. Best of luck with the collections, and with the PhD!

You can find Iona Winter online, or buy the Pacific Monsters anthology from Fox Spirit.

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